Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A death in the opposite house...

There's been a death in the opposite house
As lately as to-day.
I know it by the numb look
Such houses have alway.

The neighbors rustle in and out,
The doctor drives away.
A window opens like a pod,
Abrupt, mechanically;

Somebody flings a mattress out--
The children hurry by;
They wonder if It died on that--
I used to when a boy.

The minister goes stiffly in
As if the house were his,
And he owned all the mourners now,
And little boys besides;

And then the milliner, and the man
Of the appalling trade,
To take the measure of the house.
There'll be that dark parade

Of tassels and of coaches soon;
It's easy as a sign--
The intuition of the news
In just a country town.

-- Emily Dickinson

My next-door neighbor's recent sudden death was not an occasion for mattress-flinging. No communicable disease to worry about - no, a smoking, drinking, somewhat overweight man of 51 years, he was overcome by the obvious. When I came home from work to see an ambulance and fire truck in front of the house, I was afraid there had been an accident. Then they stayed way too long - 15 minutes at least - and when they finally wheeled Don out on a stretcher and had to stop halfway down the driveway to pound his chest some more, I knew it was bad news.

It looked like plenty of people rustled in and out the day before the funeral. We had to go out of town and so missed any sign of tassels and coaches, but we returned five days later to find that Don's sons had pulled a protective cover over his prized vintage Lincoln Continental, the restoration of which had been his chief hobby. The pall over that vehicle seems to extend over the whole house, and there hasn't been any coming or going since we got home.

As my husband and I began to make love last night, I caught a glimpse of the neighboring house through our bedroom window and thought of the new widow. I quickly looked away, as if to avoid a different kind of contagion.


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