The night nurse came and woke me where I slept fitfully on top of the musty Peter Max coverlet in my sisters' old bedroom. The clock glowed 4:30 a.m. "Your daddy passed just now," she said, as I stumbled up the stairs into my parents' room where my mother was standing vigil over what had been my father. I now know the meaning of deathly quiet. It filled the room like nerve gas, obliterating my mother's sobs and the birds twittering outside at the encroaching dawn.
The machine-like gurgle of the death rattle, impossible to escape in that big house for what seemed like days, had finally stopped. I didn't touch my father, didn't kiss him goodbye. He was long gone, his body curled in on itself, desiccated and yellowed with disease. I wandered across the hallway into my childhood bedroom and sank to my knees under a new burden of relief and rage.
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By the time the funeral-home people carted my father out, zipped inside a green vinyl bag, my mother and I were huddled in our floral nighties in the living room listening to Mozart's Requiem. She averted her eyes, but I had to watch as they heaved him past his beloved wooden sculptures of Don Quixote and Sancho, down the stairs beneath the hotly colored Huichol yarn paintings bought in Mexico forty summers before. Like some flickering newsreel I saw him prancing around in his tennis shorts and hilarious terrycloth headband; bearing his huge Oxford English Dictionary to the dinner table to pillory some lexically challenged soul; picking up invisible lint from the rug in his impossibly fastidious way. The thought of this house without him was truly more than I could grasp. Besides, there was so much to do. Jews need to be buried right away; there were arrangements to be made, a million people to call. And the man I loved was arriving on a plane from New York that afternoon and would need a ride.
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