here lies a man who often said to himself you have always wanted to live in a neighborhood and you do and you have always wanted to have a family of your own and you do and you always wanted to write a book and you did so in many ways you have nothing to complain about, so shut up about the slow drivers and the morbidly obese, pipe down about the people who think everything should be run by private corporations, not another word about those who presume to know exactly how and at what time life on Earth was created, forget the morons in shimmery double breasted suits who prognosticate with faux gravitas about the future statistics of professional athletes, ignore those relatives who have placed on their walls cross stitched representations of what they would call pickaninnies and who sometimes use for chiefly derogatory reasons the N-word, do not judge those who feed their kids fruit snacks which contain yellow #5, do not clamp your jaw shut in anger upon discovering that friends who have two children are having more, do not think that these people are somehow oblivious or selfish and do not think of your own family as deficient, think instead for example of all those three-person-ed Chinese families, obsess not about those children of yours who died in the womb and try not to think of them as children even though that’s what they were when you went to the doctor to see them on the monitor and heard through the whirling storms of static their heartbeats, those improbable songs only the doctor could tune into and which, each time, were being made by a tiny person-like mass inside your wife’s body, a living heartbeating thing you had already begun to think of as a baby, and to whom you imagined you might someday feed mashed up peas and in whom you would surely produce squeals of delight by throwing him or her into the air, a person you would rock to sleep and whose body at first would fit like a football in the crook of your arm, or so you expected since subsequent visits to the room in which the doctor slathered your wife’s belly with incandescent gel and moved the wand, which had once been magical, but this time failed to reveal that the heart of the child you had imagined was beating, meaning that from now on it would be only you and your wife who could ever hear that song, a tune you would remember when you thought of those children whose hearts gave out, they are still yours and you still love them the ones you had without ever seeing felt as if you had known
here lies a man who lost his virginity during his senior class trip to Grand Bahama Island but thanks to the storms that had gone before them their sailboats never made it, so the deceased and his girlfriend wandered the sandy streets and empty beaches of a much smaller island where they were now stranded, peeking into dark bars where reggae music pulsed, buying t-shirts from dreadlocked street vendors with sailboats on the fronts, eating French fries and ice cream in dingy restaurants, waving to ebony children in pastel clothing, smiling at women with colorful string who reached out the bright white palms of their hands, desperate to touch and braid the deceased’s girlfriend’s long black hair, she flirting with them, smiling and bashfully shaking her head, but eventually they’d leave civilization behind, winding along powdery trails through tall grass to the beach, where they spread a blanket upon sand that was not the sweet sugar of travel brochures but course wet granules laced with seaweed and crumbly driftwood, and after it happened, after they finally did what they had promised they would not do, they stared out into the water, green turning blue turning clear turning green, the sunlight splitting open a hole in the clouds, the sea bringing wind from far away places and smashing it into their faces, and prayed that they might be forgiven (sorry mom, sorry dad, sorry grandmothers and grandfathers, sorry current, past and future family members to whom this news will or would have brought shame, and if you are reading this now please know he tried to not give in, and if it’s any consolation he truly did believe that he and his girlfriend would be together forever, despite the fact that her Korean parents had warned her that they’d disown her if she ever married a white boy, and so the deceased and this girl had covertly planned out the next eight years, a seemingly Biblical amount of time, but by that point the girl’s parents would have put her through college and then engineering school and she’d have a job and could support his dream of being an artist, but until then they—the deceased and his Korean paramour—would have to pretend they weren’t together and she’d have to tell her parents when he parked the car in front of her house and tooted the horn that she was going to the mall with a friend, which was of course not the whole truth because he was more than a friend and they weren’t going to the mall, they were going to hide themselves beneath the piney drapes of tree limbs in public parks, basically anywhere they could touch one another without being seen and where she would ask, “You wanna come in?” and he’d say, “Sure,” and she’d say, “Just for a minute,” and so this coming in agreed upon they would quickly engage for a few minutes and then quickly disengage, all of which was done without any protection of any kind, since purchasing protection would have not only been super embarrassing but would’ve also called attention to the fact that they’d planned to do the exact thing that they’d promised again and again they would not do, as they knew it was not what G-d had wanted, so yes, it was pretty stupid that they thought that this whole quick engage method would prevent them from getting pregnant, but lo and behold it did, or seemed to, though it did not prevent the two from going crazy with guilt and fear, and once the girl had even missed her period and resorted to things like punching herself in the stomach and it wasn’t until she fell down on her knees—really, the second that she began to pray, which she’d been too ashamed to do—that she could feel the blood flowing, an event that seemed supernatural but sadly did not prevent the deceased or his girlfriend from continuing to engage in unprotected coupling, the act of which was fraught with hang-ups of all sorts, not to mention a succession of break-ups and a series of getting back togethers, and when the girlfriend finally said goodbye, she did so by going home and engaging in protected coupling with someone who was not the deceased, not because she loved the other someone more than the deceased, or was even more interested in the other someone, but because she realized that the deceased had become a shell of his former self and that—despite all the time and energy they’d invested in being together—they weren’t meant to last, and the only way he would ever leave her alone was if she did it with someone else, which she did, and later on in life, after the deceased had met the true love of his life, who did not play games or tricks or put up with or produce bullshit of any kind, but spoke frankly and intelligently and loved him without conditions, he would look back on the sad day she called to tell him what she had done and think it had been a blessing in what he would now consider had been a truly remarkable disguise)
to all ye who behold this stone let it be known that beneath it lies a man who did not want to take his son sledding at the big hill because he was lazy and because it was two days after the big storm, meaning that sledders had probably already shellacked the thing to greased ice, not to mention that the storm had—in its final hours—turned to sleet and now walking through it was like stomping through a frozen crust, not to mention the wind chill was bringing the temps down below any reasonable level, and it wasn’t that the man ended up having a change of heart as much as it was that he’d become tired of his kid and the neighbor kid begging and pleading, “can we go to the big hill now, can we go to the big hill now,” the repetition of which he needed to be saved from and so he agreed and so they went dragging their sleds and slipping on glassy patches of ice on the snowy trails, which the boys tried to sled on despite the fact that there were few places with a declension, which meant the man had to not only walk and stay upright with a leashed dog but also push with his boot the boys’ sleds, and this took what seemed like an interminable amount of time, but when they finally reached the hill and the boys began to thrust themselves forward (lying stomach down on the plastic) the man smiled and whooped and allowed the dog who had been inside for a long time storing up who knows how much energy to run free and unleashed, bounding down the hill after the sledders then galloping back up, striding, as always, like a gazelle if gazelles were also friendly and wanted to lick and say hello to every stranger they ever met, a sight which the deceased had to admit he liked very much and would never have seen had he remained, as he was, inside his home in a house that, sometimes, had the effect of preventing him from experiencing what was outside, which was, of course, and always would be, life
Matthew Vollmer is the author of a story collection, Future Missionaries of America, and is co-editor, with David Shields, of Fakes: An Anthology of Pseudo-Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, “Found” Texts, and Other Fraudulent Artifacts (forthcoming from Norton). You can visit his blog here.