Good Luck: Episode Twenty-One

Read the first part of this story, “Birds,” right here.


The man from New Jersey is woken by gunshots in his apartment. He is lying on the living room couch, facing the buttoned sofa back, and here is another shot, behind him. He rolls off the couch and covers his face, cowering, “Stop.” His wife is standing in the doorway, tears streaming down her face. Out of bullets, she drops the gun on the floor. Down the hallway she flees; barricading herself in the blue room. She calls the police.


He gets off the floor, picks up the gun, understands what has happened, hides it in the bookcase, pads barefoot down the hallway toward her, calling her name. Behind the door, he hears her stop crying. “Hey, goddammit, it’s me.” She flings open the door and embraces him. “They said you were dead.” “Well, they were wrong.”

When the police get there, it’s all easily explained away. They apologize for kicking in the door and coming in with guns drawn like that, but also, people shouldn’t treat guns like toys. One cop is especially angry when the man from New Jersey offers the reasonable explanation, “I bought the gun for the house, but I never got real bullets. I put blanks in it.” “And why would you do that,” the cop says. The man from New Jersey says, “Because I always thought she would accidentally shoot me, and it would have happened tonight, so I wasn’t wrong.” She says, embarrassed, “Yes, officer, I am so so sorry.” “Why would you shoot your husband on the couch, real bullets or what?” “I made a mistake. I thought he was a burglar.” “A burglar asleep on your couch?” “A burglar asleep on my couch.” Some of the cops walk off down the hallway and are heard laughing hysterically in the kitchen.


They want to see his identification, and his wife says, “I have it,” and goes to her purse. She hands him a large ziplock bag, inside is his wallet, covered in blood. The police see it and don’t comment. The man from New Jersey pulls the wallet out, retrieves his driver’s license and hands it over. The cop scans the license with his cellphone and finds the handgun is registered to the man from New Jersey. The cop makes a disappointed sound, and says, “Whose blood is that?” “Mine.” “What happened?” “Art project,” the wife says. “Yeah, she’s an artist,” he says. The police write a citation for the noise, take the gun with them. In 48 hours it can be picked up at the precinct.


When they leave, she begins to cry again. He sits with her and tries to explain and she tries to listen. “His name was Alec Durak. We switched jobs a few days ago. He was carrying my wallet and I was carrying his…” He takes Alec’s wallet out and shows it to her, shows her Durak’s ID. “He fell…or jumped, I don’t know. I’m fine. I work in an office full of birds now.” “What,” she says. “Seagulls, pigeons; I saw an oriole yesterday. I didn’t die.” “I see that. I was so scared. People from your work spoke to me.” “They did? Of course they did. I’m sorry. I called. I left a voicemail.” “Who listens to voicemails?” “Don’t be so mad,” he says, “I should be mad. You tried to shoot me.” “A burglar,” she says, “for the last time, I thought you were a burglar.” When he was on night shift at the plastic plant, she had not been able to sleep, demanded he get her a handgun, he did, and it’d worked, her dreams were sweet. He called it The Placebo Pistol. The blanks with which he had loaded The Placebo Pistol had saved his life, or Alec Durak’s, whosoever he was living as now.

“They tried to pay me a lot of money.” “I know,” he says, unsurprised, “that’s what they do.” The plant where he works cannot stand a significant injury, OSHA will shut them down when the next one is reported. The plant bought off Sherman who lost those three fingers; of course they tried to buy off the man’s wife, her silence. She is now the widow from New Jersey, and has much power over them.


The widow from New Jersey shows the man from New Jersey the check she was given. A significant check. It’s enough money for them both to quit their jobs, it’s eight years of combined salary. “How did you meet with them so fast?” “They said it was an emergency and to come to a specific address.” “Which was?” “A Panera Bread by your job, but when I got there it was closed and there was just a red-headed woman and two guys in suits.” An Emergency Panera Bread, he thinks. A Placebo Pistol, he thinks. “The men in suits were very serious. They looked like…they looked like…they just scared me, I don’t know.” The men explained to her that her husband had died while at work, but they made it sound like the man from New Jersey had been working outside the facility when the fatality occurred. They made it sound like the man from New Jersey was repairing a cloud that had floated many miles beyond the perimeter of the facility, and as he fell from this wayward cloud, the wind had blown him even farther, farther, and farther away from the thresholds of their responsibility. The red-headed woman passed the significant check to the widow from New Jersey, and the weeping began, and got worse, all the way home, where she discovered a man had broken into her apartment and had taken a nap mid-burglary, and when he woke up, he was going to kill her too.


The man from New Jersey hugs her for a long time, and she says she is thankful he is alive and he says he feels thankful to be alive and to be in her life. He picks up the check and looks at it. She studies his face. “What do we do now?” “I don’t know.” “What do we do about Alec Durak? His wife. His family. What about them?” “Tomorrow I’ll go to work and find out more about him, and them, okay?” “Okay.” “Tomorrow I go to work, tomorrow you deposit the check.”


The next morning, he parks the Nissan in Alec Durak’s parking spot and walks into the office building with a briefcase in his hand, the only thing inside: a copy of The Sportswriter by Richard Ford. He is wearing a suit and tie, and freshly shined shoes.


There are more birds in the office. There is shit on the copy machine. Some of the birds flap around. Others coo. Office staff walk by carrying file folders, or cups of coffee, and birds that rest on the top edge of cubicle walls flap off, land on the top edge of other cubicle walls. The office staff make the best of the birds, act as if the birds are not there. The man from New Jersey walks into his cubicle and sees a fat black crow walking across his desk, and then onto his keyboard; the footsteps of the bird’s talons enter random information into an ever-expanding Excel cell. “Come on, get going.” The crow looks hard at him, as if insulted, and flies up and out of the cubicle. The man from New Jersey sits down, begins to look through the left side of Durak’s desk. He finds many blank notebooks with the first page torn out of them, and a wonderful assortment of fine pens. The only item of note on that side of his desk is a pad full of To-Do-Lists with every line on every page filled in with the word “Hawaii”, not a single Hawaii checked off. When he looks up from the desk, he notices three birds silently  looking down at him from their perch on his cubicle wall. Two warblers and a red cardinal. He recognizes the red cardinal, any fool could; he has to search out the warblers on his phone. When he plays clips of the warbler’s birdsong, the real warblers sing back, become smitten with him. The cardinal has had enough. It leaves.


He walks to human resources. “I’d like to check to see if my wife, or my husband, or whoever, is on my insurance.” “Your wife or your husband, or your whoever?” “Yeah, my whoever.” The man from human resources searches Alec Durak’s file and says there is no one attached to his healthcare. “Who’s my emergency contact?” The man from human resources reads out a telephone number. “Thank you.” Back at his cubicle he dials the number and Jackyln Something answers. She sounds distressed, says she isn’t in the office now but will be soon. He hangs up.


At lunch he walks to Jacklyn’s office. Her door is closed. He opens it. She is at her desk, staring down at nothing. “I’m sorry if I’ve upset you,” he says. “It’s not you.” “Has something happened?” he asks, fishing. “Yes,” she says, “but I can’t say. Wish I could.” He closes the door and sits down across from her, “I’ll cut to it. Yesterday I saw someone fall from the top of the reactor. They couldn’t have lived.” “Alec, what are you saying?” “I’m saying I know.” She gets up and opens the door, sees no one is eavesdropping, locks it, and sits back down. He says he can be quiet about what he saw, she says she understands what he means. She tells him to resign from his position, and to expect a payment of gratitude. They negotiate back and forth how much gratitude is enough gratitude, and he leaves her office with an agreed upon figure (one he is borderline insulted by). He sits down at his desk and begins to draft out his letter of resignation. He is sure he is an entry level employee and didn’t know entry level employees ever wrote letters of resignation. Maybe Jackyln Something thinks too highly of him.

After his letter of resignation is complete, the man from New Jersey cleans out the right side of Durak’s desk, where in the bottom drawer he finds two laminated cards from a funeral home, a man and a woman, husband and wife, 1948-2019, 1946-2019. Both cards mention Alec as the surviving son. There are no other relatives mentioned on either card.


After work, the man from New Jersey drives Alec Durak’s Nissan to Doylestown, Pennsylvania. When he arrives at the dead man’s house, he finds it vacant and sadder than he expected. As he opens the door, he is surprised by a calico cat, starving to death, and vocal, and rushing in and out of the man’s legs, making his steps forward difficult. The man from New Jersey nearly trips on the cat. He proceeds directly to the kitchen and finds the cat food in the cupboard, fills the dish to the top. He begins a broader search of the house. There is a pile of mail, but none of it is addressed to anyone other than Alec Durak. Logging onto the computer, he checks the direct messages on three social media accounts and sees nothing sent or received. He clicks on the text message app on the computer and checks Durak’s texts, nothing but confirmations on food delivery orders from local restaurants and dirty messages from Jackyln Something. Nudes and sexts, except for one long text which reads, “Alec, tonight was good, but something seems wrong and I think you should consider seeing a therapist…yes, I’m here for you…I just think you should see a professional…maybe? Plz don’t hate me. See you at lunch. Want Cheesecake Factory? On me. Also…I’ll do that thing you like, b4 or after if you consider what I’m saying re dr. Am I crazy too? Yasssss.” He closes it all down.


The man from New Jersey takes some more dress clothes out of Alec’s closet, and cherrypicks some novels from his bookcase. He gets in the Nissan and wonders where the dead man left his car when they swapped.


Two miles down the road, he remembers the cat and turns back, thinking the cat will be good for the office. It can fight the birds. But when he gets home, his widow is so happy to see the cat, and he can’t sell it to her that it is to be a cat of war. The first night it is fed tuna fish.


That night the man from New Jersey dreams he finds a stack of Alec Durak’s writing, which may be a creative writing project, or may not be: 365 quick capsule suicide notes, one for each day of the previous year, ending with a note detailing a swan dive from the reactor, in the dream the man from New Jersey scans all these suicide notes into a collective PDF and sends it off to a publisher under his own name, wins a considerable prize; the widow from New Jersey dreams she falls from an airplane without a parachute, and believes she will die, and says a prayer to God on the way down, but here comes the man from New Jersey in a hot air balloon, and he catches her by the wrists as she sails past, pulls her into the basket; the cat from Pennsylvania dreams an exotic dream, dreams it is in a human restaurant, eating spring salad with prawns, using a knife and fork, seated at a small table in Santa Barbara, California, on a date with a beautiful Persian cat who is sipping a mimosa from a straw and on the menu it’s called a meowmosa; Durak dreams of nothing because he is dead, and there is no Heaven or Hell, he still believes; his parents are in Heaven, dreaming The Greatest Hits Dreams that everyone gets to dream when they die and go to Heaven and believe;  the mother of the man from New Jersey is not sleeping and so is not dreaming, she is in psychic pain because her son has died in an industrial accident, the location of which is unspecified, but it doesn’t matter, death is death; the father of the man from New Jersey is dreaming his son is in Hell and is being tempted by the devil into an even deeper pit of Hell where the real pain shall begin, the father is thrashing in his sleep, and the brother of the man of New Jersey hears it in his room, comes down the hallway, wakes his father, gives him more medicine. Before he wakes, the man from New Jersey has one last dream: he is a bird flying over the South Pacific, the winds helping him along to the point of his fine-feathered hollow-boned destiny, Pineapple Paradise.


In the morning, the widow says to him, “You need to call your mother, tell her everything is okay. She keeps texting me the saddest things.” The widow shows him pictures of their wedding day, pictures of his mother and them. “You can’t let her keep thinking you’re dead.” “I’m dead enough until the life insurance policy pays out, I’ll say that.” “Tell her.” “I’ll tell her. Now isn’t a good time, she’s grieving.” “If you tell her she can stop grieving.” “You’re not supposed to wake up a sleepwalker and you’re not supposed to say Smile You’re On Candid Camera to your mother who thinks you’re dead. Bad things happen.”


While the widow takes a call from the mother of the man from New Jersey, he sits on the living room couch looking through the business cards in Alec Durak’s wallet: a psychiatrist; a handyman named Joe, who is also seems to be Durak’s landlord, a handwritten addendum written in blue pen says “LANDLAWD”; a popular car wash chain, with all the holes punched, a free wash if the man from New Jersey goes there. The man gets off the couch and goes straight to the car wash, gets the Nissan a free scrub, trades it in at a local used car lot for far less than it is worth. The title to the car is in the glovebox. Durak never was one to give a fuck. The man from New Jersey calls up Joe and tells him he is suddenly moving far away; he agrees readily to pay off the rest of the lease, even tells Joe to keep all his things, which Joe is happy to hear. “I have the cat, though.” Next, he calls the psychiatrist and says he, Alec Durak, found the card in his wallet, but he is suffering from amnesia after a strong blow to the skull, would you please care to give me a quick summary of what is wrong with me mentally and socially, and did I ever mention a secret sister, or a black ops close friend, or a cloaked or uncharted cousin? The psychiatrist urges the caller to come in and see him, Tuesday, 7pm, but the request is denied.


That night the man from New Jersey and his widow sit on the couch, listening to music, watching the cat bat dust bunnies. The widow takes another call from the man from New Jersey’s mother, retreats into the blue room where the reception is better. There is a wake to plan. He watches the cat for a while. Watches it bite its own tail. Calicos are always the craziest. After a while the widow comes back and says, “Wake is day after tomorrow.” “You can’t go,” he says. “I have to,” she says, “I have to support your mother.” “No.” “You have to come too.” “Who do I look like, Huckleberry Finn?”


At work the next day he hands in his resignation letter. His boss, who he has never spoken to before, and who has assigned him no work, nor checked up with him at any point before this, just shrugs his shoulders and says, “Okay,” when passed the letter. He tells the boss he has to leave early for a wake and the boss says, “Okay.” “I’ll be here tomorrow if anybody wants to throw me a party again.” “Okay.”


The man from New Jersey is taken to Human Resources where he is given a check for all of Durak’s unused vacation and sick time, equaling out to a few thousand dollars. As he is walking back into the office, the ceiling collapses in the north west corner, a nest full of robin’s eggs falls to the carpet. None of them break. Everyone stops working and stands around ohhhing and ahhhing, while the man from New Jersey slips out, down the elevator, out into the fresh air. Tomorrow will be his last day. He is on foot and is surprised to find his own broken down shitty car in the lot of the strip mall with the Panera Bread. At first he can’t explain this, but then he thinks it must have been Jacklyn Something, or the suited men who’d slipped his widow the significant check. The keys are in the ignition. He drives the car to the same lot where he sold the Nissan. These are the lucrative and wildly chaotic renegade outlaw days of his middle new life. Carless again, and free as ever, he takes a bus to the shore. He steps out into the cool air. Relieved. His phone rings, it’s the cops, they’re still laughing hysterically in the background, “Mel Blank, your gun is ready.” He says, “Keep it.”


He walks along the strip of seashore shops, hearing the sinister heckling of the gulls just out of view, closer to the breaking waves, or in the parking lot of the McDonald’s, he can’t tell which. He slips into a mom and pop pharmacy and buys a roll of strawberry-colored gauze and a pair of mirrored aviator sunglasses. He also buys a bereavement card, stuffs it full of money for his mother, and his woeful father. There is time to kill before his own wake, and not much more traveling to do, so he walks down the beach, carrying his shiny shoes, pants legs rolled up, tie flapping in the wind. It’s quiet down on the beach, empty except for some windburnt, square-shouldered fishermen in jean jackets, and two children who are flying a bald eagle kite and should be in school today. It’s the third of April, unseasonably warm, but the swimmers won’t show until Memorial Day. He crouches down and builds a pathetic sand castle with just his hands and some cold mud. Another phone call. The widow from New Jersey. She is delighted to hear he is coming to the service, she needs his support in this trying time. He tells her he loves her and she says it back, hangs up. Sand blows in his eyes and he looks away, temporarily blinded. When he can open them again, he is looking at something familiar, a bungalow he has seen before. In real life? In a dream? No. In a photograph. He realizes he is looking at Sherman’s bungalow. Sherman has shown him pictures of it with pride at the plastic plant, his first few days back at work. Grinning wide, Sherman had said, “Look at what my debilitating injury got me.”

The man from New Jersey walks up the beach, the pharmacy bag and his shoes blowing in the wind. He walks up onto a protected dune and stops to read the sign that says explicitly why he should not be walking on the protected dune. And now he can see Sherman, slumped over at a table in his small yard. Slumped over at a tiny white plastic table, seated in a white plastic chair. The plant gave Sherman that patio set four years before, rewarding Sherman for reaching 25,000 personal safety hours without any safety infraction. The man from New Jersey walks off the protected dune and nudges open the gate that leads onto Sherman’s property. “Hello,” he says, and when Sherman turns to look at him, the man from New Jersey sees that Sherman is bleary-eyed, dead drunk. “What do you want? Who are you? Selling bibles?” The man from New Jersey tells Sherman he is his new neighbor. Sherman reaches down into a cooler and pulls out two cold beers. The men sit together and drink. “New neighbor, you’re gonna like it here…I’m a retiree. Don’t look so surprised. I know I’m young. I was in construction…” Sherman holds up his mangled hand, shows it off, “…But this isn’t why I’m retired. No sir.” “Then why?” “Corporate scardycata bought me out. God bless ‘em.” “Oh?” “Yessir, they bought me out, they bought my little crew out. Three of us. We’re all retired. Generous severance packages. The cost of industry in this country, I’ll just say that. All of us, men of leisure now, except for one guy, not so lucky and that’s all I’ll say.” “What happened to him?” Sherman grabs another beer, “American way got the best of him.”


The sun falls and the sky runs through the gamut of severe shades, just in case somebody somewhere in view is trying to paint it, but nobody is, so joke is on the sky for expending all the energy. It should just get on with darkness and surrender, and rest, but it never does. The sky is always so wasteful at sunset. Maybe more so at sunrise.


The man from New Jersey puts his shoes on, and because there are no taxis running this time of year, Sherman insists he take one of the junk bicycles off the pile. “Just bring it back later, neighbor.” Sherman puts his head down, closes his eyes, hovers just above the scythe held nonchalantly by Death. The man from New Jersey pedals the five miles to the funeral home, arrives just as his bon voyage send off begins.


Near a meager pile of ordinary flowers, his mother and father talk to the widow from New Jersey, and they are all crying about him. He stands in the back of the funeral parlor as his own brother walks up to him and says, “How are you?” “Fine, thank you.” “I hate to be rude…Can I ask what happened to you?” “It’s not rude,” the man from New Jersey says, and touches his own face, which is wrapped with the strawberry-colored gauze. “I was burnt very badly in a fire.” The brother nods, stands there staring, leans in closer, sees his own reflection in the mirrored sunglasses. “I don’t know you, do I?” “No.” “This isn’t a prank, right?” The man from New Jersey says, “I knew your brother, he was an asshole. We worked together.” The brother stands up, alarmed. He says, “I’m losing my mind, that’s all, for a minute I thought you might be him and this was all a joke.” “Common enough fantasy. I’m sorry for your loss.” “Thank you. My brother would never call himself an asshole. Excuse me. He had his redeeming qualities.” The brother walks away, crying a little, seeking out the coffee pot, or a painting to look at.


The man from New Jersey notices for the first time that there is no casket. Up front, there is an urn on a podium, his name on a small plaque attached to the base of the urn. He walks out of the room, angry. He drops the fat bereavement card in the slot of the marble box. Behind him, he can hear the laughter and sobs of his mother and his widow as they walk into the room. They are talking about him; he ducks farther away from the lamplight. When the mother walks off to the bathroom, the man from New Jersey grabs the widow’s arm and she shrieks. He covers her mouth. “You’re so high strung, it’s me, goddammit.” They go outside. She wants to sit in the car and talk. He tells her, “I sold both our cars.” “Both? Plural?” “Both our cars, yeah.” They walk hurriedly to his father’s pickup truck. His father never locks the door. They climb inside, into the back row of seats. “How did you get here?” “Bike and bus.” “Well, I’m happy to see you.” “My brother and my father probably wouldn’t even recognize me, the bandages are mostly for my mother. She could spot me a mile away.”


He remembers he is angry and gets back into it, the anger. He feels as if he was incinerated against his will. Everyone knows he wants to be buried. “Who knows this?” she says. “You don’t? I’ve mentioned it.” “When?” “I must have…” “You had plenty of time to plan your funeral and you were too busy playing with the cat and whatever else you were doing. Chit chatting with cops and shrinks.” They are quiet. Just sitting in the dark. It’s nice. The gauze itches, he wants to pull it off. The front door to the truck flies open and there is his mother digging around, looking for her cigarettes. She thinks she is alone and cries, unrestrained. He can’t help it, he says, “Mom.” She turns and sees him, thinks he is a killer, screams, trips on her feet trying to run away. He gets out of the truck and helps her up. She is yelling. He covers her mouth. “Goddammit, it’s me. It’s me. It’s me.” He pulls off the gauze. She sees for a moment, goes limp, faints. The widow and the man from New Jersey pull the mother back into the pickup truck. He jumps into the driver’s seat and starts the truck. The widow slips back inside the funeral parlor and while no one is looking, not the brother or the father, or any of the family friends,  she picks up the urn and carries it outside like it’s totally normal to do so. And maybe it is. Once they are all in the truck, the mother, the widow, the man from New Jersey, and the ashes of Alec Durak, the man from New Jersey starts the engine and they are moving along through the seashore town, 25 mph. The mother stirs, regains consciousness. She looks at the man from New Jersey, her son.  “How could you do this me?” The man from New Jersey says, “How could you incinerate me?” The brother and the father are inside the parlor, drinking coffee and eating cookies and talking about Doctor Who. The father looks less woeful. The medicine is working. But it’s an hour before the mother gets a phone call from them, when they realize the truck is gone and so is the widow, and the mother, and the urn.


The man from New Jersey and the mother and the widow and the urn, sit in a red booth in an overly chromed Greek diner, and the mother is so happy, she is eating a fried seafood platter, and her son is alive again, and she won’t stop smiling. The urn is on the table. The mother answers her ringing phone and tells her husband that she will swing back to pick him up in a half hour, she has some good news, and don’t worry about the ashes, everything is fine. She hangs up. Looking at the ashes she says, “Wait, then who is in the urn?” The man from New Jersey says, “Alec Durak, total sweetheart. Nicest guy you’d ever meet.” They are all staring at the urn when the waiter comes back with the check.


The man from New Jersey goes back to the office the next morning. His final day. He has a large cardboard box with him. He lugs it into the building and into the elevator. Goes to the fifth floor. At his cubicle, he cuts it open and there is a bird feeder inside, assembly required, and a large sack of wild bird seed. He assembles the bird feeder. He installs it so it is held up through a hole in his desk where the wires for his computer used to run down to the tower before he threw those things in a pile in the break room. The birds squawk and flap and coo and chirp and descend toward the bird feeder in a frenzy. They block out the fluorescent lights and cast dinosaur shaped shadows on every cubicle. In five minutes, the bird seed is empty and he has to refill the feeder. He is overjoyed. As he stands on the top of his desk, the hairs on the back of his neck and on the top of his head rise up because of the close proximity to the fluorescent lights. Once he steps down and back from the bird feeder, the birds rush in again and peck food out, and make all the noise God intended them to make inside an office building. A glorious symphony of seraphic doom.


The man from New Jersey walks over to the bathroom. He finds the doors are wedged open and there is a sign: PLEASE LEAVE OPEN FOR DUCKS. Each sink contains a duck. When he tries to use a stall, he finds six ducklings, fuzzy and yellow, floating in the clean toilet. He opens the next stall, finds it empty of ducks or geese or white ibises or anything, so he uses  that one.


Jackyln Something calls him into her office. She has a check for him, too. The last of the corporate hush money. A final check. Even if it is borderline insulting, valuewise. He goes to shake her hand and she leans forward and plants a long wet kiss on his knuckles and then on his lips. She says, “If anything ever happens to your wife, let me know.” He leaves her office with an erection and a fair amount of guilt for all he’s done. More birds, more birds, masses of swallows and starlings and titmice and hummingbirds and blue jays appear, flying down through the broken ceiling, dropping in, spreading their wings, singing their songs. No one in the office lets it deter them from their work at their glowing computer screens. It’s time for him to leave.


Out in the stairwell, he sees a young man, baby-faced, walk by the diamond glass window with a blue hard hat on his head. The man from New Jersey goes out there. The workers are back to continue the repairs to the duct work, but they don’t quite know the job. They are all new. Green. Inexperienced. The man from New Jersey’s coworkers have been put out to pasture. Are gone from the industry. He tells the construction workers that he knows what the problem is. They’re all thankful. He leads them to the roof of the building and shows them the section of ductwork where he hid with Sherman when the police seemed thirsty for their blood, back on the day when they were briefly considered active shooters. He thinks, Placebo Pistol. He thinks, NASCAR. The man from New Jersey unlocks the toolbox and gives the young men the key, “Be safe up here. Wear a harness and tie off.” They thank him. He wishes them good luck. They wish him good luck back.


Many months later, they’re driving along. Pineapple Paradise. The island of Oahu. Stereo off. It’s a serious day. They are trying to decide the perfect spot to scatter the ashes of Alec Durak. In the car is the man from New Jersey, and the widow from New Jersey, and the calico cat from Pennsylvania, and the urn from the urn store. The roof of the convertible is down and everyone’s hair is blowing around who isn’t made of ash and who doesn’t live inside a copper urn. Near sunset, they decide on a cliff side. They park as close as they can and walk the rest of the way. From there, they can see far out, where the waves are tall and gallant and certainly immortal. Out here, the sunset doesn’t look wasted, every effort the sky puts forth is appreciated, is painted, is photographed, makes it into all the poems. The forever blue of the Pacific Ocean is turning temporarily black. The cat sits down, looks out at the last of the light on the water, isn’t eating it’s leash anymore. The widow brushes her hair out of her eyes and feels calm, feels the arrow of life pointing in her direction. The man from New Jersey opens the urn and the ashes float out, as if by their own volition, carried up on the wind, disappearing across Hawaii, and everything else we have dared to name.


The next day, at a white hotel in the middle of greenery of all kind and wild chickens scrambling all around, the widow and the man from New Jersey are married, again. They say I love you till death do we part, again. I do, again. I do, again. Mr. and Mrs. Durak.



BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Vintage, 2022), among others.

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