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Birthrights and Deathbeds

Brother’s back.


Father forbade me from seeing you before Sunday. I suspect Jacobian theft of a birthright is in scheme.


Father leans over to me at the dinner table and whispers “There’s always equity in the banana stand.” I smile comprehendingly.

Later Tiffani asks me what he said. “I don’t know,” I frown. “Something about horses and bananas.”


“Father, see Father? The drachma you gave me, I planted in the ground, knowing you were a hard man who reaped what you did not sow. See Father I have kept what is yours and now I return it to you.” You hand him a golden coin. He removes the wrapper and a swarm of ants envelop his hand. His eyes darken.

“You knew I was a hard man, you knew I reaped where I did not sow. And yet you buried my bedtime snack in the ground where thieves can steal and moths may eat?” He begins to cry. You dodge around the house. “No! No! I think we have something! I think we have maybe some jelly beans?” He wails.


I return some minutes later, forlorn but with purpled mouth and stained lips. “Father, there were no jelly beans.”

You leap from your chair to accuse me, but the falling of a jelly bean from your lap is heard loudly. Father’s eyes turn to you in horror, and mine slant in victory.

You will always wonder how I did it, the jelly bean in your lap. But I will die with the secret, and it is only on your deathbed, with your son grown tall and fair sitting beside you, when he whispers low “It was I. You cannot speak but your eyes ask why. ‘Why.’ I could ask the same, as a small boy of ten with a basket of Halloween candy who awaited me – a basket that contained four lollies when I slept and three when I awoke.”

And the rift in your heart will be but a blip on the doctor’s monitor, and the warden will say “It is time.”

The Place to Be

The death of Gramie brought us home. From across Texas, from Arizona, from Jamaica, and in a brilliantly kept secret, even from France, as Conrad walked in the front door with nonchalance and beer. Only a few absences made the reunion imperfect.

For three days our independent lives stopped. We were again children, but children with children, swarming about the family home like a gleefully disrupted ant pile. There was a memorial service at the center, somber and teary despite our attempt to celebrate life. On either side of the service was the true celebration, three generations reveling in the joy that Gramie bequeathed.

There was no guilt in hours of coffee and cigarettes on the porch, watching Eli and Ava and Ethan inch permissively from paddleboats to swimming. No guilt in Cody and Conrad playing wandering games of pétanque, nor Cameron studiously tuning everyone out for bitwise operators. None in the sisters running regimens around the lake in brown-limbed clusters, or Ashton waddling gleefully from Savannah to Jon, arms outstretched toward his endless family. In Mama and Papa rocking, relaxed and reflective, on the porch as their generations played out before them. Arguing Lord of the Rings and George MacDonald with Will and Carolyn deep into the night. Tacos from the taco shack, misunderstandings and explanations, flared anger and quiet forgiveness. It was sheer and endless joy, deep and true joy. It was one of the better Bluth parties.

It’s an odd and beautiful thing, that death can be the nucleus for so much life. Odd, but so completely natural. “When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass.”

Only the insecure wish to be grieved. Gramie would be happy to know she was the reason for all these beautiful moments. We miss her, but more to her liking, we guiltlessly swim in the joy of being.

Another Time, Maybe

Today was the first day since December 20, 1927 that my Gramie did not wake up. She died at 9:07pm yesterday, holding the hands of my brother and sister-in-law, her son at her feet. She lived 87 years, almost 70 of them married to my Grandad. She was a triumph of class, dignity, and poise. She went by Joey to her friends.

Gramie and Grandad posing for a photo for the Philadelphia Inquirer

For days we took turns keeping vigil and company while she slept. She roused herself only briefly for quiet conversation and smiles. She would reach for Grandad first, ever present in his wheelchair by her side. Then she stopped waking at all. She might open her eyes and briefly see you, but just as quickly slip back away.

We knew this was coming. It was no surprise. The body falls apart at the end, an unhappy but gracious preparation for everyone.

Yesterday, the day she died, I came to her door. Grandad was sitting alone beside her bed, watching her. He asked her a question. I didn’t hear it, but I heard her silence. Grandad waited a few moments and said, gently and truly, “Another time, maybe.”

Gramie and Grandad waving

Ashton woke up early today. I took him to the park and let Rae and Ethan sleep. The sun rose without Gramie. Ash ran guiltless and squealing after squirrels.

My sons will only know her through museum glass. They won’t know her shimmering bell-chime laugh, often delayed by asking someone to repeat the joke. They won’t know the way she would look deeply in your eyes and pour her concerns into you and draw your concerns into her, and the way she would gasp, moved beyond measure by your travails, and say “Oh, Justin.” They won’t know that peculiar combination of intimidation and warmth you felt upon entering her perfect home, where tiny china cups of coffee sat beside ferns she’d potted that morning, where a sparkling crystal decanter cast rainbows on a sleeping cat. They won’t know her as a woman of unimpeachable grace, who showed her class through kindness and hospitality. They will know of her, but they won’t know her.

But another time, maybe.

The Largest Quantity of Hemlock I Could Procure


I’m hurt, Roger. There’s no other way to say it. I’m hurt. I wrote you a letter, Roger, and I expected a return, but none has been posted. How do you think that makes me feel, Roger. Do you like making me terribly vexed, you cruel thing? You awful, cruel thing? You want me to swallow hemlock, don’t you Roger? That would make you happy, wouldn’t it, you cruel sadistic thing? I know you care, Roger, I know you do. You just don’t show it and I don’t really know.

Send your regards, Roger. Or send the hemlock.

Breathlessly yours,


Dear Rose,

Please cease your endless barrage of sentimental babble. I realize my attempts at polite conversation upon my weekly visits to the grocery were translated as romancing. I found the first letter rather unsettling, as well as the proceeding dozen. Please do not be offended, but I find you repulsive. I’m sure one day in the future you will stumble upon a very sad, lonely, and undoubtedly homely boy who, in a desperate attempt at the basest form of affection will muster the strength (with eyes closed and breath held, surely) to pull you close enough to his breast to sate your incessant pleas for validation. In the meantime, I would recommend you subscribe to Readers Digest, or perhaps a Sears catalog, and concentrate more on the knitting course you are so fond of mentioning. Stop taking to heart everything “Mother” tells you, and for God’s sake Mittens’ paw will heal in time, maybe if you stopped trying to get her to exercise on it and rubbing it with every magical potion you dig up from the old wives’ tales passed about by your Mother’s friends at the Sunday Luncheon. With only a layman’s knowledge, I am still fairly confident in saying garlic and peppermint oil will do nothing, nor will caging her with a live cricket and thistle leaves at midnight under a full moon.

If you insist on sending future letters, at least stop dowsing them in whatever general store, paisley-boxed reeking essence you attempt to pass off as perfume. It has made my dog quite sick, and I have to walk him around in fresh air every time I come home and find a letter obtrusively thrust under my front door, the thickness of which usually impedes in the actual opening of said door, a very unhappy nuisance to occur after a day’s work.

No, the post was not losing your correspondence, I had specifically requested that no letters from you be delivered.

Enclosed is the largest quantity of hemlock I could procure.

Sincerely Agitated,



Colonel Samuel Wilson
Subversive Activities Investigation Group
ANCIL-3, NORAD, Colorado


Please find attached a series of correspondences forwarded to us by a Ms. Rose Wilson of Oak Park, Illinois. It concerns a colleague of hers that she claims may be a Communist subversive. As per protocol, please investigate. However, you should have some background about Ms. Wilson’s history with our department.

We receive on average two or three such accusations from Ms. Wilson per month. Around certain holidays, this number will often triple. As of yet, none have resulted in conclusive evidence of subversive activities. Traditionally, she’ll annotate the letter she forwards with guidance markers: underlines, arrows, assorted marginalia drawing attention to particularly damning passages. Previous investigators have found these annotations unhelpful, although often entertaining. (See below, “This RED CAD marches to the RUSKIE beat!” and “Evidence of Orgy participation--- sexual COMMUNISM and a SCARLET letter?!”)

Audible sigh. Sam, I have to be honest. This woman frightens me. When the Senator first established this program, you know I was in full support of it. I turned my d—ed mother in, for Pete’s sake. Yours, too! (Sorry, again, about that. Really, though, who goes to eleven pot luck dinners in a single month?) But the fervor with which the women, these lonely women, point the accusing finger… it sickens me, Sam. Hell, Sam, you know I’m a Patriot, I live and I’d die for this country. D— all the Communist subversives, is what I say. But if I have to corner one more lonely bank manager in his office and make him explain just what the nature of these letters are, watch him lick his sweaty, trembling pencil mustache and crush the brim of his hat in his white hands and stammer his way through my questions, all because some old maid with a senile mother didn’t return his affections… it’s enough to make a man want to turn in his badge and go back to farming, Sam. I’d take the midday sun over the glaring incandescent bulb of the investigator’s office any day. I just don’t know what to do, Sam. I believe in this, I really do, d—it Sam you know I believe it from my Irish toes to my American eyeballs, only I’m not so sure I believe in it any more. What hell hath we wrought with our zeal? Look at me. Trying at poetry, Sam. I shouldn’t drink before midday, I really shouldn’t. Particularly not while giving a letter.

Anyway. Follow protocol, look into this fellow… but answer me Sam, answer me: Why? Can you do that, Sam? Can you?

Red [hunting], white [skinned], and [feeling] blue,

Cap. Joseph Maddox
Processing and Response Dept.

No Matter How Far

No Matter How Far

Somehow, in the flurry of the holidays, I forgot to post Important Things: first, that No Matter How Far is finally through with festivals and publicly viewable, and second, that we have a website for it with BTS photos and a history of the script drafts.

There are myriad flaws and we can’t wait to do better, but we’re proud of what we accomplished with a skeleton crew and less than $500.

Didja like that? Read more in the archives.