A Short Story
I sat in Connie’s funeral at Temple Bet Havarim, in the very last row. I wanted to be close to the restroom exit, and close enough to a wall socket to plug in a heating pad. I wanted to be out of everyone’s sight-line. Don’t let my handicaps and tics become a distraction.
I like to sit by the door. I like to play Klondike Solitaire on my phone, to settle my nerves, and I could tell Connie’s funeral might trigger a hot streak. I changed the Solitaire app settings, to deliver “Only Winnable Games.” My thwart level must remain low.
The Temple volunteers accommodated my seating arrangements and bags of props. They were kind, considering their other duties. Three of them (one in turquoise platform heels) had to manually lock and unlock the doors for each visitor. They’d been getting death threats since the Squirrel Hill massacre.
They welcomed at least two hundred of Connie’s grieving friends and relatives. I’d never been to a synagogue before.
You could say the same about Connie, back in the old days. She was brought up Minnesota Lutheran. When we were young separatists in the 1970s, she and I not only mocked Christian religion, we laughed at every faith, new and old, including some of our Wiccan sisters. We would have none of it! We’d throw open the shutters in our third floor Haight Ashbury flat, sing out our blasphemies, throwing clothes and weed out the window, defacing the oligarch's sacraments. —Then make love and start it all over again. We set our chickens free.
Thirty years later, I’d fallen out of touch with Connie, except for essential political demonstrations. She’d converted to Judaism. I found that curious, as if she’d been through a transformative near-death experience. What prompted it?
A crew of women rose to the podium stage, Connie’s choir from Temple. They sang a medley of Hebrew songs. Their voices high and silvery. I thought of all the times, as roommates, we played and screeched along with Poly Styrene on our record player: Oh Bondage! Up Yours!
A woman rabbi at the mic spoke of Connie leading the Women’s Torah study group. Connie and I also read Jewish philosophers in our youth: Trotsky. Dworkin. Abbie Hoffman. In those days, I didn’t fidget like I do now; my bowels were under my control. I don’t remember being nervous. I wanted the revolution at the White House door. So did she.
The memorial service grew long, I thought. —Moving into a third hour. Too many confused a TED talk with an homage to their dear sister, friend, and scholar. But what do I know of religious services? What is a long time, after all the times we’d spent together saying nothing at all? I don’t remember the day I moved out. I don’t remember any rancor. We drifted like the flotsam we jettisoned out the window.
My Solitaire streak went badly. Yes, my app promised the games would be “winnable,” but that doesn’t mean they’d be easy. Maybe you’ll get a hand that only a genius or a magician could beat. I’m neither.
I turned up my heating pad and wedged it against my hip. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I hoped it was something stupid, like “You swallowed too much bile,” or “Stop drinking.” I was prepared to give up things if only I know what they were. I’d only been sick for a month.
Connie died quickly. She went from, “Something hurts,” to Stage 4, to Lights-Out, in two brief months. Her lover Tala said some of the Get-Well cards arrived the same day as sympathy notes. No one knew how quickly the two would become a blur.
Connie didn’t get one winning hand the past year, not one. Maybe that was her spirit edging me through the Solitaire app, with all red cards, no black.
Beloved, bedraggled, where did you hide?
We used to go see the Jamaican film The Harder They Come, every time it screened at the neighborhood theater, midnight show. Down the street, another world. We chanted aloud the line of the sole woman character to each another: “Every game I play I lose.”
I peeled off another Red Queen, but I couldn’t place her anywhere. I was stuck. Queen fuck stuck. I was in pain from every side. If only you’d speak to me, Connie, not in words of faith, but in our familiar call to arms:
Baby, every loss I played, it was a game. Every time I played with you, I loved you. I loved you and then I lost you forever.
I pressed the Solitaire surrender button. The screen asked me if I was really willing to give up. I said that I was. I am ready to give up.
Connie’s voice in my head went quiet, and so did the pit in my stomach. The heating pad was burning so I turned it off. The silvery voices of our hosts lifted up again; they bade the mourners into an adjacent room of fragrant food and warm tearful embraces.
I stood up without my props. I would take it all, every embrace from every stranger. Every scent. I will stand and feel whatever is wrong, with no aids. I won’t play that Red-headed game again, all folds and losses, until the sun goes down.