Friday, April 17, 2009
"A Tiny Feast" Chris Adrian. New Yorker Story
Chris Adrian. "A Tiny Feast". New Yorker, April 20, 2009
There are places in the world--too many places--for too many of this planet's temporary inhabitants, where death does not come as a surprise or interruption, but camps like an unwelcome guest, squatting on the doorstep, sharing the family compound, sleeping beside them in the box or the sheet of aluminum that shelters them from sun or rain (when rain remembers to come); a guest who has been there as long as even the oldest can remember, stealing, as soon as one's back is turned, or in plain sight, from the cupboard of life, the very breath they thought had been hidden away, for whose sake they had gone through the motions of masking from his vision with charms and prayers--long after there remains not the least reason to believe in the power of charms or prayers to save--but for those of us privileged to live what we like to think of as normal lives, even those who understand and accept the terms of our limited contract on this earth, when death comes to claim those we love, it comes as something uncanny, a mystery, incomprehensible, for which, not even our previous losses can prepare us.
Chris Adrian's "A Tiny Feast" is an almost miraculous realization of the mystery of death, of the power of its visitation, of how it astonishes us into recognition of love--how is it possible for anything to be at once, "so awesome and so utterly powerless?"
Oh, and how do we account for the strange ways of medicine and therapeutic care, the magic of which is not love... but indifference?
This story is a Faery tale. The parents of the dying child are none other than Oberon and Tatiana. The caretakers don't recognize them for what or who they are--for the absolutely unique and unanticipated loss they are experiencing. Cut off, as we all are in their place, at least for a time, from the human community: what the Jewish tradition of mourning recognizes in the etiquette of sitting shiva. Guests enter the house of the mourners, but in silence. They may speak, but only if the mourners initiate the conversation. It's understood that death and mourning cuts us off from the community and we re-enter only in stages over time. Seven days of Shiva. Thirty days without the artificial pleasures of music and wine. Eleven months and the end of the obligation to recite Kaddish. Yahrzeit commemorating the day of loss after a year. A light ignited year by year for life.
They are faeries. They are immortal... as are we all in our imagination. What do you do with Death, when you are immortal?
... but offer to the dying ... a little feast?
Chris Adrian's story... is just that: a little feast. To all of us... mortals, who live under the hill ... and always have, and always will.