By Wynne Hungerford
He’s in a casket with his ukulele. He looks good. He looks dead, but he looks good. I showed it to some people. One person said, “Jesus,” and another said, “He looks happy!” The heart attack that finally killed him occurred while he was singing “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” at a gala in Minneapolis. I’ve never been to Minneapolis, so I can’t imagine what it even looks like there or what he might have looked like, unconscious, sweating, buttons pulling on his shirt, wife patting his cheeks, her breath dewy on his face, his breath barely there, barely, and then gone, but still the human smell coming from his open mouth, his spirit trying to escape in between bouts of CPR, rising through the clear (?) Minnesota sky, the EMS workers lifting him, heaving, pushing him into the back of the ambulance and taking him to die in the night, bringing him to it, right to the edge, and then watching him go over. Or I can imagine it. I was in a bad situation once. I’d gotten in a car accident with a man on a motorcycle. I wasn’t on the motorcycle. He was on the motorcycle and I was in an SUV. My window turned bright blue the second before it shattered, the color of a swimming pool. The whole event was like a swimming pool. I had to swim through it, the beginning, middle, and end, before I could reach the other side and return to solid ground. The truth? When I heard him moaning in the road, I was relieved because my ability to hear meant that I was still alive and him moaning meant that he was still alive, and then when the ambulance took him away first, this young man, this boy, I had the most terrifying thought of my life, which was that he was not dead yet, but that he could die at any moment on the way to the hospital, and I almost said, “Bring him back, please bring him back, because if you take him away, I won’t know if the moaning stops.” There are things I can’t talk about now, except that my injuries were fixed with rods and screws and I still consider myself unscathed. The tightening of hardware tightens the guilt. When I was in high school, I once swam in a pool near a cemetery. Wind blew fake flowers onto the water. I pretended that I was in Hawaii and wore the flowers in my hair. I felt beautiful then. There was blood on the glass, I remember that much. The glass was stained but it wasn’t stained glass. Christ and his crown of thorns, weeping from his wounds… I don’t know when Tiny Tim actually died, if it was at the gala hosted by a women’s club or if it was in the ambulance or if it was at the hospital. All I know is that his career had died a long time before his body died and he’d tried to revive it again and again. It wouldn’t restart. His heart wouldn’t restart. That’s not all. On May 15, 1970, he and his first wife had a stillborn baby, which they named “It.” There’s a photograph of the headstone on www.findagrave.com. I was looking for another headstone when I stumbled upon that one. Someone even left digital flowers on this grave’s webpage for the 50th anniversary of the baby’s death. That particular user left a comment, saying, “As your father once said, One day IT will open the pearly gates for me. Rest easy little one for you are with your father in heaven.” The name almost seems like a joke, but surely it couldn’t have been a joke. If Tiny Tim had been a religious man, wouldn’t he have worried that prayers going to “It,” his son, his proper noun, might have gotten mixed up with all of the prayers for all of the other miscellaneous “its” of the world? “Let it be peaceful, Lord.” “Let it be quick.” My hair looks like Tiny Tim’s. My teeth are also long and yellow. It’s funny to have ever felt beautiful, even for an afternoon. If I had an open casket funeral and someone approached, I doubt they would say, “She looks happy!” and I doubt they would take a photograph. I don’t know what they’d say. I don’t want to know. So far, online visitors have left 103 digital flowers for “It.” There might be more as time goes on, but even if this is all there ever is, it still seems like a lot. I guess the downside with digital flowers is that you can’t smell them and the upside is that they can’t die. Here’s something: I close my eyes and see Christ in all his modesty walking across that swimming pool by the cemetery, tiptoeing so as not to disturb the flowers.
If you like this story, please consider purchasing a pdf of the issue. It’s only $3 and you can order one on the sidebar at the right. You can also order a printed issue, if you prefer.
Image by eliana_obera from Pixabay