Fiction 2013 / Volume 43

A Motley Spirit — Terry Heller

The Spring 2013 Fiction Issue is dedicated to: 

Dr. Terry Heller 

who is retiring from his position as a Professor of English at Coe College this year. Over the years,Terry Heller has made numerous contributions to The Coe Review both of terms of written works and support. The students of the college will miss him very much next year, and chose to dedict this issue to him.

The shirts of dead men propagate in his closet.

The peach pullover drifted in from his brother-in-law – alcohol and a hemorrhaged ulcer. The blood-red plaid slipped out of a pile left by his son’s Chippewa housemate – alcohol and insulin shock. The brown flannel plaid was handed him by his mother when they lost his younger brother – his VW rolled by a drunk driver. The blue chambray, oddly, came by mail from an uncle’s widow – constricted bowel and heart attack. Another blood-red plaid, this one flannel, came from his father – Parkinson’s and heart failure.

More frequently, mornings, he would enter another man’s shroud, and for a moment or two, he would feel like someone else. And sometimes during the day, this feeling would return. He would find himself looking at his wrists, resting on the keyboard pad, his fingers poised, still. He would look at the cuffs, the sleeves, and the arms would seem to belong to the dead person, whose face would hover, haunting the shadowy screen of the TV on the shelf to his right. These faces always were silent. Why had they come? What had they to say?

In a dream last night, he found himself in his mother’s apartment at the Good Samaritan in Waterloo, and, to his horror, he was wearing the blood-red flannel. He said to himself that it was too hard to remember, though he knew he could recall perfectly – at least for now. He wore those shirts only to work or around the house, never on a weekend, never on a visit to family who might recognize one.

But, in the dream, he wore his father’s shirt in front of his mother.

Across her face emotions flickered, like the shadows of clouds over the dry grass of an autumn pasture – discomfort, recognition, surprise, longing, pain, the beginnings of anger. “How could you?”

And then he was somewhere else, doing a different ghost dance in a different wrong shirt.

That dream was less terrifying than the one that arose when he awoke in the darkness of 3:24 a.m. In a waking half-dream, he stood again in his mother’s apartment, veiled in the red flannel. She was explaining. “Anna and I went to Walmart yesterday. Fred’s favorite flakey tuna was on sale, and we bought a dozen!”

Because Dr. Dementia was filling graves in her brain, she couldn’t see that he was a ghost. Her daughter lives far away, on the coast, where she, too, is forgetting everything too fast. She has not been to Waterloo since summer. And Fred the cat has been dead since before his father. Diabetes – and a Suburban.

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