Conversation with a Widow

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Uncle Johnny died after rigid yearsof cutting hair in his shop downtown.Toward the end he cut it badly, breathinga whisky scent into the tonic, talc andglossy male curls piling up on the tiled floor.He died shrivelled, a man who seldom spoke,still with that nickname, Johnny, lasttaciturn hint of a youth who may have beenangry, a lover of women, filled and lightenedby vast ocean, the sky over America.He spent his time at home, silent,or sometimes in bars, or on the cornerby King's Newsstand with others like himselfon sun-baked cement, spitting single words, standingin dark slacks, short-sleeved shirts and suspenders.The tall and narrow-waisted new worldhad by that time completely rejected suspenders.And after the funeral Mary, his wife, was cryingand said to me, "Why is it that the menalways die sooner? Do they just give up?"We stood there in the church of our fathers, whoexplained their own deaths, all death, by an ancient crime.How foolish it would have been to tell you, Mary,something about dioxyribonucleic acid,adaptation of the sexes, effects of the hormones,or social factors, things you'd listen to blankly.Better to say that what we find in ourselves,whatever weakness, we ourselves have put there.Both of us knew enough about men's weakness.Your question didn't need an answer: Isimply shrugged and silently, without real hope,asked to be absolved from the fault of men:Powers of earth, give me the male strengththat we desire, kindly strength, which protects.Don't make my wife a nurse, helplesslyto watch me dying drunk and before her.And do not punish me for pride becauseI've asked to be so strong: to be the last.

© Moritz Albert Frank