The Circle

I said to that undertaker
Undertaker, please drive slow
For this lady you are carrying
Lord, I hate to see her go

It was like him to think of The Death of General Wolfe, not the event, but the painting. 

“Now that,” he thought, “Is a death scene.”

She considered the lack of attention of medical staff as a sign of the maldistribution of critical resources like health care. 

“I’m sure if she was the Queen of England, we’d get answers,” she thought. 

They were in the hospital room of a central figure, the woman who was, if not the trunk, certainly a main branch of their tree. 

She was dying. At least she was in the hospital, having had a stroke that rendered her unconscious. Or was she comatose? Nobody could explain that to them. 

The family had conferenced and removed everything but monitors and pain medication. Everyone braced for the moment of death, that Pietà moment where multiple generations of the family could hear the steady beep of the heart monitor. 


Just like the movies. Or art. Or any fantasy of death as the final punctuation of a life. 

But she would not let go. 

“When does she get here,” he asked. 

She looked at the clock. 

“Our girl should be getting to the airport in about 15 minutes,” she said. 

“I’ll go get her,” he said, moving toward the door. 

“No!” she said. 

“The girl insisted we stay put in case,” she said. “She’ll get a cab.”

The monitor tracked the woman’s heart rate from 100 beats per minute to 180 beats per minute. When it fell, any family present would rush to her side, hold her, and stroke her hair. Then the rate would stabilize, and then rise again. It went like this for hours. 

When their girl arrived, they greeted her in the room. 

“Who’s taking care of the baby,” he asked. 

“He’s with a friend,” she said. 

“Did you eat,” she asked. “You’re tired.”

“Guys, I’m ok,” she said. “Can I have some time alone with her?”

They looked at each other and then at her. 

“I know you thought I came here to see you,” she said. 

Each of them readied with retorts and verbal slaps. 

Her mother held up her hand. 

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, have some time. We’ll be in the lobby.”

They all looked at each other as the respirator and heart monitor continued. 

“Ok,” he said. And they walked out, and down the hall. They sat across from each other. 

“What the fuck is going on here?” he asked. 

“Grandma is dying,” she said. 

“Jesus,” he said. “I know. But, I mean, why is she still alive?”

“Are you that heartless?” she said. “You have someplace to be, jackass?”

He stood up. 


She stood up. They looked at each other for awhile. 

“It just seems awful,” he said. “Doesn’t she just want to go?”

“Go where?”

“Heaven, to be with your mom.”

“You think that’s where she is?”

“I don’t know.”

“She’s up here,” she said, pointing to her temple. “Up here.”

“Not here?” he said, tapping his fist to his chest. 

“Don’t fuck with me now,” she said. 

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m not trying to.”

They both sat back down and sat in silence. 

Then she walked in and sat down on a chair in between them, him on the right and her on the left. 

“How’s she doing?” she asked. 

“Still hanging on,” she said. “Because of us.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” He asked. 

“Don’t be a dick,” she said. “Let her explain.”

Their daughter crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. Then she got up. 

“I’ve asked you to take care of my son while I go follow a calling,” she said. “I need your help.”

“Brilliant,” he said. “You’re using this moment to go off and get yourself into trouble. Like mother like daughter.”

“Fuck off, you bastard,” her mother said. “I don’t want her to go either.”

“Jesus,” the girl said. “Fuck. You guys. It’s not about me and what I’ve got to do. It’s about us, the three of us.”

“What I hear is you saying that grandma is speaking from beyond a coma to justify you doing what you want to do,” he said. He stood up. “Walk away from your responsibilities as a parent.”

He sat back down on the other side of the room. 

The young woman turned to him. 

“Oh yeah,” she said. “And you. Running for office and chasing pussy, how’d you justify that? Walking away? Me? Fuck you!”

He took a deep breath and looked down at his shoes. 

“And don’t you start thinking this is just for him,” she said turning towards her mother. 

“All my life it was push, push, push,” she said. “Change the fucking world. Set it on fire. And now I’m too radical for you.”  

“Honey these people you follow have no ideas, no grounding, and…”

“Stop!” the girl screamed. “Stop! Stop! Stop it!”

The door opened and an orderly peered in. 

“Everything ok in here?” 

“Oh yeah,” he said, “We thought rather than watch Family Feud on your television, we’d have one.”  

The door closed. 

“I didn’t get bedtime stories, I got “Sed multorum obtrectacio devicit unius virtuem,” she said, looking at her father. 

“Was that bad?” he asked. “I taught you about Hannibal because…”

“No!” she said firmly. “No,” she followed quietly. “I know you were trying.”

“Honey,” said her mother. “We don’t want you to go because it’s a bad idea.”

“Oh,” she said and laughed. “A bad idea? Like bringing me into the world? Like the two of you obsessed with your careers and each other. Always!”

“Ok,” he said. “I get it. We’ve been stupid. But I’m glad you’re here. I love you. And her.”

“Honey, we did what we did,” her mother said. “You’re not a mistake. You’re not an accident. You were meant to be.”

“But I’m not a fucking experiment in narrative, or ontology!” 

She sat down between them again. There wasn’t the slightest bit of awkwardness among them. They all suddenly felt at home with each other, with all their grief and grievance. 

“She’s hanging on because we’ve got to come together,” she said. “I can feel it. She’s worried about us, and what’s ahead.”

“And what’s ahead?” he asked. 

“I never spoke Spanish,” their daughter started. “But she always held me, and she always looked in my eyes with love.”

She stood up again. 

“She’d say to me, ‘Niña morena y ágil, el sol que hace las frutas.’ And she knew me, even though we couldn’t communicate.”

“ Tus luminosos ojos y tu boca que tiene la sonrisa del agua” her mother said. 

”Yes, she’d say that. And I hear her now saying, ‘Get over it, stop fighting. Love each other. Be fucking real and in the moment. Stop posturing and playing to some crowd out there.’ And I’m saying, Love me, not just each other. Not just the idea of me and each other. I mean love me. Give me a chance. Give us a chance.”

“I remember,” he started, “She told me, ‘Dile a tu daddy que venga a comer.’ So I yelled to my dad, “tu daddy, venga a comer.”

They all laughed. 

“She laughed so hard at me,” he said. 

They all sat there for a long while. He stood up. 

“Ok,” he said. “Come here.” He motioned to them both. His girl came up to him first. He held her and kissed her forehead. 

“Mama,” he said looking at her mother, “how’d we raise such a cowboy.”

“Godammit,” his daughter said punching him in the ribs, “Stop it.”

“C’mon, mom,” he said holding out his right arm. 

She glared. 

“C’mon,” he said opening his eyes wider and grimacing. 

“Oh fuck, fine,” she said. 

They huddled. 

“You go do what you have to do,” he said. “Don’t get killed or arrested please. And mom and I will take care of the kid. Follow your path. We love you. Don’t do stupid shit. Don’t hurt people. And remember, we love you and you have a son, and a mom and dad who need you to come home. Mom?”

Her resistance to the scene had eroded. 

“Honey, I believe you and in you,” she said. “We’re here for you. Just be careful, would you, please?”

“Yes, guys,” she said. “It’s going to work out. She told me so.”

The door opened and an uncle peered around it. 

She was gone.