Manzano Mountain Review is an online New Mexico literary journal affiliated with UNM-Valencia.

The Re-Enacters

by Darrah Cloud

Beside the island, she turned and turned, gripping the edge at each change of direction, not taking in the shifting landscape of her kitchen, just enduring it as she slowly spun.
“Oh! Margo!” she cried, surprised when her friend opened the back door without knocking. “You’ve come!”
Margo had been watching her for awhile. She had stood outside wondering if what she was seeing would define the word “stupefaction.” Which is why she forgot to knock and just walked in. She put down her plastic bag of seltzers and pulled Eve into her arms to stop her as much as to love her. Brett had been gone 4 days. His absence was still like a visit somewhere far. His clothes were still in the hamper. No one else had shown up for Shiva yet.
“I can’t believe you came!” cried Eve, not letting go. “This is the best day of my life!”
Margo held her tighter.
“You don’t need to be functional,” Margo said.
“Right, right, of course, you’re right.”
“What do you need?”
“I was trying to set out the food for the guests.”
“Alright, I’ll help you.”
But they didn’t move, they just stood there holding each other. That was fine. What else should they do? Besides, though Eve was bony and Margo zaftig, they were the same height, 5’1. It was ballast.
“OK,” said Eve, breaking away. She went right to the refrigerator and started pulling things out: covered foil containers full of salad and beans and veggies. Little tubs of hummus and dip. A tray of deli stuff. Through the plastic wrap, everything looked a little worn. Margo took them dutifully to the long wooden table in the dining room beyond.
The dining room was tiny. You could hardly maneuver a tray around the chairs without whacking your elbow on a wall. In fact, the whole house was small, and Brett had been a very big man. A high school football star. A wrestler in college who went to State, which sounded somewhat sinister to Margo’s mind. He did something with the wrongly accused, getting them out of consequences. He changed history. He made no money.  Eve taught anthropology. (Hence the cracked plaster on the ceilings, the broken tiles in the bathroom.) How did they live in here with their very large having-taken-after-his-father on-the-spectrum son? How had Eve’s husband even fit?
“Maybe you can help me call Social Security,” Eve yelled from the kitchen.
Margo didn’t know how one could help with something like that, but she said of course.
“You would think I would know Brett’s social security number, but I don’t even know where to look for it.” Eve stood in the doorway to the dining room, hands at her sides, head tilted, a useless object, musing.
“Where do you keep your taxes?” asked Margo.
“Our taxes! Right!”
They climbed the narrow stairs to the second floor. Margo imagined Brett climbing the stairs sideways because of his shoulders. Up there, they both had offices across from their bedroom. Toby’s room was further down the hall, and he was still in it, asleep. Eve stood outside the door to Brett’s office, leaning forward, peering in. Margo peered too.
“This is his office. He gets up every morning, makes me coffee and goes to work right here. Our taxes must be in here,” she said.
There was hardly room for one person. Papers stacked to the ceiling. Books jammed the shelves, file cabinets held up the walls. The desk was a mountain range of transcripts from interviews, articles from newspapers, an old-fashioned rolodex, pens, a computer, a half-drunk cup of coffee, now molding. The desk chair could only go back as far as boxes of files would let it.
“I’ll call the funeral home. They’ll have it!”
They went back downstairs and sat at the dining table while Eve called the Irish undertakers who’d handled her Jewish husband’s body. Then she dialed Social Security, putting the cordless phone on speaker while Margo gazed into the abstract art on the walls. The robo-voice on the telephone told them the wait was 9 minutes and music began to play.
“Shall we dance,” Margo stated. Her jokes were always bad.
Immediately Eve was up on her feet. She unfolded her arms and swayed them like drowsy wings.
“I will now do an interpretive dance about waiting for Social Security to answer the phone on the occasion of my husband’s death!” she announced. Margo clapped her hands, jumped up and followed. Around and around the table they went, flapping pretend wings, pretending to fly. Then a real, human voice came on and they rushed back to their seats. Eve leaned towards the phone that lay like an empty olive boat on the table.
“My husband died and I need to find out if I am eligible for his benefits,” she called into it loudly. As Brett’s employed widow, the voice told her, she would only be eligible for half of his check. Someone would call her soon from the local office. The voice was sorry for her loss. They hung up.
“What do we do now?” Eve asked.
Margo tried to think of things to talk about. Their work as college professors.

Margo’s most recent class of 30 whom she’d managed not to bore with Linguistics. Eve’s class of 12 on Documentary Film. Their children’s lives. They grazed the salad with their fingers and discovered it had spoiled. The lettuce underneath the beautiful splay of radishes on top was brown and soggy. It gave them something to do.
“Let’s dump this!”
Together they went into the kitchen and dumped the salad into the trash.
“Brett hates salad,” she said. Eve straightened and looked around. Margo washed the bowl.
“Would you like to see where it happened?” she asked Margo then.
“Well…” Margo wasn’t sure. If Eve wanted to show her this, then of course, she should see it. But if Eve was being polite in some temporarily grief-induced bout of dementia, then she should not.
“If you want me to,” Margo said.
Eve led her to the back stairs into the kitchen by the pantry.
“Here,” she said.
Together they stared at the bottom of the steps.
“This is where he first hit his head,” Eve said, pointing to a dent in the wall, a streak of brown blood down the cracked blue paint. She cast her arm up the stairs. Then took a few steps up. “He must have grabbed the rail, here. It broke, and he fell forward, because he ended up…” she climbed into the area, lay down with her head at the bottom and her feet above her and crooked her neck to indicate how Brett’s had broken.
“….like this.”
She lay there like that, getting a feel for it. Looking up to where Brett’s last gaze might have gone.
“Are you sure?” asked Margo, “because why would he have leaned that hard on the railing that it broke? And why would he have fallen forward and not sideways or backwards?”
Eve remained lying there, looking up. “You’re right. I don’t know.”
“Get up! Let me try,” Margo said, and Eve untangled herself from the bottom of the stair.
Margo walked up to the top of the steps and started back down. She grabbed the air where the railing had been as if it were still there, and beautifully executed a slow-motion fall, dashing herself against the right wall and then the left, then falling forward onto her hands and knees and sliding down the stairs on her belly, and onto the landing, face first.
“Yes, that’s odd, isn’t it?” Eve said, hand to her chin. “He clattered as he went down too. I heard him of course.”
She climbed back up the stairs and took a turn, bouncing this time off the right side and turning so that she faced back up and slowly pretended to fall backwards that way.
“Better,” Margo said.
“Yes,” Eve said, now lying again in the same position, neck cranked to the side.
“I heard him. I ran out of the bedroom. I called to Toby, I ran down these steps and felt the pulse in his neck. It was beating and then… it wasn’t anymore.”
“Toby called 911?”
Eve nodded as best she could, considering the angle of her head. “When the police came, they said we had to wait for the medical examiner. We had to leave him here, just like this, for almost an hour. Because it was a Sunday.”
“That… that sounds awful! What did you do with the time?”
“We talked. I gave them coffee. I told them I didn’t push him!”
“Did they get the joke?” Margo knew her friend. She knew this came from layers of impulsive guilt.
“No,” said Eve. “But they were very nice.”
Eve continued to lie there, looking up. “The top of the stairs. The last thing he ever saw. How disappointing.” Then she curled up and rolled over to standing. They stared at the empty bottom of the steps.
“I’m a widow!” Eve murmured.
Margo looked at her dear friend’s face. Someday, this face would be hers. And Eve would come to her house and wash out a bowl.
“I’m a widow!” Eve repeated. She began to turn around and around. “I’m a widow! I’m a widow!”
There was a knock on the kitchen door. Shiva began.
Darrah Cloud is a playwright and screenwriter whose work has been produced all over the world and on television. She teaches in the MFAW Program at Goddard College.