Bob asks the question as he is flying back to China, 32,000 feet above the water—whom would you wish to spend a quiet dinner and unstructured conversation, Shakespeare or Lear or Cordelia or Sandburg or Lincoln or ??? My fifth grade girlfriend, Julie, I answer. Julie whom I haven’t seen since 1957 and who died seven years ago. Lauren Bacall, Mark answers. I could have easily said my daughter, Melinda, but Melinda and I had dozens of those quiet dinners and unstructured conversations when we lived together in New Mexico, before she grew sicker. I miss Melinda—it’s almost unbearable how much, but we talked the world out between us when she was here.
Shakespeare might be interesting, but not I think for me. I have his poems, his plays, if I need to ask him something. Cordelia maybe, though she and I were too much alike. My mother noticed it when she first saw Lear. Cordelia who one might argue was rhetorically challenged. All she had to do is tell the old fool she loved him more, but truth was more important to the child. And in the end, even if she was the only one who really loved her father—they both die. I sit a the table eating a cheeseburger and a coke. Couldn’t you have humored the old man, I ask. Couldn’t you, she responds. We spend the rest of the evening eating in the silence.
I talk to the dead much of the time anyway. I don’t remember talking to fictional characters, though I listen to them when I read. Sing for the fat lady, Seymour tells Zooey and Franny and me. I don’t spend much time talking to the famous dead or the great books people dead. I talk instead to the people I loved, or should have loved.
The truth is the famous or the great don’t have that much to offer me as far as company. Famous is not real, more than one person has discovered. And great is overrated. Tom Robbins once remarked that those people who have discovered real wisdom will go unnoticed for the most part, because they don’t have this desperate need to explain themselves, to impress. It is enough to breath and enjoy.
It is enough to breath and enjoy. I think I believe that more as I grow old. Though here I am writing this love letter to you, trying to impress. The implications are obvious, but I can live with that. Perhaps die with that reality too.
I am watching the sunset sky today. I’m late writing you. Had blood work this morning, then took my brother for a bone scan.
Kiss me quick, the old poet says. Quickly, Twilla reminds him, but she misses the point. Point misser, he tells her.