What The Living Do

The dead don’t read prose, or the newspaper. They don’t imagine, won’t eat an orange; they can’t feel its weight in their hands. The dead don’t dream, not even of other dead people, or the animals they used to know when they were younger. No use waiting: they won’t rise up and take arms against the oppressors, or drop by the party, or kiss you goodnight.

The dead do congregate: they meet each other under the earth, or in the air; or hidden in the r oots and leaves. Do the dead have secrets? Nobody knows – if they do, they’re not talking.

When the dead meet each other, it is not as exciting as you think. It is a non-event. More dead people than you can imagine are meeting each other right now, at this very instant. Is the earth shaking? No, it’s not shaking. Are those moans and wails outside the window? No, it’s the wind. There is nothing more boring than watching the dead mingle. Even you have been bored by it: sitting on the subway; going for a jog. I have seen you. Being watched by the dead is not better; especially during lovemaking it is boring and not at all like being watched by ghosts, which are not dead after all but still very much who they were and therefore far more thrilling and sexy to be spied on by. It drives the ghosts crazy, all that contact. It haunts them. They imagine how it feels, but all they can do is touch you second-hand: through a medium; by changing the temperature; by teasing you with the lights.

The dead don’t play or change and nothing sexy excites them ever. When they touch you they don’t realize it. I mean you: they are touching you right now. Do you feel them? On any given day in New York City you can be certain of a few things: someone is born, someone dies, and the rest of us are getting there. The new-dead are not different from the old-dead, or the very old-dead, or the ancient ones we cannot comprehend. Without bodies they are not like you or me. Take Paul, for instance. You keep asking me, "What do you think he’s doing right now?" I am sorry: I don’t think the dead do much.

Paul is nothing like we can imagine now, though we can try: so picture waking up to find that the world is suddenly covered in snow. Picture how it would bury the fire hydrants, and the crosswalks, and the paper stands and the cracks in the pavement and the gum inside the cracks. Imagine snow so high even the tallest building is lost under those enormous drifts of clean, soft snow. Now imagine it lasts a lifetime. When you are old, will you remember a world beneath the world, the one where every detail sought your eye to remind you that a leaf was not a rock was not a stop sign? Or would you realize you had gradually forgotten the difference between mountain and skyscraper; this thing and that; even me and you?

I know what you mean: it is June and the sky is a vast heavenless country over our heads, and the world is so full of color and crossable space you just want to scream you can’t hold it close enough. But if you ask me again, I will tell you: where Paul is, it is snowing like you can’t imagine. Keep trying.


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