R. Matthew Burke

The ringing wakes me.

“Hello —?” “I’ve only just got back.” “What?” “My grandfather. He had been sick. The family knew. I went to India to visit.” “Where?” “Karnataka.” “Generally?” “Generally southwest. He only had daughters. Not sons. My mother. Her mother has been sick for longer than her father. My grandfather.”

“Your grandfather?” “Yes.” “Well?” “He’s died.”

“I thought you said your grandmother was sick. You said he said he’d wander the earth after she —. He was studying to become a yogi, or you told me.” “After he retired, he, yes. My grandmother’s still alive. My parents stayed longer, after I returned. My mother took pictures, I can show you online. In India it’s mostly illegal to be buried. But according to whatever beliefs my grandfather studied —. That was what he wanted. They drove for four hours. He was in the backseat. His body was shutting down. Because there are only so many places where you can be buried. For four hours. He was still alive. We knew it was coming. My parents had labored to make the arrangements. They were in the front. My grandfather and grandmother in the back. Uncles and aunts in their own cars.” “Did you come back together, with your folks?” “They’ll get back here in a few days.”

“Things lonely for now?”

I think I hear a sound. I worry someone might be climbing through my fire escape. It passes.

“He died on the ride. My father could tell. He didn’t tell my mother. They were near the burial place. They arrived where a pit had already been dug.” “Who dug the pit?” “It was a place. The man who owned it dug the pit; he was as old as my grandfather.” “H—?” “82.” “Mine will be turning 90.” “The one with Alzheimer’s?” “There is only one. And not Alzheimer’s, a stroke. Which is my biggest worry. A stroke.” “I’m starting to worry about my blood pressure.” “We have years before we worry about that.” “By then it will be too late.” “Nabokov, something like a cradle perched between two endless pits of darkness.”


“What was your grandfather’s yogic practice called?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Describe it, I could look it up.” “But he had been studying it for ten years. They strapped his body onto a wooden chair and put a pillowcase over his head.”

I consider turning on my bedside lamp.

“They lowered the chair into the pit. Do you know what a ku— never mind, a leaf. They put in layers. First the leaves. These up to his knees. Then, into the pit, like bindis, but gray. They signify —. They put these in. Layers up to his stomach. Then ash. Then leaves.” “What did they signify? Represent?” “I don’t know. Something to do with his faith or practice. I can’t quite remem—. I could look it up. They fill the pit until you can only see his head.” “How deep was it?”


“The pit.”

“Like as deep as I am tall.” “Didn’t you say you were working again?” “Another temp thing. They say they’ll give me a contract.” “There’s time.” “It’s enough for loans. And plus the resume value.” “You’ll move out.” “Do you have work tomorrow?” “Is it a weekday?” “I’m sorry I called late.” “When —?”

“When it was filled up to his head, they sealed it off. With a slab of concrete. Sealed. Then piled some soil on top of the cement. That was it.” “Then what?” “Then I came back.” “Your parents?” “There are other things to take care of, rituals, some money, Grandma is still sick.” “How did you get back from the airport?” “What?” “Did you and your parents take the same car to the airport, or did you go separately?” “We flew out of JFK. I took the subway there after I’d gotten off work.”

“So how did you get home? Take the train all the way into the city, then NJT home?”

“No. I took a cab.”

“That must’ve been expensive.”

“Not bad.”

I get out of bed. Plod into the kitchen. Fill a glass with tap water and return to sleep without drinking any.