Smoking in the girls’ room, sneaking a drink, napping
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I imagine that heaven is not unlike my Aunt Tillie’s living room. My relatives sit in her worn velveteen chairs, no longer alive, but enjoying each other’s company all the same. The decaf Sanka in the big silver pot brews on into eternity. The smoked sturgeon and onion rolls and rugelah laid out on the dining-room table never go stale.
My bubbe holds court on the sofa. She has her teeth back. She no longer has to eat bananas since she doesn’t need potassium anymore. The bottle of thick brown medicine that sat on the bottom shelf of Tillie’s refrigerator has disappeared. That medicine was what finally stopped my grandmother’s kidneys, making her the oldest dialysis patient in the world for a few long months in 1979. But she’s not thinking about that. In heaven, you can read as many Leon Uris paperbacks as you want. She’s got her nose buried in a copy of Exodus.
Maybe heaven’s not such a great deal for Aunt Tillie herself. You can’t smoke, not even outside, and her fingers haven’t quite lost that twitch for cigarettes. So she keeps busy loading and unloading the dishwasher. Honeybee, the sweet, smelly beagle, leaps at her, no longer dragging his arthritic hind legs behind him like sandbags. At least Aunt Tillie’s hacking cough is gone. And dust has stopped gathering under the beds in her house. The vacuum cleaner sits unused in the hall closet.
Uncle Morris sits in his easy chair. The Red Sox always win in the sports pages he reads. So do the Celtics. His mind has come back to him, the Alzheimer’s gone like a thief who has slipped quietly out the back door into the night. My uncle is plump and rosy again, a kind duckling of a man with a black mole on his cheek.
Rob, their son, is too young to be sinking into heaven’s overstuffed furniture, but he is here nonetheless. The purple mask of Kaposi’s sarcoma has lifted, and his mother can see traces of the little-boy face she once held between her palms. He’s brought all his secrets along with him this trip. They’re like the prized Burmese cats he bred for a living between acting gigs; he had to board them in a kennel when he came home for visits. Now they roam the house in search of warm places to make their own. When they climb into the soft laps of his mother, his father, his grandmother, no one really minds. This is heaven, after all. No one pushes them away.
Having breakfast alone in my shop this morning, waiting for my first customer and enjoying the quiet, I took The Sun from the magazine rack and scanned the contents. “Heaven,” by Alison Seevak [August 1997], leaped out at me, and I turned to that page and savored the short piece as I peeled and ate my orange.
On the radio, Jim Pittman, “the singing cook from Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia,” rambled on about finding out that a boil on his bald head was really sarcoma. He talked about how he was enjoying life, now that his days were numbered, how he loved the taste of salt and sugar, and a lemon’s sourness. He concluded by saying he’d been “a lucky son of a gun.” Just as I was coming to the end of Seevak’s “Heaven,” the radio program’s host came back on to say Pittman had died.
It’s been just over three years since I opened my shop, Heaven, a combination art gallery, bookstore, and cafe. I chose the name because the shop is located on the second floor, and because I thought this business would be a heaven of sorts, a utopian place to spend time (although people often ask whether it’s a religious bookstore). The Sun has always been a central part of my magazine section, and has slowly built up a dedicated following among my customers. I think it is a perfect magazine.
As I read on a sign hanging on someone’s front porch just yesterday: “Everything is connected to everything else.” And so I spend a perfect Friday morning connected to “Heaven,” to The Sun, and to its writers and readers.