It’s not raining and that makes it worse. Or better, you tell yourself, it is better that the begonias die. But the begonias don’t die. Right now while our good God peeks through the clouds Mrs. Ferguson is mumbling a bit of a prayer and tilting the waterbucket, gently. Those are pretty little drops that glaze the leaves and tumble, given to the earth. And it is nice the way the flowers illustrate the grave, the way the headstone casts a shadow like half of an “m” between two and a quarter till five. And it’s nice the way the flowers grow from the grave, from the heart grown pale in the earth. What’s so nice about it? I have read that within the veneer of each heart a limp fist of pity is hanging. That is, in all the sadness and confusion of its tangle of veins the heart is the package in which pity is stored, the container in which it is marketed. One might say: I’d like two loaves of bread, a half-pound of bologna, a pint of macaroni salad, and a heart and a half of pity, please. Or: Gimme two hearts of pity and a box of hankies. Or: Jonathan, pick me up several hearts of pity, Wellington and I will be leaving for India.
So Jonathan drives like a mummy into town and thinks he sees the moon fall down into his arms without even saying a word. He sees a roof collapse on the mentally ill, he feels inside him a confidence all of a sudden, the unique potential for gifted speech, the ability to pronounce “myasthenia gravis.” And he says it to himself over and over, like a mantra, until clearly in his own little corner of heaven he sees a breast poke all of its glory into a nipple and arch its back into the shape of a mole which brushes, for the moment of a single evening, against an inmate’s God-praising lips.
And the store has lots of pity so he buys it, we buy it, our friends buy it for us, we bring it to weddings wrapped like a virgin saying here here, good luck and enjoy. Because everyone likes pity. Even newlyweds. It makes us better. It makes us healthier, it tightens the sagging center of the midriff and prevents gum disease, like dental floss. It pulls the thorns, the failures, out of our hearts and stuffs them in the soil of what we can’t do until we’ve talked ourselves into a rose. And pity is the rose, the gift we give when there’s nothing else, no choice, when it is Mother’s Day over and over each year and we drop to our knees on a cared-for grave and dig and water a hole. It’s the bouquet we wrestle from the bottom of our hearts when there’s no other way to help. Because if we could help, if we could find one candle in our lungs, we wouldn’t have a use for pity. We wouldn’t have to watch our eyes fall slowly apart into flames that burn themselves out. Or the rose rasping its face against thorns, or Mrs. Ferguson all night hugging the waterbucket remembering April when it rained and rained. Or Wellington ordering his heart of pity sliced thin, like silk, and dining above the whole three quarters of a pound to muster up a single tear.