My Mother Still Asks About the Undertaker

Brian Oliu

In the same way that she asks about my friends from college: though she forgets the names more often than not — the one who left the country never to return, the one who left the country and came back, the one who never left, the one who never left, but left you. I tell her everyone is doing fine — I have seen photographs of children, pictures of backyards, of homemade windchimes. Some of them are dead; not in the way that The Undertaker is dead or is not dead, but gone the same way I answer questions of whatever happened when I reveal I spent most Monday nights watching the Dead Man keep his balance on a tightrope, or set yet another casket on fire, instead of spending two more hours with someone who would be gone one day.

I can’t begin to tell you why I am still here and they are not; of how someone my mother asked about would ask about me — if I had kept the weight off, if I had left the valley of the shadow of death that I must wander by choice, if anyone had ever loved me the way an open palm loves lightning.

The Dead Man is still here too — in the same way that so many more are not; those who did not dare tempt fate by claiming to be the bringer of death, as death loves a good joke more than a blanched skull. In this world, if you say his name enough he will appear — he will turn the lights out, he will set where you stand on fire.

And yet he only appears when summoned — the same way we chant the name of ghosts in mirrors, the same way when we hear a word for the first time and then we cannot stop hearing it in whispers and on billboards. This is because you and I wish to make patterns out of everything: for every hero, a villain, for every undead creature, a brother of fire.

No one believes in spells anymore, but they believe in fear: of how we claim to be our own witchcraft — that we can say the right words in the right order and unlock what we once were and what we hope to be. It is a beautiful thing to be thought of in this way — that there is some way to simply speak something into the world enough times and have it return to us; like holding onto a small smooth stone and saying your name to bring you back from wherever it is you have been hiding.

I believe that one day I will be missed, and you will say the right things, and I will come back like a bell’s echo off of an empty apartment building. I will come back like nothing you’ve ever seen before, but everything you remember — how my hair will be a little shorter, how my eyes a bit more weathered. This is the only way that you’ll be able to tell that I have been gone. We have all pretended that we are dead at some point, as if we can conjure up what it is to no longer be here without waiting to make our immaculate return; all smoke and mirrors before bursting through the curtain. We close our eyes. We pretend that we are sleeping. We don’t move when our names are called.

Whatever happened to me, they’ll say — yet I will not be around to hear it. You’ll hear I went up into the mountains, never to return. You’ll hear I died in a desert. A grand explosion. A lake of fire — my toes too close to the edge as I dissolve into vapor. How we condense in the sky. How we rise.

This too is myth. If we believe in patterns: in how when we feel a radiating heat on the side of our face every time we think you are here, or in blue cars, or in how every match is the same — the staredown, the palm strike, we cannot believe in coincidence; in how we are constantly looking for something majestic; of soil burning, of how I just saw you, of how I was thinking about reaching out to tell you about my day right before I heard that you were gone; here, and then not. Instead, let me ask new questions — let me answer queries about what is left; if I have heard anything, if I have seen anything. It is summer, now. This morning it was too hot to run. They are paving the sidewalk across the street from where you used to live — they are repairing the lines underground. I saw someone who looked like you while I was stopped at an intersection. I’ll believe in anything that brings you back.


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