The final moments of her life. Marie-Francoise lay crushed under tons of rubble.
The fish she had been eating was still in her mouth.
Her eyes would not open.
She could sense the darkness that encapsulated her. She could not feel her body, as though during the fall, her soul had slipped out and lay waiting for the exact moment when it would disappear from the world.
Then her life, like a cloud, split open, and she lay motionless in a rain of moments.
The green telephone in her grandparents’ kitchen next to the plant.
She could feel the cool plastic of the handle and the sensation of cupping it under her ear. She could hear a voice at the other end of the line that she recognized as her own.
The weight of her mother’s shoes as she carried them into the bedroom.
The idea that one day she’d be grown up and would have to wear such things.
Running into a friend.
That time has passed.
…and so on. This story is from Van Booy’s first story collection, The Secret Lives of People in Love, which is uniformly excellent. This story in particular is more prose-poem than the others; the majority of the sentences and thoughts are clipped. I like this – it fits well, the idea that a woman’s last thoughts draining away from her would be presented in such a staccato manner, and yet he writes it in such a way that you get a complete picture of this woman. She’s clearly made out to be one particular, unique person, but Van Booy provides the details as stencils for us to fill in with our own experience and sensory knowledge. My grandparents also had the green phone on the counter, in the kitchen, and I remember the feel of the rotary circles pulling my little finger back to the start when I’d dial seven, or eight. "The smell of classrooms." Not just one classroom, but many – so she’s a teacher? Or had particularly vivid memories of her time in school? Either way, you know that smell.
A different approach – the Tobias Wolff short story "Bullet in the Brain" (from his collection The Night in Question as well as the David Sedaris fanboy anthology Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules, as well as numerous other collections) – likely one you have read; if not, a good starting place for Wolff, author of Condalmo favorite Old School, a few short story collections, This Boy’s Life. Is this less or more dirty realism? Hard to say, as what is realistic for someone dying? Less and less with each passing moment.
It is worth noting what Anders did not remember, given what he did remember. He did not remember his first lover, Sherry, or what he had most madly loved about her, before it came to irritate him – her unembarrassed carnality, and especially the cordial way she had with his unit, which she called Mr. Mole, as in "Uh-oh, looks like Mr. Mole wants to play," and "Let’s hide Mr. Mole!" Anders did not remember his wife, whom he had also loved before she exhausted him with her predicability, or his daughter, now a sullen professor of economics at Dartmouth. He did not remember standing just outside his daughter’s door as she lectured her bear about his naughtiness and described the truly appalling punishments Paws would receive unless he changed his ways. He did not remember a single line of the hundreds of poems he had committed to memory in his youth so that he could give himself the shivers at will – not "Silent, upon a peak in Darien," or "My God, I heard this day," or "All my pretty ones? Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?" None of these did he remember; not one.
I love both of these stories.