Our Unpayable Debts

On my dad’s side, Mary Wolcott is my 8th great aunt. On my mom’s side, Ann Putnam is my first cousin nine times removed. It’s hard for me to think about them. When I picture them, what I see are a pair of black shoes hanging beneath a skirt, like a clapper on a bell. The feet shake a little and then are still.

Sometimes, if I let the image sneak up on me, there’s piss and shit running down those legs. I can’t stand that, but it comes to me, whether I can bear the thought of it or not.

Does the shit of your victims stain your soul? If there’s any metaphysical stain to be had, that’s how it must be, I’d think.

Do you think Ann and Mary felt safer with their witches dead?

I had a dream about my Grandpa many years after he died, but I think before my Grandma died. We were at his house and I was walking up from the basement stairs, through the dining room, toward the kitchen, which brought me across the entryway to the living room, where my Grandpa spent most of my life, until he died, sitting at his game table, smoking cigars, and playing cribbage.

When I walked by, my dad was sitting in one of the chairs that went with the gaming table, a plush velvet seat on casters. He was turned toward the middle of the room. And my Grandfather, shaped like a cartoon bomb, sat on the floor between my father’s legs, my dad’s arms around his father’s shoulders, trying to comfort him as my grandfather sobbed like the world was ending.

This is when I learned something about the dead: if you stick around, you cannot help but become aware of the full weight of your life. It’s better to flee into the land of the dead, to drink from Lethe and forget than it is to stay here and see what you made of things.

This is what I learned about my Grandfather: He is so very sorry.

He is so very sorry and it doesn’t matter. His sorrow and regret make not one whit of difference. He is nothing, now. A specter in a dream. His sorry counts for shit. It changes nothing. Can’t rewrite the man he was. Can’t save the men who are his sons or their sons.

And that’s what I think about when I think about Mary and Ann—how there never can be any sorry that is enough.

Whatever sorry they feel is outweighed by those swinging shoes.

One thought on “Our Unpayable Debts

  1. Oh my god. You’ve mentioned the Salem connection before, but never so vividly…and the dream. And, oh, B., so beautiful and full of horror.

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