That our son had taken to crafting ceremonial death masks was a source
of mild consternation. He was eight and still slept on vinyl sheets.
The masks were cast in cheap plaster and displayed above his dresser.
An orange cat he'd found in an alleyway. The class gerbil. A crow on the
back porch. Some evenings my wife and I peered through his bedroom
door: our son, his legs tucked under his body, absorbed in a kind of
And what did we do to contribute to this obsession? Was it the dead
composers he was played in the womb? No parent wants their child
fixated on mortality. They want them captivated by life, the living,
the extant and animate; for the cold breath of death never to ruffle a
single hair on his or her head. That a parent passes long before a
child is a clemency, time at its most magnanimous.
I watched my son on the playground. He and another boy had spurned the
apparatus to fill their pockets with stones: stones that had existed
long before us and would exist long after. He approached me, slowed by
the added weight, and placed his hand against my face. You forgot to
shave this morning, he said, and I knew that he was right, that in fact
I hadn't shaved in several days. His hands were ashen from
handling the rocks. The other boy called from across the playground. He
stepped back and emptied his bloated pockets, and then followed his
friend up the ladder, emboldened by his newfound lightness.
Ravi Mangla is the author of the novel UNDERSTUDIES. He's got work in or coming from Barrelhouse, The
Atlantic, matchbook, The Paris Review and many others.
See more of his work in the archive.
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
W i g l e a f