A Dog Barking into the Night
BY KEVIN PRUFER
Creon’s error is remarkable when viewed as confusion about the proper placement of the living and the dead, for Antigone, whom he seals in a cave, is a vital young woman and, so, belongs in the sun. It is her brother, already dead on the sunlit battlefield, who requires a tomb. + It makes sense, therefore, that Antigone hangs herself, death being the circumstance her placement demands. Thus, Creon creates from nothing a situation that demands two tombs. It’s like the saddest time of my life. Let me explain: + One evening years ago in Cleveland, my brother and I stood on his front porch smoking. Our father was in the hospital dying. All night long, this chained dog whimpered into the frozen night. It isn’t right, my brother said, to keep a dog chained up like that. I nodded and took another drag, smoke filling my lungs as a thought fills the mind. And then we went inside. + The next morning, as I got in my car, ready to drive to the hospital, I found that dog frozen by the chain link fence. Snow had crusted over his chain. It wasn’t right, + of course. The dog belonged inside. It was an error of placement. My father wasting away in his hospital bed— at that point in his illness, he became an animal, too, + his hands, I’m not kidding, looked like claws curved around the remote control. I will not forget how, because he could not get out of bed, and the nurses had grown complacent, I held his cock in my hand while he pissed into a dirty drinking glass. Thank you, he said when he was through. + And in that moment, I could not remember him the way I knew he’d once been, a man, a human being, more than the accumulation of the failures of a dying animal body. Hospitals + do this to you. The rattle of pill carts, the nurses and their iPads. I was teaching a class on Greek drama, and had come to that point in Antigone where Creon realizes his error, where, too late, he corrects his mistake, burying Antigone’s brother properly. By then, she has hanged herself, making her placement in the cave abruptly perfect. + I had wanted a happier ending for my father, sitting by his bedside, making notes in the margins of my book. At the back of the cancer ward, the private elevator was large enough for a gurney. I imagined it went right down a dark throat to a basement. + I held his claw and read. Soon, my brother would visit, still angry about his neighbor’s dog. When the nurse asked if we needed anything, I didn’t even look up from my book. No, I told her. My father was asleep. The dog was dead. Antigone was a beautiful fifteen-year-old girl, and then she was, like her brother, like all of us, eventually, no place at all.
A Row of Distant Black Pines
BY KEVIN PRUFER
When he was very drunk, my father told me how he had held another man’s head under water until that man’s entire body shuddered and relaxed and only his leg twitched on the muddy riverbank. Anyway, he said, It was a long time ago. Time passes. That’s the thing about time. The bar was nearly empty. For a long while he looked into the glittering rows of bottles. Drink up, he said at last, fishing in his pocket for his keys. Drink up. + Is your fingernail part of your body, the professor asked, pretending to examine the back of her perfectly manicured hand. What about when you trim your fingernails? Are the clippings part of your body? I was watching very closely as a fat black ant crawled across my open textbook. What if they are false fingernails? What if your hand is prosthetic? Are they part of you? Are the microorganisms in your gut? What I am trying to say, she said, is that the borders of your body are not clear, what I am trying to say is that the moon is certainly not your body, but the cell phone you’re holding is perhaps as much a part of your body as your fingernails, and so she went on until class ended and I closed my textbook over the body of the ant. + There in the lecture hall, my mind held an image of the moon, but the moon kept flickering. It would not hold its place. It became something else, a white face in a receding patrol car window I remembered. The moon, it turned out, was not a part of my body, though I could hold it in my thoughts for a while before it shifted, though its likeness filled my mind + as mist might have filled a distant forest one evening years ago, my father rising from the riverbank and disappearing, finally, into the black pines. The mind rests there, at the riverbank where that body—it had been, in fact, a soldier— has just stopped twitching, + or at that moment when the professor told us our bodies are merely relational, that they don’t exist beyond their relations, in the same way that a car refers only to a complex relationship between wheels, bumpers, engine, etc. She was a thin woman, about forty, black hair, bright red fingernails and lipstick. My eyes lingered on her body as she spoke. + Your mother, he said, is not going to be happy with us, as he pulled from the parking lot into the street. The sodium lights glittered. It had begun to rain. I’m sorry about what I said back there. It was all bullshit. And he laughed. I never killed anybody. The road was long and black. He was talking about other things now, some whore he met in Frankfurt, long before I knew your mother. Best part of the war. + The image of fingernail clippings drifting to the floor. The click of her heels as she walked from the podium. A rustling of knapsacks. My father didn’t notice, at first, the blue lights, the siren behind us. + And Come on! he told the cop who escorted him to the patrol car, I had two drinks! The cop, surprisingly gentle, cuffed him and led him away from me. And then she was helping my father’s heavy body into the back seat, closing the car door, his moonlike face pressed now to the window, his breath fogging the glass, + an image that returns to me frequently, the police car pulling into the bodiless night, receding while I stood for a moment at the edge of the windy highway and a row of distant black pines swayed like a chorus.