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Issue number five




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The perfection of himself by Syndey Harth

Clancy keeps scurrying through my head like a mischievous kitten, nipping my nose, my ears as he scampers about. He didn't live long enough to lose that red hair blowing all over his head like wildfire. Okay, the hair had thinned out, but its remains still flamed. Clancy and I are strumming our guitars with a few other friends and drinking beer. He suggests we play "Ripple," a Grateful Dead opus. I don't care for that song. I can't find any meaning in its words. He laughs at me.

"The words don't make any difference. Listen to the music. C'mon, let's dance," he says. His dancing is too gymnastic for me. Even thinking about it almost brings on an asthma attack. Lola says she danced her last dance with him at their wedding, but their teen-aged daughters have a blast with him on a dance floor.

They are still are in shock from his death more than three years ago. They keep shaking their heads and saying, "It's impossible."

Clancy and I used to walk dogs together, and I'm thinking of him when Bertie and I wander past the university athletic fields.

There he is. Clancy, his unmistakable red hair flying, is in a pickup softball game with some young guys who have the look of lab assistants or junior faculty. When no official team claims these fields for practice, pickup games often erupt on a fine day like this, and Bertie and I stop to watch. Bertie works himself up over softball, or almost any game, particularly Ultimate Frisbee. I'm sure, in his Labrador mind, he expects the Frisbee to come to him, as it does when I throw it.

I watch Clancy playing softball with those guys, and it seems natural enough. He gets along with everybody, yet joins no teams. He has season tickets to both football and hockey, but the sports he loves best are skiing, diving, running, biking--things he does alone. He runs every afternoon, and one day three years ago, he lay down in a field, maybe to look at the sky, and died.

I wonder about the other guys playing softball with him. Dead or alive? They look solid enough. Almost too solid. Young non-athletes always seem a little vague when they play, but these don't. Clancy used to help the youngsters in his department turn their vagueness into mental muscle that would last a lifetime. Everyone he had ever touched, of whatever religious persuasion, turned out for his funeral. I've never seen Holy Mother of Consolation so packed except at Christmas or Easter.

Clancy is pitching when Bertie and I stroll up and stand some yards behind home plate. He does not see us until the other team strikes out, and then comes running to us with a big smile. "Glad you came by. This game is getting hot," he says.

"Where did you find these youngsters?" I ask him, as if looking at a real team playing a real game.

"Here and there. Lab assistants, some of them. Not your kind of Lab," he says, ruffling Bertie's ears. Clancy's sweating a lot the way he always does when he exercises. His blood pressure medicine does it.

"You sure look hot. That's not good for you, is it?" I say, as I might have done three years ago.

"Don't tell Lola," he says, pulling off his tee shirt.

No one ever called Clancy a handsome man, but as he stands there in nothing but an old pair of running shorts, his body looks beautiful, his muscles developed and firm, his eyes clear behind his contacts. The perfection of himself.

"That must be how you look when you're dead," I think to myself, but I say nothing about that. It seems…well, rude, to comment on how much better he looks than last I saw him--wearing all that makeup in his coffin.

"Wait out this last inning, and we can go down to The Terrace for a beer."

"Can you drink beer?"

He laughs. "You know I can."

"Dead people can't. And you are dead. I know that much."

"Where did you get that idea?"

"For one thing, I went to your funeral. I even read a poem as part of it all. I was so choked up, I could hardly see the words."

"That doesn't mean I'm dead."

"Usually it does."

"I'm next at bat. We'll talk about it over a beer. How's Lola, do you know?"

"If you're not dead, I'd think you'd be the one who knows."

"I've been keeping away from her. She takes everything so seriously."

"I'm not sure you take things seriously enough."

"Maybe not, maybe not." He laughs again, his face brimming with the open charm it has when he laughs.

The man at bat hits a double, and Clancy runs up to take his turn, still laughing.

Sydney Harth, in spite of her name, is a woman with an academic background---Ph.D., University of Chicago, medieval, 1960. Now retired from both teaching and the Middle Ages, she spends her time writing stories about unreliable people on an unreliable computer. A dog, in many of her recent stories, plays a significant role. She has published more than three dozen of these stories, eight or nine with a dog for a leading character, and hopes to collect a group of dog stories into a book called The Dog People.

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