Gifts For The Residents by Paul Murray

"THESE INDEPENDENT LIVING CENTERS seem to be some necessary pit stop between being stiff in all your joints and just being a stiff," Manny's dad o fers between long drags off his Pall Malls and between even longer spells on the oxygen tanks, a life sentence to nostril tubes. He's finally knuckled under and accepted this life-sentence.

"Old church locals drop off nothing. They send, but they send boxes of Whitman's and Russell Stover, 'Precious Moments' statues, creepy, shiny portraits of their Lord and Savior that can't get signed off by anybody because the senders find out they can't hold ballpoint ink. But that's OK. When they die, just move the portraits to a room two or three doors down the hall. And the senders remain never seen. All delivered. Never brought, you know?"

"Arthur, he flies in from New York City once a month to see his aunt. Arthur gives her Yankees ticket stubs of games he's already been to but she can't go because, well, the game, like the rest of her life, is used up."

Manny's dad flicks cigarettes into the half-empty ditch across the narrow stretch of asphalt to the other side of the parking lot. He likes the sounds of drunks, of spankings, humanity's harmonics a quarter of the way toward the trailer park where lynched Air-Jordans dangle from the electric and phone lines. Below the wires, rain water gathers and stagnates in shadows in the medieval ruts between the narrow rows where mud has captured faded Hot Wheels and some jagged plastic lawn chairs. Above the stenches, clothes hang to dry.

The smells of old storm sewage gives new grounds to belief in spontaneous generation as dogs carry dead rats, cats carry dead mice, all across the ditch as gifts to the detainees at the independent living center.

Manny's dad feels like a fortunate man. "I've always enjoyed having dogs around. I've always liked having dogs to watch."

Winter 2010

All Rights Reserved--2007-2024