The sound of death occurs in many people at night. As they fall asleep and their breathing starts to sound like the hissing and festering of a fresh corpse. Of course, those already closer to the spectrum of death than birth had a natural advantage to embodying the specific sound of extinction. Those whose tiredness has taken on a more layered meaning over the decades in the face of forced labor, broken dreams and shattered hearts. It’s so difficult to stay awake when sleep serves as a free trial of death. A free trial one increasingly becomes more amenable to signing on for as waking life beats them into submission.
Though it had surely done so to forty-three-year-old Alba, recently divorced after her husband of seventeen years confessed to being in love with another woman who was conveniently in her twenties, she still, somehow, did not emit the sounds of her sixty-eight-year-old father, Victor, or even her forty-five-year-old sister, May. Their human death knell sounds had never been of much note to Alba, who was only just now forced to share a room with them after traveling upstate to provide Jeanne, her mother, with the burial she had requested in her Will.
Jeanne’s strange love for Washington Irving (for who was really that big of of a fan of “Rip Van Winkle”–the story or the man himself as indicated by the townspeople’s classification of him as a ne’er-do-well) had prompted her to request the scattering of her ashes in Sleepy Hollow, ideally on the grave of Irving himself, buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. While Alba and Victor were eager to carry out these wishes, May was hesitant to risk attracting the attention of the “authorities,” even if it meant carrying out their dead matriarch’s final request (particularly since her family had done so little for her while she was alive, least of all, in Victor’s case, give her head).
As a result, Alba and her father had conspired to execute the scattering in the middle of the night, uninterrupted by May’s judgment. They agreed to wait for her to fall into a deep enough sleep before retreating into the night to carry out their task. The only problem was, Victor ended up surrendering to the free trial of death even before May–both of their gurgling snoring noises syncopating to create one foul sonic personification of decomposition. As she lay there with this thought in mind, betwixt her sister to her left in the double bed they shared and her father to her right in a single, she glanced over at Jeanne’s silver urn gleaming in the moonlight. Beckoning to her, “Get me out of here,” Alba had to shudder at the idea that she seemed to be amid the remains of not one but three dead beings. This incessant glug-shhh of both Victor and May finally sent her over the edge enough to heed her mother’s advice and flee the scene to a more literal cemetery tableau than the one she was presently in.
With the urn in hand, Alba stalked through the graveyard after scaling a solid column made of stone amid the wrought iron bars–no small feat while one hand was encumbered with her mother’s newest husk. She supposed, in a way, she had her now ex-husband to thank for her agility–for, in her paranoia over him cheating on her, she took to the gym regularly, seizing upon as many yoga and pilates classes as there were offered throughout the day (to be sure, being a trophy wife is a full-time job, and anyone who claims otherwise clearly doesn’t have a worthwhile [read: profitable] orifice). Accordingly, she felt unfazed by the challenged of this scaling thanks to being in possession of the type of pliability no woman in her forties (other than Ray of Light-era Madonna) has. As she touched down on the soft, damp ground on the other side of the fence, she had the strange sense that someone was watching her. She wrote it off as the phantom paranoia instilled in her by May, scuttling through the terra of the dead to find the remains she was looking for so as to, in turn, scatter the remains of her own idol, Jeanne. Jeanne, who despite never having “made it” as a writer by getting published in some out of touch rag like The New Yorker, continued to write until her dying breath, discovered in her office by Victor with a pen in hand–a scribe in death as she had been in life. So it was that Alba was utterly assured in her decision to carry out Jeanne’s wish to be with Washington Irving for all of eternity, come hell or high water.
As she approached the headstone, placed as some sort of centerpoint nexus within the milieu, the presence she had intuited before seemed to materialize again, stalking her from some unseen perch. And yet, once more, she chose to ignore it–just as so many of us seeking to labor under the assumption that if we don’t acknowledge something, then it’s not really happening. But oh, it was happening. Alba was being studied by the spirit of Irving himself, the natural “keeper” of the order of the cemetery. It had been decades since someone had shown an interest in him like this (let alone in his work, unless it was by way of Tim Burton). How could he not give Alba the attention and haunting she so clearly wanted, deserved? So it was that as she re-scaled the column to exit with the now mostly empty urn (she couldn’t deal with May’s reaction as it was without further adding to her anger by not returning with at least some part of her mother left), Irving followed her with the same devil-may-care, I-don’t-care-what-happens-to-me spirit as Rip Van Winkle. All the way back to the “charming” and “rustic” Airbnb wielding those adjectives as code for dilapidated and old.
Although she could feel some sort of abnormal chill trailing behind her, she didn’t look back to ascertain what might be causing it. Simply wanted to return to that tomb of a room containing her gurgling father and sister without them detecting she had ever left it. And upon shutting the door to the entryway behind her, she was met face to face for but a split second as Irving entered her, dove past the depths of her esophagus and possessed her at her very core. In her skin, Irving joined May in the bed. May, who turned to him and said, “At last, you’re here. Now we just need to wait for Andrew.” Brooke Astor as May was, obviously, referring to Andrew Carnegie’s takeover of Victor’s body. It was their intent to then live as everymen while Irving cohabited with and observed them to create his own modern version of not only How The Other Half Lives, but also The Exorcist. He was determined to correct his oeuvre as someone else in death if he couldn’t do it during his own lifetime. As for Alba, well, thanks to Irving, she had finally joined her mother as yet another writer never quite satisfied with his output.