Excerpt from THE DEDICATION
At the top of the hill Gretel handed Graham a shovel and asked him to dig down to about the size and depth of a posthole. She then took a sturdy vase Max had made in grade school art class and pocketed it inside the hole, matching the brim of the vase with the level of the ground. Inside the vase was the trunk of a sapling gingko, which stuck out two feet after the planting. An uncle uttered a concern that the roots wouldn’t penetrate the ceramic vase, a point to which Gretel fumed and insisted the vase was a planter, with a hole in the base and no enamel. She heard a grunt and a clearing throat behind her. There was a tug on her sweater coat. The uncle insisted, “Um, Gretel, it won’t be porous in the soil. It won’t absorb water or nutrients.” Gretel sank her hands into the earth, churned out the vase, and asked a man in the party to fetch her a rock. Once armed with one she tipped the sapling to its side and let the weight fall atop the vase, cracking it into six pieces. Maxwell’s ashes sat in a neat, still mound. She knelt down and sheathed the roots with the fragments, gently lowering the shattered remnant around the gentle tendrils of the baby tree. The wind on the hill stilled as the soil and errant ash fell in around the ginkgo. Out of nowhere appeared a bagpiper. The throng withstood the music and dwelled far above the lapping caps of the lake as Gretel traveled inside herself in prayer one last time.
After the final reception Graham gathered his mementos: a napkin, an event card, and a photo from the bulletin board. Gretel followed him to his rental car subcompact in the visitors parking area. The air was quiet, the moon was nearing full, and a loon rang out. Gretel thanked Graham for his dutiful attention to the affair and reached for his shoulders. Impaired and smelling of vinegar, she groped for his ears and lunged forward to fashion a kiss. Graham laughed and nudged her backward to her heels. Gretel came forward again, stroked her sweater coat, and pressed her bodice against Graham’s waist. She rimmed his belt with her thumbs and ran her tongue over her scaling lips. Within seconds she was searching his mouth with her darting tongue and heaving his back toward her belly. Her mashing maw became a gruesome rhythm, her head canting into his leaden, shocked face with wraithlike command.
Graham accepted the act solely out of the longstanding deference he held for her, and the dismay over the violation required a tack, an unfamiliar one, to ease the despairing woman from his mouth. Her lingual thrusting carried with it a fragment of Jordan almond; Graham felt it dash over his tongue like a gnome and spark a state of discomfort, sprinkling cream of tartar and coconut oil across his palate. He fought the surging parotid flood to void his stomach into her. Gently, he pried away her clawing arms and braced her by the shoulders. “This is all right, now, just work on a few measured breaths,” he pleaded his counsel. “This is normal,” he assured her.
Gretel wrestled out of his hold and stepped backward. Her face flooded to a beet pigment; her eyes surged with an ocher fire of lunacy that pulled the air from Graham’s lungs. “Pompous piece of…” she howled. “Same as ever…always judging.” She impugned him with her naked disgust. “What,” she hissed, “you too coy to give a woman her comfort?” Her feet were planted on the limestone drive, drilled through like rebar. Her frame outstretched, she appeared to him as a transmuted force--a dense specter in bewildering flux. From underneath the shroud of lantern light her lower lip carried a rivulet of drool, which fell to the gravel and tapped the dust as a lone and desirous dash of need. “Offer me your pound of flesh you dim, dumb buck,” she seethed. “Give me commmmmmmfort…”
Graham slid inside his rental and gently backed further from Gretel’s failing reach. His headlights soon picked up the expression of Will, standing near the exit. His face was slackened and smacked with stultification. Will had seen what he would soon tell his wife was the spectacle of the ages. Graham triggered his brights to him as the only form of farewell needed. As he sped over the apron to Route Fifty-Six he paused to imprint the rearview image of Lake Laconia Convention Center, now dim and glowing violet still, with the nauseating haze of Usher.