October 21, Thursday evening -- Reading Amy Hempel

While recovering from foot surgery....
My friend, trying to cheer me up, speed up my recovery, reading to me In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried, by Amy Hempel.
It's about a hospital visit. An old lady visits her dying friend. The dying friend says, "Tell me things I won't mind forgetting....Make it useless stuff or skip it." She told about a chimp, who had learned sign language, and had learned to lie. When the chimp pooped on the desk, and the trainers asked who did it, the chimp signed the name of the janitor. There are other things, too, like who owned the first tape recorder. The trivia is, as the friend requested, forgettable, except for the bit the narrator withheld from her dying friend, because it would break her heart. It's revealed at the end of the story. The same chimp from the other trivia, had a baby and, the trainers were delighted that the chimp would sign to the baby. The baby died. The last paragraph of the story reads:
And when the baby died, the mother stood over the body, her wrinkled hands moving with animal grace, forming again and again the words: Baby, come hug, Baby, come hug, fluent now in the language of grief.
This is the kind of thing my friends think will cheer me up.

Thanks! The story is in a collection called Reasons to Live, by Amy Hempel.

1 Comment:

Cordelia said...

I remember reading that story a long time ago; the ending with the mother chimp signing to the baby's body, the terrible innocence wherein she ---and we--- cannot really comprehend death, ever, the useless of language and narrative against it, had me sobbing. One of those stories so powerful you wish you did not know of it.