My life this autumn has been astonishingly busy and empty, thanks to a seemingly endless set of tasks for small outcomes. In the midst of all this, my stepfather died, at the age of 100. Somehow I thought he would never die. He was like a sphinx in the desert, always there, always posing riddles in my direction. On his last day on earth, he was driven around his neighborhood, whose beauty he commented upon, and then was driven to a McDonald's where he ate his favorite food, a Big Mac. His last words before he died were "Good night and God bless." Knowing his other, darker side, I have almost no idea where this benevolence came from, but I suppose he had it all the time—perhaps it was some latency that emerged as he aged. My wife says it was a result of having forgotten what he believed in: he'd always been a judgmental type, but in his vacancy he fell into a sort of demented heartiness, which strikes me as quite rare in the very old. He had complained about the cost of his son's casket years ago at the time of that particular funeral, but with the irony of which life is so fond he himself was laid out in a casket with a label that read SOLID CHERRY stuck to it. I tried to pry the label off at the graveside but wasn't successful. Still, I have been mourning him, the man and his riddles, and the life I shared with him, and the care and the neglect he lavished upon me.
Aisha Sabatini Sloan
Episode 22: “Form and Formlessness”
In an essay specially commissioned for the podcast, Aisha Sabatini Sloan describes rambling around Paris with her father, Lester Sloan, a longtime staff photographer for Newsweek, and a glamorous woman who befriends them. In an excerpt from The Art of Fiction no. 246, Rachel Cusk and Sheila Heti discuss how writing her first novel helped Cusk discover her “shape or identity or essence.” Next, Allan Gurganus’s reading of his story “It Had Wings,” about an arthritic woman who finds a fallen angel in her backyard, is interspersed with a version of the story rendered as a one-woman opera by the composer Bruce Saylor. The episode closes with “Dear Someone,” a poem by Deborah Landau.
Rachel Cusk photo courtesy the author.
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