Death Of DanaŘs
Peter Feibleman

     "Yes," the older man said. A smile grew against his face.
     Mayann said as if to a child: "Thank you. I'm happy you have met him now, I did want to talk. I wanted to ask if you had found your way in the cemetery."
     Nobody spoke.
     Then the older man said: "Please?"
     "The cemetery. I know the grave is hard to find. The cemetery has grown so much since then. And they've changed it, the west gate used to be the main gate, now it's not and they've let it rust; it isn't used any more. The grave is difficult to find from the main entrance now unless you know where it is. But it's the only one with red roses. Did you have trouble? Could you find someone to help you?"
     The older man said: "... No. No, miss."
     "You did find it?"
     "You didn't?"
     The man said: "We do not know."
     Mayann frowned. "Pardon me," she said. "Please, it's my fault . . . I don't understand you."
     "We do not . . ." the man said, "we . . . do not go there. We do not know this cemetery."
     Mayann's eyes watered before she said: "Oh." She said: "Forgive me. I am not usually so
awkward. . .  How could you go, knowing . . . that is, knowing no one at all in the city? Not even father, of course, how could you go? You're all alone here. I beg your pardon, I should have realized."
     The older man looked at his feet and then he looked at his friend. But the beautiful man was staring at Mayann; he had his mouth open.
     Mayann said: "Well then, I'm doubly glad we have met. Now you can go with me . . . I go every Sunday afternoon. We can go together. I take white roses to my mother and I take red roses to the other grave. Will you come with me on Sunday?"
     The older man said: "We . . . ah . . ." The beautiful man said: "No."
     "... No?" Mayann said.
     "No. We are leaving soon."
     The older man sucked his breath in through his nose.
     "Yes," the beautiful man said, "we are leaving before this day, Sunday... scusatemi, signorina. We must leave. Ci scusiamo di tutto, signorina. Piacere, signorina . . ."
     Then Mayann's hand was out and the men had bent over it and sooner than anyone could move they were gone.
     The men were never seen again.
     Mayann watched after them. She watched the empty doorway.
     Behind her, Mrs. Wainscott said: "My dear, what a time..."
     Mayann turned, her face sad. She sat in her place by her father.
     Two dishes clinked and then some glasses. Sounds rushed into the vacuum of no sound.
     Mrs. Wainscott came to the table with a long white linen napkin dangling from her hand. Edmund remained standing. Mrs. Wainscott said to Mayann: "Don't get up, please. You mustn't worry. You really mustn't . . . Those men were just pretending to be who you think. You shouldn't have humiliated yourself in front of them that way. You really . . ."
     "She didn't humiliate herself," Mr. Wainscott said, approaching from behind.
     "Well, but she shouldn't have spoken to them at all. They were not what they were pretending, they . . ." Mrs. Wainscot was a long embarrassed woman; she leaned over and patted the air around Mayann and the napkin bounced.
     "Thank you," Mayann said. "Yes, thank you. I see now."
     "How about some wine, Edmund?" Mr. Wainscott said.
     "No, thanks," Edmund said. "We don't drink much wine." Standing behind her chair, he pressed close against Mayann's back. He put one hand around each of her shoulders.
     "Oh, you. Come on," Mr. Wainscott said. "A half bottle."
     "... Well," Edmund said, "maybe. Today we might. Thanks, yes; but just a half. We believe in keeping to the middle of the road. Don't we, Princess?"
     "Thank you," Mayann said.
     "We believe that nothing too much can happen to you . . . if you stick to the middle of the road. We try to prove it. Right, Princess?
     "Yes," Mayann said.
     "... What's wrong?" Edmund said, low.
     "Nothing," Mayann said. But she did not smile.
     "He was..."
     "He was what?"
     "He was so ashamed," she said.
     Mr. Wainscott burst out laughing. Edmund chuckled with him.
     "I should hope," Mrs. Wainscott said. "My dear, I should hope. Shamed would have been the least of it if I had told him what I had in my mind."
     "What did you have in your mind?" Mr. Wainscott said. "You?" He laughed.
     Different voices caught the laugh and used it for other things. and there was a quick merriment in the room, held, passed around, blown with the smoke in small tufts of clouds that floated into a thin blue layer under the ceiling. The layer was of laughter and smoke.
     Mayann whispered: "I shamed him so."
     Edmund’s hands tightened on her shoulders while Mr. Wainscott went on laughing.



     It was not that it was easier for Mayann to sit straight. She could not have sat any other way.
     The delicate sharp-honed humming cut through the hospital with one last note and ended.
     She tried to focus her eyes on the screen; then on a fly that was squatting on the other side cleaning its front legs. She focused through the screen out over the bright ground behind the oak-past the gray strings of swirled moss hung sleepily like bats in green shadow. The far earth was hazed and the grass was burnt. Day-old rain steamed up to the sun. But the top earth was already dusty; blistering orange had spread over the ground.
     Mayann pulled back her point of vision to the screen. It was lost there now. The fly was gone. The screen had no center and no end. The screen beat gently against her eyes, evenly light and dark and lighter, with her own pulse. The moan of the fan behind her was in the disappearing day. And the screen beat between her and the sheets of orange that shone and burned like hell-shadows from the dying sun in her eyes.
     Edmund’s wide hand came between her and the candle. He lifted the candle in its long fluted-silver stick and put it on the bookcase over her head. "No," he said. Then he said: "Don't touch fire. Fire burns."
     Fire burns.
     Everybody told her she was tall for her age, but thin; but beautifully proportioned, they said; she will make a beautiful young lady someday. She was five years old and two weeks.
     Edmund put a hand under each of her armpits and raised her off the floor. He bent her back and dangled her there, himself laughing--Mayann's hair shaking straight down behind. Then he sat her in the big upholstered armchair that was red and firm and mountainous.
     Fire burns.
     Edmund pushed up his coat sleeve. He unbuttoned the round gold cufflink and turned the cuff back and back again. "Look," he said. He held his arm down for her to see.
     On the inside of the arm there was a place where the hair could not grow. A spotchy place, shaped unshapen like milk spilled on the carpet. The skin there was too pink and it shone too slick for skin. It was a little like the wax drops as they fell from the pink Christmas candle.
     Fire burns.
     Edmund said: "See that? There? You see?"
     "Yes, Daddy."
     "Daddy is for babies, not for friends."
     "... Yes, Father."
     "That's better. See that?"
     "That's the place where I got burned. See what it did?"
     "How?" Mayann said.
     "I'm telling you. When I was a little boy I spilled some hot grease on me. It burned me."
     "Not fire?"
     "The same thing," Edmund said. "Heat and fire. One makes the other; fire makes heat and heat makes fire. But it all burns. Don't ever touch fire. Stay away from it. And from the hot heat."
     "When is it hot?" Mayann said.
     "... Well, when it's red. When a thing gets too hot it just turns red."
     The chair was red.
     Mayann looked up at the candle, long and yellow, in silver; and at the pointed oval flame set on top. The flame was orange.
     She shook her head.
     "Now, look," Edmund said, "you don't have to understand about it now. Just believe father."
     "I would like to feel it," she said.
     "I felt it once, I lit a match by myself and I felt the stove in the kitchen; it was nice."
     "No," Edmund said.
     "It was."
     "No," he said, "nice to stay away from. Only if you don't get too near, see? If you get near you get burned. Fire burns." He stepped to the side and took the candlestick again. Then he squatted with it in front of her. After that he took her wrist and held her hand up two feet away from the flame. "Out here it feels nice," he said. "Here. But no closer." He let go her wrist.
     Mayann looked at him.
     "No closer."
     "1 just want to feel the burn once."
     "No," Edmund said. "You mayn't. Fire burns, fire burned father on his arm."
     "Grease," Mayann said.
     Edmund said: "It's the same thing, I told you. You don't have to feel it. It hurts, it's not nice. You don't ever have to feel anything that hurts; father felt those things already; he knows. You don't ever have to get hurt. Father got hurt for you, he won't let you get hurt. You don't have to feel it at all, you just believe me."
     Mayann looked back at the candle. She closed her fingers flat. Then she couldn't see the flame. But the light came right through between her fingers and made the skin there glow like the sun through a red lollipop. The warmth of the flame was nice.
     When she separated her fingers and saw the flame again, it was shivering: laughing at her.
Two flies, both on her left, faced in the same direction, one higher, both on the outside; with granulated eyes; two flies were on the screen. They had big busy heads, twirling them. One was praying--the silly one.
     It takes a certain kind of fly to pray; not the kind that knows.
     Behind her there was another nurse in the room, undertalking to Mrs. Rhale. "Dignity . . . real . . . loves . . ." "Yes. Oh, yes." "... only know a person, really by how they behave . . . difficult moments in life." "Oh, yes."
     It takes a certain kind of fly to pray. Fire burns.
     Nurses can turn red if they get hot enough, but they don't burn. Nurses never burn.
     "I’m not a nurse," Miss Duff said, "I'm a nanny, l'm a British nanny."
     "Yes," Mayann said.
     "Call me nanny."
     "Yes, nanny."
     "Right you are," Miss Duff said. "Now let us get our boots on, there's the dear."
     Mayann said: "Nobody wears these but me; girls don't wear high boots, not even Evelyn Wisterwood and she's crippled, l can't run in high boots."
     "You don't have to run," Miss Duff said. "There is no saying you have to run. Our daddy just wants us to go for a walk with him. Not run."
     "Father. Daddy is for babies."
     "What, love?"
     "I call him father."
     "Did he tell you to?"
     "Right you are," Miss Duff said. "Father."
     The first boot was for the left foot. It was thick and lined with rabbit fur. It was hard to put on and it came all the way up to her knee; then it zipped. Then it cut under her knee. It weighed a lot.
     Mayann said: "I would like to run in the snow."
     "You might fall," Miss Duff said, panting. She was working the other leg into the other boot.      
     "1 would like to fall."
     "Why ?"
     "I would like to feel the snow."
     "Make a snowball," Miss Duff said. She squatted down and sat on the carpet. "This here is a bit of a struggle. New boots are always a bit of a struggle until they get used to us. Remember that. I'm new to you too, but not a boot. Ha ha."
     "1 don't want to touch it," Mayann said. "1 only want to feel it."
     "The snow."
     "Yes, dear," Miss Duff said. "Now simply hold it out stiff and point the toes, but not too much. Simply hold it out stiff."
     "1 am," Mayann said.
     "Right you are," Miss Duff said. "Well done you. Nanny doesn't want us hurt. Zippy-wippy. There, now."
     Mayann let her heavy feet rest on the carpet. "I would like to fall in the snow," she said.
     "Why, love?"
     "... Because."
     "Because why ?"
     "]ust because."
     "That's not a reason," Miss Duff said. "What a silly idea; fall in the snow, indeed. If we slip and fall down, we hurt ourselves. Even in the snow. Besides the snow is too cold. Then we catch cold."
     "Fire is too hot," Mayann said softly.
     "Right you are," Miss Duff said. "Fire is too hot and the snow is too cold."
     "Oh," Mayann said.
     "Do you know what our daddy, I mean our father told nanny when nanny came to work for him? Do you know what he told nanny we always do? And why we always do it?"
     Miss Duff wrinkled her face. "What?"
    "We always stick to the middle of the road. So nothing can hurt us."
     The wrinkles all went upward. "Quite right," Miss Duff said, "how did you know?"
     "1 know," Mayann said.
     "It was what my mother said."
     "Oh. Do we remember our mother?"
     "No," Mayann said.
     "Erm. Well. Never you mind, now let's get nanny up on her feet. Nanny must go on a diet. Nanny weighs too much. There we are. Never you mind, you have two mothers now. Aunt Sarah and nanny."
     Mayann said: "No."
     "I don't want a mother."
     "... I didn't hear you right, love."
     "My mother is dead. 1 don't want a new mother."
     "Well. Erm. Dad-uh-Father is waiting downstairs to take us out to the park to play with the other little girls. Then we come back and have fried chicking for lunch."
     "Chicking," Miss Duff said, "lengthen each word to its fullest.''
     Mayann said: "1 can't play with these boots on."
     "Yes you can," Miss Duff said. "Try. Everything is a question of trying; if we try we can do anything we want to in life. Did our dad-uh-father explain to us how when be was young and be was playing at mountain climbing in the snow in Italy, he sat down too long and froze his, he sat down and froze himself?"
     "Yes," Mayann said. "He showed me."
     "He can't have, love," Miss Duff said. "Not there. He couldn't even show nanny. It's in an unfortunate place," she said.
     "I know. I saw it."
     "He showed me."
     "How? Never mind, l don't want to know. Now off we go downstairs. Father is waiting."
     Mayann leaned with a hand on the back of the chair while she stood up. Then, when she was sure of her balance, she clumped across the high-tufted carpet to the door.
     "Aren't we going to kiss our nanny goodbye?"
     Mayann clumped around in a half-circle and came back.
     "The-ere now. That’s right. Now don't we want a new mother?"
     "No," Mayann said, heading for the door.
     "Well. Poor dear Aunt Sarah."
     "Aunt Sarah is an aunt," Mayann said. She opened the door.
     "...I'm not an aunt."
     "No," Mayann said. "You're not."
     "Well? . . . What am I"
     Mayann said: "A nanny." She went out and closed the door after her.
     She closed it with one arm.