Mrs. Reid wanted us to know about the dead. Somehow she knew it was important, that they were powerful, and that touch was the only way to learn that. The day that she found the dead mouse, we were at recess. Instead of putting it in the garbage or burying it, she put it on a paper towel, fully exposed, and waited for us to return.
She held the dead mouse out to me. She told me I could touch it if I wanted, and I did want to touch it. Because when something is dead, its body looks strange. The rigidity and the flatness and something changes about the hair. I wanted to understand.
I held it in my hand and whispered things to it. Pet its tiny ribs. Told him he was a good mouse. Its bones felt like pins. When it didn’t breathe, I knew that it was different and I didn’t need it to be alive anymore. After a minute, she asked me to pass the mouse to the left, to the next third grader. I felt sad that he was gone, because I wanted to know, and didn’t get enough time to learn.
That summer, my grandpa died and my mother took me to the funeral. She asked me if I wanted to see grandpa one last time and I did. I also needed to touch him. I knew that if you put your hand over the chest, you’d know for sure. That when something dies, there is an otherworldly thing that leaks into the here. Something different and strange. Grandpa, the old man who pats me on the head and tells me to button my coat. Now his face pulled down with gravity and I wanted him to talk, to fix me up again. I reached into the casket and tucked my hand inside his shirt collar and my mom looked up from her tears and pulled my hand away. A soft, tired scolding, and I didn’t understand why she didn’t want me to know.
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