. . . But I could not put the paper away. I looked and looked at her face. How, I asked I don’t know whom, can this woman not be alive?
It was not the first time I had noticed how alive the people looked on the obituary pages, but then I usually fold the paper and put it with the week’s other papers, and head upstairs to work, or at least look at my e-mail. On this occasion, and what a stupid phrase that is, I looked and looked.
I am not good at describing people’s appearances. I always give up rather than mention eye colour or hair style. When someone asks hey, did you get a load of that woman in the red dress at the Stevens’s party, I always have to confess that I don’t remember what colours anyone was wearing. I am not very good at colours anyway, but I don’t know— I can never figure out what use it is to try and describe someone. Maybe if he walks around with a hatchet buried in his skull, okay, I will mention that.
So I will not try to tell you everything I saw in the little black and white amateur photograph of Melody Danton. But while I was sitting with my elbows on the dining room table and my chin on my fists under my cheekbones, I looked at an open friendly face that seemed more and more as if Melody Danton were looking back at me.
And as if she were just beginning to smile.
Every once in a while something happens, you notice something, something that you know right then is not just ordinary business. These things usually happen while you are doing something you do every day. A name is said on the radio. There is a package just outside the front door. Okay, I thought, tomorrow I will just remember this obit as a particularly effective one. I won’t mention it to anyone on e-mail. I won’t remember her name after an hour or so at my desk.
But you know that didn’t work. Otherwise I wouldn’t be telling you all this. I thought about that face all the rest of the day. I cut the obit notice out of the paper and taped it to the upper right corner of my computer. I wasted a few hours in total, I guess, just looking at it, my chin in my hand. I looked at it again the next day, and I read that poor little couplet over and over, long after I had it by heart. I was spending more time looking at a tiny picture of Melody Danton than I was on my e-mail and the short story I was supposed to be writing.
If only I could have met Melody Danton. She might have had a coarse sense of humor, or she might have liked reading books about vampires. Then I would have been able to stay away, or forget her altogether. She might have watched hit television shows or worn a New York Yankee baseball cap. But all I had was that little picture of a face that seemed to be sending vectors of fondness right at me.
On the fourth day I decided to find out more about her, if only to learn something that would set me free from her gaze. Was she fond of Las Vegas, maybe? Did she say “begs the question” when she meant “raises the question”? What if I found out that she was totally loving and totally lovable, and I had missed her whole life, the forty-eight years that other people had enjoyed? All those thousands of tiny moments. I can see her with a bowl and a wooden spoon, having just spooned the cake mix into the pan, that lovely look on her fair face.
Where to start? I wished that Roger and her parents had been as detailed as some of the notices you see. “Patricia attended Lord Byng High School and U.B.C., then took a position with West Coast Cedar Homes,” etc. etc. But these were new deaths, of course. Melody’s was one of those annual notices purchased to show that the family hasn’t forgotten. All I had to do was have a look through the paper of two years ago.
But what could I do without going there? First I looked around the Internet, to see whether she had ever done anything to make her the slightest bit famous. The only real hit I got on my search engine was a blog for people involved with ted, an organization for individuals who wanted to spread their ideas at conferences. It was something I might want to look into later, but right now I was in search of a real woman. Well, a woman who had passed away without my noticing two years ago.
So what about the phone book? In the last few years the phone book had become three or four different kinds of phone book, with white pages, yellow pages, blue pages and lord knows what else. It was getting so that I couldn’t figure out how to look up a person’s telephone number. But I gave it a try. In our kitchen, I found out, there are four thick telephone books, and guess what? They are all for business names. Some of them have yellow pages and white pages, but they’re just two ways of looking up a business. If you are a person instead of a business, I can’t phone you from my place. . . .