The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

February Short Story: “In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried”

on February 4, 2013

Amy-Hempel.full

The story had made her hungry, she said—so I took the elevator down six floors to the cafeteria, and brought back all the ice cream she wanted. We lay side by side, adjustable beds cranked up for optimal TV-viewing, littering the sheets with Good Humor wrappers, picking toasted almonds out of the gauze. We were Lucy and Ethel, Mary and Rhoda in extremis. The blinds were closed to keep light off the screen.

For those of you who missed in January, Ann Kingman from Books on the Nightstand has declared 2013 the Year of the Short Story, which is crazy amazing. Part of that involves her focusing on one short story every month. For January, the story was “Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu; February brings us a truly, truly wrecking tale about female friendship “In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is Buried” by Amy Hemple.

The story follows two female best friends as they spend time together in the hospital. One of the friends is dying from some kind of long-term illness (cancer isn’t ever specified, unless I missed it, but it’s clearly something along those lines). The one who is well walks to the beach, reflects on memories of earthquakes and long flights with her friend, and when she tells her friend she has to leave, her sick friend expends the rest of her energy trying to chase after her. The story rips out your heart and jumps up and down on it and the minute I started to think about what it would be like to have myself and my best friend in this same position – lets just say I had an empty house to do all my ugly crying!

I think one of my favorite things about this story is just how beautiful the language is to describe so much sorrow. And it’s not just the sorrow over death – it’s the sorrow over lost memory and the pain that comes with survivors guilt mixed the the sheer boredom of spending day after day doing the same thing in a confined hospital watching someone you love die. It’s a position I’ve not had to be in, but that we all must inevitably share. The story isn’t long, but in it we get so much of the love between these two un-named women! I’m still not sure what significance there is to the fact that the cemetery is the same one Al Jolson is buried in, other than perhaps the fact that her sharing her final resting place with such a famous entertainer – an uplifting soul who still seems to be pushed to the sidelines of history, to the category of miscellaneous trivia – I’d never heard of him before my trip to wikipedia.

I had a convertible in the parking lot. Once out of that room, I would drive it too fast down the Coast highway through the crab-smelling air. A stop in Malibu for sangria. The music in the place would be sexy and loud. They’d serve papaya and shrimp and watermelon ice. After dinner I would shimmer with lust, buzz with heat, life, and stay up all night.

PLEASE read the story and let me know what you think. If you’ll notice, this post is almost shockingly sparse of any kind of snark or sarcasm (and/or funny and inappropraite GIFs) and it’s because I want you to take me seriously when I say that you need to take the 20 minutes of your life that it will take you to read the story in order to bring Amy Hemple’s beautiful world into yours, for however briefly. Ann did, yet again, a wonderful job selecting for the month and I can’t wait to see what kind of discussion unfolds over on the comment section!

Rating: OMFGZ!

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