Signal to Signal

by | Jun 11, 2024 | CNF, Issue Thirty-Nine

Joe—

I have your glasses and wedding band. Earl’s daughter, Phyllis, had them in an envelope in Earl’s old luggage, buried underneath moldering boxes of Yank and Life Magazine in her garage. I found your death certificate, too. And an itemized breakdown of funerary expenses on fine blue paper with elegant gold embossing that includes a laundering fee for the chauffeur’s white gloves.

It cost $1100 to bury you.

Earl died in ’78; Phyllis, two years ago. She was my grandmother, which makes you and I family, if no less strangers. Grandma never spoke of having any uncles.

Silence is a kind of burial. Grandma died without memory of ever having been alive. She died without any teeth, too. Dementia is a rot. She went mute in the end, burying us all before it was over.

I read that science has an entire field dedicated to the study of near-death experiences, how some within that field question whether consciousness originates separate from the body and whether we’re not just transmitters of distant radio signals.

Are our bodies antennae, Joe?

Grandma smiled often in her final months. A broad, caved-in smile, vacant of all familiarity with whomever she was engaging with. By then, she was mostly basic bodily functions. She ate, breathed, pissed, shit, and slept. She stared at the ground a lot, too, unblinking and uninterested, grey-skinned and pallid. It’s believed infants smile reflexively if gassy or hungry. Is that all Grandma was reacting to, hunger and farts? If our bodies are radio transmitters, is dementia a mechanical failure or a fading signal?     

Do our signals ever go quiet?

Is Grandma still transmitting from somewhere?

In tropical climates, a fungus infects ants with tiny spores that bore into their exoskeleton, reengineering their regular pattern of behavior and sprouting a new fungus on the nape of the ant’s head. Fully bloomed, the fungus looks like a brain dangling off a pike. It kills the ant in a matter of days, but not before the ant mindlessly diverts to an environment more hospitable to the proliferation of fungi, which then spread. The ant is a host receiving outside signals. Is this not a separate consciousness?

Are we all just hosts?

And if so, to what end?

Anyway, Joe, I have your glasses and wedding band. The ring has tarnished, but whoever removed your glasses in the hospital took care to wrap them in soft gauze.

A small tenderness.

I’m curious: How did Earl come to have your wedding band? Did Loretta not keep it?

I would have written Grandma, but she already buried me once. Silence from you will be easier to bear. I’ll keep your things out of my garage, Joe, in a small decorative box that belonged to Earl, set out in the open in my office.

One less burial.

 Our family has had too many in recent years.

Signal to signal (?),

–C

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