Talked to my sister just now, for two hours and change, and she observed how much of writing takes place when you are walking around, how the thoughts that come into your head while you’re doing other things will later be arranged to fill out the body of what you write. I’ve experienced this a lot lately, focused, as I’ve been, on telling the story of our tragic father as completely as I can. Sometimes, I told her, I’ll have to stop walking and jot down a phrase to remind me of a story I need to write out about the old D.U.
This was my father’s method, too, when he spoke at a funeral. He’d have an envelope with a few fragments of phrases written on the back, in his tiny, precise print lettering, each fragment would be a story he would tell in his natural voice, with no need for any further notes. I’ve made this comparison before, but this is how Django used to play guitar. He’d learn the rough contours of the song and extemporize the rest as he went.
At one point in our long talk my sister used a word that made me laugh, reach for a fine-tipped brush and brush the word onto an index card. She asked if I remembered her husband’s description of our father’s utter mastery in a duel. I told her I did and we both laughed and she painted the picture again for us to enjoy: our father, stretched out on the couch, relaxed, reading the newspaper, the sword in his other hand, yawning without looking up, nonchalantly clanking his sword as my brother-in-law flailed away. And then, she said, the old man would just eviscerate him.
“Eviscerate!” I said, laughing and reaching for my brush pen.
My sister said “yeah, he would eviscerate him, every time,” and I laughed harder. I’ve described this image earlier in these pages, but without the punchline, that perfect ‘mot juste’.
Our father would, after reading the last obituary in the New York Times he was reading, casually thrust the point of his sharp sword into my brother-in-law’s stomach and draw a few quick circles, disemboweling him. He’d pull the sword away and bloody entrails would come with it.
Eviscerate! My god, if there ever was the perfect word to describe the thing, there it is.