Leslie Pietrzyk Click to

Leslie Pietrzyk’s collection of unconventionally linked short stories, This Angel on My Chest, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and was published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Her new novel, Silver Girl, is forthcoming from Unnamed Press in February 2018. More information: Twitter: @lesliepwriter

The body flew on a different plane, arriving in Detroit two days ago, at 7:37AM.  She tracked its arrival online.  Not a soldier or a famous politician, just her husband, age thirty, suddenly dead.

His mother wanted him buried in Detroit.  Did it matter where someone’s dead body was?  Did it matter that someone’s dead body ended up in the place they had fled?

Now she was in suburban Detroit, being carried along an anonymous highway in his mother’s Lincoln.  People drove as if they were tense, feeling the crush of that low, grey sky she remembered from their visit two Christmases ago.   The graveside service was in an hour, followed by a “celebration of life” at a country club.  There would probably be balloons released outside, heartfelt notes tied to them with ribbon.   She stared at the parade of silver-paned office buildings out the window.   His mother’s voice was something broken that wouldn’t stop making noise.

Finally they reached the cemetery, that modern kind, with stones flat in the ground to make mowing easy.  The spot his mother selected seemed exposed, exactly in the center.  She was taller than any of the slender trees.

People pressed her hand, clutched limp tissues.  There were old high school girlfriends, all pretty.  Though it was cold, no hats.   The box with the body in front, blanketed with white roses.   A stand displaying his smiling graduation photo.  A CD of songs he wrote for his college band, The Elements.  The scene felt arranged, like a movie set of a sad funeral.  She imagined everyone at home afterwards, sponging off make-up, peeling away costumes, slipping into bathrobes to relax after this hard day of work.

A minister with a square head spoke.  God this, heaven that.  She’d heard it all before.
His mother wept so loudly she startled the crows looping overhead.

When she exhaled, frost clouded the air.

Later, his mother pulled up to the airport curb and said, “Promise you’ll come visit,” and they both knew she wouldn’t.  She watched people wheeling black suitcases, in a hurry to leave Detroit.  Though she didn’t believe in God or heaven or worshiping a flat stone, she half-envied those who did, those who thought it could be so simple.  She said to her former mother-in-law, “Maybe spring.”

“The marker will be in then,” his mother said.

“It was a beautiful ceremony,” she said.  “I’m so glad.  All those Mylar balloons in the sky.”

“Did you get a photo?” his mother asked.

She nodded, patting her coat pocket as if a phone was in there.  “There’s just one last thing.” She hadn’t cried today, and it was important that she not cry as she said, “It was bugging me the whole time that maybe they’d put him in upside down.”

“Upside down?”

“That his head was where his feet should be.”

“They wouldn’t do that,” his mother said.  “They don’t make those kinds of mistakes.  There’s hinges on one side.”

“I kept thinking about it,” she said, which was true.  “I couldn’t get it out of my head.”

His mother spoke urgently:  “It doesn’t happen like that.”

“Don’t lots of things happen that we think won’t happen?”

His mother tightened her face.  “Have a safe trip.”

The sound of the car door opening, then closing, was loud.  Strange not to have luggage, to float so lightly.

On the flight home, she knew there’d be a time she might wish she hadn’t acquiesced to the anger nudging her to speak those unforgivable words to her former mother-in-law.  But that wasn’t today.


18 Responses to Acquiescence

  1. Rhonda W says:

    So much deep emotion in so few words. This story left a lump in my throat.

  2. A. says:

    What a lovely story, told briefly. Grief sometimes is compressed time. I especially like the way the main character puts doubt or fear or something untoward into the mother-in-law’s mind, whether intentional or not, without acquiescing to the anger.

  3. Leslie Pietrzyk Leslie P. says:

    Thank you for your lovely comments!

  4. Cecilia says:

    I think she wanted that comment to sting, because she is sad and angry about losing her husband and having to go back to a place neither of them had wanted to be, along with her distaste for the ‘ceremony’ itself. Thought provoking, very nice story Leslie.

  5. Julia Woods Davis says:

    Thank you for sharing this piece. It is succict, yet brimful of physical detail. It employed some beautiful use of psychology in the daughter-in-law’s ability to do the very thing for which she chides herself in the final paragraph.

  6. Collier McLeod says:

    The brilliance of this story is that it focus not on the obvious scene of a mother and wife grieving for a deceased son and husband, but that it centers upon what is normally left out. It is easy to show the obvious, the funeral, the grief, the cold. The difficulty lies in showing the story that is perceived as “leftover” or unimportant. This story gives readers a brief glimpse into the relationship of two women that is tainted with un-resloved hate and anger. I love that the ending, while conclusive, maintains the theme of deeply rooted and continued anger. The author conveys history, setting, and action in swift, precise language that makes the story stand out.

  7. Leslie Pietrzyk Leslie P. says:

    I really appreciate reading these comments about my story…thank you so much!

  8. I do love the way you have presented this specific situation plus it does give us a lot of fodder for consideration. Yet, thank you for this superb point.

  9. Tyler Van Riper says:

    This story is beautifully written and contains such depth of emotion in so few sentences. One thing that I loved is the almost disjointed way in which the widow views everything from the day of her husband’s funeral. She flits from being on a plane, to being at the funeral, to suddenly returning to the airport; it is as if she cannot focus too long on one aspect of the day. I know that I often feel that it is easier to not think than to accept a loss and succumb to the grief that follows. This piece truly captures the essence of a widow’s grief but through a less obvious expression.

  10. Austin says:

    Really nice, Leslie.

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  12. I appreciate hearing from you! I hope I’m not too forward in mentioning that this story is part of my new collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST, which won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and will be published by Univ of Pittsburgh Press in October 2015.

  13. Royal Groth says:

    I know how hard it is to keep up with this genealogy efforts. It looks great. Keep up the good work.

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