The Paris Review

PEYTON BURGESS

Sometimes PB to my students, Sack to my friends, and always Pete to my family, my name is Peter Burgundy and I worry that death has been my only inspiration to be a better person—that death has had a way of making life understandable. And oh whoa, how I worry that this will be the case till kingdom come—walking through every day to the quiet beat of grief’s unfinished heart.

Somebody shouldn’t always have to die, right?

So let me try with here and now. I’ve been wanting to for a long time and I’m going to do it. So here. This is now:

I’m driving to work, and as I make my way down City Park Ave., I’m rerouted by traffic cones and flashing yellow lights. I brake, slowly make the U-turn, and see that a huge pond has formed between Delgado Community College and City Park.

I say pond because, unlike a sinkhole that would swallow the earth, this pond is straight-up asserting itself into the world, projecting a blue aura. And in the middle of it, a gnarly, bespeckled cyan-colored cypress is sitting atop its own tiny island of roots. The audacity!

The pond is a little bigger than a basketball court and fills the neutral ground and sections of traffic lanes in both directions. S&WB and DOTD engineers, firemen, and police officers are staring into it, adjusting their hard hats and belts as they exert all sorts of wonderment over the thing right there in front of them. Joggers and walkers in City Park are snapping photos, as are the tourists vacating the streetcars while the operators organize their reverse efforts. Local newsies are jockeying for the best shots.

I drive toward the college’s rear entrance, wondering if I should be more impressed. I turn up ye olde SR5 stereo, which, connected to my phone’s bank of tunes—tunes symptomatic of the times—plays a big-on-aesthetics song by (the) Butthole Surfers, and the song reminds me of my big sis.

I drive on. The glowing pond and that gnarly tree are in my rearview mirror, vibrating along with the bass.

Despite knowing the thematic implications of floods, sinkholes, storms, et cetera, I’m going to go ahead and decide that this beautiful pond, along with its cyan tree, is just implicative of the city’s infamously unsteady ground and aging infrastructure, an infrastructure that emphasizes death upon death upon death. I’ve seen almost every street in this city underwater before, so why pack the bug-out bag now, right?

I SIT DOWN AT MY PC and pull up the spreadsheet to see what we’ll be doing today: replacing trampled pansies in the signage bed by the main entrance, trimming the limp palm fronds by the bookstore, testing pH at the Williamson Complex water garden. This is the regular paycheck and health insurance job. I’m the grounds manager at Delgado. But I’m also an adjunct, teaching landscape design and management in the college’s horticulture technology program.

I radio Benito to get a few flats of pansies ready.

“Let’s go with purple and gold. If you’re around, we can plant after my class,” I say.

“Sounds good, Sack.”

I have about twenty minutes before class, so I check my email. I spot some auto-forwarded email, the sender an address I don’t recognize. The email was sent to an old Hotmail address I haven’t used since I was like nineteen. Yes, mail forwarding—where old tragedies come back to haunt you.

IS THIS STILL YR EMAIL? REMEMBER ME? HAHA. OF COURSE YOU DO…

IF YOU READ THIS, CAN YOU SEND ME YR CELL. I WANT TO SAY HI.

ACTUALY, I WANT TO SAY SORRY FOR NOT CHECKING ON YOU AFTER HEATHER DIED. DO YOU HATE ME.

MOM AND DAD PROBABLY TOLD YOU IM DYING, IM NOT DYING!

YOU’RE MARRIED NOW??? I DON’T BELIVE IT. BUT I’M HAPPY THINGS WRKED OUT FOR YOU! WHO IS THIS GAL????

YOU DESEVE TO BE HAPPY, MAN, I KNOW THAT SOUNDS STUPID

I MADE A NEW PLAYLIST FOR YOU, SOME YOU KNOW, SOME MAYBE NOT. PUT HER IN YOUR PHONE OR SOMETHING

THE BIG SIS,

K

‘HATE’ ISN’T THE RIGHT WORD. I’m not sure I cared that my one and only sibling never contacted me when Heather died. If anything, it was an excuse to not deal with her bullshit ever again. Years went by: I mourned and did what I did and I’m here. Why fuck with me now, K? I load the playlist onto my phone and press play, reluctantly agreeing to adopt it as the soundtrack for the next couple days, and, weird, there’s that Butthole Surfers song¹ again.

I CALL MY WIFE to tell her about K’s email.

“Do you think she just wants money?” I ask.

“That’s what you tell yourself because you’re scared to talk to her after so much time,” Liz says without any hesitation. It’s like she’s been thinking

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