Monday, September 22, 2008

Short Story: Dating A Dead Girl by Sara Powers

Dating A Dead Girl by Sara Powers is a short story I read in one of the back issues of Zoetrope All-Story.

Peter is looking for a house. He has limited resources. He is disillusioned with what he had been looking. His real estate agent finds hm a ramshackle house and suggests they move it to another neighbourhood. Peter is not too happy about it but he cannot afford any thing else.

"Peter was a design professor; he built conceptual furniture that was clever, ironic, enigmatic."

When he gets back to his garage apartment, he finds a beautiful, tall but mean looking girl waiting for him. She turns out to be the sister of a girl, he had dated only twice and did not call again. Meredith tells him that Charlotte is dead making him feel guilty although he had no reason to feel that way. Meredith says that their mother wants to meet him. He is reluctant but he agrees and goes to meet them. Meredith does not care either way if he comes or not. But Sigrid, Charlotte's mother is happy to see him as she assumes that Peter made Charlotte happy. He knows he did no such thing but is unable to escape them. He is asked to make a box to hold Charlotte's ashes.

"Charlotte's being cremated," she said, sitting. "And we're going to have a ceremony. Something sacred, a celebration. A release."
She stopped a moment, imagining, Peter thought, the release, whatever that was. He was wishing for one himself.
"What I want is a box of some sort to hold her ashes. A vessel." She took his hands again. He disowned them. "A vessel made with love by a man who kissed her. It's perfect."
There were many things to which Peter would have agreed in order to hear "Goodbye" from Sigrid and Meredith by then, and this he could do. A box for ashes, a vessel for his escape, a container for his guilt. Something plain, dignified, relatively simple. A lacquer of some somber, yet joyous color. He would have agreed to anything, and so he agreed to this, with relief, and promised a box within a few days."

Justin finds a place for the house to be moved and meanwhile, Peter builds a box in the shape of a tiny house for Charlotte's ash. Meredith comes and leaves the box of ashes with him. What happens next? I can't reveal the end without spoiling it.

The house for the dead girl is a metaphor. Peter does not have a place of his own yet he builds a tiny house to hold Charlotte's ash. For a girl he barely knew. That is the irony. This story is powerful.