by Ben Lerner
from the September 5, 2022 issue of The New Yorker
It feels like Ben Lerner is always showing up in The New Yorker, and I don’t mean that in a bad way — I like his work; however, in the fourteen years I’ve been posting the stories here he’s actually only showed up five times before this week, the most recent being back in 2020.
When I became a father, I began to worry not only that I would die and not be able to care for my daughter but that I would die in an embarrassing way, that my death would be an abiding embarrassment for Astra — that in some future world, assuming there is a future, she will be on a date with someone, hard as that is for me to imagine, and her date will ask, “What does your father do?,” and she will say, “He died when I was little,” and her date will respond, “I’m sorry,” hesitate, and then ask, in a bid for intimacy, how I died, and Astra will feel ashamed, will look down into her blue wine, there will be blue wine in the future, and say, “He had an aneurysm on the toilet,” which is one of the ways I often fear I might die. (I’m sure she’d withhold the toilet part, at least on a first date, but that would just make it worse, amplify the shame.) If I were to die on the toilet tomorrow, I assume Inma wouldn’t share many specifics with Astra — who, like most three-year-olds, finds everything relating to the “potty’’ fascinating and hilarious — but, as Astra grew older, she would want to know more about the circumstances of my death, at which point Inma would have to either lie or divulge the details (“withholding,” “divulging” — all these terms sound scatological). Inma would, I’m confident, eventually tell Astra the truth. In fact, I can imagine a version of the conversation that’s tender, sweet: Inma finally tells Astra it happened on the toilet (let’s say “while reading on the toilet”), there is an awkward moment of silence, then they both start laughing, then they both start crying, embracing each other, laughing and crying, remembering me as a well-meaning fool who projected or tried to project some seriousness as a poet, as a person, but who in fact met an appropriately ridiculous end, “Silly Dada,” as Astra always says.
Lerner’s writing always pushes me quickly through the paragraphs, and I’m anxious to see what comes next. Please share your thoughts on the story!