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The Grief Man
by David Plumb

He had an idea and he knew he could make money with it. He rented a sky blue pickup truck and stuck signs on the doors that read:

Pick Up and Hauling, Day or Night
No Grief Refused.
Reasonable Rates
Telephone 1-800 NO-GRIEF

He drove around the neighborhoods for weeks. At first people peered through their curtains or went in the house when he slowed down, but one day a small woman in her seventies waddled down her front walk and asked him if he could take the memory of her dead husband. After six years, not only did she not miss him, but he was haunting her house to the point where she couldn't find anybody else, and she had to admit he wasn't, if you asked her ninety-six year old mother, a very nice man to begin with. The Grief Man nodded and she wrote a check. He put the dead husband memory in the truck and drove off slowly, partly out of a sense of honor and partly so the rest of the neighborhood would see that he really was serious and write down his phone number.

Of course, the woman got on the phone, and within days his phone was ringing off the hook. He could barely fill his orders. A man wanted to get rid of his son's drug addiction; another man wanted to be relieved of the embarrassment of wearing a hairpiece--not the hair piece mind you, the embarrassment thereof. A child called. It seems the kid down the block got a tan cowboy hat and he got a red one. He couldn't throw his red one away because everyone would know. Parents called in droves to rid themselves of the worry of what to do about leaving their children alone. Alcoholics called at all hours of the day and night. The back of his truck reeked with alcoholic grief going into withdrawal without people. Then there were the sick, the elderly and the fleeced, who had lost their entire savings to illness or inscrutability. The Grief Man left them at the curb with cherubic smiles. A fish cutter said he never wanted to see another fish; a fast food worker wanted the smell of french fries removed forever. A set of twin women in their forties wanted to rid themselves of their likeness.

The Grief Man took credit cards. The Grief Man got a beeper. He didn't need to advertise. The Grief Man could barely fill his orders. The Grief Man had to rent a warehouse.

A Pembroke Pines, Florida, woman said she was too hot. A man from Pulaski, New York, said he was too cold. The Grief Man agreed to take heat and cold via overnight express. A Chicago banker wanted the entire New Year removed and the Grief Man devised a way to do it on the installment plan with balloon payments. Best he could do given such short notice. The banker agreed. A Las Cruces, New Mexico, waitress wanted slipperiness taken out of satin sheets. Children with dead pets called from all over the world. A little girl from Adams, Massachusetts, wanted a sun fish she caught, cleaned and buried in the back yard the summer before to be put back in the lake. A Los Altos, California therapist wanted to know if the Grief Man could remove the need "to talk it all out." A man who said he represented a large government agency, which he refused to identify, called regarding the elimination of war and poverty but left no return phone number.

The Grief Man got rich overnight. He picked up late record collections of Bruce Springstein and Whitney Houston; sixteen semi-truckloads of Bob Dylan supermarket musak; one volume of poetry by Robert Service; four hundred thousand truckloads of used Star Wars videos; a four by eight mini-storage unit full of 1960s memories; and a stadium-size tonnage of books about the uselessness of the sixties. The Grief Man couldn't fill the number of orders for the removal of grief over the Martin Luther King and Kennedy assassinations, but he managed to put a dent in it.

So it was, one Suinday night at 11.57 P.M., that he drove his truck up to the side of his house, full of last minute pickups: cockroach problems, found money, winning lottery tickets, missed chiropractic appointments. He felt exhausted but happy. He sat down at the kitchen table and opened a beer. He watched the smoky gas escape from the top. As he picked up the bottle and brought it to his lips, the phone rang. He wondered who it could be, and he promised himself he would not answer. He listened to the phone ring--one, two, three rings. He wanted to drink his beer. He picked up the phone.

It was the little boy of the red cowboy hat. The Grief Man wanted to know what he was doing up at that hour. The boy said he'd been to church that day and the minister told him to be grateful for what he had instead of always wanting what somebody else had and could the Grief Man return his red hat? The Grief Man hesitated for a second before obliging. After all, it was the New Year and this was a little boy. Little boys don't always understand what or why they do what they do.

The Grief Man looked at the nice, cold beer he hadn't even sipped. Now he had to go out and get the red hat, but before he could get his coat on, the phone rang again. The kitchen clock read 12.09 A.M. The woman on the phone was crying. She said she was Susan of the Susan and Sylvia twins. She said no one recognized her without Sylvia and would he please, please return her to at least a shadow of her former self.

By 12:20, the phone was ringing off the hook. The fast food worker said she needed the smell of french fries on her skin to feel alive; the alcoholics wanted their drinks; parents wanted their children to go somewhere, anywhere, so they could be alone; the cold man from Pulaski couldn't stand sweat; the hot woman from Pembroke Pines couldn't stop shivering; the banker called to say the balloon payments on the removal of New Year had given him no place to begin, nor end; and the widow called to say she discovered the Grief Man's phone number on the refrigerator door and it reminded her that she needed to cry, but she couldn't remember what for, so would it be possible to return what it was she had forgotten to remember, immediately.

Thereafter, the Grief Man's phone never stopped ringing as he drove frantically and forever into the night of nights, the forwarding of calls jamming his truck phone, his ears, his very life; the calls to the Grief Man waxing in the dawn of hope.

David Plumb's work has appeared in Mondo James Dean, Would you Wear My Eyes: A Tribute to Bob Kaufman, Homeless Not Helpless, and 100 Poets Against the War. He presented his new book of poetry, Man in a Suitcase, at the Miami Book Fair International in November of 2003.


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