For your summer reading pleasure, BURNAWAY brings you Just Like Suicide, a novel by artist Mery Lynn McCorkle, set in the Los Angeles art world. She writes from experience, having lived for years in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, when it still was the art frontier, and then LA; she now resides in Rome, Georgia. She describes the book as “a compendium of interlocking tales cataloguing self demolition and success in the Los Angeles art scene, from the point of view of artists, dealers and family members.”
We’ll post sequential chapters from McCorkle’s book every Wednesday and Friday over the summer. Or click here to buy the book now.
Just when Maggie thought Odessa was finally doing ok, she’d find her crying, clutching a photo album or some little reminder like a seashell, a cup or commemorative plate purchased on a trip she and Dennis had taken. She tried her best to keep Odessa focused forward but it’s hard to shake the past. Hard when all the memories are packed in around you.
When Odessa arranged all of the photos of Dennis in pewter frames in a neat line along the marble mantel piece along side of his urn, she scolded her gently, “You realize you’re making a shrine for him?”
Odessa had nodded, “Oh, darling, you’re right. I guess I’m just copying what my momma did. I used to tease her that if any more family members died, she would have to sleep in the kitchen. She had half the house set aside for commemorating the dead. Dennis used to tease her about it too, saying how lucky she was that the dead were so neat. All those rooms in that huge house never needed more than dusting. The dead surely don’t make much of a mess. You know, Dennis would walk in here right now, take one look at all these photos with that crooked smile all across his face, and ask me how could I possibly have forgotten everything he did that irritated me. I can hear him fussing at me, ‘We loved each other dearly, sweet pea, there’s no denying that, but neither of us is this perfect. Your pie crusts are still tough.’ Pie crusts. You know, the only thing he ever praised his momma for was her pie crusts. Like eating angel wings.”
Maggie noticed the photo album later, half pushed under the end table in the living room. It was a brown binder with a gold spine holding plastic sheets sandwiching the old photos, the top few pages photos of Odessa as a child faded into magenta. She could tell that Dennis had taken most of the more recent pictures in it since Odessa was in a bunch but there weren’t many with him. Most of them featured Jack, just Jack – in his cowboy hat, in his astronaut outfit made from silver duct tape and aluminum pans, Jack on his bicycle, at Little League, playing with his friends. He was the center of their world. But there were some other family photos. One page caught her eye because she was in it, a little girl in a new store bought checkerboard dress.
That photo was taken after the funeral of one of Grandma Beulah’s many brothers. It was a strange day. Hers was not a family that hugged but everyone was hugging everyone that day, like they really loved and missed him. She and Jack had been standing in the doorway to their grandparents’ house when Dennis had taken the picture, telling them to say cheese. She was dressed in her best clothes and Jack had on brand new shoes. Funny what you remember. Just after that picture was taken, Grandma Beulah rushed over and yelled at him for taking it, not being respectful of the dead, and in the middle of her tirade, the huge black clouds that had followed them from the graveyard to the house opened up, drenching anyone still outside who wasn’t quick about making it to the porch. The adults spent most of the next hour bringing out plates of food to put on the tables. She’d never seen so many kinds of pickles before – string bean, okra, little white onions, cucumbers sliced and minced and whole, and the peach pickles which were like candy. She was only allowed half of one. After they ate so much they could barely move, Maggie vanished back into the formal living room, the rains still pounding the tin roof so hard it managed to drown out the sound of her brothers and some cousins in a back bedroom hollering as they threw plastic soldiers at each other. It wasn’t how Jack played so he joined her and they both sat together looking at the Bible in picture form, sitting properly on the couch. Halfway through the pictures of Noah’s ark they heard and felt the lightning hit the big mimosa out front at the edge of the yard by the telephone pole. Lightning actually has a smell.
“Look out,” Jack shrieked, pointing at the blue ball of flame which had jumped from the electrical socket and rolled around the room. When it came straight at them, they had picked up their feet and watched the blue ball vanish under the couch.