Last, Last, Last,
by Nicholas Montemarano
Would you do something for me? I hate to ask this of you, of all people, especially since I’ve spent most of these last years of my life asking you to do things for me. I wish there was another person I could ask to do me this last favor, and if you can think of such a person please let me know—that would be as much a favor to me as anything else, since nothing would please me more than to see someone other than you just for once doing me a favor. I’m not sure if I’ve said so before now—and please don’t take my saying this as my saying this because I want to try to sweeten you up before I ask you to do for me this last favor—but I’m very grateful for everything you’ve done for me. I mean that. You’ve paid my bills and driven me to the grocery and to see the doctor, and because I have terrible hearing you’ve explained to me what the doctor said to me about what I should and should not do, and because my eyes have seen better days—do you like that one?—that one was just for you—because my eyes have seen better days you’ve read to me what it says on the labels of all the pill bottles I need to take pills from, and one time when you saw that I was choking you slapped me hard on the back until what I was choking on came shooting out of my mouth, and a few times, when I was feeling seriously depressed and took too many pills, you threw cold water on my face and rubbed ice on my chest and forced coffee into my mouth, and for all these things I can’t say enough thank you’s to thank you enough. But I would like to just ask you to do just one more thing for me. That is, if you don’t object. That is, if you can’t come up with someone other than you to do this last for me. As you can see, I’m in no condition to go anywhere or to see anyone. I’m grateful that you were able to come see me today, which I thought would be the last favor I would ever have to ask you to do for me. But it turns out I have this last last favor I’m about to ask you to do for me now, and it might be the most important favor I have ever asked of anyone. What I would like you to do is to bring some messages from me to all those people I don’t have the strength left to go see them one last time. This is very serious and for this you need a good memory. I know you have always had a very good memory. Do you remember how I helped you with your memory? You used to sit on the floor with a pile of colored marbles in front of you, and I would sneak up and snatch up one of these marbles, and I would hold this marble in my closed hand and tell you that you could have the marble back only if you guessed what color it was, and you would cry a little bit and sit there for a while with that pouty face you used to have and ask me please to give you your marble back, and I would say no, you need to earn your marble back by guessing what color, and you lost quite a few marbles this way, didn’t you. The truth is that sometimes you got lucky and guessed the right color and I said wrong anyway and put the marble in my pocket. But you see—this is why you began working on your memory. Am I right? Tell me if I’m not right. Because I’ve always told you you should tell me if I’m not right. Sure I’m right. At some point you must have said to yourself, Enough of this!, because all of a sudden one day I came up behind you and snatched up one of your marbles and held out my hand and told you if you wanted the marble back you would have to guess what color, and you sat there and stared hard at the marbles still on the floor—there may have been I don’t know how many, maybe fifty sixty marbles—and after a while you looked up at me and said blue, and there it was in my hand. So for this reason I think maybe you are the person with just the right kind of memory to do me this last last—I promise—favor. So unless you object to any of this—and I hope you would tell me if you do—I might as well get started telling you what I want you to say to whom. First there is my mother, God rest her soul. What I need you to do is to go to her grave and lay one flower on her headstone and tell her her son is very sorry for what he put her through when he was a boy. If you can weep, weep. But asking you to weep might be asking too much. I mean, beyond what I’m already asking. So just tell my mother I’m sorry for what I put her through. The truth is, I was murder on my mother. I was nothing but trouble from my first day walking. From even before that—the way I used to scream all hours. My mother always used to tell me that I was responsible for every gray hair on her head, and I would like for you to tell her for me that now I know she was right and that I’m very sorry how I used to wander off when she always told me to never wander off, like in the grocery or in the park. She used to turn around and—where did I go? Where did that rascal go? she would say. I would hide somewhere where I could see her, and the way she would get flustered would make me laugh, and you can tell her for me that for this and for every gray hair I put on her head I am sorry and can only hope the Lord does not give me the penance I deserve. Next I need you to take the subway from Queens into Brooklyn—you know the way, the G line or the R line or one of those lines that get you from Queens to Brooklyn—and go find my father’s grave. This is where it gets tricky. You may not know this about your grandparents: the reason my father isn’t buried next to my mother is on account of all the hatred they had between them, and the fact that he died without a penny and blamed my mother for that and for everything. My father always used to say to my mother, I don’t want to be buried next to you. Why would I want to be buried next to you? If it’s the only thing you ever do for me, make sure I’m buried somewhere far away from where you’re buried. My mother in turn blamed me for the fact that there was so much hatred between her and my father and for the fact that my father died without a penny and said such terrible things to her and had to be buried next to the bodies of strangers in a not so nice cemetery with not even a headstone with his name engraved into the stone and the date he was born and the date he died. That’s the other thing. When you get to the cemetery you’ll have to ask the people who work there—maybe they have records of these things?—where exactly my father is buried, and when you find the right place you can tell my father for me that I’m very sorry that I came into the world the way I did—I was born with a crooked hip—and caused him so many headaches—for years I had to have all sorts of doctors trying to fix my hip—and left him penniless with not even a stone to mark where he was buried. You can also tell my father that I’m very sorry for tripping over some of the lines I was asked to read at his funeral and for leaving out the last part of the prayer I was supposed to read for the repose of his soul because I didn’t think to turn the page and see that the rest of the prayer—probably the most important part—was sitting there right on the next page. And now that I’m thinking about it, when you’re in the cemetery in Queens saying sorry for me to my mother, you can add that to the list of things you’re telling her I’m sorry for—my messing up my father’s funeral and embarrassing her by not knowing enough to turn the page to find the rest of a prayer, and in the process maybe putting my father’s soul at great risk. For that last part maybe I don’t need to be so sorry to my mother. But you better mention it to my father while you’re there in the cemetery in Brooklyn—how if I put his eternal soul in any danger by skipping the last part of that prayer, I’m very sorry, and I can only hope my own soul can be forgiven for such a terrible mistake. Also, you can tell my father that I’m sorry that when I was a boy I stole some of his favorite hair gel and brought it to school with me and squeezed some of it on Mrs. Gilfeather’s seat and laughed with all the other kids when Mrs. Gilfeather sat in the gel and stood up and didn’t even know she had gel on the seat of her dress. Which reminds me. If you can somehow find Mrs. Gilfeather’s grave—I don’t know how you would go about finding it, but you were always a very smart boy and I know you’re the best person to figure something like this out—if you could find her grave and lay a flower on the stone and tell her I’m sorry for what I did that day with the hair gel, that would be just as important to me as telling my mother and father I’m sorry for what I did to them. Because if I was murder on my mother and my father, I was just as much if not more murder on Mrs. Gilfeather. I remember one time—and you should tell Mrs. Gilfeather I’m sorry for this too—she came to school with a small metal box hooked around the top of her skirt and coming out of the box were these wires which she told us were attached to her chest and had something to do with her doctor wanting to know if her heart was skipping beats. So every time Mrs. Gilfeather turned to write something on the chalkboard I made fart sounds with my mouth and when she turned back around I sat there in my seat as if nothing was wrong, and pretty soon her face turned red and the box hooked around the top of her skirt started to make all sorts of beeping sounds and she ran out of the room crying and didn’t come back to school for a week. Please, if you can remember, tell Mrs. Gilfeather I’m sorry for that and for anything else I may have done to her ever. Then there is my sister, your Aunt Helen, who last I heard was in a rest home up on Bay Seventeenth Street down in Brooklyn. This is on account of her leaky valves. She can walk from here to there, maybe, but beyond there she’s no good. So if you could go down there and tell her for me—she’s also hard of hearing, so don’t be afraid to say what you have to say extra loud for her—tell her for me that I’m sorry for not keeping up with her these last years or ever going to see her for a visit and helping her walk from here to there or even calling on her birthday to say how’s shakes and ask her how her leaky valves are doing. Also, when Helen and I were children—God, I was murder on everyone, and for that reason alone should be flogged—when we were little kids, I used to take Helen’s favorite doll—the one with eyes that opened and closed—and make like I was making out with this doll and sometimes lick up and down this doll’s face until Helen cried and my mother or my father came in and cuffed me good and told me what a good-for-nothing I was. My sister Helen used to get up early in the morning, before even my mother or my father, just to pretend to feed this particular doll its breakfast and to comb its hair and talk with it and so on, and I was just the kind of monster back then to want to ruin her love for this doll. Some might say I’m still a monster, though a different kind, for never once going to see my sister at the rest home down in Brooklyn, and for never once giving her a ring to say how’s shakes, sorry for what I did with the doll way back when and for what I used to say to you about all the blotches you used to have on your face. That was the other thing I did to my sister Helen. I used to catch her looking at herself in the mirror and tell her it was no use because looking at yourself in the mirror will never make all the blotches on your face go away, and she would cry and cry, and then my mother or my father would come in and cuff the side of my head and call me a no-good monster. Or . . . wait a second . . . was that—was that you I used to say that to about the blotches? I don’t remember now. It’s hard to remember sometimes. You can grant me that much, can’t you—that it’s sometimes very hard to remember when you’re at as late a stage of the game as I’m at? Who knows? Maybe it was you I used to say that to. Because I remember you went around for a while when you were a kid with all sorts of blotches on your face, and it’s quite possible, sure it is, that it could have been you that I caught looking in the mirror and said what I said about looking in the mirror never being able to take away blotches. Well, I said that to someone, and now I don’t know who it was. So when you see my sister Helen down in the rest home, just to be safe, tell her I’m sorry for saying what I said about her blotches, and what the hell—when you’re talking to my mother for me in the cemetery in Queens, you might as well tell her I’m sorry for saying what I said about her blotches, because now that I’m thinking about it it could have been her I said it to, and when you’re saying sorry for me to my father in the cemetery in Brooklyn, why not throw in an extra sorry about my saying something about his blotches, because now I’m remembering that my father didn’t have the greatest skin in the world—I mean, my father was never someone who people used to say about him that he had great skin—and Jesus, when you’re over there with Mrs. Gilfeather, wherever she happens to be buried, go ahead and tell her I’m sorry too for saying in front of the whole class what an ugly blotchy face she had, because it’s very likely that’s something I may have done, since I was such a monster and since Mrs. Gilfeather’s skin was some of the worst skin I have ever seen. But this is all just in case, because, like I said, it may have been you I was saying all this terrible stuff to about what blotchy skin you had, and if that’s the case then my mother and my father and Mrs. Gilfeather and my sister Helen will have gotten one more sorry than they should have gotten. But when you think about it, I was such murder on all of them that even if I give each of them one hundred extra sorrys I will probably not have given each of them even close to the number of sorrys a monster like me should give every single person he ever came into contact with. Then there is your mother and all the lies I told her. I want you to go see your mother down in Jersey and tell her I’m sorry for all the lies I told her. But the thing is she doesn’t know about all the lies I told her. So when you’re there telling her how sorry I am for all the lies I told her, you might as well tell her what the lies were and what the truths I should have told her were. Not so long after your mother and I started dating I was kissing her goodnight one night and shortly after the kiss began I pulled away from her just a little bit, and she asked me, she said, Honey—that was what she called me back then before we were married and had you and grew to hate the site of each other—she said to me, Honey, what’s wrong?, and I said to her, Nothing is wrong, why, what’s the matter, what makes you think something might be wrong?, and she said to me, The way when we were kissing you pulled away from me like that, and I said, Like what, and she said to me, Like you just did, the way you pulled your lips back away from my lips as if something was wrong, and I told her she was imagining things, why would I want to go and do a thing like that with my best sweetheart, and she said, What do you mean your best sweetheart, does that mean you have other sweethearts?, and I said to your mother, Come on baby, come on, now you don’t think—, and she looked at me in that way you may have seen her look at me as if she doesn’t believe a word and needs more reassurance, so I said to her, Come on, you can’t possibly think—, and she smiled and I kissed her forehead and told her I had to get back home so I could dream about her—some lovey nonsense like that—and we said goodnight and that was it. But the truth of the matter—and this is one of the things I want you to tell your mother for me—is that I really did have other sweethearts, and what was worse was that one of these sweethearts was my best sweetheart, and I wanted to get home so I could lie in bed and think about this other young lady, who I would see on the nights I was not seeing your mother or any of the other lesser sweethearts, and while you’re at it you could tell your mother that the real reason I pulled my lips away from her lips was on account of the bad breath she had—it was nothing to do with the food she ate, it had something to do with something in her stomach, I mean something deep in the juices of her stomach, for which you would need to see a special doctor and get special medications or something. I know this because there were many nights I would offer your mother peppermint suckers—Take a few, I would say—and she would ask me, Is it my breath, my God, tell me the truth, is it my breath?, and I would say, Come on baby, you’re my number one sweetheart, and she would suck on these suckers I would give her, but when it came time to kiss her goodnight there was always this—I don’t know what to call it—this stale aftertaste to her mouth, and I would find myself pulling my lips away from hers and saying some lovey nothing into her ear. So that’s how come I know your mother’s bad breath had nothing to do with her mouth and had everything to do with her stomach. Why I married her with such bad breath was because she had lovely skin. Your mother had—and probably still has—some of the loveliest skin I have ever seen. I suppose you could also tell your mother for me that the time I grew a mustache was because I knew a woman I worked with was attracted to men with mustaches. Your mother said to me, What made you decide to grow a mustache?, and I said, Because I thought you would like it, and she said to me, I don’t very much like it, it prickles my face when you go to kiss me goodnight, and I said to her, Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know that, and whenever I went to kiss your mother goodnight she would say, Ouch, or, Watch out with that mustache, and I would say, Sorry, I keep forgetting, I’ll shave it off tomorrow, and as you can see I never shaved it off and I never had to kiss your mother goodnight any longer than it would take her to say, Ouch. And do you remember the time when you were maybe seven years old and I told you I was going to take you to the park to teach you how to throw a frisbee? You said that you didn’t want to go to the park or learn to throw a frisbee, and I told you that all the kids were going around throwing frisbees, so you were better off coming with me to learn how to throw one before you were put in a situation with some kids your age where you might be embarrassed if you didn’t know how to throw one, and your mother said to me something like, Leave the boy alone, if he doesn’t want to go he doesn’t want to go, and I asked her if she knew just how many kids were out there every day throwing around a frisbee, and she said, No, and I said, Well then. So we went. Do you remember that day? How I took you to the park and set you up with a frisbee and told you to keep throwing it as far as you could and to keep running after it and picking it up and throwing it again? Well, what I want you to tell your mother for me is that I pushed so hard to bring you to the park that day and all the other days—even after you knew how to throw a frisbee probably better than any other kid—because I had already made plans to meet my number one sweetheart—who I didn’t want to marry because I wanted her to stay my number one sweetheart—and needed an excuse to get to the park where I told her I would meet her. So while you were chasing around the frisbee, I was off with this lady, and I want you to tell your mother for me how terribly sorry I am for being that kind of a monster and for setting up her son with a frisbee and leaving him out of my sight while I was kissing this woman who had lovely skin and a fresh taste in her mouth. Tell your mother I should be murdered for doing something like that. And it would be an extra special favor to me if you could also try to find this lady I went to the park to see—her name is Rose Fischetti, and if she’s still alive she probably lives in the Bronx—and tell her I’m sorry for telling her for so many years I was going to leave my wife for her and then when your mother and I split up running off with some other sweetheart I had found. I’m pretty sure she’s the last person I can think of right now who I need to say I’m sorry to, though I’m sure there are others out there. In fact, after I’m gone, if you ever run into anyone who tells you they knew me, right away tell them for me that before I died I said I was sorry for whatever I did to them. Jesus, if I could go back in time knowing what I know now about how it feels to be dying with so many sorrys to say to so many people. Wait a minute—I just remembered. You can also tell her—Rose Fischetti, I mean—that I’m sorry about the one time I refused to go into a restaurant with her on account she had so many runs in her stockings. She had lovely skin and a sweet taste in her mouth, but she was always running around with runs in her stockings. But the most important thing is that you tell your mother for me about those lies I told her, and that I know I have always been a monster and will die a monster and certainly deserve more than anyone else the wrath of my Maker. Take now, for instance. I asked you to come here to see me as the last favor I would ever ask of you, and only when you got here did I tell you that I had this last last favor to ask you to do for me. But the truth of the matter is that I knew before I even called you that I was going to ask you to do this last last favor for me, and Jesus Christ, I didn’t even offer you a glass of juice. What kind of monster am I that I’ve had you here for how long and I didn’t even think once to offer you a small glass of juice? If only I could have known five or ten minutes ago what I know now. But the last thing I want you to do now is to get up from where you’re sitting and get yourself a glass of juice! Because the only reason—God help me—I started to feel sorry for not having asked you if you wanted a glass of juice was because I started to feel thirsty and thought to myself that I would like a glass of juice, and I thought the best way to get you to get me a glass of juice would be to offer you one, and this way while you were in the kitchen getting your glass it would be no problem for you to bring me mine. But this is just business as usual for a lifetime monster, and it kills me to think that I couldn’t just for once think of someone else and want you with no strings attached to have a simple glass of juice—Jesus, oh Jesus, what have I done, oh God, oh Jesus God, what have I done with my life, oh Christ, oh Christ Almighty, I can’t breathe thinking about everything I’ve done, my throat is closing up on me, Jesus Mary and Joseph, I can’t breathe, I can’t swallow, oh Jesus, oh Son, oh my son, would you do for me a favor, please, I’m begging you, your father is begging you, I can’t breathe, my throat, oh Son, I promise this is the last last last favor I’ll ever ask of you, I promise, the last last last, would you go into the kitchen for your father, please, hurry, and get for him what might very well be, God help us, his last glass of juice?