The Overview Effect


Jessica brings cash to pay for her brother’s ashes. We drive
southwest toward T.L. King Funeral Home

where the director has stayed after hours. His kindness makes
my throat constrict. Days earlier,

when Jessica asked to see the body before
it was sent to the crematorium,

the director said I want you to know why
that’s not a good idea. Holding the phone to his right ear

he rattled off descriptions of her brother’s tattoos
until she could no longer conjure the fantasy

that the man on the table wasn’t him. In the car
I think about the astronauts who’ve become

deeply spiritual after traveling to space, bewildered
by its magnitude, their newfound tenderness

toward planet Earth only made possible
by leaving it. We are stunned

when we see the thing we came to retrieve:
a body’s worth of ashes, divided into three bricks so tangible

the deep knowing that he is dead
spreads like bleeding ink. The director leaves the room

to get the paperwork or to give us the moment he knows
we need to make the macabre joke that will allow us

to breathe again. When he comes back
he tells us that $895 is the discounted rate for people who die

at the prison. Jessica counts hundred dollar bills
from her wallet and hands them to the director who assures us

that no one can leave a public comment on the obituary
until he approves it. We set the ashes

on the floorboard of the car and head back north,
the winter sun hovering low in the late afternoon sky.

Claire Kiefer