Benjamin Bear Says Goodnight (Bejamin Bear)

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When my mother dies, though not today, and then, eventually, when I die, will the successor to my father be considered our survivor, even if we did not know him? Eventually all causes of death will be known, in most cases well before the death. It is only that we now live in a curious time when some things cannot be known until after they happen. Tomorrow, at the earliest. Aside from the unlikelihood, which is considerable, this would take time. Tomorrow would have come before this person had even reached the super.

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Perhaps there would be an option to page the super, but it is doubtful the super would respond fast enough, with a key, in order for my mother to be discovered today. It is bewildering to consider that while these mysteries are being filmed, there are young men and women standing just off camera, wearing contemporary clothing, holding contemporary views of sexuality and ethics, grinning behind their hands at the sad animals strutting in front of the camera.

Even if the super picked up right away. In addition, there would be other explanations for an unanswered doorbell, and the super would have to be mindful. There is often a young girl in the wealthy family, unbearably beautiful, in league with the servants. It is late at night and most people are asleep. Old people go to bed early.

If my mother has gone to bed, which I hope she has, and fallen asleep, which I hope she has, it is likely she will not hear the doorbell. The girl is the sole source of sympathy from the wealthy classes, suggesting that not all rich people from the very distant past were evil. He would want some proof that something had happened.

The worry of a neighbor could not count as proof. Blood under the door would be proof. But even if she had died it is not likely there would be blood under the door. Proof would be very hard to come by. A constable always comes, but a constable never solves the crime. No body, no crime, my mother sometimes shouts from her chair. The super would be justified in wondering why a neighbor, in the middle of the night, had decided to ring the doorbell of an old woman, demanding entrance to her apartment. This is not a neighborly action. There is a pecking order regarding who can answer the door, such tasks being left usually to the footman.

The super would make a case for waiting until morning, thereby all but guaranteeing that even if my mother died today, she would not be discovered until tomorrow. If, on the other hand, my mother were to die loudly, creating some commotion, and neighbors were to hear her, it is possible they would reach her in time, not to save her life, necessarily, but at least to discover that she died today.

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To find her today, leaving very little surprise for tomorrow. But my motive in this respect is altogether different. Other people in the area may have died in the intervening hours, displacing my mother in their thoughts. On the world stage many thousands of people would have died after my mother, yet before I was alerted. If she fell on the stairs and cried out. If she collapsed from some mishap to her circulation. Perhaps instead of crying out, my mother would have the strength to dial her phone. She might lack the energy to cry out loudly enough to be heard.

Screaming requires a terrific summoning of muscle. It scares me to think that one day I will be too weak to scream when I most need to scream. I will produce only small sounds, barely audible even to myself. If, crawling on her hands and knees, severely disabled from a circulatory crisis, my mother reached the phone and dialed it, she could conduct a quiet conversation, alerting the party on the line to the circumstances.

The question of discovery becomes complicated here. If, for instance, my mother is able, by telephone, to alert the party on the line to her medical situation, dying shortly thereafter, does this information constitute adequate discovery for the later determination that my mother died today? I think not. Even if she, because of death, dropped the phone, the remote party, unable to see her, would lack definitive proof that she suddenly died in the middle of the conversation.

The remote party might only conclude that my mother could no longer speak or make sounds, or, also, move, because the remote party would hear nothing if indeed my mother, against the odds, died today. There would be silence. If I want my mother to survive, as I continue to say that I do, so she is not discovered dead in her apartment, should I not hire a companion for her?

If people who do not live alone ultimately live longer than people who do, and if I have not rescued my mother from living alone, is it not the case that I am allowing her to die sooner rather than later? This would be a factor I could control. This would be me fighting for her life, since my mother cannot, as established, fight for her own life, just as none of the people in our family, of which we are the two surviving members, can.

Unless there are diminishing returns. But, even so, returns are returns, however diminished, and one must guess that the more people who reside with my mother, the longer she will live. The reasoning hereafter becomes troubling.

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At what point does it end, or can I continue to acquire companions for my mother, thus sustaining her life perhaps well past her natural point of demise, adding companions to her entourage each day so she never dies? The logistics collapse around such a project. A crowd employed to accompany my mother would need to be paid and fed, they would need to be lodged, and then, at certain times, such as when I visit for dinner and television, the crowd, at my command, would need to disperse, so I could be alone with my mother and enjoy her company.

If we are feeling wicked, I will draw up stools by our chairs so we can, as we say, eat and watch, and more and more we are feeling wicked. And yet, when I dispatch the crowd and give my mother only the lone companion, me, am I endangering her, creating a sudden withdrawal from all of the people who were saving her life? Is this not another way of killing her, making me a murderer? He is her son and he has had his mother all to himself for all of his life, even when his brother and sister briefly lived, and his father the odds keeper briefly lived, vying for the attention that was always aimed first at him, as if through a bright, golden cone, but all he ever did was say good-bye to her, nearly every day of his life.

The past, in the mind of the person who had it, is terrible and shameful, but to the television viewer the terrible past this person had is only ever quaint and amusing. The illegitimate child is one of the more common shameful pasts on shows dramatized on PBS. This plot troubles my mother.

She does not care for it. Once she said that all children are illegitimate, and I laughed, and she glared at me. Illegitimate children grow up into illegitimate adults, only to die and become illegitimate corpses, buried illegitimately. Soon she fell asleep and I learned that the illegitimate child, who was an heiress, had taken a scullery position in the very mansion where her family lived, unbeknownst to all of them. My mother woke and angrily declared, seemingly out of nowhere, that this girl would be the first suspect in the episode, and she would be shamed and abused and shamed all over again, but in the end they will discover that she did not do it.

There is always a first suspect, quickly forgiven.


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Nowadays there are several suspects who wind up innocent. The first suspect. Be the first suspect. If my mother did die today, she would die while I was writing.


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  7. Years from now someone might ask me what I was doing when my mother died and I would have to answer that I was home, writing. This scenario implies that I will one day meet someone who will take the familiar with me, because there is no one presently in my life who would think, I think, to ask me such a question.

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    Does a stranger, even a well-intentioned one, ask such a question? Perhaps this man or woman would be someone with whom I would grow close, even though I would be an older person by then with little to offer in terms of romantic maneuvers. This question of what I was doing when someone died, however, does not seem to be asked about the death of unremarkable citizens. No one will have to know, unless I volunteer it. Odds are. She assists the cook and the cook treats her poorly. Everyone treats her poorly. Her very employment is a matter of charity. They underestimate her.


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    4. Not my mother. What I will be able to say, without lying, is that when my mother died I was at home thinking about her, since in order to write about my mother I must first think about her, and in that sense she is very much in my thoughts. Episode after episode, watching mysteries with my mother, I look out for the wild-haired simpleton.

      I watch the wild-haired simpleton carefully, waiting for her to strike, to make a move, and yet her end game is slow, her long play is invisible, so much so that by the time the credits roll the wild-haired simpleton has yet to pounce.