Midwife in the Tire Swing, a synopsis
“You bet your ass, kemosabe,” said the deer.
LUCIAN HOBART, known as Lucy, age 92, tends sixteen mousetraps—they hang on strings from the handgrips of a high-tech walker his grandson’s shop class built for him. SARAH DRYE, an estranged daughter, has decided it is high time her father died; she will move in to help: “I am a Death-Doula, a midwife of sorts. I help you to die. The Death-Doula assembles meaningful things—art, music, poetry—from your life. You help her. You decorate, hand paint your coffin. Cardboard is preferred, biodegradable.”
“I am already biodegradable,” says Lucy Hobart. Sarah is the fruit of Lucy’s wartime romance with CLEAR-EYED ALICIA DRYE. Her father was a bombardier on the MISS TAKEN IDENTITY, a B-24. Lucy assumes the identity of ARCHIMEDES DRYE, a turret gunner, for the liaison. Sarah’s mother believes her daughter is a chicken, but loves her in spite of that.
Considering the inevitability of death—someone’s, not his—Lucy will have things to do. But in 100 years what has he not done? In the house Cat, CATHERINE HOBART, Lucy’s wife, smiles—she has nowhere to go, really. Misty twilight murmurings from the always-on bedroom television tell her of baseball and Olympic rowing, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. It is enough. Caught between despair and boredom, she opts for joy.
At the Radio Shrine of the Little Flower, CHARLES E. COUGHLIN, the Radio Priest, finds there is a broadcast parishioner who believes in him; it is Cat. “One out of ten million ain’t bad, father,” says DAVE PEEL, a fallen angel.
Lucy’s pursuit of the kernel of his being takes him to Brooklyn barrios; the cottage of JOANNA SOUTHCOTT, a prophetess, in 18th century Devonshire; New York City for the assassinations of a corrupted judge and, years later, a corrupted drug retailer; to Midlothian, Ohio and Alicia Drye, his mislaid love; to the Super Stud Ranch, an all-male brothel in Reno, where IAN EMORY HOBART, a grandson, is the featured gigolo; and at last to the Hobart farmstead in Willipaq, Maine.
Lucy visits a Chevy 6, the 1938 sports coupe wherein his son ELLIOT was conceived in the rumble-seat only to die forty years later in a fall from a ladder while painting the eaves. Wedged behind the steering wheel is the carcass of a deer, a six-point buck, its eyes gone and its flesh hanging loosely where last fall’s maggots bred and fled. Lucy hoists a hammer, a two pound maul, and takes a mighty swipe at the deer’s head. The corpse falls to loll against the driver’s side window; its antlers locked to the steering wheel. “Sorry, I have made other plans. Comprende?” says the deer.
“You are an hallucination.”
“You bet your ass, kemosabe,” says the deer.
“I’ll take that as a yes, then,” says Lucy.
There is an attending chorus of JUDGE JOSEPH FORCE CRATER, Joanna Southcott and Charles E. Coughlin. They have their own problems and pay little attention to the story of Lucy and Cat as they squabble among themselves. “There is a miraculous child among us,” says Fr. Coughlin, alarmed. “The new revelation might well be at hand. On the other hand... we’d still have Superman. Did you watch the TV show?”
The miraculous child is DAZL, the offspring of SAMANTHA CHERRY HOBART, a great-granddaughter, and a stolen semen sample. DazL discovers his great-great-grandfather is entertaining; he can chew gum and hypnotize a chicken.
“The Tibetans have your midwife thingy—corpse walkers,” Lucy says to Sarah, the Death-Doula, “I saw it on Cat’s TV. Or maybe I saw it in the National Geographic.”
Sarah walks to the tire swing, slips her legs through the black rubber ring, takes a tentative spin, then kicks. She rises. Then returns. And kicks and strains at each return, perpendicular to the flat, flat earth below. “And they walk. One in front and one behind. Hoo-A! Hoo-A! They beat a cadence and swing their arms. The corpse’s arms swing. They march. Hundreds of miles. The motion prevents decomposition by keeping the body limber.”
Lucy pauses his walker at the edge of the state road; just enough off the asphalt that if he is hit by a passing car, he could sue and win. “I get a picture of Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain.” He slides to the ground at the base of the post holding his mailbox and settles in for an impromptu nap. The sky is moving in ever-widening arcs above Lucy’s head, a behavior no properly built Creation would exhibit. The mailbox has no name on it, no address.
DAVE PEEL, an angel of the Sixth Choir, is there, waiting for him. “Hiya, Lucy. Squeeze on through. We’ve been waiting for you.”