Maxine's father died.

Gayla's grandfather.

Natalie's great-grandfather.


What do I know about death ritual? I'm just a 43 year old woman living with my partner Ann on a two block street, the neighbors mostly Baptist.

My parents are still alive, and although death has visited from time to painful time, I haven't had a role to play in death rituals—as family, extended family, church family, neighbor. Except for when Bernard died, and the Quakers do things their own particular way.

I began to cut potatoes for comfort. Comfort food. Scalloped potatoes.

Ann is just back from Omaha; there was a death in her family, the first death in her father's family, and now we see ourselves as neighbors. Death's door is the next house down. Maxine's house.

I walk down the street to consult with Mrs. Farley about the etiquette of being neighbors to death. We have watched her through the summer, evening after evening, dressed in church clothes for visitation at the funeral home, reciting each time we stop to chat the latest death of her contemporaries, their names, their illnesses. I walk down the street to find out what my role as neighbor is.

Later, I carry scalloped potatoes over to Maxine's in an aluminum pan with a plastic cover. Along with a loaf of fresh bread and a large bowl of three bean salad.

Maxine comes to the door in her robe with a cigarette.