If Obituaries Were in the Conditional

by Sarah Poulette

F. would have gone into finance. In college, he would have taken German to add to his French, English, and Spanish, so he could go on to work for a European bank, probably Credit Suisse. He’d start on the trading desks but move to selling their services to other financial firms across Europe, which would allow him to travel more. Two of our friends from high school would crash on his couch when backpacking across Europe. The three of them would chat and smoke pot while he fiddled around on his newest €3,000 guitar as if everything were the same. When they came back to the US, they would report to the rest of us that he’d totally changed.

L. would have helped my mother finish decorating our living room, adding more details to the Shaker-style stenciling she once did around the top of the wall while the two of them gossiped. She would have painted a mural in our hallway, a large Shaker tree with plump round red apples, which would brighten the hall instead of making it look dingy like the pencil sketches of fairies on the walls that I drew when I was in high school. She would arrive each time with a dozen ears of corn in a paper bag under her arm and Mom would send her away with loaves of zucchini bread. I would have continued to receive hand-me-downs from her and her daughters until I graduated from high school, at which point I would have told my mother that I wouldn’t wear them anymore; that I didn’t want people at the college I was about to attend to think I was a farm girl.

N. would have taught high-school English well into his 70s, and when he finally retired, the other teachers (some of whom he’d once taught) would throw a huge party for him, to which everyone in town would come. There would be an open mic there where he would leave us breathless with his poetry, and we would make his eyes glisten with our stories and songs. He would show up regularly in the one café in town and join conversations without being asked, becoming not the only person who does that there, but the only one who could do it without annoying everyone.

E. would have gotten out of gym class and gone to study hall every day instead. He would claim to wish he could participate, but would look smug when we turned up in our un-air-conditioned history class after gym, still sweaty and damp from dodgeball. He would use his condition to get out of classes often, and would occasionally pick a friend to help walk him to the nurse — we would all see this as an honor, because it generally meant the two of you went to hang out in the back of the auditorium instead of going to the nurse. He would be the only one impervious to the new hall-monitor system implemented our senior year; Mrs. R. would never make him or his helper show a pass. He would have been the science expert on our quiz team, and we would have joked together in the back of the van en route to our tournaments.

A. would have read each new book alongside me; we would have formed a two-person, how-late-did-you-stay-up-reading-this book club. She would have given me Anne Sexton’s Complete Poems years before I ended up finding it myself. She would have made me go to commencement when I got my MA, and she would have told my family to go, too, and she would have been there, patting her eyes under her glasses with a yellowing handkerchief. She would have brought me cookies, but I wouldn’t eat them, because she would have forgotten I’m vegan and baked them with eggs.

B. would have helped me fill the walk to my new house with wildflowers. His hands would not move easily because of arthritis, but he’d direct me on what to plant where. He would bring me marigold seedlings from his own garden, assuring me they’d be hardier than whatever I could grow or buy, and they would have beautiful bright heads that would bob lazily in the sun well up to the first frost. He would have kept his amazing vegetable garden all through my childhood, and carrots would always taste like summer.

Sarah Poulette pretty much lives in the conditional (and in the Boston area). She writes a lot, cooks a lot, and has a lot of cats.