As with many of my stories, "Aftermirth" was sparked by
something I read somewhere. In this case: “Number of women last year struck by
lightning and electrocuted by their underwire bras: 2.”
Tell me you didn’t just laugh. I certainly did, when I saw
that statistic some ten to fifteen years ago in the Harper’s Index. I mean,
it’s funny, right? But it’s also awful, and I hadn’t even stopped chortling
before shame crept in, that I was capable of finding humor in the bizarre
deaths of these two unknown, busty women.
That’s when the little bell in my head—the one that tinkles
in the presence of a promising story idea—went off. My reaction can’t have been
that unusual, I thought. In fact, I bet most people who’d read that had
laughed, with varying degrees of sheepishness, just like I had. Most people,
but certainly not the family members of those two unfortunate women. To them,
it wouldn’t have been funny at all, and the amusement of the rest of us would
have been insupportable.
I tried to envision a particular family member of a
particular woman and to imagine what this person would be like as a result of
losing a loved one in such a horribly funny way, but I drew a blank. I didn’t
know it then, but some stories need to simmer; sometimes (as with my second novel)
for a decade or more. They hang around like forlorn ghosts, plaintively
murmuring, “Write me. Come on, you know you want to.” This story was like that.
It kept niggling at me, and I kept coming back to it, trying to find a way in.
And then one day when I was on an airplane, bored and
restless, a young man started speaking in my head: a comedian who’d lost his
large-breasted wife in this horribly funny way, and with her, his sense of
humor. I started writing from his point of view, and the more I wrote the more
I fell in love with him, this guy who’d adored his wife and been devastated by
her death. I wanted to marry him, but that wasn’t possible, so I did the next
best thing: I created a storyline where he might come out on the other side of
his grief and be funny again, and happy.
A friend of mine who’s in her 70s said, after reading the
story, “It is hilarious, and ridiculous—this idea that we will die one day,
that we will just stop being.” In the face of that unavoidable enormity, what
else can we do but laugh?