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HUGEPOP!!!Bedtime StoriesOne Man's WorldThe Mispronouncer


                This was the story as far as Marie had been able to piece it together from the accounts of people on the scene added to what she already knew:

               On the evening of August 20th, Will had been driving through Dalcette on his way to return an extension cord he’d borrowed from Barney, a friend from work. Marie hadn’t thought Barney needed the extension cord back badly enough to warrant the 20-minute drive from Multioak to Dalcette, but Will had insisted. Marie, who was eight months pregnant, stayed home. Will told her he’d be back in an hour or so. As he drove through Dalcette, Will noticed that Newsworthy Burger’s new sign was on fire. The sign was supposed to slowly rotate atop its 50-foot pole and light up at night, but something had gone wrong with the wiring inside of it, and the sign had caught fire shortly before Will drove past. Dalcette’s volunteer fire department was already on the scene in Newsworthy Burger’s parking lot, but since there didn’t seem to be any immediate danger of the fire spreading, they had decided to just hang out and keep an eye on it until it burned itself out.

               Witnesses said Will pulled into the parking lot, jumped out of the car (leaving it running), and ran to the base of the sign before anyone could stop him. He had a three-quarters full water bottle jammed into the back pocket of his jeans. The volunteer fire fighters yelled at him to stay back, but by the time they moved toward Will to pull him away, he’d already started to shimmy up the pole and was out of reach. Marie would never have thought that Will would be able to shimmy up a pole like that, but every witness confirmed that was what he’d done. The fire fighters and onlookers yelled at Will to slide down. Even the Newsworthy Burger employees who had come out of the restaurant to watch the spectacle called for Will to stop climbing. He ignored them all.

               By the time Will was 25 feet off the ground, the fire fighters had started trying to figure out if they should go after him with a ladder, but they weren’t prepared since nothing about the situation had called for that kind of rescue until Will showed up. When Will was about 40 feet off of the ground, he let go of the pole with one hand, reached into his back pocket, and pulled out the water bottle, which he then pointed at the flaming sign ten feet above him and squeezed. Even with the bottle’s squirt top, Will couldn’t get the necessary distance with the water to reach the fire, not that it would have done any good. Instead, the water struck the pole five feet above Will, then ran down toward him, making the metal slick and causing him to lose his grip.

               Will then fell and landed on his back in the parking lot, striking his head against the blacktop. The volunteer fire fighter who got to Will first told Marie that Will’s last words were, “Did I put it out?” The fire fighter said, “No, you didn’t.” Then Will made a face that the fire-fighter described as “sort of annoyed” and died.


               What had Will been thinking? This was the question that dominated Marie’s thoughts, distracted her from both responsibilities and leisure, kept her from sleep. Each of the choices Will had made leading up to his death ranged from questionable to misguided to idiotic.

               On the least objectionable end of the spectrum, why had he been so fixated on returning that extension cord to Barney? Text messages on Will’s phone had revealed that Barney was indifferent about getting his extension cord back at all. By his own words, Barney didn’t care if the extension cord was ever returned. But further postmortem text-combing failed to reveal any better reason for Will to drive to Dalcette that night. No secret projects, no secret meetings, no secret affairs, no secret addictions, no secret hobbies or interests. Nothing documented, anyway. Maybe he only insisted on returning the extension cord because Marie had been against it. He wasn’t usually that obstinate, but what else was there to believe? Unless it was a whim. Unless he drove to Dalcette to return Barney’s extension cord that night on a whim. Unless it was commitment to a whim that put him in the right time and place to die.

               On the most objectionable end of the spectrum, why did Will feel compelled to try to put out the Newsworthy Burger sign fire on his own? When there was no danger to anyone? When the Dalcette volunteer fire department was already on the scene? When he was not properly equipped to help in any way? When his effort would endanger his life? When he had a wife at home and a baby daughter on the way? When everyone on the scene told him not to? When everyone on the scene tried to stop him? When, to Marie’s knowledge, he had only been to Newsworthy Burger twice in his life and had enjoyed it neither time? When he had never before displayed any notable desire to intervene and help someone in trouble? When…when…when…

               It was this end of the spectrum – the most objectionable end – that gave Marie the most trouble. This was where she got stuck. And she knew there were no answers forthcoming. Will was dead. No one knew why he’d done what he’d done. Marie did not find any of the proposed theories satisfying. Not her in-laws’, not her friends’, not her co-workers’, not those of the strangers speculating in the Speak Out column in The Paper, and not her own. Every explanation was riddled with holes: logical flaws, baseless claims, misrepresentations of the facts, misunderstandings of Will’s character. Marie rejected all of them. She even rejected theoretical future theories. For her, no explanation could exist. Will had done something literally inexplicable and it had killed him.

               Now Marie just had to get that idea through her own thick skull so the questions would stop rattling around in there and she could focus on giving birth to and raising her child by herself with no help from her husband who had died doing something incredibly stupid, and why had he insisted on returning that extension cord that night when Barney didn’t even care if he ever saw it again?


               The one thing Marie remembered about Will’s funeral – or the one thing that stuck out in her memory, anyway – was the pastor’s comment about Will’s bravery. Marie had asked the pastor to not discuss the way Will had died, and he had complied, but that comment about Will’s bravery – Marie didn’t remember the exact quote or even the context – but that comment had bothered her. She wished the pastor hadn’t mentioned bravery at all. She resented the implication that Will’s death had resulted from his bravery, and she didn’t really know why she resented the implication so much beyond the fact that she disagreed.

               A month after Will died, his parents invited Marie to dinner because they had something they wanted to talk about. This dinner conversation with her in-laws brought the pastor’s comment about Will’s bravery back to the forefront of Marie’s mind. It made her wonder if her initial resentment toward the comment had been a presentiment, a warning of future disturbance.

               “We want to honor Will’s memory,” said Toby, Will’s father. He was a heavy man and nothing about his appearance suggested he would ever be otherwise. His haircut was a monument to sensibility. He sat at the head of the table and sawed his pork chop with a steak knife as he spoke.

               “Mmm,” said Marie. She swallowed a mouthful of ice water.

               Across from Marie, Will’s mother nodded. Her name was Beatrice, but everyone called her “Bea.” Even Will had called her “Bea.” He’d say things like, “I have to run by Bea and Dad’s place after work this evening.” Which would not have been unusual had she been his step-mother, but no, she was his birth mother. “We thought you would want to be involved,” said Bea. Her hair, dyed red, was damp as if she’d showered just before Marie arrived. She probably had. Her face was both sharp and friendly, a rare combination.

               “Involved how?” asked Marie. “What did you have in mind?”

               “Well, you should be there,” said Toby. “Don’t you think? As Will’s widow, wouldn’t it be best if you were there?”

               “If I were where?” asked Marie.

               “The ceremony,” said Bea. “To erect the new Newsworthy Burger sign in his honor. It’s going to be dedicated to him. It’ll be officially known as ‘The Will S. Hatcher Memorial Newsworthy Burger Sign.’ We’re still discussing how much of that will actually be printed on the sign, though, and how big certain words will be relative to other words on the sign.”

               Marie was horrified. She took another long drink of water to disguise what otherwise would surely have been a bad reaction. “But why are they doing that?” she finally asked when there was nothing left to drink in the glass.

               “Why are they dedicating the new sign to his memory?” asked Toby. “Is that what you’re asking?” His tone made it clear that if Marie’s answer to these questions was “yes,” he would be offended.

               “Yes,” said Marie.

               “Because he gave his life trying to save the sign,” said Bea. “Surely you don’t think he doesn’t deserve to be honored for his attempt just because he died in the process?”

               “Mostly because he didn’t save the sign,” said Marie.

               “So if someone runs into a burning building to save ten children, but they only save nine of them and then die, in your world that person doesn’t deserve to be honored for the attempt?” asked Toby. “Is that what you’re saying?”

               “But even if he had saved it,” said Marie, “it was just a sign for a fast food place. A bad fast food place. He didn’t even like Newsworthy Burger!”

               “So the person running into the burning building to save the kids needs to like the kids for it to be worthwhile?” asked Toby. “They have to be ‘good’ kids for the person who attempted it to be considered a hero?”

               “A hero?” said Marie. “You think Will falling off the Newsworthy Burger sign’s pole and dying was heroic?” She had lost the thread of Toby’s hypothetical example, but she understood it well enough to know it was not relevant.

               “No,” said Bea. “Falling off the sign was not heroic.”

               “Thank you,” said Marie.

               “Falling off the sign was the unfortunate consequence of his heroism,” said Bea.

               Marie wished there was a way to retract her ‘thank you.’ Then she realized there was a way. “I retract my ‘thank you,’” she said. She was now pinned down in the crossfire of her in-laws’ disapproving glares.

               “Something you don’t seem to understand,” said Toby, “is how Will’s distaste for Newsworthy Burger made his actions more commendable. It was the most selfless act a man could commit. He didn’t have anything to gain from extinguishing that sign!”

               “No one had anything to gain from him extinguishing that sign,” said Marie. “The fire fighters on the scene had it under control. They told him not to climb that pole.”

               “Marie,” said Bea, utilizing a conciliatory tone that could not have been more obviously a ruse. “You’re about to have a child. Will’s daughter. Our granddaughter.”

               “I know,” said Marie. The snottiness inhibitors that usually helped her keep the peace with Toby and Bea had overloaded and failed.

               Bea continued. “If that daughter is in danger one day and volunteer fire fighters tell you not to help her, will you let that stop you?”

               “These aren’t good comparisons,” said Marie. “These are not sane comparisons.”

               “My point is that volunteer fire fighters are not the final arbiters of right and wrong,” said Bea. “And I think that deep down, you know that.”

               Marie rose from the table, the paper napkin falling from her lap and drifting to the floor. “I’m not staying for dessert,” she said. “I have to go.”

               “There isn’t any dessert,” said Bea. “Will you come to the ceremony?”

               “I will not,” said Marie.

               “What will everyone think?” asked Toby. “If Will’s own widow won’t show up to honor him?”

               “I’m hoping they’ll think I don’t think his death was heroic,” said Marie.

               Later that night, she drove herself to the hospital and gave birth to her baby. Her and Will’s baby. Marie and Will had agreed on the name “Lola,” but Marie had always preferred “Lila” and Will was dead, so “Lila” it was.


               Marie had eight weeks paid maternity leave from her office job. She wasn’t sure what she’d do when the eight weeks were up. She’d gotten a decent payout from Will’s life insurance policy; maybe she’d just quit her job and live on that for a while? She didn’t want to send Lila to daycare if she could help it, and the only family members who lived near enough to babysit during the day were Will’s parents, which Marie did not consider as a viable option. She and her in-laws had remained at odds over the plan to dedicate the replacement Newsworthy Burger sign to Will’s memory. Now, the entire relationship had soured. Marie didn’t feel right keeping Lila from them completely, but she didn’t want to enter into an arrangement wherein Toby and Bea had too much say in how her daughter was raised. It was the indoctrination Marie feared most; that Will’s parents would raise Lila to believe that her father had died heroically, that what he had done was admirable, maybe even something to which one should aspire.

               Marie wanted Lila to love her father despite never having a chance to know him, and she wanted Lila to respect him, sure, but only for the reasons he deserved to be respected. He had been a good guy during his life, a good husband, a good friend, a good coworker, and so on. Facing his death for the senseless blunder it was did not invalidate the good life that had preceded it. That was the message Marie wanted to impart about Will to their daughter. And maybe, when Lila was old enough, Marie would use Will’s death as a cautionary tale, too. Something about how even if you’re a good, smart person, one bad decision – or series of bad decisions – can, well, kill you. And leave the people who loved you without you. And leave the people who would have loved you without you.

               And there was the other lesson too. The one about how you can never fully know another person. The one about the fundamental impenetrability of any mind other than your own. And maybe not even your own. But definitely not one other than your own. Marie would save this lesson, if she got to it at all, for Lila’s teenage years. Right before Lila left for college, maybe, depending on her emotional maturity. Because Marie didn’t want future-Lila to take this lesson as an admonition against trying to fathom another person’s mind. But just, like, you know, don’t be surprised when one day a person you think you know does something for which no explanation can ever exist, even if they live to try to explain. Which Lila’s father had not done. But even if Will had survived his fall, Marie knew him well enough – thought she knew him well enough – to know – or think she knew – that his explanation would have only added to her confusion. But maybe that would have been the biggest surprise of all: Will’s detailed, comprehensive explanation of everything he’d done that night and why it all made perfect sense given the very particular set of circumstances in which he’d found himself. If Marie had to admit she hadn’t known Will as well as she’d thought she had based on the actions leading to his death on the evening of August 20th, then she supposed she also had to admit that maybe the ability to explain the last hour of his life had been in him somewhere too, tucked deep inside the same unknown part of him that had made him try to save that stupid sign in the dumbest possible way.

               Marie sat in her house with her new baby daughter Lila and watched the beginning of fall turn gray and wet and stay that way. It wasn’t yet time to set the clocks back, but Marie was surprised at how soon it got dark now. She used one light at a time in the house. She kept the volume on the TV one notch above audibility. Lila slept, ate, and sometimes cried, but almost as a formality: it was not an insistent cry.

               Marie ignored most phone calls from her in-laws, but the text messages came through. She did not respond to updates about the Newsworthy Burger sign dedication ceremony, but when Bea asked to visit Lila, Marie had to agree. You can drop by any time to see Lila, Marie texted back. But please don’t talk about the ceremony while you’re here.


               Bea held Lila in her arms like an expert only thirty years out of practice. “She has Will’s…uh…uh…”

               “She doesn’t look much like him, does she,” said Marie.

               “No,” said Bea. “But sometimes it takes a while for the similarities to one parent or another to reveal themselves.”

               Marie smiled. “Sure, for all we know she might have his exact voice.”

               Bea laughed. “You should come to the ceremony, Marie. It’s this Saturday afternoon. It will look strange if you aren’t there. Very strange.”

               “I told you I didn’t want to talk about the ceremony,” said Marie.

               “But you knew I would,” said Bea. “And you let me come anyway.”

               “I hoped you would respect my wishes,” said Marie. “I hoped you wouldn’t use your granddaughter against me like this.”

               “It’s going to be very nice, though,” said Bea. “I know you think it’s going to be a big production with a carnival atmosphere and a live band and a bunch of hooting and hollering and people drinking beer and smoking pot, but it isn’t going to be like that at all. It’s going to be very respectful to Will’s memory, I can personally assure you of that, Toby and I insisted on that. We forbade the presence of a live band and said that the atmosphere must in no way resemble that of a carnival. It will be a somber, solemn affair of remembrance. Remembrance and pride.”

               “That’s what I object to,” said Marie. “The pride. I’m not coming.”

               “Then let us bring Lila,” said Bea. “She should be there to honor her father.”

               “Absolutely not,” said Marie. “She’s not going. She won’t even know what’s going on.”

               “Then why do you care if she’s there?” asked Bea. “If you’re so sure she won’t know what’s going on.”

               “Because,” said Marie. “That isn’t how I’m going to raise her. I don’t want her to start out on the wrong side of this.”

               “That’s what you think?” asked Bea. “That’s how you see this? As if we’re on opposing sides?”

               “We are on opposing sides!” said Marie, her voice rising. “You want Will’s name on that sign, and I do not!”

               Bea’s face lost its patient expression, revealing itself to have been an impatient face all along. She clutched Lila tighter against her breast. “Well, the sign is going up whether you like it or not, Marie. And no matter what sort of negativity you pour into our granddaughter’s ears about how her daddy died, she will see that sign someday and she will know that there are those who revere her departed father for his gallantry."

               “Attempted gallantry,” said Marie.

               “Gallantry is an attitude, not an outcome!” Bea’s shout startled the baby, who started to cry. Looking guilty, Bea handed Lila to Marie. In a weak attempt to regain the moral high ground, Bea said, “She’ll grow up to resent you for not taking her to the ceremony. For not even letting us take her to the ceremony.”

               “No, she won’t,” said Marie. “Because if it ever comes up, I’m going to tell her how dumb it was.”

               “But you won’t even give it a chance,” said Bea.

               “I don’t have to,” said Marie. “It’s conceptually dumb. To its very core.”

               Shortly after Bea left, Marie carried Lila to the car, loaded her into the car seat, and drove to Dalcette. There, she pulled into the Newsworthy Burger lot, parked, and gazed up at the 50-foot pole with nothing on top. Now here was a fitting monument to Will’s death.


               The ceremony to dedicate the new Newsworthy Burger sign in Will’s honor occurred without Marie or Lila. Toby and Bea begged, threatened, and cajoled, but what could they do? Kidnap Lila? Bea texted Marie the ceremony details on the day-of “just in case.” Marie used those details to ensure that she would be taking a nap during the ceremony so that she wouldn’t be thinking about it while it was happening. When she awoke from her nap, there was a text from Toby that read, It went great! He had also attached a picture of the new sign perched high atop the pole.

Marie didn’t want to look at the picture, but she looked anyway. A part of her that she resented had to know how bad it was. The sign was black with red lettering. The Newsworthy Burger logo was the largest element, of course, but Marie was dismayed to see just how prominent the portion of the sign devoted to Will was. It read, “This sign is dedicated to the memory of Will S. Hatcher, who perished in the protection of its forebear.”

Marie wanted to throw up. The sign sickened her. Her antagonism toward the entire plan had ensured that she was kept out of the loop regarding negotiations about the sign’s wording. She was appalled by the specificity of the final draft. As awful as something like “The Will S. Hatcher Memorial Newsworthy Burger Sign” would have been, at least it didn’t allude to his cause of death. At least it didn’t make it seem like he’d succeeded in protecting the previous sign!

Marie knew that if she didn’t delete the picture of the sign, she would return to it in weak moments to stew over it again and again. She would let it pull her back into the depths of analyzing Will’s pole-scaling motives. So she deleted the picture. She wrapped Lila in layers of blankets, stuffed her into her stroller, and took her on a walk around the dark, wet neighborhood.

But the walk did not accomplish what Marie had hoped it would accomplish. It was a failed attempt, like with Will and the firey sign. After two laps around the block, she steered Lila’s stroller into the garage, transferred her directly to her car seat, and drove to Dalcette.


The Newsworthy Burger sign soared high above the Newsworthy Burger parking lot, alive with light, rotating clockwise with stately grace. It was more than Newsworthy Burger deserved, a sign which transcended that which it represented. Marie stood outside the driver’s side door of her car and gazed up at it. Lila slept in her car seat.

It was a slow night at the restaurant. Marie glanced inside where a man argued with an employee at the front counter. What could the topic of the argument be? Perhaps the wrongness of the man’s order? Likely. Highly likely.

The sign drew Marie’s eyes again. She could hear the mechanics of its rotation, or thought she could. She could hear the buzz of its internal illumination, or thought she could.

Marie imagined Lila at school, aged ten. “Why is your dad’s name on the Newsworthy Burger sign?” a classmate would ask. “I don’t want to talk about it,” Lila would say. “I heard it was because he was heroic,” another classmate would say. “No he wasn’t!” Lila would shout. “Shut up!” Then more kids would join in. “Yes, he was!” they’d shout back. “He sacrificed himself to preserve Newsworthy Burger’s property! He was so selfless that he died trying to save a sign that even the fire department didn’t care to save! That’s how little he valued his own life relative to the small good he mistakenly thought he could do for another, even if that other was the independently wealthy owner of a widely despised burger joint!”

The scene made Marie’s stomach twist and cramp. Her vision blurred with tears, smearing her view of the sign, mercifully obscuring the words printed below the logo: “This sign is dedicated to the memory of Will S. Hatcher, who perished in the protection of its forebear.” From within the car, Marie heard Lila stir. This, finally, was enough to tear her away from the sign. She had to get her daughter away from it. She had to protect Lila from its malignant glow for as long as she could.

As she drove out of the parking lot, Marie saw the bottom fall out of a customer’s takeout bag three steps from his minivan, indifferently fried food splattering and scattering all over the parking lot blacktop. Like Will, she couldn’t help but think.


Marie wondered, over the following days, if she should move away. Just take Lila and settle somewhere else, in a place where no one knew how Will had died, where none of the local signage alluded to his foolish death. But the moving process would cut into her life insurance money. She was renting the house, so there was nothing substantial to sell other than Will’s car. Then, wherever she moved, she’d have to find a job. She’d have to find new friends. Marie was settled in Multioak, and the prospect of uprooting the last few remaining elements of her normal life after the death of her husband and the birth of her daughter was exhausting. Maybe she’d move away later, in a year, in five years.

Really, the Newsworthy Burger sign was the only compelling reason to move away from Multioak. And the sign wasn’t even in Multioak, it was in Dalcette, so it wasn’t like Marie had to see it every day. It irritated her to know it was out there, but actually, she never had to go to Dalcette if she didn’t want to. Why go to Dalcette? It was tiny. Nothing happened there. She couldn’t imagine driving there just to eat at Newsworthy Burger even before Will fell from their sign and died in their parking lot.

Maybe by the time Lila was old enough for it to matter, people would no longer be talking about the fact that the Newsworthy Burger sign was dedicated to Will’s memory. It wouldn’t be a new sign anymore. The novelty would be past. If locals looked at the sign at all, by then, their eyes would glide right over the flowery words under the logo, not even registering them, so familiar as to be invisible.

Marie dedicated herself to pursuits that had nothing to do with the Newsworthy Burger sign. She decided she wanted to get in shape. She’d always had good natural upper-body strength and she decided to develop it. She put a chin-up bar in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room and used it every morning, every evening, and sometimes just because she happened to walk from the kitchen to the living room or vice versa. She flexed in the mirror one night and was shocked at the definition of her biceps and forearms. She posted a similar picture on social media and basked in the supportive praise from her friends and acquaintances. Even Bea commented “wow strong mama!!!!!” with no capitalization or comma, but many exclamation points.

This public compliment from Bea touched Marie’s heart. The sign issue was in the past; it was over and done. Why shouldn’t Will’s parents spend more time with Lila? Marie knew they wanted to, but were hesitant to ask because of how vehemently Marie had opposed the sign dedication. Would they present a skewed view of Will’s death to Lila? Of course. But Marie was Lila’s mother. Toby and Bea would never have the ability to impact Lila as much as Marie would. And it would be years before anyone had any kind of substantive conversation with Lila about her father. When the time came, Marie would be first, Marie would be Lila’s most trusted authority on the subject. And of course, the facts of the story supported Marie’s interpretation. She would raise Lila to be a smart, observant person. Lila would recognize the myriad absurdities in her departed father’s final actions no matter how her grandparents tried to spin them. And besides, Toby and Bea just wanted to believe the best about their son, didn’t they? Their intentions were noble. As a parent, now, Marie felt she was beginning to understand that. So she began taking Lila to Will’s parents two or three times a week. It was nice to spend time with people who were as wild about Lila as Marie was. It was much easier for Marie to ignore their aggravating qualities when they were all three gathered around Lila and delighting beyond all reason in her slightest mannerisms, her faintest changes in expression. Marie even started leaving Lila alone with Toby and Bea, letting them enjoy their quality time unobserved. Marie knew they considered her judgmental. Even though they were all getting along now, Marie figured they would appreciate being wholly trusted with Lila’s care for a few hours while she grabbed coffee with friends or ran errands.

Marie took up a hobby, too. Well, sort of. She took a preliminary step toward a hobby. She dipped her toes into a potential hobby in order to gauge her own interest in continuing. She decided to restore the dresser from her childhood bedroom. She would fix the broken drawers, sand it down, and repaint it. She would take care of every step on her own with only videos and step-by-step instructionals found online to guide her. The fixing of the drawers was the hardest part, but she made them more or less functional. The sanding was tiring and cramped Marie’s hands, but she was pleased with the result. And she was very proud of her paint job. She’d gone with a nice, deep, glossy black, not because she was being morbid, not because she was depressed, but because she thought it looked classy. Marie’s one regret was that she had purchased way more paint than she needed. There was a lot of excess. The brush she bought for the project was too big too, although she had made it work. She was proud of the finished product. She put the dresser in Lila’s room. It would be hers. Marie took pleasure in this simple passing from mother to daughter. She had grown up with the dresser in her room, now Lila would grow up with the dresser in hers. Nice and neat.


And the night was foggy as Marie stood at the base of the pole and looked 50 feet straight up to the Newsworthy Burger sign rotating overhead. She was worried that the moisture in the air would make the pole difficult to grip, but when she reached out to feel the cold metal, squeezing it with her strong hands, she was relieved to discover this was not the case. She shrugged her shoulders, jostling the open can of black paint strapped to her back, the handle of the brush tapping against the inside rim, its bristles submerged. Lila was with Toby and Bea, probably either sleeping or being run through another round of peek-a-boo, a game it seemed Toby, especially, could play forever. The employees and patrons of Newsworthy Burger had not noticed Marie, intent as they were on their ceaseless struggle.

Marie did not intend to fall. But neither had Will, she assumed. She could fall, and she knew it. She knew, also, how her fall would be perceived. Not the specifics, of course, but how it would be perceived in general: senseless. She doubted that anyone would do what Will’s parents had done for him. No one would rise up to take control of the narrative, to present what she was about to do as a bold and selfless act. People would be shocked, would shake their heads in disbelief. “From the same sign?” they’d ask. “What was she thinking?” And they would either shrug or guess or present their wild speculation as certainty, just as they’d done for Will. But none of them would be correct, of course. This was a selfless act. Marie was doing this for Lila. Because she knew the sign would haunt her. People would ask her about it, ask about her father, ask about the relationship between the sign and her father. Even if Marie took Lila and moved to another town, another state, this sign would be here in Dalcette haunting Lila without her awareness, which was maybe worse, right? Strangers out there somewhere believing inaccurate things about you and your family, talking about you like they know something because they saw your husband’s name – your father’s name – on a sign? Intolerable. Not to be tolerated.

Marie would scale the sign, cover the dedication to Will with black paint, and climb down. Or she would fall in the attempt. But the attempt was necessary, even if no one else would ever know that, even if Lila would never know that. And Marie now saw how this was not an impulsive decision, how she had been leading herself to this moment for weeks. Building her upper body strength for the climb, strengthening Lila’s relationship with Will’s parents so they could babysit her tonight and raise her if necessary, buying the too-large paint brush, overbuying the black paint she needed for this project, her real project.

Marie hoped, if she fell, that Lila would give her more benefit of a doubt than Marie had given Will. Maybe if Marie had been able to do for Will what she hoped Lila would do for her, she wouldn’t be here in this parking lot, wrapping herself around this pole, wriggling her way upward, signward. Marie hoped, if she fell, that Lila would grow to allow for the fact that there must have been a reason. She hoped, if she fell, that Lila would be able to accept the reason as unknowable and move on with her life. She hoped, if she fell, that Lila would never find herself climbing this pole.

But Marie did not intend to fall.

Discussion Questions

  • If you could choose any fast food sign to be dedicated to your memory, which would you choose? Why?

  • Has your family ever recast something stupid you did as heroic? Have you encouraged or discouraged this interpretation of the stupid thing you did?

  • Would it make you suspicious if someone painted an old dresser black with a brush larger than the ideal size for such a job? Why or why not?

  • Give an example of a time when someone’s selflessness went too far and just made you sad.

  • If it was you who had climbed the Newsworthy Burger sign to put it out while it was on fire, why would you have done it? What POSSIBLE reason could you have?