Your last day on Ellis Island
We walked down the long halls and through the ruined rooms a little apart because things were over but we still didn’t know. You’d slept with Toby while I was gone, and when I found out later I was bruised and confused, because he was insipid and weak, and your sleeping with him made me weak, so I could see myself in him and I didn’t want to.
You wanted to show me something in the ruins and excitedly pushed open the door beyond the Great Hall. Everything was left right where it was, doors ajar and askew, tables covered with mildewed paper, paint peels hanging from the walls, windows cracked and tree seedlings poking out of decomposing piles of rags and books and woods.
I looked around and tried to feel the spirits that had passed through this hub of human yearning. These were the rooms where the rejects were staged; they would be sent back on the boats. Here was the infirmary where the sick were tended to, to be assessed again when they were well.
And here was the morgue. This is what you had wanted to show me. You loved it. The cooler doors were made of thick wood. The high ceilings elevated above a concrete stadium, operating table in the center, where the dead were autopsied for the edification of medical observers. These were exotic specimens who had died on our doorstep.
I considered the functional excellence of the room, the incinerator next door that they used to dispose of the dead bodies. Think of it, you said, they would escape the death camps only to be incinerated here.
I considered their stories without any feeling. It had all passed and now time was reclaiming their memories. This was your last day on Ellis Island. The grant money had expired, your little team of ethnographers was disbanding, you were starting graduate school, and this was your parting gift to me: a morgue, stories of lost souls and a quiet sadness that you wanted us to share.