Can We Talk? ~ fiction by Lucinda Kempe

Edgar Rosenberg. Remember me? Joan Rivers, your wife, and partner for twenty-two years? The funny one? The one Carson loved? And Robert Mitchum. Yeah-yeah, cuckolding’s not nice. I’m not nice. You can’t get where I got with nice. Can you hear me? No, of course, you can’t hear me because you’re dead. Deader than my face post-op. Four days after I asked you for a separation, you skulked off to the Four Seasons and killed yourself with a fat bottle of Valium. And then left three tape-recorded messages—one for Thomas, one for Melissa, and one for me—so there’d be no mistake it was suicide. It’s been twenty-seven years, Edgar, and I’d kill you if you were alive.

So why now? I’m having surgery this week, and I want my accounts in order. Things weren’t always good between us. I know I was a pain in the ass, but you loved my insanity. At least you once did. Still, suicide. Were you joking? Edgar, your terrible death fucked us up. Eight months after you vanished, my life was in the crapper. Fox had fired me (us), Melissa wasn’t talking to me. Carson had turned me into a leper. I was in the big empty Bel Air house sitting with a Colt 45 in my lap, ready to off myself when my little Yorkie jumped up and sat on the gun. I adored that dog. We were alike. He saved me. I stayed for him, and for Melissa of course, because no one else could tolerate my personality.

Melissa blamed me. Children of suicide believe something they did caused the parent to take their own life. A child of suicide becomes Suicide Rivers. Suicide Hemingway. Suicide Gray. Suicide Percy. Suicide Bourdain. Suicide Spade. They don’t say hello. The first thing they say when they meet people is, “My father/mother killed himself/herself.” They can’t dispel the ghosts. The specters ride on their shoulders conspiratorially whispering, “You’re not loved. You’re not wanted. You were left behind.”

Me? How’d I handle it? I went on Melissa’s sitcom to let her get back at me for one. A wife of a suicide is easy, like living with Jim Jones and drinking Kool Aid. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! I handled it the way I always did—work, work, work, and more work. Work and attention are what I live for. Work keeps me relevant, and I insulted everyone, including myself. I got so much plastic surgery…. I’m not going for that joke. I’m happy I can afford all the work. I look better than my surgeon, who can’t move his mouth. He writes me notes on my next procedure. Ha.

Can we talk? I’m so old I wouldn’t know an orgasm if it came to my show with a Birkin bag as a gift.

Edgar, Edgar, I miss you. I miss when we were good together and called each other nine times a day. I miss how you backed me up after I lost the Carson gig. I miss our reading together. We devoured eight books a week and discussed them. I miss your performance notes and your critiques even if I hated your comments on my clothes. I miss the smell of your English perfume and your tweedy suits when it rained. I miss the look in your eyes after we’d had a great dinner and went home and made love. I miss the tears you cried when I gave birth to Melissa.

I had to write this now. Just in case I’m not okay post-op, I want you to know Robert Mitchum was out faster than he was in.



Lucinda Kempe’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Menacing Hedge, New South Journal, New World Writing, Midway Journal, Matter Press, The Southampton Review, and the Summerset Review. An excerpt from her memoir was short listed for the Fish Memoir Prize in April 2021. She lives on Long Island where she exorcises with words.