Lately, my Christmas list consists of a series of subscriptions to lit journals, and this year I was lucky enough to get One Story—and even luckier that the first booklet that landed in my mailbox was Laura Spence-Ash’s “The Remains.” Spence-Ash tells the story of Mrs. Constantine in five distinct sections, from five points-of-view, none of them Mrs. Constantine’s. We meet the main character, in fact, by meeting her corpse, which has been decaying in her half of a Queens duplex for months. One of the remarkable and memorable components of this piece is the care and attention Spence-Ash brings to her choice of characters who fill out the—well, the remains—of Mrs. Constantine.
The cast includes a spectrum of familiarity to the woman, and in that way, a spectrum of peculiarity when we remember that Mrs. Constantine’s remains have gone unnoticed for nearly a year. The police sergeant who discovers her and the reluctant seamstress who used to do her alterations could hardly be blamed for not realizing the woman hasn’t been around in some time. But when Spence-Ash introduces Mrs. Constantine’s next door neighbor, a young mother who admits to herself that she smelled something strange earlier in the year, I began to question my own passivity and the ease with which we can explain away truths that are uncomfortable. Spence-Ash raises the stakes with Bob MacMillan, Mrs. Constantine’s old boss, who called the police when she stopped showing up to work, but has quietly resigned to her absence. In a heartbreaking final section, we meet Mrs. Constantine’s ex-husband, a man who has moved on where the dead woman could not.
“The Remains” captures brief moments and realizations that each of these characters go through, pulling together deft outlines of what the lonely death means for them all, while also constructing a subtle portrait of the deceased. Perhaps my favorite part of this story, however—which I first read in January and think about and re-read regularly—is the little note in Ms. Spence-Ash’s bio which informs us that “this is her first published story.”