Eddie filled out the application, made photocopies of his mother’s death certificate, signed the waiver allowing her grave to be exhumed, then gathered the forms together with a big, sturdy paperclip. Very professional, he thought, and went down to the reclamation center on his next day off.
In some towns, entire government buildings had been repurposed. He’d seen it on the news. In other towns, the reclamation center was little more than a few folding chairs and a table in the high school gym. Here, a reclamation center had been set up in the basement of town hall, the entrance to which was flanked by a small group of protesters. MORTALITY = MORALITY! one of their signs read. The guy holding it was glancing down at his phone, occasionally swiping at it with his free hand. The girl beside him was downing a 5-Hour Energy drink.
“They told me Billy isn‘t eligible,” a woman with a clipboard was telling Eddie, voice quavering, eyes intense. “Because he was cremated. That’s why I’m starting this petition.”
Feeling guilty, Eddie slipped around her. Downstairs, he grabbed a number and took a seat. A baby was wailing. An elderly woman sat staring into space, much like Eddie’s mother in her final years. A man in a suit stood by the lone window, glancing impatiently at his watch. A middle-aged woman was chuckling to herself between great, silent sobs. She looked crazy, but given the circumstances, thought Eddie, it was understandable. Existence had become more inexplicable than ever. Who the hell knew what to think?
“Let me explain this one more time,” the clerk was telling an obese woman in a Hello Kitty t-shirt. “It’s one application per person. You got two here.”
“So I’m supposed to what?” said the woman. “Decide between them?”
“Exactly,” the clerk said. The woman returned to the waiting area, where she plopped down beside Eddie. She held an application in each hand and looked from one to the other, frowning. Two teenage boys were next. “John Wayne Gacy?” the clerk asked them. “Really?”
“That a problem?” one of the boys said, smirking. The other boy looked nervous--face flushed, eyes downcast--as if he hadn’t expected his friend to take the joke this far.
“First of all,” the clerk told them, “you have to be twenty-one or older in order to apply. You guys are what? Sixteen? Seventeen? Secondly, the person you’re applying for has to be an immediate relative deceased no longer than ten years. That rules out Mr. Gacy here.”
By the time Eddie’s number was called, the clerk was visibly annoyed. He narrowed his eyes at Eddie. He snatched his forms and studied them skeptically. “Your mother‘s been deceased how long?” he asked.
“About a year,” Eddie said, reaching over the counter to show the clerk the copy of the death certificate. The clerk wrenched it away. He sat back. He popped a stick of gum in his mouth and took a long, self-satisfied chew.
“Just making sure,” he told Eddie. He flipped through the forms again, tossed the paperclip Eddie had been so proud of aside, then stopped, mouth open, wad of gum visible. “I don’t see a copy of your mother’s social security card here.”
“I couldn‘t find the card,” said Eddie, “so I wrote the number in.”
“Hey Jim,” the clerk said to a man leaning in a doorway behind the counter. “This okay?”
Jim took the forms, looked them over, handed them back. “Should be,” he grunted.
“If Jim says it‘s okay,” the clerk said, “it’s okay.” He stamped Eddie‘s application, stapled the other forms to it, then dropped them all in a metal basket. “It‘ll take about four weeks to process,” he said. “Assuming everything’s in order, it’ll take another four weeks for the resurrection itself.” Chewing irritably, he waved Eddie aside to make room for the obese woman, who was back at the counter. “Tough narrowing it down to one,” the clerk said to her, “huh?”
About seven years back Eddie’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Eddie’s siblings had left town by this time so he was stuck taking care of her. Early on, she’d been her usual hostile self with a little absentmindedness thrown in. When Eddie would hand her the misplaced remote or her pack of Marlboros she‘d look at him warily, as if he were perpetuating some elaborate ruse. Later, she started losing sleep, tripping over nothing, forgetting his name. Towards the end, she just stared into space most days while the TV played on mute. She got nasty bedsores, drenched her sheets in diarrhea. Eddie started working extra hours at the warehouse to pay for a nurse while he worked extra hours at the warehouse.
“Don’t you touch my goddamned cigarettes,” his mother hissed at him one night, her last words to him. A stroke got her the very next day. It was with mixed feelings Eddie waited for her return now.
“’I am he that liveth, and was dead,” his sister Abby told him over the phone. “‘And, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.’”
“You what?” said Eddie.
“Not me,” Abby said. “Him. It’s right there. Revelation 1:18. God has granted Christ the power to raise the dead. Those who contradict His will shall be punished.”
She said this matter-of-factly, as if God’s wrath was as real and inevitable as a parking ticket or overdraft fee. It made Eddie uneasy. Abby had joined the Twelve Tribes in her late-twenties, changed her name to Samarah, left the fold, changed her name back, moved to the city, tried Judaism for a while, and was hooked now on Catholicism. Eddie would’ve dismissed her as a religious nut–but had a feeling she knew something he didn’t.
By age nine Abby had adopted a strict vegetarian diet from which she had yet to waver. At age twelve she opted for a failing grade in biology rather than dissect a dead frog. At seventeen she breezed through Advanced Calculus, a copy of The Thornbirds open on her lap. She was, in Eddie’s mind, a true intellectual: Smugly secure in some private knowledge, perpetually dissatisfied, casually combative. Who was he to argue with her?
“I don’t wanna contradict anyone,” he told her now.
“Good,” she said. “Great. But what I’m trying to tell you--” she paused, dramatically. “No, what I’m trying to impart upon you is this: Only when Christ returns to establish His kingdom should the dead be risen. No sooner. No later. That includes Mom.”
Eddie decided to see what his brother Teddy thought. As a teenager, Teddy was invited to every house party in town, able to talk liquor store clerks into selling him beer, idolized by the little brothers of his female conquests. Eddie had idolized him, too, though in later years Teddy developed a humorless smirk and a sad, stubbly double-chin before moving into a trailer by himself on a few acres of land upstate. He had a cell phone, but kept it off, stashed in a drawer along with a handgun, a first-aid kit, a thick roll of twenties, old soy sauce packets. Eddie had opened this drawer on one of his rare invites to the trailer, looking for clean silverware.
“Ain’t nothing happens after we die,” he told Eddie now–days after Eddie had called and left a message–with an easy conviction much like Abby’s.
“All the more reason to have mom resurrected, right?”
“Decay reversal?” said Teddy. “Cellular revitalization? Nerve revivification? You believe that crap?”
“It‘s on the news,” Eddie told him. “And it’s free. Provided by the government.”
“Makes it all the more suspect,” said Teddy, voice crackling. A long silence followed, during which Eddie wondered if the signal had dropped. “Besides,” Teddy suddenly said, clear and distinct, “do you actually want her back?”
“Seems like the right thing to do.”
“So basically--” Teddy snorted in disdain “--you feel obligated.”
“No.” Eddie hesitated, not wanting to embarrass himself. “I’m curious, too.”
“Curious? About what? Life and death? They don’t mean shit,” said Teddy. “Resurrection? That don’t mean shit either.”
After work, Eddie stopped by the cemetery where his mother was buried, sitting in the hatchback on the side of the road. A large, grey, prefab building had been set up on the other side of the fence. A forklift, hauling a stack of caskets, was rolling through the bay doors. A backhoe sat next to the building. Beside this was a port-a-potty. Closer to Eddie, a man in navy coveralls was crouched, glancing between a gravestone and clipboard. Eddie watched, overcome with disbelief, uncertainty or some other emotion altogether. As he pulled away, he noticed another car parked along the side of the road. A woman stared out. A dog paced the backseat.
On Channel 6 that night there was a report about a busboy a few towns over who brought a rifle into work, killing his boss and an elderly couple before turning the gun on himself. Already, his family was advocating for his resurrection. Eddie saw them, packed into a tiny kitchen with the Channel 6 crew. “Our headquarters,” mumbled the father with a sad, apologetic smile. The mother sat at a table, eyes darting. In the background stood five or six men in their early twenties, expressionless: Brothers or cousins of the shooter, Eddie wasn’t sure which. They were all wearing Red Sox hats. There was more mumbling, distant and indecipherable. Only then did Eddie realize he was falling asleep.
At the warehouse the next day, Tonya from shipping took a seat across from him during lunch. “We lugged Stevie’s bed up from the basement last weekend and got his old toys from the attic,” she told Eddie. “The elliptical we moved into his room about a year after the accident. Yesterday we moved it back to the den.” Tonya smiled to herself, food untouched. “I was thinking of having a party for Stevie. A sort of welcome-home thing.” Another pause, another long smile. “But I don’t know. Who’d we invite? They say he’ll come back the same age and his friends are already in high school.”
The next day, Eddie got a notice in the mail with a date and time on which to collect his mother.
When he returned to the reclamation center, he saw the overweight woman in the Hello Kitty t-shirt shuffling to the counter. The clerk recognized her, too. “Alright,” he told her, popping a stick of gum in his mouth, “let’s hope you made the right decision.” He thrust a form at her to sign, checked her ID, and then a skinny, acne-scarred man was ushered out from the back. The woman hesitated before a quick, perfunctory hug. Eddie guessed she’d spent a lot of time wondering what it would be like to see this man again and never imagined plasterboard ceilings or the smell of reheated food wafting from a break room somewhere.
Eddie waited for his turn nervously, fiddling with the bifocals in his hands. “One last signature,” the clerk told him when his number was called, chewing. He held a pen out for Eddie, then yanked it back, then–smirking at his own joke–slowly held it out again, as though the barrier between life and death was his own creation and he wasn’t exactly inclined to see it crumble. Eddie, blushing, took the pen. When he looked up, his mother was already there, blinking irritably under the fluorescent lights.
“Is it just you?” she asked.
“Just me?” croaked Eddie. His mouth had gone dry, his head was tingling with a sensation like that of deja-vu, and he couldn’t make sense of what she was asking. He’d read somewhere the Alzheimer’s shouldn’t be a problem–not for a while at least–but he worried now maybe something had gone wrong.
“Are you the only one?” his mother said with an exasperated sigh. This, too, struck Eddie like deja-vu. Even in the final year of her illness, when she’d stopped recognizing him altogether, his mother had sighed like this, as if to say that he–whoever the hell he was–was intentionally making things difficult for her.
“The only one?” said Eddie, thinking it didn’t look like anything was wrong. In fact, once you got past the wisps of white hair, the deep furrows in the forehead, the hollows under the cheekbones, his mother appeared almost healthy--more so than the last time he’d seen her, folded upon herself in a hospital bed with tubes coiling from orifices.
“Are you the only who came?” his mother said, slowly emphasizing each syllable as she squinted at the people sitting in the waiting area. Stupidly, Eddie found himself squinting there as well, though he knew full well he was the only one who’d come to meet her.
“Yeah,” he apologized. “It’s just me.” His mother hardly seemed to hear. She’d already lost interest in the conversation, and was tugging at the linen pants and the white smock she’d been dressed in. It was the same outfit the acne-scarred guy had worn and it prompted another sigh, as though Eddie had personally chosen these uncomfortable, ill-fitting garments for her.
“Here,” Eddie said hopefully and handed his mother the bifocals. His mother put them on, gave another irritable blink, then looked at him skeptically. He--not she--was the improbability in this situation. That was what this look implied.
Outside, one of the protestors was watching a video–a trailer for the latest Fast and Furious movie from the sound of it–on his phone. A girl was beside him, looking at her reflection in the window of a parked car as she rubbed sunscreen on her forehead. A cardboard sign was propped against the car’s fender. Scrawled across it in black marker were the words, KEEP LIFE + THE AFTERLIFE SEPARATE!
“They told me Billy isn’t eligible,” the woman with the clipboard was saying. “Because he was cremated.”
On the drive home, Eddie could barely keep his eyes on the road. The true absurdity of his mother’s presence had begun to sink in and he found himself glancing over at the passenger seat, where she was slumped, staring out the window at the passing houses and telephone poles. Her chest rose and fell with exhalation. Her nostrils wheezed ever so slightly. Her tongue appeared, wetting chapped lips. Her left hand rose to itch her neck, a gesture so mundane it was borderline surreal: What could she be thinking? What did she feel? Was she trying to conjure memories from before her death? Was she remembering the dull particularities of life? Did she scratch simply to be reminded of touch?
“What’s it like?” Eddie finally blurted.
Wearily, his mother turned from the window. “What’s what like?”
“It,” said Eddie. He was afraid to be more specific, as if to use the actual word would seem tactless, insensitive, so idiotic in its obviousness his mother would only grow more exasperated with him.
“It’s not like anything,” she told him.
The next morning, Eddie woke up expecting to have dreamt the very idea of resurrection. But there was his mother in the ratty yellow bathrobe Eddie had left hanging in her closet, on the worn out stool in the kitchen, sitting with a stiff, straight-backed resignation. She’d spent much of her previous life in that exact same bathrobe on that exact same stool--before illness had confined her to bed--staring out the window with the exact same lack of interest. Was she watching the squirrels on the power lines? The guy next door yanking the starter cord on his lawnmower? Anything at all?
“How’d you sleep?” Eddie asked.
“I didn’t,” his mother said. On the counter beside her was a mug of black coffee. Beside this a half-eaten piece of toast on a paper towel. Beside this an ashtray, already filled with butts. Propped against it was a purple Bic lighter, which his mother picked up now to light the cigarette she‘d pulled from a crumpled pack of Marlboros in her bathrobe pocket. Eddie guessed these things--the lighter, the Marlboros--had been there in that pocket since her death, like offerings to the spirit world. He imagined her returning to corporeality solely for the small pleasure they provided.
“But you‘re okay,” he said, “right?”
“Okay?” said Eddie’s mother as if she had never heard the word before or not in such a context as this. She took a long, deep drag on her cigarette, and for a moment Eddie wondered if some intangible part of her being had been left behind in oblivion when her body was revived. He knew, of course, his mother had always been like this. That was what baffled Eddie: She’d come back to resume life as ordinarily and unchanged as possible. She’d come back without any secret knowledge of the grave. She’d come back and the world was no more meaningful nor complex.
“You know,” Eddie said, “like everything’s good”
Before his mother could reply, the lawnmower revved outside and cut her off. She raised the cigarette to her open mouth, took another long drag and looked at him--as she’d done the day before--like he was the most implausible thing she could conceive of: What void had he been culled forth from?
“Second day back Stevie says he doesn’t want to sleep in his room anymore,” Tonya announced at lunch the next day. “Said it was different but couldn‘t say how.” She smiled at this, fondly. “That night we moved him--bed and all--to the den. The elliptical we moved back to his room. Yesterday Stevie says the bed’s different.” Her smile grew in wonder at her son’s predilections. “We lugged it back down to the basement. From the attic we got a sleeping bag and set Stevie up on the couch. This morning we found him, sleeping bag zipped up over his head. He could hardly breathe. ‘I like it,’ he says. ‘I like laying here, not breathing.’” Tonya rolled her eyes, good-naturedly. “Gave us quite a scare.”
Eddie, jealous of her high spirits, trashed the rest of his lunch and clocked back in. On the news that night, he saw the family of the busboy shooter packed into their kitchen with the Channel 6 crew. The mother was at the table, much like before, eyes darting. The band of Red Sox-hat-wearing men were in the background, expressionless. “They approved the resurrection,” the shooter’s father mumbled. A small, queasy smile flickered across his face and for a long while Eddie dwelled on this, the man‘s meager hope. Distantly, a reporter discussed the shooter’s impending trial. It was hard to follow. The judicial system, the reporter was saying, had modified the legal definition of murder. The sound grew fuzzy. Images blurred. Eddie was asleep.
In the morning he awoke in the recliner, stiff-necked and groggy, to the sound of the back door slamming open. “Abby?” Eddie said, blinking and bewildered. Briefly, he felt the warm, idiotic pull of familial feelings--he hadn’t seen his sister, after all, since the funeral--but then he took in the crossed arms, the furrowed brow, the hostility radiating off her like some wayward electrical current.
“We discussed this,” Abby told him, voice low and contemptuous.
“We discussed the fact that resurrection is the prerogative of our Lord, Jesus Christ,” Abby explained, speaking his name with such certainty Eddie half-expected him to appear, lugging Abby‘s overnight bag in from the car.
“I know,” Eddie said, hoping to appease her. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not asking for an apology,” Abby said. “I’m asking you--” she paused, uncrossing, then re-crossing her arms. “No, I’m beseeching you to make things right. This,” pointing into the kitchen, “is an abomination.”
Eddie’s mother was already up and awake. In fact, she’d been sitting on her stool throughout this, eyes out the window, as though her children were discussing a stranger. Only now did she turn, tap the ash from her cigarette into the ashtray, and peer from the kitchen into the living room. At Eddie, she hardly glanced. Abby, however, she regarded with a certain admiration: Her daughter was a worthy adversary, as obstinate and single-minded as she was. The only real difference between the two–as far as Eddie could tell anyway–was Abby professed to believe in something.
“Really?” his mother said. “Is that what I am? An abomination?“
“Not you, per se,” Abby said. “But this--” gesturing vaguely “--this is an abomination.”
“Whatever the case,” Eddie’s mother said, “I can’t do it. Not again,” she said and sighed now, smoke steaming from her nostrils, an otherworldly creature mightily displeased.
“Do what?” asked Eddie. Both Abby and his mother looked at him suddenly, as if they‘d forgotten he was there at all. Eddie slumped further in the recliner, feeling like he‘d interrupted some private moment. He was a child again, struggling to grasp the strange machinations of the adult world. Plans were being made without him. Decisions were being decided. His mother and his sister seemed to agree and disagree all at once.
“This,” his mother snapped at him, gesturing as vaguely as Abby had. She took a final, dismissive drag, then ground the cigarette out.
At the reclamation center, Eddie sat between his mother and his sister. A baby was wailing. A woman was untangling a pair of headphones pulled from her purse. A small boy zigzagged between chairs. When Eddie’s number was called, the clerk narrowed his eyes, recognizing him. He sat back. He popped a stick of gum in his mouth. “What can I do for you folks?” he asked with faux-jocularity.
“What you can do,” Abby said, “is rectify this situation. My brother here made a mistake.” She indicated Eddie, whose face turned red as though on cue. “Understandable. Like all God’s children he’s fallible,” she said, gripping the edge of the counter like a podium. “But that’s not what we’re here to discuss. What we’re here to discuss is God‘s will. God’s will has been violated,” she said, grip tightening.
“Is that so?” the clerk said.
“‘For as in Adam all die,’” Abby told him, “‘even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming.’”
“That’s catchy,” said the clerk, “but what‘s your point exactly?”
Before Abby could reply, Eddie’s mother had stepped to the counter. “The point?” she hissed at the clerk. “The point is I didn’t ask to be resurrected.”
The clerk sat up. He took a long, contemplative chew. “Okay,” he said.
“You don’t get it,” Eddie’s mother told him. “I didn’t want to be resurrected.”
“Okay,” the clerk said again, still puzzled. For once he had no smirk, no condescending remark. Eddie watched him dig a fresh stick of Trident from his pocket and take a few quick chews, as if trying somehow to draw strength from the gum. “So what am I supposed to do?”
“Rectify the situation,” Eddie’s mother told him, slowly emphasizing each syllable. The clerk studied her for a long moment--eyes wide, forehead scrunched--looking like he’d personally summoned her soul back into her body and was struck dumb now by her ingratitude. Eddie wondered if existence was really so empty for his mother. Or did one have to experience nonexistence to truly understand it? Maybe that was it. Maybe there was some primordial pleasure deep beneath the simple façade of nothingness that the living–with restless minds and fearful hearts–could never quite comprehend.
“Hey Jim,” the clerk said to the man leaning in a doorway behind the counter. “This lady wants us--” He stopped, uncertain. “She wants us to--” He paused again, at a loss for words. “I don’t know exactly. Revoke the resurrection?”
“There‘s no protocol for that,” said Jim. “Can’t be done. Not after the fact.”
“If Jim says it can‘t be done,” the clerk said with a sort of relief, “it can‘t be done.”
Outside, one of the protestors was crouched against the wall, biting into a Subway sandwich. A girl was beside him, plucking the pickles from her own sandwich. At her feet was a tattered sign: THE DEAD HAVE LIFE / NOW THEY WANT OUR JOBS!
“They told me Billy isn’t eligible,” the woman with the clipboard was saying. Abby and their mother pushed past her. Eddie stopped, trying in some small way to defy his family.
“Because he was cremated,” said Eddie, “right?”
The woman recoiled, startled it seemed someone was actually listening. “That,” she said, “and because he’s a cat.”
“A cat?” said Eddie, like he’d never heard of such a thing.
“An orange tabby,” the woman said, eyes welling with tears. “Almost sixteen years old when the leukemia got him.”
“Oh,” Eddie said, quickly adding his name to the meager list on the petition. As he hurried to the car, the woman in the Hello Kitty t-shirt came shuffling towards the reclamation center’s entrance, broad face scrunched thickly in rage. The acne-scarred man trailed behind, sheepishly.
“This morning we get up and he’s gone,” Tonya said at work the next day. “Sleeping bag’s still on the couch, but Stevie‘s nowhere in sight. We look in his old room. He’s not there. We look in the basement, thinking maybe he missed his old bed. Wasn’t there, either.” Tonya smiled at this, but it was quick and a little strained. “Finally, we found him in the backyard, just laying there on his back. ‘The house is different,’ he says. Matter-of-factly, you know?” Eddie said nothing. “‘I like it better out here,’ he says. ‘I can just lay here and not have any thoughts. It’s nice not having thoughts.’” Tonya shrugged, trying to make it look casual and carefree. “Can you imagine? A nine year old kid saying that?”
On the drive home, Eddie thought of his mother’s death. He saw it now as a point in time by which he could define himself. Before she died, he’d spent his life scheduling doctors’ visits, pleading with Medicare workers, staring wearily at bank statements, cooking meals, emptying bedpans, dispensing medications, forcing tooth-brushings, administering washcloth baths. He wasn‘t anybody, other than what her illness demanded. Afterwards, he’d become--what? A survivor maybe. Of what, he wasn’t quite sure, but it sounded noble and a little bit tragic. Now she was back. He hadn’t survived anything at all.
In the driveway, he took out his cell phone and left a message for his brother. He could see his mother through the window, propped upon the stool, cigarette burning to the filter, forgotten. Abby was at the door, waiting for him. “A solution will present itself,” she told him.
“It already has,”said Eddie, blushing at the unfamiliar sound of authority in his voice.
On the TV that night the Channel 6 news crew were on the steps of a courthouse. The shooter’s family appeared. The mother’s eyes darted as she passed by. The brother/cousins were next, faces blank. Even now, on the first day of the trial, they were all clad in Red Sox hats. “We’re trying to remain optimistic,” the father mumbled into a mic. Very faintly, a reporter discussed the trial. It was, she said, the first of its kind. She sounded confused. Eddie was confused. His phone rang then, startling him from his stupor.
“You sure you wanna do this?” Teddy asked him.
“Yeah,” Eddie said. “Yes,” he added, trying once more to sound authoritative. His mother was still on the stool in the kitchen, digging laboriously through the oversized pockets of her bathrobe in search of some indefinable object. Abby was in there, too, dipping a tea bag in and out of a mug of hot water with quick, zealot-like dunks. That Eddie was in here–in the other room–making plans seemed downright preposterous even to himself. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said, tingling with the odd, inexplicable sensation of decision-making. “It’s what she wants,” he said, eliciting a snort of derision from his brother.
“There you go again,” Teddy said.
“There I go what?” Eddie blurted, angered his brother was unmoved by his newfound resolve. “There I go what?” he said again before realizing the signal had cut out. Why, he wondered, was every conversation with his brother so stilted and unsatisfying?
“You and that goddamn sense of obligation,” Teddy suddenly said, clear and distinct.
The next day Eddie, Abby and their mother left the town behind. They passed a rundown farm, a small herd of cows in a muddy field, a cluster of doublewides, a gas station with a mini mart and Chinese takeout, the splattered remains of a possum, a heap of trash bags on the shoulder. Two hours later, Abby turned off the state highway onto a gravel road. Pebbles skittered beneath the car, punctuating the silence. Eddie’s mother stared out the window. She’d put on sneakers, still wore the bathrobe.
Eddie, in the backseat, soon saw A NO TRESPASSING sign stapled to a half-finished wire fence. An old yellow pickup sat in the driveway. Beside this was a mud-spattered four wheeler. Beside this a rusting engine, partially covered by a tattered blue tarp. Teddy was in the doorway of the trailer, smirking with some secret irony. He was dubious of this resurrection business--Eddie knew this--yet seemed unsurprised to see his mother alive, climbing out of the car.
“Hey Mom,” he said and all at once Eddie’s mother was at ease. Her shoulders relaxed. She took her hands from her bathrobe pockets. She looked up at her eldest son, almost shyly. Not a sigh was to be heard.
“Theodore,” she said quietly, as Teddy helped her up the cinder-block-steps into the trailer. Only now did it occur to Eddie that his brother, the weird recluse, was his mother’s favorite.
“Not too late to change your mind,” Teddy told her.
“I‘m ready,” she said. “Just need to use the bathroom first.”
“What about you?” Teddy asked Abby.
“‘For we hold that one is justified by faith,’” said Abby, “‘apart from works of the law.’”
“That’s got a nice ring to it,” said Teddy, still smirking.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means,” Abby told him. Eddie listened to his siblings, confused. They’d always been like this, squabbling in secret code from which Eddie was excluded Eddie. Meaning for him was a thing to be guessed at, inferred, constructed clumsily like a tower of wooden blocks. He was the baby of the family.
“How about you?” Teddy was asking him now. “You good?”
In the small confines of the kitchen, Eddie could smell his brother’s sour breath. In the sink was a murky pool of water with a soggy crust of bread floating on its surface. On the counter was a screwdriver, half a cassette player, a bundle of wires. Through the thin wall he could hear a trickling in the toilet bowl.
“Yeah,” said Eddie. “I’m good.”
Teddy eyed him doubtfully, rubbing his stubbly double chin. He eyed him even as he dug through the drawer below the counter, setting aside the cell phone, the first-aid kit, the roll of twenties, the soy sauce packets. Finally, he found what it was he was looking for.
“Go out back” Teddy told him, “and grab a shovel.”
Obedient, Eddie went out back and chose a shovel from among the tools propped against the propane tank. When his family appeared he followed them into the forest.
“Ain’t no one around for miles,” Teddy said proudly. He held aside a branch for his mother, took her hand as she climbed over the rotting trunk of a fallen tree. They soon came to a small clearing. The ground was matted with damp leaves. The air was cool. The sky was bright and blue. Teddy was smirking again.
“No paperwork,” he announced. “No waiting in lines. Ain’t got none of that bullshit here.”
Eddie, leaning against the shovel on the edge of the clearing, waited for his sister to interject. A Bible quotation seemed more appropriate than ever, but Abby was silent. In fact, she seemed winded from their short hike, hands on hips, chest heaving. Eddie took some pleasure in this, as though his sister had lost a small degree of power in fatigue.
“You want a cigarette?” Eddie asked his mother. She looked at him suddenly–like she’d forgotten he was there–then shook her head, already liberated from such earthly persuasions. She turned back to Teddy and shed her bathrobe, standing there unafraid in the pile of dingy yellow fabric, pale, bony, naked save for the sneakers and a thin white slip. This, thought Eddie, must be what lack of belief looks like.
“Can I do it?” said Eddie.
Stephen Langlois is a writer of the fantastic and absurd. His work has appeared in Glimmer Train, The Portland Review, Maudlin House, 3AM Magazine, Monkeybicycle, Matchbook, Necessary Fiction, Pacifica Literary Review, Profane Journal, and glitterMOB, among others. He is a recipient of a NYC Emerging Writers Fellowship from The Center for Fiction as well as a writing residency from the Blue Mountain Center. He also hosts BREW: An Evening of Literary Works, a reading series held in Brooklyn, and serves as the fiction editor for FLAPPERHOUSE. Visit him at www.stephenmlanglois.com.
Illustrations by Jamie Wolfe - from her short film Roommates!