Dying to Live

 

The counterfeit minister’s remarks, from inside the casket, sounded a bit like the protests from his own outraged stomach.

 

“Heavenly Father” — he’d give it one more try — “creator of heaven and earth, lord of all, please assist me in nudging that snack cake down near my knee within reach of my hand.”

 

Nothing doing. Coffins weren’t roomy, it turned out.

 

Oh, well. Things could be worse.

 

Well, not much worse. But he hadn’t needed to piss yet. So chalk that up in the plus column.

 

Also, ever since his phone battery died — it’d probably been a bad idea to watch those episodes of The Great British Baking Show — he’d been getting a lot of thinking done. He’d decided, for example, that it was a mistake to quit that job shining shoes at the airport. There was a lot to be said for working with people. He’d met some interesting ones. To wit, the dominatrix who’d handed him an electric razor and barked at him to shave her legs, while she talked dirty to some guy in Wichita or wherever. In the end, though, it came down to what it always came down to. He got bored and quit. He went from shining shoes to semi-professional dumpster diving (scrambling to meet quotas set by an enterprising dope pusher named Mister Mistuh), from dumpster diving to bagging groceries at Sprouts, from bagging groceries to …

 

And then there was his mother. She was sitting just a few feet away, of course, in the front pew maybe, next to his stepfather. In black? He was dead sure she didn’t own a single black garment. Had she borrowed something from Aunt Sheila? No, lying there in the complete darkness, swaddled in the taffeta lining of the casket, he knew exactly what she’d done: she’d dyed one of her old suits or dresses black, like her beloved Jackie did for JFK’s funeral. Anyway, the point was that he’d had time to ponder the true nature of his mother’s feelings for him: it was either pure hatred or callous indifference with a chaser of contempt. So far, he’d come up with seven reasons to support hatred, seven for indifference.

 

He needed a tiebreaker. He recalled the time he’d phoned her from the Mobile County Jail, where they were holding him for impersonating a peace officer (mostly innocent!) and fishing without a license (guilty as charged!).

 

“Hello, Mom, it’s me.”

 

“Who’s ‘me’?”

 

But see, he thought, that one there could go either way.

 

In any case, he was going to have to lift the lid on this caper fairly soon. Even if his bladder held out, he wasn’t certain how long the air in here would last.

 

On the other hand — the one straining to reach that elusive Ding Dong — if he actually died, he wouldn’t have to argue for a refund on this coffin. It was bound to be a hassle.

 

He sighed. What did he have to live for? Maybe that was the way to approach it.

 

Unemployed. Unattached. Unmoored. Rooming with a plus-sized cammer whose customers paid her extra to caress an AR-15 rifle and quote scripture while wearing a hat that said “PATRIOT.”

 

And oh yeah, he was still fighting this long-running war of attrition with his mother, which some might say had gone plenty far enough. Had done years ago. For example, when she “forgot” to let him know that his father died, which he happened to hear about much later from someone who’d been at the funeral. Or when he crashed her wedding reception, accompanied by several of the regulars from Sam’s Stumble Inn, all of them wearing Jimmy Carter masks and not much besides.

 

So? What did he have to live for?

 

He liked that first bitter, scalding sip of coffee in the morning. He liked calling to mind something he’d seen from his car late one afternoon, as he drove past a playground: two little girls in adjacent swings and identical pigtails, leaning toward each other so that they could hold hands as they swayed up and back, up and back. He liked any solitary tree in a field, the way it refused to apologize for itself. He liked to wander the aisles at the big farmer’s market and let the music of all those strange languages wash over him.

 

In short, he liked standing at the edge of the fallen world and marveling at it. At the ludicrous, astonishing seriousness of human beings. At their striving, their hunger to believe, their crazy hopes.

 

Maybe that was enough? Yeah, maybe that was enough.

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