He waited for the knock on the door. Not the front, but the padlocked one upstairs, which led into the guest bedroom. Even with rags stuffed into the air vents and tape pressed over the cracks of the door, a stench percolated throughout the house. The stench of a gradual resurrection. Before they stored their father in there, because of the decay, Lars’ sister, Tabby, would wash and change their father’s clothes, comb his hair, and scrub his body, as she had done with her dolls many years ago. By the end, he had been so subservient to his sickness that he took the posture of a king: slouched in a threadbare La-Z-Boy with putrefied foot extended and opposite leg bent, starkly exposing the patella, one hand equally extended, and the other pressed against a pudding face, a spine as solid as his gelatinous body, but also charged with the tension of an ill omen. Having lived a life of accumulated sin, as all men and pretending saints do, the sword of Damocles hung by a single horse hair above his skull, which was, aside from a civic crown of ashen bristle, naked in the most fragile way. Occasionally, Lars and Tabby swore they saw it, the sword, albeit ethereal, sometimes taking the shape of a syringe, other times a ray of holy light. Regardless, they knew the seed of revival had been planted in his heart through their prayers. They had constantly checked for the most distant of pulses in the neck or wrist, for the subtlest of exhales from the mouth or nostrils, falling to their knees and praying with more fervor, not only with their minds and souls but also with every inch of the mortal flesh that they were consigned to occupy for the time being. They had faith that it would happen.
On the second day of October in 1517, after a generous amount of rain, farmer Mathew Wall lay stiff with rigor mortis, in a coffin (made by the one-eyed carpenter that the villagers in Hertfordshire called Cyclopes, even though he always thought of himself as Hephaestus, but, as fate would have it, he never did become a blacksmith) which the solemn pallbearers carried in a procession toward the church of St. Mary the Virgin. As they marched, one of them slipped on a dewy pile of leaves, causing the coffin to fall and land upside-down on the cobbled path. Amid the toll of the funeral bell and wails of mourners, including Wall’s green-eyed fiancée who always maintained a faux emanation of royalty, the pallbearers rushed to flip the box upright. When they did, they heard a polite succession of two raps on the lid from within, as if the person inside was hesitant about disturbing the lives of those whose privacy was the whole of the world, of the living, so they opened the coffin and Mathew Wall, resurrected, went on to marry his fiancée, providing her with as much as he could on the meager funds of a modest farmer until he died of a heart attack twenty-four years later.
Lars and his sister had tried to catch it early after they noticed a foot ulcer brought on by their father’s diabetes, bright red and moist, located Achilles-like on his heel. When they asked if they should take him to a hospital, he refused. “God will cure me,” said their father in his soporific voice. “God through you.” Tabby leaned in closer to him, holding his vein-puckered hand. She blinked at the caress of his pickled breath when he said, “My children. Show me that I didn’t make you for nothing.” From then on they diligently cared for him, while he, prostrate in his La-Z-Boy, paid full attention to the infomercials and The 700 Club on television. With each day the ulcer became more recalcitrant to their prayers. It expanded, deepened, rotted, until it was as though, in mid-charge, their father had been struck by a tiny, pestilent meteor, covered in the blood of the Hydra. The edges of the crater went through a strange process of ripening, between sickly colors of green and yellow and blue, until culminating into a crusty black, lubricated by inhuman liquids and exuding a sour, viscid stink. “Don’t worry,” he told them. “This is simply a test. We are, all of us, being tested.” Tabby repressed her tears while he continued, “You’re my children, and you’ll do what is right.”
In the kitchen, while a pot roast cooked in the oven, Lars whispered to Tabby, “This might be the work of Satan.”
She absentmindedly looked through the dirty glow of the oven’s window. The hunk of amorphous meat reminded her of the foot. “What do we do?”
He placed a nail-gnawed finger on her temple. The angles of her features were inclined toward the tip of her nose, like a nimbus. “Pray, have faith. We’re only pawns.”
She couldn’t meet his eyes, those crenulations of Giotto blue singed with chemical drops of brown, so she looked down at the white and olive tiles. “It’s too soon.”
Lars kneeled a bit to look up into her water-tensed eyes and she closed them. “Not if it’s part of His plan. If he goes, we should be thankful. If he’s healed, or later returns to us, then—”
“We should be thankful.” She opened her eyes and the tears seemed to vanish.
Lars’ finger slid down the side of her face and rested in the gluteal cleft of her chin. “Yes.”
She envied his assurance. He spoke, she thought, as if he had all the answers by the paradoxical means of repudiating them, leaving what was left of their family as motes of dust in the sunbeam of God’s guidance. Yet she also acknowledged a hierarchy in the family, their father the neck below the Father’s head, Jesus and the Spirit as busied hands, Lars the torso, and she the feet. Various other parts, like their mother, had been dismembered to prevent impurity to the whole. She told herself often, without the feet the totem of her admittedly iconoclastic image would collapse. Her existence, her perseverance, was a necessity.
Their father used a substantial portion of his daily strength to call, “Is dinner about ready?”
Over the course of their father’s illness and beyond, Lars and Tabby ate and slept little while in service to Him.
On the fourteenth day of December in 1650, after being accused of infanticide, when in fact the illegitimate conception (by means of her master’s licentious grandson) had yielded an unfortunate yet guiltless stillborn, the domestic servant Anne Greene was sentenced to hang by the neck until death. After the sentence was carried out, including Greene’s request that her cohorts pull and beat upon her dangling body so as to ensure said death, she was sent as a cadaver for medical dissection at Oxford University. Upon the first incision, equidistant of two bloated breasts, she groaned, forcing the startled doctors to do everything they could to help the revival process, which involved, among other procedures, a tobacco smoke enema in order to warm the bowels. Thus, Anne Greene, resurrected, had her innocence proven by the divine powers of God, while also attaining a morsel of fame with the publication by academics of several pamphlets, such as the aptly titled Newes from the Dead, or a True and Exact Narration of the Miraculous Deliverance of Anne Greene (Oxford, 1651), and went on to consensually produce and rear a brood of three healthy children with a semi-respectable man until she died of unreported causes fifteen years later.
Despite the perpetual prayers, further complications arose when a stroke occurred and their father’s facial expressions became lugubrious and involuntary, like an invisible finger stirring wet sand. “It’s tingling,” he repeated several times. All Tabby could do was caress the side of his face and murmur to him like the melting and derelict being he was. They wondered if this might be a kind of saintly death, the symptoms of celestial passage, from adult to infant, from human to puddle, from this world to the next, and if they should release him under God’s will, until their father gurgled, “Help.” It was the urgency and less the slurred construction of the syllable that made them shiver off such nebulous thoughts and continue channeling His will through clasped hands and closed eyes, through the power of the private mind in silent speech. This was one of the few situations in which Lars and Tabby wanted Him to truly intervene for a sacred purpose. Throughout their lives they petulantly prayed for the cliché and unwarranted: more toys, better school grades, knowledge of social secrets, prestigious careers, copious amounts of wealth, even the punishment of their mother, whom they all branded as an adulterous deserter. They had prayed mainly for things of the material, fleeting vanities that cannot and should not be taken into the afterlife. Rightly, they were ashamed of such paltry wishes. Naturally, they did not manifest. Lars was a manager at McDonald’s and his girlfriend routinely left him for other men, only to retreat into his arms weeks later, and he was too hurt to accept her actions as real, convincing himself that she went on vacations up north with her family, as she was currently doing. Tabby, having had only one serious boyfriend during her senior year of high school, spent most of her time at Pine Towers, a retirement community, putting up with the rarely-wise babbling of the nearly expired, and when they finally did pass away, they were replaced by replicas that were just as loquacious, if not more so. They both worked only a couple of dollars above minimum wage. God’s will is as mysterious as it is virtuous.
After their father had fallen asleep to the southern drawl of Pat Robertson, Tabby turned off the television and they began to pray over the wounded area. Their father’s mouth was agape, drool dried at the corners, one side of his upper lip permanently tensed, baring a yellow cuspid. They had become more or less habituated to the foot’s musk, it was familiar, like the natural smells of one’s body that only strangers can identify.
“Is it working . . . ?” she spoke with closed eyes.
“What?” said Lars.
She opened an eye, the other still closed. “This.”
Lars had ceased praying and was scrutinizing her. “If anything, we’re the problem.”
It was the closest he came to admitting that she was the problem. He had meant to say it just then, yet his tongue wouldn’t curl that way. He loved his sister but her mere presence became a bother to him, not out of any pet peeve or idiosyncrasy, on the contrary, it was how she emanated an implicit questioning he found almost universal among outsiders, those who didn’t share or defend the faith. He could see the question marks running through her veins as sickle cells, the ellipses floating across and within the vitreous fluid of her eyes. Cataclysms and catastrophes did not shake faith, his father had once told him, it was the little things one needed to be cautious of, persistent drops of water upon the forehead, paper cuts on the skin between the fingers, such was the true cause of razed empires.
He looked at their father, the flesh of his eyelids as dark as soot. He turned and fixed his eyes on the muted green of Tabby’s.
“Or maybe you are,” he added.
His nerve had gotten the better of him, and as he said it he knew he was wrong. She had been on the receiving end of faith healing during childhood, a living testament to His power. Over the course of weeks, she writhed with a fever that diminished the light of her consciousness for hours at a time, turned it into a strobe. As she had told Lars herself, all she remembered was the hum, the literal vibration of his and their parents’ prayers, and how it created a cocoon of cooling and warming. She had opened her eyes to light upon light and saw God, who simultaneously spoke in the voice of her brother, mother, and father, “To feel pain is to feel the sacrifice of the Lamb upon the cross. To feel love is to realize the veracity of what I have told you.” The face of God, lambent and ultra-dimensional, leaned forward and kissed her brow, morphed her sweat into blood, and she awoke with radiant eyes, healed. Their father still possessed the kerchief stained with her blood-sweat in a velvet-lined box on his dresser, and, ever since, he had taken to pressing it against his nose and inhaling each night before bed, claiming it smelled of blessed rose oil. After the onset of his sickness, Tabby had put the kerchief in his hand, closing his fingers around it, but she continued to find it dropped on the floor later in the day. With a crack in her heart she had put the dirty rag back in its box.
“Me?” Her jaw descended and she placed her tongue into the corner of her cheek. She let her clasped hands break apart and fall. “When have I ever stopped caring for him, praying for him? You think my job will want to take me back after missing so many days?”
“Is that what your care about? Your job?”
“No . . . if you’re so pure then why don’t you heal him yourself?”
She stood up and flicked on the lights, for the house had dimmed with the sunset so gradually as to be unperceived.
“What are you looking at?” asked Lars.
She recognized how still their father was. The way one of the octogenarian residents at her work went. Eternally still, yet seemingly alive. Resting, but not. Seeing the gray blanket cover his corpulent stomach, his foot, so decomposed by now as to be another kind of limb devoid of any discernible function, an un-foot, and his face, like that of a baby’s in mid-laugh, or mid-fright, made her cry. Lars touched underneath their father’s spongy wrist. No, he didn’t fall asleep, but simply died. The expectation of further instructions or clarifying wisdom was squelched. Tabby began to snatch at her hair and wail without reserve, because her father wasn’t around to be disappointed.
On the twenty-ninth day of June in 1914, the hypnotic-eyed mystic and ill-reputed sinner Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, otherwise known as the Mad Monk, was sloppily disemboweled through repetitious stabs to the gut from an ex-concubine named Khionia Guseva as she hollered, “The antichrist is slain!” But slain he was not, for, resurrected, he went on to become the personal faith healer and rumored advisor of the Russian czar and his wife after healing their son Alexis of his hemophilia, but a peasant’s unusual proximity to royalty, along with his questionable reputation concerning a carnal cult, inter alia, resulted in a curious banquet summons. And so, on the twenty-ninth day of December in 1916, Rasputin unknowingly dined with a group of conspirators at Prince Felix Yusupov’s palace, where he ingested cakes and wine laced with cyanide, merely becoming inebriated. The conspirators, which included the czar’s first cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, settled for repeatedly shooting Rasputin in the back. Having still little effect, they clubbed him until he ceased breathing and then restrained him with chains, wrapped him in a thick blanket, and tossed him, whose name means ‘where two rivers meet,’ into the icy flow of the Nevà, whereupon three days later Rasputin was spotted, pulled ashore, and pronounced drowned, but not before breaking his restraints underwater and splaying his arms like Christ. In a final act of divine performance, the imperial Russian family was assassinated in its entirety amid the revolution, as the Mad Monk predicted fifteen months earlier.
They had placed him in the middle of the guest bedroom, not comfortably in the bed so as to encourage rest, but in one of the stiff wooden chairs from the dining room table. Their father’s shoulders drooped, arms parallel with the stiles of the chair, legs somewhat bowed, head bent backward, fully exposing the reptilian vertebrae of his Adam’s apple. Afterward, Lars and Tabby heard bumps and creaks in the dark, which they had always ascribed to ghosts and demons until now. They prayed in bed every night and knew they were hearing the acute and magnified sound of atoms vibrating, of antibodies mobilizing, of cells lighting up. With this static of life, this electricity, their faith was strengthening.
Their family stood out in the neighborhood because of the green Astro van they kept in the driveway. Their father had adorned it in bold-lettered verses, such as Proverbs 3:5-7, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil.” In order to project God’s symbol of redemption, of His love and justice, their father carved crosses into the headlights. After their mother left six years ago, their father had taken the newly-bedizened vehicle across the state on an impromptu mission of proselytizing. Lars and Tabby, old enough to have been able to contribute to such a noble cause, were frantic that he left them without even mentioning the journey, other than a last-minute note on the kitchen counter. Three weeks later he had returned and with remorse in his voice he said, “I couldn’t take you, my children, because this will be a pilgrimage you must eventually take on your own, when you’re older. You’ll know the time by His light. You’ll be both sundial and shadow.” Other than this mystifying remark, he never expounded on those three weeks, and Lars and Tabby imagined he must have received many ridiculing harangues from the heathens, because he kept mostly to himself afterward, only expressing his beliefs to his children like hand-me-down items, nostalgic and sentimental, with little worth to those outside the bloodline. The van, though, remained in its ostentatious condition, and so he left the burden of conversion to the eyesight of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians, whom either paid no attention or gave sun-glared glances. But when weeks went by without their father driving it, the neighbors began to inquire. Before that, in order to feel closer to her father and to Him, Tabby started driving the vehicle to work. On a humid evening, when she was transferring groceries from the bed of the van into the kitchen, their neighbor, Barney, a Vietnam veteran with a prosthetic leg, waved from his porch as he usually did, but then began hobbling toward her.
“I may not be what I used to be but I can still help a pretty, young lady.”
“No,” she said, her eyes flickering between stooped Barney and the maw of the opened front door. “No, thank you.”
“Haven’t seen your old man in some time. How’s he holding up?” he said, admiring the Astro with blunt curiosity. “Feels like an eternity since I’ve seen his big ol’ smile. I remember, no kidding, when all ya’ll first moved in here, ’bout twenty or so years ago, your parents were what I’d call picheresque.”
She didn’t appreciate the reminder of their parents together, because she had mostly revised her memories so that it was just Lars and her father, the remaining faithful. The problems began with the deterioration of their mother’s faith. She believed in a pick-and-choose manner regarding doctrine, which upset their father. He had tried to ignore most of these misgivings, for the sake of Lars and Tabby, he later told them, so they could be raised in a proper household. Yet when she began to question the trinity, that’s when he realized feigning ignorance did not ameliorate the situation. The household had already fallen. In their early teens, Lars and Tabby would press their ears against the wall of their bedroom and listen to the quarrels, which had vaguely started as theological debates. “You can’t compare the trinity to different Christmas lights, and don’t think I haven’t heard you talk of gas, liquid, and solid. That’s matter, not the trinity! You think you’re enlightening our children, but it’s heresy, modalism!”
“I try to make sense of it, it doesn’t make sense!”
“Haven’t you read the Athanasian Creed?”
“You think I cherry-pick my beliefs, that I leave His word in tatters, but what about you?”
“What about me?”
“You . . . you nearly made me watch my daughter die . . . ”
“Did Jesus take the sick to hospitals, did—”
“You’re not Jesus, we’re not Jesus. You wouldn’t have cared if she died!”
A thump, like something thrown against a wall.
“Perhaps it would’ve been better,” he said.
“If she died, if all of us died, then we’d be in a place better than this, but He has a plan for us, although I’m not too sure about you.”
“Threatening me with hell now?”
“It’s not about me, or you, or any of us . . . greater forces are at work. I fear that you’ve been influenced. If—”
“Let me speak . . .if you can find your way back, I will accept you. In the meantime, you must leave us and hope for His guidance. I’ll pray for you.”
“Ohhh . . . ohhh . . . ”
She couldn’t say anything then, she responded with sobs, and she left the family. Exiled. Lars and Taby, regardless of guilty attempts at communication, never heard from her. Their father had explained how she had abandoned her faith, after pieces of it had already perished, and how she had engaged in extra-marital sex with a respected member of their now former church. That’s when their house became the house of the Lord, their couch became the pew, their television the altar and preacher both. This new church made Lars and Tabby aware of how elastic their father’s beliefs really were. He changed and adapted just as their mother had. Lars and Tabby told themselves that he wasn’t a hypocrite, that he saw deeper into truths and doctrines and thus navigated the labyrinth of creeds and revelations like Theseus, the thread his critical intellect, the whole of the clew as divine inspiration. They even entertained the possibility that their father had a direct connection to God, however indistinct in nature, where a pluck of the taut line sent reverberating epiphanies to his cortex. These thoughts more than eased Lars’ allegiance, but Tabby had been injected with a disconcerting question, one she couldn’t ever ask her father: “What if the fever had killed me?”
Now she had nightmares of being in the chair of the guest bedroom instead of their father, metamorphosing. Lars had always defended their father from Tabby’s doubt, telling her about a time before she had been stricken with the fever: Little Lars had been playing in the forest near a highway—where sometimes he’d roll medium-sized stones into the paths of cars—when he heard a screech followed by metal crunching. He ran up to the guardrail of the highway and saw a minivan’s nose embedded into the back of a pickup truck. He felt as though God wanted him to see this, to be a neutral observer, a cosmic witness. The driver of the truck was bent forward, still, and his head pressed the car horn, the incessant sound like an anguished goose. From the passenger side of the minivan a bloodied woman crawled out, sliding her hands through glass and metal. She was saying, “Tommy, Tommy,” and reached for the door behind hers, unable to open it. A sedan braked to a stop behind the forcibly conjoined vehicles and a man came out with his phone to his ear. “Are you alright, ma’am?” “Tommy, Tommy.” The man, whom Lars took for a lower angel with pity in his heart, had called emergency services and then lifted her and put her into the passenger seat of his car. “Tommy, Tommy,” her hand reaching out. With a strong jerk the man succeeded in opening the door and pulled out a limp boy. His right leg had been twisted into a golden ratio, his foot at the center. Although his face seemed full of holes, black mouth, black eyes, black bruises, Lars recognized him as Tommy Mommy, a classmate who had been made infamous by calling out for his mommy when anyone threatened him with a fist, including Lars. Even as the ambulance arrived with a wail, lights aflash, Lars remained by the guardrail, hidden by shadows and overhanging branches. They took Tommy in a stretcher, tied down like a victim on the rack, along with his mother and father. Lars had waited for Tommy to return to class so that he could tell him that he understood something, but he never arrived. Because science couldn’t heal him, explained Lars’ father. Tommy’s parents, probably atheists or agnostics, held Darwin as their doctrine, Sagan as their sacred heart. And the doctors probably gave up without a fight, he told little Lars, like they did when your grandmother was ill—how much determination can you have without the real God? He reinforced this after Tabby had been healed of her fever. “In the end, we have Tabby, but where did your friend Tommy go, why isn’t your grandmother with us?” In light of this anecdote, all Tabby had for her mother was hatred, but if she allowed herself to overthink, as her brother often accused her of, she pitied her mother, saw her as the prey of those unknown forces, and if that was the case, then they could have helped her, saved her through His will, but the vicious words of their father during many an altercation tore her down . . .
“Mind if I say hello to him?” said Barney. “I mean if your old man’s home, that is.” He leaned over and scratched where prosthesis met flesh.
Nosy neighbors like Barney were, as far as Tabby was concerned, covetous, perhaps not of material things, but of news and trivial information, anything to fill the idle emptiness of their skulls.
She picked up the last two cumbersome bags from the van’s bed and balanced them against her inclined chest. As she approached the front door, she could hear the static in her ears, a bio-noise that replaced her irritation with a pang of pride.
“He’s in God’s hands now,” she said and disappeared into the shaded house.
Tabby had finished preparing a casserole of rice, chicken, and broccoli with cheese as Lars returned from work in an anxious mood. He threw his visor with the embroidered arches of gold on the floor and told her, “Let’s eat.”
The palatable scent of home cooking was a welcome mask to the rot that had settled in the base of their lungs. Elbows on the table, Lars uttered few words. His movements were coupled with twitches, like a horse’s muscles in the presence of flies. Tabby noticed he blinked a lot.
Although their father had been quarantined for some time now, she would never get used to the second empty chair, which was now missing from the table altogether, nor did she ever really become comfortable with the first.
“Should we feed him?” she said, eyes fixated on the chair. “I mean, shouldn’t we be ready for when he returns? He’ll be hungry.”
Chewing, while scrutinizing the gangrenous mush on his plate, he said, “No.”
He drank more than half of the water in his glass, his throat expanding and compressing. After he wiped his lips on his forearm, he said, “Well, you’re right, but that’s not a concern right now.”
Disinterested, Lars allowed Tabby to place some non-perishables, a can opener, a plate, and eating utensils outside the guest bedroom door, so their father would be able to have something to eat without delay. She returned to the table feeling, if not at ease, at least complacent with the vacancy.
After his fifth bite of food, Lars pushed his plate away and said, “I’m going for a walk.”
Tabby was going to take a sip of soda from her glass but put it back on the table. “Didn’t you hear the thunder? It’s going to storm.”
His face was darkened by the shadows of his own features. “I didn’t hear anything. I need to walk.”
“I’ll come with you then.”
They traversed the pitted and fractured sidewalk, which held weeds that sprouted at odd angles, like mangled hands. Tabby, a few steps behind Lars, watched his irregular gait. All signs pointed to something wrong, but she didn’t know what.
Barney was sitting on his porch. He didn’t wave at them. With a stuffed lower lip, he leaned on his elbow, cocked his head, and spat brackish water over the side of the railing. He muttered something they could barely register, “Gunna have a light show in a few.”
Most of the front yards they passed were covered with misshapen patches of dirt and sand. Some were enclosed by lopsided metal fences. There was a wind that carried the minute scent of electricity, over the typical smell of engine exhaust.
Lars wasn’t speaking, so Tabby attempted to prod the issue. “Maybe we shouldn’t have put him in there.”
He spoke over his shoulder, “Why are you saying that?”
“Maybe we should have had the funeral, made sure his soul was sent safely.”
“Why are you talking as if he’s dead?”
Lars examined the dense, gray clouds that filled the sky, a sheer cliff.
A white bulldog, wrinkled in the face like wax cascading over the edge of a burning candle, ran at them as far as the length of the leash allowed, then barked with an instinctual ferocity, the collar occasionally choking, until Lars and Tabby were at an appropriate distance. Increasingly perturbed, Lars had made sure Tabby was by his side.
He eventually said, “I keep thinking about Grandma. I know Father didn’t talk about her much, only in the general sense of absence and presence.”
She placed a hand on his back. “What about her?”
Focused on the lunar surface of the sidewalk, he continued, “There were times Father and I spoke, and the inspiration and wistfulness, if I can call it that, was too much for him, and so the full story only came out piece by piece. I’m sure he told you how he had prayed for her, but as a fringe variable in the treatment. He had put his faith in the doctors and their cold ways.”
“After her death, he realized that all they ever see is data—actions and reactions. Not to say that it was their fault exactly, and Father hinted at this. Think of what it takes to cut into someone, whether it’s the chest or, in Grandma’s case, the brain. You have to turn off your soul, you have to really see the person as an object. For all intents and purposes, they’re already dead. The doctors, the nurses, they were all lost, just like Father had been. To right at least one wrong, he had planned to resurrect her, to heal her, like we’re doing, but when he went to pick up the body after being approved for a private burial they said they couldn’t find her.”
“Couldn’t find her? He never told me that.”
Baritone sounds whorled in the distant air and Tabby unsuccessfully tried to find the source.
“Can you believe it?” said Lars. “They said there must have been a mix up and they lost the body. Just like that. But this is the part he was wary of sharing with anyone . . . Father told me that he believed her faith had been its own divine seed, that it brought her back. He believed she walked right on out of that place, but then he couldn’t understand why she didn’t come home. That’s what got to him. Perhaps her memory had been wiped clean, the brain a blank slate. He studied historical accounts of resurrections, any relevant thing he could get his hands on, but they were never clear on that point, whether something like that could happen.”
“But what a chance, to start life all over again, to be fundamentally reborn. Or maybe there’s another reason, perhaps she ascended to heaven as mind and body.”
“As if the soul, in its purity, was flesh itself?”
“Or the flesh turned soul. That makes me feel so alive, Lars, the idea of it.”
“I don’t know. To lose one’s memory sounds like a curse.”
Lars never took stock in her theological ideas, and Tabby felt belittled by his lack of support or, at the very least, interest, which made her think that her mind, if not her body, was already on the chair, waiting to be alive again.
“But think of all the baggage memory puts on our soul,” she persisted, “without it we’re a step closer to being with Him, basking in His love.”
“Father told us we’d know when the time was right, and I think it’s now.” He turned toward her, his face devoid of sun and blood. “What have our lives amounted to? We have second-rate jobs, our family’s been severed, my girl is always giving me excuses. She and I haven’t even spoken in over a month. When, if not now, are we supposed to go on our mission? We must be ready and willing to do God’s work. He will guide us, He will give us a sign.”
“Isn’t this it? Tending to the return of Father?”
“No. I mean, I don’t think so. It’s part of it, surely, but there’s more.”
“What else is there?”
“I don’t know yet.”
The thunder echoed through the air like a collapsing titan, filling their chests with sonic sound. Yet the accompanying purple cracks in the sky were still missing.
“I want to go back, it’s getting worse.”
Lars grabbed her hand. “We’ll keep going.”
Over the course of months, they began to hear, not atomic or molecular structures, but tissues and organs revitalizing. The constriction of an aching colon, the snarl of an empty stomach, the wheezing of dust-ridden lungs, and, beneath it all, the shy beat of a heart reborn. One night, they heard the accumulation of that anatomic din in the form of a necromantic mumble: “Hmmm.” With that, they crept down the hallway. Lars produced a key from the pocket of his athletic shorts and carefully opened the padlock. They removed the tape from the door’s cracks with as little crinkling as possible. Upon pushing the door, a pocket of rancid and saccharine air encapsulated them in a bubble. They stayed inside this bubble, not wanting to rupture its sepia surface, and viewed the exhibition that was their father, in his pharaoh’s tomb: his naked and crumpled brow created the illusion that his bruised eyelids were open mauve holes, absent eyes. As if exposed to radiation, what little halo of hair he had retained by the end of his life had been whisked away, scattered among the droppings of rats. Arriving here from pathways mysterious and dank, the rodents had gnawed the toes of his clenched feet, exposing the bleached, talon-like tips of the distal phalanges. An obese and hirsute rat lay behind the afflicted ankle from which it had feasted, collapsed from gluttony or dead by food poisoning, the black, blank eyes transfixed, the chipped and mottled enamel of its bared teeth lusterless. The clothes Tabby chose for their father, a pressed button-up and dark slacks, had been reduced to nibbled threads by moth larvae. His purpled and blackened skin was both tight around his bones and excessively wrinkled, as when one stays in bathwater for too long. The now-adult moths clung to the ceiling like a carpet, their wings covered with the blinking eyes of owls. Most peculiar of all was the position of their father’s body: hunched over. This could be written off, perhaps, as some extremely delayed death throe or schism of dystrophic muscle in the lower back, if it wasn’t for the fact that the left forearm was placed on the knee of the left leg, wrist somewhat bent, hand in vague repose, with the elbow of his right hand poised atop the thigh of the same leg. His fist against his teeth, he thinks.