This was where they had “buried” the man. Not buried in the traditional sense, but more in the we've-got-a-plot-and-a-headstone-so-the-hell-with-it sense. He was actually contained in an urn mounted on an oak mantle (the casualty of a last minute will change), above the fireplace of Richard Bell's mother's living room. His figurative remains, however, were on display next to three family plots. Annalee Bell, October 31 1909 - June 4 1996, Beloved wife and mother. Carl Bell, May 15 1912 - April 9 2001, Never missed a beat. The last inscription was unreadable aside from the epitaph, which read If music be the food of love, play on.
Richard Bell thought the whole business of the headstone in front of him a great waste. He felt sure that if the dead were to rise again, the skeletons would certainly knock on William Bell's grave and wonder why he should sleep so long. Richard thought himself a skeleton in this chilly January graveyard, standing with his arms wrist-deep in his coat pockets. The gravestone he stood in front of read William Bell, November 26 1958 - January 5 2010, I was trapped in history and history was trapped in me. The skeleton stared at the last line until it stared back at him, and then he focused his vision on the impenetrable horizon of weathered marble graves that surrounded him on all sides.
“Should I say something to mark the occasion?” he asked the graves of Carl and Annalee, smiling crookedly, “Maybe some Keats. Nah, too European.”
The graves made no sound.
“The World Is Too Much With Us?” he waved his arms at the dead stones. “Eh, not like you care.”
He stared at the headstones a little longer, then turned away and marched toward his '66 Rambler Marlin. He had been away from home for three days now since his grandfather had died, and it was going to be something close to a heaven to spend a night in his own bed.
His bed. He warmed at the thought, even though it meant that he would have to be around his insufferable roommates. He'd screened three drunken voice-mails from them the night previous, loudly inquiring whether Richard was going to make it to the social gathering being held the next night at his house, known as The King's Court. The Court was a run-down two story party house that hadn't failed to smell like moldy cheese and keg beer since the late eighties, according to the Sigma Phi Epsilon alumni that would occasionally wash up there on party nights for a free beer and a chance at wooing a lady or two. It was a particularly nasty place.
He turned the key in the ancient ignition and it gave a pleasant whine. He liked the car, liked the feel of it as it kicked up gravel behind him while he let the graveyard grow small in his rear view mirror, liked the grime of memories that still lay plastered to the dashboard and the smell of the old leather that filled his nostrils as the chunks of Arkansas countryside flew by.
“Will you do something for me?” asked Dee Bell, snatching a tall hurricane glass from the top shelf, “Will you please not forget to change the oil in your car, again? I'm tired of your father calling to tell me that your car was just on the verge of exploding. It makes me feel... uneasy.” She dropped three blocks of ice into the glass, then pulled a bottle of Smirnoff from the freezer.
“I won't forget.”
“Thank you. We've got enough problems without you careening down Route 66 in flames.”
Like genetic alcoholism, Richard held in. He stood with his back against the kitchen counter, staring at William Bell's remains on the aged mantle, bookmarked between a dusty Bible and a copy of the USA Road Atlas, circa 1993. The mantle seemed the wrong place.
“Are you heading back today?” his mother wondered aloud.
“Yep. It's Jonathan's birthday tonight.”
“Is he the one with the mohawk?” William Bell would never have consented to being kept in such a wretched place, Richard thought.
“Yes, mom. And... the personality disorder. And the evil stepmom.”
“Well be careful. I don't want any more phone calls, or busted kneecaps,” she worried while stirring in the Bailey's and milk she had poured into her drink. Richard kept his silence on the issue. She had no room to speak on matters of alcohol or accidents (of which he considered himself the latter, involving the former), but he wasn't one to pick fights. Suddenly, he felt the uncontrollable need to get William out of this house. He started off suddenly and almost around the corner before his mother looked up from her drink.
“I'll be right back!” he yelled, “I forgot to say bye to Trevor.” He was out the door before the name was even uttered. He hadn't spoken to Trevor Lesky in three years.
The gentlemen sat a piece of music on the old piano and began to play Beethoven's Sonata No. 14. The piece dared to put the boy in a trance, but he maintained composure. He didn't want to look tired or bored. He waited it out until the last note had faded into the wallpaper, then spoke.
“Grandpa, how'd you learn to do that?”
The gentleman turned to him.
“I like to think it's a gift. God gives us lots of gifts. Like this piano, here. You know we've had this thing for thirty-two years?” Richard didn't care much for the piano itself. “And being saved from an eternity of sadness by Jesus dying on the cross for us! He gave us his own flesh and blood so that we didn't have to live forever in Hell, and could join Him in Heaven! These are things we should never take for granted.”
“You mean we ate him?” The boy stiffened. He lacked the mental willpower to get the image of the Twelve Apostles chowing down on the Holy Son out of his mind, and the intestinal fortitude to hold back the inevitable 'urp' that came from it.
“Not actually. He passed out the bread and the wine at his last feast with his friends, and told them that they were his body and blood. They ate it so that they could be like him and go to Heaven,” said the gentleman. He flipped a few pages and began on another piece, leaving the boy with the image of the One Son spread across a buffet table, his innards strewn about, and his blood dripping down the face of Judas.
Three hours later, the supplies had been purchased, and the plan was hatched. Richard pulled the Rambler into his mother's driveway as the sun began to set, casting an eerie orange glow on the perfectly kept garden. Two coffee cans sat idle in his passenger seat, both emptied of coffee, one full of dry Redi-Mix concrete.
He worked quickly. Pouring the contents of the urn into the empty Folgers can, Richard considered the heresy of what he was doing. This was quite worthy, he thought, of getting taken out of whatever little will there was to be had. Setting the empty urn on the kitchen counter, he began to pour the dry cement into it.
“Rick? Is that you?” his mother rasped from upstairs. Richard froze in a sudden, unexpected bout of shame.
“Yes, mom! Do you need anything?” He shouted. His hands, glued to the Folgers can half-full with dry cement, shook for a moment, then remained still.
“If I could get a glass of water, that'd be great.”
Richard slowly sat the Folgers can on the counter and rushed to the faucet, pulling the largest cup possible out of the cabinet and filling it from the tap. After dropping a couple ice cubes in, he half-ran upstairs to find his mother curled up with a blanket, the television paused on a scene from Riding In Cars With Boys. He eagerly handed the water to his mother, who with a somber face switched him out for an empty glass smelling of vodka and cream. She smiled at him in thanks, and he awkwardly stood in front of her for a moment before he spoke.
“I think I'm gonna leave in a minute.”
“That's fine. I'll see you in a few weeks then, for your recital,” she choked out, her mascara pooled in rivers a half-inch down her face.
“Love you, mom.”
“You too, honey.”
Richard crept downstairs and returned to the task at hand, managing to pour all of the cement into the urn with only a few fatal spills. After cleaning up the mess, he transferred the urn to the mantle, the coffee cans to his car, and himself back on the road to Dixon.
The boy dragged the gentleman by the hand across the empty playground.
“You hafta see him!” he shouted enthusiastically. About twenty feet from the edge of the soft mulch, the duo stumbled upon the collapsed body of a cat, blood leaking from the underbelly. The gentlemen leaned down to inspect the poor creature, its breathing harsh and uneven.
“I'm...” the gentleman faltered for a split-second. “I'm gonna see what I can do,” the gentleman finally whimpered softly. “Go wait in the car, kiddo.”
The boy paused, then darted from the gruesome scene, hopping into the passenger seat of the vintage Benz. He didn't dare to look in the gentleman's direction. After a few minutes the gentleman returned, plopping himself into the driver's seat and staring straight ahead into the empty tennis courts. His eyes narrowed as he exhaled slowly.
“Is he dead, grandpa?”
“I'm afraid so. It had to go be with its old friends.”
“Grandpa Bill, do you think he ate Jesus?” the boy asked. The gentleman, puzzled, stared with his narrowed eyes into those of the boy.
“What do you mean?”
“You know. The Disciples ate Jesus and they were like him, so they went to Heaven. Do you think the kitty went to Heaven?”
The gentleman flattened his back against the hot leather seats. A thin layer of blood lay across the last four letters of “Mercedes” next to the accelerator pedal.
“I don't know, buddy. I wish I could tell you.”
As Richard opened the back door of The King's Court, he pushed a cardboard box of recyclables away with his foot and proudly strode into the kitchen, his hand running along the side of the fridge. It felt right to be home. He noticed a laundry hamper, tag intact, sitting on top of the gas oven, with the words “Don't Snort Me” marked in loud letters across the side. He leaned over the hamper and the harsh scent of alcohol hit his nose, the Folgers can falling from his right elbow with a loud clang. This must have been the secret concoction his roommates had told him about in the voice-mails.
He turned to the coffee can and stared down past the clear lid into the ashes below. He experienced the sensation of the top of the can moving slowly closer towards him, as if it were presenting itself to him.
You mean we ate him?
Perhaps this was the final ingredient, a tiny bit of William Bell, just to give them a day or two of excellence. He didn't dare give them the whole body. That kind of wonder was reserved for him alone.
Tearing off the lid and reaching in, Richard Bell tore a tiny piece of his grandfathers burned remains from the Folgers can. Just enough to spice up the drink, he thought. He emptied the tiny handful of grains of ash into the liquid, stirring with the ladle provided, and they disappeared in three stirrings. The kitchen regained its color, and Richard felt as if he could see William Bell through all that alcohol, sitting on a piano bench, coaxing a Mozart from the keys.
Written by Zack Reeves,
Cover illustration by Daniel Payne.