"Raise the Dead"
A young father wrestles with his newborn’s baptism as the date approaches.
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And now, this month’s story….
“Raise the Dead”
Copyright ©William Auten
Not a cat or a dog—I notice right away, hitting my hazards and roof lights. And not a log from those big semis that pass through. At least I don’t think so when I pull up. Lots of tire tracks over the body, and the original pair—or a fender—has long gone. Closest neighborhood is a couple miles west of here, and those folks are too rich to let their pets get so close to the highway. But the stench was coming in with the mess, which always gets the callers. I double-check my brake. The ditch is full of snowmelt and a rust-colored trickle. I’d say the Devil teased whatever it is into the road, if I believed in the Devil.
I set out traffic cones and figure my gloves, a trash bag, and the axe will be enough. After cars whiz by and make more work for me, I return for the shovel but keep the axe and wait for a break to step through. Most of these happen this time of year when animals get fidgety for what they haven’t smelled or seen in months. Spring’s got that bait. Anything with life has got to let it back out, and I clean them up as quick as they went Boom! I’m never surprised when these hits happen, like when a curtain is yanked back and you knew what was behind it.
Humpy’s truck pulls up when I reach the body. “You want some lunch?”
I glance at his dash. “It’s ten-fifteen.”
“They had me fill in for Broicker on his mom’s surgery. I’ve been out on Gilmore all morning. And it’s almost the weekend.”
“You got some time to kill before that.”
His tongue rolls over his dentures before he stuffs a pinch of dip. “What do you call the one guy standing around and smoking by a backhoe while the sewer pipe continues to spew out?”
I hack a couple times at the rear leg snagged in a crack in the asphalt.
“The supervisor. What do you call the crew the supervisor’s waiting on? A union break.” He waves an SUV through after it slows down and the kids in the back take a long look—the boy wrinkling his nose and the girl faking throwing up. “You ready?”
“I just got here.”
He looks over the mess. “What was that?”
“I have no idea.” I stop myself from picking it up.
“Here.” He reaches down to help.
“Man, I got it!” My fist taps the shovel handle. I calm down a bit. “Thanks though.”
He chuckles at what’s left on the road. “Did you know it? I know you didn’t say a prayer for it.” He winks. “Poor thing. It’s died and headed for the Pearly Gates of the incinerator where mean ol’ Sonny will just slide it in like pizza.”
“Just like it came into this world.”
I work on the carcass—hacking, scooping, pings of metal, sloshing. Traffic picks up, thins out, picks up. Humpy lounges in his truck, spits, fiddles with the radio. I toss the bag in the back of my truck and close the top. For a second, the bag draws my eyes. “Where you wanna go for lunch?”
“That’s downtown.” I gather up the cones.
“You got a thing against downtown now?”
I kick off the brake and kill the roof lights but keep on the hazards. “I’ll see you down there.”
Humpy slaps the outside of his door. “I’ll get us our favorite spot by the window. But no flowers for you because of your sass. And it ain’t even noon yet.” He grins as his truck rattles off.
Traffic flows around me like before Humpy, me, or the animal arrived. I stare in the rearview mirror at the bed where the bag sits, tagged with the date, time, location, and NO I.D. Something gritty sticks on my fingertips, and I wipe them on my leg. I double-check I wore my gloves. Whatever I picked up wasn’t a dog or a cat, and it wasn’t a deer or a raccoon or anything I’ve been in called in for along here.
I kill my hazards. I have nothing against downtown. I don’t have anything against eating lunch this early. Hell, if I can sneak one in, I may have a shot of bourbon—open the doors to the weekend. Everyone at Ruth’s teases me about asking me for my ID, and I got my first strings of gray hair this month, which is about right for me and this week biting down. I don’t have anything against eating in the same place Humpy and I always eat. The church Jamie has planned for Lena’s baptism is down there, and I have to remind myself it’s not about me, but about the things I once believed, and when that Sunday comes, it will ask me to wear a mask for a moment—for my daughter. It’s not my old church from my youth. It’s where I used to go to with Jamie, and it hasn’t gone anywhere, but I have. I haven’t seen it after we got married there and stopped going to the class for young couples balancing bills and babies. Whether I’m awake or asleep or at work or home, whether I hold Lena or anything from the road, I’ve been seeing it everywhere I go—ever since Jamie wanted to put Lena’s life in the church and I haven’t.
Jamie’s in the shower when I get home, which means she had a long practice and pushed the girls by sprinting with them, bringing them, she likes to say, “to tears or to face their fears” and beating all of them except Whitney who, according to Jamie, will blow away her records faster than Jamie set them and will end up with a full ride to one of the smaller schools in the area unless she gets her grades up. And when she brings this up, her face and tone always say You could help her like you did with me. Math is not Whitney’s strength, like Jamie, but she was average enough to pass. But not science. We spent a lot of our early dates studying. But volunteering at our old high school is not on my horizon the way Jamie volunteers there after work—and Coach Mayer is still there and embarrasses and praises her in front of the seniors who were freshman the year we graduated.
Lena giggles and flaps her arms when we see each other in her playpen. I wiggle my nose at her, and we head for the kitchen, taking our time because she crawls and toddles near my leg and grabs it whenever she needs a balance.
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