HOW LIFE HAPPENS
Then one day Billy and me found that pit full of bodies and figured we oughta start building coffins. 206 in the end. Cedar-grained and smooth to the touch. When word got out about our quality coffins, people demanded more. This, everyone, is how life happens. One day you’re a boy with his twin brother who stumbles upon two hundred-plus corpses, the next day you’re married, with 3 or so kids, and the Chief Executive Officer of the foremost manufacturer of caskets in the greater northeast.
Billy? I killed Billy. It was expected of me. Secretly, all parents of twins expect one to kill the other. Mine were no different. “But this is a surprise,” they said when I told them. “We always thought Billy’d kill you.” Me too. He was much larger than I and trained in jujitsu. That’s why I shot him in the back with a handgun. We were on the top of a mountain, where the crows were crowing and the bare trees looked like skeleton hands. The sky was gray as a mother wolf’s teat.
I walked home that night thinking about what my life would become. It became this: I have more money than I know what to do with. I have a wife. She is 2 parts flesh and 1 part silicone. Her face is the face of somebody trapped in a wind tunnel. She is a wonderful cook who loves making public donations to charities. The names of my children escape me. The youngest has googly eyes that the doctors can’t fix. Billy, that’s his name, named after my brother, who never got to meet his namesake.
I buried Billy in the single best coffin our company made, at that time. It had a flat-screen TV and a self-replenishing nacho bar in case he came back to life. I tossed a cell phone in the coffin as it was lowered into the ground. We buried him on an island off the coast of Maine. What a beautiful state, I thought, and later decided to buy it.
My wife thinks I have too many states. She still resents me for Maine and won’t go there. Like any couple we’ve got our troubles, and when those troubles flair up I fly her south, to the city I own in Bolivia, where we dance through the night until we forget about the things that make people sad. This is the way of the living. We dance away sadness, become sad once again, and hope to dance it off in the future. We so rarely succeed.
How to the dead avoid sadness? This no longer troubles me. When I die I will come back to life with the aid of 4,000 amperes of clean electricity. It is a very new and expensive procedure. I wish it had been around when Billy was murdered.
He’s taken to calling me recently, from that phone I dropped in his coffin. He complains mostly. The coffin’s too cramped. There’s nothing good on TV. He wants me to send him more chips (only the cheese replenishes). He says bugs are beginning to feast on his body. That is a shame, I tell him. I tell him what it’s like on the surface, how tall my children are getting. I talk about the Boston Red Sox and, because he’s forgotten, what the sky looks like in the morning. I brag about the cities I own. I’ve changed all their zip codes 80085 (Billy’s favorite number to type on a calculator). When I tell him this he makes a sound close to laughter.
I don’t bring up what’ll happen to me after death. I’m scared it’ll make Billy jealous. He’s not prone to forgiveness. For instance, he’s still mad that I murdered him. I wish I could tell him that living’s not so great, but I’d be lying. I wish I could make things right between Billy and me. I want to so badly. But I don’t make things right. Instead I grow old and slack. My back begins to hurt in the morning. My wife becomes a new woman. Or she is a new woman. It’s so hard keeping track at my age. The children grow up and get jobs making money. My wife makes money by leaving me. Billy stops calling.
With the strength I’ve got left I dig up his grave. The coffin is empty save for a half-eaten plate of cold nachos and the Brooks Brothers suit we buried him in. I lie down in the coffin and shut the lid. I watch TV. There is breaking coverage of me having a chat with the president. My hair looks so gray and brittle on screen. The president looks young. I grip the empty sleeve of Billy’s suit like it might give me comfort. I find his phone in the suit’s breast pocket. It’s got some battery left. I punch in my number, hit send, and put the phone to my ear, waiting to feel that soft droning buzz of his call in my pocket.