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corey mesler



 

 

Jim Cherry in the Otherworld

 

"Lead me, Jesus, lead me.
Oh, won't you lead me in the middle of the air. 
And if my wings should fail me
Won't you provide me with another pair."

           Traditional, from "Bury My Body"

 

On the second day, when Jim Cherry's chest pains continued, he began to contemplate his own mortality.

Not that Jim hadn't thought about death before; in fact, thoughts of death were Jim's comrades, his familiars.  He had always felt fragile, insubstantial, as ethereal as a soap bubble.  It was the consequence, he believed, of reading too many depressing novels in those formative years, the early twenties.

Now, here he was, 42, married, and with two small children.  It was marriage, fatherhood, which saved Jim from a life spent in contemplation of his own navel, so to speak, a life of self absorption and egocentric anxiety.  He had "grown up," as his wife, Sharilyn, told him.  He had quieted his "inner child."

And it was true, distaste for this kind of self-help psycho-babble aside.  Jim Cherry was a man, if not exactly whole (how many of us are?), then at a sort of cease-fire stage with his demons.  Formerly overwrought, even on the best of days, he now had times of mental leisure and happiness, times spent enjoying the nearby burble and whir of his children at play, content to laze in the Lazy-boy while his family ebbed and flowed around him.  This was a good time for Jim and he knew it and by knowing it compounded the sense of ease.

That morning, he called his wife from the travel agency where he worked, with a slight feeling of foreboding, but nothing, he felt, which would disrupt the stream of everydayness.

"What's up," Jim began, with a frail buoyancy.  Something like dyspepsia pinged under his sternum.

"I talked to Japan this morning.  Japan.  I am still of an age to marvel at that," Sharilyn said.  Sharilyn worked for a small publisher of children's books and, in her daily routine, used faxes, e-mail and the internet, but it constantly remained a source of wonder to her.

"I talked to Jackie," Jim deadpanned.  "Just like that.  Just opened up and spoke to him.  How about that?"

"Go ahead.  Be sportive."

"I don't feel right," Jim now said.

"What do you mean, right?"

"Funny."

"You don't feel funny?  You're funny enough."

"No, I feel funny.  Not right.  Maybe a pain in my chest."

"Really?"

"Yeah.  A slight pain.  Gas maybe?"

"Probably.  Do you think you ought to go to the emergency room?"

"Nah.  Gas probably.  I got some stuff to do here."

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

"Well, call me back if it gets worse.  Call me back anyway."

"All right.  Go talk to Somalia or some place.  Where's Somalia?"

"I don't know.  Love you."

When Jim got home that night neither he nor Sharilyn mentioned the pain in Jim's chest.  Sharilyn put it down to more hypochondria, more unnecessary worry.  After all, she had had years of Jim's neurotic responses to the world.

About eight o'clock that night Jim's chest pain was slightly more pronounced and he brought it up again.

"Jim, maybe you ought to go have it checked out.  They say not to mess around with chest pain."

"Yeah, I know.  Maybe I'll just go to the minor emergency clinic."

"You had such a bad experience there last time."

"I know.  What's the chances of getting that quack again?"

"Pretty good, I'd say."

"Nah, I'll just go there.  It's just around the corner."

Nathan, their six year old tumbled in just then.

"Where you going, Pop?"

"Just up to the doctor.  Nothing to worry about."

Jim drove himself to the clinic with some trembling in his limbs.  He hated these "Doc in a Box" places, with their peremptory approach to care.

The doctor there that evening was indeed the same one Jim had had a bad experience with before, a misdiagnosis of an infection which led to some hospital time.

"What's the problem, Mr. Cherry?" the runty, pompous physician said as he swept into the examining room.

"Just some minor chest pains."  Jim managed a tight smile.

"No such thing.  You're gonna have to go to the emergency room. I'm not equipped to handle chest pain here."

"Just like that?"

"Yep.  Jim, I can examine you and run you through some testing we have here, bill you for it, but in the end I'm gonna send you to the hospital.  Your choice."

"Well, hell.  I'll just go."

"Right, I'll take your name off the books here."

Jim sat in his car and fretted.  He didn't want to go to the emergency room.  He wanted to go home and kiss his kids good night and get in bed with his willowy wife and read his James Cain novel and sleep in his own bed.  But, knowing himself, knowing his worry over this would escalate, he drove the mile or so to the midtown emergency room and parked his car in the pay lot.

From a phone just inside the door he called Sharilyn.

"They sent me to the emergency room."

"Jim.  Why did they do that?"

"Oh, it was that little jerk again.  He couldn't take the responsibility so he passed on me.  It's all save my own ass in the medical field.  Anyway, here I am.  I'm fixing to get probed."

"You want me to come down.  I can get Ruth to pop over and stay with the kids."

"Nah.  I'll be here a while, I'm sure.  I'll call you."

But Jim made it through the labyrinth of hospital procedure surprisingly quickly, and rather than an overnight stay, which Jim had anticipated as a matter of course, he was released a few hours later, with the assuagement of a diagnosis of pleurisy.

Still, Jim was alarmed by the evening's disarray, and did not trust, that, just like that, he was back among the unscathed, the sturdy.

Sharilyn was reading in bed when Jim got home.  The house was as still as a moored ship, and this was Jim's favorite time of the day, when the children were safe in bed and the house was quiet and he and Sharilyn were chatting about the day's particulars, about the books they were reading, about the tiny progressions their kids were making in their voyages out into the world.  It was a time of peace and reassurance.

"Whad they say?" she asked immediately.

"Pleurisy."  Jim smiled.

"Well.  Thank God."

"Yeah."

"What do you do for that?"

"Take souped-up Midol apparently."

"Well, that's a relief."

"Yes."

"I'm glad you're home.  I thought for sure they'd keep you overnight."

"Me too, both things.  Man, they respond quickly when you use the phrase 'chest pains.'  They don't mess around."

"I'm glad."

"Yes.  Kids okay?  Angie's scrape healing up?"

"Yeah.  Katy said she talked about it all day, though.  Sort of a trauma and a badge of honor simultaneously."

"Ha.  Nathan go to sleep all right?"

"Usual skirmish.  He dropped off, though, in the middle of Ozma of Oz."

"You tired?  You gonna read some more?"

"No, I'm beat.  I was just waiting up to hear from you.  You?"

"I'm gonna have to read.  I'm a little wired, anxious.  You want me to go in the other room to read?"

"No.  I'm so zonked the light won't bother me."

"Good night then."

Jim Cherry was not overly secure about the doctor's prognosis and his doubt was not misplaced.  Jim died that night in his sleep, of, what they said was a major infarction.  He passed away quietly in his sleep with his willowy wife beside him and his children safe in their beds and his dreams full of medical procedures and women from his past and long, winding hallways like sets from Caligari, leading into more passageways, slanting and ominous, and eventually into darkness.

 

 

 

 

Jim Cherry's arrival in the afterlife was as uneventful as any of the tens of thousands of other arrivals that night, but to Jim it was a circumstance of major significance.  Suddenly, he was no longer in the confusing landscape of dream, but, instead, standing in a long waiting line, behind a fat science-fiction fan from St. Joseph, Iowa, and in front of a wizened old woman from Lima, Peru.  Jim blinked a few times at the solidity of his surroundings, the linoleum floor, the plastered walls, the claustrophobia of the hall down which the queue wound.  There was something antiseptic, officious about the corridor, like a corridor in a public building.  The transition from dream to reality, if reality this was, was seamless, and Jim was understandably disconcerted.

"What the hell?" he muttered, craning his neck down the line.

"Let's hope not," the bespectacled fatty said, not even looking up from his E.E. "Doc" Smith novel, whose cover bore the expected buxom space princess in scanty attire.

"Are we dead?" Jim asked, in a voice already small, but made smaller by the echo-less enclosure of the hallway.

"Seems so," the man now said, looking over his glasses for the first time at Jim.

"Damn."

"You must stop assuming the worst," the man said and smiled.  Jim discovered he was joking.  He was dead and joking.

Jim shuffled forward with the other anesthetized deceased.  He felt disembodied, not exactly at ease but not exactly apprehensive either.  A heavy lethargy pulled at his limbs and he could only manage to move forward a scoot at a time.  His chest pain was gone.  He was still in his pajamas.

The longer he stood in line the longer the line grew behind him.  Suddenly there was a man in lumberjack attire and then, just as suddenly, a little Asian girl behind him, dressed in a swimming suit.  She whimpered quietly at first, but then settled in, moving forward with the same robotic gracelessness as her fellow attendees.

Finally, there were only a handful of people between Jim and the front desk, a sort of raised podium, upon which were engraved the words:  Malice toward none, charity toward all.  Jim felt better reading this.

Behind the scrutoir sat a middle-aged man, scribbling in the inevitable ledger.  He was dressed like a banker from the 1930s, tight little vest and tie knotted taut up against his prominent adam's apple.

He looked up at Jim as Jim said, "Abraham Lincoln."

The man appeared startled.

"Heh?"

"I said 'Abraham Lincoln'."

The man looked to his ledger.

"I have here James Fenimore Cherry."

"Oh, right.  That's me."

"Then why confuse me?" the man snorted.

"I was commenting on the quote on your desk.  It's Abraham Lincoln."

"Sure it is."

"Isn't it?" Jim asked, sheepishly, remembering where he was.

"Mr. Cherry?"

"Right."

"You've completed your life sentence, as you may gather, and you are set now to move on."

"Is this heaven?"

"Sure, sure."

"Not the other place?"

"The other place?"

"Um, hell, you know."

"Sure, sure."

"It is?"

"Is what?"

"Hell."

"Mr. Cherry, this is a way station.  I am the waystationmaster, Mr. Shrive."

"Ah.  So, if I may be so bold, am I set for heaven or hell?"

"These terms are meaningless here in the otherworld.  You will, when we finish here, move on.  That's all I can tell you for that's all I know."

"Ok.  What do we need to do?"

"Just a few quick questions."

"Uh, Mr. Shrive, before I answer questions, may I ask one?"

"Yes, Mr. Cherry?"

"Is there I chance I might go back?"

"Go back?"

"To the world.  To my life."

"Oh.  No.  No chance.  Highly irregular.  Not that we don't get asked, but really, Mr. Cherry.  It's normally the very young who ask.  You were after all given 15,447 days.  A quite sufficient time.  You were never promised more."

"Yes, I know.  But I have young children."

"Hardly unusual, Mr. Cherry.  Many die with young children.  The little ones, they survive, live quite productive lives, or not, as the case may be.  Nothing to be done about it, leastwise on this end."

"Are you suggesting I could have done something differently, stretched my time out, done more with what I was given?"

"I'm not here for a philosophical discussion.  Predestination, all that.  Probably a few fewer hot dogs, not so much salt.  Who's to say, Mr. Cherry?"

"You I would think."

"No, no, sir.  I am not in that position, not privy to that kind of information.  Merely a speculation on my part.  Now we need to move on.  Got quite a few behind you as you can see."

"Yes, but, Mr. Shrive.  I didn't finish Ozma of Oz.  I didn't even kiss Angie good night."

Here Mr. Shrive paused.  A slight tremor seemed to run through him and he put down his scrivening tool.  A silence fell over the hallway.  This was enough to ignite a minute hope in Jim Cherry like a freshly lit pilot light.

“I didn’t finish Ozma of Oz,” he repeated.

When Mr. Shrive spoke again, it was with a small catch in his voice, which he cleared with a cough, as if he were caught being unprofessional.

"Mr. Cherry," he said.  "Jim.  What would you have us do?"

Jim brightened slightly.  "Then there is a process available, a, a way of dealing with exceptions."

"Now, now.  Of course, there are provisions.  Not that there are mistakes made.  Ever.  But, occasionally, one runs up upon, what we might call, circumstantial grace.  But, this is rare, Mr. Cherry."

"Jim."

"Jim.  Let me make a few things clearer.  Let me outline one or two situations, see if that helps us here.  One such, ah, exception involves returning as a ghost, a spirit.  This, as I said, is rare, but in cases of murder, unnatural catastrophes, etc., occasionally a temporary return visa is granted, and one goes back as a bit of differentiated ether, a preta.  Does this appeal to you, uh, Jim?"

Jim hung his head and thought.  "Not really, Mr. Shrive.  I mean, it might scare the children, traumatize them, hardly what I had in mind."

"Quite."

"So?"

"So, there are few other choices."

"But there are other choices.  Please, Mr. Shrive, let's not linger over this.  You tease me."

"Mr. Cherry, these things are not done lightly.  It is required of me that I make this as exacting as possible.  This is not a swinging door."

"Forgive me.  It's just that, if there's anything you can do."

"A second procedure returns the deceased to his body shortly after the time of death, but this can be most unpleasant.  Unfortunately, the body, having already died, begins to putrefy, and we have a sort of death-in-life effect, a nosferatu, if you will.  Again, not what we would wish upon our children."

"But, a third possibility?"

"Well, Jim," and here Mr. Shrive's voice dipped lower, "There are imperfections with the third procedure, kinks, you see."

"Kinks?"

"Well, in Procedure 3, Antithanatocoenosis, the individual is placed back in the body immediately preceding the moment of delivery--"

"Well, now we're talking, I mean, if you can do that--"

"Mr. Cherry, please.  The process is rarely used and there have been a few unfortunate, well..."

"I don't care.  It's the only chance I have, yes?"

"It would seem so, in this instance, yes."

"Damn the risks," Jim expostulated.

"Mr. Cherry, please."

 

 

 

 

Jim Cherry awoke next to his willowy wife, whose chocolate hair spread out on the pillow next to him like a beautiful stain.  She was breathing lightly and he could smell her slightly sour exhalations.  It was just before six a.m.  He knew again the peace of his still and secure domicile; he could almost feel his children, nearby, breathing in their beds.

He pulled the covers from his wife's prone form and bent his face over her sleeping body, inhaling its humanness.  He ran a hand over the sheer material of her nightgown and she stirred.  His hands crept up under the nightie and caressed the flesh he had so often caressed before.  He ran one hand around the spreading curves of her buttocks with light pressure, while the other hand ran from breast to breast.  He was learning her anew.  He was reinvented and reinventing.

He gently parted her legs and she was warm there, and, as always, moist like loam.  She opened her eyes with mild surprise and a few moments later smiled in genuine pleasure.

"Mm, Jim, honey," she said and nuzzled her head in behind his ear.

"Morning sex.  It's been so long," she murmured.

Jim entered his wife and rocked with her like a boat at sea, and when he came he wanted to shout "Hallelujah!" 

"Jesus, Jim," Sharilyn said, rolling over.  "You flooded me.  What are you, eighteen again?  You devil you."

And Jim Cherry ran to his children and swept their sleepy bodies into his arms and acted very much like a man given a second chance at life, throwing love about like poppies and weeping the tears of the just.

The days passed in quick succession for Jim Cherry and, though his daily routine had changed little, he pursued every activity with a sense of purpose pretty much disappeared from human endeavor and with a relish for the smallest joy.  His family embraced his new personality and the exhilaration spread like a flu through them and it was as if life had been recast.  The world was the world but the Cherrys chased their every dream and lived for every moment and it was bliss, pure and simple, though nothing pure is ever simple and vice versa.

The worm in the apple, if you'll pardon the metaphor, soon became apparent and Jim recognized it for what it was, the flowering of Mr. Shrive's prediction.

The case was this:  Jim had a trivial though plaguesome affliction in his speech patterns.  Specifically, he had trouble using the proper nouns for the objects of the world.  Not proper nouns like those with capitals, but the correct nouns.  He would as easily call an automobile a flyswatter as a flyswatter a waitress.  It was disconcerting, in a minor irritation sort of way, and Jim took it in stride.  It was a small price to pay after all.

Early on, Sharilyn was perplexed, even distressed.  She feared Jim had developed a brain lesion.  It seems she had read something or other about this, perhaps it was in one of Oliver Sacks' books, people who couldn't recognize things for what they were.  Or, no, recognized them but couldn't name them.

One morning Sharilyn found Jim cursing in the kitchen and when she asked what the matter was, he looked at her with the stupefaction of a small child.

"I was trying to make Nathan a handbill," he said and he looked saddened by his inability to communicate.  It was as if he had Alzheimers.

"Toast," Sharilyn said.

"Yes, toast," Jim said, nodding.  "It's exactly that.  Toast."

"Jim, what is it?  Lately, you seem confused.  You're not drinking, are you?"

Jim was almost amused by this misplaced concern.

"Nah.  Shar, it's nouns."

"Nouns."

"Right.  I can't always count on using the correct one."  And then, almost to himself.  "An insignificant problem, if that's the worst of it."

And Sharilyn put her arms around him and found the burnt crust which was jamming the toaster and life went on.

But, things began to snowball, communication-wise, and at work especially Jim knew a new embarrassment.  He began to see how life must be for the handicapped, the lame, the mentally troubled.  The polite looks of bewilderment were weighing.

Once he asked a fellow worker for her epitaph, when all he wanted was to file a hangnail down.  And, once when Nathan's teacher had called to talk over a minor behavioral problem with his son, Jim had asked her if Nathan's penis was a problem for her.  He meant handwriting but, understandably, it took some straightening out.  From then on, Sharilyn was left in charge of much of the family communication with the workaday world.

It took a while, also, for the children to understand, especially little Angie.  Playing Monopoly with Nathan one evening he told his son he owed 34 mulligrubs.  Nathan looked exasperated as much with his father's inanity as with landing on his property.

"Daddy talks funny," Angie said.

"Sorry," Jim said.  "It's those cabbages again."

"Eh?"

"He means nouns, kids," Sharilyn said.

"Nouns, right."

But, as the days went on, this mumpsimus became just another strand of the fabric of their lives, troublesome, annoying, but life was rich and multivaried and Jim Cherry was still inhaling large draughts of rarefied air.

One day at work, as Jim sat at his desk, looking over new brochures from the Cayman Islands (apparently there was a city on Grand Cayman Island called Hell and its dead, black, moonsurface drew Jim's attention like an omen), Jim's fax began printing a message without the phone having rung.  Jim looked at the machine with a sort of dazed half-interest.

He checked the ringer and it was on.

He pulled the weightless page from the machine and, before reading it, put it to his nose and sniffed, just like he used to do with his mimeographed tests in school.  The effect was Proustian:  it smelled exactly like silly putty.  At the top of the page, in large block letters was this masthead:  

 

                                                  OTHERWORLD, INC.

 

And the message ran:

Mr. Cherry, please meet me in Overton Park, East playground, bandstand.  Today.  1 p.m.

 

                                                        Sincerely,
                                                               J. Shrive

 

Jim was quite surprised by this missive.  Perhaps the door between worlds swung a little more freely than Mr. Shrive had let on.  Jim could barely repress his jitters, a mix of nervous expectation and fear, until his lunch break.  On the drive over to the park he nervously changed radio stations every few notes until he landed on an old Beatles tune, always a balm.

The last chord of "Let it Be" resounded as Jim switched off the engine of his Corolla.  From where he parked he could see a phantom figure in the shadowy umbra of the bandstand.  Unmistakably it was Mr. Shrive, hunched forward on a bench, tossing crumbs to the strutting and muttering pigeons.

"St. Francis," Jim said as he approached.

"What?"  Mr. Shrive looked startled.

"Forget it," Jim said.

"Thank you for being so prompt," Mr. Shrive said, rising and extending a bony hand.

"Right," Jim said and the two men sat on the spattered bench.

"I imagine my note was a bit of a surprise," Shrive began.

"Quite."

"Not normal procedure, I'm afraid."

Jim contemplated his benefactor with a look of querulous bemusement.

"What's different about my case, then, Mr. Shrive?  Am I doing something wrong?  Is there a protocol to getting your life back, a proper way of handling renewed mortality?"

"Not in the way you're imagining.  And your case, well, it is different, Mr. Cherry.  I'm afraid there was no good reason to send you back, no overwhelming justification."

"A whim, then.  A whim on your part?"

"Not on my part, no.  You continue to overestimate my importance.  A whim from higher up, to use your vernacular.  An experiment, if you will.  We've been having so much trouble with Procedure 3, we, that is, others, um, in the Otherworld, decided to give you another go in the hope that we could see our way a little more clearly, in the hope we could refine the program.  You are, in a way, helping us.  Um, Mr. Cherry."

"Glad to," Jim said with a wink.  "Don't mind being a cosmic guinea pig at all."

"Good.  Quite what I hoped you would say.  Because there is a little more to the experiment."

"Ah.  A catch."

"No, no.  It's just that this seems to be going quite well, no, um, glitches that we're aware of..."

"Except my noun problem."

"Oh, yes.  Forgot that.  Not too troublesome, eh?"

"I can live with it."

"Yes.  Right.  That's the spirit, Jim."

"And the furthermore?"

"What?"

"What's the little more to the experiment?"

"Oh, ah.  We, that is, my, um superiors, would like you to procreate."

Jim was stunned into speechlessness.  What an absurd request, he thought, and what cheek.

"Impossible," he said at last.

"Why so?"

"Well, I have two wonderful children, I'm getting a little too old to raise any more, and, besides, Sharilyn has had her tubes tied, complications after Angie and all.  It's impossible."

"Sharilyn's little malfunction can be brushed aside in a twinkling.  She can be made quite ready.  All we need is a willingness to proceed from you."

Jim thought hard.  He tried to order his thoughts, squinting out at the picnickers at nearby tables, at one toddler who was digging rancid chicken bones out of a bee-devilled trash container while his oblivious parents sat in miserable silence.  The sun, directly overhead, burned down with a dazzle which washed the scene of its edges.  And Jim's heart opened to the child, to all the children.  Yes, he thought, I could raise another.

"Ok, Mr. Shrive," Jim said finally.  "I'll father again. But what do you hope to prove by this?"

"Nothing much, Jim.  Just checking out all the equipment so to speak.  Oiling the infinite works, see.  Don't you worry about that end.  You'll hear no more from me.  It will be as if none of this ever happened and you are free to live your happy and love-laden life, governed solely by your own will."

 

 

 

 

And this is the way it was.

Jim Cherry drank in his existence, day to day, with the same sort of tenderness and vigor he had been utilizing in this the second half of his life.  He and Sharilyn made love, passionately and often, and, if she sensed a purpose behind the fervor she mentioned it not.  She only held on and reveled, grasping her Jim, her mate in the journey.

And it came to pass that Sharilyn woke one morning with a familiar nausea, a fluttering in her vitals which she remembered and knew for what it was.  She was fearful.  What type of ensorcelment was this?  A false pregnancy to bait her, to reemphasize her inert apparati?  She felt, initially, that something was wrong, something insidious, destined to foul up her contentment, her fresh, new life.  Grit in the cream.

She didn't know how to broach the subject with Jim.  But, one evening after bathing both children and seeing them off to sleep, she settled next to her husband and took a preliminary deep breath.

"What?" Jim said immediately.

"Honey," Sharilyn whispered, her voice hoarse with emotion, misgiving.

"Shar, Godsake, what's wrong?" Jim spoke now, quickly, afraid one of the children had a lump again (an early parenting panic).

"I'm p-p-pregnant," she sobbed.

Jim waited a beat, preparing his feigned astonishment.

"Jesus," he said, running a hand through his hair.  It was a performance.  "How.  How could you be?"

"I don't know," Sharilyn said, now shaking with gulps of feeling.  "I took the test though.  It's positive.  Positive."

"Oh migod."

"I know."

"When did you suspect?  I mean, had you missed a logo?"

"Period?"

"Of course."

"Yes.  I mean, I guess.  You know I haven't been that regular.  I just figured it was something I didn't need to keep track of anymore.  Oh, Jim.  Should I be miserable?"

"Oh, Shar."

"I mean, I don't know.  Is this something we can do?"

Jim appeared to think it over, studio-wrestling with the thorny predicament.

"Yes.  Yes, Sharilyn, if you want to.  I'm prepared to do it."

Sharilyn threw her arms around her foolishly grinning spouse and Jim beamed with the satisfaction of a dumbshow well executed.  Sharilyn relaxed into her husband's determination and assurance, her life reconfiguring, crystallizing around her like a house of ice.  It was all new, it was really all new.

As the months accumulated and the visits to the midwife became part of the routine again and the children adjusted to a different future, in which their parents love was spread even thinner, like spider web, like Elastic Plastic, the Cherrys reconfirmed their abiding familial togetherness.  They were quite a sight to see, and the neighbors whispered about what a model family they were as if reporting indiscretions.  And it was practically shameful the way they radiated gratification, an unintentional happier-than-thou aura.

Sharilyn's water broke one Tuesday evening in November like the twanging of a single guitar string.  Practiced in this now the Cherrys knew the signs, were comfortable with the amount of time they had, calmly called Katy to take the kids, called the midwife who assured them she would be there on time and she would call ahead to the hospital and arrange the arrangements, grabbed their prepacked bag and drove the seven point three miles to St. Thomas Hospital.

And as prepared as they were, the birth, like all births, was concurrently a thing of magisterial beauty and a plunge into suprahuman pandemonium.

Babel, hysteria, benevolence.  Those crowded moments, flashes of light, as if divine.  The rush of faces and hands, and during all this Jim Cherry, outside of time, felt a clutching in his chest.  The delivery room, the room of delivery.  Deliver me, O Lord...

And during all this Jim Cherry felt the clutching in his chest, the flutter there, and was in short afraid.  Afraid this was it, all he had left, these frenetic moments, his wife grimfaced and clenched, the noisy mouths around him, swallowing up all air, all sense.  He felt foreign to it, foreign to all of life, a spectre, an uneasy presence. 

But Jim Cherry did not die there.  He did not.  He survived to hold his wife the morning after and kiss her wrinkled brow and tell her how brave she was.  Jim Cherry died two days later, in a Walgreens parking lot, where he had ventured on a mission for his expanding family.  He drove out that evening for sanitary napkins for his sanguinolent wife, who bled the blood of life onto their full-sized bedsheets, who bled so that their son Chris could be born, could enter this sad old world with every prospect of a long and fruitful life. 

And he died, Jim Cherry, quietly, in the front seat of his car, behind his steering wheel, in a Walgreens parking lot, his last sight, an old man with a handful of fliers, begging, sad-eyed, preaching to no one.

Jim Cherry lived long enough, though, to bring his new son home, swaddled in hospital-issue blankets, tightly wound around his delicate little frame.  Jim Cherry lived long enough to unwrap the boy and marvel at his evanescent flesh, smell the sticky black meconium, like something infernal, in his first diaper, to rub the feathery little nubs on each shoulder blade where the child's inchoate wings poked through.

Jim felt those preliminary, aliform growths, and he thought about his life and its pied beauty, its embarrassment of riches, and he thought about Mr. Shrive, and the Otherworld, and the plan, and Jim Cherry saw it all whole, just for a moment and for the first time, and he thought that it was good.

 

 

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COREY MESLER is the owner of Burke’s Book Store, in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the country’s oldest (1875) and best independent bookstores.  He has published poetry and fiction in numerous journals including Rattle, Pindeldyboz, Quick Fiction, Cranky, Thema, Mars Hill Review, Poet Lore and others.  He has also been a book reviewer for The Memphis Commercial Appeal.  A short story of his was chosen for the 2002 edition of New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, published by Algonquin Books.  Talk, his first novel, appeared in 2002.  Nice blurbs from Lee Smith, John Grisham, Robert Olen Butler, Frederick Barthelme, and others.  He has a new novel, We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon, due out in 2005 from Livingston.  His latest four poetry chapbooks are Chin-Chin in Eden (2003) and Dark on Purpose (2004), Short Story and Other Short Stories (2006), and The Heart is Open (2006).  He also claims to have written, "I’m Henry the 8th I Am."  Most importantly, he is Toby and Chloe’s dad and Cheryl’s husband.