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later: Sally, a massage therapist, Dexter, a city planner, and Leeanne, a mom. Leeanne was the friendliest. She wore a Hands Across America sweatshirt, and a crystal on a braided necklace that looked like the lanyards girls used to make in summer rec programs. “Are you an Experiencer?” she asked. “Or are you just here about the Afterlife?” The others nodded behind her. It appeared to be a standard opening question, but I wasn’t sure how to answer. Dexter explained helpfully: “Experiencers, like us, have died and come back.” I smiled in appreciation. He had a remarkable comb over. Sally, the massage therapist—who was kind of pretty– pressed her right thumb into her left palm. I wondered if she and Dexter were a couple. “The ones about the Afterlife,” she said, “they’re often people, depressed people, terminally ill people, very sad people going through difficult times, contemplating suicide. And what’s holding them back is that concern—about what’s on the other side. And we know, of course, having been.” I sat up in my chair. A dim memory shook itself loose from somewhere deep in my heart or my brain—a moment in a hospital: rapturous warmth, a white and steel recovery room, blue numbers throbbing on a monitor, my mom and my dad. “Leaving your body?” I said. “Looking down on yourself and everyone else?” Dexter nodded. “There’s that.” “A tunnel and a light?” “That too.” I rubbed my hands together. “I’m pretty sure I’ve been there,” I said, whispering, though as soon as I spoke I seemed to lose the pulse of that diaphanous moment. They asked me to tell them what happened and I did, hoping it would impress them: India, the study-abroad mini-mester, the Dalai Lama’s house, the bus, the stumbling, the cliff, the operations, the hideous scarring, the hole. It was a great story, and had been a hit when I shared it—three times already—at the Horrible Disfigurement Club. But they were disappointed when I finished. “But then what happened?” Leeanne asked, fingering her crystal and dusting her bangs off her forehead. “Yes,” said Sally. “Would you mind fast forwarding to the good parts?” I had my warning about what was coming next. Hemicorporectomy Steve called me late one night when I was catching up on my ironing. It was what my life had been before the Horrible Disfigurement Club. “You might want to skip the next meeting,” he growled. “How come?” I said. I was working on a white button down. Leno was on. Steve made a noise that sounded like he was being strangled and I asked if he was all right. He said it wasn’t his ass I should worry about, it was my own. “Not that I actually got an ass,” he added. When I didn’t say anything back—I was working on the collar, which takes a lot of concentration—he kept talking. 7

Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1

“They want you out. They’re getting you on a technicality. That’s the plan.” I said “They who?” and “What technicality?” and he said “You know damn well who and you know damn well why. You been shacking up with his girl, like you think nobody noticed. And the technicality is you aren’t horribly disfigured enough. It’s either you take your shirt off for the meetings, or you’re out.” I told him I wasn’t about to take my shirt off. Nobody took their shirt off at the Horrible Disfigurement Club. And what about my horrible disfigurement narrative? And what about the honor system? Steve said it was all politics, and besides, you don’t shit where you eat. “But you didn’t want them together,” I said. “You were always complaining about them.” I heard that strangling noise again, then labored breathing. My collar started smoldering and I jerked the iron away. After a minute, Steve, in a frog voice, said it was nothing personal about Larry and Sarah, he didn’t like anybody pairing up, and if he couldn’t do it, fuck if he wanted to see anybody else. “Steve,” I said. “I know what I did was wrong to Larry, but it just happened. The heart wants what it wants.” I heard yet another noise, then a struck match, then the crackle of a cigarette. I tried again. “Everybody wants somebody. Nobody wants to be lonely. Misery loves company.” Steve exhaled. I could practically smell the smoke. “No it don’t. Misery don’t love company. Misery loves miserable company. Asshole.” I said that sounded horrible to me and he said, “Yeah, well don’t say you wasn’t warned.” Steve died two nights later. He was drinking at Muffin’s with one of the paraplegics. One minute Steve was sitting up in his wheelchair alive, the next minute he was sitting up in his wheelchair dead. There wasn’t enough of him left at that point to even fall on the floor. I never went back to the Horrible Disfigurement Club. I didn’t see there was any use. I made a point of showing up late for Steve’s funeral, too, so I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody. That turned out to be a bad move, though, since I about had a heart attack when I ran into Steve himself on the steps of the church, smoking a cigarette. He had his legs back, his bum, all of his spine, even his froggy voice. “Go on in the balcony,” he said. “They already started the service.” I thanked him but couldn’t move and couldn’t stop staring. He plucked loose tobacco off his tongue and then spat toward his shiny black shoes, patted himself on the chest, and said “Twin brother.” My heart started beating again. I shook his hand and then made my way up to the balcony. They were all there, sitting in a pew below me near the front of the church: all the members of the Horrible Disfigurement Club. Sarah Face wore a black veil; Condensacion cried hard and held her one hand; Leper Larry fumbled with her other. Hemicorporectory Steve

Profile for FLAR

FLR the Anthology 2013 - 2014  

A compilation of the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, Volumes 1 and 2 (2013-2014)

FLR the Anthology 2013 - 2014  

A compilation of the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, Volumes 1 and 2 (2013-2014)

Profile for amybayne