by Stephen Ausherman
Delores lived in a split-level ranch home set upon a landfill. She stored peach preserves in her storm cellar, but they didn’t taste right. Her husband, before he died, took good care of her. He built a shed on the property, a place where she could keep all the animals she liked to make out of corncobs and gumdrops, life-sized antelopes and ocelots with cellophane eyes and sugary hides. And he erected a satellite dish that pulled in a variety of shows on art, nature, and troubles in the world she could never have imagined on her own.
It stood out in the yard, an enormous unblinking eye that stared at the heavens and shared its visions on a 15-inch screen. It revealed a multitude of ministries from Florida to California, each in desperate need of prayer, forgiveness, contributions, whatever you can afford. Earth is so crowded, they said, and yet so empty. We need your help to fill the void.
Delores could afford little more than hunger, and so focused on the new forms of worship she learned from the TV. She meditated. She danced in circles with her hands in the air. She took a vow of silence and broke it by speaking in tongues. She tried fasting, only to end up with a vitamin deficiency that nearly blinded her. Light from the screen took on an unbearable glare. Soon even the softest glow seemed to sear her eyes.
She sought refuge in the storm cellar, moving in with the spiders and paint cans and peaches in mason jars. Her eyes remained shut, yet cracks of daylight crept in and spread like crimson webs pulsing in her eyelids. She spent days with her face pressed into her knees, just waiting for the night.
Six months of experimental rehabilitation at St. Luke’s inBirmingham restored her sight and relieved her pain. It also afforded her a detailed knowledge of the hospital, its prayer halls, operating rooms, and most of all, its disposal units and incinerators. She soon amassed an impressive collection of surgical leftovers: exhausted organs and severed limbs. She pickled them in formaldehyde and placed the amber jars on the bookcase in her bedroom to keep her ever mindful of the suffering of others.
As her collection grew, she made room in the shed, setting her gumdrop animals loose in the yard, where they blanched in the sun and decomposed in the rain. The satellite remained fixed upon heaven. The needful people on TV grew insatiable.
She retreated once more to the cellar, this time with her jars of humanity. There, in the darkness, her heart beat out its subterranean percussion, talking drums she swore would wake the world. Through the thundering rhythm, she spoke to the jars, whispered to the ears and bones, hands and hearts. She had all the pieces she needed feel whole again. She told them all, one by one, welcome to the family.
Stephen Ausherman’s first novel, Typical Pigs, was nominated for the Peter Taylor Prize and won the Llumina American Writers Contest. His collection of travel essays, Restless Tribes, is slated for publication in 2004. Click here to visit his website.