Psalmlet To Keep The Worlds Turning
You gave us a garden, and we behaved so badly,
you had to throw us out.
Had to set a bouncer at the gate
with flaming sword.
Had to send Your angels in
to tidy up the desecrated roses.
You gave us a whole wide world in place of the garden,
and now we've spoiled that too.
Holy One, we can't help wondering...
what are You going to do with us now?
Something serendipitous came my way as a result of the recent discussions here about "manage to [X]" and "at least."
I have a science fiction short story that I've been struggling with for more than a year; I knew how it should end, in the sense of what would happen -- I always know how a story will end before I start writing, or I don't start writing -- but I just could not find a way to write it that worked. Several editors I greatly respect had looked at it and sent it back saying that they'd like to see it again if I revised it, but they weren't willing to publish it in the form they'd seen; that's usually a good sign.
It was driving me to distraction, and because it's an sf story about how a fictional future U.S. might deal with its elders, and I really care about that, I didn't want to give up on it. Maybe a bird flu panedemic will make the issue irrelevant -- but maybe it won't. And if it doesn't, pretty soon a lot more than half of the population is going to be over 65, and things are going to get intricate.
The days I spent reading and pondering all your comments about "manage to [X]" and "at least" dragged me far enough away from that story for a while to let a proper ending emerge from whatever it is in my head that works on stories when I'm not paying attention to them. The reading-and-pondering process gave me the distance I needed, and I was able to finish "Death and Taxes" to my own satisfaction. [Whether it's finished to any editor's satisfaction is of course another question entirely, and it will be many a month before I know the answer to that. Stories go out .... stories sit there .... stories come back ... stories go out again. You know how that goes.]
Anyway, since you gifted me with the ending for the story, I thought I'd thank you by posting the beginning. So...
Death and Taxes
Bill was a practical man, and not ordinarily a queasy one; at 89, he’d had plenty of time to outgrow any tendencies to a nervous stomach. Even so, the part of it that was really hard for him, the part that gave him serious trouble, was putting Vanessa’s body in the refrigerator. He kept getting it almost done and then taking her out and starting over. He kept trying different ways to fold her up, and not liking any of them.
He knew it was ridiculous -- obviously, dead people can’t be uncomfortable -- but it bothered him, the way she looked with her arms and legs folded up tight against her, and her neck bent way over like that. He didn’t like the way her eyes seemed to stare at him while it was going on, either, or the way her skin felt under his fingers as it cooled. If the rest of his life hadn’t depended on it, he would not have been able to do it at all.
He’d been married to Vanessa for more than half a century, and he felt as if knew her as well as one human being could possibly know another. He was positive that she would have been on his side in this thing. If she hadn’t been dead, she would have been doing her usual best to help him get it done, giving him nonstop instructions while he was putting her in the fridge, telling him all the ways he was doing it wrong and all the ways he should be doing it better. He could just hear her now: “Bill! Will you please be careful! Will you please pay attention to what you’re doing? Do you have the right glasses on or not?” It made his heart ache, the way he could hear her voice clear as a bell in his head, saying those things.
But knowing that she would have both approved and supervised didn’t make the task any easier. Knowing that she would have driven him nuts with her chatter while he was doing it didn’t make it any easier. She was his wife; she had been his constant companion for sixty-four years, and he loved her still. He was used to seeing her sitting beside him in the cab of the RV or across from him in the diningbooth or lying beside him in their bed. Fitting her into a refrigerator -- even the reasonably spacious one they’d been lucky enough to be able to afford -- was definitely a brand new experience, something it had never crossed his mind that he might have to do, and it was hard. He was shaking, and nauseated, and he could feel his heart pounding around in his chest like a small trapped animal trying desperately to escape.
Fortunately Vanessa had been a small woman always, and in her old age she had gotten even smaller; he was able to manage it, finally, and able to close the refrigerator door and punch all the necessary buttons in the RV and get ready to head on down the road.