The salesman lifted the lid and directed Howard and Ann’s attention inside, to what he called the “accommodations.” There was a tiny blanket and tiny pillow inside, each bordered by satin and lace. The “crepe,” as the salesman explained. Inside, it was five feet long and three-and-a-half feet wide, and Howard’s first thought, before he realized his mistake, was that Scotty would probably feel cramped in there. Howard looked at his wife. Ann was staring into the thing, as if she, too, were trying to imagine her boy inside.
“It’s pink,” Ann said.
“Yes,” said the salesman, “but this crepe is entirely reversible and can become blue, easily. I’d be happy to demonstrate.”
“No, no,” Howard said. “No need.”
“Well then,” said the salesman, “allow me to explain to you all the many features of this particular model. We have a natural veneer wood base, lined with the crepe, which is, of course, reversible. This is what we call a half-couch design, equipped with a full mattress and bedding. The pillow is, of course, included, as is the throw. Please feel free to reach in there and take a feel. You’ll see just how plush and cozy it is.”
Howard stood still. Ann lifted her hand and held it motionless in the air for a moment, before letting it drop back down to her side.
“We’ll take your word,” said Howard.
The salesman nodded his head. “Sir, the accommodations I’m showing you here feels like nothing less than a cloud. I assure you of that. Your boy, Scotty, will be riding up to Heaven in a soft, embracing cloud.”
It doesn’t look like any damned cloud, Howard thought, it looks like the inside of a Cadillac. It looks like something a pimp would ride around in.
“How much?” asked Howard.
“Well now,” the salesman said, “this particular model is seventeen-fifty. It is, you understand, one of our finest. Below this, they begin to lose some of their features. Of course, we do offer a very generous payment plan, if that’s something you think you’d be interested in.”
Howard looked again at his wife. She was quiet, but the look on her face said it was time to leave. Howard thanked the salesman and told him they had to think some more. The salesman nodded and said of course, of course.
Howard took his wife’s hand and led her outside. He opened the passenger door for her, helped her inside, then went around and got in the driver’s seat. He put the keys into the ignition, started the car, and pulled out of the parking lot. They drove for five blocks, neither of them saying a thing, until Howard, without taking his eyes off the road, asked Ann what she was thinking about.
“Nothing,” she said.
“Come on.” said Howard, “Don’t do that. You hardly said anything back there. What’s on your mind?”
Ann looked out her window. “You know what I’ve been thinking about?” she said. “You remember when we went camping up on Mount Hood?”
“You mean when we first started dating?” said Howard. “Sure, I remember. Why?”
“And do you remember how bright and clear the moon was that first night, and how we joked about how we thought we could see little moon men dancing around up there?”
“The moon men! That’s right. The moon Martians. Ha!”
“And Timothy Lake?” said Ann. “How quiet it was at night, like it wasn’t right there next to our campsite? Like it had disappeared all of a sudden? Do you remember that?”
“Sure I do, Ann. Sure I do.”
“Do you remember that bird we found the next morning? The little jaybird, with the blue and black feathers and little feet, and tiny little beak? You remember how sad I was when we found that bird? He was right there, next to our tent all night, dying right there next to us while we slept. I was so sad, Howard, but you didn’t say anything. You just dug into the ground with your bare hands and gently laid that bird into the hole and covered it with dirt. I never told you this before, Howard, but that was the exact moment I fell in love with you. That was when I knew I would someday marry you, that you would someday be the father to my child.”
Howard turned and looked at his wife. She was crying, but silently, as if her tears were coming from a far-off place, like a stream that had traveled many miles from its source.
“Ann,” said Howard.
“But what I’ve really been thinking about,” she continued, “is what you did after that, right after you buried that bird. You prayed, Howard. Do you remember? It was a short prayer, and it was kind of silly, too, but it made everything better. It made everything better. Howard, do you think you could say a prayer now?”
Howard turned left onto their street, then made another left into their driveway. He cut the engine and listened to the sound of the engine as it cooled. He kept his hands on the steering wheel and he looked at his hands.
“I don’t know, Ann,” he said. “I mean, I do still pray, occasionally. But not that much. And I haven’t done it in front of anyone for a long time. I think I can only pray when alone.”
“We are,” said Ann. “We are alone.”
Santi Elijah Holley is the 2009 Portland Mercury essay contest winner, and he has received honorable mentions from Glimmer Train and American Songwriter. He has been published in Straylight, and he has had two stories included in Falling From the Sky, an Another Sky Press anthology. He was a reader for Tin House magazine from 2010 to 2012, and he currently works in the Publicity department at Powell’s Books. He writes, performs music, and DJs in Portland, Oregon.