Jerry had been dragging around his dead wife for a week. Movies. Grocery Store. The park. The Sanford’s Halloween party, as a drunken zombie. People laughed at first, but when Hank Sanford saw the tip of a pinky finger drop like a cherry tomato onto his couch, he asked them to leave.
Things weren’t going well at home. Even with only one of them eating, the dishes in their sink piled high. And the house, Jerry had to admit, stunk. He tried to get Miriam to shower, bathe even, but she fell on her bottom and refused to scrub. She was depressed, he could tell.
What could he do?
Jerry consulted his therapist friend, who said, “These things can take time to dissolve. Give her space. Do things without her, for her.”
Jerry went home, compiled a list of chores. Dishes. Sweep. Vacuum. Trash. A few dinners.
Phase One went well. Carpet combed into attractive triangles. Shower glossy and smelling of lavender and ammonia. Kitchen sink empty.
Miriam wasn’t impressed. Jerry wondered if she thought his housekeeping was an attempt to get her into bed. This may or may not have been the case, but in the end she wouldn’t react to his touch. Jerry cuddled her anyway, whispered in desperation, “Let’s have a baby.”
He thought she’d start, turn to him, say, “Really, Jer? You mean it?” Then they’d kiss and promise to communicate better. They’d have to if they were having a baby.
But that didn’t happen. Jerry couldn’t have a child with Miriam, anyway. Who could procreate with someone so against reconciliation? He turned around and said in the dark, “I think we need a divorce.”
Jerry ended up moving in with Frank, a single coworker.
One night Frank asked him how long he would stay. They were at dinner. Frank had just slopped a large helping of mashed potatoes atop his meatloaf.
Jerry didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t thought ahead. Most of the few weeks he’d been there he anxiously awaited the signed divorce papers from Miriam. He looked at Frank and said, “I don’t know.”
Frank looked at Jerry, put down his fork. He had the look of an overweight Marlboro man. He put both of his hands flat on the table, let out a sigh. “Jerry. Look, uh. I called a coroner.”
Jerry stood up, knocking his chair over. “A coroner? What the crap? That’s my wife. Screw you, Frank.” He picked up his chair, shoved it to the table, and left.
For five years, Miriam had been firm about not having children. Jerry begged her so long he exhausted his yearning for offspring. Miriam didn’t seem to mind until, only a few months later, she developed an insatiable desire to mother. Jerry grinned at her text: “Let’s make a family :)” He held onto that sweet in-between period, cupped the decision like it were the world.
Jerry was planning on relenting, and very soon, but then one night while he was at work Miriam drove through Logan Heights to look at some apartments.
Turns out she was looking to leave him.
But as she began to pull away, head home, she was hit by a stray bullet through her open window, shot by a new member of the Sureño street gang. Initiation. Her car coasted to a stop along the curb.
A passerby called Jerry the next morning after going through Miriam’s phone, said with a chuckle, “Homey, your wife ain’t looking so good. You might want to pick her up, cuz.”
Jerry picked her up. They were quiet in the car. He thought it best to wait until she was feeling a little better to ask why she was out so late. She was slouching, her head against the car window, acting as if Jerry wasn’t even there.
Miriam was gone when Jerry got home from Frank’s. A note on the door: “While you were out, we escorted your lovely bride to Pickingham’s Funeral Palace.” Jerry crumpled the note, then uncrumpled it because he’d already forgotten the name of the funeral home. He was pissed. Violated. He planned to get his wife back before anyone laid another grubby hand on her. He shuddered at the thought of it.
He felt, though they hadn’t spoken in a month, compelled to reclaim Miriam. Jerry still wanted to divorce her, but he realized that he did miss her. He had been selfish, controlling, nagging. Hadn’t thought about life without Miriam.
He’d now tasted it, living with Frank, and didn’t like it. Late night TV, constant open-mouthed chewing, farts slipping out like creaks in the floor.
Jerry wanted to rescue Miriam from the funeral home, maybe even rescue their marriage. He was heading out when the phone rang.
“This is Jerry.”
“Salutations, friend. This is Walfa from Pickingham’s Funeral Home. How are you, sir?”
“Quite off, actually, and—”
“Oh so sorry to hear that. May I offer good news? Exciting news? Please say ‘yes,’ sir.”
The man’s tone was odd, and Jerry thought he heard bluegrass in the background. It sounded familiar. “Is that Barry Gibb?” he asked.
“What? Yes, that’s Barry Gibb. The news, sir? I’m tickled to tell it.”
Tickled? “I’ll tickle a tire iron on your face, if you don’t return my wife,” Jerry said.
“I’m sorry, sir. You cut out. Did you say, ‘yes’?”
“Excellent. Now, are you sitting?”
Jerry said, “Hold on,” leaned against the kitchen counter. “OK.”
“We found a little boy, a son!”
Jerry clenched his jaw. He wasn’t one for jokes.
“He’s colder than I’d like, but he’s alive enough, yes. An ambulance is on its way now.”
“You’re screwing with me and I’m going to kill you.”
“No screws here, sir. Only scalpels and such. The child is real, just a bit cold like I said, being inside his mummy. He must’ve slurped up every bit of juice in her, but he’s still pitifully small. Not what you’d call a fetus. Recognizably a boy, but very small, yes.”
A boy? A baby boy? Jerry couldn’t believe it, but then it started crying. He heard it above Barry Gibb’s guitar, above the mandolin, the fiddle. The most beautiful instrument he’d ever heard.
Jerry became a believer, smiled wide. He’d have to make sure this was his kid, of course, but if it was… He was surprisingly not angry. Who cares that Miriam was hiding this (she had mentioned that she was getting fat—he even noticed himself her growing stomach!). Who cares that the boy was cold (he’d warm up soon enough, surely)? Who cares that¬—heck, after this who can keep a lie?—his wife was dead? He said it aloud: “Miriam’s dead!”
“Yes, sir. But the boy…”
“Yes, the boy,” Jerry said. The boy. The last word. The end of the argument. The solution to everything.
Sam Nichols is an undergraduate creative-writing student at Missouri State University. He is also a believer in Jesus Christ, a husband, and father of two toddlers, and an assistant editor at Bartleby Snopes. You can find him in the pages of Moon City Review and Prairie Margins.