Monday, July 05, 2010

Los Muertos

A short story by Daniel Olivas

The afterlife really began to annoy Belén. True, there were great benefits to take pleasure in such as victory over pain and hunger and fatigue. And she could puff away on her fat, hand-rolled cigarettes without fear of cancer. Visiting with her husband Celso and others was not so bad, either. Here, there were no hurt feelings if you didn’t want to be in the company of others. Everyone understood. The transgressions from life on earth also were forgiven. And there was, of course, the great revelation of finally being able to see the face of God—after a lifetime of wondering. But what annoyed Belén was the fact that she still had plenty of free will. Too much, truth be told. She could stay in heaven or wander back down to earth and observe the living, visit them while they slumbered, assert herself in night visions. Belén knew before she died that spirits liked to stay involved in this way. She’d seen her own late mother, Mónica, once or twice in dreams. One day, after much thought, Belén confronted God about all this.

"Why,” she asked, “can’t I simply stay here and enjoy eternal peace with Celso and the rest of my dead family and friends?”

“You may certainly do that,” answered God. “I’m not stopping you.”

“But I feel compelled to come back to earth from time to time to assist my children,” Belén continued as she puffed on her fat cigarette. She blew magnificent, perfect smoke rings that impressed God mightily.

“You may do what you want, my daughter,” said God in a patient, loving voice.

Belén noticed that God was both handsome and beautiful at the same time with a countenance that shimmered and undulated and filled her with warmth. God’s good looks were distracting. She had to concentrate to stay on point.

“But you know as well as I that if given the choice, I will interfere with the living,” said Belén as she puffed more rapidly on her cigarette.

“And your point is?”

Belén marveled at how God could answer like that without sounding one bit snotty. But God could do anything, of course. After a tad more discussion, Belén realized that God wouldn’t budge on the rules. She threw her hands up in exasperation. God laughed. Belén cherished God’s laugh. In fact, it was one of the best things about the afterlife.

“I love you more than you could ever know,” said God.

Seeing that God prepared to leave, Belén said: “Please don’t go.”

“So much to do!” exclaimed God before disappearing.

Belén shrugged. She should have known better than to waste her time trying to argue with God. But since time no longer meant anything, it really didn’t matter. Belén looked down to earth. Her children were more or less sleeping. She squinted. Who was that? Oh, yes. Max Klein. Belén liked his looks and knew that he generally had a good heart. And she’d met his late wife, Ruth, who was the life of the party and quite an intellectual, a philosopher even. In fact, just the other day, they had a very nice chat about the many faces of evil. Belén squinted: there was Max, fast asleep on his couch, dreaming of…of…Julieta! One of Belén’s daughters! Shame, shame, shame!

“She’s married, you!” Belén yelled and as she shoot her fist at Max.

Belén took a deep breath to compose herself. After a few moments, she sighed and came down into Max’s dream. She puffed on her cigarette and tried to think. What should I tell this nice, confused old man? Should I scare him witless? She turned to Max who, in his dream, stared into Julieta’s eyes. My, this man loves her, doesn’t he? Belén thought. This is going to be rough going. She pondered her options for a moment.

“What should I say to him?” Belén said. “How can I stop this?”

The profound silence was God’s response.

[“Los Muertos” first appeared in the Homeboy Review (Issue #2, 2010) and is from Daniel’s forthcoming novel, The Book of Want (University of Arizona Press, 2011). To purchase copies of the Homeboy Review, visit here. Photo credit: Benjamin Formaker-Olivas.]

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