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Reginald Blisterkunst, Ph.D.
Among the Remembered Saints: My Life and Subsequent Death
Pluto Wars

Greg Chandler
"Bee's Tree"
"Local Folk"
"Roland's Feast"
"Pond Story "

Doug Childers
"The Baptism"

Gene Cox
The Sunset Lounge

Clarke Crutchfield
"The Break-In"
"The Canceled Party"
"The Imaginary Bullet"

Jason DeBoer
"The Execution of the Sun"

Deanna Francis Mason
"The Daguerreian Marvel"

Dennis Must

Charlie Onion
"Love Among the Jellyfish"
Pluto Wars
"Feast of the Manfestation"

Chris Orlet
"Romantic Comedy"

Daniel Rosenblum
"A Full Donkey"

Deanna Frances Mason
"The Daguerreian Marvel"

Andrew L. Wilson
"Fat Cake and Double Talk"


Dennis Must

My brother used to scrub bodies in a mortuary.

"I like the Packard V-12 hearse Slade Hyde owns. I want to own one someday."

"Doesn't it get to you?" I asked.


"Detailing the stiffs."

"Only when they got holes in their heads," he answered.

I worked for a florist in Hebron delivering gladioli arrangements to funeral homes, jonquils to mothers of newborns in the hospital, and pink carnation wrist corsages with pipe cleaners to prom dates. Service people had to enter mortuaries through the rear, past the hearse, flower car, and limousines. The shade of Slade Hyde's 1930 Chrysler and Packard fleet was deep purple. Set off from the fleet sat an exquisite hearse with elaborate carved mahogany paneling around and under the oblong windows in its viewing compartment...and lying naked on a metal table opposite the driver's side was Hebron's eminent surgeon, Willard Dodge. Tom was scrubbing the doctor's chest with Bon Ami and a horse-bristle brush.


"Jesus Christ, don't ever do that!" he cried, damn near soaking me with the hose.

"What are you doing?"

"Readying him for display."

Everyone in Hebron knew Willard Dodge. He always wore a stiff, white collar fastened with a gold stud, no tie, and a tailored, black worsted suit. The word around town was that he specialized in "women's problems." Tom and I had no idea what that meant, but we thought he must be a good sawbones because we couldn't figure out Ma. Couple of times we heard Father suggest she ought to arrange to see physician Dodge.

"Can't get old Doc's head wet," Tom said.

I was still holding the basket of gladioli with a saffron ribbon stuck in it. Gold script letters pasted on the ribbon read B.P.O.E.

"Slade Hyde's still working on it."

Tom shut off the hose and gestured I look closer. Well, the right side of Willard's head had been packed with a sealing wax the same shade as the rest of his skin. The doc had no eye, no socket even.

"Where's his left eye?"

"Blew it away."


"Half his face, too. But Slade...he's like an artist I tell you. Once he puts the marble back in Willard's head, powders some blush back into those jaundice cheeks of his...why, under the proper lighting conditions the mourners be whisperin' to old Willard like he were takin' a nap.

"Come here, James, I want to show you something."

Tom opened the doors of a giant metal cabinet, a walk-in closet set against the wall of the cavernous garage. On one side were shelves of car door handles, carburetor heads, boxes of spark plugs, distributor caps, oil filters, wiper blades, waxes and polishes, floor mats; and on the opposite side, trays of eyes—every shade imaginable—false teeth, reading glasses, drawers of toupees, vials of coloring to shade the paraffin wax, limb prostheses, plus a separate compartment where mourning suits and dresses of every vintage hung.

"Why'd the old doc do it, Tom?"

Willard Dodge lived in the finest estate in town alongside the Masonic Cathedral. The shingled house had a magnificent piazza appointed with wicker furniture and chintz pillows; in the summer, ladies gathered there for tea and, later, croquet on an enormous lawn that stayed sylvan green when the rest of the grass in Hebron burnt to straw.

"I heard Slade Hyde gossiping to his driver."


"Seems Willard was havin' trouble seeing."

"Jesus, that isn't any reason to kill yourself."

"Didn't aim the shotgun down his trousers."

We both glanced at the dead man's member.

"Guess it was the eyesight," I said.

"Uh-huh. But you never know for sure."

It wasn't like Tom to be reflective. Seems washing down the deceased of Hebron was causing him to step back from life. Maybe even pondering his own mortality...though he was too damn young.

Tom snapped a white sheet free of its folds and fanned it over the corpse. "That's the one I want," he said, pointing to the purple Packard Phaeton V-12 hearse. "Ain't she a beauty?"

If I could remove myself from the vehicle's one and only reason for being, yes, it was one of the loveliest carriages I'd ever encountered.

"What would you ever do with it?" I asked.

"Drive it across America."

"With anybody in it?"

"You, maybe."


Perhaps it was Doc Willard's choice on the method for leaving town. Tom whistling while he was washing the old man down...but thinking about the allure of dying with a splash. Who knows?

In Hebron there existed an unnatural desire to escape the town's sentence. Classmates dreamed of becoming movie stars. World War II's close soured the rhapsodies of young men becoming Audie Murphy. Some of us would rise to the level of Union Trust bankers or J. C. Penney store managers, but most would manually toil the remainder of our lives for Bell Telephone, Neshanock Pottery, or the Johnson Bronze Company. Not much in between.

One classmate, Joyce Kramer, had applied to air hostess school. We held a grand sendoff party in her honor. Within six months she reappeared and secured a position with the billing department at Penn Power Company. The sentence. Air hostess school, we collectively believed, would free Joyce of Hebron's gravitational pull.

Yet nobody in our extended family had ever broken loose. Father's brother traveled with the Mills Brothers Circus for 15 years...but he returned home. A sign painter today, Uncle lives up alongside
Gaston Park in a bungalow where his wife kept vigil for him all those years. "Always believed he'd show up one day on the porch stoop," she said.

Of course, their children were all grown by the time Luke Jakes reappeared, his barrel chest concave and wracked by a catarrh cough.


I believe Tom studied the dead at Hyde's mortuary instead of his purported lusting for the antique Phaeton Packard hearse. The stiffs were the exclamation points on the uneventful sentences the citizenry of Hebron served. After hosing down so many of them, a man's destiny sinks in pretty fast. "One day somebody will be scrubbing my body down. A piddling wash job, a hair comb, some talc, and a set of mourning clothes...their trousers pauper's cloth, cardboard-soled shoes—stage props."

Didn't matter if it was a male or female cadaver—the only real public recognition that it once walked and breathed appeared in the Hebron Chronicle's obituary notice. Mary Hartman, aged 52, the final 30 of those years as a cashier at Murphy's Five and Ten on Washington Street. No surviving kin.


The day Slade wheeled Willard Dodge, M.D., into the mortuary's garage and unzipped the body bag, I know seeded the notion just how my Tom would deny the town its judgment. The physician had held the shotgun barrel up to his left eye and fired. The other stiffs had merely succumbed, but old Willard took matters firmly in his hands and blew himself off Hebron's stage—in style.

Got a front page headline in the Chronicle. Townsfolk began wagging their tongues about the woman-healer's masterstroke. The viewing room in Slade Hyde's mortuary would be standing room only for many afternoons and evenings. Yet not one citizen could recall how Mary Hartman expired.

It's the only reason I offer for what transpired that radiant Sunday afternoon one August.

Several days earlier, Tom showed up at our house mid-day, declaring he'd quit Slade and was joining the Air Force. He wanted to become a pilot.

Well, to me it sounded like one of those faded dreams that fueled us when we'd file out of a movie theater on Saturday night thinking we were Jimmy Dean or Marlon Brando, hop in our cars, and our girlfriends would suspend their disbelief for a night—or maybe a weekend. But we all knew
that was a lie. Time to accept the sentence, in our case, like men. Tom was having trouble swallowing his.

"A pilot!" I said. "Hell, you're a runt. Plus, you ever see a four-eyed pilot?"

"You'll see," he said with a splintered grin.

A World War II Spitfire airplane sat tethered by guy wires in front of the Hebron's landing strip. Just like a Civil War cannon sat anchored in concrete on its square. Tom was fancying climbing into that fighter aircraft, pulling on a leather helmet and aviator's glasses, flashing a thumbs-up signal from its frosted cockpit—then thundering off into the sky. A man-sized desire of what Joyce Kramer had fantasized. All these dreams were the same—one way or other, a Quixote was going to catapult to glory.

"You see yourself in the cockpit of that relic Spitfire at Hebron Landing, don't you?" I asked.

"Matter of a fact, yes."

"It got no engine. War's over. You'll be pushing papers in some damn sweltering office in Georgia or Alabama if you join the Air Force."

Well, come that Sunday, Pap got a call. It was the police.

"Nobody in the car?" Pap asked.

"No, sir."

"Where's my son?"

Wasn't a response.

"I said do you know where Tom—he's my son—d'ya know where he is? He was driving that vehicle."

"Hebron Memorial."

"Well, Jesus have mercy, sir, can you tell me what happened?"

"Don't quite know for sure, Mr. Jakes."

I'd an idea, but was loath to share it with the old man. When we borrowed the neighbor's car to go out to Lawrence Country road and see for ourselves, my only concern was what kind of news did Tom intend to make?

Then I remembered the Spitfire.

Alongside our old Ford Fairlane that Tom had borrowed from our old man that morning lay an empty 5-gallon tin of gasoline. The hood of the car was propped up and its driver's side door hung wide open. The front seat's upholstery was singed and stank of burning hair. Across the road a trail of charred grain stubble ran like a scar through the alfalfa field. The path the width of a man running with his arms flapping.

Wearing the isinglass goggles, a leather bombardier's jacket, its sheep fur collar turned up about his neck, Tom hadn't quite got airborne. First, he was going to fly over the house, buzz our bedroom window, shoot me the bird from the open cockpit—then circle twice before heading off to slam into the Ulysses S. Grant statue in the center of Hebron's diamond. One mighty conflagration.

Screw the measly Chronicle's obituary.

Pap hesitated outside Tom's hospital room.

"Let's go in," I urged. "He ain't going to surprise us."

Pap gently pushed open the door.

Kid brother was coiled in cerecloth, the nurse holding a cigarette at his lips. He'd take a drag then in a studied arc she'd lift it off his lips before flicking the ash.

He greeted us with his signature wry grin.

"What were you thinking about, son?"

"Gettin' off the ground."

"Damn difficult, huh?"

She gave him another drag.

"You left a mighty nasty scar in Scroggin's alfalfa, boy. Like a bolt of lighting blazed a trail right through it..."

"Fire makes you run, Pap."

Tom laughed, only it sounded tinny, as if it had been transcribed.

"I looked across the field and seen this boy yelling for me to beat my wings harder. He was flapping his arms. Then I saw his mother come out on the porch, and she too began waving her arms in the air. Down field I spy this old farmer in bib overalls. He'd a spade shovel and was twirling it on his hands like a baton. Mouth open wide and out of it rose the whistle of a propeller—whirring, whirring...for me to get airborne.

"The whole lot of them boosting me on.

"But my wheels, my sticks—I could hear pieces of the aircraft cracking in midair. Cracking like maple kindling. And then I knew—Jesus Christ, I cried, I'm on fire!

"D'ya hear, Pap, I'm, on FIRE!"

Father bent over Tom like he was checking under a car's hood. The nurse doused the cigarette in the palm of her hand.

"What can I do for you, boy?" Pap said.

"Hold me," he said.

"You freezing?"

"Did you open a window, ma'am?" Tom cranked at the nurse.

Her arm rose to gesture she hadn't. It's shadow fell like a crow on the window shade.


To this day I wonder if the boy relished the irony of riding in the Simonized Phaeton V-12, his sweet countenance gazing over the Hebron countryside as the cortege motored to marble hill. Slade Hyde in the driver's seat, attired in a livery coat and chauffeur's hat with the patent-leather bill, me alongside. Father and friends snaking behind. Our headlights illuminating broad daylight. We passed the antique Spitfire, it's shark snout missing a propeller.

The cortege excruciatingly slow.

Are we moving, or is the countryside slowly passing us by? I wondered. Ten automobiles back sat Joyce Kramer, sans her hostess wings, wearing a navy blue empire dress and white leather belt with matching pumps, excused for the morning to pay respects to somebody else who crashed.



About the Author

Dennis Must is the author of Banjo Grease: Selected Stories (Creative Arts Book Company, 2000). His plays have been performed Off Off Broadway and his fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Blue Cathedral: Short Fiction for the New Millennium (Red Hen Press), Rosebud, Portland Review, RiverSedge, Writer's Forum, Salt Hill Journal, Sun Dog—The Southeast Review, RE:AL, Red Cedar Review, Sou'wester, Blue Moon Review, CrossConnect, Exquisite Corpse, Alsop Review, Big Bridge, The WAG, Linnaean Street, elimae and Green Hills Literary Lantern. He resides in Massachusetts with his wife and two daughters.


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