ONCE, IN A SMALL TOWN by Eliza Victoria
All the dead came back. The townspeople, young, old, diminished and burdened, woke up to the sound of dogs barking and opened their doors to a vision they had dreamt of from the very day of their abandonment: their loved ones, clean and unscathed, standing on their porches and smiling. Sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, cousins: they all came back, perfect, as though they had never been dead, as though they had never gone through the events that had killed them.
Those who died in a fire came back with smooth skin. There were no bullet holes in the bodies of those that had been shot. There were a few who died in various accidents—a fall from the top of a staircase, a car crash on a dark road, an electrocution—but they carried no wounds to even suggest that such horrors had occurred. Even the children, who died from beatings, neglect, or games that had gone awry, looked unharmed. None of them carried a smell, or had traces of cemetery soil under their fingernails. Hello, father. Hello, mother. Hello. What took you so long? What’s for dinner? they asked, as though they had just been away on an errand. They had no memory of their deaths.
Most of the women who opened the doors fainted. Those who managed to stay on their feet looked out of their gates and saw their neighbors with at least one resurrected loved one standing puzzled on their yard. What’s going on? each of the loved ones said. Why won’t you let me in? And the townspeople at once realized that they were not dreaming.
A group of men banded together and marched to the town memorial park to see if the graves had been disturbed, thinking that their dead had broken through their coffins, but when they arrived at the cemetery, they found that there were no graves. The men came to the town priest to seek his advice, but the priest was serving dinner to his sister who had died of a fever five years before. Why think of the Devil on such a blessed night? the priest told them, scooping rice into a china bowl. Heartened, the men came back to their wives and families to bring the news.
Much cheering was heard in all the streets, and the dead—puzzled, and puzzled further by the merriment—were allowed to step into their homes. The next day had to be the happiest day in that town’s history. The townspeople had agreed to not confuse the resurrected ones further by acting unnaturally, but some of them were not able to help it. They cooked big breakfasts and watched their loved ones eat with a ferocity that could have scared themselves. They brought out the best utensils, their china, and tuned the television to their loved ones’ favorite programs. Mother’s acting strange today, one resurrected child would say to another, and the mothers would burst into tears because their children were alive, alive, alive.
However, as the day wore on, the townspeople noticed that it was becoming harder and harder for them to look at their dead. For even though their dead had no memory of the fire, the crash, the hate that killed them, the townspeople remembered. They remembered the long wait and the news, the arrival of the candles and the flowers, the smell of coffee, the nights when they couldn’t even hear their own voices. The town priest, for instance, remembered wiping blood-colored vomit out of his sister’s hair, and this memory, vivid and persistent, kept him from fully enjoying the sound of her laughter. Somehow this memory felt realer than his sister’s presence.
The townspeople soon realized that since the memories of their dark days were still intact, their loved ones’ resurrection made no difference. Their loved ones might be alive, but they died over and over in their heads.
That afternoon, the townspeople decided to just let their loved ones die once again. They stirred pesticide into their food, held their heads under water, smothered their faces with pillows. They carried their bodies to the town memorial park and, crying, buried them in shallow graves.
When they got home, the townspeople washed their hands and took out the pictures of their dead. They lulled themselves with memories of what their loved ones did when they were still living. Night fell, eventually, and they slept with smiles on their faces.
Originally published in Very Short Stories for Harried Readers, 2007.