About the time Janie Davis turned twelve, after she had endured another gloomy quiet and superseriously expensive birthday party in the well-fumigated large viewing parlors of her parents’ fourth-generation wide tall historic over-ginger-breaded Victorian style heavenly pure white funeral home, she began to notice that the Godlike view she’d had of her parents as a child, was little by little day by day spidering over with fine hairline cracks; and at last one such crack opened and she began seeing that her parents’ insides did not even closely match the clever tricky showbiz style false faces they wore on the outside, which would state and nod solidly things like, We swear on our children that we will provide you with the best possible service at the lowest possible cost. And if these costs, low as they will be, impose even the slightest burden, we will provide you with the finest possible payment plan, or arrange financing with the lowest possible rate, well; as you can see, we will do whatever you need to ease these next few sorrowful days; and all this from faces carefully modeled and rehearsed and spotlessly clean, which they never failed to display to the community. And Janie took to heart the habit t of their automatically swearing the truth of everything they said on their children, for the lack of handier biblebooks to use—as, swear on my children, not the bible; swear on my children, not my Mother; always the children always, but; but Janie knew they weren’t really swearing on her personally, because they always swore on the children, which is plural, a word she’d learned in school. And Janie was not children; she was their child, which is singular. The further she got from the empty dimly remembered deep humid hazy hole of her childhood, she was learning and noticing so much moment by moment that each was another new awakening from the continuous dream that was Janie’s ever advancing quick young life, which was triggered with a bang in some past historical instant in some dark place that her parents would do some secret thing over and over and over again, until the instant came that deep in the wet hot darkness hidden away where some complicated collision of male-female key ingredients occurred, triggering the eruption of some superheated critical mass way down inside Mother, which popped out Janie into the entrance of the hole of childhood. Now that Janie had emerged from that hole, she brought nothing out with her into the light but herself, and the unsettling memory of having gone through something back at the beginning that marked her aside from the horde of uncountable others created this way, as being somehow special and different bound to fulfill some higher destiny she’d been assigned; without realizing each and every child coming into adolescence feels exactly the same way, and each separate child keeps this belief forever secret deep inside. This mass delusion rolls forward across humanity year after year and generation after generation, but goes unnoticed because all keep the secret. And once each knows the secret, each will be convinced that only they themselves matter. This was hammered tightly into Janie’s quick-growing mind, by the fact that she soon noticed once she had left childhood, she almost immediately gained proof that there was something extremely special and important, that not a single one of those her age shared; only she lived above a big funeral home on the hill, owned by her parents and their parents before them for four full generations; only she experienced every day the reality of living and eating and sleeping and all else, just above an entire ground floor level of somber soft fragrant dim lit softly caressed by slow organ music from hidden antique scratchy record players in the wall antique Victorian style viewing parlor, that was home to sometimes as many as four or five real life dead people; yes she was the only one who lived in a really real house of death. It was nothing to her, and the rest of her family to blithely breeze past fancy dressed super made up creepy dead people of every shape and size each and every day. And she was also the only one in her class that knew what the whole life before her would exactly be; whether she liked it or not she would go to embalming school and inherit the business in years to come and would spend her whole life in this same huge house she was just starting to painfully come into adolescence in, totally merged with the unknown dark and to some disturbing world of the embalming room, the viewing parlors, and the procession of grieving black-clad strangers who would parade in a steady stream into and out of her life. All of this rolled up into an unimaginable way of life that would never change until she herself would reach old age, sicken and die, and pass magically through the indestructible wall of death that blocks the living from knowing what, if anything, awaits on the other side. So having reached the age of twelve, and having entered into middle school carrying the special load of this grim dark background, she sat in the quite dated quite grimy school cafeteria eating lunch with the first three friends she had acquired so far, whose names she would promptly forget upon graduating from to high school, and who are not important enough to waste words on describing here anyway; so, as she drained back the final few thimblefuls of remaining free lunch chocolate milk from the quite cute tiny cow-patterned carton, words flowed to her from one of these friends over and down along with milk flow entering her mouth all smooth and slick. She read the words easily from the descending liquid brown scroll formed by the milk, and they read, So, Janie. You check all the dead people’s butthole temperatures before you came here this morning? Remember, I told you I read in a book, you need to do that if you’re an undertaker, because there was shit in those holes for so many years that the walls of those colons are definitely permanently contaminated with more than seventy percent of the base elements that make up every single simple everyday crap. This immortal crap lives on in its own secret way even after the crapper is otherwise dead as a rock and entombed, and can fester up under the right conditions into flaming infections that if the crapper was alive would require mass doses of Morphine. These infections can spike up faux-fever in the crapper’s abdomen, which is not a problem after the stiff is sealed away in the tomb, but which in the open casket prettied up for viewing, will cause the stiff to decompose almost a hundred times faster than it would have otherwise, attracting hordes of flies and other vermin that will spatter like shotgun pellets against every door and window, with many, many, getting through the gaps under and over the windows and doors and around, causing the viewing to degenerate into a fucking reeking stinking mess, that will make the front pages all across the state and the hundreds of family lawyers of those rotten stiffs will come in smothering you and your parents worse than the flies even, and take the whole business away from you. And one more thing. We been asking you what your Mom and Dad spend their time doing in those embalming rooms all day, you know. What’s the answer Janie? Huh Janie? What you think huh? What goes on in all those secret embalming rooms?
What, Sam? she said sleepily. Think about what? I wasn’t really listening. Could you repeat that please?
Hell no! Why don’t you ever listen? It’s too damn long—here’s the short version. I said how’s the dozen dead people stacked up all the time in your house? You heard what I said! Don’t pretend! You taking good care of the dead people?
Samuel. Guess what.
Hey, cackled the suddenly awake blank boy next to Samuel. That’s no way for a lady to talk! Janie! Answer Samuel now—I want to know too!
Fuck you too, Mike.
As they looked at each other and began to laugh at her, before they looked back she raised the chocolate milk carton high before her eyes, thank God blotting them out of her world while she drank and the tasty tongue touch of the milk for these few seconds told her quite calmly, See Janie, how simple it is for these kinds to be made to not exist at all? Something as simple as a tiny lunch milk carton, can rise up and effortlessly change all to become the fact that after all, they never were, except in a dream. The milk taste flooded in and down, the swallow pulling it totally gone worked perfectly as a new bit of plumbing should, and just short of Janie stinking of some new-home stink, she lowered the drained empty carton and there they were again the three of them, reappearing before her, but not the same; different people; what they’d said before never happened; it is really as easy as that—but, it should not be so easy to switch annoying people in and out of existence this way, but for Janie it because a game she came to habitually play. Those around her could say anything good bad or in-between, and she could laugh at herself with them, because they were not really real. Beings easy to switch on and off were not made by the same God her parents had taught her to believe in, she often reflected as her mind grew and grew. Beings easy to switch on and off are of the earth or moon, or take your pick anything you can imagine that would be the direct opposite of God. Dog. God. Dog. Goddoggoddoggoddoggod—goddoggoddoggoddoggod—god—
Ho, yes! The big boss alarm bell yelled across the cafeteria in its heavy baritone, Lunch away, lunch away, down, and gone; and the Disney-style knockoff rotating stage only she could see, and that always struck her funny, revolved with a shudder and slid all three of them away into their appropriate respective classrooms of the three thousand identical classrooms in the nearly planet-size fully automated middle school, and for the rest of the afternoon she listened not even to a single word from the blank of a teacher; why the hell to listen, hey; when it makes no difference what she learns or not because it’s already decided what her remaining sixty or seventy years of life will spend its time doing as she rides happily along atop it, rattling through one year at a time. The class buzzed by, and she must have been in post-moltskin shock, because none of her pores were open enough to soak in whatever the teacher had been talking about these through the seemingly few-dozen days from the end of lunch to the class dismissed bell. Janie did not notice what had begun happening deep inside her where she could not see, as she proceeded further into her twelfth year; the speeding forward dragging invisible moments started pulling her along in much the same way a big ten-ton dredge is pulled along a noxious black mud slightly polluted river bottom, sucking up swaths of feet-thick scum of brand new knowledge into her head, too much, too fast, really, so her inner spinning double counterweight steam engine style extremely complicated governor apparatus installed by God to protect his machinery as he learned more about through trial and error of created-creature technology, the governor which had snatched the arms right off many a sleepy maintenance man back at the sooty slimy dawn of the steam engine, who had made the mistake of dozing on the night shift, while leaning over on the hot filthy engine frame in the back where the cruel red-eyed fatboss wouldn’t see, and as the merciful anesthetic sleep covered them, their relaxing arms accidentally lowered toward, closer, and into the snappy steel blurry-fast whirl of the governor’s multiple rods pulleys and weights heavily spinning and whipping around, which took the arms off instantly, splashing gouts of blood exploding over the surveillance cameras that they really didn’t have back in those early days, but that we will assume did for the purposes of connecting together this fast moving unstoppable roll of text you are reading, but never mind, that’s okay, just get the picture; the blood rendered the camera’s recording quality much too poor for release to the public, but it didn’t matter because in those days gory live dismemberment films were destroyed by the police anyway after it had been decided based on them and any other hard unmentionable physical gory stinking evidence gathered at the crime scene not to be named or shown to children never, ever, never, no, but which needed to be kept on ice to stop all rot until the trial was settled, and other testimony expert or otherwise including that of the through no fault of their own newly crippled maintenance laborer, sometimes referred to in Law and Order or Judge Judy reruns as the plaintiff, filtered out every one of the impossible to be remembered facts and details and whatever that flood in onto the developing twelve year old, and voila, the governor performed as designed to boil everything down to a few simple facts to actually be consciously realized by Janie, these being that her parents were in no way Godlike, but were nutty, embarrassing, and blind; blind, embarrassing, and more and more nutty, and the bag provided for free for her to funnel this incoming gross-flow of knowledge into as a good-luck courtesy, blew up to bursting and required replacement with more robust models as these simple facts about her parents ballooned into such a giant swirling mass that Janie’s mind protected itself by abandoning the process of bagging up the exponentially increasing knowledge, and internally pushed big red buttons turned big red knobs and pulled long red levers in the control room near the bottom of her brainstem in the deepest dimmest most elemental lizard-thinking-machine place in her brain, to start fashioning words from the expanding mass of gory dripping spattering knowledge, and to have her speak out the facts in thousands of different combinations of words and phrases to her also increasing peer-group, that her parents God bless their hearts, were totally blind, nutty, and embarrassing; and when she shared this she was surprised that this matched the way all of her peers regarded their parents, and so forth; this was the completion of another full circle of the mental development of the whole pre-adolescent human horde. Whew! And this only step one of—too many to come. Growing up is a sonofabitch! But the inventor of the steam safety valve must have progressed since that great day, to sainthood; but how many children must have expanded and expanded and finally exploded, lives wasted in vain, until someone woke up and decided it was time to mutate some DNA patch into place to install such a safety device, the results proving that again, as in the automotive world, thank God, it’s true they don’t make them like they used to, God. Thanks again,