Six, Six, Don't Even Say It
June 6, 2006. Carrie Wright prayed to God from underneath the Porsche she bought with her dead husband's insurance policy that she would get through the day without becoming possessed. She pressed her palms together, squeezed shut her eyes, and with all the 'don't let Satan get you' memories of her Catholic childhood swooping down upon her to scare her witless, she sang the song she sang every time she crossed the Bay Bridge to the beach -- "Amazing Grace" -- and ignored that idiot pulling on her arm, her best friend Rosemary Parson, who didn't understand, not one bit, the gravity of the situation. This was understandable, since Carrie herself hadn't truly grasped the danger she was in until, on her way to the graveyard to pay her beloved, Tony Wright, his weekly respects, and beg once again for forgiveness for messing around with Adam Donatelli behind his back, an escaped pet canary crashed into her windshield, snapping its neck on impact (judging by the immediate clocked look on its sweet yellow face), a distressing enough event followed by a crow careening from the sky, practically ramming into Tony's headstone while she stood, flowers in hand, lamenting her loss. The crow landed inches from her feet, point-bobbing its beak and huff-puffing its chest and caw-cawing at an awful pitch, resembling, Carrie couldn't help thinking, a man fooled by his spouse.
Dead and disgruntled birds were a bad sign; an omen! she thought.
Tony was still angry, it seemed, and she left the cemetery with wings on, what else, before any fierce, growling dog beasts appeared on the hilltops, although there weren't any hilltops, the cemetery was beautifully mown and flat, and she'd never seen any dogs on the property, except for an old blind man's guide lab, which had grown as fat as its master and liked to lick Carrie's ankles if she gave it a pat. Once home, she parked in her driveway and crawled under the Porsche and stayed there, unbeknownst to anyone, and would have remained undetected (her neighbors were workaholics, and shopaholics, and the old stand-by alcoholicaholics, who'd probably think they were hallucinating an hysterical woman under a car), but Rosemary, bless her heart, had remembered Tony died three months ago, and being a first-quarter anniversary, requiring condolences, swung by after working and shopping and having a quick O'Doul's to give Carrie a hug and try not to say, I told you so: Rosemary had counseled her against screwing Adam on numerous occasions, possibly six hundred sixty-six! and had resented her advice being waved off by Carrie, glowing satisfied Carrie, and resented Adam, too, for dating a married woman, when she, Rosemary Parson, was uncommitted at thirty-eight; she could have used a nice young man to jump-start her flagging attitude regarding true love, a virile, handsome hunk to impregnate her with an illegitimate child, as she'd always wanted a baby and would have settled for being a single mom. Or so Carrie had deduced over the years; she'd never really run her connect-the-dots by her friend. Such presumptions were irrelevant now. Rosemary tugged at her arm like the nun who'd caught her smoking in the restroom in seventh grade when she was supposed to be running errands for Father Benjamin, the priest every kid at St. Paul's Parochial School avoided for creepy reasons which were never discussed, but eventually, decades past, came out. Priests had proved unreliable, at best; to avoid possession, Carrie placed her bets on hiding out.
"Get out from under the car," Rosemary said. "I brought sushi."
Earlier that morning, the significance of the date did beat on Carrie's mind, but not in regards to losing her soul. It was, as mentioned, the first-quarter anniversary of Tony's death, and she planned to present to him a bouquet of mixed carnations, like he had given her each year for their wedding anniversary in May. (He had been expansively cheap while alive, and despite her guilt and remorse, she couldn't help feeling 'tit for tat' and so hadn't sprung for roses.) She dressed in a plain white cotton blouse, shorts, and sandals, a proper but cooling outfit for a busty mourning wife heading to a searing flat cemetery, but spilled coffee on her blouse and changed into a ribbed red tank. This was her initial mistake: the tank top clung seductively to her lovely breasts, making her make her second mistake, which was to remember with longing Adam removing the very tank top and caressing her lovely breasts, leading to her third mistake, unearthing her vibrator and delaying her graveyard visit for ten minutes, ten glorious dirty cheating minutes, climaxing in her most damning mistake, curling into the pillow and kissing an imaginary Adam, then sobbing, on the anniversary of her beloved husband's death, for this other, sexier man, who she'd dumped moments before Tony was killed in a five-vehicle collision, oblivious to the police cruiser speeding after a speeding van passing him, blinded by anger even then about her regular trysts with Adam; her marriage-saving breakup culminating into a worthless self-sacrifice and preposterously inflated funeral invoice, which she paid promptly, like everyone else, because how could you not.
She wiped her tears and remembered too late: Tony, being dead, saw and heard all! She rushed out of the house into the car into traffic (ever-present in Virginia like God, and Tony, only with noxious fumes), and slam! The canary hit the windshield. Carrie turned on the radio to forget the horrid plunk of the canary's stunned yellow face, but instead of smooth jazz the local celebrity disc jockey was warning listeners to beware! The end of the world, according to well-publicized predictions, was today. She tried not to let the radio star's revelations unnerve her, but at the cemetery, just as she was about to beg her weekly forgiveness, made more urgent and poignant by the morning's great time, the crow appeared at her feet, heckling with avian disdain, and Carrie knew Tony was pissed, a 'I'll show you where to put that vibrator' pissed. If he had anything to do about it, the end of her world was imminent, and she wasn't ready, not at all, she had never traveled to Paris or eaten eel or voted democrat, and on top of all that, there was the little problem of her tarnished soul. She wanted to go to Heaven when she died, not Hell!
Rosemary pushed a white bag toward Carrie's head. "I brought eel, you said you wanted to taste it." When Carrie turned her head away, Rosemary raced to the other side of the car and shook the bag at her, but Carrie turned her head away again. Rosemary zipped back to her original spot, shook the bag once more. Carrie whipped her head away, Rosemary ran to the other side, Carrie turned her head, Rosemary ran to the other side; on and on it went, Carrie's thrashing head scraping undercarriage with each toss of her long, brown locks. "The devil made me do it!" Carrie cried. "Tony wants to kill me but the devil made me do it!"
"What in the devil are you talking about?" Rosemary said, giving up and flopping onto the driveway. "Tony isn't going to kill you. He's six feet under."
"Don't say six!" Carrie said. She stopped thrashing her head and looked up at Rosemary. Grime streaked her cheeks. "Tony wants to punish me for loving Adam. He asked the devil to take my soul."
"When was this?" Rosemary opened the bag and pulled out the plastic sushi container. She extracted a pretty eel roll from the case and took a bite. "Mmm, yummy for the tummy." She ate another, and another. "What are you doing under there anyway?"
"I can't go in the house," Carrie said. "Evil things happened in that house."
"Evil things happen in a lot of houses," Rosemary said. "Don't you watch CSI?" She tore open a soy packet and dribbled juice on the remaining sushi. "Oh my god. You fucked Adam in your marriage bed. No wonder Tony sent the devil for you --you're a perfect recruit for his sinister purposes." She saw the stricken look on Carrie's face and said, "Jesus, Carrie, I was joking."
"What time is it?"
"Eight-thirty. I love how it stays light so late. Are you sure you don't want one?" She held an eel roll up to Carrie's mouth.
"Three and a half hours." Carrie started to cry. "I have to stay under here for three and a half more hours."
"I'm not clear on the devil-car link. Wouldn't the devil start the car and slowly run you over, organ by pulverized organ? You know, make a deal, your soul for your life?"
"I upgraded my Corolla for the Porsche with money from Tony's life insurance. In death he provided abundantly for me, and as long as I'm under this sixty thousand dollar, 600 horsepower, symbol of his undying love, the devil can't use the traitorous things I've done to take my soul."
"And you learned this where -- reading Cosmo?"
"I loved them both," Carrie wailed. "What kind of soul do I have, that I could love two men exactly the same?"
"Big heart, overactive libido, common sense flies out the window." Rosemary laughed. "I'm a poet and don't know it."
"I was talking about my soul," Carrie said.
"Common sense. Soul." Rosemary picked a speck of rice from between her teeth. "Same thing."
"I'm going to Hell."
"Here, quit your crying." Rosemary handed her a napkin from the takeout bag. "Tony wasn't a saint, if you want the truth."
Carrie sniffled. "What do you mean?"
"He looked the other way for a long time, sure, and believed in the sanctity of wedding vows, of course, but when opportunity knocked..."
Carrie stuck her head partway out from under the car. "Excuse me?" she said. "You learned this where -- reading graffiti on the bathroom wall?"
"More like your remodeled shower. Bargain basement Italian tile -- Bella!"
Carrie scrambled from beneath the car. She punted what was left of the sushi across the driveway and then moved toward her friend. "I'll kill you!"
"Hey, go easy. Not all of Tony is six feet under." Finger on her stomach, making the sign of the cross along her front, six inches each way, Rosemary said, "Tony had a big heart, too, dear soul." She flashed a devilish smile. "Six months, six weeks, six days, but who's counting?"
About the author:
Terri G. Scullen is a recovering Catholic living in Alexandria, Va. Her work appears in The Baltimore Review and online at Literary Mama, and is forthcoming in Pearl. Pray for her.