Alan Davis has published two prize-winning collections of stories:?Rumors from the Lost World and Alone with the Owl. For ten years he co-edited American Fiction, an annual anthology chosen by Writer's Digest (1998) as one of the 15 best places in the U.S. to publish short stories. He currently teaches in the MFA programs at both Minnesota State University Moorhead and Stonecoast, a low-residency program associated with the University of Southern Maine.
Our people live with ghosts. My husband and I left the homeland because we could, but also because he thought he was Rama, the enlightened one, and wanted me to be Sita, whom he would save, but there is no salvation in America. The ghost of my grandfather followed us here to Minneapolis, even though we carried his once-body in the dragon tower through the streets, even though the village gamelan played clanging music the entire time the way it was supposed to, even though we drank rice wine and wore the strip of white cloth around our waists. In a corner of our compound, a priest recited almost unnoticed while another man translated into Bahasa.
None of us know the old language.
All of our relatives arrived for the funeral by bemo, which is anything smaller than a bus that has a motor. The elders chewed on quids of betel and spit out the juice and husks of palm seeds so that stones in the courtyard looked bloodstained. The whole village turned out. Hawkers sold drinks and aphrodisiacs and pictures of body parts that might appease the demons. We put his coffin in the bamboo tower and rushed with it through the streets. The gamelan orchestra jogged behind and the tower rocked and I grew out of breath and red-faced and thought he might topple and his coffin burst. We shouted and the clang of the gamelan rang in my ears. My heart beat like a fist and I apologized to him when I fell behind because my bird legs were not yet the legs of a woman and would not catch me up. We all wanted to confuse him so that after the burning he would not find his way back to our compound, but it didn't work, even though we sprinted, drenched with sweat, and chanted when we placed him on the pyre. A drum of kerosene fed the flames and there were two flamethrowers. They consumed the decorations and the offerings and burned away his platform until his body, one that I could still see despite its charcoal color, fell from the tower and settled into a burning pit placed under the platform. The priest then poured gasoline on his remains and on the bamboo around him. When the bamboo exploded like a bomb, the two men with flamethrowers moved as close to him as they could get and finished him off so that he would be free of every earthly thing and would not return to haunt us.
Here in Minneapolis, though, he has found us and cannot stand the idea that we left the homeland, and I have found that the only way to appease him is to phone up the Home Shopping Channel. When he spoke to me and told me that I would have to return or the demons below the earth would grab me by my ankles and pull me into the pit, I knew that I could counter their power by calling up the people who could send things to me and make me stronger. I had a magical card that arrived in the mail when I started to work, a card with a high limit and a low, introductory rate. I can get almost anything without money.
I have ordered a Fitness Glide that will not stress joints and muscles, a Health Walker that is easier on my body than walking, an Abdominal Exerciser that will tone my abdomen and trim my waist, a Space Saver Deluxe Treadmill that offers all the professional features I need for a challenging workout, an Original Leather Boat Shoe that features the cushioning of a Full Active Comfort System, a Princess Aerobic Sneaker with soft terry lining for comfort and absorption, a pair of Ray-Ban Predator 2 sunglasses that was featured in the movie "Men in Black" that I can wear when I workout so that the demons do not dare approach me to grab my ankles, a Power Zoom Digital Camcorder with a triangulated tripod so that I can film myself working out and appease him, an Ultimate Dual-Deck 4-Head Hi-Fi VCR and DVD combined so that I can play back the tapes and discs for him, a 200-Disc CD changer with eight custom files that lets me group my CDs into 8 categories so that I can workout to music either fast or slow depending on how close the demons seem to be, 200 CDs chosen from eight categories, a Personal Fax with Automatic Cutter great for the home or small office so that I can call my husband at work if the movies of my workouts do not distract the demons, a cell phone because if I leave the house to shop my husband should be able to reach me and ease his troubled mind, a 50" Projection High Definition Stereo Color Television with Twin Tuner Color Picture-in-Picture because why buy a smaller set, a High-Power Satellite System to provide a superior signal reception for a clearer, more reliable picture with CD-quality digital sound because why settle for anything less, an A/V/Satellite Universal Remote that can control up to six audio/video components including the mini dish receiver because suppose I need to change channels or choose a different CD category while I'm working out, a TV Messenger that can identify incoming telephone calls on my TV by displaying the caller's name and number so that I know whether or not to pick up the phone when it rings, a Video Clarifier for a better picture when copying the tapes of my workouts on the dual-deck VCR so that I can mail them to the homeland and have them shown so that he can see them there instead of coming here to Minneapolis, a Bridgeable 2-Channel High-Current Power Amplifier because it was available at a special sales price, and 4,000 Video Games because the son I hope to have will need something to distract him when the ancestor comes to visit and spits his blood red betel juice around the television set to protect it from the demons.
Now that I have ordered all of these things, I am waiting for them to arrive and wondering whether they will come in the right order to appease him and the demons. I try not to be impatient, but each day I decide not to go to work because what would happen if the Home Shopping Channel delivery truck came here when nobody was home? He is everywhere around me now; his voice is so loud that I can't hear myself think. I know that I should go back to work, that I should answer the phone when it rings, that it is my boss calling because she is afraid I am very sick, but then I remember back home how the shadow play told the story of Sita, that she was taken from Rama by the ten-headed one, and now the ancestor is demanding me to go back to the homeland because my legs are too weak to hold me up if the demons come for me. He tells me that they are just beneath the linoleum tiles in the kitchen, just under the cracked stone in the basement where I do my wash. My husband is so busy at this time of year that he does not notice that I have stopped going to work because I need to be here when the Fitness Glide and the Health Walker arrive, though now I have begun to worry that they won't come in the right order, which is the only way to appease him, and that the demons will notice me all the more because things are out of order. I have begun to place the traditional offering on my doorstep each morning when my husband leaves, though I am careful to remove it before he returns. Burning incense, rice, bits of flower petals, pork, chicken, fish, and onions. I sprinkle water over it and say a prayer to appease the demons. The neighbors stop on the suburban sidewalk and stare and whisper, but you cannot have good without evil, I think. If you have gods, you must also have demons. If I leave before everything arrives, I know that the neighbors will burn down the house so that he can be put to rest again. They do not want their neighborhood to be haunted. There must be a balance, I say, and I stare down the street, waiting for my Fitness Glide, waiting for my Health Walker and my Universal Remote.
© 2007 Alan Davis