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What We Keep

Notes from the Afterlife


What To Expect


Addendum, Subsection 3: Eternal Marriage

First of all, the Mormons are right. You are married for eternity. This applies to everyone, not just Mormons. You are married to everyone you ever married.

As well as to anyone to whom you ever said, "I feel as if I am married to you." Or married in a non-legal ceremony, using for instance an old license plate. Or lived with on that pot farm that upset your mother so much. The official memo is that it's the intent that counts. All marriages are considered binding by both heavenly and infernal authorities, despite your second thoughts.

As a result, the Assistant Undersecretary for Eternal Marriage has had to issue the following supplemental guidelines to the welcome packet.


Please note that visiting hours between the departments have been extended. This is mandatory, as all marriages are considered sacred, and must be given equal time. And no, I don't know who decided that, so please don't ask me. I myself have two spouses in each realm, of varying genders, and I consider myself to have gotten off lucky at that.

Your guide will show you the stairs and give advice on tactful compliance. For instance, on no account compare your spouses to each other, even if they have been demanding lately and shown an excess tendency to weep when you visit. I am not responsible for her touchiness, and it has nothing to do with the rib roast incident at Christmas just before she died. Although in retrospect it might have been better if I had hidden the car keys so she could not drive off in wet snow and hit a garbage truck. And I admit I did remarry rather quickly, although of course I had no idea it was an actual marriage. You say these things to people all the time under the influence of passion and some tequila. Then it turns out that if you considered you were married, you were married. Furthermore, only one of you has to have thought so.

And in any case, she never told me about the Las Vegas wedding, and now here he is with about fifty women attached to him, all trailing broken promises like cheap perfume. A number of them apparently overlap, and a decision is still pending on whether you can be married to two people at the same time, and if not, does one of them get a pass? And why should anyone be rewarded for bigamy, which is a sin, instead of for marriage, which is sacred, is what I would like to know. These issues require steady judgment and frankly that's been lacking around here.

So I can't emphasize this enough. Keep your spouses separated. It helps if they live in opposite realms, and that is actually more common than you might think, but people do pass each other on the stairs and make chitchat. The regrettable incident just last week was a result of that.

So if you pass another spouse on the stairs, do not strike up a conversation. Do not ask for intimate details. If you do ask, remember that women will talk about anything, so if you ask you have only yourself to blame.

If you fail to make appointments with the appropriate spouses, appointments will be made for you. You will receive a card. These cards will not catch fire, although they can be damaged by for instance biting them in half; and although it is also possible to roll one up sufficiently to stick up someone's backside, that is an idle threat and there is no use in attacking the messenger. I do valuable and necessary work here. It's no point making a joke of it. I have always had an organized nature. If that made it difficult to live with an antique colander collection and 340 dolls with Medusa-like curls and beady eyes, plus their spare parts, I am sure you can understand that.

I repeat, do not allow your spouses to interact. Sexual practices are no one's business but your own, even here. If you had an unspoken yearning to be spanked, or tied up and made love to by someone in a pirate costume, you should have mentioned it at the time. Lack of communication is the root cause of most marital difficulties, and I am sure you can understand that a woman who is too shy to open her eyes in bed is not going to be very effective at stating her needs. There is no point in becoming hysterical later because it turns out that someone else was better at suggesting these things. Furthermore, it is physically impossible to damage someone in this realm, although you can give them a headache. And going off to sulk with Mr. Las Vegas Quickie is just childish.

Understand that your spouses may have made unwise choices before or after they met you, and that your own extras are probably no prize either. If you are horrified to discover that your spouse also married someone who was ugly, older, stupid, of the wrong or possibly indeterminate gender, or otherwise highly different from yourself, well you have a long time here to get over it so you might as well start.

However, all things will not be made plain to you now that you are here. You will not know any more than you did before, if that was what you were counting on. For instance, you will not know why the garbage crew was working on Christmas.

Understand that people who are grieving do very odd things.

Understand that your spouse may feel to blame for it all. Understand that your spouse is doing the best he or she can and the three-way incident had nothing to do with you, and your spouse probably did not realize he could end up married to them. Both of them. Understand that we all have to follow the rules although that assignment appears to have been an error, and they don't like him either, and we all hope the records can be corrected.

Understand that the Las Vegas husband was a surprise.

Understand that none of us knew what we were doing at the time. Understand that if we had, we might have done it anyway because human nature is unreliable.

You can put that down to predestination if you want to.

Here's your appointment card. Please don't be late.


First published in Phantom Drift 3: Rewiring the Weird, October 2013

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The Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead is nearly here. Ordinarily I would be getting out the decorations, bringing Catrina and El Jefe up from the cellar and dressing them in their party clothes. This year, no. No party and less incentive to decorate. The decorations are just fluff anyway; the heart of the Day of the Dead is the ofrenda, the altar with pictures of our lost loved ones, and little gifts for them to enjoy: gin and poker chips for my father, chocolate and a china dog for my mother, brandy for my father-in-law, and his slide rule from the corner cabinet in the living room.


There is something about late October that pulls the curtains apart and leaves us staring into mystery, more than a little afraid. The leaves whirl around our heads in a mindless dance, carried on a wind that electrifies the cats' fur so that they also run a little mad. No wonder so many different cultures marked this cross-quarter day, midway between the fall equinox and the winter solstice, as a hinge point in the year, when anything might visit from the other side.


The Day of the Dead has its origins among the Aztecs. It has some things in common with Celtic Samhain, that other end-of-October cross-quarter-day marker long ago coopted by the church to serve Christianity instead of the old gods. As on Samhain (pronounced sow-in) the veils between the worlds are thought to be thin and permeable, so that spirits may come drifting on the late October winds. At Samhain no one wants to meet them, and doors are closed and fires lit against anything riding that storm. But the Day of the Dead welcomes returning souls, says to them, "Come in, have a drink, smoke a cigar, remember how we still love you. You are our own. Who are you that we should fear you?"


So we'll set up the ofrenda, and maybe we'll put a picture of last year's party on it too, just to stay in touch. I've always thought of this party as a living entity, a hive spirit composed of the rotating cast of friends who come each year, bringing marigolds and bottles of wine and pictures of their own for remembrance. Then we'll stand on the front porch and admire the full moon and pay our respects to whatever comes to call.

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The Day of the Dead

It’s October again, and I start to think of the Ancestors, and those more recently lost, still beloved, still remembered.

The Day of the Dead is near, and I start thinking what they would like. Chocolate and gin for my mother. Bourbon for my father, and a good poker game with old pals. For my daughter, maybe the fourth pug we just adopted. The pugs are her fault, sort of. She longed for one and we finally gave in. We still have that one, elderly and imperious, and a bit deaf. The other three accreted somehow, so I’ll put their pictures and some dog biscuits on the altar for her, beside the miniature purse I bought at Target.

Time to bake, for the dead and for our friends, and the annual party we throw to remember our dead and theirs. Tamales, and empanadas, and Pan de Muertos and chocolate skulls, because the Day of the Dead isn’t a timid holiday. It’s the day we remember that we are all bones under the skin, all dancing into the next world.

The leaves are turning, scuttering across the yard with the wind behind them, and the borders between the worlds are transparent at this hinge point of the year. The kitchen is full of chilies, and beer to go with it while we stir. Coriander for healing, and cinnamon for love and lust. Chilies are a charm against spells, important when the doors stand open to other worlds, but also for fidelity.

We’ll fill vases with marigolds, little bright flowers of the dead, and calla lilies for the Virgin and for rebirth. We’ll unpack the sugar skulls and art accumulated through the years; put the skeletons on the porch, satin finery over their papier maché bones so the spirits know they’re welcome. No one is sure when the dead arrive at the party, but they do, unseen, in a breath of ginger cologne, a rustle of silk, a small warm wind.

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Dia de Los Muertos

Since we are transplanted Southern Californians, we miss the Day of the Dead and so we have an annual party to import our favorite holiday. For some reason I always manage to write a lot during the mad preparations for it. I have found that nobody has as many stories as the dead do.

In Mexico and much of the Southwest November 1 and 2 are celebrated as El Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. They coincide with All Saints Day and All Souls Day of the Christian calendar, but the tradition is older, with its origins among the Aztecs. On those turning-of-the-year days, when the borders between the worlds are thin, those who have gone through the door to the next world may come back to visit. The children, los angelitos, arrive first, on November 1, followed by the adults. Graveyards are spruced up and houses are decorated with skeleton figures and sugar skulls to remind us that death is just another world. Families make altars where they place the things that the departed loved. Candy for los angelitos, cigars and whiskey for the old men. I find myself shopping for them in October the way I shop for the living in December.

I like to think they appreciate it. Certainly they tell me stories. “Remember the gardener who was so good with roses,” they whisper in my ear. “Remember when he shot his wife’s back-door man and all the rose growers in town put the arm on the judge?” And I do. I remember as if I was there. “Remember Cousin Willetta?” they murmur, and I recall the family lottery of who-would-drive-Willetta, because Willetta didn’t drive, and listen to her complain for hours that no one could fit a shoe properly these days because she bought fives when she needed sixes. She was a sod widow and her sister was a grass widow and they lived together with six cats and made dreadful jam. My husband’s grandfather is there too, handsome and feckless, who sang for eight hours on a bet and never repeated a song. His wife stumps along behind him, a woman not to be trifled with, so tough that when he died, everyone called her Pa. They all come to visit, the newly lost a comfort to think of again, the distant ones just a nod through the wavy glass of the front window, their hands full of history.

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