I’m ten years old and I don’t want to die but at Sunday School they say I have to and there’s no way out but to go to Hell or Heaven and live there eternally, my soul only, that is–my body will rot away and be good for nothing. But still, to live forever I must die and I don’t want to but I’ve got no choice, just my pick of where to go, Heaven or Hell like they say, so if I’m more good than bad it’s Heaven but if I’m more bad it’s Hell.

Miss Hooker says so–she’s my teacher and I think I can trust her, she knows about the Bible, all those old men and women and their stories, and every Sunday she tells a new one and never runs out, but then it’s a pretty thick book, not as thick as the telephone directory but maybe with as many names and lots more interesting and a few numbers but not seven digits, you don’t dial zero and no area codes but ones like three for the Trinity and twelve for disciples and 666, the number of the Beast, whoever he is, maybe Frankenstein, and anyway we lost our phone service because Father didn’t pay the last bill–it was Christmas and I got a bike, which he said was from Santa Claus, but I put two and two together–how stupid do my folks think I am?–and so the phone went dead and has been dead ever since.

But at the end of January, Father says, it will be working again, it will come back to life as if Jesus raised it from the grave. Call me religious but it helps that that’s Father’s next payday so God and man have to work together, woman, too–He might be all-powerful but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hump it. So I’ve got regular school for five days, then Saturdays free, then God on Sundays with Miss Hooker and her red hair and green eyes and freckles, she’s like Christmas all year, I mean the way she looks. She’s my girlfriend in my dreams and also my wife and we sit on our sofa and watch Bonanza while I hold her close with just one lamp on, the end table’s, and the phone’s there, too, which never dies because we’re rich.

Father and Mother live with us, in their own room so we don’t get in one another’s way, and I gave them their own phone and number–sometimes during commercials I ring them and ask them how they are and I can hear their voices over the phone and voices from their room, too, behind the sofa, like stereo I guess you could say, but one voice is loud and the other soft and both speaking the same words but one by wire and one day they’ll be dead, or one of them before the other, and when the other dies, too, I’ll have the thing disconnected.

Or maybe not. Is that called righteousness?

Vacation Bible Scholar

When will I know when I’m going to die? Miss Hooker says that nobody knows when they’ll die. God could take us at any time so I need to be ready and not die in sin because that means Hell for me for sure and I don’t want that, I want to fly like an angel, not burn and burn and burn forever. So what I have to do is try not to sin and when I do then ask God in Jesus’ name to forgive me, not that I can sin on purpose and then ask and expect to be forgiven, that’s sin at its worst, or almost, because what’s worse than that is not to believe in God at all, you go to Hell pretty fast for that. I wondered if I could sin on purpose and then if I felt sorry enough get God to forgive me anyway but that’s a sin, too, and so is wondering it up in the first place. So I’ve got to be so good it kills me, or damn near, or I wish I was—dead, that is—but that’s a sin, too, wanting to destroy myself. Suicide. And that’s God’s job—to slay me, I mean—and Miss Hooker preaches that our God is a jealous God, so I have to try to be as good as He is, just not with so much power.

After class, I asked Miss Hooker why I was ever born if getting to Heaven is so hard and life doesn’t make it any easier. She told me to get down on my knees and pray about it. I said “Yes ma’am,” and dropped to one knee, but she said, “Not here.” I rose again and asked her why not. She said she didn’t know, she’s a sinner, then asked me to forgive her, just like God. Now I lay me down to sleep, Miss Hooker to keep. She’s my Sunday School teacher and twenty-five to my ten, so she sleeps in her own bed wherever she lives but if she’d sleep here I’d give her the good pillow and all the blankets she wants and hold her close if they weren’t enough to make her warm. I pray for her every night, after I say the Lord’s Prayer and then one for my parents, and pals at regular school, and my dog. I save her for last because she’s something like my future–one day I’ll get married and she might be my wife if she can wait until I’m old enough or God will answer the prayer I never pray aloud but always seem to feel, I pray inside myself I mean, in my heart, and there’s no need to bring it to my lips and out my mouth–that one morning we’ll wake to find ourselves each other’s age and so grow up together and when the time comes marry-up and start having babies, five or eight or ten, or even more, and they’ll all have her red hair, green eyes, and freckles, and from me–well, what do I have to give but their mother, Miss Hooker, my wife? If I’m eighteen when I marry her she’ll be thirty-three, which is older than my folks are now, which means she’ll die before I do, if death comes naturally, I should say. Every Sunday I’ll take what kids we had to visit her at the cemetery behind our church. Then we’ll go out for lunch where we used to go when Miss Hooker was still here, the Korn Dawg King downtown, and I’ll eat my French fries with mustard but think of Miss Hooker’s hair and the blood of the Christ and the setting sun and the flames of Hell and the tears I shed at the hospital when the doctor declared “I’m sorry, but Miss Hooker’s dead,” and how I replied “Well, I’m not,” and the look that leapt to his face when he realized who I am. My God.