The New Kentucky editorial collective is proud to present original fiction from one of our own.
Estimated average read time: 40 minutes
It should have been clear something bad was gonna happen: something surging out of the ancient repository where the facts from the Bible were kept. A red sunset had to be coming, chili simmering in the crockpot; and Beth checked the heat was low, grabbed a flashlight, leashed the dog, put on a reflective vest, locked the front door, and started marching down the road in her sturdy Brooks Addiction Walkers. She had gotten a little book from her sister for the holidays that said there were only three types of prayers: help, thanks, and wow. Since God was terrifying, she was mostly saying wow. Wow, what amazing cliffs. Wow. Resilient vultures in the trees undeterred by the Kentucky winter. Wow. I’m getting older.
Help: The road: the winding county route from the state highway to her neighborhood on the bluffs overlooking the lake was boring as alghetout. There would be another direction for her to walk but instead of there being a connector over to the next state highway to the east, her road dead-ended at a marina and fishing camp. Almost nobody went there in the winter and not many people lived on the way to it. She walked past the trailers and tiny frame houses heading away from the marina and decided for the thousandth time that they were getting a nice view for cheap. Maybe it was because the place had a bad reputation: they said folks used to cook meth somewhere in the vicinity of the big dock and would drink and drink and drink and carry on whooping and shooting off fireworks all summer. Even now, they were probably scaring off interesting neighbors who happened to have more money.
In the space of ten minutes, the only cars that came by were three white trucks. Each time she stepped completely off the road into the yellow grass. As she headed west, she thought about photographing the sunset to put on Facebook, but the thought flashed that it was too soon to share another picture anyway. Her last photo had gotten 28 likes but the goodwill would run out if she tried her luck again with such a short turnaround.
She quickly gave up on taking pictures. The sky was turning a pale and disappointing orange.
At the far end of a straightaway of cedars that used to be a driveway for a plantation house was the state highway, where traffic rushed by. There was a yellow and moldering sign for the marina that used to be electrified but was covered in vines and now sort of suggested significant room for improvement. Beth hit the timer on her phone: fifteen minutes from the house. And headed back home.
A car’s headlights grew bigger behind her in the grey dusk. It was a little Chevy sedan, not a white truck. It stopped in front of her and she imagined the odds that she would be kidnapped in view of all these near-neighbors whose names she didn’t know. Jethro strained on his leash.
Thanks in advance, God. Help.
She pulled even with the lowered window. Her neighbor Gwen looked at her in the shadows. Her daughter’s old babysitter who had indulged Paige with constant fettucini alfredo from Fazoli’s, McDonald’s Happy Meals.
“How’re you doin’?” Gwen fiddled with the radio or maybe the CD player.
“Not bad. Not bad. You?”
Gwen’s hand continued to hover over the car stereo, searching for a button that did not stand out to either of them. Beth began to count the seconds until Gwen finally gave up and looked over the lowered window at her. Beth felt a pang of guilt imagining God noting her reaction. Sorry.
“What have you been up to?”
“Just keepin’ things in order. You?”
“Not bad. It’s a shame your daughter doesn’t call. It’s been forever since I heard from her.”
“Well, I don’t know what to do about that. How’s your husband?”
“He has his ups and downs.”
Something big chugged toward them down the straightaway. “Oh. A truck’s comin’.”
“See you.” Gwen drove on without another word.
Thank you, God.
She got home and still felt fat in a way that occurred to her every January after Christmas. People kept giving the family treats back in December: peanut butter balls, snickerdoodles, holly leaf sugar cookies, meringues. It would have been wasteful not to eat them. She had tried jogging a couple days ago but her shins hurt almost immediately.
And she had a reason to text her daughter, who proceeded to do little more than note Gwen had a “lot on her plate right now.” Nothing about seeing her old babysitter. Paige ignored her subsequent messages.
The next morning she was watching The View and got on her iPad and looked at Facebook. There was a minutes’-old Facebook post from Coach John Calipari.
Folks, this one really hurts. A major part of Big Blue Nation, a fan who holds the record for coming to the most consecutive Kentucky games has a daughter with end-stage kidney disease. Things aren’t looking good for her. She needs a transplant. If any friends of Kentucky basketball can help, I would be eternally grateful.
Beth texted Jared at work: Imagine giving the Caliparis’ friend a kidney. It would be incredible to get to know the Caliparis. You would be friends with them for life. Beth had exactly two kidneys. She didn’t need both of them. He had won that NCAA title, gone to so many final fours. His wife volunteered in the community. The Calipari son had left UK to play at a smaller school to get more time in basketball games. Jared said he had a bright future in coaching ahead of him like his dad. The daughter was a doctor too.
The Caliparis! Imagine eating with the Caliparis. Imagine the Caliparis calling to say you should come up to their vacation house in the Outer Banks.
It was scary to read the comments on the post.
Prayers going up.
My heart goes out to you.
God bless your friend, Coach.
So many people wanted to say that they were sorry. She lost track of how many of them went on about how they wanted to donate a kidney if they were a match.
She was going to give these people a run for their money. She went over to Instagram and thanked God her daughter had told her to join. There was an almost identical post from John Calipari except this one had lots of pictures of the woman who needed a kidney. And a link to a platform that would help test you to see if your organs would be a match.
Instead of vacuuming, she researched these other would-be donors. They were young women, young men; they studied marketing at WKU. They were dentists. They were feisty old things. One of them was a woman who looked to be about her age who said she wasn’t sure if she qualified to donate a kidney given how old she was. Hair dyed blond, lots of pictures of herself and her labrador. She kept on scrolling. God almighty. How many photos could one woman take of herself and her labrador? Another one. Another one. Pictures with grandkids. A husband. Family in the pool floating on an inflatable turtle. Cooking out. More and more of the labrador looking tired. Calipari couldn’t be interested in her if it came down to the two of them. It took skill to capture a sunset. Thank you.
Then she found the lady who lived in France who said she would see if she was a match. Cal would have to think she was pretty snooty, always posing for pictures in expensive places with nice clothes on. Wouldn’t he want to send the right signal to fans by picking someone from right around Lexington?
When Jared got home, he said “Wouldn’t it be something if you were the one with the magic kidney? We’d be eating steak with them at that Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse downtown. Hundred-dollar steaks barely seared.Think about what it would be like to get to know them. Unreal. They meet people who are even more famous. They probably hold back all the good stories and we never get to know what they really think.”
Their life seemed like a dream that evening. But still they watched TV and Beth argued that Calipari would allow his wife to switch the channel from ABC when a man leaned over and showed off a big, dirty tattoo. Jared said, “I bet that Mrs. Calipari lets her millionaire husband call the shots.”
“I don’t believe it at all. I think behind a strong man, there’s a strong woman.”
“Yeah, well, that may well be. But I bet she’s not turning off sitcoms.”
“I draw the line at looking at tattoos.”
“What are we gonna do with you?”
“I dunno. I’m gonna sign up to donate a kidney.”
“You know you only get two. You alright with that?”
“I’m thinkin’ the only way to find out is to do the deed.” And she went to that website and registered.
On Saturday morning, January 11, there was an hour until the game when they walked around and looked at the overnight wind damage and got to experience the bullshit of having an uppity neighbor, Cindi Cruise, who didn’t say hello or look at her when Beth pointed out that shingles were missing from her house. A white truck drove by and broke the spell, and she once again wondered how a neighborhood could support so many white trucks. Jared didn’t seem to find any issue with any of what had happened even after she laid out what she thought of Cindi and just strolled right in the house and said he would wear his UK hoodie for the game even though it wasn’t cold.
She got on Instagram to follow all the people Coach Calipari followed. A big bunch of tall black guys with around 20K followers each. Some of them 2M followers. Karl Anthony Towns had lots of pictures of himself crossing his arms (maybe he was supposed to look tough?), laying up the ball, celebrating after making baskets, posing in exotic locations with fancy clothes on. EJ Montgomery’s Insta seemed to just be pictures of himself in a UK jersey on the court though there was one picture of him with his shirt off with a bunch of other guys on a football field. She stared closer. Tattoos! Yuck! She followed anyway. She clicked on Nate Sestina’s Insta. Such a clean-cut guy. She scrolled down. There he was posing with his shirt off and a tat on his left flank that made him look like he was covered in a giant barcode. She shuddered. Unbelievable. It takes all kinds. Follow. Calipari would be proud.
Kentucky won 76-67.
Thank you. Wow.
The same conviction would take her to church that Sunday. It couldn’t hurt to appear in the pew, though Beth found herself mildly upset to learn at the big, red front door that there would be some kind of service dedicated to young people officially joining the church and that there would only be one service that day. She stood outside the church, and her mind completely went blank when Ramona, a professor’s wife and lawyer, materialized out of nowhere invited her to Sunday school, the class that her age consigned her to. Too ashamed to say no, she followed her to the room, where they talked about forgiveness. And she almost convinced herself to share honestly with these ladies. And really build the strong connections that were so easy to lose when you stayed at home and were hesitant to comment on Facebook photos when ladies like Ramona always acted so smart. But no, they would have judged if they heard her honest answer about what forgiveness was to her.
Beth weathered the service and went to get coffee afterwards with the rest of the congregation. She walked right up to the old County-Judge Executive, who was the most Calipari-like man in the fellowship hall. So generous and friendly, helping everybody in the county. She had voted for him every time his name had been on the ballot. A UK grad. “How about those Cats?” she asked.
“Beth McMurphy, put her there.” They shook on it. “I tell you what: when Alabama took the lead in the first half yesterday, I told my wife. I’m leaving the room until the Cats are back in charge. Sometimes you’ve gotta do that.”
“It did work. Imagine that. God is great.”
“He really is.”
She told him about how she and Jared only listened to the Cats on the radio. The dangers of images.
“It works most of the time, doesn’t it?”
They had a good laugh. She turned away before he could excuse himself and move on to the next congregant.
She tried different tactics with a couple other ladies standing together, Sarah and Linda, addressed them as Mama. How were there kids? All doing great. An impenetrable wall of friendliness. Nothing to ask beyond that. Nothing offered from them but a smile and a polite “what have you been up to?” She had gone to Pensacola with Jared for one. Seen the baby blue Gulf. Ate the best grouper and left with a sunburn. Was spending her time keeping up with the house work. They acted jealous. She said she wouldn’t be getting retirement from the government so it wasn’t easy. They talked about vacations that they strangely hadn’t mentioned on Facebook, and she wondered what their agenda was.
It occurred to her that Calipari must have written a book. She found several on Amazon but thought better than to buy them given her budget. Feeling like she lived in the future, she googled her county library’s website and looked up Calipari books. They had them. People were seriously not on the ball.
When she opened the book at home, Calipari’s secret turned out to be that every player was his son. He was a father figure. I knew that, she thought. She had seen him on TV once saying this. It’s not about winning with Calipari. He loves being a father. I love being a mother.
You’re such a great father to those young men, she would say.
“I have two daughters too,” he’d tell her.
“You’ve had so many sons over the years. I’m impressed,” she’d say.
“Are you a mother?” he’d ask.
“I am. I am. One daughter. A handful. My pride and joy. One time, we went to a UK game together and she fell asleep in the stands. That was when she was little. Now who knows what she would do.”
“She sounds like a riot. Some games are snoozers. Some games are snoozers.”
The phone rang and punched out of her vision. One ring. Two. rings. Three rings. Four rings. Hello, you’ve reached the Murphys. We can’t come to the phone right now. If you leave us a message we’ll get back to you just as quickly as possible.
“An iPhone 11 has been purchased and is being shipped to Dayton, Ohio. Please call Amazon Fraud Department if this is error.”
She would talk to Calipari about spam calls. “Don’t you hate them?”
“Oh, I hate them,” both Caliparis would say. “They never stop.”
There had to be more to say, and she knew when the moment was right she would say it.
Jared put the UK game on 98.1 after supper. Just the USC Gamecocks. No big deal. Kentucky had beat them twenty times in its history on the road in Columbia, South Carolina. She prayed the words Help UK to the highest power she could imagine, hidden behind the moon and inside every tree and at the top of every church steeple.
Jared still put his hoodie on. And closed his eyes.
Kentucky got off to a quick lead. Ashton Hagans over and over again. Up for the basket. Tall drink of water. A commercial came on with classical music about the greatness of Kentucky athletics, like an avenging angel descending. Kentucky was tough. She was just a little note in the symphony — or was it a hymn? She had gone to EKU actually, over in Richmond. A school with its own history and athletics program. It had been a heckuva lot cheaper than UK. Her daddy used to say when it came time to apply that Kentucky was for rich kids and she should be grateful to go somewhere. Maybe if she had gotten a scholarship her senior year of high school things she would have been in Rupp Arena cheering on the Cats a few years later instead of watching them on TV and acting like they were a part of her life. At least her daughter had done a year at UK and she could say she was a UK mom.
Kentucky was leading by fourteen points right after the half. She imagined sloppy people down in South Carolina, in the stands and on the court, struggling to keep up with Hagans and the boys. Then South Carolina scored. Then scored again. Then scored again. Foul after foul. More baskets at the line. Jared shook his head, crossed his arms, and slouched on the couch.
62-59, 62-61, 65-61, 65-64, 68-64. 68 all! 3:30 remaining.
“This is disgusting,” Jared said. “They’ve got no heart. They’ve got no soul tonight.”
Thanks in advance.
USC sank a three to lead by one. Another timeout. It was 76-78, Gamecocks leading with 11.3 seconds left. Kentucky tied it with ten seconds left then USC shot. The buzzer rang.
“And USC has won. A three pointer in the nick of time. Sometimes God answers prayers from South Carolina. Kentucky fans, we all have those nights.”
She looked over at Jared, who was slumped again. He opened his eyes and stared at her, silent for a good long spell.
“This is your fault,” he said.
“It’s that kidney scheme you’ve got going.”
“I’ve done nothing wrong. I just wanna help.”
“You’re being selfish about it. What matters is that Calipari’s friend gets a kidney. But you want it to be all about you and your plan for us becoming best buds with the man and his wife.”
“That’s crazy. I think it would be great. But it’s not my fault if they lose. They’ve lost plenty of times this season.”
“Kentucky is number ten in the country. Or was. They’re not losing a whole awful lot. And look at that book you’ve got in the other room. It has Calipari’s pictures in it. You’re breaking the law of God. We can’t have pictures of Calipari in this house.”
Help. Beth thought about coming up with a longer prayer but thought maybe that was part of the problem.
“You are too much sometimes,” Beth shouted and shook her head. “It’s crazy to think God would punish me for readin’ a book.”
Jethro barked like he had gotten worked up.
“We had a system goin’, didn’t we Jethro?” Jared patted the dog’s head like a man who would be destroyed by church.
“I’m sure we did. You’re just upset because they lost. That’s OK.”
“I’m not a swearin’ man, Beth. But I’m gonna start swearin’ if you keep this up.”
Jared turned off the radio, stomped upstairs and she sat in the living room. With the momentum behind her, she pulled up the email from the kidney donation site and started writing another.
“To who it may concern, I am no longer am able to donate a kidney.”
That should do the trick. She wondered if it seemed selfish not to donate to anyone at all but the fact of the matter was that she was probably a match for Paige and needed to keep her organs intact and in reserve for her or a grandchild if she ever got around to having one.
Thanks be to God. Forgive me.
Paige called her without texting first two days later. Beth picked up immediately and walked up the hill to make sure she had good cell reception.
“Is everything OK?”
“Mom, I think Gwen’s had a stroke.”
Paige went on and on about how she had called her old babysitter, how she had said “WHO?” when Paige told her who was calling, how she had slurred her words–”I’m f-f-feeelin’ grr-ood, berrby,” how she kept saying “Who is this?” How she kept saying “I dron’t ner.”
Beth tried to call and got a busy signal, so she drove right over and knocked on the door. “Gwen, are you in there?”
“B-b-erth.”Gwen stood at the door, staring, tiny with spooky, moonlike eyes.
“Are you OK?”
Gwen struggled with the lock for a minute. Beth turned the handle of the doorknob herself when she heard the bolt click.
“Gwen, Paige is worried about you.”
Beth looked at Gwen’s husband, Richard, slumped asleep in a La-Z Boy.
“Can you raise your arms above your head?”
Gwen held them out shakily. So far so good.
“I’m a little concerned that you’re slurring your words. What medication are you taking?”
“I dunno. It’s in kitchen.”
Beth walked over to the counter to a tray of orange bottles. Most of them were empty. “Donepezil. What is this for?”
“Doctor prescribed it.”
Beth pulled out her phone to Google it. Alzheimer’s medication taken daily.
The other drug was Celexa. “This is for depression.” Beth had looked into it for herself but thought the side effects sounded terrible, loss of libido for one.
“It can’t be. I’m not depressed.”
“You say that now. But you’d notice if you stopped taking it.”
How many pills were left? She thought about counting them, but you never knew exactly when a prescription was really opened versus when it was filled.
“Have you been taking your medication?”
“Gwen, you sound awful. I’m tempted to call 911 but I want to talk to your son first.”
“NO. Don’t call him!”
Beth opened the fridge. It was stuffed full of bags from Sonic and McDonald’s. “I guess you’re heating these up.”
“Yers. It’s good. We…Have food!” Gwen yelled, paused, and let out a little squeal of dismay. “Oh….”
Paige drove over later and took Gwen’s keys away. Beth didn’t have the nerve to do it before she left. Gwen did seem mostly there, she said. Maybe it was just a tiny stroke. Her son drove down from Lexington that evening and called to say he had bought her groceries and helped her clean.
“What do we have to look forward to?” Beth asked Jared. “Put me out on an ice floe if I get to that point.”
“That’s really the question, ain’t it?”
She didn’t have more to say, so she got in her car and returned the library book that she had quarantined in her Corolla. She couldn’t bear the idea of being seen at the library so she sped by the book return drive thru to do the deed, the floodlights glowing pink above her with no witnesses except maybe a security camera.
Beth woke up angry and made Jared some fried potatoes. Who cared about diets all the time? She was gonna give him what he wanted.
“These are good,” he told her at the breakfast table.
She wanted to attack him, shake him, but not really hurt him.
The Calipari Curse. Beth had slept on and off, kept coming back to it in her dreams, the idea of hurting Calipari upside down in a jungle or something.
“It’s cold out there,” Jared announced, looking at the TV. “Better watch out for black ice.”
She turned up the volume on Good Morning America hotly after Jared was gone. He liked to see the weather and not much else. Usually she didn’t care but today she was gonna show God how considerate she could be.
She flipped the channel. The local ABC daytime crew were such amateurs. The hosts would routinely laugh through their lines. Could barely find it within themselves to say the name of a brand of dog food or a new bakery. The weather lady was the worst. She would stand up there showing off her legs and spitting out word salad and not follow along with the blue screen. Beth was done feeling sorry for Good Day Kentucky. Calipari probably would never meet with them. That was part of the attraction, maybe. Maybe it was bad luck to watch a morning show that would contain images of the coach. She changed the channel back to ABC when that occurred to her. That weather lady was on the screen. “It’s chilly out there on an incredible Friday!” She was standing in front of half of the towns in the viewing area. No telling what the temperature was in Jackson or Morehead. What a stupid girl. Beth searched for the remote and turned off the TV.
She thought of the little book Help, Thanks, Wow. She had already told her sister she enjoyed it. But she got out her phone and texted her again without expecting much. “I’m loving it. Saying *~thanks~* to god.”
Her sister messaged her back with a thumbs up emoji.
Beth waited for her to say something else. Anything else.
Beth started to cry.
She got back on Facebook, trying to think of anything to post. Maybe a complaint about the WTVQ ABC news team. Instead she read a post from Calipari himself. She was staring at a tiny icon of him on the floor at Rupp Arena, and he was staring back. Bad luck, forbidden in this room, but she read on. “So awesome to be partnering with Central Bank as they pick up the naming rights for the Lexington Center.”
Somewhere in Rupp Arena, inside the newly renamed Central Bank Center, there had to be a Central Bank skybox. Men in their nice suits, ties, or maybe fleece vests for all she knew. Definitely loafers. Pretty ladies. Some of them with work done on their face and saddlebags and paunches and hips. Women who could never look young again, only different, vaguely spry and pulled back and rich. But the men must have liked it that way. Wintering at The Villages in Florida. Trips to Aruba. Clothes from New York from stores she’d never heard of. They looked down over the hardwood court and stands as the crowd in blue and white milled around. Way down below, they could watch with a clear conscience as Big Cal came on the floor, shouting and cheering and berating the boys and living his life.
In the afternoon, Beth walked down the road in thick layers. A car roared closer and she stepped off into the grass. Gwen’s car drove by straight down the invisible median. Not even the nerve to stop and face her. Maybe she should call Paige or Tom.
Not worth it. It was apparently none of her business what happened. The family had to know what was going on. They weren’t friends with her. And maybe nobody was.
Just out of habit, she texted Paige. “Gwen is driving again.”
“There’s nothing we can do about that…I’ve talked with her kids. They said she just got dehydrated and had an infection.”
“She’s weaving all over the road.”
“I’ll let them know but I think they’ll probably say she was never a very good driver.”
“How are you?”
“I’m fine. How about you?”
“Not so good.”
“Oh no. Get sunlight.”
End of conversation. She didn’t want to offend God with her indignation.
She had subjected herself to the Arkansas game. During it, things seemed precarious enough to try to pray or better, not to bother God with prayer when Coach C was ejected from the game and the boys had to soldier on without him. The game after that, she tried to stay away and go for a walk. It probably was intensely quiet out except for an owl and Jethro panting because everyone was watching the game.
Who was she kidding? Texas Tech was in the national championship game last year. This one had to be big. She hustled back to the house. And couldn’t bring herself to go to the living room. She stayed in the dining room inspecting the books on the shelf, while the announcers screamed into her head.
“Moretti gets a foul!”
“You can keep up the booksmarts for both of us but if I didn’t know any better I’d say you were eavesdropping,” Jared said, stepping into the front room when a commercial came on.
“Not true at all.”
“You were just standing there.”
“I was praying.”
“You could just listen to the game with me. I bet there are plenty of folks balancing out our curse.”
“I don’t like what Calipari has done to me.”
“What Calipari has done to you?”
“He lives his life and we just listen.”
“He’s a talented man. There’s good reason to listen in.”
“I think he brings out the worst in me.”
“Oh, I’ve seen pretty bad from you. I don’t know what he can do to hurt ya.”
“It’s my conviction. I won’t bore you with the details.”
“Well, you’re gettin’ the worst of both worlds justs standin’ in here.”
They listened to Kentucky come out to a two-point lead.
“See. You’re listening to grace. Or what would be grace if the boys had their act together.”
Kentucky scored. Texas Tech scored. Kentucky scored. Kentucky was leading by a point!
And mercifully, we prevailed, she thought as the crowd went wild and the buzzer rang.
She hoisted herself up the stairs. Maybe she was an introvert. But now she felt like she had to make good on her own ultimatum to turn over a new leaf. Paige was out of the question. She didn’t count as a friend. Maybe she would go to church again. No. That was out of the question. Who was left? All sorts of women were out there going on girls’ trips to Charleston. What she needed to do was insinuate herself into some activity. Maybe she would volunteer again. But it really seemed like a pretext for the nice women of the community to exploit each other with drudgery at local nonprofits, standing for hours ringing a bell for the Salvation Army, pulling trash from a stream bed.
Jared went through his bedtime ritual and took out his hearing aids, and she had nothing to say to him anyway. Beth sat in the dark, pulled out her phone and looked for who she might talk to.
By March, with the coronavirus spreading everywhere, she had stopped measuring when exactly the curse had descended into every corner of their lives. Maybe killing Jared would help. Just a joke, God. The basketball season was cancelled, March Madness didn’t happen. Then again, there were fewer things for her to miss out on. She could watch church online and turn it off fifteen minutes in no problem.
Jared sat under a laptop on the couch and acted like he needed to manage something now that the virus had furloughed him. Whoopi Goldberg came on the screen yet again, her video feed markedly better than the other hosts’. And he scowled. “You always watch this View show? It’s 50% commercials.”
“You don’t have to watch.”
When The View was over, she checked Instagram. Ellen Calipari has posted a picture of herself from before Covid-19 in some kind of hospital with a young guy with stubble: “I love my volunteer peeps. I don’t know what I’d do without ‘em. My roommate is so jealous. I talk about them all the time and I have to tell him he’s missing out.”
It was almost obvious that Mrs. Calipari secretly had sex with a 22 year old Sayre and UK grad she met striping candy. Her man would probably have begrudgingly respected her. He would think that she was doing a fine job of recruiting young talent. And he would probably have done the same except an old man can’t get away with posting pictures of himself with teenage girls.
If Beth concentrated, she could picture herself meeting up with Prescott and telling him to flex his biceps and licking them and stroking his hard-on. Prescott would tell her how much he loved her and she would tell him she already had a man and he would have to keep it a secret, which of course he couldn’t. And he would ride her for forty minutes in his car near Kroger Field.
Cal must have had his own ladies. He could sleep with women thirty years younger than her. It must be only pride that allowed him to return to her, to prove that he could still do it. Games. The Caliparis love games. The Caliparis’ love games. God. I’m a faithful wife just using my imagination.
Ellen would tell Beth the truth in her own way. These are the love games you got to play in their position, though that part she suspected she wasn’t callous enough to tell her. The part she would allude to most clearly was Cal on top of her, strong and true, which she would touch on by saying, “He’s such an active guy.”
Beth came to in the bathroom and realized she had been “occupied” for twenty minutes when Jared asked “Is everything all right in there?” He said she’s gotta get herself in the back room, they’re saying mummies have come back to life. Like maybe there is something ancient going on or at least highly trained actors imitating the undead.
She flushed the toilet for good measure and parked herself in the armchair. She watched a video about a mummy named Catahecassa who has come back to life within earshot of the Kentucky River. He was CGI in the video since they couldn’t easily reenact it but the narrator kept repeating that this was the reality right now: there were dozens, maybe even hundreds of mummies going around Egyptian style in Kentucky of all places. They even showed pictures of the other mummies. All variations on the same bedraggled look and stumbling gait. They were from the eighteenth century, white settlers, slaves, and Indians. And, yes, it sounded crazy, the narrator and other commentators kept saying, but this was just one of those things that came out of nowhere like a virus.
Jared said they should really be careful on account of the mummies favoring the rivers, the valleys. The lake used to be a river. Down in those caves, you just never knew…
“This is crazy. Mummies aren’t real,” Beth scoffed.
“Why would all these people all over the place be pretending to be mummies?”
“I dunno. Maybe there’s a show they’re promoting.”
“That’s a simple explanation. But you just never know.”
And he excused himself to water the garden.
She looked up at the back door and saw the stranger. Ashy skin. Tattered dress falling over her legs and chest.
The dog went berserk.
“Jared!” She ran out the front door. Then wondered if she should have checked to see if the back was locked. “We’ve got a mummy!”
Jared stared out the upstairs guest bedroom window at Beth. Unclear how he had headed up there instead of going to the garden. And they shouted at each other with their failing hearing and suspicion they were each joking until Jared said: “Let’s walk back there and figure this out.”
The creature, the zombie(?), was still looking in through the glass. “Heh. Whadda ya want?” Jared shouted.
“I am Elizabeth Gilwell. I am looking for my neighbors, the Watsons, until lately of the Susquehanna Valley.”
“What a joke. You know good and well what my name is and are making fun of me.”
“I don’t know what they call you.”
“And we know nothing about these neighbors,” Jared said. “This is insane. Did George Soros or ABC pay you the big bucks to scare people?”
“You’re talking like an apothecary.”
“I am going to call someone and find out what to do with you. Sadly, you can’t come in.”
“I won’t hurt you.”
“That may well be. But still.”
Jared brought the cordless phone for the landline into view of the mummy. “Here, I’m dialing 911.”
“911. What is your emergency?”
“Some woman is trespassing at our house and acting funny.”
Elizabeth looked down at the ground. And started to walk away.
“Can you explain what you mean by acting funny?”
“It’s a person who’s acting like a mummy. Rotten old clothes. Pale, pale skin.”
“It’s the most convincing makeup job I’ve ever seen,” Beth shouted. “I’ve never seen someone who looked like a mummy like this. Don’t leave, Elizabeth,” she added.
“If you won’t help me, why should I stand here?”
“We need to take precautions.”
“I am hungry.”
Beth waited at the window while Jared walked around the house and told her to follow him.
“Come on,” he waved the lady on.
“Where are we going?”
“The grodge? You are talking like an apothecary again.”
Five minutes later, Jared walked in. “Well, she’s not getting very far. She’s locked in the garage.”
“Who could she be?”
“She’s trouble. I’d tell you to go talk to her but I think she’s probably laced the whole garage with her stinky body.
This woman is an actress or really my soul sister, she wanted to think. This must have been how people felt when they were chosen for a reality show.
Beth went out to the breezeway between the house and the garage with her phone, thinking of how she was going to have so many genuine conversations with so many people. Clicking the red video record button, Beth started in: “I was just hearing about how there are real or fake mummies going around. Here I thought the mummies were a joke. But it seems awfully strange for someone to put on such perfect makeup and talk so weird and trespass and walk funny and smell bad and act like she has no knowledge of how to go home. If people are putting on an act, this isn’t funny at all. We need to do something about all this madness and expose the people behind this. Elizabeth, come up to the glass.”
“Pray tell how I can apologize. I don’t wish to be trapped her in your grodge.”
“See, as you can hear, she’s talking a strange, old-fashioned way.”
“I shall pray for you.”
“I’ll pray for you too. Dear heavenly Father, watch over all of us in these coronavirus times. If this is a dream, I hope I can wake up from it. If this woman is a criminal, I hope she finds justice. If someone is messing with me, I hope somebody helps her. I mean — do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
“I am hungry something powerful.”
“Would you eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”
“I fear I don’t know what that is.”
“What’s the last year you remember?”
“Who was president then?”
“What’s a president?”
“So that’s where things stand. It’s March 2020. A Friday. And this is just too weird.”
She opened Facebook on her iPhone and attached the video and typed: “I keep hearing rumors that there are real mummies in Kentucky now but I never thought I would see one. What happened today is just too weird. This mummy came up, and I basically don’t know what to say.”
The comments start pouring in.
This is crazy.
Can you make this shareable?
It wouldn’t be impossible to pretend to be a mummy.
She decided to not make the post public just yet. Beth made the PB&J as Jared watched and she said the video was like Facebook Bypass; people who never comment were suddenly materializing as if there had been a barrier to them coming forward.
They walked back outside, and Jared told Elizabeth to stand back. The creature obliged, and he laid the sandwich down on the ground, and she struggled to open the plastic baggie, moaning that she had never seen such a thing in her life.
“Who are you really?” Jared asks.
“I have already told you all I know.”
Elizabeth’s cough was unearthly, piercing.
Two Dodge Chargers from the Sheriff’s Department rolled down the hill from the main road, sirens blaring. Jared waved his hands.
“Thank you for coming out, gentlemen,” Jared shouted.
“Sir, put your hands in the air.”
“I’m not the perpetrator.”
“Just do as I say.”
Beth raised her hands too.
“Where is the person you were complaining about?”
“She’s in the garage,” Jared shouted.
One sheriff’s deputy led Elizabeth to his car as the other took down the couple’s information with their hands still in the air. The other scanned the silent neighborhood. “Who have you told about this?”
“No one, just some friends.”
“Well, y’all would do well to not go spreading rumors around.”
“Is this person like a superspy that you’ve gotta protect?”
“This conversation ends here.”
They went back in the house.
“I wonder if they would want you to take down that post.”
“I’m not spreading rumors at all. I’m discussing what may have happened. Not once do I say absolutely positively that I straight up think that lady was a mummy. And even if I did, it’s a free country.”
Beth was going to have some lengthy conversations with women who were seeming more and more like lady friends or maybe in a different light, busybodies, as they enquired after her wellbeing. Truly surreal to have Ramona from Sunday School chat with her and start suggesting things like “security cameras” to deal with intruders. Even more powerful to leave Ramona on read and carefully plot out a friendly response.
She held out her phone and decided if she had the nerve to destroy the source of all this online engagement from her friends. Then her phone vibrated, and she opened Facebook to see what the alert was about. “Your content was removed because it violated our terms of service. Reason: graphic imagery.”
“For Pete’s sake,” Beth shouted.
She wrote up a separate post to complain. “My video with the woman who looked like a mummy was gone. I had some great conversations, so many that I needed to take a little break. But in Christ’s name, there’s more to say. Have we gotten to the point where showing a woman in makeup is too shocking? I honestly have to wonder what fragile soul complained. Be blessed.”
It was so maddening that Jared had to come up with the idea that they’d feel better if they broke a sweat outdoors. Beth went out to pull up wild onions, while Jared inspected the spring vegetables for signs that the vermin had discovered them. Jared shrugged his shoulders. “Chatting with your lady friends is some kind of cold comfort. What if that mummy comes back with a vengeance?” he shouted from down the hill.
“Why would she come back? There’s no place for her to go.”
“She might be homesick. She says to herself: that house is where mine used to be.”
“I mean sure. But what are the odds she remembers?”
“They’re sayin’ these mummies are clever. She might be running straight back here.”
“But if these mummies are so clever, they’ve gotta have a strategy. Unless she’s the smartest thing that ever was, you’ve gotta imagine coming back here means she’s risking she’s gonna get caught.”
“You know what. I’ve got a bullet with her name on it.”
“Don’t say that. I don’t wanna think about it.”
“I’d be a hero. It’d be self defense. She comes back and stirs up trouble, she’s gotta answer to the barrel of a pistol. There’s a lot of things mummies from way back when don’t understand. But they sure as hell had guns. When they see that, they’ve gotta be concerned.”
“OK. But she may be a supermummy now. How are you gonna stop a supermummy? She may be in the best shape of her life.”
“Let’s hope you’re right. The smartest thing I might wanna do if I was a mummy is head straight for the woods and get situated. Like a national forest. Go some place where nobody’s gonna come after me.”
“Just ‘cause these mummies are clever doesn’t mean they’re smart.” Beth pictured herself in a movie. If she got famous, maybe she was bound to meet the Caliparis. And be with the guys who wanna be with with Cal’s wife. There were gonna be scenes just like this. And maybe they’d get Julia Roberts to play her in a breakout role.
She heard an engine up the hill. Thuck-thuck-thuck-thuck-thuck. Jethro bayed inside the house.
A man stepped out of a Fed Ex van, opened their front gate, and walked toward her.
“I have a delivery for you.”
She closed the distance, reaching out for the parcel. With his other hand, the guy held out a taser and said: “You’re going to be quiet about this.”
Lightning. Beth fell to the ground, writhing.
“Now don’t make us come back.”
“Tell your husband what happened. I dare you to tell anyone else. You’re playing a dangerous game.”
She was going to die right then and there. It was too much to hope for Gwen to come toodling along in her old sedan. But with her failing power, she tried to will it. Gwen. Cindi. Please. Maybe even a white truck. Her mind was a thicket of static and she could just barely discern Jared running up the hill. “Hey! Who the fuck do you think you are?”
“You two are on notice. This story ends here.”
“What story?” Jared lunged for the taser and was out flat in a second as the plasma connects with his chest.
“If you can’t remember and can’t tell anyone you know, then that’s all you need to hear.”
They lay on the ground for a good long while as the guy stood over them and Jethro continued to bark at the front window. She had the power to speak, she suspected, but wished she could disappear. Finally: “We…don’t want trouble,” Jared panted.
“Good.” And he walked back to the van and drove off.
They watched from the ground and agreed to go back back in the house, just the two of them, and said nothing for a long time.
“Well,” Beth says, “I expect I can turn off the crockpot and you can carve the corned beef for lunch.”
“I would love to do that.”
“I’m just turning it off.”
“You know that I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“I really mean it. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“I feel the same way about you.”
“We’ve gone through a lot together.”
“You don’t need to talk like that. Maybe someday we’ll really be tested. Today is just another day.”
You had to believe in curses in a time like this. That (mummy?) woman, maybe a superspy(?), a Christian most likely (deep down), could have gone anywhere. Look at what selfishness gets you. Calipari this. Calipari that. But curses come and go. If Beth thought about it for just a second, she could feel the tide turning back in her favor. And it almost felt like she could make a habit of saying Thank you, God.
Photo by Keith Allison. Wikimedia Commons.
“Beth and the Calipari Curse: A Dispatch From the Kentucky Mummy Uprising of 2020”
Copyright © by Stephan Crown-Weber 2020. All rights reserved.