And Then There Was Owen, Chapter 1: The Monument Shop
And Then There Was Owen
A Parody of A Prayer for Owen Meany
By James Smyth, Adam Passarelli, Julianne Ellis, Miriam Miller, and Lili Xu
Chapter 1: The Monument Shop
By James Smyth
“I KNOW THREE THINGS. I KNOW HOW TO MAKE SPAGHETTI. I KNOW THAT YOUR MOTHER HAD NICE BREASTS. AND I KNOW THAT I WAS PUT ON EARTH FOR A REASON, AND WHAT I DO IS GOD’S WORK.”
“Yeah, that’s great, Owen.” I blew into my hands and rubbed my ears against my shoulders, first one and then the other. I shivered and blew little puffs of steam. The ant-like yellow dashes on the road marched under our truck one by one.
“YOU’RE NOT IMPRESSED.” He seemed to pity me. He always did.
“What the hell, Owen! Whoop-do-do, you can make spaghetti. Oh, geez, my mother had nice breasts. What’s your problem? Why do you still think about her all the time? Do you have a dead people fetish?”
“YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE MAD,” he said, hurt. “I’M NOT A NECROPHILIAC, EITHER. I JUST LIKE TO THINK ABOUT THE PAST. YOU JUST DON’T SEE THINGS AS CLEARLY AS I DO; YOU’RE A LITTLE MORE STUPID THAN ME, WELL, MAYBE A LOT, BUT THAT’S OKAY; I STILL LIKE YOU. HEY, HAVE YOU PORKED THAT GIRL STEPHANIE YET?”
I punched the dashboard. I felt plastic but not pain. I rubbed my hand to warm it up, but my cheeks were already hot with rage. Owen could be a real jerk sometimes.
We reached the quarry. The parking lot was close to us on the right side, but Owen would fly a hundred feet past it at this rate. I’d seen him make some crazy turns before, but this time, he’d slip on the ice that had coagulated on the asphalt and flip us over on our side. He cut me off before I even opened my mouth.
“DON’T BE AFRAID! WATCH THIS.” Then he jerked the steering wheel to the left.
The tires screamed like a fat diva; my stomach lurched; the world outside our window seemed to stretch out like a rubber band. Then it snapped back into place, and everything was quiet. I wiped the tears from my face and looked up, expecting to see the pearly gates of heaven and smell roses. The parking lot of the quarry and the odor of burnt rubber greeted me instead.
“SEE? SEE? THIS IS GREAT! I KNEW IT! GOD’S PROTECTING US. I DON’T KNOW IF TWO WRONGS MAKE A RIGHT, BUT THREE LEFTS DO FOR SURE!
He parked in his usual spot in the far corner even though the lot was completely empty. “IT’S JUST RESPECT FOR ALL THE OTHER GUYS,” he’d told me once. “THEY’VE BEEN HERE LONGER THAN I’VE BEEN ALIVE. THEY’VE EARNED THOSE PARKING SPACES WITH SWEAT AND BLOOD AND FINGERS. I’M NOT TOUCHING THEM.”
“Owen, you’re nuts!” I’d retorted. “They’ll never know! They’ve never been here on weekends; they’ve never seen it, and they probably would let you park up front anyway! Who cares?”
“JOHN, I’M THINKING OF A NINE-LETTER WORD THAT SOUNDS LIKE ‘BARRISTER,’ AND IT’S WHAT YOU DO WHEN NO ONE’S WATCHING.”
Company loyalty was very important to Owen, but the only thing I got from it was a hundred-yard dash across an icy parking lot in the dead of winter. When I reached the doorknob of the shop, I shouted with joy and then howled with disappointment. My ears were burning; my flesh was dying, and the door was locked. The key-bearer was still fifty yards away, savoring every moment of this meaningless January day.
“THANKS FOR COMING, JOHNNY,” he said as he arrived. He got out his massive keychain and surveyed a dozen of them before he found the one he liked. “HEY, HERE WE GO.” The door swung open. I rushed into the lobby, jumped on the couch, and rolled up into a ball. Room temperature had never felt so perfect before.
Owen strode past me to the next door. “IT REALLY MEANS A LOT TO ME THAT YOU CAME, JOHNNY. I’VE GOT JUST A LITTLE BIT OF WORK TODAY, BUT I COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT ALONE. HEY, I’M GOING TO GO SET THINGS UP. COULD YOU WAIT HERE?” He closed the door behind him.
As my brain thawed, I thought about the late nights Owen had spent here making tombstones for the freshly deceased. It seemed like he’d been working twenty-four hours a day lately. Our town, Gravesend, was suffering from a case of unbelievably bad luck. Recently, my grandmother had found her servant Germaine hanging from a noose in the secret compartment of the basement. It was an apparent suicide, and we immediately traced it to Lydia’s death; a few days before, the cowardly mailman, Mr. Morrison, had run that old codger over after she and her wheelchair somehow ended up in the middle of the street.
That was also the end of it for our mailman. On a very dark night some days later, he was wandering in the middle of that street when Police Chief Pike, working on an anonymous tip that a dangerous man was prowling the streets carrying an “instrument of death,” accosted him; Mr. Morrison threatened Chief Pike with a letter opened which the chief successfully parried with a gunshot wound to the heart.
The circle of death didn’t stop there, either. Our transcendental English teacher, Mr. Early, had passed to the next level of being when he drowned in Walden Pond, and his now-transparent eyeball was making many of his students uncomfortable. Still more unbelievable was the death of Mr. Fish: our neighbor and amateur actor extraordinaire perished on Macduff’s blade when he tragically discovered it was not just a prop.
Every time one of our own died, Reverend Merrill presided over the funeral, and Owen produced the gravestone. Making them had become a rite of cleansing for him since he’d been at the scene of five incidents himself. Those deaths changed him greatly. Though he’d never laughed much before, it was an even rarer sight now, and he seemed to be in a state of perpetual contemplation of his own destiny. Whenever he seemed to be getting better, someone else would die, and he’d plunge into gloom again. When we were children, he asked me often about visiting my cousins at Sawyer Depot, but now he believed that he never would have the time, since he always had to come back to the monument shop to cut more gravestones.
Since Macbeth’s all-too-realistic death on the Gravesend stage, Owen had grown particularly fond of me. Mr. Fish had loved us both, and his death left me the dubious distinction of being Owen’s only living friend. He often told me now about how happy he was that I’d been with him through the hardship, the pain, and the many, many funerals. He’d been especially insistent that I come with him today; when I told him it was way too cold and way too early, he even promised to show me what was behind the mysterious curtain behind the diamond wheel. That closed the deal in a second. For years, Owen had kept me from seeing it; he had a million hackneyed excuses and had even tackled me when I facetiously grabbed the rope once. He once implied that he considered this secret more important than our friendship. Now, he was ready, and I was prepared for an amazing sight.
Whatever Owen was doing inside the shop, it was taking a long time. I didn’t mind. I had a lot to think about. How could so many people die so quickly, so violently, so accidentally? Owen said that it was God’s will, and trying to understand would be a Sisyphean task. I wasn’t sure. I never understood Owen’s “God thing.” He told me that the Lord spoke to him in dreams, but he never told me what He said, and I didn’t think it made much of a difference. If I thought about all the deaths that Owen and I had seen together, I might notice something that I hadn’t before. I could figure it out before Owen did. That would impress him.
Nothing seemed to be happening on the other side of the door. I stretched out on the couch and let my thoughts wander into the past.