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 7: The Diamond Wheel
By James Smyth
The door opened like the crack of a whip. I jumped out of my seat and started dusting it off as if I were apologizing for using it. It didn’t matter. I could have brushed the grime off that coach until Owen had earned his parking spot in the front of the lot, and it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference.
Owen peered at me. He looked like a child crusader. His apron, pants, gloves, and boots were all once forest green, but years in the monument shop had stained them the same color as the rocks. His forehead and collar were damp. He wiped his face off with his sleeve, leaving a layer of granite powder on it. He mopped his brow again to get the dust off, but that just made it worse. He thought about doing it a third time – I could see his arm jerking – thankfully, he didn’t.
“AHEM. THANKS FOR WAITING, JOHNNY. EVERYTHING’S READY NOW. COME ON IN.”
We stepped into the shop. It was dark, dank, and quiet, like a mausoleum. There was a solitary light in the back corner of the building near the diamond wheel. Between us and the light were dozens of tables that I didn’t see and that Owen didn’t care to rush through. We zigged and zagged languidly.
I asked Owen how business was though I already knew the answer all too well. “BETTER THAN EVER,” said he. “THAT’S TO BE EXPECTED, GIVEN THE WAY THINGS HAVE BEEN IN THE TOWN LATELY. SOME OF THESE GUYS WANTED ORNATE GRAVES, AND THE DIAMOND WHEEL HAS BEEN THE BIG HERO THERE. IT’S AMAZING. IT CUTS MORE CLEANLY THAN ANYTHING ELSE WE HAVE. THINGS ON THE MINING SIDE AREN’T GOING TOO BADLY, EITHER. THERE’S NOT MUCH LEFT IN THIS OLD TOWN, BUT WHAT’S THERE IS CHOICE.”
He asked me how I was doing and then answered the question himself. He lamented my poor grades in college but said I shouldn’t worry too much about it. He was surprised and apparently pleased that I hadn’t worn a turtleneck sweater although it was so cold outside. He talked about the war in Vietnam and what a quagmire it was. I told him I didn’t want to be there. He said, “I UNDERSTAND HOW YOU FEEL. I HAVE A FEELING YOU WON’T HAVE TO GO, THOUGH.” He hoped that I’d been sleeping well and complained that he’d had some awful nightmares lately.
Finally, we reached the wheel. It looked clean, sterile, and ready for action. “THIS IS PERFECT,” he cooed. “IT LOOKS JUST LIKE I THOUGHT IT WOULD.” We stood admiring it for a while.
Then Owen slowly turned towards me. “WELL….WELL.”
“…OKAY. SOON, WE’LL BE GETTING STARTED, BUT FIRST, I’LL FULFILL MY PROMISE AND SHOW YOU WHAT’S BEHIND THE CURTAIN.”
He walked to the far corner and grabbed the rope. It trembled in his hands. My heart was about to pound out of my chest. “OKAY. HERE WE GO.” He pulled the rope end over end, and the mystery unfolded before me.
I was expecting a spectacular structure like a statue of Zeus or a life-sized model of a tank. When half the curtain was gone, and I still couldn’t see anything, I realized something was wrong. When he couldn’t pull the rope any farther, I was certain of it. Owen’s deepest, darkest secret was…
With my name on it. And my birthday. And today’s date.
I started to turn. “Hey, Owen, is this a joke? I don’t…”
I heard footsteps, rushing wind, and the good old American crack of a bat, and then I fell unconscious.
“LET THERE BE LIGHT.”
I caught a glint of metal, and green and black sunspots burned into my eyes. I tried to shield myself with my arms, but I didn’t seem to have them anymore. I squinted and hope that my eyebrows could at the very least shield me from the flare. I turned my head. I was fastened to the table with very tight ropes. Standing next to me was a very short man with the look of a priest on the verge of consecration.
“JOHNNY,” he cooed. He caressed my face with his bare hand. For a little while, I let him. He reminded me of my mother. I thought of the last time I’d seen here. There had been sunshine and a pretty girl and baseball and…
“I MIGHT HAVE SOME EXPLAINING TO DO,” Owen said. “IT ALL STARTED WITH A DREAM I HAD SOME YEARS BACK. I WAS STANDING IN A GRAVEYARD ON A DARK AND SNOWY NIGHT. I KNOW IT WAS COLD BECAUSE MY EARS WERE STINGING, AND I KEPT SHOVING MY HANDS IN MY COAT. UNDER EVERY TOMBSTONE WAS A FROZEN ROSE. I COULD READ THE WRITING ON EACH ONE. THE SCRIPT WAS MINE, OF COURSE, BUT AT THAT POINT, I DIDN’T KNOW IT. I DIDN’T KNOW ALL THE PEOPLE ON THE GRAVES AT THE TIME, BUT I DID MEET THEM ALL LATER ON. THEIR NAMES WEREN’T THE ONLY THING I REMEMBERED, THOUGH; I ALSO RECALLED THE DATES ON BOTH SIDES OF THE DASH.
“THE DREAM MADE ME WET THE BED THE FIRST TIME I HAD IT. I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST A ONE-NIGHT THING, SO I DIDN’T WORRY. THEN IT CAME BACK AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN. I TALKED TO REVEREND MERRILL, BUT HE DIDN’T BELIEVE ME. REVEREND WIGGIN WAS AN OAF. NEITHER OF THEM HELPED ME. THE ONLY PERSON WHO LISTENED WAS GOD.
“I’M GLAD HE DID. I DECIDED THAT THE DREAM MUST HAVE BEEN HIS WILL, AND THAT I HAD BEEN BLESSED WITH A GIFT OF PROPHECY. AT FIRST, I THOUGHT THE PEOPLE WOULD DIE FROM DISEASES OR ACCIDENTS, BUT WHEN YOUR MOTHER’S DATE ARRIVED, NOTHING HAPPENED AT FIRST. THAT’S WHEN I REALIZED THE ONLY PERSON WHO COULD PRESERVE DESTINY WAS ME. THAT’S WHY I MADE SURE TO BRING MY OWN BAT.
“EVER SINCE THEN, I’VE BEEN HARD AT WORK. SOME OF THE TASKS HAVE BEEN MORE DIFFICULT THAN OTHERS, PARTICULARLY SETTING OFF THE CHAIN REACTION IN THE CONVENT KITCHEN, STEALING LYDIA AND LEAVING HER ON THE STREET, GETTING AN ARMADILLO ON SHORT NOTICE, AND SETTING UP THAT MEETING BETWEEN MORRISON AND PIKE. GETTING TO WALDEN IN TIME TO KILL MR. EARLY WAS A REAL PAIN, TOO. SOME OF THEM WERE REALLY EASY, THOUGH. LIKE SETTING UP BARB WIGGIN AND HAROLD. I’D SEEN RANDAL WITH MARY MAGDALENE BEFORE. ONE OF THE TEACHERS WHO WAS A HISTORICAL REENACTMENT BUFF LET ME HAVE THE SWORD AS LONG AS I DIDN’T TELL ANYONE, AND AFTER WHAT HAPPENED TO MR. FISH, HE DIDN’T WANT IT BACK ANYWAY. GERMAINE FELL INTO MY LAP. THE HARDEST PART OF THE ARMADILLO AND SPIDER MISSIONS WAS SAVING UP THE MONEY TO BUY THEM.
“IT WAS ALL WORTH IT IN THE END, THOUGH. I’D MADE ALL THE GRAVESTONES IN ADVANCE, SO AFTER I ACCOMPLISHED A MISSION, I COULD PRETEND I WAS WORKING ON A STONE WHILE EVALUATING MY WORK AND PLOTTING THE NEXT ONE.
“IT’S BEEN EMOTIONALLY GRUELLING, TOO. I DIDN’T WANT TO SEE ANY OF THOSE PEOPLE DIE. SOME OF THEM WERE REALLY NICE PEOPLE. WHO UNDERSTANDS THE AWESOME WAYS OF GOD, THOUGH? I’M JUST FOLLOWING ORDERS.
“I’M NOT DOING THIS BECAUSE I LIKE IT, THOUGH SOMETIMES I CAN’T HELP FEELING SATISFIED ABOUT A JOB WELL DONE. I DO THIS BECAUSE IT’S MY VOCATION. WE’RE ALL MEANT FOR SOMETHING, AND I AM ‘THE APPRENTICE TO THE ANGEL OF DEATH.’
“IF YOU’RE WONDERING WHY I STOPPED ASKING ABOUT SAWYER DEPOT, IT’S BECAUSE NONE OF YOUR COUSINS’ STONES WERE IN THE GRAVEYARD. I DO ENJOY HESTER’S COMPANY, THOUGH. SHE’S QUITE A WOMAN.
“NOW IT’S YOUR TURN, JOHNNY. AFTER THIS, MY WORK IS DONE, AND I CAN GO ON WITH MY LIFE. I DON’T THINK I’LL GO TO JAIL. I’VE GOTTEN OUT OF ALL THE OTHER CASES WITHOUT A SCRATCH; CLEANING UP AFTER THIS ONE WILL JUST TAKE SOME MORE DIVINE INSPIRATION.
“OH, JOHNNY, DON’T CRY. THIS IS HURTING ME AS MUCH AS IT’S HURTING YOU. I’M REALLY GOING TO HATE TO SEE YOU GO.
“TURN THAT FROWN UPSIDE-DOWN. YOU’RE REALLY VERY LUCKY. YOU DIDN’T WEAR A TURTLENECK TODAY, SO THIS JOB WILL BE DONE VERY CLEANLY. DECAPITATION WILL PROBABLY BE ENOUGH TO KEEP YOU OUT OF THE WAR IN VIETNAM, TOO. ISN’T THAT GREAT?”
By now the machine was humming, and the wheel was spinning at full blast. Above me stood Owen, Inquisitor and Executioner. If I’d spoken, he wouldn’t have heard me, but there was nothing I could say. I’d heard so many thousands of times from him that he was GOD’S INSTRUMENT that all this somehow made sense.
As he brought the weapon down, I thought about how much of a mess my guts would make. I hoped it would be a really big one, so at least one part of my life could be spectacular. Even the tombstone Owen made for me was ordinary.
The wheel continued to descend. I could feel the rush of wind from it now, and I was terrified. I wanted to be anywhere but here. Owen’s face was completely tranquil. “QUIESCENT,” he would have said. “DON’T YOU LOVE THE SOUND OF THAT WORD?”
Of course I did. I loved the sounds of them all.
Owen gazed at me from across the River Styx and smiled.
“JUST THINK OF THIS AS MY LITTLE GIFT TO YOU.”