A Coffin Story
by Nancy Hightower

Nancy Anne was thirteen when her father died. Luck was with the family though, since both her parents had bought their coffins one year earlier at a side-walk sale.

The local funeral home was going out of business and had lined up casket after casket right outside their store with big neon yellow and orange signs (the kind you see on car lots) showing the original price with a line through it and then the sale price. The coffins themselves were extraordinarily beautiful so that her parents (who were relentless bargain shoppers) could not resist buying two on the spot.

They had kept the coffins up in the attic since neither had planned to use them anytime soon. But come July, Nancy Anne’s mother had found her husband sprawled out on the bathroom floor, electric razor still humming in his hand. She buried him and served lemonade to all the mourners around her. Nancy Anne didn’t cry but stood there feeling herself get more rigid by the moment, knew that she would crack if she didn’t learn how to bend. That night, she let a neighbor boy push apart her thighs and melt her back into flesh and blood while she grabbed his ass like it was the bread of life.

Her mother wanted her only to read the Bible, pray, and do well in school. Nancy Anne consented to reading her Bible. But only up in the attic. To be nearer to God, she said. There was a little lamp in that musty room that could give out a dirty glow. Enough to read with, by her standards. She could sit for hours in that dimly lit hole of a room, packed with boxes against the walls and in the center--the one remaining coffin. She more often than not climbed in and lay there with Bible in hand, propping her head up on the satin pillow.

To Nancy Anne, coffins were padded bathtubs for the dead. A place to be purified and comforted without the nuisance of water (which always grew cold). They were better than bathtubs, or beds. Beds she associated with the constant jostling boys do when trying to get their orgasm (badly trained horses trotting all the time instead of flowing into a canter or gallop). Then the bed in which she heard her mother and brand-spanking new stepfather bounce on. A deep, heavy bounce (her mother on top, riding like a pro) which made the bed sigh and creak as if it were about to die. Or the light, quick squeaking of her stepfather (half her mother’s size).

In the casket the earth grew still, enclosed her within dark mahogany walls. She had no room or reason to spread her legs. The laughing of mattresses grew distant. Faded sounds from a dirty planet. Here she would read about salvation until she fell asleep, arms crossed over chest. White clouds gathered her up, sent her to heaven again and again.

* * *

Nancy Hightower has a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Denver and has had work published in storySouth, The New York Quarterly, Inklings, The Cresset, and Big Muddy, among others.