From our annual Literary Issue, published Dec. 25, 2019, featuring original compositions and illustrations from local writers and artists.

“Is this thing working?”

“Yes ma’am, I can hear you clearly. What is your emergency?”

“You can hear me OK? Because you’re a little faint.”

“I can hear you, ma’am. What is your emergency?”

“No rush, sweetie, I just thought I ought to share this with somebody.”

“Ma’am, this service is for emergencies only. Do you need us to send an ambulance?”

“Well, I … It’s not an emergency, no, but I thought somebody should know the things I am seeing just now.”


“I … passed away just now, and —”

“You passed away, ma’am?”

“That’s right, I died. I’m old, you know, so it’s not a tragedy.”

“Ma’am, we are going to contact EMS in your area for you. Can you confirm your home address for us?”

“Oh, don’t you bother, sweetie. That bag of bones can’t hold me now. I am standing at the gates of hell as we speak.”

“Ma’am, I need you to … Hell?”

“Oh, it is wonderful to see. Everyone I thought would be here is here. They have little windows you can peek into. There’s Dot Carson in her pew up at the front. She always was a miserable old trash toter, Dot was, spouting gossip every day at the Piggly Wiggly.

“And there’s Dick Stigler, line dancing with that whore at the Skyline, the one he left Janis for while she was laid up sick in bed. I told him he’d punched his ticket when he ran off with that woman, and do you know what he said?”

“Ma’am, the ambulance is on its way. Do you still reside at the address on Beaufain Street?”

“I told you, I’m not there anymore. Do you know what Dick Stigler said to me when I told him he’d booked a one-way flight to Hades?”

“No ma’am.”

“He said he’d found his own slice of heaven on earth, and he was satisfied with that, and that if I was so confident I was going to heaven, why didn’t he ever see me smiling. Can you believe that? I mean he was just shameless. Told his whole family, flaunted the affair, took her out to dinner on King Street in front of all those people who’d known him and Janis for years and years and years.”

“That’s awful.”

“Now this is entirely different, what I’m seeing now. Can you still hear me?”

“Yes ma’am. What are you seeing?”

“It’s that old praise house from across the road. You know I lived my entire life here, except the two years off at college, and I never set foot in that little chapel across the way? We were Presbyterians, and my mother would have had a fit if she saw me fellowshipping with those people. She always said they came from out in the sticks and didn’t know how to comport themselves in worship. I am walking by that church again now, on the same sidewalk I’ve taken ten thousand times, but their singing feels just like an earthquake. They never could afford an organ or anything, always sang the hymns with just their voices, but now it sounds like there’s a tornado inside the church with them.”

“Like at Pentecost.”

“Yes, come to think of it. You know the Gospel of our Lord?”

“Parts of it. I almost finished my catechism.”

“That’s good. That’s very good. Anyway, they are singing ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ now, and their voices are just like angels. And I feel it in my chest. Can you hear them through the little what-do-you-call-it?”

“I can, actually. It’s beautiful.”

“They are so loud, though, and that wind — I just can’t seem to …”

“Ma’am? Are you OK? Please stay with me, ma’am. Can you hear me?”

“I’m on the ground now.”

“Ma’am, I need you to remain calm. Are you in pain?”

“Oh, not anymore, honey. Not anymore.”

“The ambulance is —”

“Don’t you fret for this old bird. I’m going to fly away to glory.”

“Ma’am, do you know where you are?”

“Oh, I know I’ve entered the kingdom of heaven now. Can you hear them singing still? If only I had known.”

“Ma’am, do you know today’s date?”

“The fourth. The fourth of February, and the year is two thousand and … How could I forget? It’s the day after the — well, this is still so hard for me to say, but my husband left us yesterday evening. I took some pills —”

“Ma’am, how many pills did you take?”

“You’re not a doctor, why should I tell you?”

“Ma’am, you paid for this service. You know those commercials? ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’?”

“We all have fallen, sweetie, but we can get back up. Do you believe that?”

“With all my heart. What kind of pills were they, ma’am? Did you look at the bottles?”

“OK, I’m getting back on my feet now. Just going to dust myself off and keep walking.”

“Ma’am, we need you to stay where you are.”

“The old bastard didn’t even leave the phone number for the people.”

“What people?”

“The people who come by and pick up the body. There are two in that house now, you know.”

“Ma’am, I don’t believe you’re dead. How could you be talking to me right now?”

“Well, you said it yourself. I paid for a service, didn’t I? I didn’t think he would … Fifty-eight years we were married, and the old bastard just up and … Well, anyway, I suppose I still love him. The church is so bright, and I can’t feel my — can’t feel my arms anymore.”

“I don’t want you to die, ma’am. Please keep talking to me, and we’ll get you through this.”

“Oh, I can talk all right. I can dance like Ginger Rogers, too. Dick, you’re terrible! Well, I suppose one little dance at the honky tonk wouldn’t be the end of the world. These heels are still too tight, though, and what about Janis? She has got to be the last person in this town to know. And I kept that note you wrote me. I hid it in the Book of Acts; I hope you don’t mind. But where have all the birds gone? Have they all flown away? No, I’m supposed to — it’s not supposed to happen without — well, obviously there’s been a mistake!”

Paul Bowers lives in North Charleston, tweets at @paul_bowers, and writes the newsletter Brutal South at

Tim Edgar is an illustrator and a pretty handy guy who spends most of his time doting on a couple of pups named Don and Mona.

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