With the light came the sound of the church bells. The distant clang rose alongside the sun and the birds, like tiny, hungry angels, began to sing.
People came from miles around. Wagons rolled in on wooden wheels pulled by sleek strong ponies. Farmers laid down tools; hunters returned their guns to the brackets on their walls. Women in bonnets and girls in calico dresses stepped down from carriages in their patent leather shoes. The ground trembled slightly with all of the excitement.
The sound of the bells continued. Black and gray birds swept the sky, directing attention to the white church steeple; confetting the air with joyous wings and open throats.
We sat under the cherry trees and watched. We wondered why they came all clean and dressed. We wondered where these traditions started. But then we smiled. We knew that it didn’t matter.
Bodies are bodies made of skin and bone; made of water and waste. Made of carbon and hydrogen and chlorine and delicious sodium. Living things are chemicals that react and nothing more.
In fact, if we screw up our eyes, we can almost see each person as a blur of moving molecules. Their forms held tightly together by microscopic electrons that cling to one another. We used to imagine a magnet so strong that it would sever the electric charge. It would satisfy the covalent bonds and those once firm bodies would crumble and spill across the floor in a million marble shaped atoms.
Then, just by moving the magnet, we could recombine those pieces into a new species; a strange, dynamic animal that was stronger. Perhaps it would be made of all bone and less vulnerable skin. Instead of dying so easily, life could renew and fanciful ideas of heaven would not be needed.
So, instead of condemning the people, we actually pondered their possibilities. We catalogued the way the available elements could be combined. We considered the outcome of playing god but then we laughed and thought otherwise.
The metallic clang of the bells soon disappeared into the infinite blue. The day star blazed from its kingdom and we, my brothers and I, began to eat the white blossoms from the tree, aborting the future red cherries one perfect petal at a time.
The service must have begun for a calm settled over the valley. The birds fell out of the sky back into the open fields and only the occasional swish of the horse’s tail could be heard.
As the flower petals began to break apart inside our bodies, the chemicals changed and reformed. One life gives life to another.
Then I saw them near the corner of the church; all the new caskets lined up. One by one, they rested against the walls the way saints might line up communion. Similar to my brothers and I, those funeral boxes were just empty vessels, waiting to fill themselves with flesh. We did wish, however, that they wouldn’t use those terrible things. We wished they would just throw the bodies into the pre-dug holes and we would busy ourselves by taking what molecules we needed.
But then again, it didn’t matter. We laughed once more as we crept back down the trees and began to burrow into the ground. We sang our songs as we wiggled our own bodies into the dirt. Each of us telling the next, dust to dust, earth to earth. The cycle never ends.
Brandon Paul owns notebooks. Lots of them. In every size. And in these notebooks, he writes. In 2014 he used these notebooks to write every day of his 38th year; in 2016 you’ll get to read this book. Stay tuned.