Alan Falkingham

My husband, John Ray Mercier, had a metal tooth. It shined gold, whenever the flames from the fire caught him smiling at me. John Ray died two months back, right before the levy broke. Doctor said it was on account of him chewing tobacco since he was a boy. But, I ain’t so sure ’bout that. Seems to me, God must’ve needed John Ray real bad, the sickness ate him up so fast.

My boy, Billy Ray, works the line at La Croix’s. It’s hotter than hell when both them two furnaces are roaring, but you wouldn’t know it. His skin’s still pale like a harvest moon, just how it’s always been. Not like his daddy. His face was leathery as a razor strop. I used to run my fingers across his eyelids while he slept. Watch ‘em flicker with his dreams. I miss that more than anything. Now he’s gone.

Billy Ray began on the loading belt when he was just fourteen. That’s the job nobody wants, but it’s where Sam La Croix starts ‘em all, until he figures out if he’s got a good worker. There’s a lot of heavy lifting, even with them conveyors. Billy Ray says, sometimes, you can be haulin’ four hundred pounds or more at a time, including the crate. You gotta have a head for numbers too. You need ‘bout seventeen gallons of kerosene for every hundred pounds to get the temperature right, otherwise the line don’t work so good. Primary needs to be around twelve hundred degrees. If it ain’t hot enough, you overload the secondary and get problems with smoking.

But, no matter how hot it gets, there’s always some metal left at the end. Old screws mostly, or pieces of steel plate. They even found a Vietcong’s bullet one time. There’s these big ol’ magnets that pass over the tray before it goes off for final crushing . Picks everything clean. Billy Ray says the metal all ends up in a big green dumpsterout back and Sam sells it for scrap. Like it don’t matter anymore, which I just don’t think is right.

So, when they cremated his Daddy, Billy Ray brought home that metal tooth. Put it on the end of a chain, so now I carry a little piece of John Ray everywhere I go, right next to my heart. We scattered the rest of him on the water out at Finger Lake. Five pounds of ash. Came out in a clump and sank like a stone. Billy Ray said that proved his Daddy was going straight to hell.

But, we both know that ain’t really so. Because, Billy Ray told me what to look for. So, I watched real close, and I saw it. I saw his soul escape from the stack at La Croix’s and disappear up into the clear blue sky. He was all gone in just a few puffs, like John Ray was hurrying straightway up to heaven to wait on me.