I have a fragment of god’s fingernail in my brain. Its medical name is a lacunar infarction, a little crescent-shaped gleam on the ghost slices of my MRI slides. It’s the mark left from when I died that one time.
My mother was harried. She had a five-year-old—that’s me—who liked to dial random numbers on the rotary phone in the kitchen and run up $40 in long-distance charges talking to strangers in Australia. I also was very skinny and had freakishly long, spider monkey arms, and was often found stuck behind the refrigerator or halfway down a heating vent trying to appease the furnace beast with a handful of dog biscuits. My mother also had a two-year-old—my brother—who was like me but with additional interest in public nudity and fire. And she had a traveling civil servant husband with a spotty domestic attendance record.
So, when I woke up one day with a fever of 156 (ish), she can be forgiven for running a tub of cold water and dropping me into it in the hope that I would cease combusting. It would probably have worked great, actually, except that I was basically a stick insect with no flesh who was always, always, cold. Having a fever of 156 (ish) seemed great to me. I didn’t like the cold tub and, I presume, was in the middle of making a reasoned argument for turning on the hot water when my brother rolled by the bathroom door without any clothes on, carrying scissors or a lit flare or whatever he got into after three minutes on his own recognizance. My mother told me not to lay a finger the hot water tap because, if I did, hot lava would pour out and burn all the skin off my bones, and then she went to talk down the naked arsonist.
Of course, I don’t remember all that stuff, really, because of the dying, but these events have been corroborated via three-party triangulation.
What I do remember is lying in the cold water and hating the cold water. I remember looking at the pitted chrome faucet and the hot water tap and the cold water tap and the Harvest Gold bathroom tiles and thinking that that my mother never said not to put my toes on the hot water tap. I remember bracing my elbows on the bottom of the tub and reaching out my skinny stick insect leg and spreading my prehensile monkey toes (Yes, I have a weird zoomorphic self-concept, whatever). I remember gripping the tap with my monkey toes and turning it. I remember the hot water leaving the faucet.
This is where god (or whoever) stuck his/her/their thumb in my brain and I died. It looked like this:
And then a lady in a rainbow smiley face nurse’s shirt asked me my name and, when I got that right, she handed me a lollipop.
If you were to look at what was going on outside the black deadbox, you would see my Dad arriving home early from his trip to Wawa, Ontario, which is a real place and not a sad trombone, to find my mother in the living room wrestling a blow-torch or a carving knife from a naked toddler and, in the bathroom, me, his daughter, dead at the bottom of the tub. You would see him dragging my little ragdoll self from the water, slinging me over his knee and squeezing a couple of gallons of drown-water out of my lungs, along with, incidentally, my entire metaphysical superstructure. You’d see him driving to the hospital with his crappy civil service suit wet to the shoulders and dripping on the naugahyde seat of the red Austin Mini while, in the back seat, my mother held onto me with one arm and tried to put clothes on my brother with the other.
I learned some important lessons from this experience with the deadbox.
The first is that, if you die and then a little while later sit up and correctly say your name, you get a resurrection lollipop. These are yellow, which are the worst, because, if they gave out red ones, kids would resurrect all the time just for treats.
Second, parents will lie to you. That story about the hot water tap and the lava? Not true. This kind of behaviour complicates things when you get to lesson number three.
Third, god (or whoever) Is. Not. Screwing. Around. If your mom tells you not to lay a finger on the hot water tap and you try to loophole your way through that rule by using your monkey feet to touch the hot water tap, god (or whoever) will reach down and turn off your brain.
Now, you can try to explain the concept of the moral imperative or give some speech about the Golden Rule, but a five-year-old will be stuck behind the refrigerator before you even finish your sentence. However, if you tell a five-year-old not to do something and she does it and then god reacts with an instant Infraction Infarction, what you got there is a metaphysical spanking that will change her forever.
She will come out of that black deadbox a Very Good Girl.
Anna Spence is an academic by day and a writer by compulsion. Her work has appeared in Elephants Never, Ellipsis Zine, Emerge Literary Journal, Neuro Logical, Scissors and Spackle, and Sledgehammer Lit and (soon) The Spotlong Review. She can be found on Twitter @MSSalieri. (she/her)