Outside the tent. Abraham, still ninety-nine, sits in the shade. A one-humped camel is tethered nearby.
Narrator’s Voice:Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. And Abraham sat in the tent door in the heat of the day.
Abraham closes his eyes and begins to snooze. And dream.
A desert well. Abraham and his thirteen-year-old son sit in a pair of lounge chairs beside a well, ﬁshing. The son feels a tug on his pole. He yanks and is soon ﬁghting the ﬁsh he has just hooked. He slowly reels it in, while Abraham prepares a net to retrieve it. They ﬁnally land an octopus.
A baseball diamond in a desert pasture. Abraham sits behind the home dugout with a camcorder, pointing it at the action on the ﬁeld. Abraham’s son, dressed in a Camel League uniform with the nickname “He-Asses,” is at the plate, pointing with his bat, like Babe Ruth, at a distant target. The pitcher, wearing a uniform bearing the nickname “Librarians,” pitches; the son hits the ball four hundred feet, scattering a herd of sheep. Abraham bounds onto the ﬁeld and records his son rounding the bases.
The saloon. Evening. Abraham’s young son and a thirteen-year-old girl sit at a table, drinking goat milk. The two gaze intently at each other. They stand. They walk upstairs, his arm around her. They disappear into an upstairs bedroom. A moment later, a cap gun rings out.
I had been brought up not to believe in ghosts. Uncle Edgar made himself very clear on that point. You couldn’t be a Bible-believing Christian and still believe in ghosts, he said, with of course the one exception, the Holy Ghost, who was in a class by Himself.
But when it came to a choice between the theories of Uncle Edgar or Snake, I always tended to go with Snake. Sitting there on the motel bed sifting through those old books and pictures and the family history, I became more and more convinced of the existence of ghosts. In fact by ten o’clock I had come to the conclusion that a world without ghosts wouldn’t be much of a world. Without ghosts you wouldn’t have a past, and without a past, what would be the point of going forward?
Another thing I’d been informed on good authority was that God has a plan for the world; otherwise, why would He have bothered to create it? And why would He have bothered to create us if He didn’t have a plan for each and every person? So isn’t our own purpose in life to discover His individually-tailored plan for us and then get to work on implementing it? “QED!” said Uncle Edgar triumphantly when he had finished this line of thought, “QED!”
Just after I finished Brodie’s chapter on Joseph’s final departure from Kirtland, my cell belted out the first bar of the National Anthem. Hoping but no longer expecting it would be Alcina, I answered.
“Tonight. Same place. Eight,” a female voice said softly and hung up.
That night at eight I was sitting at my small table in the Heretic Lounge when Alcina entered, wearing a dark brown wig and dark glasses and carrying a posh purse instead of her laptop. Looking around furtively, she slithered into the seat across from me and admonished me for looking at her “like that.”
“It’s me,” she said in a low voice. “Let’s keep it quiet.”
Just as I was preparing to insert a quip into the conversation, the barmaid appeared and tapped a pencil on my ready tab.
“Two Latter Days,” I ordered.
“That’s all?” the lady wanted to know.
“That’s it,” I said and, as she left, turned to Alcina. “Maybe we should go over to my place.” Before she could answer, I wrote down my address, slipped it to her across the table under a napkin, got up, and left for home.
The first obstacle to a successful fulfillment of my calling is as simple to state as it is difficult to surmount: I have no long-term memory. How can an aspiring novelist hope to perform his lofty duty if his experience is limited to a single week? Does he not need what the incomparable Marcel Proust, by all accounts one of the main practitioners of the modern novel, has called “the vast structure of recollection” on which to draw?
Do not suppose that my thoughts on this conundrum led me into the pit of dejection. On the contrary: they aroused in me a sense of the absurdity of my circumstance, a sense that expressed itself in the slight, self-deprecating chuckle I had come to regard as my most endearing trait. They also rekindled a memory of my all-too-brief relationship with a young but kindred spirit. I speak, naturally, of Professor Chlöe Calloway.