Buying a Soul
“I ordered it from a catalogue,” I said, opening the refrigerator.
“That’s hard to believe,” he said eyeing it closely. “You still have that catalogue?”
“Afraid not. Don’t even know if they put them out anymore.” I took out the milk jug and moved over to the blender.
“How much did it cost?”
“$19.95, I think. But that was about ten years ago.”
“It would cost more today,” Todd said.
I cracked an egg into the blender, then dropped in a banana.
What I had read in the catalogue, which had mainly cheap novelty items like squirting lapel flowers and rubber dog poops, piqued my curiosity:
SOUL: Just in time for the Christmas season. Light up your holiday and the lives of those around you. Walk into the new year with confidence and joy. For security and confidentiality, this product will arrive in plain wrapping. This was last year’s best-seller, so only a limited supply is now available.
In a while an automated voice was telling me to pound #1 for Fall Catalogue purchases, then #3 for rush order shopping, then #1 for filling the order. I distinctly remember getting disconnected. Then I did all that again.
Something evidently got screwed up. First an invoice came stating that my product was on back order. Weeks passed. In December, after buying a Christmas tree, I prudently ordered a backup gift. My wife and daughter threw themselves into decor-ating the house the way they usually do with sprigs of spruce, red candles, and angels everywhere. They played the Christmas songs, the singing chipmunks, the singing nun, and the chanting monks. We were definitely getting ready.
on the mantel
Deep in the guts of February it arrived. Peering into the mailbox, I discovered a thick manila mailer. Printed on it was an informative word: MERCHANDISE.
“Ah,” I exhaled in the frigid air, “finally my seeds.”
I opened it and at first shake nothing dropped out but air. Then I saw it, pulled it carefully out, and stared.
“Say Bill, how’s about letting me photocopy that,” said Todd.
“Naw Todd, I don’t think it works that way.” Into the blender I dumped two tablespoons of toasted wheat germ and a few drops of vanilla extract.
It has been hanging on my refrigerator door for nearly a decade, pinned now to the corkboard between a shopping list and errand list. The novelty has worn off, and I can’t say I look at it much anymore.
But it’s nice to have up there, along with my child’s school artwork. I do notice it sometimes, like when the overhead fan is spinning and its soft, feathery edges flap like angel wings. Some days, rushing off to the supermarket and plucking the food list, I brush it with my fingertips.
My talisman, my mail-order exhalation of God.
Nonetheless I still tend toward depression, if you must know. None of that has changed—you can’t greatly alter brain chemistry that is as screwed up as mine. Yet trudging out along the vacant cornfield’s edge in a February dusk, in two feet of windswept snow, expecting nothing in the way of an upswing in personal happiness, sometimes I take sudden heart:
bursting from blackness
of ditch brambles at dusk—
wings crossing the moon