Ten minutes till Glee. I’ve ripped the plastic off a new box of tissues. Fluffed the first one up. Popped popcorn. Finn’s just died in real life, but he’ll always be a football-playing tenor in syndication. The glee club are going to nationals again today. Afternoon reruns. I’ve seen this one six times. There’s something about song—the rise, the fall of a well-built melody—that looses the connections in my brain to the feeling parts. A little wine helps. It’s like sob therapy with commercial breaks.
I’m just decanting a 2010 Sangiovese when the doorbell rings. I check my watch. Nine minutes. Through the peephole a fun-house priest—head much larger than the black robe beneath it—looks straight at me, smiling sweetly. The cowed Catholic boy inside me opens the door.
“Father?” I’m already reaching into a pocket to scrounge up a few coins for the needy.
I don’t have a sense of humor, so I don’t ask Who wants to know. I say Yes, that’s me, wondering if there are eight or only seven minutes left until the recap of what I missed last time on Glee begins.
“May I come in?”
“Will this take long?”
“No,” he says like This isn’t about you.
It’s not an urn as they keep saying in the news. It’s a flimsy cardboard box big enough for a man’s shoes but round, and it’s sitting here like a centerpiece on my kitchen table between me and the priest. Yes, I’ve heard about it. The whole world is debating this Nazi and the plan to bury him in a secret location. You’d think I’d be flustered to have this drama playing out in my kitchen, but I’m calm. Maybe a bit irritated. Reality doesn’t really push my buttons. The priest looks from decanter to tissues to popcorn, understands I’m in the middle of something here. He comes to the point.
“Three hundred dollars a month . . . for the trouble,” he says.
“Will there be trouble?”
“One never knows. Neo-Nazis will be looking for it. That’s why the ashes are in a biodegradable box. In a few months there’ll be nothing left.”
“But you’ll keep paying?”
“Until we’re notified of your death.”
“I’ll do it.” I check my watch. Less than two minutes till Glee.
I scribble my bank details and show the priest to the door. On the stoop, he crosses himself, bows his head and asks me to pray with him. When I hesitate, he grabs my arm. His grip is much stronger than a priest’s.
“Bury it,” he prays, “In your basement. Quickly. Never tell anyone about it. Don’t start throwing money around. People will wonder. Bury it, forget it. Amen.”
“Amen.” I turn without saying good-bye, without looking to see which neighbors’ curiosity I’ve aroused. What I missed last time on Glee has already started. I pull a tissue with one hand, plunge the other into popcorn.
Back in the kitchen, I pitch the empty Sangiovese bottle in the trash and sit down with my box of Nazi. On TV they’re calling him The Last Nazi. He’s infamous. He has the right to a proper, albeit anonymous, burial though he ordered the deaths of thousands and thousands of people. I’ve been chosen as his gatekeeper because I am, as the priest said in the six minutes he sat at my kitchen table, invisible. Uninteresting.
I am the most invisible person in the US. I’m Catholic but believe in God only occasionally, most often when I’m watching Glee. I live alone and work from home as a ghost writer. I’ve waved politely at my neighbors before but have never said one word to any of them in twenty years. They know my name, I suppose. It’s on the door. Mark Johnson. Even my name is so common you’d find hundreds of me in the phone book. That makes me everyone and no-one. The hardest suspect to find on CSI. A nobody to beat all nobodies.
When the priest punctuated his reasoning with this, I didn’t flinch. I’ve never felt passion—love, hate, revulsion or ecstasy—about anything in real life. Even now, glancing at the round box in the middle of my kitchen table, I’ve forgotten for a moment what I’m meant to do with it. Who would know? If I emptied its contents down the toilet, would police storm my house and arrest me? I seriously wonder if they have cameras.
“Bury it,” I say, like the priest. I still feel his grip on my arm.
My basement is a bit larger than a crawlspace with an earthen floor. Maybe this is another reason I was chosen: because I can dig a hole with no-one looking. It takes an afternoon. I want to sink it deep, out of easy reach, but I end up stopping at two feet. The ground is stubborn, and I want to get it done before the evening episode of Glee. It’s a rerun of course, but it’s like when good friends come back to visit.
My brother is coming to dinner tonight. We see each other only on his birthday. We’re polite. It’s over in two hours. Tops. He asks me about my life; I ask him about his. Neither tells the truth about anything, and neither has any interest in the other whatsoever. Often I think I could feel something for him if we had a soundtrack and a good director. I mention him only because his visit obliges me to clean off the cluttered kitchen table, which is the only reason I remember the box of Nazi at all—buried under two months of bills, breadstick bags leaking crumbs, junk mail and magazines that keep coming though I never order them.
I didn’t bury it in the crawlspace. I couldn’t. I brought it back to the kitchen and Googled the Nazi instead. His name had over two million hits. I read all the Wiki pages. His daughters still live in Argentina; would they try to find him? He’d been a doctor, educated in a small village in southern Germany. I read into the night, every night. Two million hits for this man whose contribution to the world had been nothing less than monstrous. Mornings my gut hurt, but I kept reading. So many words devoted to this fiend. I Googled myself too. Mark Johnson. Over 500 million hits. But not one of them—or at least not in the first hundred pages—was me. He left an awful mark on the world. I’ll leave nothing.
I clear the table to get it ready for my brother’s birthday dinner: always lamb cutlet in a white wine sauce, white asparagus and white wine. His favorite, or so he says. I’ve served it for the last ten years. He probably hates it but endures it because it’s easier to eat something he doesn’t like rather than to step over the line of pale politeness.
When I pick up the box of Nazi, it leaves a perfect little Mount Fuji of ash on the table. The accumulating clutter on top of the box must have pressed a hole in the already-rotting cardboard. I fetch the dustpan, sweep it up. It’s only a dab in the pan. Gray. Sandy. Instead of depositing it back into the box, I sniff it. Carbon. I nudge it with my ring finger. Some of the Nazi clings to me. Reckless, I lick the slaty smudge off and empty the rest into the trash. The Nazi tastes like pencil lead.
I take the box back to the basement. I mean to bury it, to be done with this man’s life before my brother comes. A practical precaution. For more than an hour I sit with the Nazi at the bottom of its hole. I try to feel something. Rage. Sorrow. Revulsion. Anything. It’s no use. If I’d had a history of love or hate, maybe I could feel something right now without a 25-year-old high-school kid breaking into song. But I feel nothing, even as my brother’s voice booms from the answering machine in the kitchen above. He won’t be coming this year. He doesn’t give a reason. I’ll need to put the lamb back in the freezer. It’s already begun to thaw, and I don’t really like lamb.
I sit another few minutes before I lift the box of Nazi out, wiggle off its top. It’s half full, two million tiny specks. Outside, a neighbor revs and chokes his lawnmower, and for two seconds maybe I hear a melody. But as it modulates to a constant, senseless drone, I close my eyes. I lick two fingers, drag them through infamy and lift them to my mouth.
Christopher Allen grew up in Tennessee but now lives somewhere in Europe. He’s a writer, editor and a teacher, a singer and a cook. He blogs at www.imustbeoff.com.