Telling Tales 43
The Puzzle of Being Dead
“As long as I’m dead, I may as well enjoy myself,” she thought. She looked at the bright world around her. Colors were sharper. Bird calls were clearer. She felt her head, but there were no bumps and no blood. She felt her body, and there were no broken bones. She didn’t hurt in any way. She wasn’t hungry. She lay back down and stared up at the sky and let the mild breeze wave the grasses around her in lovely patterns.
She couldn’t say how long she lay there. It seemed a great deal of time, but the sun had barely moved. She wouldn’t have risen, either, except for the cries she was hearing, creeping in at the edge of her hearing. “What could be wrong if I’m dead?” she said with a frown, and made her way toward the sounds.
At the edge of the field, beyond the tall grass and in a circle of stones that someone had wisely set out in the dirt in case of fire, stood a stone hearth. On the near side sat a leather bag, full to overflowing with loaves of bread that fell steadily, one at a time, from the mouth of the oven, wherein could be seen a fire that grew and fell, pulsing. With every roar of the flames, a new loaf of bread fell.
“Help me, please,” called the bag, “for I am stuffed and surely I will break.”
“Me, help me,” called the oven, “I am so hot I will soon crack and be no more.”
“I am certainly dead,” the young woman confirmed, “because bags and ovens do not talk. That is a relief.” She meant that she was glad everything made sense still. Nevertheless, she made haste because the bag and oven seemed in pain. As grew nearer, she saw the dough that fell into the oven, a small mass and growing smaller, also calling out for help, “There will be nothing left of me!”
“What to do?” she wondered. If she closed the bag, the bread would still fall and the oven would still crack. If she moved the dough, the oven would still crack and perhaps dump hot coals on the bag. She ran to the other side where she saw an iron shovel dumping coal into the back of the hearth. The pile of coal cried for mercy but the shovel showed none.
“Please, won’t you slow down?” she asked the shovel.
“I am strong and I can keep working, fear not,” it answered.
“But if you keep working, you will exhaust everyone around you. There will be no more coal. There will be no more hearth. The bread and the bag will be exhausted and destroyed.”
“They are weak,” countered the shovel. “I am helping them build up their strength. DIG went the shovel and GROAN went the coal and CREAK went the hearth.
“They will be stronger when they have had a chance to replenish themselves. A good night’s rest is what they need.”
“And rest they will, come nightfall, but that is hours away,” said the shovel.
“You are too strong to need a rest,” she observed.
“That is true,” agreed the shovel.
“You dig tirelessly.”
“I do. It is my goal and my purpose and without it my life would be meaningless.”
“Would you kill yourself to keep your life meaningful?”
The shovel paused.
“Help,” whimpered the dough.
“If you shoveled coal even faster, you would have a great fire, would you not?” she asked.
“What?” said the coal.
“Excuse me?” asked the hearth.