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THE AFTER MAN/Kris Lackey IT WILL SOUND DEAD ON like an infomercial when I confess the truth. That is because at the beginning—no, for ten years before the real start, when I actually dwindled—the cable hucksters spoke to me at all hours in their baby lisps and daddy nostrums and lover blandishments until the world split into food and joy and I chose joy. I believed them. I chose to be born again. And then things wentjust like the hucksters said they would. Only as far as that, however—the hucksters don't dwell much on consequences. Maybe someday I will stretch my waistband way out and get it photographed. I can put it in my own reducing book. But for a while I was the after man. As I say, for ten years I nibbled at the bait, purchasing a can of this appetite inhibitor, a bottle of that carbo burner, but never with any real conviction. Diet-surfing entertained me; it numbed the pesky gibes, to boot. Five days after my thirty-sixth birthday I did not quit believing that the hucksters of thinness were cynical and wicked. I just quit believing they were wrong. That was my big mistake or my whopping good fortune . I cannot decide which. Why it happened I can't tell you, exactly. You see, once the bombastic Baptist sphyzerinctum—starting anew, afresh, agog, heaven bound in God's aeroplane—failed me, at twenty or so, after a childhood of macabre dreams and visions of a glorious resurrection, I had begun what I thought was a lifelong campaign against rebirths of all kinds. When it fell out that I took a philosophy degree at a small Bible college and was subsequently hired to manage a cemetery, the ignorantly named East of Eden, in Weogufka, Oklahoma, I hunkered down with a fine stoicism, a grand and satisfying resignation to my lot in life. Here Joey Soape would sit—large and able, among his section maps and twine, his retractable tape measure snapped onto his belt—and husband the planting of corpses. Late one June afternoon in my thirty-sixth year I knelt in Section 23A and burrowed for a sunken surveyor's marker. I delved but could not find it. Either it was lost or it had never been plugged when, in 1939, East of Eden was charted. The crew, ganged around our makeshift Fordson backhoe, were impatient. I could just see them, furtively rancorous there, through a stand of old junipers. It was almost five. The 40 · The Missouri Review order had come in late, a funeral from Poteau. And now I was going to resort to trigonometry. I called to one of the old hands, Alvie. He strode gamely alone across two sections and drew up wheezing. "Alvie, I'm going to need some help, here." I squinted at a faded and sweat-blotched section map. "Try to find two-thirty-eight and three-eighty-five. About there. And there." I pointed. When I returned from my black Galaxy with some foot-long rebar stakes and twine, he had the posts marked with twigs. I sank one iron at each twig. The third necessary marker had been thrust up by a root. Alvie smiled as I strung the twine from stake to stake into a large triangle. "That aim' easy. It must be exoteric." "It proved the earth was round, Alvie." Alvie shook his head and grinned. "Foo-ooh," he said. I measured the sides and angles, whipped out my Texas Instrument, asked it for a cosine, solved for x, and planted a fourth stake where the missing marker belonged. In no time at all orange penants flew from little masts at each corner of the new grave. Alvie waved his welder's cap at the crew, and the Fordson belched to life. The twine web sagged in the heat. HIS FAMILY LOVED HIM HERE BELOW BUT ANGLES LOVED HIM MORE. The stonecutter who engraved that marker must have known better, but there it stands, fortuitously and eternally true, on section fourteen. I cranked up the a.c. in my Galaxy and watched the backhoe's scorpion tail writhe...


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