I don’t think Mom meant to be a pain, but mummification’s hard to come by. The closest Egyptologist—apparently a real job—is in Chicago, 400 miles away. Am I supposed to lug her body in my trunk? Manson Funeral Parlor offers burial or cremation only. I didn’t bother to ask. Godly people, the Mansons.
Leroy says the ancient Egyptians were godly, too. Godlier—all kinds of gods. Leroy says he can do it. I say taxidermy’s not the same thing, and he assures me he’s not going to treat her like a prize buck, she deserves better than that. She does deserve better. She knew it, too.
Mom only got into Egypt after her diagnosis, had to squeeze one last passion in there, but Leroy’s a real buff. Used to read me bedtime stories from the Book of the Dead whenever Mom dropped me at his house next door, short notice, so she could take ballet lessons in the county over, or harvest shiny glass corn on her friend’s cousin’s sustainable farm, or try out for some movie filming in the city, leaving me with Leroy and his deer and pheasants and squirrels until I was old enough to look after myself. Now Leroy tells me the Book of the Dead is more like books—etchings and scrolls cobbled together over time. But those scraps are enough to manage. He’s tried it before, he says, on his aunt’s pet cat. The ancient Egyptians mummified cats sometimes.
I ask if he wants any money, not that I have much. Leroy says it’s an honor, he loved Mom, everybody did, life of the party, but if I could pick up supplies, that would be great. I don’t ask if it’s legal. We both know the answer to that, and so did Mom.
First, he’ll remove Mom’s organs, place them in jars. He says Hobby Lobby has some nice jars. Later he’ll dry her with salt—like jerky, I think. Then he’ll wrap her in linen. There are prayers and rituals throughout the process. He’ll let me know so I can come for those parts, if I want. The whole thing will take more or less 70 days—that’s how long the priests took. He makes me a list.
I was trying to say goodbye, and she wouldn’t stop talking my ear off about her akh. There’s the ka, which hangs out inside the mummy, and the ba, which she said was like a soul but sounded more like a ghost, floating between town and the tomb. Then there’s the akh, which is the part that actually travels to the afterlife, and she was worried about her akh getting lost, she’d always felt so lost. I was surprised she admitted it, but I guess that’s what people do on their deathbeds. I kissed her temple, promised I’d do everything right, make sure she got there safe.
Best to scratch off the easiest items first. Book of the Dead Spell 105: make sure the dead don’t go hungry. At the corner store, I grab one of those honey-cinnamon granola bars she liked and a can of tangerine LaCroix. Incense—still have some nag champa in my bedroom. She hated me burning it when she was around to smell it, but I think it’s supposed to be symbolic. Natron? Internet says it’s some kind of ashy compound from the bottom of dry lakes, people used it as soap. I raid the bathroom drawer with all the mini-soaps she stole from hotels.
Mom’s going to need more salt than Leroy’s aunt’s pet cat, so I go to the one other person who saw her the way I did, more pilgrim than adventurer. Saw her long before I did, chose to see her, though they never married. We don’t talk much—he was never Dad—but I know he’s coming up on retirement at the Public Works. When I break the news, he gives me all the road salt my car can take, sacks of it in my backseat, the weight of it so heavy you can see it in the wheels.
Spell 26 protects the heart. Leroy wrote out the passage: My heart is mine, and is content with me. At Hobby Lobby, I wonder what kind of jar Mom’s heart belongs in. Not this tacky heart-shaped mason jar. The vases are prettier, but they don’t have lids. There’s a teal and gold glass jar for twenty dollars. It’s a little out of my budget, but what’s a budget to eternity? I’d never begrudge her that.
My haul barely fits inside Leroy’s garage, between the bins of foam animal forms and plastic tubs of glass eyes, shears and scalpels and needles and scrapers hanging from the walls. He’s already got Mom’s body on the table, still wrapped in the sheets where she died, the last bit of warmth she’ll ever feel unless we can get this akh thing going.
Leroy asks if I thought about a tomb yet. I admit that I have not. I ask if he knows a good pyramid nearby.
Our house next door is the closest thing she had to a home, and she only slept there as much as she did because of me. On the pullout couch–she knew I’d make better use of the big bedroom. The little bedroom is hardly more than a closet, which is how she used it, clothes and shoes and bags, a few cardboard boxes of mementos that I never touched, though she never asked me not to. I’d still rather not go through them. I’d rather bury her in the little bedroom with the tokens of what might have been homes. But the house, sturdy as it is, wasn’t built for that kind of lasting.
Leroy says not to think on it too hard. Spell 188: She begs that she may come and go, that she may have power in her legs…a true akh, equipped and divine. That’s what all this is for, so she can get there on her own.
Becky Robison is a karaoke enthusiast, trivia nerd, and fiction writer living in Louisville, Kentucky. A graduate of UNLV’s Creative Writing MFA program, her stories have appeared in [PANK], Paper Darts, Juked, and elsewhere. When she’s not working her corporate job or walking her dog, she serves as the Social Media and Marketing Coordinator for Split Lip Magazine.