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You Can't Go Home Again
by Sly Squirrel
©2003 Sly Squirrel -- all rights reserved

"Jack Nichols," the parlor door said. It felt strange reading the words from the slit in my white gauze, like someone wanted this room to belong to me. Inside I could hear a small dime store jukebox playing synthesized organ music, muddled by the low mixture of murmuring conversation and scattered weeping. I took in a deep breath of dry air through the white gauze and pushed open the door.

Inside were over a hundred people, some staring off into space, others crying their eyes out. A prayer group had circled up in one corner, and were sending their graces to my memory. My empty, sealed casket sat up front, with a small high school picture laying on top of it. At the right-hand side of the door was a book full of condolences.

Amazing that the doctor managed to convince everyone that I had sunk to the bottom of the town lake. It was a great way to distance myself from my human life; in only a few days the bandages would be gone, and I'd start a new life as the first Tanked man in film. I was finally going to be someone!

A pastor was settling down the congregation by gently coughing. Instantly everyone settled down into their seats, and I took my place at the rear of the congregation. Up in front, a petite teenager began to wail. As she turned I caught a glimpse of her face. Kathy Moreau, my old sweetheart, don't cry! I'm right here!

"We gather here today," the pastor began nobly, "to honor the deceased Jack Nichols. Jack was a strong young boy, full of life and promise. At school his teachers marveled at his insatiable urge to ask why. In social circles he was a laid-back, light-hearted kid who tried his best to make everyone happy. I'll keep my eulogy short. Let us pray."

Everyone bowed their heads, but a small kid poked me on the arm. "Why are you dressed like a mummy, mister?"

I coughed nervously and thought up an excuse. "I'm a distant cousin of Jack's, and I just went through plastic surgery. When I heard he died, I begged the doctors to release me." It felt so strange to say I had died...

"Oh." Everyone raised their head, and I snapped to attention. An old friend took the podium to offer a few words, but all that came out was a long, anguished wail. The people packed into the pews nodded with understanding; a few started to cry themselves.

So many people here for me. Me! Why didn't they let me know I was that important before I 'died'?

Then I realized: did I ever tell them how much I appreciated them? Did I ever simply thank them for being there, for putting up with my quirks, for laughing at my jokes, for appreciating my company?

Did I ever let them know I cared?

I wanted to rip away the bandages and scream out to them. I'm here! I'm alive! Your Jack is sitting right here! Surely they'd jump up to greet me, hug me, thank God that I'm alive...

But had I burned my bridges behind me? I had lied to them, left home, and dropped my body into the Tank. Jack Nichols was only a distant memory; the squirrel standing in his place couldn't possibly live up to his reputation.

They say you can't go home again. Oh, if only it were just a saying!

Without a word, I walked outside into the open air, the cold wind evaporating tears that welled up on my facial bandages.

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