"...and then I decided to get my shoes back and here I am. Honey, can you let go of me for a minute?"
Jess had been clutching my hand with both of hers the entire time I told her what had happened, and let go with great reluctance. "I can't believe it," she'd kept saying, shaking her head so hard it gave me a headache to watch. "I just can't believe it."
We were on our knees in the Ant's walk-in closet. I was carefully inspecting my shoes and putting them inside the skirt of my stepmother's fourteen hundred dollar ball gown (what forty-five year old woman needs a ball gown, for crying out loud?). My father and stepmother were hiding in the living room, too afraid to come back and talk to me, to find out what happened. I could smell their fear and unease-it was like burning plastic-and while not having to face them any longer was a relief, I felt bad all the same.
"I just can't believe it," Jess said again.
"You can't believe it?" I said. "Try waking up dead and attempting to grasp the situation. It's taken me almost two days to get used to the idea. Or at least to start to start to get used to the idea. And I'm not even sure how it happened, or what I'm supposed to-"
"I don't give a shit," Jessica said. "You're alive-sort of-walking and talking, anyway, and that's all I care about." She threw her arms around me again. She weighs about ninety pounds and it was like being grabbed by a bundle of sticks. "Liz, I'm so happy you're here! Today was the worst day of my life!"
"What a coincidence!" I cried, and we both got the giggles. I added, "And don't call me Liz, you know I hate it."
"Or you'll suck my blood?"
"I'm trying to put that off," I admitted, but couldn't help but dart a glance at her long, ebony neck. "The thought of it makes me want to yark. Repeatedly. Besides, I hate dark meat."
That earned me a sharp poke. I needled Jess whenever I could, because it was a best friend's privilege and also because she was grossly prejudiced. Thought all whites were greedy and treacherous, with the possible exception of yours truly. Admittedly, this could sometimes be a hard case to argue.
When we met in seventh grade, her first words to me were, "Drop dead twice, you privileged, whitemeat schmuck." The fact that she was saying this while clutching a Gucci bag didn't seem to matter to her. My response ("Go cry in a bag of money, sweetie.") startled her into becoming my friend. That's how I made most of my friends: the element of surprise.
"Now that you're undead," Jessica went on, "I expect you to stop repressing me and others of my racial persuasion," she said primly, which was as big a laugh as I'd had that day. Jessica was about as repressed as Martha Stewart.
"Are you being driven insane with the unholy urge to feed?" she asked in a 'would you like cream with that?' tone of voice.
I couldn't help grinning. "Not insane, but I'm super, super thirsty. Like, jump out of bed and work out for an hour thirsty. Dancing at the club all night thirsty."
"Well, stay the hell away...I'd hate to have to pepper spray my best friend."
"Right. After throwing myself off the roof, getting run over by a garbage truck, electrocuting myself, drinking bleach, and committing a double homicide and felonious assault, I sure wouldn't want to be pepper sprayed."
She smiled. "You're unkillable now. Good. I don't need another phone call like I got last week."
"About that...how long have I been dead? What's been going on? I can't ask them," I said, jerking my head toward the living room. "He's in shock and she's useless."
"Well," Jessica began slowly, folding her legs beneath her and clasping her fingers together. She looked like a black praying mantis. "Your dad called me Wednesday night. I reacted to the news of your death by calling him a fucking honky liar and slamming the phone down. FYI, I've never called anyone a honky in my life; it's so twentieth century. Then, for effect, I burst into tears. Also very twentieth century. This lasted about eight hours. I called the rest of the gang, and talked to Officer Stud-"
"He called to ask about funeral information. I guess he found out about the accident because he's a cop and all. He was at the funeral," she added slyly. She'd been teasing me about my nonexistent affair for months.
"Oooh, details, who else?"
"Umm...most of the gang from work. And your former boss! He lays you off, you die, and the colossal prick had the nerve to be all sad-eyed at your funeral. And ask me if I knew where you'd kept the phone number for the copy machine repair guy. Ugh. Of course, there wasn't actually a funeral...they lost your body! Picture it: we're all standing around, waiting for things to get started, and the head mortician guy stands up and tells us there's been 'a slight problem.' Which I thought was weird until I walked into this house and got a look at what weird really was. And speaking of weird, weren't you embalmed? I mean, did it just not affect you, or did your folks cheap out and skip that step, or what?"
"You're asking me? How the hell should I know?" I barely suppressed a shudder. Even the thought of liposuction creeped me out, to say nothing of tubing and embalming fluid. A riddle I was in no hurry to solve, and that was a fact. "Why are you here, anyway? Not that I mind, because you probably saved me from wringing the Ant's neck. But you hate my parents. Don't tell me-you bought up their mortgage from the bank and came over to foreclose on them."
"I wish. Thanks for the idea, though. I got a look at Mrs. Taylor's footgear at the funeral. I knew those weren't her Pradas. So I figured I'd come over and try to get them back."
I smiled at her. She looked like an Egyptian queen, and fought for her friends like a rabid coyote. She positively despised my father and his wife, but braved HellHouse the day of my funeral to get my shoes back. "Oh, Jess...why? I was dead, for all you knew. I didn't need them anymore."
"Well, I did," she said tartly. Which was a lie; Jessica has feet like Magic Johnson. "Besides, it wasn't right. That jerk had to have swiped your dad's keys, snuck into your house, and stole! I knew you wouldn't have wanted her to have them. I figured I'd donate them to the Foot."
I nodded. In her spare time (which was to say, fifty hours a week), Jessica ran The Right Foot. The Foot gave interviewing tips, advice, resume assistance, and hand-me-down suits and accessories to underprivileged women to use for job interviews. It would have been an excellent place for my shoes to end up.
"Awesome idea, and bless your heart for thinking of it." I bundled my shoes into the ball gown, making a sack out of the dress and slinging it over my shoulder like a vampiric Santa. "Of course, there'll be none of that now that I'm back from the dead. Let's book."
I scooped up Antonia's jewelry box, stopped in the kitchen, and handed the sack of shoes to Jess, who looked on with interest as I dumped the Ant's jewelry into the blender, clapped the top on, and hit 'liquefy'. The grinding, jarring, screeching brought her on the run. My father, as was his long habit, went to hide in his den, comforted by his proximity to his collection of old whiskey and new porn.
After a few seconds, during which time we all stared at the mightily vibrating blender, I let the whirling blades groan to a halt. "Don't you ever go into my home again without permission. Touch my things again, whether I'm dead or not, and I'll kick your ass up into your shoulder blades." I said this perfectly pleasantly while I yanked the handle off the fridge and handed it to her. "Got it? Super. See you at Easter."
We left. The sight of Antonia O'Neill Taylor shrinking back from me as I passed her was one I'll treasure forever.