I wish I could tell every schmuck who told me I’d get plenty of sleep when I was dead to kiss my ass. Three weeks since I lodged that bullet in my brain and I haven’t slept once. My great-grandpa—my oldest cousins called him Cee-bop—tells me no one needs to sleep here but I been so exhausted I think he’s just telling me that to calm me down. He sleeps no problem and I don’t see crowds of late folks running around in the middle of the night like me, so it’s not calming me down.
Maybe I have to train myself to do it. Maybe I missed some sort of orientation when I woke in the stenchsmoke of gunpowder staring down the old brick wall behind the station where I worked. As if with lead for brains and a headache that might as well have been an aneurysm the size of a football I could figure out why someone built a wall to guard nothing.
I don’t think they make TV here. Cee-bop watches plenty but it all looks like what I watched topside. It brings up my heart rate and my old anxieties about wasting time and I start to antsy after watching with him just a few minutes and that’s always what kicks me out of Cee-bop’s house near the city end of the Old Breaux Bridge Highway.
Lafayette now looks a lot like Lafayette before but almost like an inversion—except most objects here that aren’t people are colored somewhere between night black and navy blue, but still pale as hell like they all been scrubbed down by someone trying to erase any evidence of hue. Every line and border and edge is solid white. Looks almost wireframe. It’s not, but my dying friend who was big on classic games like Battlezone would be in heaven if she were here.
Not that this is heaven. Or hell. Or purgatory. Not that I woulda guessed purgatory. Momma raised me Baptist and if Momma hadn’t Meemaw would’ve. We mighta been surrounded by coonasses answering to Rome but Momma said we weren’t Cajun enough to betray the Word of God. But now that I know God and Jesus and heaven and hell don’t exist here I’m Cajun enough, in a way.
Sometimes I feel like Momma’s watching me, somehow, but Cee-bop told me it can only be the other way around. He said dead eyes see better than dying ones, because the dying ones can’t see the truth. Not that he’s told me how I can put my eye to dying folks. Not that he’s even got a book or a goddamn flyer on it. So I spend most my daytime—
at least I think it’s daytime; the light here doesn’t change much, it’s just a slightly brighter unsourced ambient glow that shifts into a slightly dimmer unsourced ambient glow like everything’s illuminated by fluorescents but without causing so many splitting headaches—so I spend most my days wandering the city on foot, checking over both shoulders for Momma’s face as I go, re-learning this by eye and by foot, imagining how I’d shoot it different dead than dying, wondering if I’ll be stuck here in familiarity for too many years.
Momma named me Beatrice cause she loved reading Dante in high school. Me, I never liked the name and when I learned it meant “traveller” I thought Momma had played a cruel joke on me. Sure I studied production in school and sure I was the main director at KATC and sure it was supposed to be my ticket to directing the Super Bowl and the Emmys but no one was looking to help a black woman move on out of Lafayette to more prominent gigs. Especially in that political climate. Too much orange dust making everyone hallucinate “reverse” anything everywhere.
So when I was in middle school and I learned I was named for the one thing I’d never done—never even left Acadiana till college—I started using the Italian nick for it: Bice. Bee-chay. Never mind I got no Italian in me. That’s what makes me like it.
So many of Momma’s stories come so much more alive now that I’m learning all this city. Today I’m out toward the Oil Center, walking along a road that even on foot looks way too damn narrow for four lanes of traffic. But the parish made it four lanes anyway. And fuck them if they were gonna widen it. But that’s what accidents are for—show bad design. Tell people drive more careful, then fix it after they forget.
I’m telling myself now I should be looking more. Swear to God—if God were here—there’s a set of eyes burning into my back, so I’m looking more. No one. Some cars running—all old, all mechanical, not sure I seen any with computers yet—but no one walking but me. Calm in a way no road ever was when I was dying. Calm in a way my job never was.
Which isn’t hard, since the job was concentrated nerve-fry. Never got more than a day off at a time, and still answering calls all through that anyway. Always getting called in for unscheduled shoots. All the sudden the GM gets a bug or a fucking hornet’s nest up their ass and I gotta direct a one-camera crew to tape a fucking no-movement, no-cut promo we never gonna run.
Five years there and I never had more time off than what I needed to sleep. All I wanted was a breath and a break and now I got plenty of both. Be better to spend it with Momma a while. Never thought I’d miss her cause I was always around her. But then you don’t learn much when you’re dying. You earn your wisdom when you’re late.
I could swear I hear Momma calling my name. My full name, like she’s scolding me. Part of me thinks she’d kill herself just to find me and scold me for killing myself, but I know she wouldn’t. Which is one aspect of her strength I didn’t inherit. In that way I’m more like Cee-bop. But I’ll be damned if I don’t hear some motherfucker shouting my name like I tore off his leg and beat his mother to death with it.
Now I’d swear they’re shouting “stop.” I don’t stop but I do start looking around again as I go. No one near me but I guess someone could be hiding in that parking—
“Beatrice Richard! Don’t fucking defy my orders again!”
Is this dude serious?
“I’m here from the Auto Squad and I’m placing you under—”
I start sprinting.
13 Tales from the Auto Squad is an anthology series about a government agency in the afterlife that handles the other side of suicide cases. Each story will be told over the course of four installments, approximately 1000 words each, posted every Monday.