Specifics of Hell

Kayla Rae Whitaker

I stayed in bed the rest of the day. Dad carried the little TV from the kitchen to my bedroom so I could play Nintendo. He fed me cans of Sprite through a straw. “Can I have Mountain Dew?”

“Too much sugar. You need to rest.” He felt my forehead. Watched me lose a round of Dr. Mario. “So you stack the pills by color?”

“Yeah, like Tetris. Stack them to get rid of them.”

He studied me through his glasses. His church shirt was untucked from his pants. Only the first button was loose, revealing a skim of clean white undershirt. “I don’t think you have the flu,” he said.

I didn’t say anything. He looked back at the television screen, then at me again. “Your mom seems to think you boys were eating cookies in the church kitchen last week. Is she right?”

“Yeah. But we didn’t do it this week.”

He looked at me.

“I’m sorry.”

“Just so long as you don’t do it again.” He pushed his glasses up his nose. We both looked at the TV screen. “Anything else bothering you?”

The way he sat by me, so neutral, only the faintest sun lines around his eyes and mouth. His hair that shade of brown so middling you could barely put a name to it. When he helped me with my math homework, he smelled like Head and Shoulders and pennies. He put his hand on my shoulder.

“Sometimes I wonder if I’m really a good person or not.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know. I worry that if I die, I could go to Hell. And what it’s like. Like having hot pokers jammed up—up your nose, and stuff. Everything Reverend Tolliver talks about.”

Dad exhaled loudly and stared at the wall in thought. “I don’t recall Reverend Tolliver saying anything about hot pokers up the nose.”

“Aron said he said it.”

“Son, Aron’s not a pastor. He’s a boy who likes to make up stories. Don’t encourage him.”

“But what if he’s right?”

Dad settled his chin on top of his hand. “I’ll tell you what. I think you’re just fine as you are. I think you’re a good person. I think it’s important to try to be a good person. Trying is the most important thing. If you fail, you get it right the next time. But if you feel you’ve done something wrong, with the cookies or with something else, then confess it in prayer. That’s what Jesus is there for.”

“What if I still go to Hell?”

“The way you’re talking, you’d think you were set on going there.” He straightened his glasses and smiled, a little huff of air passing his lips. The closest he usually ever came to laughing. “I think the best thing to do is not to worry about the Hell stuff. Just focus on goodness. Being good to other people. Living a good life.”

It sounded too simple, but what I felt was not simple. That was the problem. I could have told him more. About the dinosaurs, and druggery, and "The Red Shoe Diaries." I could have tried to tell him about this terrible thing with veins that went all the way down inside me. But I lost my nerve.

I said, “okay.”

Dad got up and went downstairs. I played through the levels until I fell asleep, the controller warm and square in my hand.

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