Note: These are the first two chapters of my novel, The Salt Palace (New Issues Press, October 2005). You can purchase your copy of The Salt Palace by clicking here.
First of America
On days like this the sky stiffens, as if to say that summer will never come. Those sweet April showers, each one riding the tail of the one before, migrating through Kalamazoo without a warm week, chase the longest winter since I’ve been here. And now it rains, and rains, shining the cold, black tarmac where the cars have not yet come in. Just beyond the parking lot there is a delicate mist hanging on the grasses and between the pines, bending the sleepy Dutch tulips and daffodils who didn’t know it wasn’t time to wake up yet, and I wonder why I can no longer sleep.
And so, in the First of America parking lot, the sun comes up and I sit in my old broken-down Bronco watching the short, short skies over the black glass and brown brick of Corporate Woods. All that raw land behind rolls in one believable bulge, twenty hours by car, back to the Wasatch Mountains. All that road, all those people still in their dreaming. The morning sun won’t be out there yet. Only hours earlier it tucked the shores of Great Salt Lake in, pulling the shadow-blanket across the valley as it hesitates before fading off behind the blue mountains of Nevada. I’ve watched that sun go down so many times, even in the gray mist of a sleepless Michigan morning it plays clear in my head. I think of Jaimy Sizemore, I even think of Joseph Smith and what I never found there or here and why. I think of Jaimy Sizemore.
My father’s words come to me now: “If you have faith,” he always says, “your past will save you.” Maybe it’s his voice calling me back. Maybe it is His voice calling me for the first time in my life.
I don’t want to think it’s the green numbers on the dash clock that pull me out of my nostalgia and into the rain, but the pit-a-pat song on the radio has ended. A song from ten years ago (ten years!) that stretches something inside me back to the dry mountains, fading away as I cross the parking lot trying to outpace one of the Snack-Machines (Kitty’s term of endearment, but like loads of everything else, something I’ve taken to using in spite of the fact it’s not mine) to the revolving door, and I let her beat me to it. At times I think it’s a meat grinder we all arrive at to meet the same fate: it chews our rolls and lumps and crushes our bones and joints, into sausage then stuffs that undigested flesh into plastic bank tubes. I’ve come to hate my life this much.
And this is the great mystery. The folding inward, the premature collapse. How have I come to empty myself of promise, of what little altruism I may have had once, a short time ago in Kaysville, two thousand green miles from the reflective black glass of a revolving door? “Lies and promises start off on the same road,” my father always says.
I nod at the short, ruddy-faced and dandruffed guard who will spend most of the rest of the morning tending his prostate condition in the men’s room and I turn down a short hallway, on the ground floor, to the CONSUMER LOAN DIVISION. Most of the Snack-Machines are there, shaking down their coats or walking the aisles of carpeted cubicles prospecting for morsels of double-fudge brownies, peanut-butter pie, angel food. They are ‘wonderful-nice,’ the Snack-Machines, masterful calendars and caretakers of the office, spending their extra hours in their kitchens loading and unloading ovens of birthday squares, baby cakes, and retirement pies. I truthfully didn’t have a drop of animosity towards this corpulent society until I found myself fat. A rubbery tube of flesh hangs over the lip of my belt-line and snaps inward like a minor under-tow when I bend down. At least I can still get to my shoes.
There’s Dee Dee, who smells of lotion and whose thighs rub together so hard when she walks that she now wears spandex pants under her skirts to keep her skin from rawing over, and I hear her huffing up and down the aisles of computers and people dispensing reams of research and loan requests — schweep, schweep, schweep, schweep — “Good morning, gooooood morning” — until she stops at a desk near mine. It’s Kitty’s birthday today. I am to begin sneaking the card and I remove my coat, shake the small round drops stupid enough to cling to my hair, and flop down into my pigeon-hole to think up something cheering. I know that every last one of the Snack-Machines will have brought Kitty some food to share, and that Geoff, L.T. and I will be the only ones without an offering, and so it should be something sincere, something cheering. It reads: Happy Birthday Kitty! Everything was getting smaller and smaller until you came along. Here’s hoping next year finds you in Arizona, away from this God-awful place.
I leave off the last part and pass the card back to L.T. Since they’ve changed our desks, (again!) I’m so tucked away I can no longer see the clock, so I turn on my computer and type ‘TIME’ and my computer responds: “‘TIME’ IS NOT RECOGNIZED. 04/24/96 08:07.54.” And I spend the next two minutes and six seconds tapping my RETURN key to watch the clock roll around to 8:10 a.m. From where I sit I can now see the tops of the black glass windows that look out onto the parking lot and I see they are spotted with rain.
Rhoda and I are living in separate apartments again, ever since I told her my roommate Nate was out of town. And he was, as far as I knew. So she gets out of bed after a session to go clean up in the bathroom and there’s Nate coming out of his room, having mixed his nights and days again by driving down in a snowstorm from Traverse City the previous night, and he and Rhoda come face to face, only she’s nude and he’s not and my seed’s starting to drip out of her. It used to be that I was jealous of another guy seeing what Nate saw, as if one of my secrets had been given up, decoded. But I know Rhoda’s been much more decoded than that by people I like a lot less than Nate.
I drove past her apartment this morning on the way to work, hoping there was something clairvoyant between us. I parked the Bronco in the morning drizzle and tried to think her out of bed. Tried to think whether or not she was alone or with Mr. Mysterious again — the man I know visits her nights her answering machine tells me she’s not home, this Mr. Mysterious shedding his body hair in her sheets, whose very face I’ve had to create in my own mind. She’s a student, Rhoda is, and when she is alone she doesn’t rise until the sun hits her window, which, this time of year, in this part of the time zone, would be late enough anyway, but she’s got these twin pines looming over her apartment. When nothing happens I whistle at her window, but it echoes across the street instead and I’m back in the Bronco on my way to work before my whistle fades from the dark, wet street. Rhoda’s Catholic and I wonder if that’s what makes me think of Jaimy again, if there is something unresolved I’ve squirreled away which, like the ignorant tulips outside F.O.A., has come out of hibernation to bloom.
When I met Rhoda last year I told her I was a Mormon, though that’s a lie as much as anything. It seems, outside of Utah, that being Mormon is something I’m compelled to announce as if I’m a lottery winner or suffering a contagious infection. And outside of Utah it’s as much announcement as substance. There’s a ward house near my apartment, but I can’t bear to go any more. It’s like going to a movie by myself. Church has always been, in large part, about the family dynamic, and by myself I no longer hear the call of the Angel Moroni’s golden trumpet; the sound doesn’t carry all the way from Salt Lake Temple to my red ears in Kalamazoo. It’s become enough for me, in the Midwest, to announce myself as Mormon and wonder what kind of chills or thrills that word brings to Gentile ears.
When I was home and the shoe was on the other foot, Jaimy and the few Gentiles I knew would announce their religious affiliations with a cross dangling around their necks. They weren’t being antagonistic, most of them. There was a need for order you came to appreciate, something to help avoid embarrassing questions about what ward you belonged to and who your Bishop was.
Though I’ve always been put off by the wearing of the cross and by the crosses I see stuck onto the steeples of churches like the Dutch Reform Churches of western Michigan, I think it helps things along if everybody knows where everybody is coming from. But I also think that if a friend of mine were shot to death saving my life I wouldn’t hold up the bullet as a sign of his suffering and sacrifice. It seems to me the bullet would be the last thing I’d hang onto. Rhoda tells me that’s simplistic and that it overlooks our role in Christ’s death. Catholic guilt, I say, though I don’t doubt that I’m simplistic.
Dee Dee comes huffing back around with my print-offs and I start ordering my research, making sure the customers from my bank — having secured and paid off loans for cars, boats, jacuzzis and occasionally a vacation — aren’t getting any money back they haven’t already paid us. I used to let a claim slip every day — just one — some small amount, until I realized that the bank was willing to spend three bucks to per customer to get their money back. $1.29. $3.42. $14.02. I calculated that in some obscene First-of-American way I was driving up the interest on their loans and I quit doing it.
The refunds are ridiculously low given what they pay me to track them down, justify them, and send them out to the people who sent them in. And the names spin by in the thousands. I remember them all, it seems, and some nights the people in my dreams assume their names, as their identities, and sometimes, as pathetic as it sounds, their loans. One of them is Mr. Mysterious, I tell myself. I once had Bobby Hansen’s name come across my desk. Hansen was an NBA journeyman from the state of Utah who picked up a championship ring with the Bulls after escaping from the floundering Kings in the 91-92 season.
“Brian,” L.T. says right on cue from behind his carpeted wall, his voice cut by the oscillating fan at his desk, “you think your Jazz gonna get outta the first round this year?” L.T., an avid basketball fan, comes down on me like a cold rain after a Jazz loss. He knows I’ll bet Jazz no matter who’s on deck and he cut me out of $100 last year when the Jazz faded at home to the Houston Rockets in the first round. It pissed me off, but at least he has Geoff and me over to his house every other Sunday for a genuine Texan bar-b-q. L.T.’s displaced like me, and we watch a game and talk about anything but the bank. We call ourselves the Amigos after the movie “The Three Amigos” with Chevy Chase and Steve Martin
So L.T. made me pay up, and after, as we were finishing another six pack, he was rambling and doing his shtick, that straight-in-the-eye don’t-mess-with-the-black-man humor of his, about how his father cut out on him and how he can’t settle down with just his one girlfriend, Jane, a beautiful woman with a ten year old boy who loves L.T. with a passion, who admires all L.T.’s stories and tall-tales about how he can dunk standing still, and suddenly I snapped: “You live your life out a window, L.T. And you’re going to find yourself stuck at F.O.A. in twenty years, balancing loans.”
Now L.T. chides me again. “They’re gonna slide right into the fifth seed. They’re tough at home, I’ll grant you that, but fifth seed’s gonna mean Karl’s hauling sheep all summer long.”
“They’ll suck it up. This is their year,” I say. This is one thing I believe in. One place for faith in my life. “They’re due.” L.T. says nothing. The Amigos talk about three things at work: sports, movies, and music. Geoff talks about the car he’s restoring, folding and unfolding a car-buff magazine he’s had for over two years loaded up on pictures of reconditioned cars and order forms for more parts, but the Amigos don’t talk about Geoff’s car. Geoff talks about Geoff’s car.
“Did you guys hear that P.L. Travers died last week?” L.T. asks. He’s playing a game the Amigos like to play. I hear the click-click-clack of the keyboards all around us. The carpeted cubicles can’t drown out their ruckus.
“One hint, L.T.” Geoff says.
“Think Disney. Think Australia. Think about a strange wind blowing . . .”
“Jesus,” says Geoff. ”Not the Mary Poppins lady!”
“Good call, Amigo. She died last week at age 96 in Queensland.” Silence again. L.T. scours the entertainment pages in his off hours. Entertainment Weekly, Movie Fan, Cinema.
“That bothers me,” I say. I look back at the top of the windows and we have our own strange winds to worry about. I can see the glass go concave — as if the building were aspirating — and then ease back flat. The wind has picked up so much the rain drops are moving along the tops of the windows leaving tracks like veins. It is like being at the end of a carwash.
While Kitty is off entertaining her nicotine addiction Dee Dee and some of the other Snack Machines decorate her desk with balloons, crepe paper streamers, and cakes, cup-cakes, brownies, rice krispies treats, and two pies. “Oh, what the fuck?” Kitty says when she comes steadily back from her smoke.
“Happy Birthday Kitty,” Dee Dee says and begins a chorus of the birthday song. Other Snack Machines begin singing and moving from their desks, converging on the sugary foods, like the chorus in a musical about chocolate.
Kitty is, as usual, put off. “Whose fucking idea was this? Dee Dee?”
“Yepper-Depper-Stepper-Doo,” Dee Dee says and begins slicing smallish pieces of cake onto paper plates.
“You look more beautiful every year, Kitty,” L.T. offers, then pinches her butt. L.T. can do this. More of a grab, really, given the enormity of L.T.’s mitt and the straight-legged smallness of Kitty’s backside.
Kitty doesn’t flinch, “You don’t want to go there, L.T.”
“You’re old enough now. No more foolin’ around. When we gonna go out, Kitty?” I could never figure out if L.T.’s flirting was rooted in actual desire. But then, Rhoda likes to tell me, I’m not all that perceptive about people and their moods; mostly I try not to care. When I first took this job — and L.T. and Kitty and Geoff were all new faces to me — I called my father and told him I didn’t think I’d last out here, in the east. There was a conspicuous communication problem with everyone I met my first few weeks in Kalamazoo. They acted like they had to sound out everything I said in their heads, slowly, to understand me.
And there’s a void where their dreams should. This seemed so brutally obvious to me when I arrived for work my first day. I was fresh from college when my big brother Zach, who had done his mission in Battle Creek and made a contact with F.O.A. and come aboard in ‘82, got me this job. I would ask what everyone did with their weekends, and Kitty, and L.T. and Geoff, all several years older than me, said they liked to go to the bars sometimes, go to movies. I don’t know exactly what I thought when I got out of college, but I knew there had to be more to life than going to work and going home at night, maybe a bar, maybe a movie. There had to be more important destinations ahead, plans to be hatched, things that needed doing that were yours to only do and that you could only do now that you had a real job and a real paycheck. But paychecks can’t stretch that far. They can’t turn into something they’re not. At best, they pile up enough so you feel safe, and one week turns into one month. One month turns into one year. Two thousand miles, I think, must turn into two million.
So I made friends at work. But when I would try to broach the subject of my dissatisfaction with Geoff or L.T. I knew right away they wouldn’t understand. L.T. wanted a job in one of the upstairs offices, Geoff wanted to fix his car and drive it. He wanted his softball team to win a trophy. These aren’t dreams, though, these aren’t things that anyone needed some singularity or deeply held belief to accomplish. They’re goals, hopeful ambitions, at best! Like thinking the Jazz can win the title. It might happen, but it never really happens. And when I told my dad about how depressing it was to live so much of my life this way he told me I was about to learn a hard lesson. We didn’t speak to one another for over a year except through my mother. It was the same way before I went to college, having blown my mission calling. We hit a dry spell then, and didn’t talk to each other for two years.
I learned, as time went on in Kalamazoo and at F.O.A., that Kitty dreamed of owning a trailer home in Arizona where her brother lives, and that Geoff wanted his little girl to go to college. Everyone is like an onion, my father would probably tell me, and I’ve got to peel it all back before I go deciding there’s nothing in the middle. Maybe it’s the act of knowing, no matter the process, no matter the outcome, that I resent. Knowledge is limitation, belief is possibility, and faith and hope, somewhere between the two, is what I’m after.
“You do know what L.T. stands for, don’t you.”
“Loose Testicles?” Kitty says and begins to laugh, hard.
“Long Tongue,” L.T. says. “Long Tongue.”
“Save it for your lesbian friends, L.T.” Kitty says.
“We’ll get a room at a nice hotel, the Raddisson . . .”
“Keep dreaming, L.T.”
“You know what I hate about nice hotels?” L.T. says, leveling out.
“When,” Kitty asks, “have you ever been in a nice hotel?”
“When they put those chocolates on your bed. When they put those chocolates on your bed and you come in late and you’re drunk and you don’t remember there might be chocolates on your bed, because, frankly, why the fuck would there be chocolates on your bed, and you wake up in the middle of the night and you reach down and you think ‘Oh my God! I pooped the bed.”
“You stole that,” Kitty says, though she’s laughing in spite of herself.
“Even if I stole it, that means it’s still mine,” L.T. says and I pretend not to be listening.
The wind outside dies down. The window, still streaked with veins of raindrops, has stalled against the charcoal sky. I imagine the skyline below, the thick forest of evergreens and pines holding their colors against the looming gray, the web of birch branches crackling in the delicate rain. I envy the grounds crew, even in the chill rain, sucking at the moist air, hauling chipped pine and cedar and tending the bulbs who woke up too early this year and, in spite of several slow freezes, were blinking their cat-eye yellows, fleshy peaches and blues, the past two weeks.
I often joked with the Amigos that the grounds crew sprays for birds. The Corporate Woods are surrounded on three sides by an occlusion of trees and yet, on the lunch patio, on warmer days, you can not hear the song of a single bird. L.T.’s theory is that Upjohn-Pharmacia dumps its chemicals just behind the trees and he has imagined, in some detail, featherless and overgrown birds, so mucousy from sores that discarded pine needles adhere to their oozing, lopsided bodies, perfect for camouflage, their beaks cracked and jagged as teeth, stalking the woods like wolverines, feeding on equally scant squirrels and mice. It’s only because of their uncanny ability to be absolutely silent that they are able to survive.
Despite the lack of sun I know Rhoda is probably awake and while everyone is huddled around Kitty’s desk picking apart and devouring Dee Dee’s spread, I turn my back and call her. Rhoda answers after two rings, gravel voiced, and obviously not yet awake. “Hello?” I am quiet for a moment, projecting myself through the phone and picturing myself curled up behind Rhoda under her warm cotton comforter. Then I picture her alone.
Rhoda is a large, but not round like Dee Dee. Rhoda is angular, olive-skinned, imposing, with wide hip bones that jut out like the ivory handles on my grandmother’s bureau. I often tease Rhoda that her strawberry blonde hair is as coarse and wild as a tumbleweed; something she has never seen except on the television. Her face sometimes looks as if it is literally swimming through that hair, which smells sharp and tart like her kelp shampoo. Her soft lips are as pink as the inside of a conch shell.
Her voice, scratchy, tentative, chills me and I hang up. It sounded like Jaimy’s voice, and suddenly I am haunted by an image of Jaimy – spectral and rising, lone and pale.
Jaimy, like Rhoda, was angular, but more fragile, and taller – almost six feet of ghostly limbs and transluscent flesh waiting to spin or break apart. Sometimes it seemed she was standing over me, floating away, or hovering. But that sense that she was breakable made her seem smaller somehow than she was at the same time. I remember the blue veins in her breasts and how I would trace them toward the skin covering her breastbone, beneath which her heart beat (I’d place my ear to her there and listen).
The last time I heard her voice was a call at three o’clock in the morning the year I moved to Kalamazoo. “Hi Brian, it’s Jaimy,” the voice had said. A long pause — “My mother has died.” I was drunk.
Kitty reached over me and deposited a plate saturated with the sugary bric-a-brac, “Here, Momo, I’m not going to eat all this shit.” She calls me Momo or worse. The grease seeps from the desserts into the paper of the plate like a halo or an aura.
“Thanks, Kitty,” I say. She knows I’ve sworn off the stuff. She picks at a piece of cake and smiles over at Dee Dee who is grabbing at another brownie. Dee Dee reminds me of my aunt Katrina, on my mother’s side; warm and positive in an earthy, maternal way – a Venus-of-Willendorf way. Dee Dee was the first person who seemed genuinely interested in anything I might say when I moved to Kalamazoo, and I always have felt kindly toward her for that, for simply seeming to care. Her onion has a center, I think, and I don’t need to peel it back any further.
Carly, the supervisor, walks down our aisle. She wears red, F.O.A.’s official color, every day. She’s just returned from having her hysterectomy, and I wonder if there’s an appropriate sentiment for such a procedure. What does it mean to have your reproductive organs removed when you’re still young, like Carly? “Happy Birthday, Kitty.” It’s insincere. She would fire Kitty if she could. She is like a hyena arriving amongst a group of vultures, and the Snack Machines fill their plates again and fly away, one by one, back to their desks. Caw. Hiss. “How old are you today?”
“A day older than yesterday and still younger than you.” Kitty offers Carly a plate and then clears a place to resume her research. “What did you get me, Carly?”
“Another smoke break.”
Kitty looks at her watch and then at Geoff and L.T. and me, bouncing her eyebrows, grabs her jacket and says, “Well around here sugar melts, but shit floats.” She sails out to the loading dock where she’ll light her cigarette and suck it ashless in under five minutes. She does most everything like she’s killing snakes.
That was one of the first things that struck me when I came to Kalamazoo. People smoke here. They sell cigarettes in Utah, certainly, and you occasionally see people light up — at concerts, at ski lodges, at places where a lot of people gather and where it’s assumed people might smoke. But in Kalamazoo nearly half the people I’ve met smoke, they drink hard for nights on end, and fly in the face of most of the Words of Wisdom. There are nearly as many smoky cafes as there are bars.
My dad never minded having the occasional drink, though, and in fact his favorite Mormon joke went like this: Q:’Why do you take two Mormons fishing?’ A: ‘Because if you just take one, he’ll drink all your beer.’ Ha ha. I learned to drink from my father and improvised the rest.
When Carly leaves with her haul I redial Rhoda. “That was me earlier,” I confess. “I could hear you, but I guess you couldn’t hear me, so I hung up. It was a bad connection.”
“I needed to get out of bed,” Rhoda says, her voice smoothed over by now. I know Mr. Mysterious isn’t there because there is no pretend in her voice. I imagine she has risen and turned on her hot water. I have convinced her to wean herself off coffee and she has agreed to cut back to morning tea, though I feel it is only better for her because it’s more transparent. I told her, after we visited a cafe for one of our first dates (a date spent criticizing the way patrons slumped over their mocha-lattes trying to look tres-chic) that I liked these people better when they were all drinking alcohol. (There are bars in Salt Lake City and I know most of them.)
Rhoda will have brushed her rawboned, frosty teeth; they are attractive, and she tends them like prize roses. I can hear her flipping her hair, as it bounces against the phone, and I want, more than anything, to be crawling from her bed myself. I tell her I will call her again soon, when I’m not flooded with work. “It’s good to hear your voice first thing in the morning,” she says, and hangs up.
Kitty slings back into her seat like a gun-fighter’s piece and talks to me while she orders her research. “Hey Momo, did you hear about Carly’s hysterectomy?”
“No,” I say. “I don’t think it’s something I need to know about.”
“Her husband sent her flowers and a card that said, ‘CONGRATS! IT’S A BOY!’ Isn’t that a hoot?” Kitty tries to push my buttons, and I let her. It’s her birthday. “We went out with my sister and her kid last night. He’s a little doll. A fucking doll! He’s only two and she’s got him standing on the table at Chianti’s telling the waitress ‘Well bite my teeny weenie!’” Kitty begins to laugh. “Bite my teeny weenie! Ha! Ha ha!”
“That’s hysterical,” I say.
“Say it for the woman,” L.T. cuts in, his voice chopped by the fan. He has been trying to get me to say “Don’t love me like you do, ladies” for months now. He saw this in a movie and thinks it would be funny to hear it come from my mouth. Kitty and Geoff think it would be funny. I don’t.
I fade out, hearing only pieces of Kitty’s story. I hear “Hey Mabel — get off the table! The dollar’s for the beer!” several times. I hear L.T. say “Ice Princess,” the fan cutting his voice.
I can feel myself taking shape in Rhoda’s empty bed, my body assembling under her comforter. I can feel the nylon stitching on my naked shoulders and the clean sheets ripple under my heels. When I call Rhoda I will tell her to remind me to call my father when I get home tonight. I imagine my way through the rest of the day and in the late afternoon I make my way through the exiting snack machines to my Bronco. The sun is breaking the clouds apart like a rescue team breaks the ice, pulling victims from an avalanche. But there is still so much rain and snow.
My parents don’t know about Rhoda, though by their comments I know they suspect I have returned to dating Gentile women. I could tell them that I have been to the Stake Center stomps, and I have been to church, and I have met some nice women. Like Liz, whose father is a bishop in nearby Paw Paw, and who is very attractive; terrific figure, eyes big and brown like a bird’s. Liz is so unbelievably attractive, in fact, I wondered what she was doing still living at home, unmarried at her age, until she showed me a photo of her son Jacob.
Liz, like some L.D.S. girls I knew in Kaysville, had her son before she graduated high school. Jacob’s father, who I know nothing about, excepting the obvious influence of his genes, is black. There aren’t a lot of blacks in Utah, especially in Kaysville. I’d only ever seen a few of them down by the interstate pumping gas into their cars with out of state plates. As far as I know, there still aren’t many blacks in Utah, owing probably to the fact that the Church didn’t have their revelation allowing blacks to hold the priesthood until the late 1970s.
Before that revelation we were told all blacks directly descend from Cain, and though it’s no longer taught, the belief lingers. I feel it’s something that shadows me; even here in Kalamazoo. When I am introduced to a black person as ‘Brian the Mormon’ a ridiculously complicated tension springs out of my assumptions about what that person might assume I’m assuming and hangs there, preceding anything conservation or first impression. It’s a part of my burden, my dad would say, and that I must accept it all.
There was a general anxiety that swept through my high school, when several of the girls mysteriously started having mixed race babies, and it wasn’t until I was at the university that I had any first-hand experience with blacks. All the blacks I knew there were on the football and basketball teams and they all dated the white girls; but then, there weren’t any black girls for them to date. Even Karl Malone used to come to my dorm to pick up this pretty girl with glasses from California who I never saw after my freshmen year. A couple of times I thought about asking for an autograph while he was waiting in the lobby, but I remember how intimidating Malone is up close. He’s like a Frankenstein’s monster, each limb so massive you’d think he’d need a block and tackle to swing it along. He’s a good head taller than I am but tremendously wide bodied and muscular like a bodybuilder. And yet he still walks around like a normal person; light on his feet and unfettered. A body like that makes you believe in all kinds of things.
Karl stopped getting out of his truck, a jacked-up black pick-up truck with tinted windows all around, and would just sit out front, his black truck shining under the white glare of the parking lot lights, and wait. I could look down from my window and watch her cross the lobby from the girl’s dorm, pretending to ignore the stares as she climbed into the cab of the Mailman’s truck. She was one of those campus goddesses, over six feet tall and blonde, and like most guys in the dorm I always had a thing for her, but she wouldn’t give me the time of day. Her name was Christine.
After she started dating Karl she wouldn’t give anyone the time of day. Why would she? My roommate (Shellac-head, I called him, why should he have a real name?), would watch her with binoculars from our third floor dorm window as she undressed in the mornings and at night. He was a strange, zitty kid who would put so much Vitalis on his head at night , that he didn’t need to tend to it in the morning; it would shellac his hair to his head like a helmet. Like G.I. Joe hair.
One night I was telling some friends of mine what Shellac-head did at night and they suggested I get even, so I tracked down my friend Cliff from the football team. He was a tight-end and big, like Malone. But Cliff was really dark skinned. The other football players would chide him and call him things like the Grinch that Stole Blackness and Saudi Soda and pretend they couldn’t see him when it was dark outside. I knew that wouldn’t matter, though, since Shellac-head didn’t care one bit about Utah sports.
I told Cliff what was going on and one evening, when I knew Shellac-head was at work with the binoculars, Cliff dressed in Utah Jazz sweats and walked down into the parking lot and yelled up at Shellac-head. He called his name several times until Shellac-head stuck his head out the window. Cliff called him out: “I hear you been peepin’ my girl! I’m gonna come up there and rip your fucking arms off, pervy boy!” Shellac-head hid under the bed and didn’t go to class for three days, convinced that Karl was waiting for him in the parking lot. Whenever that shiny black truck would pull into the lot Shellac-head would high-tail it up to our room and lock himself in.
The little time I’d spent with Cliff made up most of my experience with black people before I moved to Michigan; the memorable of which was just a laugh over a beer with Cliff after terrorizing my voyeur room mate. Now that I think about it, there were the Wilkersons, back in Kaysville, who lived four houses down from my parents when I was in elementary school and who had two children my age. When the Wilkerson’s children would be let out to play it was always time to come inside and I never got to even talk to them because they moved out after three months. I don’t believe anyone really talked to them.
There were, however, a lot of blacks at nearby Hill and we had seven girls at Davis end up with black babies; ‘mulatto babies’ the bishop called them. These G.I.’s were really less scandalous than they were mysterious; like the Wilkersons we never saw them come into or leave Kaysville, never saw them with the girls from our high school. There were rumors that they floated in like ghosts to exact revenge against Mormons in one of the most Mormon of communities. One G.I. supposedly fathered three children before he was transferred. We called him the Father of our Country.
Unlike the women back in Kaysville, Liz kept Jacob and is raising him in the Mormon tradition. Those Kaysville babies just disappeared like their ghostly fathers and I don’t think it ever occurred to me to ask where they all shipped off to. It was assumed that’s what happened to black babies in Kaysville back then. Like they were all little soldiers themselves and their transfer papers came through not long after they met their mothers. Liz mentioned the importance of a good father-figure for Jacob one too many times and I backed right off. Nobody’s that beautiful.
I met Rhoda not long after I met Liz, and our path seemed to be smoother, less complicated. There wasn’t marriage and fatherhood waiting up ahead like a destination we were aiming for, we just kind of rambled along. And in that rambling I’ve stumbled into moments when she’s absorbed in her physics or astronomy homework, when I’ve seen her lay her finger down on a single page and pull a pencil from her tumbleweed hair and caress it with her teeth before bringing it down to the page, when I feel most in awe of her because I know that she’s absolutely engaged in things that are universal. That even if I try to project myself into the center of her thoughts, the universe always wins. She will look up at me, in my interruptions, as if I were some memory, some ghostly love that deserves a smile. And then I’m gone from her. But with every moment like that where her life eclipses my own, with every spectral, dismissive smile, she brings more heat to my want.
I was reluctant to go all the way with Rhoda, but she was insistent, and things I promise myself when I’m alone with my thoughts can melt furiously with the stroke of one hand, the caress of the backs of Rhoda’s nails along the ridges of my body. When the deed has been done, I feel fresh, too, not at all guilty, like I’ve done something for myself that’s between me and God and Rhoda and no one else. My parents, my bishop, my brothers and sisters suspect, certainly.
I imagine my brother Zach and his wife Michelle pulling and tugging at his fettering garments and I’m glad that’s not me. If I’d done my mission, I think, I’d have folded my garments away like a soldier puts away his uniform.
Zach first donned his garments when I was in high school. Our bishop gave me the calendar and I remember Zach telling me, when he saw how many black crosses I’d filled my calendar with, that it’d be easier for me not to fall to temptation once I got my mission call. But what Zach doesn’t know, will probably never know, is that it gets easier all the time.
After work, when Rhoda stops by my apartment, I meet her at the door and soul kiss her and pull her toward my bedroom, undressing her in the living room, the hallway. When she resists I convince her I’ve checked, we are alone, but she still tries to drag her clothes along with her foot as we finally move into the bedroom.
After, while she sleeps, I notice the rain has stopped outside, and the lilac evening comes strong through my window. I rise and open the blinds. There are two women down in the parking lot looking into the sky I am surveying, not looking up. They do not see me, even with the blinds open, standing nude near the window. I try to direct their stares to my window with my mind, but they exchange words and one gets into a white car and drives away. The other, a muscular girl in sweats and spandex, cocks her head, trying to pop her neck, and walks into my very building. She looks up, briefly, but I’m unsatisfied that she has seen me and I think it is just as well.
The violet light makes Rhoda’s hair auburn, the roots and shadows blue. She turns slowly in the bed, exposing the snaky curve of her back and the soft, round backside. Rhoda’s skin is so smooth and dark it looks like the slickrock of southern Utah and I think about making myself small and climbing her body like canyon walls, sheltering in a cave. There is nothing ungodly about Rhoda’s body, but I know I cannot attest to her mind or soul. She, I know, feels these things about me.
It is late when we wake again, the parking lot light shining hard through my window. I hear my roommate is home again and he heads straight to his room and is silent. His life has become a mystery to me. I feel as though I have slept, but I think I have just stared at the ceiling so long my sense of time has come up useless. Rhoda dresses and I have to check the hallway before she will try to recover one of her socks. Somehow she managed to drag all of her clothes, except the stray sock, into my room.
We eat dinner at a restaurant near the university and Rhoda sees so many people she knows while we eat that I feel suddenly distanced from her, from even the act of knowing people. This is not the universe I want her to know. But what is? Utah? F.O.A.? We never see people from work when we go out.
Rhoda asks me what’s wrong, as she drops me at my apartment, and I tell her I am merely tired.
“Are you still not sleeping?” she asks.
“No. Not yet.”
“You should try some of that melatonin. My mother passes out from it.”
“No,” I say. I am strongly against taking anything to make me sleep.
“Prozac, maybe then,” she says flatly. “Call your father,” she kisses me good-bye.
When I am alone and the apartment is so quiet I can hear the tit-tit-tit of the lightest rain flickering against my window, I call my parents. My mother answers the phone and I think of Jaimy and wonder how it must be for her to call home. Empty. There is something grim and heavy about how Catholics handle death. It hadn’t occurred to me that my parents could actually die. “Mom,” I say. She knows it is late for me, near midnight, so she tells me to go to bed.
At night I am certain I do not sleep. I hear every click of my clock, every drop of rain and every peep outside my window long before the sun comes up. I drive by Rhoda’s apartment again on the way to work and nothing happens, there is no mysterious car parked in front of her apartment and there is nothing out of the ordinary like the nothing the day before and the nothings all the way back. Some days the sky just gets lighter and lighter, hot pinks all morning, soft flesh, a little rain, nothing, or nothing else. It doesn’t make me love Rhoda any less that she cannot sense my presence, but it doesn’t make me love her any more either.
The morning moves at mid-week’s pace and I drive to finish my first batch of research so I can call Rhoda before my break. But I find my mind returning to Jaimy more and more often. It feels wrong, as if I am cheating Rhoda somehow, ignoring her. And yet there is a fundamental rightness to this return, like my innards are a rubber band anchored in Kaysville and I have been stretched out here with the physical knowledge that I will soon snap back. Each time I return to these memories, these ghosts, I bring something more into the light, some forgotten feature, some habit or movement, like the restrained, lightning-quick way she tucked her hair behind her ear.
A scream cuts through the office like an indoor thunder clap, stopping everything from functioning in its normal mode. There is never a reason for loud, piercing noise at F.O.A.; or any noise at all really. Everyone on my row is standing beside their desks, trying to look over to the next row and the rows behind that. I feel a tightening in my gut — has someone come in with a gun? It is something I always fear and I look out towards the window and try to look into the sky in case it might be my last chance. I do not want to die in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“Somebody get a doctor! Please somebody get a doctor!” That sends everyone running towards the sound, only Kitty has stopped and returned to the phone.
It is Dee Dee. I can see her white tennis shoe and her leg, wrapped in black spandex, twitching on the ground. The entire office is huddled around her, looking down at her and whispering among themselves. I can only see one of her legs, but she is face down and when that leg begins to move back and forth it appears as though the crowd is picking at her, pulling her apart. “Okay, let’s roll her over onto her back,” a voice near the center says.
I can hear their efforts, and someone asks Dee Dee if she can hear, and then tempers begin to give way, “Will everybody get back so we can roll her over!”
“Get out of the fucking way!”
And “God-damn it! Has anyone called the paramedics?”
I can see Dee better, as I inch my way forward. Her legs bouncing off the ground as if she were kicking off an invisible blanket on a hot, uncomfortable night. Or she’s having a nightmare. Her eyes want to escape from under their lids. They rage against the thin, bluish skin. Her arms, though, do not move except in tandem with her torso, which seems to pool outward; she is melting. Her face is as white as copier paper, water coming out of her eyes like her head is an overfilled water balloon someone stuck with a pin — it’s no mere crying. She begins to vomit and as she sucks for air, I can hear the vomit being sucked back in.
I feel myself grow weak at the knees, but I think, as I watch her die, about her soul entering the tertiary heaven, and I tell myself don’t worry for her, because I know, given the right circumstances, finding our common link, I could eventually baptize her. For the first time I appreciate the importance of baptizing the dead; it’s all I can do. Watching and waiting.
When she stops vomiting I see a man I barely know reluctantly begin fishing things out of her mouth. I decide I might be most useful directing the paramedics through the maze of cubicles in our office and I go out to the front, where the guard is supposed to be. No one is there and I don’t know how to buzz the door open, though I can see through the rain streaked windows into the still sea of cars that no ambulance has arrived.
I go into the men’s room and call out to the guard, whose small feet I can see under the end stall reserved for the handicapped. “Dee Dee’s dying. We need to buzz in the paramedics.”
I can hear him panicking in the stall, “Oh Jesus. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. . .” I hear him furiously tearing at the toilet tissue. When he emerges he has a magazine folded under an arm and is walking quickly past me, as though I were an impediment to his job. He smells coppery, like blood.
The paramedics are pulling up just as we come back into the lobby. He buzzes them through and I tell them to follow me. They are carrying only a tool box of medicines and implements and I know it will not be enough. When we turn the final corner of the maze I see dozens of women are crying. But Carly looks like she is restraining an urge to create order.
The word comes down and we are allowed to go home, if we want, after the paramedics haul Dee Dee outside. Geoff and L.T. help them maneuver her body through the maze of cubicles. She is strapped onto a gurney and they are respirating her, but everyone knows she is dead.
As I walk back to my desk I hear a man I barely know say, quietly, “I guess no one gets out of here alive.” I stop, the impulse to attack him comes raging up through my body, and I turn to face him. His smirk seems to melt from his face and a woman near him whispers, “You’re awful. Just plain awful.”
My first thought is to let him have it, but then I think that for the most mediocre mind there is sometimes epiphany in cynicism and I let it all be.
 First of America, one of the largest and newest banks in West Michigan. The building mentioned by Brian is the Corporate Woods Complex; the F.O.A. name is left off the complex so as to make the building less readily noticeable to unsolicited salespeople, infuriated customers and enraged former employees. F.O.A.’s other principal hubs include Indiana, Illinois and Florida.
 The founder of the Mormon church. In 1829 Joseph Smith, along with ten other men, was visited by the angel Moroni carrying the golden tablets. These tablets, or plates, were about six inches wide, eight inches long, and about the thickness of common tin. Only Joseph Smith could look upon the tablets, using the breastplate with Urim and Thummim (a device similar to reading glasses), and translate these books. If he showed them to anyone else, he would be destroyed. He proceeded to translate the tablets, through a curtain, into The Book of Mormon. This “new” textextends the works of the Bible to the Americas in the period roughly from 2300 B.C. to A.D. 400. According to the book, the Lamanites, referring to Native Americans thought to be one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, were preached to by Jesus Christ when he visited this new kingdom of the lost Israelites. This first church of the Americas flourished until it fell into apostasy. It remained that way until, as foretold in the golden tablets, the kingdom could be reclaimed by Joseph Smith.
Mark Twain, referring to the not-always-successful biblically appropriated tone and language of The Book of Mormon, once described it as “chloroform in print.” God also commanded Smith to revise parts of the Bible which had been, according to Smith, corrupted by Christians and Jews over the centuries. Many of these changes and additions were aimed at helping the two books justify and support each other.
 The Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, has a solid gold statue of the Angel Moroni blowing his trumpet perched on its highest spire. Disturbingly, when the statue was last taken down to be cleaned it was discovered that it had been shot at several times. It is the ambition of all good Mormons to sanctify their marriage in the Temple, where, in a secret ceremony attended only by the Temple elders and the bride and groom, they are bound together for eternity.
 Unlike most Christian-based religions, the L.D.S. Church is a church without a professional clergy. Instead, they rely on a centralized, though incredibly organized, authority operating out of Salt Lake City. The Church is ruled by a hierarchy controlled by unanimous vote at church conferences. At the top of this hierarchy is the church president. Like the pope, the president serves until death. However, unlike Catholicism’s College of Cardinals who lose their power to vote in a new leader, the same life-long tenure applies to the next tier in the Mormon hierarchy; the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who generally “vote in” the longest-serving of their members. Gordon B. Hinckley was sworn in as church president a little time before the start of Brian’s story. There was some controversy that Hinckley had actually served longer when his predecessor, Spencer W. Kimball, became seriously disabled following a third brain operation from 1981 until he died in 1985. Kimball’s successor, Ezra Taft Benson, who took office at the age of 86 was said, by his grandson, Steve Benson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist for the Arizona Republic, to be struggling with senility, and functioning only to “perpetuate the myth, the fable” … that he was capable of acting as the living prophet of the Mormon church. The lower levels of power in the Mormon church fall entirely to appointed “volunteer” leaders, most of whom come from the business community and who have little to no formal theological training or education. The regional unit, called the stake after the poles used to hold up the sacred tabernacle where biblical Israel worshiped, is similar to a Catholic diocese. The smaller wards, the term used for subdivisions of municipalities in Joseph Smith’s time, is similar to a parish. Overseeing these wards are bishops, with the divisions being entirely geographic. A bishop’s ordained power, however, should not be underestimated based on the privileging of his business acumen over his religious training. A bishop’s discretionary powers include the granting or withholding of temple recommends which members need in order to, among other things, do any of the following: to be admitted to a temple, for a father to baptize his own son, a couple to have their marriage blessed in the temple, for parents to give the traditional talk as their children depart for their missions, or for members to be accepted for missions. Members must meet annually for an interview with their bishop before to receive these important recommends. The Mormon Church demands a heavy commitment from its members. To receive their recommend members must tithe 10% of their income, abstain from smoking and drinking, give up two meals each month and donate the money saved to their highly effective internal welfare system, and young men must commit to a two year mission which their families must pay for. Without a temple recommend, members are essentially second class citizens of the Mormon Church.
 The National Basketball Association team the Utah Jazz. The New Orleans Jazz entered the league on March 7, 1974, as the 18th member of the league for a $6.15 million expansion franchise fee. In a trade with the Atlanta Hawks the Jazz acquired future hall-of-famer ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich as their first player. Maravich, along with being the Jazz’ top scoring threat, was a showman. He wore a signature pair of floppy good-luck sweatsocks that always appeared to need washing. He shot the ball from everywhere and anywhere, and he never made a simple pass when he could make an entertaining one, so his assists regularly came from behind the back or through the legs. After the 1978-79 season the struggling Jazz’ ownership announced plans to move from New Orleans to Salt Lake City, Utah. Around the league the news was received with raised eyebrows and predictable jokes about taking a team named the Jazz into the staid atmosphere of Salt Lake City. The term ‘jazz,’ indisputably African American in origin, originally referred to sexual activity in addition to its obvious reference to the New Orleans based musical style. The term gradually came to refer to any vigorous or enthusiastic activity, and appeared in print for the first time in 1913 in a reference to a baseball team. When the team made its move to Salt Lake it was so broke they didn’t believe they could afford the cost of new uniforms and a name change. The name, however, was embraced by the community and stuck, becoming one in a long line of moves by the predominantly Mormon state to help redefine its reputation and character. Maravich who was eventually waived by the Jazz in 1980, missed seeing the Jazz’ rise to respect. Eight years after being waived by the Jazz, the splashy, exciting Pistol Pete Maravich suffered a fatal heart attack during a pick-up game of basketball in California. He was 40 years old.
 Karl Malone was drafted out of Louisiana Tech as the 13th pick in the 1985 NBA Draft. He’s originally from Summerfield, LA., population 200. At 6-9, 256 lbs, he had the size and inside moves to attract a lot of attention, but had consistent trouble at the free-throw line in college. After several seasons with the Jazz Malone purchased a black eighteen wheeler, complete with a mural depicting Malone on horseback herding cattle on a mountain range and an enlarged portrait of Malone in a cowboy hat on the side of his truck. In the off-season Malone likes to make runs in his truck, especially into Idaho where his wife is from. She and her twin sister are beauty queens, Karl’s wife winning the Miss Idaho pageant a year before they married. Malone has since expanded his trucking company into a fleet of trucks, and has used the profits to help finance a hog farm his family operates in Arkansas.
 Young boys are encouraged to begin saving their money when they are in junior high so that they might get accepted to and finance a mission for the L.D.S. church. They’re the kids you see riding around town on their bicycles in tandem in dark suits, wearing name tags that read ‘Elder Peterson,’ ‘Elder Berry,’ what not. They are sent to homes to home teach and to assist new converts. Largely because of this missionary system the Mormon church is one of the most aggressive and fastest growing churches in the world. While young girls are not directly discouraged by the church from going on missions, they are rather encouraged to obtain the illustrious promise ring (a ring essentially promising to get engaged on the missionary’s return) from a departing missionary and work on filling their hope chest (not a literal chest, but rather a collection of necessities for married life — china, quilts, trivets). Once recommended by their bishop and accepted by the church for a mission the prospective missionaries are sent to M.T.C. (Missionary Training Camp) in Provo for a crash course in missionary work. If the prospective missionary proves an affinity for foreign languages they are quickly and effectively taught a foreign language, complete with local colloquialisms and idioms, and sent to a foreign country. The swift and effectual teaching of languages by the M.T.C. is admired the world over.
 The Words of Wisdom, often mistakenly seen as simply a kind of tea totalling mentality, advise Mormons not to drink hot beverages, not to drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, to refrain from smoking and premarital relations. While disregarding these Words is not ‘sin’ in the eyes of the L.D.S. Church, they are so strongly discouraged that in certain circles and locales (Brigham Young University, for example) they are strictly enforced by the Powers that Be. When Jim McMahon (the quarterback of the Superbowl Champion Chicago Bears the year Brian graduated from Davis High School), a non-Mormon from nearby Roy, UT, was attending B.Y.U. he was often, much to the embarrassment of the school and church, very vocal about the Words of Wisdom and did his best to break every one of them while he was breaking NCAA passing records. He was generally perceived as a ‘charming Gentile.’
 A Stake Center is a larger meeting house for several wards. They often have mixers for single Mormons and ‘stomps’ or dances. These ‘stomps’ are designed for the younger crowd as a way to get young people together, before and after they have gone on their missions, under the aegis of the church elders, and to help build a sense of community among church members.
 When Karl Malone first came to Utah in 1985 he says he drove around for hours ‘without seeing another brother.’ When he finally did see another black man, it was down by the train yards in Salt Lake. He asked the man, a vagrant, if he wouldn’t mind going out to get something to eat, as the story goes, so Karl would have someone to talk to. In fact, Malone’s thick Louisiana accent was so bad when he arrived that the usual endorsement prospects for a first round draft pick were slow in coming.
 The ‘revelation’ Brian is referring to occurred when the U.S. government threatened the L.D.S. Church with losing their tax exemption status if they did not allow blacks to hold the priesthood. In 1978, soon after the threat of taxation, Spencer Kimball, then president of the Mormon church, had a revelation from God allowing blacks to hold the priesthood. Even many Mormons had mixed feelings about the convenience of this ‘revelation,’ and the questions surrounding its impact on a decidedly Anglo-American religion. While blacks can now hold the priesthood, an absolute necessity to receive temple endowments, matrimonial sealings, and the ability to ascend to the highest tiers of the Celestial Kingdom, the descriptions of the Lord’s curse against those of “black” skin still remain in The Book of Mormon.
 Malone was recently voted, by the strength and conditioning coaches of the National Basketball League, the strongest player in the N.B.A. The coaches noted that while there may be bigger, even more muscular players than Malone, no one of his size and muscularity can run the floor as well and play with as much finesse as Malone.
 Karl ‘The Mailman’ Malone. So named because he always delivers. In early January 1984 a couple of grad assistants in the Louisiana Tech sports-info office were brainstorming marketing ideas for one of the most accomplished basketball players ever to emerge from the Pelican State. Malone who happened to be in the hallway during this marketing session had been referring to himself as the “Rim Wrecker” because of the number of backboards he had been shattering in recent weeks. Tech basketball coach Andy Russo had swept up the fiberglass shards and thrown them in a box. The grad students glued fragments onto index cards outlining Malone’s achievements and mailed them to 1,000 members of the news media nationwide. The cards were stamped “Special Delivery from the Mailman.”
 Hill Air Force Base, located just North of Kaysville in Clearfield, Utah. One of the largest Air Force Bases in North America. In the late seventies the so-called Hi-Fi killers were stationed there. They were two black men who, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, broke into the Hi-Fi stereo store holding several employees hostage while they conducted their robbery. One of the men then decided to rape, torture, and kill the victims, forcing them, among other things, to drink Draino, and stomped a stereo jack into the ear of one victim. His accomplice did not assist in these crimes, but was sentenced to death, and died by lethal injection at the Foot-of-the-Mountain (the same prison where Gary Gilmore demanded to be executed in the seventies) in the late eighties. His lawyers claimed the State of Utah had a racist agenda when it came to the death penalty. The Hi-Fi killers’ horrific crimes had a lasting affect on Utah’s relationship with Hill.
Brigham Young taught and firmly believed in blood atonement. This is a belief that some sins, such as murder, are so serious that the atonement of Christ can not provide adequate grace for forgiveness for the sinner. Only the spilling of the blood of the offender can offer redemption. This practice is not Church doctrine, nor has the Church ever practiced this doctrine, but Young’s ideas have long colored the beliefs of the faithful.
 Davis High is so-named because it serves Davis county, the fastest growing county in Utah. Their mascot is the Davis Dart, a scowling cartoon dart with heavily muscled arms and legs.
 Garments are similar to a Union-suit, worn under the clothing by missionaries and return missionaries (hereafter referred to as R.M.’s) acting as a blessed shield against the failings of the world. And, should missionary or R.M. momentarily forget himself in the heat of passion, the cumbersome design of the garments serves as both reminder and deterrent against proceeding uninhibited. Brian, of course, having never served a mission, would be without garments.
 Bishops often give teenage boys calendars when they suspect they have been masturbating. When the boy feels the urge to tug his member he is asked to take out the calendar and look at it. If the desire become too strong and he jerks off he is supposed to mark that day with a large black ‘X’ or cross. At the end of the month the bishop will call several boys in to the church and they will share their calendars with each other and discuss methods of control.
 The Mormons believe in three physical heavens. The tertiary, or lowest, heaven is assigned to the unbaptized.
 The Mormons have one of the most extensive collection of genealogical records in the world. They believe that the souls of the unbaptized can be saved by being baptized. If a person were to convert to Mormonism and was concerned about the souls of their ancestors not realizing the highest heavenly plane, they could find their blood link and baptize the spirit of the dead relative in the name of Jesus Christ.