By Nate Ragolia
Every man, woman and child in Millsborough County rejoiced when Beyond Home announced they were building a massive concrete palace of merchandise in our humble neck of the woods. The store would draw tourists from neighboring counties, infuse sales tax revenue into Millsborough’s waning school system, and it would finally bring Revitality to our fledgling hamlet of Charlestown. Above all else, though, we’d have our own Beyond Home, and all of the incredible deals inside.
The founder of Beyond Home, Jonas Witterbaum, flew halfway around the world for their store’s grand opening. They set up a stage in the company’s iconic green-and-white, complete with bunting and crepe paper streamers. Folks from all over Millsborough County showed up before dawn to claim their spots in the crowd. The air was electric.
“Good afternoon,” he said in his exotic European tone. “We are so proud to open this newest Beyond Home store, here in beautiful Charlestown. For twenty years, we’ve believed in creating a better world by design. Better products, better food, and better design means that there’s less suffering, and less waste. We make life more efficient. One person at a time. We wish to serve you all with the same care and love that we have served other Beyond Home Revitality host towns. As such, we’d like to offer everyone here today a voucher for free cafeteria food for one year.”
We all erupted in applause. Women screamed. Tears came to men’s eyes. Children bounded with elation.
“Now, on behalf of Beyond Home’s many contributors, our team, myself and my family, welcome to the most elegant and complete shopping–and public service–experience that quality design can offer.
“As we always say: Great people make great products.”
Fireworks launched, casting plumes of colorful smoke in green and white, and then red, white and blue, and then gold. Mouths agape, we lined up to enter the store. The sick and elderly lined up at their special entrance. Even the Mayor of Charlestown was there, shaking hands, kissing babies, and grinning wide at the inflow of dollars.
The store was open for twenty-four hours on the first day, and it was never empty. Revitality drew folks from counties hundreds of miles away. The shoppers, though exhausted, never dropped. For months after, the Charlestown Beyond Home always bustled with activity. It seemed that everyone in town must have bought new wardrobes, new furniture, new appliances, and new electronics. Even my parents–who always swore off extravagances–dragged me there seven times to help them fill their carts and empty their wallets.
“We want to do our part, son,” Father said.
“It’s for the public good, son,” Mother said.
Our house was never the same. Mom replaced her rustic wagon wheels with sleek modern lamps and sculptures. Dad redid the bathroom and the kitchen until they looked like carbon copies of the ones in the store, and of each other.
One morning, Mother was making orange juice with the Beyond Home juicer. Father was reading the news on his tablet and prodding at eggs on an Beyond Home plate with a Beyond Home fork. As I sat and gobbled down my own breakfast, my parents stared at me from across the table.
“Jacob, we need you to go take Grandma to Beyond Home today,” Mother said.
“I didn’t think Grandma had room for more stuff in the nursing home,” I said.
Father lowered his fork to his plate. “No, son. She’s going for Revitality.”
I think I said ‘Oh,’ but it might have just been in my head.
“I didn’t know she was ready for Revitality,” I said.
Mother nodded. “She has been for a while, Jacob, but it was too far away. She registered herself for Revitality as soon as they set up the website.”
“But…” I started to say.
“But you don’t want to her to go to Revitality, do you, Jacob?” Father prodded.
I shook my head.
“Well, that’s not your decision, son. Grandma is in charge of herself,” Mother said. “And besides, Revitality is a good thing. Think of everything Grandma will to do and be.”
I nodded. Mother was right. It was Grandma’s choice. And Revitality happened every week, with thousands of people in attendance. It was our basic right to go to Revitality when we were ready. Grandma was just ready.
Even if I wasn’t.
“I’ll take her after school today,” I said, dutifully.
Mother and Father smiled, and I could tell that they were proud of me in a new way. This wasn’t the pride that came with good grades, or with making the winning catch. It was something bigger.
“Thank you for trusting me with this,” I added.
Father reached out, eyes still fixed on his tablet, and touched first my arm, and then finding it, patted my shoulder.
“You’re a good kid, Jacob,” he said. “Hell, you’re sixteen years old. You’re a good man now.”
My heart leapt into my throat. Father had never called me a man before.
That day, after a boring school session where they spent half of class teaching the transfer kids about how to use the Scholastic Interface, I took the car to Grandma’s rest home. She was waiting in the entryway when I arrived, wearing a white hat adorned with daisies and filler flowers, with a lacy veil turned up over its brim.
“Jacob,” she called, rising slowly from the chair. She held her back, as if trying to keep it in place. “It’s so good to see you. Thank you for taking me today.”
I took Grandma’s arm and accepted as she kissed me on each cheek with her gummy, lipstick-coated lips. I led her to the car and helped her climb in and sit down. I even buckled her seatbelt for her and shut the door.
“Such a gentleman,” she said as I sat down in the driver’s seat. “They don’t make boys like you anymore.”
I smiled and shrugged. I didn’t know what to say.
We drove toward the Beyond Home, listening to the radio. Grandma loved the oldies station, with all the manual music people used to make with real instruments. At one point, the old national anthem played. That version always confused me. It didn’t make sense that people used to like live music. It was never very polished.
Then Grandma reached out and turned the radio down.
“Jacob, how is school?” she asked.
“Good,” I said. “I am third in my class right now. Hoping to get Special Recognition.”
“I’m sure you will,” she replied. “You’ve always been such a smart boy.”
Then a few blocks passed before she spoke up again.
“Are you seeing a special young lady or young man?”
My face got hot and I smiled nervously.
“No, Grandma,” I said, blushing. “There’s this one girl in my Bio class, but she doesn’t know I exist.”
Her weathered, skeletal hand fell on top of mine on the center console. She squeezed, and I was surprised by how her strength mismatched her frailty.
“Then you must show her that you exist, Jacob,” she told me. “You’re a handsome, intelligent young man, but women can be fickle and they only notice the roosters who really fan their feathers.”
“Yeah, that sounds easy, Grandma,” I said, dripping with sarcasm.
“It’s easier than you think,” she said. “Your grandfather courted me, and all he had was a bicycle and a paper route. He just showed me the kind of man he was, and I knew right away that I’d be his.”
“Okay, but things were different back then,” I argued.
“Not that different,” she replied. “Bring her some flowers.”
“To school?” I grumbled. “People will laugh. And what if she rejects me?”
“She might,” Grandma replied. “But she’ll know you exist, and she’ll probably admire your courage for giving her a gift in front of the class. Most women just want a man who is bold enough to love them publicly.”
She squeezed my arm again, and I felt ease wash over me.
“Thanks, Grandma,” I said. “I’ll try that tomorrow.”
“Oh, my darling Jacob,” she said. “You won’t try. You’ll simply do it. You have it in you.”
We stopped at the light near the Beyond Home entrance then, and I turned to look at her. Our eyes met. Hers seemed to twinkle with a youth that her body long ago betrayed. I pulled the car around the parking structure to the Revitality entrance. The line wasn’t too long that day, so I pulled into the short term lot and shut off the car. I walked over to the passenger side, opened Grandma’s door, and helped her feet find the cement pavers below.
Then suddenly, Grandma cried. Thick salty tears slid down her face, making rivers in the makeup powder she used to cover her wrinkles. She hid her face in her bony hands, muffling her voice at the same time.
“Grandma, what’s wrong?” I pleaded.
She didn’t answer.
“Grandma,” I said again.
She lowered her hands, and shook her head. Then she reached into her purse and took out a pack of tissues. After wiping her eyes, she looked up at me.
“It’s nothing, Jacob,” she said. “When I was born we didn’t have Revitality, and I guess I’m just a little scared.”
“Scared of what?” I asked.
“Of what’s on the other side,” she said.
I took her hand and helped her stand up.
“Everything is great on the other side, Grandma,” I said. “I read about it in school, and I’ve seen all the documentaries. Revitality makes sure everyone who goes through it is happy. Plus, it’s all on your own terms, so you end up being what you want, instead of suffering or feeling stuck in life.”
“I know, Jacob,” she said, squeezing my hand. “It’s just a little different when you’re about to go.”
We stood on line for twenty minutes. I felt fine, but I was worried for Grandma. She seemed to still be upset, even if she kept insisting that she wasn’t. When we reached the window, I helped Grandma check in, and the Beyond Home Revitality workers were very kind and helpful. They even handed me a pamphlet on Revitality, and gave me a number to call if Mother or Father or I had questions.
When it was her time to go in, I gave her a hug, and she squeezed me tighter than I’ve ever been squeezed. She planted two more wet, sticky kisses on my cheeks, and told me to go buy flowers for the girl in my class.
“I love you, Grandma,” I said.
“I love you, Jacob,” she replied. “Go get those flowers. Be bold.”
I nodded and waved to her as she walked through the double doors. She might have started crying again, but I couldn’t tell if they were new tears, or just the shadows of those from earlier.
After I got back in and started the car, with oldies playing on the radio, I decided to thumb through the pamphlet. Inside was an charmingly illustrated infographic showing Revitality’s process:
How do Beyond Home’s Revitality Services work?
- Revitality participants enter Revitality at a Beyond Home location.
- Participants are fed, roomed, and lovingly comforted prior to Administration.
- Administrators use our patented painless formula to release participants from their suffering, no questions asked.
- Participants are processed into Material and reused to create sustainable Beyond Home design products.
“Great people make great products.”
Below the graphic, a note read:
Revitality is a joint venture between Beyond Home Design Co., and the Department of Health and Human Services.
After a couple of moments, I set the pamphlet down, turned up the radio, and drove to the flower shop just a few blocks from home. I picked out a bouquet, one with daisies, and brought it up to the cashier.
“Will these keep until tomorrow?” I asked.
“For a girl at school?” the cashier replied.
“Yes. Those will keep,” the cashier said. “This is a good choice. I don’t see many young men taking flowers to girls these days.”
Back home, I ate dinner with Mother and Father. They told stories about Grandma, and thanked me for taking her to Revitality. We all shared how much we missed her. It was hard to eat sometimes. Mother cried a little bit too. Father gave me a firm hug. As I cleared the table, I looked at the flowers I had bought, waiting patiently for tomorrow in a Beyond Home vase atop the Beyond Home sideboard in the dining room, and I thought of Grandma.
Nate Ragolia is the author of The Retroactivist; a novel, and There You Feel Free; a novella. He has created webcomics, and occasionally chatters about music, film, &c. He edits Boned. And co-founded Spaceboy Books LLC.