This Thing Don’t Lead To Heaven (1970)
Life…that thing inevitably leads to death. Far as I know. There’s a wonderful (and macabre) bit near the end of this early Crews novel. In it (the setting being a retirement/nursing home) one of the residents is reported to have died. Utopia (how’s that for the name of a cook/nurse in a nursing home?) goes upstairs to find Mr. Jacobs in his bed.
He looked so sweet and peaceful and good lying there. She had never like him when he was alive. But she liked him now. She liked them all when they were dead. When they were dead or very advanced patients in the Ward. Being an advanced patient meant when you got to the point where you could not move. That was nice. There was nothing in the world as restful and nice-seeming to Utopia as a human being that had stopped moving. You could do something for them and it stayed done. It wasn’t like it was when they were alive and moving around and sweating and bellyaching and complaining about everything. You give a live one food and he leaves a dirty dish and gets constipated with what he’s eaten and needs a laxative and then complains because his stool is so loose that his hemorrhoids burn and need a greasy salve which gets all over the bedclothes that have to be washed – and so it goes.
So it goes, indeed. Crews goes on to write about stripping the body down and washing it. Putting on and laying out the clothes (with rigor mortis partially set in). Utopia is “an expert on the mechanics of death”.
She loved the little smile that appeared on the face of the dead, loved it so much that she had gone to the trouble to ask a doctor about it and found its Latin name: risus sardonicus.
The final smile. But the dead stay with us. The founder of the home, dead some 15 years, is still with his daughter, Axel.
…he was hanging on her neck like a jungle cat on the neck of an antelope.
Pearl Lee Gates (Axel), owns a home for the elderly that she inherited from her father. The home sits at the top of a hill, looking down upon the town and the drive in theater. The land that the drive-in theater sits on was once a part of Daddy’s estate. Axel sold much of it off to pay debts. She had the concession stand built over her Daddy’s grave. From the town, up to the home, it looks like the stairway to heaven.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “It was a lie. This thing don’t lead to heaven.”
This is Axel’s explanation of the vista to Junior Bledsoe, Junior is a burial plot salesman. To Junior the home is surely a goldmine. There’s a Haitian voodoo-cook who speaks no English. There’s a dwarf masseuse and karate expert. There’s a whole slew of odd, gothic creatures bursting out of this early Crews novel.
It’s unclear to me where they have to go. Not to heaven.