photo: Alison Scarpulla

Salvation
by William Clayton











The old woman shuffles into the room and sits in the chair. Her name appears in big black letters on the white screen.

RODRÍGUEZ, DOLORES MARÍA

“Okay,” Ted says. “Dolores María Rodríguez, is that your full name?”

“Sí,” she says.

“Great,” Ted says. “Dolores María Rodríguez, being of sound mind and spirit, do you choose to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, and as the one and only true redeemer of all mankind, from everlasting to everlasting?”

“Por supuesto,” she says. “Amo a Jesús con todo mi corazón.”

“Okay, yes, that’s great,” Ted says. “Thank you.” He looks down at his paperwork. “And since there doesn’t seem to be anything in your records to indicate otherwise, everything is ready to move forward. Congratulations.”

The white screen flashes in big golden letters: CELESTIAL. Two matrons move from the corner of the room to help the old woman to her feet. They strip off her white robe and spritz her with olive oil and cinnamon. She coughs as she inhales some of the cinnamon. Then they wrap her in a bright golden robe.

Ted smiles and extends his open palms. “All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“Gracias,” the old woman says, weeping. “Muchas gracias.”

Ted nods to confirm and scans his signet. I nod to confirm and scan my signet. A square opens up in the ceiling, and the old woman is immersed in a shaft of blinding light. She begins to ascend.

“Number 44768199217583,” I say into the microphone. “Rodríguez, Dolores María. Celestial glory. First morning of the resurrection.”

Ted takes off his glasses and wipes them clean with the sleeve of his robe. He puts them back on and looks at his watch. “Wow, honey,” he says. “We’re really cooking.”

“You betcha,” I say.

The next name appears on the screen.

FARLEY, ELDON PORTER

Ted looks over at me. “Here we go,” he says.

Eldon is fumbling around behind the curtain. He’s always so embarrassed about people seeing his face. I’m the one who found him hanging from the tree, but he doesn’t remember. He was already gone by the time I got to him.

“Eldon,” I say. “Sweetheart. We don’t have to keep doing this.”

“Says you,” he mumbles. “But why don’t we go ahead and ask Dad what he thinks. Right, Dad?”

I look over at Ted. “I don’t make the rules around here,” he says.

Eldon steps out into the spotlight. He’s got his hood pulled down over his head. All I can see are his big bloodshot eyes. “Go ahead, Dad,” he says. “I’m ready.”

Ted clears his throat. “Okay,” he says. “Eldon Porter Farley, being of sound mind and spirit, do you choose to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, and as the one and only true redeemer of all mankind, from everlasting to everlasting?”

Eldon takes a deep breath. “Yeah,” he says. The room is silent. Nothing happens.

“Yes,” he says, louder.

Finally the screen blinks SUICIDE.

Eldon stumbles back behind the curtain.

“Number 31968647510982,” I say into the microphone. “Farley, Eldon Porter. Progress denied at this time.”


When he was in first grade, Eldon used to get so nervous before I dropped him off for school. He’d curl up in a ball on the passenger seat and just cry his little eyes out. Not even an hour later I’d look out the kitchen window and see him back there sitting in the tree. So then we’d have to get in the car and do it all over again.

“Mom,” he said to me once as I was pulling him down the hallway back to class. “Why are we doing this?”

I just kept pulling him. I didn’t know what else to do.

After work the Bradfords are having a font party. Ted and I stop by for a visit. They’ve got the whole backyard set up like the Garden of Eden, including a gate with real flaming cherubim. There’s a projection screen set up so that we can see Proxies and Spirits get baptized at the same time. We don’t actually need to eat, since we haven’t yet reunited with our bodies, but a lot of us like doing it to help pass the time. Ted grabs a plate of chicken and brats. Ron is in the font with his son, Ezra. It gets quiet as Ron says the words and puts Ezra under the water. Then as they come out, everyone claps and shouts. Susan is standing next to the font taking visuals for Records, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so happy. Joyful, really. The three of them stand together and smile.
        When we get home, Eldon is in a mood. All the mirrors are covered with tinfoil, furniture is scattered on the front lawn, and he’s scrawled JESUS HATES A FAGGOT on the living room wall. I give him a couple of Halos, and he starts to relax. Ted and I stay up late cleaning and fixing up what we can. When I come back into the living room, Eldon is asleep in front of the MemoDeck, his poor swollen face shining in the light. We’ve got the plastic tub set up in the kitchen sink. We’re giving him his first bath. I kneel down next to my hologram and put my hands under my hands holding him there in the water, the most perfect thing I’ve ever seen.

It was Brigham who finally got Eldon to stop walking out of school. That must have been around third grade. Back then they just seemed to kind of fit together, if that makes sense. They’d go to the library and work on their stories, Eldon doing the pictures and Brigham doing the words. I remember they did one about a boy with a secret goldfish, and another one about a man who was looking for his lost twin. I’d ask Eldon if he wanted to take a break from school, and he’d say that he needed to go because he and Brigham were working on a story together, and they didn’t want to get behind.

After sacrament meeting it’s gospel study and then Moral Envisionment. We have all kinds: meth heads, car crashers, self-shooters. I’ll admit, it’s an adjustment at first to chat with someone whose face is still gaping from a shotgun blast. But that’s the way they do it here.

Brother Waldron fires up the MemoDeck and asks Eldon to sit in the circle. We’re reviewing his first day of eighth grade. Eldon and Brigham are in Eldon’s bedroom doing homework. Eldon whispers something in Brigham’s ear and then takes off his shirt and starts kissing Brigham. Then he turns off the lamp, and we see their bodies moving in the half-light.

“Okay, hold it,” Brother Waldron says. “Eldon, can you do an Envisionment on what you could have done differently here?”

“Well,” Eldon says. “I could have not told him. That would have worked.”

“Yes, don’t tell him, that’s one option. Any other ideas?”

“Well,” Eldon says. “I could have asked him if he was recording it.”

“Okay, good. That’s a second option. But I feel like we’re not quite getting down to the root of the problem.”

The hologram starts playing again. I can never watch this part. It’s where Brigham posts the video of him and Eldon and says he is repenting. Then Eldon wakes up and sees the video and goes out and does what he did in the tree.

“Okay, hold it again,” Brother Waldron says. “I know that’s tough to watch. And I want you to know that I know that it’s tough for a reason. And why is that?”

Sister Haws raises her hand. “Something I always try to remember,” she says, “is that we were all taught that we’re children of God. It’s right there in the song.”

“Yes, great,” Brother Waldron says. “And it is right there in the song. God sent us to earth as a test to see if we could be like him. And like his son.”

Sister Haws is nodding. Ted is nodding.

“And now,” Brother Waldron says, “let’s try to take it another step forward. What does it mean to try to be like God? To try to be like Jesus?”

“To know that everything is going to work out,” Sister Haws says.

“To know that we are strong, and we can do hard things,” Ted says.

“Wow,” Brother Waldron says. “Yes. Some real deep thinking. Thank you. Those are all right and correct answers. But in Eldon’s case here, there’s one more right and correct answer. Eldon, would you please read to us from the book of Genesis?”

The projected words hang above us in midair. “So God created man in his own image,” Eldon says. “In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

“Thank you,” Brother Waldron says. “Now, we’re just about out of time for today, so I’ll leave you with this. God created male and female. So that we can multiply and replenish, not only on earth but even more so in the eternities to come. Notice he didn’t create male and male. Or female and female. It’s right there in the words. Because that’s not how families are made. That’s not how worlds without number are created. Now, am I saying that what Eldon has gone through is easy? That is wasn’t a real horse to tame? No, it’s a horse, a very real horse. A horse that wants to run free if it can. And we all have our horses, that’s for sure. But what do we need to do? We need to tame the horse. We need make it listen to us and do what we want it to do. Not the other way around. So the answer, I believe, and I know, is right there from the beginning. From the very foundation of the world. It always has been.”

All night I dream about Eldon. I am a queen of heaven, preparing him to enter my kingdom. He is lying back in the font, and my hands are underneath him, holding him up. I move my hands to the left. His body moves to the left. I move my hands to the right. His body moves to the right. His face is perfect, and his body is perfect. I go to kiss him and he says something, but I can’t understand. I put my ear to his mouth.

“I desire,” he says, and now his voice is like rushing water. 

“What is it, sweetheart?”

“I desire,” he says, “that you should remember this. You should work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before me.”

Now I know what to do. I wake up and tell Ted it’s time. We wake up Eldon and then walk over to the facility and log in. Brother and Sister Clawson are just finishing their shift. We’re not supposed to start until morning, but nobody’s going to argue with us for taking graveyard.

“Eldon,” I say. “Stand on the platform.”

He rolls his eyes at me.

“Son,” I say. “Please.”

“Whatever,” he says. He stands on the platform.

“Okay, ready,” I say to Ted.

“Okay,” Ted says. “Eldon Porter Farley, being of sound mind and spirit, do you choose to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, and as the one and only true redeemer of all mankind, from everlasting to everlasting?”

Before Eldon can say anything, I nod to confirm and scan my signet. Then I take Ted’s signet from my pocket. I nod to confirm again and scan Ted’s signet. Red lights are flashing, and the screen is blinking SUICIDE SUICIDE SUICIDE.

“Number 31968647510982,” I say into the microphone. “Farley, Eldon Porter. Celestial glory. First morning of the resurrection.”

A square opens up in the ceiling, and Eldon is immersed in a shaft of blinding light. He begins to ascend. The matrons scurry from the corner of the room and start shouting and pulling his legs down. One shrieks, “Rejected! He was rejected!” I rush to the platform. More matrons are joining in. One of them elbows me in the face. I take a bite out of her arm. Ted comes flying in behind me with a dropkick. A fat matron chops him in the throat, and he’s down for the count.

Now they almost have Eldon back on the ground. I feel a terrible, endless strength rising inside me. I kick. I gouge. I tear. I bleed.

“Bitches of Christ!” I scream. “Let him go!” I pull two matrons down by the hair and punch another one in the groin.

At last Eldon breaks free and ascends into the light. He looks down at me. His poor swollen face is healing as he rises.

“Eldon,” I tell him. “My body is your body. My blood is your blood.”

I look at him for as long as I can, and then the matrons pull me down and bind my hands and feet. “We have a place for people like you,” one of them says. I know that I will never see him again, not even at the end of eternity. But in my heart I’m still a heavenly queen.

William Clayton grew up in a small Mormon community in Utah. If the people of the South are haunted by Christ (to steal a phrase from Flannery O’Connor), then the people of the Mountain West are absolutely possessed by him. In the farming towns and desert towns and suburbs and cities, he walks and whispers. Turn a corner and you just might find him standing there ready to show you the of the world.