Imaginary Oklahoma is an ongoing project in which some of today’s most important and influential writers combine with artists to provide a fictional take on this place we call home. Through a wide variety of voices, styles and literary devices, these works prove that “Oklahoma” is much more than a place, it’s an idea.
It was six a.m. when the boys came to tell me that my coffin was ready. Up on deck, the sun was brutal, and Tio lunged toward me with sunblock. He was afraid I’d be too pink to look dead.
“For Christ’s sake,” I said, dodging his great coconut-scented hands. “Can’t one of the girls do this?”
Tio ignored me. We’d first met while I was propping up the oil sector in Costa Rica, before I got kicked out for trying to open the machine gun factory. Tio did not take shit, especially from me. I would never have been a good swindler face- to-face; I couldn’t have traveled around gaining the trust of wealthy widows. I emit an aura of disingenuousness even on those rare occasions when I’m feeling genuine. The wife I briefly had in Tulsa— Olivia: a very nice girl, though ultimately our ambitions differed—always told me I had no personal charisma. What I do have is ruthless intelligence and a spirited disrespect for the rule of law. This can get you pretty far in America—but, as I eventually found, only so far.
“It’s going to be too short.”Tio eyed the coffin, which still looked mostly like the pool table it recently had been.
Now the SEC is after me for something like $224 million. They’ve been chasing me around the coast of Antigua for years. Being driven into the sea isn’t so bad if your boat has a sauna and discotheque; let nobody say I complain. And the night sea is beautiful—so much like basalt you half-believe you could walk on it if nobody was watching. But then, also, there’s the corrosive salt, the interminable memories, your spinal fluid heaving always with the sea. Until, finally, I had an idea.
Rosario appeared. “So,” she began powdering my face, pressing bruises under my eyes. “Whatcha gonna do when you’re dead?”
“Read my obituaries.” Shallow, obviously, but irresistible: I knew they’d been pre- written years ago, as is customary for celebrities. I wondered what Olivia would think when she read them.
“Of course.” Rosario was painting lurid colors over my deadness—rouges to resurrect my lips, blushes to give my cheek a girlish, living tint. Once deemed sufficiently ghoulish, I climbed into the coffin.
“Squish down, boss,” said Tio.
I squished, the sawdust curdling in my throat. The waves sounded violent against the hull. I hadn’t told Rosario what I really wanted to do most, because it was defeatist. I wanted get off the boat. Shamefully, I did. I wanted a gleaming summer night. I wanted a city full of strangers.
Rosario bent over and gave me a rose for decoration, a rosary for irony. The sun was making me feel oddly vulnerable. “I can’t keep my eyes open.”
“Don’t,” said Tio cheerfully. “You’re dead. Okay. Ready?”
I thought of land. I thought of tropical bugs like floating gemstones in the air.
“Rosario, no,” said Tio. “Look sad. Like, frown. Boss? Hello?”
“Just getting into character.” There was respectful quiet, and I could feel how sorrowful and rudderless they’d be without me. Maybe this was how Olivia had felt. Maybe I would ask her.
“Fine.” I shut my eyes. “Go.”
I thought of land, but all I saw was ocean. I saw green-gray eels, pulsing pink starfish. I blinked and saw wood-carved groupers. I clenched my eyes tighter and saw the shifting shadows of whales, and when the camera flashed I saw the luminescent bulbs of jellyfish. They glowed like planets, like the shore of a country where the future was happening without me.