Title: A Sibling in Always
Author: Ernest Gordon Taulbee
Genre: Literary Fiction
When a severely deformed corpse lands on his embalming table, skilled mortician, Horace Carver is forced to confront his apathy towards life and the dark secrets hidden within himself, his family, and his hometown of Always, Indiana.
This engaging novel finds a depth that is often missing in many of today’s books. Laden with literary devices and allusions, including themes borrowed from ancient mythology, this book immerses itself into the broadened and modernizing Mid-Western culture of the late 1970’s to 2008, highlighting the prose with delicate harmonic overtones of the Near South.
The prose has the classic sensibilities with the poetic nuances and timing. It also uses tightly metered poetry that often serves as the reader’s guide while experiencing the novel.
What am I to make of you?
The one to whom I will speak
The nature of your design
I am beside of myself
I ask, do you have a name?
Tell me how you want to look
This chance is perfect for me.
It is perfect for you too.
We must have a way to go.
How shall we proceed, my friend?
What will I turn you into?
Someone is hiding in there.
I want to know your true name.
These years you waited to die.
Could there have been anything,
Only madness in the dark.
Darkness is in this light too,
And there are things you may lose.
Did you ever hold something?
You have ever felt possessed,
Since those who are never do.
(Madness is on this side too.)
I keep saying it is not routine. Dying that is. But neither is living in most cases. People have such a thing as an average life. There is a median income for American families. People have two kids on average. They buy cars and go to movies. They get their teeth pulled when they get old and they buy their grandkids Christmas presents. I know all this. I have seen the family pictures adorning the funeral home. Plucked from mantels and tables from around homes and placed around the coffin in the viewing room. Smiling faces. Cooked turkeys and full bellies. Happy people. I have never had that life, but I know it to be real. I see it time and time again throughout the years. A couple funerals a week: that is what we average. More than enough to keep the home afloat.
My uncle doesn’t live at the funeral home like I do — me in an efficiency apartment in the back of the home. Now our new employee is living in the apartment above the garage. I don’t know if he is paying rent or if it was just something he and Seth agreed to, that way Seth could pay him less money. I have no idea. I don’t get into the business. I know my skill and I do it well. I like the challenge of it sometimes. But as violent and dismembering as it is, I am rarely shocked at what I see. I know that people die in violent ways, and that is where I make my mark. It eases people to see the violence removed.
But no violence tonight. None.
Sometimes I like to think my uncle and I have come to a place of forced mutual respect. We have never operated on a familial level. It is a façade and it took until I was at least thirty to develop, but it is in place now. It is necessary for us to work together as we do. One of the points is we respect each other’s privacy. I never invite him into my home. He does not invite me to his, though I have seen if from the outside; a few miles from the funeral home. Not flashy, but elaborate. He makes the money in the place. He has been married for years, but I have only met his wife a few times. She doesn’t consider me family.
Nonetheless, we respect our mutual privacy. That is our way now. I began living in my apartment when I was young, almost immediately after my mother was committed (we stayed in the apartment above the garage when we lived together). In my twenties it was nothing for Seth to barge in unannounced and uninvited as if he owned the place. In actuality he did own the place, but it was mine in my head. We fought and argued. I threatened to quit the business dozens of times. Now I have my privacy, but tonight my uncle broke it.
I had never bothered to have the locks changed, so the key that sat unused on his chain still worked after years of idleness. I was in a deep sleep when he entered, so I did not hear him come into my apartment. He came into my small bedroom, and he turned on the lights.
“Horace, wake up! I need you!” he says loudly, but not yelling.
I sprang to my feet: scared and disoriented.
“What the hell are you doing in here?”
“I need your help,” he says.
“Get the f**k out!” I demand, but he doesn’t move. That is odd for me. I rarely use profanity. I did when I was younger, but I accidentally used foul language in front of a customer, and Seth berated me for it. Since then, I have removed it from my language, only letting it out in moments of intense frustration, like now, with my uncle standing in my room unannounced in the middle of the night.
“It’s business, Horace, get dressed. We have to go to a house on Ingersoll Street. It’s urgent.”
“What happened?” I ask.
“There has been a death,” he answers.
“What’s urgent about that?”
“The benefactor. The one from the other day with the old man. He has a death in the family and he called me to say it is urgent. He said for me attend to it, and he said to bring you.”
“I have no idea, Horace. I don’t even know how he is aware you exist. Now get dressed and meet me at the hearse.”
“Should I get Mason to drive us?”
“The man didn’t ask me to bring Mason, he asked me to bring you. You’re wasting time. Get dressed and meet me at the car. Five minutes.”
With that, he leaves and I go to my closet. This may be my first middle-of-the-night call, but I know jeans and t-shirt won’t be the appropriate attire. Thankfully, my time spent in the business has afforded me the ability to collect some black suits. I hurriedly dress and make my way to the hearse, still adjusting my tie as I approach.
Ernest Gordon Taulbee grew up in a small town in Eastern Kentucky called Salyersville. He received both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree from Eastern Kentucky University. Upon completing his MA he moved to Louisville — where he has lived most of his adult life.
Love of reading and writing has been a theme in his life. Through the decade and a half since he finished his MA, Mr. Taulbee has worked a variety of jobs, from populating a cubicle in a large corporation to making and selling mead. Throughout his whole life, writing has remained his singular professional and artistic passion.
He enjoys writing that is both entertaining as well as writing that borders on high art.
The thesis for his MA was the first 100 pages of a novel. He would complete that novel in the months after finishing his graduate degree. After additional months spent proofreading and editing, he submitted the manuscript to small publishing houses and select agents who considered literary fiction. The stacks of rejections letters became less painful, when he received an email from a small, art house, stating they would like to publish this novel. That joy was squashed about a month or so later, when the publishing company informed him an unexpected financial situation would cause the publishing house to close.
He would continue to write short stories and outline for longer works over the next few years, until he was struck with the idea for what would become his novel, A Sibling in Always, while waiting for the bus.
Once the manuscript was complete, he continued to write prose and to submit the novel for consideration by small houses and publications.
After a year and a half, he decided to join the do-it-yourself culture that had influenced much of the books, music, and art he had come to admire.
He believes that art, including fiction, is a vital part of society, so — if you are not going to produce it — appreciate it and try to improve it.
He currently (as was stated previously) lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife, Tina, and their two daughter.
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