I first met Marvin several years ago, but you don’t have to know Marvin to know his story. That’s the sort of thing that’s just understood, that comes from living in Beaumont, Texas, where Marvin lived most all of his lives.
Marvin looked like anybody you’d know, a jolly man with a belly and a beard, which he grew to hide the fact that he was missing his bottom jaw—the only truly remarkable thing about Marvin, aside from his extra lives—which had been blown off by a land mine during the Vietnam War the first time he died.
He met his wife, Nora, at art school. He was studying to be a technical artist at the time, because he liked to draw warplanes. Marvin was a good-looking guy then: tall, muscular, chiseled features—block jaw—and when he walked into life drawing class that first day, Nora knew he was the man she would marry. Nora had a gift, a certain sense that some people have that you just can’t explain. She had that same feeling the week Kennedy was killed, and the day she knew her sister gave birth to her nephew without being told. And so when she foresaw Marvin would be the man whom she would marry, that, too, would come to pass.
Nora had yet another premonition of Marvin’s coming death shortly after the wedding vows, when Marvin got his notice. She tried to make him burn his draft card or flee to Canada, but Marvin always had a sense of duty, regretting he had but one life to give and all that, though in Marvin’s case it was actually two—the other three were civilian. When Marvin says he’s going to do something, he does it, and if there is anything powerful enough to counteract one of Nora’s premonitions, it’s the strength of Marvin’s word. So when Marvin clasped Nora’s arms right before he left and said, “Honey, I promise you, I’m coming back,” she knew that no war or premonition, not even death itself could keep Marvin away.
But just as he was about to head to the bush, two officers came out and said, “Listen up, because two of you aren’t getting on that plane.” Everyone was looking around in disbelief. Two of them wouldn’t have to go to war. You could hear the men mumbling as they waited for the second name: Please, God, let it be me, let it be me . . . The officer called the first name: “. . . Ben Eiselman!” the officer said. A boy stepped forward, and the officer gave him a dime and told him to go call his mother because he was going to Germany.
Then the men started praying again. All, that is, except for Marvin, who was hoping with all his might that he’d get to go on that plane. That’s because Marvin had but two goals in life. One was to have enough money to buy a sailboat so he could go out on the ocean and fish the Atlantic dry, and the other was to go to Vietnam and shoot a Viet Cong. Not that Marvin had anything against them, per se, but in the realm of public opinion, those were the only people acceptable for shooting at the moment.
“And Marvin Dimitri!” the Sergeant called.
They sent him to a base overlooking a small German village that still had buildings left toppled from the bombing during WWII. So Marvin spent the war drawing illustrations for propaganda pamphlets that were dropped over Russia. The transfer wasn’t so bad. Marvin got over it. They only made him work until five, and he spent his evenings walking through the countryside until he found a rock or a tree he could lean against as he wrote letters home to Nora. As you can imagine, Nora was giddy about Marvin’s new assignment. It didn’t even bother her that this was the first time one of her premonitions hadn’t come true.
Then one day, Marvin was walking through the woods composing a letter in his head about his tour being over, and as he took a step, he heard a strange clink and: Boom! Marvin had stepped on a land mine, resting undiscovered beneath the ground since the Second World War.
Nora got the notice two weeks later, commending her husband’s bravery and service in the line of duty. But Marvin wasn’t really dead. Not really. Marvin came back months later with the remaining bones of his jaw wired shut. He had to use a pad and pencil to tell her about the military hospital and Germany. The last thing Marvin scribbled on the pad of paper that day was: “I keep my promises.” And it was true.
The second time Marvin died was a bit like the first. Marvin and Nora had gone to a party, and the General wanted someone to follow his wife to make sure she got home all right. She’d had a bit to drink and wanted to leave early. Marvin offered, despite being dead drunk. “Don’t go,” Nora told him. This was during the big blizzard. “You can hardly walk straight.”
“Fiddlesticks,” Marvin said. His speech was already slurred on account of the dentures and what they salvaged of his jaw. With alcohol, he was indecipherable, but Nora managed to make out his final words: “I’ll be coming back.”
Marvin followed close behind the General’s wife as she went down Main Street, past Third, and into the snowbank. Marvin kept right on going, over the top of the General’s car and down the hill, coming to rest against the trunk of a large fern tree. Anyone who knew anything knew a man couldn’t survive two hours in that cold. Any man, that is, except Marvin, who got out and wandered through the woods until he sobered up, finding his way back to the base around morning, when it was time to report for duty. He saw the ambulances and the MPs on the side of the road, but didn’t give it much thought, until he saw the look on his commanding officer’s face. “What on Earth are you doing here?” he said. “I was told you were dead.”
Marvin thought about that a moment, then said, “In that case, can I have the day off?”
The third time takes some explaining. Marvin had two fundamental habits at this point that were destined to be fatal: a growing sense of invincibility, and an insatiable desire for raw, red meat. It wasn’t just Nora who warned him this time, but the doctors, too. “Ah, shush,” Marvin said. “I’ve died two times in my life, and it’s going to take more than a little undercooked veal to be the end of me.”
There were lamb chops, mutton chops, rib-eye, and black angus. Not to mention beef: grilled, barbecued, and chicken fried. It was a particularly hearty serving of Spam hash and rack of lamb that finally did Marvin in. His heart stopped—the doctor was his witness, and pronounced him dead on the spot, and that was the third time Marvin died. But again Marvin came back. He always did. But by then his death had already been recorded in the official paperwork, and that was his fourth, and that’s pretty much how Marvin died.
I guess I misspoke before. I suppose there eventually has to be a fifth, even Marvin would admit that. We’re still waiting to see exactly how he’ll come back, if he ever does. But Marvin’s not the type to sit around and wait for something to happen. He figured there was one thing he wanted to do before he broke his promise to Nora, and that was to buy that boat with his savings and take off to fish the Atlantic dry. And that’s what he did. The day he left, Nora started to say something, but Marvin put a finger to her lips. “I know what you’re going to say, so don’t bother.” Nora just smiled and said, “I know you’ll be coming back.” So it counted. Marvin made his promise, if not in words.
Marvin packed up his rod and reel and climbed onto his boat, and that’s where Marvin is to this very day. He’s out there fishing until the Atlantic’s dry, like he promised he’d do, though it’s taken a bit longer than expected. If you see Nora in a grocery store, and ask how Marvin’s doing, she’s never worried. Everyone knows death can’t keep Marvin away, no matter how many months roll by. The banks haven’t bothered to freeze his accounts, and the life insurance company wouldn’t pay, though of course Nora never tried to collect. You’ve got to have absolute proof before you make a claim like that. Even if someone turned up with a body, pictures, something, you’d have to wonder. With Marvin, death never takes the first time. Or the third. So until someone does bring incontrovertible proof to the contrary, as far as we’re concerned, Marvin’s still alive.
© 2013 by Dylan Otto Krider.