|“||He said the dead had souls, but when I asked him
How that could be — I though the dead were souls,
He broke my trance. Don't that make you suspicious
That there's something the dead are keeping back?
Yeah, there's something the dead are keeping back.
–Robert Frost, Two Witches
Plot[edit | edit source]
Shadow meets Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel, who own a local funeral home in Cairo, Illinois. They let him stay with them and do some work for them as they owe Wednesday a favor. Shadow has lunch with Ibis who explains that most funeral homes are large corporations because they make more profit. In order to appeal to the public, however, they keep the name and employees of the smaller funeral homes they purchase. Mr. Ibis then reveals that he and Jacquel come from Ancient Egypt. They were brought over by the people of the Nile when they came up the Mississippi to trade and left them behind. Ibis explains that advanced peoples from all over the world had been coming to America long before Columbus.
Shadow watches Mr. Jacquel as he performs an autopsy on a murdered young girl. He does it professionally and slowly, but respectfully eats small pieces of her heart, liver, and kidney as he is performing the procedure. Ibis asks Shadow if he minds sleeping under the same roof as corpses and Shadow responds that it's fine as long as they stay dead. Ibis explains that it's very difficult to bring the dead back to life in their bodies, but that it used to be easier in ancient Egypt.
Afterwards, while preparing to work with Jacquel and Ibis, Shadow contemplates suicide, but is stopped by Jacquel and Ibis's cat, who seems to miraculously open doors. Shadow and Jacquel go to the house of an elderly deceased woman named Lila Goodchild. Her husband is poor and upset, and he complains that their children have shown no respect for their parents. Meanwhile, Shadow takes away the body and learns how to work the hearse and the gurney. He sees the TV god again, winking at him from an image on the television screen.
On the way back, Shadow asks Jacquel if he believes in souls. Jacquel explains that in his day, they would feed those whose evil deeds outweigh a feather to Ammet, the Eater of Souls, however, the feather was a very heavy custom-made feather. Jacquel calls Jesus a "lucky son of a virgin", but mentions that a friend of his saw him hitchhiking in Afghanistan, so it all depends on where you are. Jacquel also reveals that Christmas isn't actually his birthday, but the birthday of Mithras. He complains about the fate of various gods, including Horus and Bast, and contemplates his own decrepit future.
Shadow remembers his own childhood. He was a very small, bookish boy often bullied by his classmates until he was thirteen. Then he went through a growth spurt, becoming a big, strong man. He joined the swim team and the weightlifting team and no one expected much of him until he met Laura.
That night, he dreams that he is having fantastic and much needed sex with a cat-like woman. When Shadow wakes up, he realizes that it was not entirely a dream. He is nude, and, while all his bruises are gone, his body is covered in cat-claw scratches.
It’s early morning and it had snowed during the night, so he gets dressed and goes out for a walk. As he is walking, he sees Mad Sweeney under a bridge smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. He asks Mad Sweeney what is wrong and Sweeney says that he made a major mistake. He refers to the coin he gave Shadow when they first met at the bar, the coin that Shadow gave to Laura, and says that it was the wrong coin, reserved only for royalty. He asks Shadow to give him the coin back and tells him he’d give him as many coins as he wants, but Shadow explains that he no longer has the coin. Sweeney explains that Wednesday had asked him to pick a fight with Shadow at the bar to see “what he was made of," and warns him against working for Wednesday, who he refers to as Grimnir. He is also shivering and Shadow recognizes the shiver of a junkie in withdrawal. Mad Sweeney asks for some money for “a ticket out of here," and Shadow gives him a twenty.
When Shadow returns to the funeral parlour, Ibis and Jacquel are hosting a service for Lila Goodchild, and they ask Shadow to pick up a body the police phoned about. When he arrives at the site, he sees Mad Sweeney frozen with a twenty-dollar bottle of whiskey in his lap. On the way back to the funeral home, Mad Sweeney talks to him, saying that Shadow killed him. Shadow, however, insists that it’s the cold and the alcohol that killed him, not Shadow. Sweeney also asks that he get one more meal. Back at the funeral home, Mr. Goodchild continues to complain how his children won’t come to pay their respects, repeating “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree."
That night, Shadow, Ibis, and Jacquel set an extra place on the table and pour everyone Irish whisky. Ibis tells Mad Sweeney's story: he was made to protect a precious stone in Ireland, and was brought to America by a young Irish girl looking for a place to make money. They all get drunk to the point that Sweeney starts adding to the conversation. Sweeney reminds Shadow how to do the coin trick: you take the coin out of nowhere, out of the hoard, and out of your mind.
The next morning, Wednesday returns, and he and Shadow once again leave. As Shadow and Mr. Wednesday drive out of Cairo and head for Wisconsin, Shadow sees Horus in his hawk form, watching them with mad eyes.
Myths[edit | edit source]
- Ibis explains that in Ancient Egypt you could bind the ka, or soul, to a body for five-thousand years. Binding and loosening souls to bodies is no longer as easy.
- Jacquel's people would weigh the good deeds and the evil deeds of the dead. If their evil deeds outweighed a feather, they were fed to Ammet, the Eater of Souls. The feather was a very heavy custom-made feather, however, so only the very worst faced this fate.
- While dreaming, Shadow recalls that in Medieval times, it was said that a woman on top during coitus would conceive a bishop. Thus, it was called "trying for a bishop".
- Mad Sweeney started out as the guardian of a sacred rock in a small Irish glade over three thousand years ago. His madness gave him power.
- While most Irish considered themselves Catholic, in reality, they know very little of catechism, and instead focused on local myths such as the Bean Sidhe, the banshee, who came to wail at the walls of a house where death soon would be, and Saint Bride, who was once Bridged of the two sisters (each of the three was a Brigid, each was the same woman), and the tales of Finn, of Oisin, of Conan the Bald, and the leprechauns (which were actually the tallest, not the smallest, of the mount folk).
Dreams[edit | edit source]
While in Jacquel and Ibis's house, Shadow has a very vivid sex dream. The dream takes place in two settings: a bridge above a stream, and his old prison cell. He comes in both of those places, and also in his bed. The woman is very cat-like and seductive: she wears an animal-print skirt, she purrs, she scratches him with long nails, and her tongue is rough, like a cat's, while the rest of her skin is soft. Water permeates the dream: the stream has small waves that seem to be reaching toward Shadow, and she rides him like a wave. Shadow warns her about Laura, saying that she will kill him, but she is not scared, and brings him to an amazing and much-needed orgasm. The orgasm is a relief, and he sleeps well afterwards. In the morning, he realizes the dream was not entirely a dream, as he is nude, the bruises on his body are healed, and he is covered in cat-claw scratches.
Coin tricks[edit | edit source]
Mad Sweeney reminds Shadow how to do the coin trick. There is no palm, no devise, and no fake pocket. Instead, Sweeney takes the coin out of nowhere; out of the hoard. Sweeney explains that you imagine it in your mind and then you can take it. The coin is the sun's treasure, present at the moment of the rainbow, the eclipse, and the storm.
Places[edit | edit source]
People[edit | edit source]
- Shadow is living with Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis, two Ancient Egyptian gods who own a funeral parlor in Cairo, IL.
- Shadow puts away the body of an elderly deceased woman, Lila Goodchild, while Jacquel talks to her husband, who complains that their children don't care about their parents but blames himself since "the apple never falls far from the tree."
- Jacquel mentions that Horus is "crazy, really bugfuck crazy, spends all his time as a hawk, eats roadkill." He laments that this is a disappointing life. As he is leaving Cairo, Shadow sees a hawk watching him from the tree.
- Shadow refers back to his prison mate, Jackson, and his cellmate, Low Key Lyesmith.
- Ibis and Jacquel live with a female cat who has sex with Shadow in her human form while he sleeps.
- Mad Sweeney returns and asks for his coin back, explaining that he gave Shadow the wrong coin. Unfortunately, Shadow gave the coin to his dead wife, Laura, and Mad Sweeney buys a bottle of whiskey and drinks himself to death.
- Mr. Wednesday returns at the end of the chapter.
Notes and trivia[edit | edit source]
- Twice, Shadow encounters a policeman in Cairo.
- Jacquel explains that Christmas isn't actually Jesus' birthday, but the birthday of Mithras.
- Jacquel envies Jesus for being lucky in these parts of the world.
- Jacquel and Ibis feed Shadow chicken from the popular fast-food chain KFC. Shadow discusses his prison-mates' theories about why Kentucky Fried Chicken changed their name to KFC. This name change really happened in 1991. Jacquel theorizes that it is because of their use of genetically-modified chickens. Low Key, Shadow's old cellmate, believed that due to the unpopularity of the word "fried," it was likely the actual reason for the name change.
- Shadow reads Reader's Digest before going to bed. Specifically, he reads "I Am Joe's Body", a series of articles about the human body by J.D. Ratcliff. This is the same series of articles read by the Narrator in Fight Club.