Posts Tagged ‘Phase 2’

Weekend Reading, Conclusion: Phase 2 (Part 3)

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March 7th, 2010 Posted 8:27 am

Mrs. Foxe left. Mom turned from the door, wrapped me and Neddy in her arms, held us for a long, long time. No one said anything. We were all wiped out from emotion.  After a while, Mom said, “Let’s get some sleep.” She went into her bedroom. Neddy and I went into ours. I sank down on my bed. Neddy walked over to his and punched his pillow, real hard.

“Huh?” I said.

He turned, came closer, spoke in a low, angry voice, his face all red. “She’s a fake.”

“Mrs. Foxe?” I said. “What the hell are you – “

Neddy reached into his pocket and took out the razor.  He held it on the palm of his hand. I actually had to touch it to make sure it was real.

“You took it off the table?” I said. “I don’t understand.”

“She took it off the table,” Neddy said. “Remember when she got Mom to sit back down?”

“Yeah.”

“She scooped up the razor at the same time, without even looking, real smooth, and dropped it in the pocket of that coat of hers.”

“Oh my God. Are you sure?”

“’Course I’m sure,” said Neddy. “I took it out the next second, while her back was turned. And you know what else?”

“What?”

“The way it moved on the table, spinning around and all that?”

“Oh no.”

“Oh yeah. She had a magnet or something between her knees, under the table. I peeked. She didn’t see me – her eyes were on Mom the whole time.”

I felt sick. “What about the flame?”

“She has this real sneaky way of blowing out through her nose,” Neddy said.

“So none of it was real?”

Neddy shook his head. He looked like he was about to start crying, and Neddy wasn’t a crier.

“But I felt him there,” I said. I wasn’t a crier either, but I was crying now. Then I got angry, real angry, and the crying stopped. I wiped my face on my sleeve, pulled myself together. “This is bad,” I said.

“What are we going to do?” said Neddy. “Tell Mom?”

I thought about that, picturing how Mom had hugged empty space and told Dad how she’d always loved him.  Dropping the truth on her? No way. But Mrs. Foxe would be back, again and again, getting her hooks deeper and deeper into Mom, taking every cent we had.

“What happens when she discovers she doesn’t have the razor?” I said.

“She’ll just figure it fell out, getting into her car or something like that,” Neddy said. “A little thing like that won’t stop her.”

He was right. But how could we let this go on? Over on the desk, the green button on the computer we shared was blinking slowly in sleep mode. That reminded me of the four objects, one in particular. I went over to the computer and woke it up. I wasn’t a great computer person, but Neddy was.

“Got an idea,” I said.

Neddy came closer. “Using our Wi-Fi?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. We were turning out to be a team.  Neddy sat in front of the computer, started tapping away. He figured everything out real fast, was almost done when we heard a sound from the kitchen, maybe a chair scraping on the floor. I opened the bedroom door, went to look.

*

Mom was at the table, standing behind Dad’s empty chair. She wore a nightgown now, and her hair was kind of wild. The candles were burning again, the only light in the room. Mom was facing in my direction but she didn’t seem to see me.

“Mom?”

She jumped, startled. “Lara? What are you doing up?”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“Me either,” Mom said. She put a hand on Dad’s chair.  “I’ve been kicking myself.”

“Why?” Had she figured out that Mrs. Foxe was a fraud, problem solved?

Far from it. “There was so much more I wanted to say to Dad,” Mom said. “And he never really got a chance to say anything.”

“What do you mean?”

“They speak sometimes, these … these souls. Mrs. Foxe has seen it happen. I’m going to call her first thing in the morning, get her to come back tomorrow night.” Mom bit her lip. “What if she’s booked?”

I heard our bedroom door open, glanced over, saw Neddy in the doorway. Things were moving faster than we’d anticipated, but why not? I raised my eyebrows. He gave a little nod.

“Mom?” I said. “Why don’t we try right now?”

“Oh, I don’t think Mrs. Foxe would come over now.”

“Without her, Mom.”

“Without Mrs. Foxe? That won’t work.”

“Why not?” I said. “We know how it goes.”

“It’s worth a try,” Neddy said, coming toward the table.

“Well … “  said Mom. “I guess it can’t hurt. Can it?”

“No, Mom.”

I sat in my chair. Slowly Mom sat down in hers; there was still something trance-like about her movements.

“What object should we use?” I said.

“How about the laptop?” said Neddy, and before anyone could answer he took Dad’s laptop off the side table, opened it and laid it between the candles.

“Start us off, Mom,” I said.

“I’m not sure … “

“You know,” said Neddy. “Breathe together, hold hands and project a strong mental image.”

“Oh, right,” said Mom.

We breathed together, held hands, closed our eyes. Crazily enough, even though the fix was in and this time Neddy and I were the fixers, a hyper-clear image of Dad arose in my mind at once. He was out in the desert where the winds blew strong, back in the Tucson days, flying a box kite. Dad loved flying kites, built his own. I remembered this one very well, a strange-looking thing in the shape of a flying horse, but it had soared way way up there. Dad had this enchanted expression on his face, like a little kid.

“I have an image,” Mom said, so quietly I almost couldn’t hear. “What comes next?”

“Travelers,” Neddy said. “Three faithful travelers.”

“Three faithful travelers are trying to reach you,”  Mom said. “Your wife and your beautiful children. If …”

“You can hear us, or see us,” Neddy said.

“Or sense us,” I said. “Please give a sign.”

We sat in silence, eyes closed. Time passed. I started to wonder whether Neddy had messed up somehow, snuck a glance at him. His eyes were closed. He looked calm, and more than that, a lot like Dad in the box-kite memory.

“Please, Rich,” Mom said. “There’s so much I want to say. I beg you.” She sounded desperate, unbearably so. And at that moment, Dad’s laptop made one of those beeps that signal a computer coming to life.

We all opened our eyes, gazed at the screen. It remained blank for a moment, and then a message popped up.

Dear Family,

I just want to tell you that I am fine. There is no pain and I love you very much and will always be with you. But the best thing you can do for me now is to go on with your lives and be happy. That can only happen if you dont contact me anymore. We will be together soon enough.

Love,

Rich/Dad

Neddy had left out the apostrophe in don’t. Dad would never make a mistake like that. But Mom didn’t seem to notice. She gazed at the screen, tears streaming down her face, not making a sound. I felt bad.

After a while, her tears dried up. She turned to us.  “Dad’s right,” she said.

“Yes,” we said.

“Can you print that for me, Neddy?”

Neddy rose, brought back the portable printer, printed the message. A few seconds later, the screen went blank.  Mom kissed her fingers, touched the screen. Then she gave herself a little shake, almost like a dog, and blew out the candles. She didn’t seem so trancelike now.

Faint milky light came through the window. The first number 7 bus of the day rumbled by. The air in the kitchen wasn’t tingling anymore; we were back to a kind of normal.

Mom yawned, checked the time. “Oh my goodness,” she said. “I don’t want to see either of you till noon, at the earliest.”

“’Night Mom.”

“’Night.” She kissed us both and went to bed, taking the printout. We heard her sigh softly as she lay down, not an unhappy sigh, more like the kind of sigh when something is over. Almost at once, her breathing grew slow and rhythmic, the breathing of sleep. We closed her door.

Neddy and I went into our bedroom, closed our own door. I’d never been so tired in my life.

“Good job,” I said.

“You, too,” said Neddy. “Do you – “

Our computer beeped, all on its own. We went over to the desk. Words appeared on the screen, but not in the usual way, more like they were materializing.

Thanks, kids. Good advice – not just for your mom, but for you, too.

I turned to Neddy. “Did you do this?” But all those commas in the right places – no way.

Neddy shook his head, eyes wide. Very slowly, almost a pixel at a time, the message dematerialized from the screen, leaving it blank. The air tingled.

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Weekend Reading, Continued: Phase 2 (Part 2)

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March 6th, 2010 Posted 8:10 am

Mrs. Foxe smelled like flowers, lots of them. She had huge liquid eyes and a high forehead, very smooth although the part of her neck showing above the ruffled collar of her silk blouse looked wrinkled.

“What lovely children!” she said. She glanced around the kitchen, lit only by three big candles burning on the table – red, white and blue – took a deep breath of the air, full of the smell of burning incense, raised her hands slightly and went still. “Yes,” she said, holding the pose for a moment or two, “this will do. You’ve done well, Julie.”

“Oh,” said Mom. “Thanks.”

“So if we’ll just get the donation out of the way, we can start.”

Mom went into the bedroom. Mrs. Foxe looked at Neddy, then at me. “I understand you’ll be accompanying us on our journey,” she said.

“Where to?” said Neddy.

Mrs. Foxe just smiled. Mom came back with her purse, took out her checkbook.

“Cash works so much better,” said Mrs. Foxe.

Mom handed her some bills. I didn’t see how much but there were at least two twenties. Mrs. Foxe stuffed the money down the front of her blouse with a smooth quick movement, like one of those close-up magicians. Her hands were soft and plump, with crimson nails.

“The longest journey begins with a single step,” she said.

None of us knew what to make of that.

“So let us take that step,” said Mrs. Foxe. “Time and tide et cetera. Places everybody.”

We all moved toward our regular chairs.

“Whoa!” said Mrs. Foxe.

We froze. The candlelight gleamed in her eyes. “Where does he sit?”

Mom rocked back a little. “Where he used to – ?“

“His chair, dear,” said Mrs. Foxe.

Mom pointed to Dad’s chair.

“That chair stays empty,” said Mrs. Foxe. “I will sit here, the children there and there, and Julie like so. And in front of his place, we require something personal.”

“Something personal?” Mom said.

“Something he used when he walked on this side,” said Mrs. Foxe. “It needn’t be important – in fact, a little everyday object is often best, especially if a deport is in the offing.”

“A deport?” said Mom.

“I’ll explain later,” said Mrs. Foxe, glancing at her watch.

Mom hadn’t got around to packing up Dad’s things. although she’d started once or twice. She left the room, returned with a baseball trophy, a framed letter from the secretary of defense, Dad’s laptop, and a safety razor.

“Ah, perfect,” said Mrs. Foxe, selecting the razor and setting it on the table in front of the empty chair. “Now we may sit.”

Mom put the trophy, letter and laptop on the sideboard and we sat, Mrs. Foxe removing her embroidered coat and hanging it on the back of her chair. She gazed at the white candle. It made a low sizzling noise.

“The travelers will hold hands,” she said.

That had to mean us. I held hands with Mrs. Foxe and with Mom, just able to reach her across Dad’s empty place; and Neddy did the same. Mrs. Foxe’s hand was warm, Mom’s icy cold. Mrs. Foxe’s eyes closed. For some reason, so did mine. It got very quiet.

“Breathe,” said Mrs. Foxe. She took in a deep breath, slowly let it out. “Breathe as one.” We took in deep breaths, let them out slow, breathing as one. “Now,” said Mrs. Foxe, “let each of us picture in our minds the strongest, clearest image of … of … “

“Richard,” said Mom.

“Right,”  said Mrs. Foxe. “The strongest, clearest image of Richard-slash-Dad that we can.”

I tried to see Dad in my mind and drew a complete blank. Mom, Neddy, my teachers and friends – I could picture them all without effort, but not Dad. I opened my eyes. Everyone else’s eyes were closed. Mrs. Foxe spoke, her voice now soft but very deep. “We haven’t lost you, Richard. We know where you are.”

I could feel the pulse strengthen in Mom’s hand. And her skin seemed to be growing warmer.

“Are we all now projecting a strong mental image?”  said Mrs. Foxe. “A mental image powerful enough to reach the beloved?”

“Yes,” said Mom, eyes closed tight, voice trance-like.

“Kind of,” said Neddy.

I gazed at that razor and suddenly a vision of Dad shaving swam into my mind, a clear vision of him tilting up his chin to get at the stubble underneath. Was it powerful? I don’t know, but I felt chills. “Yes,” I said, and closed my eyes.

“Richard,” said Mrs. Foxe. “Four faithful travelers are trying with all their power to reach you. If you can hear us, or see us, or sense us, please give a sign.”

In my mind, the image of Dad shaving under his chin began to fade, replaced by nothing. One of the candles sizzled again. Could that be a sign? I took a peek. The flame of the white candle wavered; the others were still, burning straight up.

“Look,” I said.

Everyone opened their eyes. Mrs. Foxe saw what was happening. She turned to me and smiled a little smile. “Hush, child – haste is the enemy,” she said. Now her hand felt positively hot.

“But is it a sign?” I said. “The candle flickering like that?”

Mrs. Foxe didn’t answer. We watched the flame. All at once it stopped wavering, stood straight like the others.

Mrs. Foxe sucked in her breath. “I can feel your presence, Richard,” she said. “Very near.” She leaned forward slightly. “Give us a sign, we beg you.”

I felt prickles on the back of my neck. Mom’s eyes were huge and dark, her face tilted up, like a figure in an old religious painting. Neddy’s eyes, on the other hand, were narrow, almost as though –

The razor wobbled.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt. No way to miss that movement – the razor lay all by itself on the table, gleaming in a circle of candlelight. It had wobbled. But even though there was no doubt, I began to doubt almost right away. At that precise moment, the moment of reawakening doubt, the razor wobbled again, and then, as though to crush any doubt for all time, it shifted, sliding a good two inches across the table and then rotating in a full circle.

“Oh my God,” Mom said. “Richard.” A tear spilled out of each dark eye, slid slowly down her cheeks, leaving golden tracks.

“Welcome to the circle, Richard,” said Mrs. Foxe. She paused, almost as if to allow time for Dad to say something polite in return. Then she said, “Have you anything to tell us?”

Silence. The razor lay on the table, motionless now.  The flame of the white candle burned straight, unwavering.

“Do you have a message for your family?” Mrs. Foxe said. “Are you happy? Are there any wishes you’d like to –“

Suddenly Mrs. Foxe’s right shoulder sagged, as though someone behind her had leaned on it, someone with a heavy hand. Mrs. Foxe glanced behind her, looked a bit pained. “Oh, dear,” she said. “I’m afraid you don’t know your own strength.”

Mom rose, slowly, as though pulled by some force, her eyes on the shadows behind Mrs. Foxe. “Oh, Rich,” she said, tears flowing freely now, “I miss you so much.”

“Julie?” said Mrs. Foxe, straightening up and maybe a bit alarmed, “really much better form to remain seated. We can’t always predict – “

But Mom didn’t hear. She was moving around the table, toward whatever stood behind Mrs. Foxe. “Did it hurt, Rich?” she said. “I hope it didn’t hurt. You’re not hurting now, are you?” Mom reached the space behind Mrs. Foxe, raised her arms, encircled them around what appeared to be nothing, hugged my invisible dad. “I love you, Rich,” Mom said. Her voice sounded calm, as calm as I’d ever heard it, serene. “I loved you from the moment I laid eyes on you and I always will.” She wasn’t crying anymore, just stood there, gently rubbing a back no one could see.

But I was crying. “Can you feel him, Mom?” I said.

Mom nodded to me, the way you’d nod over someone’s shoulder. I rose. Was that Neddy getting up, too? I wanted to touch Dad, so much. But Mrs. Foxe grabbed my arm – she turned out to be very strong – and sat me back down. Then she got up, took Mom’s arm more gently and said, “Best not to pressure visitors from the spirit world too much, at least not at first.  Wouldn’t want to scare them off, would we?”

“Oh, no,” said Mom. She let Mrs. Foxe lead her back to her seat.

We sat around the table. The air tingled now. I felt Dad’s presence, no question.

“Thank you, Richard,” said Mrs. Foxe. “We thank you for appearing among us. I sense you are fading now, and hope you will see fit to come again.”

“He’s not fading,” Mom said. “I don’t sense him fading.”

“Perhaps not,” said Mrs. Foxe. “But we don’t want to demand too much the very first – “

The flame of the white candle wavered and then rose straight again.

“Richard?” said Mrs. Foxe. “Richard?”

The room was silent. The silence went on and on. Mom watched the white candle, burning in an ordinary way now, like the other two. I stopped sensing Dad’s presence.

Mrs. Foxe pushed back her chair. “Well,” she said. “For a first attempt, quite successful, n’est-ce pas?”

“Maybe it’s not over,” Mom said. “Let’s give him a chance to – “

“It’s over,” said Mrs. Foxe. She pointed to the table.  The razor was gone.

Mom gasped. So did I. Neddy? Maybe not.

“A deport, my dear,” said Mrs. Foxe. “An object borne away into the spirit world.” She got up, flicked a switch, turning on the overhead light.

Mom rose too, blinking in light that now seemed much too harsh. “When can we do it again?”

“Soon, if you like,” said Mrs. Foxe, donning her embroidered coat. “You’ve got my cell?”

To be continued.

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Weekend Reading: Phase 2 (Part 1)

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March 5th, 2010 Posted 8:13 am

Phase 2

“Counting the hours,” my dad wrote in his last email. “Exactly forty-six more and I’m out of this God-forsaken place. Phase-Two begins! Love you all.” All meaning Mom, my eleven-year-old brother Neddy, and me, Lara.

“Hey Mom,” I said. “An email from Dad.”

“Is everything all right?” Mom said, hurrying over from whatever she was doing, the laundry maybe – laundry, I remembered at that moment, that I’d promised to take care of before school. For some reason, Mom just couldn’t get used to these emails coming in real time from a war zone, got alarmed whenever one turned up in the in-box. She leaned over my shoulder for a closer look at the screen, a bottle of spot-remover in her hand. I was aware of her eyes tracking the words, could feel her concentration, so intense.

“What’s the time difference again?” Mom said.

“Thirteen hours?” I said. “Or maybe with turning back the clocks it’s – “

“Why can’t you guys get this?” said Neddy, doing his homework at the kitchen table. He glanced at his watch. “It’s eight-thirty-five AM over there, AM tomorrow.”

“That’s good,” said Mom.

“What is?” I said.

“That it’s already tomorrow,” Mom said.

“For God’s sake,” said Neddy. “Forty-six hours is forty-six hours.” Probably the very words Dad would have said, but they wouldn’t have sounded so annoying coming from him. Dad had a real gentle voice, deep but soft. Neddy’s voice had a grating undertone even when he was in a good mood. But he and Dad both had that precise way about them, a precision you could see in Dad’s email, how the grammar was always right and all the letters that should have been capitalized were. That precision was what made him such a great pilot; nobody had told me that – I just knew. Once, when I was really little and we still lived on the base, Dad took me up in an old World War Two P-39, let me sit on his lap while he flew. Somehow his hands on the controls looked intelligent, as though each contained a tiny brain, thinking about every movement. I felt so safe, like the sky was my natural element. He even did a few barrel rolls, just to hear me laugh. Dad liked my laugh, for some reason. “Where’d Lara get a laugh like that?” he’d say.

*

Mom went to the calendar on the fridge door. “So forty-six hours from now means Thursday at six thirty-five PM?”

“Duh,” said Neddy.

Mom took a red marker and made a big ! in Thursday’s square. That didn’t mean Dad was coming home on Thursday: they always flew to the Ramstein base in Germany first. But he’d be back by Sunday or Monday and then there’d be big changes, what Dad called Phase Two of our lives. Phase Two started with Dad resigning from the service and taking a piloting job with Executive Air, a charter company. Mom and Dad were real happy about it. He’d be home three or four nights a week and most weekends, plus the pay was good. They’d already put down a deposit on a house in almost the nicest part of town. A house with a pool! Plus Neddy and I were going to have our own bedrooms for the first time, instead of sharing. Even the address sounded great:  88 Hickory Lane. I’d already written it on all my schoolbooks, scratching out “3712 Baseline Road, Apt. 19.”

Mom went to the beauty parlor and had tints put in her hair. Once or twice I heard her singing to herself. Mom had a beautiful singing voice, had even made a demo for some record producer when she was a teenager. She cleaned the apartment from top to bottom and rearranged the furniture. Thursday night she made a special dinner – pork roast with orange sauce and pecan pie for dessert. Mom kept glancing at the clock. At 6:35 she went to the fridge and took out a bottle of wine. Mom didn’t drink wine, didn’t drink at all. “Who wants a little sip?” she said.

“Bring it on,” said Neddy.

Mom gave him a look. “Just this once, buster,” she said.

I took three glasses from the cupboard and laid them on the table. Mom was unscrewing the cap off the wine when the buzzer went. She pressed the intercom button and said, “Yes?”

Then came some static, followed by a man’s voice. “Mrs. Byron?”

“Yes?”

“First Lieutenant Kevin Skype and Chaplain Ferrarra to see you, ma’am. May we come up?”

Mom went white, the color of a corpse in the movies. The bottle of wine slipped from her hand and smashed on the floor, but while it was still in mid-air I noticed a soaring eagle on the label, rising in a pure blue sky, the image so clear. I remembered that eagle way better than anything that happened in the next few days.

There’s a crazy thing I’ve thought about a lot of times and still don’t understand. After someone dies – someone close to you, I mean, like a father – why should it be so important to get the body back and bury it? They’re dead, right? That’s the big thing. So what difference should it make? All I can tell you is that it does. It makes a big difference. I know, because we never got to bury my dad. Chaplain Ferrarra said there was nothing to recover after the crash, nothing human to bury. We had the funeral – packed church, trumpeter playing taps, buddies of Dad’s who called him a hero.  They were all so gentle, big guys kind of trying to make themselves smaller, if you know what I mean, so they wouldn’t be towering over the three of us. Something strange happened to me in the church: I suddenly felt so alive, more alive than I’d ever been, just glowing with it, hyper-conscious of my beating heart, the blood flowing through my veins, the oxygen filling my lungs. That shamed me, but there was nothing I could do about it. Anyway, the full-of-life feeling didn’t last long. Soon the three of us were back in Apartment 19 at 3712 Baseline Road and I was all hollowed-out. Going through the motions: an everyday saying that I now understood through and through.

We got the $6000 death gratuity from the Army in three days and the next week Mom returned to work. We were going to be all right for money, she said.

“I’m sorry about 88 Hickory Lane,” she said.

“Oh, Mom,” I told her. “Don’t even think about it.” Neddy and I went back to school. At first everyone made a big effort to be nice to us. Then they slipped back to normal. Normal was better. From time to time, just for a moment or two, shooting hoops in P.E., say, I felt normal, too. Not normal like before, back in Phase One, but a new kind of normal. Neddy, too – after a couple weeks, I even heard him laughing on the phone.

But Mom cried at night. She tried to muffle the sound, but the wall between the bedrooms was thin. And she wasn’t eating. Her clothes started hanging loosely on her body, and when I hugged her goodbye in the mornings I could feel all the ribs in her back. Then she got the idea that maybe Dad had survived the crash, was a prisoner somewhere in the desert, or injured and holed-up in a cave. Neddy’s face got all hopeful the first time she offered up this new theory.

“Mom?” I said. “You really think so?”

Her voice sharpened. “Why not? There’s no body. And who’s more resourceful than Dad?”

“Nobody, Mom, it’s just – “

She wrote a letter to the Army, asking them to send out search parties. When no answer came after three or four days, she started calling. Chaplain Ferrarra came to the apartment again, this time with a major. The major had pictures of the crash site.

“Sure you want to see these, ma’am?” he said.

“Absolutely,” said Mom. “Kids – go to your room.”

Neddy and I shook our heads. Not that we wanted to see, exactly, more like we had to. Mom glared at us for a moment or two, then her look softened a little.

“All right,” she said.

The major spread color photos on the kitchen table. We looked at blackened metal scraps twisted and scattered across a desert floor, not the beautiful kind of desert I’d come to know a little the two years we were posted to the base in Tucson, but just a stark and empty ugly nothing. Those scraps, so small and deformed, didn’t add up to a plane or anything else.

The major’s eyes were on Mom, just waiting patiently.

Mom met his gaze. “He could have bailed out,”  she said. “Maybe into those hills in the background.”

“Problem is, ma’am,” said the major, “there wasn’t time. Surface to air missile – eyewitnesses saw the hit. Direct on the nose. The aircraft broke up in mid-air.”

Mom’s brow furrowed. I could see how hard she was thinking. “What if he saw it coming and hit the ejection button at the last second?” she said.

The major gazed at her and said nothing.

Mom pressed on. “He had great vision,” she said. “Twenty-ten in his right eye.”

The major shifted one of those horrible pictures around in case Mom wasn’t seeing it properly.

“Ma’am,”  said the chaplain, very quiet. I noticed a tiny shaving cut under his chin, still seeping a drop or two of red.

*

Mom stopped calling the Army, wrote no more letters. But she still wasn’t eating, and now, instead of crying in the night she was up to all hours at the computer. Mom had never shown any interest in on-line things before.

“Mom?” I asked one morning, “what are you doing on the computer?”

“Research,” she said, deep dark depressions under her eyes.

“Into what?”

“Just research.”

That night she didn’t come home till real late. I was awake: in this new normality I didn’t sleep quite as well as in the old one. She went into the bathroom, her footsteps quicker than they’d been for awhile, like she wasn’t dragging herself around. Water ran. Then I heard the squeak of her bedsprings. After that, silence. No crying.

“Lara?” said Neddy, very softly.

“Yeah?”

“You awake?”

“Yeah.”

“I think I know where she’s been.”

“Where?”

“To a seense.”

“Huh?”

“That’s what she’s been checking out on-line. I followed her tracks.”

Not nice, but that didn’t seem important right now. “What’s a seense?”  I said.

“You know,” said Neddy. “Where you sit around the table in the dark and try to talk to spirits.”

“Oh,” I said. “A séance.”

“That’s how you pronounce it?”

“SAY-ahnse.”

“Séance,” Neddy said.

We lay in the darkness, not speaking. I closed my eyes but couldn’t sleep. A siren sounded far away. After awhile, Neddy spoke, even quieter than before. “Spirits means spirits of the dead, right?”

“Right.”

*

Mom came back late the next night. And the next and the next and the next. Her footsteps slowed down. The muffled crying started up again. She missed a couple days work – a Thursday and Friday – maybe not even calling in the second time, because her boss phoned and I heard Mom saying how sorry she was and that it would never happen again. That wasn’t quite enough for her boss, because after listening for a few moments, she said, “Please give me one more chance.” And then: “Thank you.”

Mom stayed home that night. Saturday morning she was up early, already making waffles when Neddy and I went into the kitchen. She sat down at the table with us, rubbing her hands in an enthusiastic way; but all that darkness around her eyes was even worse than before.

“How are the waffles?” she said.

“Good, Mom,” I said. “Thanks.”

Neddy mumbled something, totally incomprehensible with his mouth full.

“Aren’t you having any?” I said.

“I’m not hungry,” Mom said. “I had a big dinner.” Which wasn’t true – she’d hardly touched her food last night. She spooned a little sugar in her coffee, took a sip. “I’ve met this interesting woman,” she said.

“Yeah?” I said.

Neddy poured more syrup on his waffles, globs of it. Dad would have said, “Son?” And Neddy would have stopped. Mom didn’t seem to notice.

“Her name’s Mrs. Foxe,” Mom said. “With an E. She’s lived all over the world.”

“An army brat like us?” I said, although we really hadn’t lived too many places – just here, Tucson and San Diego.

“No, nothing like that,” Mom said. “She’s … different.”

“How?” I said.

Mom stirred her coffee again, gazed into the tiny black whirlpool she’d made, spinning round and round, very fast. “There’s more to life than just the everyday things,” she said. “That’s one of Mrs. Foxe’s beliefs.”

“More to life such as?” I said.

Mom’s eyes met mine for a moment, looked away. “I’m talking about beyond the material world,” she said.

“Outer space?” Neddy said, syrup dripping down his chin.

“Beyond outer space, too,” Mom said.

“There’s nothing beyond outer space,” said Neddy. “It goes on and on. That’s why they call it outer space.”

“This isn’t about space,” Mom said. “Or science, or any of that.  It’s about …”

“About what, Mom?” I said.

“The spiritual world, I guess you’d say.”

“You mean religion?” I said.

“Not exactly,” said Mom. “What Mrs. Foxe says is that the life force is so strong it leaves an undying imprint. Those are her exact words.”

“An undying imprint where?” I said.

Mom gave me a long look. “That’s the question.”

“What is?” said Neddy.

“Where the undying imprints go,” I told him.

“Undying imprints of what?” he said.

I turned to Mom.

“Of the living,” she said. “After they’re gone.”

“So it is about space,” Neddy said.

One of Mom’s eyelids twitched; I’d never seen that happen to her before. “I don’t understand,” she said.

“You said these imprints or whatever go somewhere,” Neddy explained. “All somewheres are in space.” That last part could have been spoken by Dad, word for word. But it would have sounded nicer.

Mom rubbed her face; her skin looked tired, took a moment or two to resume its tautness. “Mrs. Foxe says that these undying imprints go where souls go.”

“Souls?” I said.

“Just another word for undying imprints,” Mom said. “She says.”

“Souls of the dead,” I said.

Mom’s voice was quiet. “The undying part.” She stared into her coffee. “Mrs. Foxe believes … in fact, she has actually experienced … that under certain circumstance some extra-sensitive people are able … “ She went silent. Down on the street I heard the bus going by; we were on the route for the number 7 bus, heading downtown. Mom looked up. “Do you kids know what a séance is?”

We nodded.

“Mrs. Foxe is one of those extra-sensitive people,” Mom said.

“You’ve been trying to communicate with … with Dad?” I said.

“Mrs. Foxe thinks we’re very close to making contact,” Mom said. “She can feel it. There’s just one last roadblock in the way.”

“What’s that?” I said.

“The venue.”

“Huh?” said Neddy.

“The place where we’ve been having the séances. She says here would be better. So…”

“So?”

“So we’re going to try tonight. After midnight is best, when you kids are in bed anyway.”

“No,” I said.

“No?” said Mom.

“Us, too,” said Neddy.

“I don’t … “

*

To be continued.

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Posted in Chet The Dog

Humans Working Things Out

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March 4th, 2010 Posted 10:26 am

“It’s a short story,” Admin says. “Short stories are meant to be read in one sitting.”

“Maybe,” says Spence, “but this one – and don’t get me wrong, I like it – “

“Even though it’s dogless?” says Admin.

“Aw, c’mon,” says Spence. “And you don’t do too badly with the nation within the nation yourself. Remember that quote from the L. A. Times? About Oblivion, maybe? Something like ‘His funny and stout-hearted dogs are unmatched by anyone’s, including Dashiell Hammett’s and Robert B. Parker’s.'”

“So?” says Admin.

“I thought you guys were on your way to the gym,” Bernie says.

And they’re off. Whew. Now we can relax.

“Tell you what,” Bernie says. “What’s the name of this story again? Phase 2? It’s almost 6000 words. No one wants to read that off the screen in one chunk. Let’s divide it in 3 – Friday, Saturday, Sunday. A little weekend reading kind of thing.”

Bernie’s words drift over me, nice and warm. My eyelids are getting heavy.

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