What We Hear
©2010 Rebecca Rhielle
As they were clearing the dishes from lunch, Markie popped back in. She didn’t say anything, but Sadie could feel her in the room. Stopping to tilt her head, Sadie earned a confused look from her partner.
“Who is it?” Gale asked matter-of-factly.
Sadie was momentarily distracted from Markie’s presence by an overwhelming feeling of gratitude.
How many people get to live their lives with someone who accepts them so completely? I am a very lucky woman.
Aloud, she answered, “Markie. But it’s strange…she’s not saying anything. I know she’s there, though.” Shaking her head, Sadie called to her.
“Markie? What is it? You’re back awfully soon…everything okay?”
Gale patted her hand and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” she said. “I’ll be up in my studio if you need me.”
Sadie was barely aware of her exiting the kitchen. She was too confused by Markie’s uneasy silence. Moving back to the table and taking a seat, she tried to talk to the girl again.
“Whatever it is, you can tell me, you know. After this afternoon I’m not sure anything will come as much of a surprise.”
Her attempt at humor fell flat, and she almost fell off her chair as the faint figure of a girl appeared across the table from her.
Mouth agape, she sat staring at the apparition. Sure, she had heard the spirits all her life, but had never actually seen one!
What the hell…?
Markie’s huge brown eyes were focused sadly on Sadie.
“I do have something to tell you, Sadie. It’s good that you’re sitting down, I guess.”
Her words should have gotten Sadie’s attention, but at the moment it was focused on her appearance instead. Short brown hair swung just below Markie’s chin, and she was still dressed in the worn blue t-shirt and faded jeans she must have had on at her death. She had freckles, which surprised Sadie a bit, because Markie didn’t seem like the freckly type. Forcing herself to rein in her thoughts, she finally responded.
“I’m sorry…I’ve just never seen…I mean, I didn’t know…”
“It’s okay. We don’t usually see the point in showing ourselves. Besides, it takes a lot of energy, and we don’t really look like this anyway. We’re all spirit, so it’s more like an amoeba than anything else.”
A small smile touched the corners of her thin mouth, but it faded quickly.
“Sadie, I need to tell you something, and it’s not easy for me,” she started to explain.
Sadie was still contemplating the thought of an afterlife full of amoebas, but she tried to concentrate.
“Okay, honey. What is it? I can see it’s upsetting you, so just let it out.”
“Well, you remember how I had to take off a little while ago? Because of the new spirit and all?”
“Yes,” Sadie answered patiently.
“That new spirit was…I mean, he is…oh, stars, I don’t know how to say this…”
As Sadie watched the girl fumble for words, her skin began to tingle with apprehension. Somehow, she knew whatever came out of Markie’s mouth was not going to be good news.
Her spirit appeared to take a deep breath, then blurted it out in one quick word as only teenagers can.
It took Sadie a moment to break apart and process what Markie had said, but when she did the tingles became waves of disbelief that flooded through her.
“Uncle Harold? My uncle Harold?” she managed to squeak.
But that’s impossible! I just spoke to him a week ago! I mean, sure…he wasn’t the picture of health, but who is? There must be some mistake.
“I’m not mistaken, Sadie,” she answered sadly. Her form began to shimmer and then just disintegrated. “I’m sorry,” her now-disembodied voice rang out. “It just takes too much to stay solid like that.”
Tears welled in Sadie’s eyes. Her uncle was one of those people whose voice could fill an entire room, and whose stories could always make her laugh. He was one of the lucky ones who lived life with joy and love, someone who was actually happy to be here on this planet, and always brightened any space he occupied. The idea that he could be gone from this world was intolerable to Sadie. And incomprehensible.
But she had come to know Markie quite well over the past few years, and she knew the girl wouldn’t lie to her…especially about something like this. She took a deep breath to steady herself, and tried to focus on logistics.
“So, if you helped him, then he’s okay now, right?”
Markie’s tone brightened considerably. “Oh, yeah. He’s got everyone in Admin rolling right now. He’s quite the storyteller!”
Sadie had to laugh, despite the pain in her heart. That he is, indeed.
“And he’s already caused a hilarious uproar in Acquisitions, too. We get to choose the physical form we take when we visit this side, and most of us choose our regular selves. That makes it easier for our loved ones to recognize us, you see…whenever they actually let down their walls and see us, that is. But your uncle!”
Markie laughed loud. “He agreed that taking the physical form he had in life would be the best choice, but he absolutely insisted that be given a full head of thick hair, and a specially-made jersey that has the Texas Longhorn logo on the front and the Houston Astros logo on the back! With sweatpants and house shoes, of all things! He said he died in a hospital johnny, and that if the shock of one of his family members seeing his ghost didn’t kill them, the shock of seeing his bare ass hanging out surely would! I swear Sadie, I haven’t laughed that much in years!”
Her voice turned solemn again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make light of something so tragic.”
But Sadie was smiling and laughing, too. “I’m sad, Markie, yes. Of course I am. But I am also glad to hear that he’s the same old Harold he always was, and that he’s still making people laugh. That was his most favorite thing.”
“Oh!” Markie exclaimed. “I forgot to tell you…Harold also said that he would only hang around his Spirit Space if they piped in show-tunes and doo-wop music.” She laughed out loud again. “Can you imagine their faces? I mean, we all get to pick out the décor and stuff for our Space, but show-tunes and doo-wop? From a big man like that? I tell you, they’re really getting a kick out of him over there.”
Sadie grinned again. But the reality of the situation was beginning to descend on her.
I’m never going to get to hug him again, or hear him poke fun at me. I’ll never see those baggy sweatpants and slippers shuffling into a family gathering. Anger bubbled inside her.
This isn’t fair! We weren’t done with him! I want him back – here – not there. We’re his family, not them! Dammit-all-to-hell, how did this happen?
Markie answered her last thought.
“He hit his head, Sadie. It was bad, and he tried to hang on, but you have to understand that his Spirit was out even before he passed away. He didn’t hurt, and he wasn’t afraid. In fact, he thought the whole thing was kinda cool, like a movie or something. Well, that’s what he told me, anyway.” She paused for a moment.
“I know you’ll miss him, Sadie,” she said quietly. “But he’s happy now, please believe me. He has no pain, no fear. What he does have is hair, comfy slippers, and supernaturally piped-in doo-wop music. And he seems quite content with his afterlife. So please don’t be angry. He tried to hang on for all of you because he loved you guys so much, but it was time.”
Sadie didn’t know what to say. She heard Markie’s words…she even believed them. But it didn’t stop the hurt from pounding through her body with a sickening rhythm.
Markie spoke up again. “Hey, I know…once he gets settled in, I’ll bring him to see you. Would that be okay?”
“Oh, yes,” Sadie said, hope blooming in her heart a little. “Oh, please. Do that. When do you think it will be? How soon?”
“Pretty soon. He’s adjusting rather well, I would say. Speaking of, I really need to get back. Are you sure you’ll be alright, Sadie?”
“Yeah,” she answered, although she wasn’t. “You just go take care of my uncle.”
“Will do!” the girl called out. “I’ll check in later, okay?”
Sadie turned suddenly in the direction of Markie’s voice.
“Oh – and Markie?”
“Thank you. For everything.”
“No problem. I’ll be back soon!”
Sadie felt Markie’s presence leave the room.
Alone with this new knowledge, and struggling to comprehend a world without Harold in it, she laid her head down on the table.
And she cried.
**In loving memory of Hal Corley, 7/26/46 – 9/10/2010…beloved father, husband, uncle, grandfather, brother-in-law, co-worker, friend, and fellow traveler on this journey. I really hope you got your hair back, man. We love you.