Vera felt the familiar presence. The sense that she was suddenly surrounded by a sort of energy. The knowing that someone else was there with her.
“Good evening, Joe.”
Conversation not through words but through feelings from the heart. Impressions, colours, images and understandings.
There was a taste, and a faint smell of a food that she almost recognised but couldn't quite place. Maybe salty. She knew it, but at the same time she did not know.
In her mind's eye she saw him cooking, or perhaps eating, a delicious meal. She smiled, thanking him for sharing his moment with her.
“I'm only sorry you're not with Her.” Sent out as a sadness and a sympathetic wish.
The response was the same abyss he showed her every day. An empty, lonely, space he longed to fill.
“I'm trying” she felt back to him, her heart breaking as it always did.
The impression of flowers. Yellow, pink, red and purple roses and tulips; and another plant she did not know but sensed its greenness and refreshing smell. And a feeling, was that satisfaction? Of a day's work well done?
The gardens were often different. New colours, smells and images emerged with the changing seasons. But everything else remained the same. The food, the little white cat and the walk by the river. Occasionally a faint sensing that there was music, but not enough to make out a beat or a tune. A monotonous existence, felt Vera. A sorrowful and lonely repetition, each day the same. Nothing moving, nothing changing; and always surrounded by that thick black cloud of loss and loneliness.
“I promise I'll find Her.” This was how every communication ended. Each day Vera recommitted to her vow, and pictured how wonderful it would be if he could reunite, just once more, with the woman he missed so much; to say a proper goodbye and get his final closure.
There was just one time when he showed her what had happened. Once was enough. Two cars, one swerving. Wheels screeching... and then black. Darkness, a gaping hole, death, destruction, anger, loss, grief and fear; followed by the loneliness and the need to be with her again. The feelings and the visions were almost too much for Vera to take in, but at that moment she realised and understood the depth of his longing and the importance that they would be reunited. That was when she made her promise.
I'll find that woman if it's the last thing I ever do. Each day she lost hope and each night she renewed her vow. The fearful and angry looks, the threats and the accusations of madness ceased to matter every time she felt Joe's emptiness.
Perhaps, she thought to herself, I need a better strategy. In this crowded world of non-believers, just asking around is basically asking for trouble.
Robert could have given her everything she needed, if only she wasn't so good at her job. He entered her office a new client; who, it turned out, was going to be what Vera jokingly called a 'one hit wonder'.
“I've always been a believer.” They'd barely said hello.
There was something about him, Vera felt. She couldn't have said what it was, but something different or...special? A different kind of energy, or was it familiarity? He was in his mid sixties, she guessed. Getting older, but still able-bodied and he appeared to be healthy enough. Friendly and clearly open-minded. Nervous but enthusiastic. He seemed to be with it in his mind, always a positive sign, and he wasn't hiding the desperation. There was always desperation by the time they got to her.
“I've always known, but I just wasn't ready to see” he said. Vera nodded, this was common. Usually they would go through some sort of process before they found the courage to actually remember.
“I expect you understand” he continued, “More than the non-believers anyway. I saw a woman, a medium, she said I have a grandson. I knew it! I always felt it! And she confirmed it for me, she said he's waiting. So that's why I'm here. It's time. I need to find out what happened and to move on. I need to see my little grandson.”
“A grandson...upwards?” Vera asked. She had heard that there were people who could connect with spirits in the Real Afterlife but she had never met anyone with a story that sounded genuine. Despite her daily contact with Joe she wasn't sure if she believed it possible to communicate in the opposite direction.
“It's always been there,” Robert continued, “the sense, the feeling, that there was a little boy who isn't with me now. I just knew it! I used to think he was around here somewhere. That's what started me off at my job. But when I didn't find him, I began to wonder if he'd gone straight over to the other side... and then she found him! He's there and waiting! So now I'm ready. Whatever it was that happened, I'm ready to deal with it, and to find him.”
“I'm a detective.” he said proudly.
“A detective. I hunt for missing people. If someone feels that another person they know is also stuck here, but they can't find them, I track them down and reunite them. And I have to say, especially given the nature of this kind of work, I'm pretty good at it.”
Vera's heart jumped.
Wait she said to herself. Give him his session first.
She pushed back the excitement as she led him into his regression. It was quick, clean and easy. He was already disappearing as he came back. Fading away, but now radiating peace, love and acceptance.
“It was a crash” he said, “my daughter was driving. She was always doing her hair in the mirror instead of watching the road. It used to drive me crazy. She never listened to her grumpy old dad. Archie was in the car, he was only a baby. She wasn't looking and another car came. We swerved but it was too late. Four people died.”
He was dissolving with every word. Thinning. Dispersing.
“I made it as far as the hospital" He went on, “And it wasn't the crash that killed me, it was the anger. I just couldn't accept that she'd done it, that she was so stupid. I couldn't forgive her. He was just a baby!”
Now just an impression of an impression, barely perceivable.
“But I saw it differently just then, and now I understand it. That's why I've been stuck here, I needed to forgive her. And I can do it now, of course. If it means I can see Archie again then of course I forgive her...”
He was gone. Another successful transition. Vera just wished he had stayed for a few moments more, a few moments to answer her now burning question.
Are there any other detectives? Where can I find them?
It turned out that detectives were relatively easy to come by. The Vagueness was like that. One saw things when they believed and wanted to see them. Time after time new clients would tell Vera that they had never noticed her office until the day they were ready. As soon as there was a genuine desire to remember their life, there she was, in the same spot they had passed by every day.
That's why this is the Vagueness, thought Vera, it's not really anything, certainly not anything solid. It's just....vague.
With five detectives on the mission, Vera then contemplated contacting the Real Afterlife. She felt less sceptical and more hopeful since hearing Robert's story. She was curious.
“Regression therapy?” The kind, ethereal-looking woman seemed more interested in Vera's own story than in what she was asking her to do. “Is it as scary as they say it is? I've always been interested, but there's a part of me that just doesn't want to know.”
She seemed a little embarrassed.
“People ask me all the time. 'Miriam' they say, 'if you can really speak with the other side and it's as wonderful as you say it is, then why don't you just pass over?' But the truth is I'm scared to know why I got stuck here. That side looks a dream, but I don't know if I can face whatever it is I need to let go of.”
“It's normal,” Vera said calmly, “You'll do it when you're ready.”
“Have you?” Asked Miriam. “Have you done it?”
“Many many times” she said. “But I seem to be a rare case in that I don't ever remember anything. Not the tiniest thing or single piece of information. All I see is black. I keep doing it but nothing ever happens. And I know it works, I've helped so many people remember what they need to know and move on, but it just doesn't seem to work for me.
I don't remember anything of my life at all,” she went on, “you know how some people have a kind of feeling? A sense or impression about something? Who they were, what they did or the people around them? Just a feeling? Well, I have nothing. Everything I know about Earth I've heard from my clients' memories; and from Joe, my friend there that I talk to. He's the reason I came to you”
She paused for a moment.
“Actually there is something,” she said thoughtfully. “I've always felt that everyone has this, but there is a feeling, just a feeling, that I had a life. That there was something there. In fact I'm certain of that. I just can't remember what it was. And I know, I've always known, that here isn't the right place but that there's a reason for me to be here. That's how I found my job, because I had that feeling about there being something else.
“I sometimes wonder though,” she continued, becoming absorbed in her own thoughts, “if it's all about Joe. He misses his Wife so much and I've promised him I'll find Her. I often think about that, that it could be why I'm here. That once I find Her things will change. I don't remember a time when I didn't speak to Joe. I've always been looking for Her.
“But I've been having new ideas, new ways of seeing things, and this is where you come in. I'm beginning to wonder if his Wife isn't in the Vagueness at all, if maybe when she died she passed all the way over. Do you think you could see?”
“Of course I can try to speak to her if she's there. Do you have a name? Or any information about her? Who she was? What she looked like? Her personality?”
“That's why this is so hard. Joe's own name feels so clear, so certain when he shows me, but he's given me nothing about Her, all he ever shows me is the space she left behind. I don't have any actual information about who she was as a person….she died in a car accident, that's all I know.”
“I'll do my best then.” Miriam closed her eyes and went silent.
After what felt to Vera like a much longer eternity than the general eternal feeling of the Vagueness, Miriam's eyes re-opened and she shook her head.
“I'm sorry,” she said, “Maybe if you could get some more information I could try again for you though.”
Vera thanked her and turned to leave.
“Wait,” said Miriam “Before you go...I think I'm ready to book a regression.”
It took Miriam four sessions and a little time in between each one to process the new information. An unfinished book, just two chapters to go. She laughed at the irony of it.
“It was about the Afterlife” she told Vera after her final regression, “and it was my life's work. My understanding of the spirit worlds and what happens when we die. Forty years I was writing, researching, obsessing. I swore to myself I would finish it if it was the last thing I ever did.”
She was laughing, crying, sighing and fading all at the same time.
“I suppose all I can do now is let it go and move on” she laughed, as she joyfully disappeared.
Despite never getting any closer to finding Joe's Wife, Vera persisted with her search. Her encounter with Miriam ignited her curiosity and she began seeking everywhere. She went to churches and meditation groups and attended all kinds of strange spiritual rituals and ceremonies, prayer groups and soul purifications. She began to follow unusual superstitions and attended some quite bizarre seances to connect realms and dimensions she'd had no idea about. Some things, she was sure, were made up flights-of-fancy. Wishful thinking. Tall stories or solutions to boredom. But with every experience something changed inside of Vera. A new perspective or an understanding, a different way of being, a brighter and more fulfilling Vagueness.
Her favourite thing was the Earth communication group, where others, just like her, spoke with people, animals and even plants in the living world, and through this built up their understanding of where they once were.
“They're the believers from that side,” said Nick, a fellow communication enthusiast, “and they try to find us. They want to speak to us, and if we listen to them they'll keep coming back. They're fascinated by us, as we are with them. It's just a shame we can't see everything. It's so vague here. But I keep on trying.”
“I think it's wonderful!” Said Vera, “How much I have learnt from them. Things I could never have known and don't remember. That they have bodies, and there are objects, and meanings, and time, and breath, and...life! And all of the stories and possibilities that happen there. Really, it's quite incredible that they can show us this. And that even though we don't remember, we can still see something, and kind of know what it might have been like there.”
Her Vagueness; filled with her search, her work, her new friends and the constantly new experiences; began to feel very different. She noticed it gradually, something other. Unusual. Something she thought she had maybe felt before, but certainly not here. Perhaps from another time.
From life? She wondered, with a little excitement.
It's happiness she realised. I'm happy. I like how things are, and even though there are some things I still don't know and still need to find out, I don't mind any more if nothing changes. I'm just fulfilled by my own existence. I'm happy!
Joe had never missed a day. She felt his absence.
He could be busy, or just late... She was doubtful. Something was different. The room felt strange without him.
“Joe?” She sent out the feeling, “Are you there?”
She pictured him dozing off in his armchair, the white cat curled up on his lap. Peaceful and cosy.
That has to be it, he's taking a nap.
Something changed. She couldn't place exactly what but the feeling in the room was different. There was a presence, a feeling. A knowing that someone was there with her.
It began as a faint shadow, slowly taking form in her own armchair. An old man. Old but still familiar, still clearly the young man she suddenly remembered she had loved so much.
“Joe!” She gasped.
“Vera!” He smiled, “You waited for me! I knew you were, every day I spoke to you, I knew you were waiting.”
The memories were flooding back and Vera froze, stunned.
“It was me!” She said, “Your Wife...it's me.”
“Of course it's you, there was no one else. I couldn't...I missed you too much. But I had a great life, really, I couldn't have asked for more. I became a little bit famous with those songs I used to make up, and had some wonderful times travelling, exploring, singing...the only thing missing was you.”
Vera looked confused.
“But you were always in the garden,” she said, “Whenever I saw you. And you were so sad, all I saw you do was eat, walk and pet the cat.”
“Your garden, remember” he said gently, “I kept it for you and I always thought of you when I was gardening, I planted all of your favourite flowers, the roses and the tulips, year after year. I made sure it stayed beautiful, in your memory.”
Now it made sense, and Vera was remembering everything. Their first dance together, the first kiss and the wedding. How she had desperately wanted her own garden and he'd bought the big house she really wanted, just for that. The little white kitten she hadn't yet chosen a name for. The long walks by the river, the expensive meals out that had become a regular treat.
“I remember,” she said, the last fragments of information filtering in, “I understand it now.”
Joe's eyes were soft, loving, delighted to see her again. He took her hand and she felt herself fading away with him.
They had been walking alongside the river, speculating on the Afterlife, telling stories of spirits and wondering what would really happen after they died.
“Whatever it is,” she said “I won't go without you, I promise. We'll go there together.”
That was when he had knelt in the grass and opened the box with the diamond ring.
The memory passed and they were disappearng. Moment by moment, dissolving into the place that came next. Together.