Life, Death, or Something In-Between

Submitted into Contest #124 in response to: Write a story about a character in search of something or someone.... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction American

Eileen Joyce Donovan                                                                                   Word Count: 2,300 words

75 West End Ave

Apt P11C

New York, NY 10023

336 528-3648


Eileen Joyce Donovan

           As the plane pulled away from the airport terminal, I buckled my seatbelt and stared out the window. I wasn’t really seeing anything out there. Instead, I was thinking about the morning funeral I had just attended.

I still couldn’t believe Millie was dead. She was one of my closest friends, ever. After so many years living on opposite ends of the country, we both finally managed to wind up on the east coast, and now this.

First, Claire, my college roommate and best friend, then my sister, my second self, and now Millie. None of them had made it to thirty-five. I guess on the bright side, you could say they’d never have to worry about wrinkles or gray hair.

“Gallows’ humor,” Carl would say if he were here.

After all these years, Millie and I were going to spend this Memorial Day weekend together at the beach. Could it really be just last week we were talking about it? We were so excited, giggling about our plans. Then suddenly, nothing. No Millie on the other end. No dial tone. No anything. Just dead air. When her brother called later that day to tell me, I couldn’t believe it.

“We were on the phone, talking. What happened?”

“They don’t know, Abby. I came home from work and found her lying on the floor with the phone still in her hand. The doctor said it was probably a heart attack, but they’ll have to do an autopsy to be sure.”

“Oh, Lou, I’m so sorry. Do they have to?”

“Yeah, suspicious death and all that shit.”

“Lou, let me know, okay? And I want to come to the wake and funeral. Let me know when you’ve made all the arrangements, okay?”

“Okay, Abby. I gotta go. I’ll talk to you.”

I took out my book and tried to read. My eyes scanned the words, and I turned the pages, but I didn’t comprehend anything. It all turned into a blur of squiggly hieroglyphics.

Instead of reading, I needed to get a better hold on what death was all about. Maybe the three deaths of my closest friends in one year were too much. I couldn’t wait to get home to talk to Carl about the whole concept of death. I wished he had come with me, but, as usual, business came first. Even if he had come, he’d probably have been on his cell constantly checking emails or texts from his office. You’d think the firm would disintegrate if he wasn’t in touch every five minutes.

Ladies and gentlemen,” the pilot said, “we’ll be landing in a few minutes.”

The plane bumped on the tarmac a couple of times before taxiing to the terminal. A few minutes later, the plane stopped and the seatbelt light turned off.

“Hey, hon. Where are you?” I asked, fingers crossed, trying to sound cheerful.

“I’m at the baggage claim area,” Carl said. “Isn’t that where we said we’d meet?”

“Yep. we landed a minute ago. Just called to let you know so you wouldn’t worry.”

“No, you called because you thought I forgot to come to the airport, right?”

“Okay, the thought crossed my mind,” I said, starting to laugh.

“How could I forget? You put post-it notes all over the house, the car, the garage. Did you miss any flat surface?” Carl asked.

I chuckled. “See you in a few.”

I hurried through the terminal to the baggage claim.

“Carl,” I yelled waving, “hi sweetie! It’s good to be home. I missed you.”

“How could you miss me? You called every night.”

“I know, but it’s not the same as sitting with you, sipping a cocktail, solving all the world’s problems.”

“Well, we’ll get right on that tonight,” Carl said and gave me a quick peck on the cheek.

“So how did everything go?” Carl asked, pulling out of the parking lot.

“Good, I guess,” I said. “If funerals can ever be good.”

“I know. Did someone drive you to the airport, or did you have to call a car?”

“Lucky for me, some of Millie’s friends were going to the airport too, and one of her uncles gave all of us a lift.”

“That was nice of him.”

“Yeah, her relatives are great. But I thought they’d never let us leave. They’re a typical Italian family, tons of food. They wanted to pack up leftovers for all of us to take on our flights home. They kept saying that airline food wasn’t meant for human consumption, and they didn’t want us to starve to death.”

 Carl laughed and listened to me perfectly mimic Millie’s aunts who had insisted all her friends take “care” packages with them.

“We finally convinced them we’d never get through security with food.”

I thought about Millie’s extended family and regretted the fact I’d never get to know them. In all the years Millie and I had been friends, I had only met Millie’s mother, and brothers and their wives. I never realized there was an army of aunts, uncles, and cousins. And just like my Irish family, after the funeral everyone went back to one of the brothers’ houses and sat around eating, drinking, and talking.

“You know, when we went back to Tony’s house after the funeral, no one seemed upset. It was almost like they weren’t grieving.”

“Like that’s any different from your Irish mob? Some of the best times I’ve had with your family was at wakes and funerals.”

“Oh, stop,” I said.

“I mean it. I admire them. They bury their dead, then they party and remember all the good times they had with whoever is the ‘dearly departed’.”

I punched Carl’s arm. “Hey, show some respect,” I said.

“Carl, what do you think happens when someone dies? I mean, I know you don’t believe in heaven or hell, but what does happen? Anything?”

I wasn’t planning to bring the subject up tonight, but it seemed like a perfect opportunity. I knew Carl never liked to delve into these types of questions, but I suddenly had an almost overwhelming need to know what he thought about death.

“I don’t know, babes. I never really think about it. I figure one day you’re here and the next day, you’re not. There’s nothing we can do to change that, so why spend a lot of time worrying about it and dwelling on all the possible scenarios.”

Normally, that would have been the end of the conversation, but I couldn’t let it go. Somewhere deep inside I had an empty spot that needed to be filled. I needed to know that the time and effort everyone put into their lives wasn’t gone in a minute.

I knew some people would leave legacies for generations, but what about the rest of us? All the everyday people who just lived their lives and did ordinary things? Did they just become fodder for the worms and insects of the world? Was that really all there was to living on this earth?

“Home sweet home,” I said, as we pulled into the driveway.

“You’ve only been gone three days,” Carl said.

“Three days in a hotel, ugh! And three days of restaurant food, and eating alone. I haven’t done that since I was single. All I want to do is get into my sweats, lay on the couch all night, have a cocktail, or two, and talk to you.”

“Sounds good. I’ll make the cocktails. What’ll it be, pretty lady?”

“Vodka and tonic.”

“You got it. Go get changed.”

That was exactly what I wanted to do. I was going to put it in my will that everyone had to come to my funeral in sweats. Better yet, get cremated. No funeral. Problem solved.

I went into the bedroom, changed into my sweats, pulled my hair back into a ponytail, and dug my flip-flops out of the closet. When I came out, Carl had my cocktail waiting on the coffee table.

“Welcome home. Cheers,” Carl said, lifting his glass.

I reached for mine, clinked it with his, and said, “Cheers.”

“I ordered pizza. Mind if I put the game on?” Carl asked. “Home team? Rah, rah?”

“Would it matter if I said yes?”

Carl smiled, put the game on, the food arrived, and I kept thinking about death. When there was a break in the game, I thought it might be a good time to get his opinion about what was on my mind.

 “I’ve been reading a lot lately about the concept of time continuum. What do you think about that possibility?”

“Abby, what are you talking about?” Carl asked. “Are you back on the ‘what happens when you die?’ question?”

“Yeah. Lately I’ve been to a lot of funerals and they’ve raised a ton of questions in my mind.”

“Abby,” Carl said, “you’re too serious about all this. Let’s face it, we live and then we die. That’s all there is to it.”

“Maybe,” I said, “maybe not. What if there is something in this time continuum concept? After all, if energy can neither be created nor destroyed, where does the energy that was once us go when we die? It can’t just evaporate. So, if it has to remain in play in the cosmos, isn’t it possible that our energy can exist in different spots on the time continuum? Kind of like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughter-House Five, or Peter Lake in Winter’s Tale. I know they’re both fictions, but why can’t we wander back and forth in time? Maybe we’re all time travelers who just don’t know it?”

Carl looked at me questioningly and shook his head.

“Haven’t you ever experienced déjà vu?” I asked. “Why do we think we’ve been somewhere, or already had the exact conversation we’re having now, if we haven’t already experienced it at a time other than the present?”

“It’s an interesting concept,” Carl said.

“Why not? Think about it for a minute. Almost every culture or religion has some form of belief in life after death, whether it’s the heaven/hell concept, or reincarnation, or something else. It could just be our need to feel we have some kind of immortality; some need to feel we are more than a blink in the eye of infinity. Or it could be that our subconscious knows that we’ve been here before and we’ll be here again. Maybe we really are occupying different spots in a time continuum at the same time. Wait, now I’m confusing myself.”

“I know you’re confusing me,” Carl said. “Want another cocktail?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said, “but think about it, Carl. We have to occupy only one space in time at a time, right? Otherwise, we would all be jumping in and out of each other’s lives constantly, and we would keep meeting ourselves in another time. That would totally negate reality and make meaningful relationships impossible.

“But, if we all existed simultaneously in different times, we could experience different lives on different planes. Or maybe, we simply time travel to a different place in our concept of time. After all, what proof is there that time is static? Just because we invented clocks doesn’t mean that time has a beginning and an end. The sun is rising and setting in different places every second. Why are we convinced that we can only be in one place at one time?”

“All right,” Carl said. “I’ll play along. If we agree that most Judeo-Christian religions believe God knows and sees all things at all times, that past, present, and future are all the same to him or her, then if that concept is acceptable, why can’t we exist in all those times at once? When the Calvinist believed in predestination, didn’t they accept the fact that their future was preordained?”

“Did they think they had already lived the end of their lives?” I asked.

“No,” Carl said, “but they did think their salvation or damnation had been etched in the Book of Time even before their birth.”

“Then their lives in the future had already played out?”

“Maybe not,” Carl said.

“But if we accept that premise, then we are living in all different time spans at the same time. Our energy, or life force, never dissipates. It simply appears in different places at different time periods; time periods as we think of them, not as they are in the greater cosmos.”

“Enough of the heavy thinking,” Carl said. “Game’s back on.”

I looked at Carl. Why couldn’t I be content to accept death as a finality the way he did? But I didn’t have his engineer’s circuitry. For him, two plus two would always equal four, and everything had a logical, rational place in the universe. I didn’t know if I could accept that.

“Abby? Which century are you in right now? You’re about a million miles away,” Carl said, smiling at me, a twinkle in his eye.

“Oh, I don’t know. Just thinking about cosmic energy and everything that goes along with it.”

“You know, babes, sometimes I think you really do leave this place and time for somewhere else. Do you truly believe we’re all just globs of energy constantly wandering around the cosmos?”

“I don’t know, Carl. But all the energy in the universe isn’t destroying and re-creating itself every second, it’s doing something else. I’m just trying to figure out what that something else is.”

“Well, good luck with that. Meanwhile, how about enjoying the rest of the game? I’m going to make myself another cocktail. How about you? You ready for another?” Carl asked, reaching for my empty glass.

“I guess. As long as we’re right here for now, we may as well enjoy it,” I said.

And, since right now, I was in this particular place and time with a man I loved, I was content to just be.

December 10, 2021 19:49

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