You sit at the kitchen table of your little house, rifling through your mail. It’s the usual monthly bills: credit card, phone, electricity, mortgage, you name it. They are all there, waiting for you to pay them. At the bottom of the stack, though, you find something else. It is a creme coloured envelope without a stamp. You realize someone must have hand delivered it. You open it.
It is an invitation to dinner, at the local pastor’s home, no less. You have to chuckle at that. Of course they would invite you. It’s a small town, you moved in three weeks ago, and you haven’t been to church yet. Little do they know that you don’t plan on it.
You throw the letter into the recycling bin, then take out your phone and open your banking app. The job that required your move is paying well. You smile at the numbers while paying your bills.
Your Saturday is very relaxed. You do a few errands, cook a nice supper, then curl up on the couch and watch a movie. A part of your mind drifts to the letter, and you compare this comfy evening at home with an evening spent with over-friendly strangers. Your choice was definitely right. You snuggle in deeper and awake later with a kink in your neck. The movie is long done, and the stars are twinkling outside. You relish the weekend and go out to look at them.
The universe is so vast. You know this is a fact, but it seems so much more real under the swirling planets and floating galaxies. You love the stars, but some summer nights get chilly, and unfortunately this is one of them, so you go back inside and slip into bed.
You get up when the church bells ring. They do sound nice, dancing over the hills and mingling with the birdsong. You sip your homemade coffee while scrolling through social media and go over your plans for the day. The only problem with that is that you have no plans. You pick out a book but can’t enjoy it. You have too much energy.
You change into athletic wear, plug in your earbuds, and pull on your running shoes. The neighbourhood is empty. You wonder if everyone is at church, and decide it’s nicer that way. No one is watching you from their front porch rocking chairs as you run around the streets lined with quaint houses. You run past the school, the grocery store, the church, the gas station, the post office, and the library. You make it to the end of the road and slow to a walk to catch your breath.
There is a path here that you didn’t notice before. It seems to go into the woods behind the public buildings. You haven’t been in the woods much since visiting your grandparents as a child, so you sally forth. The rustling of the trees here is louder than your music, and your pace slows even more when you turn the volume down. The breeze is delightful, and you catch the murmuring of the nearby brook as well. The birds flit overhead and the butterflies hide among bright wildflowers.
You realize your breath has been caught for a while and if you want to burn any calories at all, you need to get running again. You turn up your volume and get going. There is a bridge up ahead. It looks sturdy, and you keep running. Halfway across, your foot slips on a patch of slippery moss and you go careening very ungracefully under the rail and into the water.
The water is deeper than you thought. It closes over your head before you can breathe, and you take a mouthful of water. You try to cough it out, but there is nothing to replace it but more water. You flail, but the water is dark and you aren’t quite sure which way is up. Then your rear touches the riverbed floor so gently, and you kick against it, your lungs screaming from the water you inhaled.
You breach the surface in a second but it feels so much longer. You take a grateful gasp, cough out water and mucus, and inhale more delicious, burning air. You keep kicking until you realize you can touch the bottom with your toes while keep your chin above water. The current is fairly strong, and you follow it, getting nearer to the shore with each step. You crawl out. You make it to a sitting position but no farther, still coughing, heart pounding, and entire body in fight mode. If this were a novel, you think, there’d be a conveniently fine looking stranger nearby to help you out and take you home, but this isn’t a novel. It is a short story which is entirely different.
Finally you can breathe without hacking up the depths of your lung tissue, so you lie down. The grass is long and rustles gently around you as if you hadn’t almost died. You realize that you can hear the grass and check for your earbuds. They are still there, hanging out of your shirt neckline, and you stick one into your ear. Nothing.
You sigh and roll over to get your phone out of your pocket. It doesn’t turn on. Just your luck. You lay your head back in the grass and realize you can hear a faint singing. It sounds like angels: slightly off-key, passionate angels. Of course, there was an upside to this. You were nice and close to the graveyard. They wouldn’t have had to carry your corpse very far. If they had found your body, that is.
You shake your head, which was a mistake because no matter how much water you got out of your lungs, there still seems to be some in your head. You head home. Strangely, after so much water, all you want is more: but the warm, clean, steady, non-drownable stuff that comes from your shower.
The couch is even softer than it was yesterday, but you can’t get comfortable. Your phone is sitting in a bowl of rice. You are bored. You remember the book from before and pick it up again, but your eyes will not focus. You are tired from the excitement. You put the book down and give up. The couch is very soft. It seems to take you in, deeper and deeper. Your blanket gets tangled around you, and you can’t get out. It covers your face, and your mouth opens instinctively, trying to breathe, but the airflow is blocked.
You bolt upright, having finally awoken from that awful nap. The blanket is tangled around your legs, but the couch is not trying to swallow you. The sensation reminds you of the river that tried. That awful feeling, the suddenness, the will to survive, the repulsive feeling of water inside you where it ought not to be, the desperation. You could have died. Very easily, you could have. People die in simpler ways.
What would have happened had you died? Would they even take you to the graveyard? You weren’t a member of the church. Perhaps they would send your stiff, wet corpse back home to you parents. Maybe they would cremate you and sprinkle your ashes in their rooftop garden, or out on the ocean waves. That sounds peaceful.
But what would happen to you? You know that most of the people in this town believe in life after death, but you always believed that when everything went black, it stayed that way. You preferred to think of it like an endless, dreamless, peaceful sleep. But you realize you don’t want that yet. You still have so much more you want to do. You want to build your career, get a better office, add a deck to the back of your house, maybe instal a swimming pool, go to France, maybe Italy too. Perhaps you’d like to get married one day and have children. You’d like the option. Had you died today, that would never have happened. You have so many hopes and dreams that would never be fulfilled.
And what would happen to you? Not your body, but you, the person who feels, thinks, imagines? Would that just disappear into thin air like a puff of smoke? You think that, with all that you keep inside you, there ought to be some sort of black hole left behind if you were to die. But you know that is not what happens. When your grandmother died last year, you mourned for her. She was a sweet woman, with her crusty edges. But what about all her years of memories, the relationships she had forged, the thoughts and ideas that filled her head and heart? Could so much information just be lost?
It didn’t make sense. You get up and fold the blanket nicely, then walk into the kitchen. There, lying on the counter, is the letter that you could’ve sworn you threw in the recycle yesterday. But there it is. You open it and read it again.
If you would like to join us for coffee and dessert after the evening service, we would love to have you!
You want to throw it away, but your annoying curiosity has chosen this time to rear its head. All the information that was inside one person couldn’t just go nowhere, could it? Maybe these people were had a point. You resolve to get out of your comfort zone and find out what this is all about, and maybe get some good homemade dessert too.