*Contains sexual content; Discusses death.*
Rita slowly opened her eyes to early morning sunlight streaming through the bedroom window. Reality hit her full force like a punch to the gut when she rolled over and saw the empty space in the bed beside her; the space that should be occupied by Mark, her husband of just three years. Mark was not there, and he never would be again. It was exactly one month to the day since her husband, the love of her life had died in a car accident on his way home from work. If only she had known when he left that morning that it would be their final goodbye. They never parted without saying "I love you." and Rita was thankful for that, but for the life of her she couldn't remember if they had kissed goodbye that morning.
Rita's boss had told her to take all the time she needed; she could come back to work at the library whenever she felt ready. So far, she hadn't been able to leave her house since the day of Mark's funeral. She sat in the home she and Mark had bought last year, surrounded by photographs and memories. She cried a lot. She barely ate, everything tasted like sawdust in her mouth. The refrigerator was stuffed full of casseroles from well-meaning friends and neighbors, but nothing appealed to her. It was as if part of her had died with Mark and what was left of her here was a miserable shell. The only relief she ever felt was when she slept and those few seconds every morning before she remembered he was gone.
“I wish I had died with you.” Rita said out loud. She had been talking to Mark every day as if he were there. She told herself as long as she didn’t start hearing responses, she still had a few of her marbles left. “I don’t think I can do this without you. I don’t even think I want to.”
That evening while getting ready for bed, Rita opened the bathroom closet. Two boxes of pregnancy tests fell from a shelf and landed at her feet. She and Mark had started trying to conceive six months ago. When he died, their shared dream of having a child died with him. Rita sank down onto the cool bathroom tile floor and sobbed for a long time. Finally, she stood and angrily flung the pregnancy tests into the bathroom trashcan.
“It’s not fair!” Rita screamed. “You took EVERYTHING from me!” She wasn’t talking to Mark now; she was screaming at God. “He was a good man; he didn’t deserve to die, and I don’t deserve to be left here without him.”
Rita crawled into bed and cried herself to sleep like a child. Nothing could ease her anguish. As she drifted off to sleep, she prayed for death to come and relieve her, it was the only way this hurt would ever stop.
“Rita? Can you hear me?” The voice seemed to be coming from far away. Startled, she sat upright in bed. A figure stood in the corner. It was too dark to see any features, but she could tell by the size it was a man. She reached for the bedside lamp to turn it on. “Don’t.” The man said and stepped into the moonlight where she could see. It was Mark.
“Oh my God!” Rita screamed. The sight of her dead husband, standing in their bedroom looking very much alive convinced her the last of her marbles had finally rolled away. I’m insane, certifiable. “You’re not real. Mark is dead.” She closed her eyes tightly, expecting the figment of her imagination to be gone when she reopened them. It – he—was not gone but had stepped to the bedside nearest her. He looked as handsome as ever with his sandy blonde hair and chiseled features.
“Don’t be afraid Rita, it’s me. I’m dead, that’s true but, I’m still here.” He reached out to take her hand. Rita recoiled in fear. “We can touch each other; it won't hurt you. I promise.”
Tentatively Rita extended her hand and allowed Mark to grasp it. “You feel real. How is this happening? I’m just dreaming, right?” Mark sat down on the edge of the bed and touched her cheek in the gentle loving way he always had.
“Not exactly a dream but, we can only exist in the same plane when you are asleep. This is the space between. Think of it like a visiting room.” Mark chuckled. Rita caught her breath. Oh, how she had missed that laugh.
“Why didn’t you come sooner?”
“These visits, they make it harder for the living to move on with their life. I didn’t want to do that to you. Watching you struggle has been so hard for me but when I heard you pray to die, I knew I couldn’t stay away.”
“You can watch me? Hear my thoughts?” The prospect was both comforting and disturbing at the same time.
“I can. I’ve been with you this whole time. I told you long ago I would never leave you.” He smiled reassuringly.
“Can I ask you some questions?”
“Of course. If I can answer, I will.” He squeezed her hand. “Ask me anything.”
Taking a deep breath, Rita began with the question that had been haunting her since the accident. “When you died, did it hurt?” The thought of Mark in pain twisted her up inside.
“Only for a moment, after that, there was no more pain. Even my bad knee doesn’t hurt anymore.” He stood up and showed his pain free knee by bending it repeatedly with his so familiar silly grin on his face. Thanks to an old football injury, that knee had always given him trouble.
“When you aren’t here in the visiting room as you called it, where are you?”
“As soon as I died, I was in the other plane, it’s a place of light. It’s so beautiful and peaceful there. From there I can ‘tune in’ to you any time. I can see you and hear you when you speak and when you pray. If you ever want privacy, you can just tell me to tune out for a while, I can do that too.”
Rita shook her head in amazement, still not one hundred percent convinced this wasn’t just a very vivid dream. “Can you tune in to anyone you want to?”
“Only you, because you’re my wife and our souls are bound together.”
“I like that answer.” Rita, without thinking, leaned over and kissed her husband. It felt the same as it always had, warm and comforting. “I hope that’s not against the rules. Wait, ARE there rules?”
“Not exactly rules. I’ll try to explain. As soon as I arrived in the place of light, I instantly knew things. For example, I knew I could visit you this way, but most souls don’t because, as I said before, it makes it harder for the living to move on with life. The last thing I want to do is hold you back but, I just couldn’t watch you struggle like that.”
“Mark, if I die, will be together in the light since our souls are bound?”
“Rita, it’s not time for that yet. It’s not your time.”
“I don’t care. All I want is to be with you. I don’t want to move on here without you.” Tears rolled down her cheeks. Mark wiped them away and cupped her face in his hands.
“Listen Rita, this is VERY important. If you take your own life, our souls will be unbound, and you’ll be sent to the plane of darkness. I wouldn’t be able to reach you there. You have to promise me you won't do that.” Mark looked frightened and frantic. What he was saying must be true.
“I promise. I won't do that.” She sighed heavily. “How often can we visit?”
“Every night if that’s what you want. But Rita, you also can’t stop living. I want more for you than sitting at home all day every day waiting for our time together at night. “
Rita nodded showing that she understood. “I won't have to be so sad as long as I know I can keep visiting with you. It’s what I want Mark.” Lifting the sheets, she invited her dead husband to crawl into bed with her. Mark was back on his side of the bed where he belonged. They held each other and talked for hours.
“The sun will be coming up soon.” Mark said, stroking his wife’s hair. “Remember, you can’t tell anyone about this Rita. No one will believe you and they might just lock you up in the nuthouse.”
“Could you still visit me in the nuthouse?” She giggled.
“Well, looks like your sense of humor has returned. That’s a good sign. I can visit you no matter where you are. That whole bound souls thing is pretty powerful. Still, I’d rather be with you here in our home.”
“It’s almost time for check out. Close your eyes my love. See you tonight, I promise. I love you.”
“I love you too Mark.”
Later when the morning sun was streaming through the bedroom window, Rita rolled over to see Mark’s side of the bed empty as expected but today it didn’t hurt quite as much. With a smile on her face, she spoke aloud “Good morning, dear.” Knowing he could hear her was now a comfort.
Rita spent the day cleaning house and throwing out uneaten casseroles that were past their time. It felt as if she had woken up and could finally see that she had let the house go all to hell over the past month. “Well, I was in mourning, what did you expect?” She said aloud.
That night, as promised, when Rita fell asleep, she found herself with Mark in the visiting room. He crawled into bed and cuddled up next to her. “You seemed to have a better day today.” He looked pleased about that.
“I did, thanks to you. Sorry the place was such a pigsty.” Rita was sort of embarrassed, they had always kept the house neat and tidy.
“Don’t worry about that. I’m just glad you’re feeling better.”
“I am. I am so glad we can still be together this way. “
“Me too. It’s probably selfish of me, but I’m glad this is what you want too.” Mark began to gently nibble her ear. “I told you I would never leave you.” His breath sent shivers through Rita’s body. Every touch, every caress felt like coming home. Soon their clothes were on the floor and Mark was doing that thing with his tongue that he knew always drove her wild. Rita moaned with pleasure.
“Oh Mark, I was afraid to ask if we could still do this.” She clung to him tightly and wrapped her legs around him, pulling him inside her. They both gasped with pleasure as their bodies joined together. Mark had always been a fantastic lover and that had not changed.
Afterward, they collapsed back onto the pillows, satisfied.
“Are you sure you can be happy living this way?” Mark asked. He was propped up on one elbow tracing her breast with his finger.
“I’m positive Mark. My only regret about it all is that I wasn’t able to give you a child before you died. I’m sorry about that.”
Mark gave her a broad smile. “Tomorrow morning when you get up, get one of those tests out of the trash and use it.”
“What? Why? I tested after you died, it was negative.” Sadness flickered across her face. When she thought, Mark was lost to her forever, she had prayed they had conceived already so she would always have a part of him in their child. The negative test had only deepened her grief.
“Just trust me and take the test.” Mark tapped the end of her nose the way he always did when he knew he was right, and she was wrong.
“You mean I’m---?”
Mark placed his hand gently over her abdomen. “You’re pregnant Rita. We’re having the baby we always wanted.”
Rita burst into happy tears and hugged her husband. “But how? I mean, was I already or did it just happen now? Can you still umm—knock me up?”
“Would it make any difference?”
Rita contemplated that for just a moment. Then she smiled. “No, it wouldn’t matter to me. If it turns out I have to, I will just say I went a bit past my due date. However, after this baby is born, I need to know if we need to use precautions. We can get away with this one but after that, how would I explain who the father was? I can’t say it’s you. That’s another nut hut scenario.”
Mark laughed so hard he couldn’t breathe. The sound was like music to Rita’s ears. “You don’t need to worry about that. I do need you to start eating. Our baby needs nourishment and so do you.”
“Yes dear. See you tonight, I love you.”
“I love you too Rita.”
In the morning Rita flew out of bed to retrieve one of the pregnancy tests. She followed the instructions and then waited. Three minutes felt like an eternity. Although Mark had seemed certain about the pregnancy, Rita needed confirmation. When the timer went off, she nearly jumped out of her own skin. With trembling hands, she picked up the pee stick. It was positive.
Happy tears flowed from Rita’s eyes. This wasn’t going to be perfect, but it was as close as it could get considering her husband was dead. Mark was still with her and now she had a little living piece of him inside her. Being with Mark at night in the visiting room was far better than not having him at all.
Next week Rita would return to work at the library and tell everyone that she had been out not only with grieving but with morning sickness. It was a good cover story.
“Thank you, Mark. I love you and I’m so happy.”
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Great story. Could read more of it.
Awesome story. Had me sucked in at the very beginning.
This reminds me of one of the stories in the Netflix Sandman show except less depressing. Cute story.
Thank you! Funny, you're the second person to mention that Netflix show to me after reading my story. I'm going to have to add it to my watch list.
It’s pretty good, an adaptation of comics by Neil Gaiman who also wrote American Gods, Coraline and Stardust.
You know this is a good story when the author leaves you wanting more! Nice job!