The gladiolus blooms were the softest colours imaginable. Pinks and peaches. The brightness of the sunflowers provided a contrast that made Alma pause her breath and she stood a moment to admire the bouquet. Candice really had a knack for arranging. Alma only hoped she could match it. 

As she started carefully moving the buckets of fresh cut flowers into the small cooler, Candice came in through the back door.

"Oh wow, Joe has been here already?" She asked, bending down to sniff the sprays of lavender. "Mmmm. Best part of the day."

"Yea," Alma said, as both an answer and an agreement. "He mentioned something about chicks arriving today? Had to get back to the farm." 

Candice nodded. "Life of a farmer," she said. "I told him once that if he ever needed a break, he could come work here with me. Told him, 'it can be pretty dead sometimes.'” She smirked. “Didn't quite get the reaction I was looking for."

Alma laughed at the bad joke, genuinely. She could imagine the horror on Joe's face at the thought of having to enter the building beyond the flower shop at the front. 

"Anyway,” Candice said. “I have some paperwork to catch up on. Once you're done with the delivery orders, we can go over some of the stuff in the back. There aren’t any planning appointments booked for today so we can just ease you into things. Sound good?" Alma nodded. 

She spent the morning trying to remember what she'd learned at the Basics of Flower Arranging class she'd taken, at her mother’s insistence, at the satellite college campus in town last winter. Alma knew her mother was a bit appalled that what she'd thought of as a fun mother-daughter outing had turned into her daughter’s part-time employment at the local funeral home.

"It sounds terribly depressing," she’d said. "Why would you want to spend your time surrounded by death?"

"Death’s a part of life," Alma had countered. "Besides, I'll be spending most of my time in the flower shop. And what's depressing about flowers?"

The truth was, Alma was drawn to the place. When she'd seen the help wanted sign in the window, she hadn’t hesitated. She'd gone in straight away, dragging her 5-year-old son in behind her. After speaking with both Candice and her father, whose retirement was the reason for the help wanted sign, she’d felt even more of a pull.

“It’s no way to meet new friends,” her mother had said. And then in a quieter voice, “Or a new husband.” Alma rolled her eyes.

"I need something to do while Cole is in school all day." 


It was during her second week of work that Alma experienced her first ghost. Or so she would come to think of it. At least temporarily. Until she learned their names.

She was working in the flower shop, arranging the few bouquets that were to go out for delivery that morning, when she heard the faint ding of a bell. 

"Hello?" Alma called out, walking to the back of the shop and through the door that opened to the funeral home entryway.

A woman in a long linen dress stood in the middle of the circular foyer. Her arms were bare despite the breezy fall weather, and her eyes were a bit wide and unsure.

“Were you looking for the flower shop?" Alma asked. "It's just the next door over." She motioned toward the front door, but then noticed that the deadbolt was still set in place. Candice would sometimes forget to unlock it if she wasn't expecting anyone. The small town funeral home didn’t get many unexpected customers.

"I was told to meet someone here?" The woman said it like a question that Alma would know the answer to. Her voice was soft and hopeful.

"A family member?" Alma asked, trying to solve this new mystery while continuing to wonder about the mystery of the still locked front door. 

"I don't know who..." the woman trailed off. She looked as though she were going to cry, redirecting Alma into consolation mode. She gestured toward the box of tissues that sat on the round table in the middle of the room. 

"That's okay," Alma said gently. "Candice should be back soon." The woman had pulled a tissue from the box. She dabbed her eyes before pulling the tissue away from her face and looking at it strangely. Alma, to great relief, could hear Candice coming in through the back door. She walked into the foyer and on seeing the two women standing there, abruptly stopped. Alma opened her mouth to explain but Candice found her voice first. She turned to the woman.

"Mrs Marshall," she said. "I'm so sorry I wasn't here to greet you."

The woman had a look of relief now, and Alma was grateful too, that Candice seemed to know what was going on. She took a tentative step back toward the door to the flower shop and since neither of them seemed to notice Alma making her exit, she returned to the bouquets.


Later that day, Candice poked her head in the back door of the shop to ask Alma if she would like to join her for a cup of tea. In the back office, over steaming cups of peppermint, Alma engaged in one of the strangest conversations of her life.

"That woman today, Mrs Marshall?" Candice started. "How did you come to see her?" 

Oddly put, thought Alma. "I heard the bell. I thought it was the bell hanging over the front door. When I came out to the foyer, she was there." She was going to mention the locked door but Candice interrupted.

"She was already there? In the foyer?" 

Alma wondered if she'd answered wrong, and Candice seemed to sense her discomfort. She smiled at Alma reassuringly.

"I'm just surprised, is all. Not everyone has the ability. At least not into adulthood." Alma didn’t know how to respond but fortunately Candice kept talking.

"Mrs Marshall, the woman you encountered today, is a memory. Or, a bunch of memories, actually. Other people's memories. This week is her first anniversary, which is why she seemed so confused.” Candice paused briefly and her eyes shifted to the wall above her desk. “Dad was always better at remembering when a memory is due to arrive. I should probably make a habit of checking the calendar a bit more regularly."

Alma's mouth hung open. No words came out.

"She's dead." Candice clarified, looking directly at her now. Alma exhaled and Candice continued. "Sometimes, around the anniversary of a person's death, the memory of them becomes strong enough that they are able to return for a brief time."

"She's dead," said Alma, frowning. And then softly, "She's so young."

"Yea,” said Candice. "She was. Breast cancer. She had three young children. Very sad death. Not at all surprising that she was able to return. I suspect we'll be seeing her for a lot of years." Alma wasn't sure how comforting this idea of many repeated visits was to her.

"Where is she now?"

"Gone to see her family, I would imagine." 

"But they can't see her?"

"Not usually, no." Candice tilted her head to the side thoughtfully. "Maybe though, her kids are still quite young."

"But that could be horrible for them!" Alma said.

"They won't actually see her as a flesh and body person,” Candice clarified. “More like an imaginary friend. They won't see her as real because they no longer have an expectation that she is real and able to be seen. I think the reason you saw her so clearly today was that you expected a flesh and blood person to be standing in the foyer. So that's what you saw."

"This is wild," said Alma, her eyes wide. "How long has this been happening?"

"Forever, I guess. For my lifetime, anyway.”

"But why would they appear here? Why not where they died? Or where they were buried?" 

Candice considered this. "Neutral ground, I think. To send them directly back to their home could be a bit emotional. And a lot of people die in hospital or hospice and who wants to go back there? Also, not everyone is buried, so it might make it difficult for those whose ashes were scattered." Candice shrugged. "My father wasn’t able to explain the mechanics of it very well. It's just always been something that happens here, ever since I was a kid. I think part of the reason that I still have the ability to see them is because I just kept doing it as I got older."

"Doing what exactly? Are you like, a gatekeeper or something?"

Candice shook her head. "No, no. Nothing like that. We're really just a doorway. The memories arrive here, and they return here. They have one day to spend however they like.”

"So that woman, Mrs Marshall, she'll come back here?"

"Yes,” said Candice. “That seems to be part of the deal. I think if they don't come back before their time is up, they aren't allowed to return again.” 

Alma contemplated this. “But otherwise they can keep coming back?”

Candice reached for her mug. “Only if the memory is strong enough.”


Alma was surprised at how quickly she became used to this phenomenon. The appearance of a memory invoked in her a feeling similar to the soft color of a flower petal. The faint ding of a bell brought her a curious sense of peace and she would often make her way to the foyer so she could witness the strange fade of a human form through the heavy front door.

Candice showed her the calendar she kept. No specific dates were noted, just a name at the beginning of the week when a memory could be expected. A few days after Mrs Marshall, Alma saw Mr Dean, and then a week or so later, Mrs Colter. She would hang back as Candice performed her greeting duties, an observer that the memories didn't pay much attention to. They were used to being unseen. They would arrive with an excited, but apprehensive smile, Candice would greet them, and they would be on their way. The next morning they would return, often wearing a more assured but sometimes sadder smile than when they arrived. 

Alma had endless questions about the memories, for which Candice had few answers. 

"There aren’t many that I get to know all that well," Candice told her. "Most choose to stop coming back after a couple of visits. I think it's easier for them to make that decision than to find out that their memory has faded and they're not able to return."

There was one memory that was an exception to this rule. He arrived like the others, with a faint bell sound, and walked out of the Gathering Room to be met by Candice in the entryway. The first thing Alma noticed about him was that he seemed older than the others, hobbled a bit, like he’d walked a million lifetimes. And he was somehow faded, as if he had been brushed over with lacquer, his features melding together a slight bit. He walked slowly but with a dutiful air. He didn't pause or speak, just nodded at Candice on his way by and disappeared through the closed door. Candice watched him go, as if this was exactly what she expected, and after a beat, she turned to Alma.

"Mr Green," she said. "He's been coming back for...." she paused. "Maybe 40 years? Since I was a child, anyway."

"That long?" Alma said, looking wistfully towards the door. "I wonder what he did to have people remember him so strongly after all this time?"

The next morning, Alma arrived earlier than usual to set up the Gathering Room. There was a late morning celebration planned, the first that Alma had had a hand in planning and she wanted everything to be perfect. She came in through the flower shop, peaking into the cooler at the bouquets she had arranged the day before. Then she headed through the back door, through the foyer, and opened the double doors into the large, open space. She nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw Mr Green standing at the front of the room.

"Oh!" she started, and then, embarrassed, blurted, "I'm sorry, I wasn't expecting anyone to be in here." Her voice seemed loud in the subdued space and she wished she could put the words back into her mouth, remembering how the old man had said nothing on his arrival. She didn't want him to feel trapped into a conversation with her.

"You're new," he said. A statement, not requiring a response, and Alma was unsure if she should say more or just nod and leave him be. She chose to go with a curt "yes," before lowering her eyes.

"You tell Candice I said goodbye," he said. And then he turned away. Alma took this as her cue to leave. 

"I will," she said softly, looking up at his faint figure before turning and going back to the flower shop. 


Alma continued to take on more responsibility at the funeral home. She would sit in with Candice while she worked with grieving families, helping them to make some final decisions for their loved ones. Alma admired the way that Candice could set a sorrowful situation at ease, giving families space for their grief, as well as encouraging joy in their remembering.

One day, a middle aged man and his elderly mother came to the funeral home. The man’s father had passed a week earlier after a long bout with cancer. Candice was aware of the family, small town and all that, and she told Alma that this might be a good opportunity for her to take the lead on planning, step into a more directorial role. Candice would be available to support, of course. But she felt Alma was ready and should at least take on the initial planning visit. 

Alma greeted the family as they walked in the door and took them to the small sitting area off the Gathering Room. The son assisted his mother with her walker, tucking it out of the way once she had settled into her chair. Alma offered drinks and then started.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” she began, shuddering a bit at the cliche, but hoping she was able to convey a degree of sincerity. The woman cast her gaze downward and the son nodded without expression. She forged ahead.

“Did your father discuss with you any wishes he may have had for his… care… after…. death?” Ugh. She was stumbling. Should she be addressing the widow? Or the son? She should have used the deceased’s name. But she was drawing a blank. What was his name? 

The woman looked up at her. “Harold wanted to be cremated. He didn’t think his remains needed to take up more space than that after he was gone. He was a thoughtful man.” Her gaze cast away again as she said the last bit but Alma still threw her a grateful glance. Harold. Right. It was Harold.

“Alright,” she said. “Well there are some decisions to be made around that. Will it be a witnessed cremation? Would you like a casket or a simple shroud to transport the remains?”

The son responded. “A casket,” he said. “Simple. Unvarnished. Nothing that will…” His voice cracked and his shoulders trembled. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. His mother reached for his hand and tears fell from both of his eyes. “I’m just going to miss him so much.”

Alma gently guided the rest of the appointment, her nerves softened by the emotion and confidence of the family. They knew what they wanted; the discussions had been had. It didn’t make the process any less emotional, but it did allow them to move forward with a certain grace. 

As Alma finished up the paperwork in the office, the widow and her son went out to the Gathering Room to discuss flower arrangements and what they might place on the memorial table. The son moved slowly beside his mother as she pushed her walker.

“I was here many years ago,” she said to him. “With your father, actually. When he had to plan his father’s funeral.” 

“I don’t remember grandpa having a funeral.”

“You were so young.” she told him. “We didn’t bring you, you stayed at home with my sister.”

The man shook his head gently. “I can’t picture Dad planning his father’s funeral. He never even talked about him.”

“No,” agreed his mother. “Their relationship was terrible. Your father once told me that your grandfather must have been the devil himself and that was why he lived so long. He refused to leave, refused to be forgotten.”

“Geez,” her son replied. “I didn’t realize their relationship was that bad.”

His mother nodded. “Your father didn’t want to be anything like his own father. So much so that he rarely even spoke of him.”

They stood in silence for a moment, until the son reached up to wipe his wet eyes again.

“I think he succeeded,” he said. His mother nodded and squeezed his hand.

September 16, 2021 18:28

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.