I didn’t know why she asked me that. I hadn’t told her that my father had died, but she had to have noticed that it was just my mother and me. Unless she thought my uncle was my father, but no, that didn’t make any sense. I half-turned back to the house.
“Don’t you mean –”
“No. I don’t,” she said. “I mean your dad. Your real dad. Don’t you want to see him, one last time? Don’t you want to say goodbye?”
She meant it. I didn’t know how she knew that my father was dead, but then again, I didn’t know how I was floating in the air, either. “Yes,” I said.
“Okay,” she said. “Don’t be afraid.”
Clara floated out toward the graveyard, and I followed close behind her. I wasn’t afraid, had no idea what I had to be afraid about, if I was going to see my father.
Everything was so far below us now, and I looked down as we passed over the tall fence that separated the field from the lane. The headstones down at the other end of the field looked like freckles or moles from up above; the thin trees stuck out like week-old stubble. I heard something in the distance, it could have been the high-pitched howling of the wind I could see pushing against the trees. Or it could have been nothing at all but my imagination.
The air grew colder as we neared the graveyard, colder than the cool passing of the wind, and it became the only thing that I could feel, in my ghostly state. It was a damp thing, the cold, and clung to everything inside and around me. I knew now what Clara meant when she told me to not be afraid. The damp and the cold were the physical sensations of fear, and as we moved ever closer to the headstones in the grass, the feeling grew.
The howling sounds grew louder too, and I recognized them as cries of lament and despair. They were the sounds of dozens of voices crying out in a sorrowful chorus. Like Clara’s had, the voices sounded distorted and pinched, as if squeezed through a filter. If I were back in my body I am sure that I would have had goosebumps.
The voices were coming from the graveyard, and there were lights there too. I saw them as faint, pale-green wisps at first, from the other side of the field. Then I saw them more clearly, and there was exactly one for every headstone in the graveyard. The lights pulsed and flickered in the night, and cast a greenish glow out and into the field. Each of them resembled the orbs of light that sometimes appear in photographs, when a speck of dust catches the flash, and sends it back to the lens.
They were ghosts. I didn’t need Clara to tell me that much. They were the ghosts of everyone buried in the graveyard, and that meant my father was one of them, too.
Clara began lowering herself as we approached the first row of headstones. I followed slowly, letting her take the lead, and started second-guessing myself. I did not want to witness my father crying out or sobbing, and I wondered at what Clara had in mind when she asked me to accompany her.
Clara stopped, about a foot above the grass, and waited for me just outside the thin dirt path that cut through the center of the graveyard. I floated down until I was next to her, and we crossed through the first line of graves.
As soon as we had crossed the threshold into the cemetery, the wailing stopped, and fell to a hush. There was no sound now, and the absence of all noise was deafening. It was like walking into a room where everyone is talking about you, and then immediately hushing up when they realize that you are standing right there. The lights bobbed in the air above their graves, and it seemed as if they were all watching us as we floated further into their home, like a protective neighborhood watch.
I recognized my father’s headstone when we were still several rows away from it. It was small and plain, the least expensive grave marker available, with only my father’s name, and the year of his birth and death engraved in it. It stood at the end of one of the middle rows, with only one neighboring grave, the other separated by the dirt path.
There was a small pale-green light above his grave as well, and it was equally silent, and equally watchful, as Clara and I approached it. We stopped in front of my father’s light, and for a long moment, nothing happened. Then the other lights that I could see began to flicker and shift, and I heard a rustling like dead leaves all around, an indiscernible whispering, in some tongue that I could not understand.
Then a voice. You came. How? I heard it in my head, but was certain that Clara had heard it as well, for she was the one who answered.
“I brought him. Sorry for disturbing you, but he wanted to see you.”
If this is a disturbance, it is greater by far than any joy I have ever felt. Thank you.
Clara bowed her head, and slid back, away from my father’s grave, and back onto the path. I looked back at her, and she nodded at me.
I moved forward, closer to the faint light. “Dad?”
Son. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for everything.
I wanted to cry, and I could almost feel the tears welling up in my eyes. But I couldn’t. I had no eyes that could shed tears then, or snot that could be sniffled back up into my nostrils, or breath that could catch in my throat. I wanted to cry, to show him how much I missed him, how much my heart hurt with him gone, because I couldn’t find the words to tell him. I didn’t know what to say. So I just stood there, and stared into the pale light, and tried to push out all of the horrible feelings and grief I had been feeling since my father passed; all of the times I had cried myself to sleep with my face pressed up against my pillow, or disappeared into my many worlds of narratives and games, numbing myself with stories, so I wouldn’t have to face my own pain. Along with these feelings, I attempted to capture my love for him as well, and that he shouldn’t be sorry. None of this was his fault. And he was the one who was away from everyone, trapped here, in this place. I imagined myself speaking all of this to him without words, using only the simple transference of pure emotion and thought. I opened my mouth, and a whisper escaped, the sound of sifting sand, and waves receding into the ocean.
The light that was my father bobbed in the air, and said nothing to me. He seemed to be thinking, or taking everything in. I wasn’t sure how he felt about what had just happened, and was not even entirely sure he understood any of it.
Then. Thank you. Please, reach out to me.
I hesitated, then raised my hand slowly, and inched it toward the pale-green orb. I penetrated it, and my hand went ice cold.
I was driving down Main Street, and it had just started to rain. The movie sat on the passenger’s seat next to me, and I was anxious to get back home. My foot applied more pressure to the gas pedal, and the car lurched forward. I wanted to catch this light. I knew the intersection, a five-way, to be long and tiresome, and I had no energy or patience to wait for it just then. The light changed from green to yellow. There was another car in front of me, going slower, and I switched lanes quickly, hardly glancing at the side mirror, and cut off a large SUV. The driver honked angrily, and I glanced back at him through the rearview mirror, just as the light turned to red. Then, a second later, I passed into the middle of the intersection, and another blaring horn came from the left. My head jerked to the side, and I saw the truck coming. It was big, and it wasn’t stopping. In the split second before it hit, I thought to my wife and son. They were the only ones on my mind, and in an instant, every moment that I had spent with them was suspended there, all around me, so that I was experiencing them all again, at the same time. It was a moment that lasted a lifetime, full of everything from happiness, to frustration and sadness. Then it ended, and there was only pain, and then a cool, dark blanket, that covered my completely.
I jerked my hand out of the light, and would have been sweating if I could. The last moments of my father’s life were still echoing in my mind, and the feeling of being him was distant and foggy, like a dream. I felt weak, and when I glanced at the hand that I put in, it was faded and pale. Clara was beside me then, and moving me back somehow, away from my father’s grave.
That’s what it was like.
“We have to go now,” said Clara. “You shouldn’t have shown that to him.”
He needed to know. Then, to me. You’ll come back, won’t you? Please come back. My father’s light looked brighter, stronger, and it pulsed with strength where the others around him merely flickered in comparison.
I didn’t know what had just happened. My mind was full of mixed feelings. I wanted to stay there in the graveyard, with my father, wanted to put my hand back into the light, and disappear with him forever.