Friday, August 23, 2013


The nightly visitations from Margaret suddenly stopped. At first, Charlie was not greatly disturbed, but as the days wore on with no more communications from his departed wife he grew depressed. It was like losing her all over again.

He wondered why the dreams stopped, and prayed they would resume. But they did not, and without the daily affirmation these dreams gave him he found himself once again doubting they were genuine visits from Margaret. Perhaps they were only dreams after all.

True, she had told him things in the dreams that later came true. She had told him his nephew’s wife was pregnant, but perhaps that was only a coincidence. She had told him the price of gold would fall, but gold was always rising and falling. And yes, she had told him where to find the recipe, but perhaps in his unconscious mind he had known all along where it was. Perhaps, when she was still alive, he had seen her place it in the book—a momentary action glimpsed then forgotten but retained on a subliminal level, beneath his conscious awareness until it resurfaced later in the dream.

It was not at all far fetched. He had read enough psychology to know that dreams often served as wish fulfillment—a far likelier explanation than the supernatural notion that Margaret was speaking to him from beyond the grave.

And as for the “poltergeist” activity, he now returned to his earlier theory that he may have moved those objects himself while sleep walking—an elaborate self-deception, his own mind tricking him into believing a fantasy. He had no previous history of sleep walking, or delusion for that matter, but there was a first time for everything—and, again, it was the likelier explanation. Psychotic episodes were well documented by science; poltergeists, prophetic dreams, and life-after-death were not.

It was a tremendous let down. He had been so happy believing he was in contact with Margaret. Happy in his delusion. But that’s all it was, a delusion. There was no life-after-death. Margaret was dead and he would die too and there would be no wonderful reunion in the afterlife; he would simply join her in oblivion. And soon.

How long have I got, he thought. A few years, a decade maybe, not much more. There’s very little future left and what’s left is not going to be easy. I’m getting around okay now, but that won’t last. I’m 70 years old for Christ’s sake and already losing my mind apparently. Next to go will be my physical health.

He was lying in bed as he thought these things. The sun was not up yet. He could hear the wind from last night’s cold front blowing against the house. So little future, he thought, and a bleak one at that. Nothing to look forward to. Nothing good, that is. Everything good in life is now in the past. Margaret’s just a memory now. Memories are all I’ve got, and there are so many of them.

It’s funny, he thought. When you’re young you have no idea how it will feel one day to be this age and have so many memories, and how it will feel to look back on it all—all the decades, all the changes. At 18, you can imagine the future, but it never works out like you expect. I thought there would be Jetson rocket cars and vacations on the moon and all sorts of things, but none of that happened. There were changes, yes, and big ones—but not like I expected. And nothing could have prepared me for how it would feel to look back now on all the decades that were once in my future. In 1962, the year 1984 seemed so futuristic. We’ll be riding around in those rocket cars by then, I thought. But when the 80s finally happened they weren’t so futuristic after all and now from this vantage point, in the year 2012, they seem quaint. And 1962 seems ancient.

And the people you take for granted when you’re young—parents, grandparents, all those older people who were such a big part of your life. You knew they wouldn’t last forever, but you couldn’t know how it would feel when they actually died, or how it would feel years later, when they had been gone a long time and were just memories. Memories growing dimmer with time. And not just older people, but friends too, people your own age. I’ve watched them die off one by one. I’ve watched the memorial list at the class reunion grow longer every year, and soon I’ll be on the list too.

No, when you’re young you can’t know what it will feel like to reach this age, and no one can tell you. You may think you know but you really don’t. You can’t know till you live it, till you actually reach this summit and look back where you came from. Yes, look back where you came from … and see the strange route that brought you here … the twists and turns along the way … the twists and turns, and the missteps and mistakes … but also the happy accidents, yes, and the surprises, and the things you find along the way … but also the things you lose … the things you lose … the missteps and mistakes and happy accidents and the strangeness of it all, and the things you lose … the things you lose … the things you lose …

Charlie fell asleep and began to dream. In the dream he was hiking up a mountain. The sun was warm on his back and the sky was high and cloudless, and the mountain very steep. He passed a mountain lion seated on a rock. The cat was enormous and it watched him with golden eyes, turning its head as he passed. Mustn’t show fear, he thought. They can smell fear.

He reached the summit and the view took his breath away: the impossibly deep blue abyss at his feet, swirling with clouds, and the great teeming earth stretching away incalculable distances in the golden light, and beyond the horizon an opening in the sky and a vision of untold immensity: suns and galaxies and universes blazing in the vault of infinity, a vista beyond time, vast beyond measure … and Margaret by his side saying, “Charlie, you haven’t been golfing lately. You’ve slacked off. You should be practicing your swing. It will do you good. Promise me you’ll do it today.”

“Well I don’t know, Margaret, it’s awful windy today and cold.”

“No, it will warm up by afternoon.”

“But the weatherman said—”

He woke up, heart thumping, and later that day the winds died down and it grew warm, just as she said. He went to the golf course.

(To be continued)