Steve Hodge ~ The 45th Parallel

l-tunnel-by-jeffrey-littletonPhotography by Jeffrey Littleton. All rights reserved.

 

OKAY, SO HERE’S the thing:  Mr. Burke, the counselor at the school I’m going to start going to in a couple of weeks, said I should start writing a journal, so I am.  This is it.  Problem is, I don’t know what I’m supposed to write about.  And I don’t know why I’m supposed to write it.  Well, I do know why I’m supposed to write it, but I don’t know how it’s going to do any good.  I mean, it’s supposed to help me somehow, but I don’t know how it will or why I need it to help me.  I mean, help me with what?

My name’s Dylan Ellis, I’m twelve and I live with my Mom and my sister, Amy.  We used to live with my Dad in California until a few weeks ago.  Now Mom, Amy and I live in Glasgow; a small town in Michigan where my Mom grew up.  Moving here from California is bullshit.

I can say stuff like bullshit here because Mr. Burke said I don’t have to show this journal to anyone, including him, ever.  This is my “private space,” he said.  That sounds like bullshit too.  Mr. Burke is pretty cool, though.

Mom says I started ‘acting out’ after we moved to Michigan and she called the school to see if there was somebody I could talk to about stuff.  I told her everything would be fine if we still lived in California and she started crying.  I hate that.  I mean, I hate that I said something that made her cry.  I didn’t mean to.  But then I was trapped.  I’d made her cry so I couldn’t keep arguing about living in Michigan.  So I agreed to talk to Mr. Burke.

He asked me what I’d done to make Mom think I was acting out, so I told him about how I peed off the bridge over the Clyde River and two girls saw me.  I didn’t know they were there.  I mean, I looked around and everything and didn’t see anybody anywhere.

What happened was, I rode my bike out to see the waterfall about a mile outside of town, which was pretty cool.  Mom and her friends used to swim in the pool at the base of the waterfall when she was a kid.  Anyway, the waterfall makes that sound of water and everything and I had to pee.  I should have gone in the woods, but the bridge was right there and, come on, it was a bridge!  How often do you get the chance to pee off a bridge into a river when nobody’s around?  So I looked around, didn’t see anyone, and went for it.

Half way through, though, these two girls walk out from under the bridge and look up at me.  The thing is, they laughed when they saw me, so they weren’t like traumatized or anything.  They thought it was funny.  But they told their moms or something and their moms made a big deal out of it, I guess.

I didn’t tell Mr. Burke this, but I kind of liked it when the girls saw me.  I’m not a perv or anything, but it was kind of, I don’t know; exciting, I guess.  They were about my age and, like I said, they were laughing, so it didn’t seem like a horrible thing.  The cool thing is that there’s only one school in our town, so I’ll see the girls again when school starts up in a couple of weeks.

Anyway, I told Mr. Burke about most of this and he said, “Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but my friends and I used to pee off that bridge all the time when we were your age.”  He said it’s kind of a tradition in Glasgow.  I wondered if the girls who saw me ever peed off the bridge, but I didn’t say anything to Mr. Burke about that.

I’ve thought about it a few times since then, though.  Girls peeing off a bridge.

So Mr. Burke asked what other things I had done to make Mom think I was acting out and I said I couldn’t think of anything else.  He said that she said I was argumentative, which isn’t usually like me.  I told him I guess that’s true, but I hate that we moved to Michigan.  And I told him about Dad.

Before I turned twelve, in June, Dad asked me what I wanted for my birthday.  I said I wanted him to teach me to surf.  He surfed when he was a teenager and still talked about it all the time.  We lived in San Diego and they have surfing near there, so he agreed to teach me how.

The first lesson went pretty good.  I got up on the board a few times and actually rode a wave a couple of times.  Not very far, but still, I rode it.  It was a cool feeling.  Kind of like flying.

The second lesson was different.  I don’t really know what happened for sure.  I remember falling off the board and hitting my head on something; maybe the board itself.  The lifeguard who saved me said I was under water for a while and he had to swim down to get me and pull me up.  Then he went back for Dad, who got caught in a rip tide when he swam out and tried to save me.  Dad was gone by the time the lifeguard got back out there.  His body was never found.

Nobody knows how long I was under water, so they did an MRI of my brain to see if there was any damage.  They didn’t find any, but they did find a part of one of the veins in my brain that’s too thin.  It might be a problem someday, but not now.  For now, I just can’t play football or hockey or any rough contact sports.

Anyway, I told Mr. Burke about Dad and having to move from California.  I didn’t tell him about the vein in my brain because it doesn’t really bother me.  I mean, it was there before I drowned that day and didn’t have anything to do with me being dead for whatever length of time I was under water.  If I am acting out, like my mom says, it’s not because of the problem with my brain.

Mr. Burke said it’s hard for anybody, especially kids, when one of their parents die because the kids still love them even though they died.  I almost cried when he said that, but I didn’t.  He said his dad died nine years ago and he still misses him and thinks about him every day.  I think he might have almost cried then himself.

He also said that it’s hard to move away from your school, your friends and so many people and things you know so well and come to a new place where you don’t know anybody or anything.  He said he knows it doesn’t seem like it now, but it’ll be easier after school starts up because I’ll make new friends and there will be more stuff to do and that right now I’m in a foreign land where I don’t know anybody.

He also said that it’s normal for kids my age to act out because I’m starting adolescence, which means I’m starting to exert my independence from my parents and become my own person.

It’s pretty cool that Mr. Burke kind of understands what I’m going through and that he told me about his dad and about him and his friends peeing off the bridge and everything.  He said I should come to his office after school and talk to him for a few minutes every Thursday after school starts up.  He wrote it in his calendar.  I’m kind of looking forward to talking to him again.  He’s pretty cool.

Next time, I might tell him that I feel bad about being angry that Dad died.  I mean, I know he didn’t want to, and I know he died trying to save me, but I feel like I’ve been cheated by not having my Dad anymore.  Like he ditched me.  I feel stupid and selfish for thinking it but, if I’m going to be honest here, I have to admit I’m angry about it.  I feel like I shouldn’t be, but I am.  Mr. Burke said I should always be honest in this journal.  “Don’t be afraid to tell yourself the truth,” he said.  That’s when he said that thing about never having to show this to anyone.

I’m kind of surprised that I wrote all this stuff.  I thought I’d just write a sentence or two.  I didn’t know I like to write.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 19th, 8:30 A.M.

I Googled how to write a journal and found out you’re supposed to put the date and time at the beginning of each new part, which is called an entry.

Just ate breakfast, which was kind of weird.  Mom said we’re going to visit her sister today, who Amy and I are supposed to call Aunt Janice, who we’ve never met.  Mom said Aunt Janice lives with her friend, Lara, and that they’re lesbians.  She asked if I knew what a lesbian is and I said, “Yes, but I don’t want to talk about it.”  I was afraid that after I said I knew what a lesbian was, she’d say, “What are they?” because that’s what she does when she wants to find out if I really know what the thing is that we’re talking about is.  She didn’t ask this time though.  I think she got that I knew and that I didn’t want to go into it.

Amy, who’s seven BTW, shouted out, “What’s a lesbian?” right away, of course!  Mom was pretty cool about it though.  She just said that it’s a woman who lives with another woman.

Anyway, we’re going to meet Aunt Janice in a few minutes.

SAME DAY, 4:20 P.M.

Aunt Janice is really cool!  She’s funny and she lives in an awesome old house on the river and she has a rowboat tied to a dock in her backyard and a piano in her living room.  She played the piano for us and she’s really good!  The songs were funny, but when she sang, her voice was terrible, which made the songs even funnier!  I think she was probably singing worse than she could have just to make us laugh, but it worked!  Amy laughed so hard she turned red.

We didn’t get to meet Lara, who Aunt Janice called her “partner,” because Lara was at work.  We’re going to meet her Saturday when we go back to have dinner with them.  I can’t wait.  Who would have thought that Mom would have a sister who’s a lesbian?  And a really cool one!

As we were leaving, Aunt Janice gave me a new cell phone with texting so I can text my friends back in California.  My iPhone doesn’t work in Glasgow because it’s a different phone company or something.  My new phone texts and works great.  It’s not an iPhone, but it’s pretty cool.  I already texted Noah, my best friend.  I told him about my lesbian aunt and the girls seeing me pee off the bridge and everything and he said, “Tits,” which means cool.  Noah has a way with words.  I thought about telling him I’m writing a journal, but I didn’t for some reason.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 20th, 6:40 A.M.

I haven’t gotten up yet.  I can hear Mom making breakfast in the kitchen and Amy snoring in her room across the hall from mine.  I want to write about this before I forgot.

I had a really weird dream last night.  But it didn’t seem like a dream.  I woke up at 2:17 a.m. and just felt like something was wrong, but I didn’t know what.  I thought maybe I heard someone trying to break into the house or something while I was asleep and it woke me up, so I sat up in bed, swung my feet onto the floor and was getting ready to get up when I saw a baby lying on the floor in the middle of my room.

It was wrapped in a blanket.  I looked at it for a few seconds and it was doing the jerking around thing that babies do with their arms and legs.  Then it looked at me and stopped.  It was really weird.  All of a sudden, it’s like it just got really calm, looking into my eyes.  Then it smiled and I felt really happy.  Like it had told me something really great.

I got out of bed and walked the two steps to where it was laying on the floor and bent down and picked it up.  It started squirming again a little, but it didn’t cry or anything.  Just kept staring into my eyes and smiling.  Like it wanted me to know it was really happy.  I felt the air rush out of my lungs as I laughed a quiet whisper-laugh before I could stop it.  I felt better than I think I ever felt before.  I don’t know why.

Then I noticed that the baby felt really hot.  Like really hot.  Not like hot on fire, but hotter than any fever.  I unwrapped the blanket and saw that it was wearing diapers and a blue shirt with a pink elephant on the chest.  I lifted the shirt up and blew onto its stomach to try to cool it off.  It just stared at me and kept smiling that really happy smile.

I lay the baby on the bed and thought of getting my Mom when the baby started talking.  I don’t know what it was saying; it was just gibberish like babies always talk, but it kept smiling that really happy smile as it looked into my eyes.  I laughed quietly again because it made me feel so happy.

I’m not sure what happened after that.  I know I sat on the edge of the bed and kept looking at the baby’s happy eyes.  I guess I fell asleep for a while because I woke up at 2:41 and the baby was gone.  I remembered that I woke up at 2:17 when I found the baby on my floor.  But I think I was only with the baby for three or four minutes.  Not 24 minutes, which is the difference between 2:17 and 2:41.

The weirdest thing is that I reached out and touched the sheet where the baby had been laying in my dream (if that’s what it was) and the sheet was hot.  Hot like the baby.  The really happy feeling I had was gone.  In fact, I felt a little sad.  I don’t know why.

I lied down in my bed again and looked up at the ceiling for like a half an hour trying to figure out what’d happed, I guess.  I guess I fell asleep again after that.  I’m not sure.

SAME DAY, 9:30 P.M.

Regular day.  I rode my bike out to the waterfall and bridge again, but the girls I saw there before weren’t there.  Saw some guppies in the pool.  Thought about skinny-dipping in the pool because it was hot, but I thought I better not chance it since the bridge pee thing caused so much trouble.  Skinny-dipping in the pool is definitely on my to-do list now though.  Someday.

Pretty much forgot about the dream about the baby until after dinner.  Mom was reading The Glasgow Gazette, our town newspaper, “Delivered free every Wednesday!”

“Oh, that’s awful,” she said, sitting in the easy chair in the living room.

“What?” I asked.

“A couple on the next street lost their baby early this morning.”

I felt a chill on the back of my neck and the hairs on my arms seemed to stand up.

“You mean it died?”

“Yes.”

“What time was it?”  I don’t know why I asked.  Yes I do.

“It doesn’t say.”

We were quiet for a long time.

“I’ll have to send a condolence note,” Mom said.  “Though I don’t know if I should.  They don’t know me and wouldn’t know who it came from.”

“What’s a condolence note?” Amy asked.

Mom explained while I kept thinking about my dream about the baby.

THUSDAY, AUGUST 21ST, 3:55 P.M.

Okay.  This is getting too weird now.

Mom was talking to one of the neighbors about the people who lost their baby yesterday and found out that she knows the baby’s mother because they went to high school together before Mom moved to California and met Dad.  Mom and the woman who lost the baby were pretty good friends back then.  Anyway, Mom told Amy and me that she wanted to go to the woman’s house and offer her sympathies and that we had to be on our best behavior.  I understood why and promised I’d be good so that Amy would understand how important it was that she be good.  She promised too.  Mom made a lasagna in the morning, which she’d never done before, and we took it to the woman’s house just before lunch.

The woman was a wreck, which is understandable, but she seemed really glad to see my mom.  Not just because they were friends in high school, but she was alone in the house because her husband was at the funeral home making arrangements for the baby’s funeral.  Mom said how sorry she was to hear about the baby and the woman started to cry.  Mom hugged her and they talked while I watched Amy to make sure she was being good, which she was.  She’s really a pretty good sister.

After a while, Mom said we should all eat something and left the woman in the living room while the rest of us went into the kitchen and set the table for lunch.  It was weird going into a stranger’s kitchen drawers and cabinets without them, but it wasn’t a regular situation.

We ate Mom’s lasagna for lunch and Mom kept talking about the times when her and the woman were in high school together.  I could tell she was doing it to take the mother’s mind off of everything and it worked.  They actually laughed a couple of times.  Then they started talking about how the woman met her husband, got married and had the baby.  Then she started to cry again.  Mom asked me to take Amy into the living room so they could talk.

There wasn’t anything in the living room for Amy to play with, so I went into a bedroom and found a magazine in a wastebasket and brought it back to her.  I told her to tear pictures out of the magazine and make a collage.  Then I explained what a collage is.

While Amy was busy wrecking the magazine, I looked around and saw family photographs in frames in this cabinet with glass doors in the corner.  There were pictures of the woman that Mom was talking to in the kitchen and a guy her age with one continuous eyebrow over his eyes, which I figured must be her husband.  Then there were several pictures of the baby; lying in a crib, sitting on a play horse, lying on the lawn, lying in it’s mother’s arms.

Then I saw the one of the baby lying on the couch.  The couch right next to me as I stood in the woman’s living room.  I suddenly felt cold all over.

In the picture, the baby was lying on the couch with it’s arms reaching out toward the camera as if it wanted whoever was taking the picture to pick it up.  What made me feel like I was turning to ice was that the baby was wearing a blue shirt with a pink elephant on the chest.

I stared at the elephant for I don’t know how long.  I felt like I wanted to cry.  It was the same blue shirt with the same pink elephant as the baby was wearing in my dream.  I don’t mean it was similar.  I don’t mean it was close.  I mean it was the same.  No doubt.

We were there for another hour, I guess, and I decided that they probably made a lot of those shirts for babies.  Thousands, probably.  Maybe millions.  Who knows?  I’d probably seen other babies with that shirt on in California or seen an advertisement with a baby wearing one before.  That’s where I got it in my dream.  By the time we left the woman’s house, I’d convinced myself that it was just a coincidence.

Well, almost convinced myself.

Then I overheard the woman say that the baby had had a fever the night it died.  “She was burning up,” the woman said.  I remembered how hot the baby had felt when it was in my bedroom that night.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 22ND, 9:50 P.M.

Regular day.  Nothing much happened.

I texted Noah and told him about the baby in my dream and its shirt and the baby who died and the photo.

He answered, “Tits.”  He can be kind of a jerk sometimes.

I can’t stop thinking about the baby showing up in my room that night and if I could have done something to help it.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 23RD, 10:55 P.M.

Went to Aunt Janice’s for dinner and met Lara, her partner, who’s even cooler than Aunt Janice!  Well, as cool!  She’s a trained chef and made this crazy good dinner.  Salmon chowder, jalapeno corn fritters, some kind of fancy fish in a salad.  But the best part was the bread.  It was warm and really thick and had a crunchy crust but it was soft inside and had rosemary in it, which is like sweet pine needles, only good.  She owns the bakery in town and made the bread herself.  I’m not that into food, but this was amazing!

She said that since we’re family we can go to the bakery any time and she’ll give us a treat for free.  Amy asked if they have cookies and Lara said yes, but she’d probably give us an apple or banana.  “Save the cookies for special occasions,” she said.  Mom smiled but Amy frowned.

Then she comes out with this really good pear pie with a thick slice of cheese on top.  I can’t remember what she called the cheese (something weird) but it tasted awesome!  She said she made the cheese too.

“You can make cheese?” I asked.

“Sure can.  We sell a lot of it at the bakery.  I have dozens of wheels stored in the basement here at home.”

“Wheels?” I asked.

“You’ve never seen a wheel of cheese?”

I shook my head no.

“Come on!”

She took me down the basement and showed me these wooden shelves with what must have been a million huge round flat cheeses she called wheels.  She said they were all artisan cheeses and that her customers loved them.

“Are they all the same?” I asked, noticing that some were lighter or darker than the others.

“No.  We make over twenty kinds of cheese.”

“I didn’t know there were twenty different kinds of cheeses.”

She smiled.  “There are a lot more than that.”  Then she reached up to a top shelf to get a big wheel down.

She was wearing this loose-fitting shirt with no sleeves.  When she reached up, I saw the side of her breast through the open armpit of the shirt.  No bra.  I saw the nipple and everything.  But just for a second.  Her skin was smooth and white.  It looked soft.

“Try this,” she said, breaking off a piece of cheese from the wheel and handing it to me.

I smelled it and frowned.  “Smells like feet.”

Lara laughed this really beautiful laugh.  Like music.  “I know.  But it tastes really good.  I promise.”

I tried the cheese and she was right — it was amazing.  It was really soft and kind of gushed between my teeth when I bit into it, filling my mouth with a flavor I can’t explain.  It wasn’t sweet, but it was like; I don’t know.  I can’t explain it.  It was like a whole new kind of food.

“We’ll take some up for the others,” she said, wrapping the wheel in paper and heading for the stairs.  It was a really hot day, but it was cool down in the basement.  I didn’t want to go back up.  I like her a lot.

Later, Aunt Janice said I could take the rowboat out if I wanted to.  I looked at Mom and she just raised her eyebrows.  “Cool!”  I ran out to the rowboat, untied it from the dock and started rowing.

“Don’t go in the water,” Mom yelled from the porch.

“I won’t,” I yelled.  After what happened with Dad and everything, I don’t think I’ll ever go in the water again.  No kidding.

After I got around the first turn in the river and couldn’t see Aunt Janice’s house anymore, I stopped rowing and just let the current take the boat.  I thought about Dad and the day he died.  I stuck my hand in the water and was surprised at how warm it was.  A lot warmer than the ocean.

Okay.  I haven’t talked about this yet so I might as well now.  I’ve never told anyone this.  When I drowned that day in the Pacific, I remember when the water went into my lungs.  I was surprised how cold it was for just a split second, then all I felt was pain.  Pain like I’ve never felt before.  Not just my lungs, but my whole chest and stomach and everything.  I remember I was still trying to swim up to the surface for a few seconds, then I just stopped.  I felt myself floating up toward the surface and noticed that the pain was gone from my lungs and everything.  I tried to open my eyes, but couldn’t.  I tried to move my arms and legs, but couldn’t do that either.  I’m dead, I thought.  This is it.  It’s overForever.  I wasn’t scared or sad or anything.  Just… I don’t know.  I just accepted it, I guess.

Then I remember having a room around me.  I wasn’t in the room, exactly.  I mean, I wasn’t standing on a floor or anything, but I was kind of floating with this room around me.  There wasn’t any water in the room, but I was like floating.  The cold of the ocean was gone.  I didn’t feel hot or cold.  I was just floating with this room that didn’t have any furniture, doors or windows or anything.  Just these dark-like walls.  Then I could feel the walls all moving away from me.  The room was getting bigger and bigger.  I thought about my Mom and Dad and Amy, but I wasn’t sad or panicking or anything.  I just felt like everything was okay somehow.  Some other stuff happened, then I felt these arms I couldn’t see grabbing me around the chest and pulling me out of the room.

A little while later (I don’t know how long) I came to, lying on the beach, this guy pressing down on my chest with his palms over and over again.  I opened my eyes and threw up a bunch of water and puke and stuff.  The pain was back in my chest and stomach.  I pulled in air and the pain got even worse.

“Yes!” the man yelled.  He stopped pressing my chest and the pain started to go away.  Then I noticed a crowd of people standing there looking down at me.  A woman was crying.

“Where’s my dad?” I asked.

“The guy who saved you went back out for him,” somebody said.

I tried to sit up, but couldn’t.  I lied on my side watching the man who saved my life swim out to where my dad had been, but I didn’t see my dad anywhere.  Somebody put a blanket on me and I don’t know if I passed out or what, but then I was in the ambulance heading for the hospital.  The siren was on.  I wondered if Dad was in the ambulance with me or if he was in a different one.  I never thought that maybe he hadn’t been found.

Anyway, I let Aunt Janice’s rowboat float down the river, following the current to wherever it took me, which was a mistake.  I came to a turn in the river and the boat got caught in a tangle of fallen trees near the shore.  The current kept pushing the boat against the dead trees and I couldn’t get the boat loose no matter what I did.  I was thinking of climbing out of the boat and over the trees to shore, but I didn’t want to chance falling into the water.

“I’ll get a rope.”  It was a girl’s voice from the opposite shore.  I looked over and saw her standing there looking at me.  “Wait there.”  Like I had a choice.

A minute later, she came back from her house with a rope in her hand.  She unwound the rope like she was a cowgirl or something and starting swinging it over her head.  You’ll never make it, I thought.  It’s too far.

Then the rope glided over the river and slapped right into my hand.  I couldn’t believe it.  “Hang on,” she shouted.  She pulled the rope and a few seconds later the boat was free of the dead trees.  A few seconds after that, the front of the boat reached the shore at her feet and she jumped into the boat.

“You’re the new kid, right?” she asked, coiling the rope between her legs like she’d done it a million times.

“Yeah.  I’m Dylan.”

“I’m Emily.  Take me for a ride?”

“Sure.”

I got the oars and started rowing while she finished coiling the rope and let it drop to the floor.  I wasn’t sure about how I felt about being saved from the trees by a girl, but I liked that she was in my boat and asked for a ride.  I looked at her and she smiled.  I smiled back.  I’m going to like her, I thought.  She waited until we made it around the next bend in the river and looked back to make sure her house was out of sight, then turned back to me.

“You have a nice penis,” she said with a smile.

I looked down to make sure my shorts were covering everything (which they were, thank god) and thought, How would she know if I have…  Then it hit me.

“You’re one of the girls from the bridge?”

“Yep!”  She laughed this really great laugh.

I didn’t know what to say.  “Sorry about that,” was all I could manage.

“Don’t be,” she said with a smile.  “I thought it was funny!”

“Really?”

“Yeah.  I’ve seen my little brothers pee like a million times.  No big deal.”

She smiled again and again I smiled back.  I remembered seeing Lara’s boob in Aunt Janice’s cheese cellar and I thought, I’m going to remember this day for the rest of my life.

We rowed for a long time and Emily told me about the town, our school, the teachers and everything.  She said she was twelve and going into the seventh grade.  I said I was too.  “There’s only one seventh grade class, so we’ll be classmates.”  I liked the sound of that.

“Want to see the dinosaur bones tree on the island?” she asked out of the blue.

“Yeah!”

“Keep rowing.  It’s not far.”

She was right because a few minutes later we were standing in front of this old fallen tree that must have died like a million years ago because the bark was all gone and the wood was bleached white, like bones.  The trunk looked like a dinosaur’s spine and the limbs holding it up off the ground looked like ribs and legs and stuff.

“Let’s walk it,” Emily said and she jumped up on the tree and started walking the length of the spine.  She raised her arms out to keep her balance and I could see the cloth of her tee shirt moving around, rubbing against her chest.  “Come on,” she yelled.  I jumped up and followed her.  When we got to the end, we stopped and sat next to each other on the tree.

I don’t know how long we sat there and talked, but it was a long time.  We talked about everything.  I told her about my mom and Amy, my friends back in California, what school was like there; pretty much everything about me.  I didn’t go into detail about Dad.  I just said that he died.  She said she was sorry.  Her grandmother died in the spring and it was the worse thing that she ever had to go through.

Then she told me about her mom and dad, her two little brothers, her best friend Megan (who was with her at the bridge that day), the school we’ll be going to and everything.  I felt comfortable being with her.  I mean, I really only met her like an hour ago but it felt like we’d been friends forever.  I think she might have felt the same way.

“I’ve never seen real snow before,” I said.  “What’s winter like here?”

She looked at me like I was from Mars or something.  “I’ve never met anyone who’s never seen snow.”  She thought for a long time, then said, “It’s beautiful.

“We live on the forty-fifth parallel, which means we’re halfway between the equator and the North Pole, so it gets cold here.  Really cold.  Like cold enough that you can freeze to death if you’re outside and aren’t dressed right.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.  No joke.  But it’s also beautiful.  When you go out after a new snowfall, the whole world is like a fairy tale.  Everything looks fresh and clean.  Sunlight sparkles off the snow, making it look like a billion diamonds everywhere.  Snow clings to the trees and everything is just; like magic.

“And you can do so much in the winter here.  Skiing.  Snowboarding.  Snowmobiling.  Sledding.  Ice skating.  My dad makes a skating rink in our backyard every winter and my brothers and I and our friends skate for hours.  Mom brings out fresh hot cocoa and hot doughnuts and we eat it right there in our skates.

Hot doughnuts?”

“Yeah.  You never had hot doughnuts before?”

I shook my head no.

“Oh, you’re going to love them,” she said, smiling.  “You’ll have some at the Harvest Festival in October.”

“What’s a harvest festival?”

“It’s like a big party where everyone in town comes to Founders Park on the river.  Everyone brings food they’ve cooked.  There’s music, dancing, games for kids to play, three-legged races, the farmers bring the last of their crops and sell them.  Glasgow was founded by Scottish people, so they have something like the Scottish Games where men dress in kilts and throw these big long poles like telephone poles as far as they can.”

“Kilts?  You mean they wear like dresses?”

“Kind of.  More like skirts.  Anyway, October is apple harvest time, which means apple cider.  You’ve never tasted anything like ice cold fresh apple cider and fresh hot doughnuts on a cold day in the fall.”

I remembered the dinner Lara had made for us a few hours before and thought, I’m going to get fat living here.

“After dark, there’s a huge bonfire.  Everyone stands around getting warm and singing songs.  There’re a bunch of smaller campfires here and there and people sit around them telling stories.  Sometimes they tell ghost stories.  That’s my brothers’ favorite part.

“There’s also hayrides.  Mostly for little kids during the day, but after dark they have hayrides for teenagers at night.”

“Hayrides?”

“Yeah.  They fill a big flat wagon with hay.  People sit in the hay and horses pull the wagon down dirt roads around the park.  It’s fun.”

“So people just sit in the hey, not doing anything?”

“The daytime rides are mostly for kids, so it’s families and stuff.  They sing songs, talk, spend time with their neighbors.”

“What about at night?  The rides for teenagers?”

“I’ve never been on one, so I don’t know for sure, but I’ve heard they make out.”

“So it’s like an organized thing where adults drive a wagon around to give teenagers a chance to kiss?”

“Yeah.  I’ve seen them from the bonfires.  At least some of the teens are kissing and nobody’s talking or singing or anything.”

“How old do you have to be to take a hayride at night?”

“I don’t know.  A teenager, I guess.”

I only thought for a second before I asked, “Want to go on an after-dark hayride with me this year?”  I said it fast so I wouldn’t lose my nerve and chicken out.  Emily just smiled.  She didn’t say anything, but her eyes were saying, Maybe.  That was good enough for me.  I mean, she didn’t say no!

“Wait’ll you see the trees in October” she said.  “They turn like a million different colors.  It’s even more beautiful than winter.  I love living here.”

I thought, I think I might like living here too.

We were quiet for a while.  I could hear the water flowing against the shore of the island and crickets chirping everywhere.  “That’s a sad sound,” Emily said.

“What?”

“The crickets.  When they first come out in the spring, they just chirp at night, when it’s dark.  Never in the daytime.  That goes on through June and July.  Then in August they start chirping all the time, day and night.  It’s like they know that summer’s coming to an end and the hard freezes and frosts of autumn will be here soon, so they’re chirping to find a mate and make the next generation before they die.”

I listened to the crickets for a while.  She was right.  It’s kind of a sad sound.

“My dad and I found four Indian arrowheads on this island.  One’s broken and another’s chipped, but the other two are perfect.”

“There were Indians here?”

“Yeah.  Lots of them.  Chippewa, Huron, Ottawa and others.

“Are there still Indians around here?”

“Yeah.  Some of the kids at our school are Indian.”

I thought that was cool.  I’d never met an Indian before.

“Do you still have the arrowheads?”

“Yeah.  You can come in and see them when you take me back, if you want.”

“Yeah.  I’d like that.”

My cell phone rang.  It was Mom.  “It’s getting dark, honey.  Where are you?”

I looked and saw that she was right; it was starting to get dark.  I really didn’t notice before she said it.  “I’m on an island.  I’m okay.  I met a girl who lives on the river near Aunt Janice.  She’s been telling me about school and everything.”

“That’s nice, but you better start back.  I don’t want you on the water after dark.”

“Okay.  We’ll start back now.  But Emily invited me to her house to see her Indian arrowheads.  Okay?”

“Bring the boat back first, before it gets dark.  You can walk to her house after.”

“Okay.”

“Be careful.”

“I will.”

We were rowing against the current on the way back.  It was like a billion times harder than going with the current.  I didn’t complain, but Emily apparently sensed that I was getting tired and offered to row for a while.  I hate to say it, but she rowed as good as me.  Maybe better.

I wasn’t sure how to get to her house from the road, so she came all the way back to Aunt Janice’s with me, then we walked to her house.

Her mom and dad and little brothers were cool.  So was their house.  Her dad’s an architect and he designed their house.  He built a lot of it himself too.  Her room is on the second floor and has a view of the river.

The arrowheads were awesome, but I kept thinking about going on the teenagers’ hayride with Emily in October.  I thought about asking her if I could kiss her right there in her room, but I didn’t have the nerve.  And I wasn’t sure if you’re supposed to ask first or just go for it and see what happens.  There should be a rulebook about these things.  Anyway, her brothers ran in and started asking me a million questions about living in California and everything.

I don’t know if I wrote this down before, but Emily has really beautiful eyes.  They’re green.  I like her.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 24TH, 4:40 A.M.

“I’ve had a pretty good life.”

It was an unfamiliar voice.  Obviously a dream.

I opened my eyes and saw an old guy in pajamas standing outside my window.  Then I realized he was a reflection in the window and that he was actually standing inside my room.

“Who’re you?” I asked.  I don’t know why, but I wasn’t scared really.  I was surprised, but I wasn’t like afraid.

“My name’s Patterson.  Pete Patterson.  And I feel that I’ve had a pretty good life.”  He smiled and looked at me like he expected me to say something.  I didn’t know what to say.

“Why are you here?” I finally asked.

“I don’t know.”  He looked around my room a little.  “I was hoping you could tell me.”

“I don’t know either,” I said.

He looked out the window then.  I guess he saw the trees in full foliage because he said, “Oh.  It’s summer.  Last I remember, it was cold.  December.  Christmas was coming.”

“It’s August now.  School starts pretty soon.”

He smiled again and I thought of the baby that I found in the same spot where he was standing now.  The baby’s smile was really nice.  Comforting.  Like everything was really okay.  Even made me feel that way.  This old guy, Mr. Patterson, had the same smile.  Made me feel happy.

“My wife died a few years back.  I’ve been alone ever since.  We never had children.”

“My dad died a couple of months ago, but I still have my mom and my sister.”

“I’m sorry about your father, but I’m happy that you have people in your life.”

He smiled again.  “After Marian died, I got bitter.  With no children and no brothers or sisters, I just had a few casual friends and neighbors.  I turned my back on them, though.  They tried to help and were very loving after Marian died, but I shunned them.  Drove them away.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.  I shouldn’t have.  They tried to reach out to me but I pulled away.  I guess it’s because I missed Marian so.  She was everything to me.

“We tried having children when we were young, but it just never happened.  She wanted a family so badly.  I did too.  We finally went to the doctor and had him check us out.  Turned out it was me.  She was fertile.  I wasn’t.  I told her that she should find another man who could give her what she wanted and something just clicked in her.  She changed in a second.  She said that I was all she ever wanted and needed and it didn’t matter to her if we never had a family.  I guess she saw how hurt I was that I couldn’t make her happy.  We became the whole world to each other after that.  It was beautiful, while it lasted.  Yes.  I feel that I’ve had a pretty good life.”

He stood there smiling that happy smile for a couple of minutes.  Then he said, “Guess I’m moving on too now, aren’t I?”

“I don’t know.”

He looked at me and nodded, as if he knew I was going to say it.

“Am I going to see Marian again, you think?”  The smile faded slightly.

“I don’t know, sir.  I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right.  If I see her again, it will be wonderful.  But if not, well; I’ve had a good life.  A few regrets.  Disappointments. Had some ups and downs like everyone else, but all-in-all, it was pretty good.”

“Yes, sir.”

He looked around my room.  “This is an odd situation, isn’t it?  Me being in your room like this.  Are you afraid?”

“No, sir.”

“That’s odd, isn’t it?  It seems we should both be afraid, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, sir.”

He looked around some more.  “Why is your room so clean?  When I was your age, my room was strewn with model airplanes, kites, marbles and all sorts of things.”

“We just moved here.  Back home, my room was full of junk.”

He nodded.  “I guess things never change, do they?”

“I don’t know.”

He nodded and smiled, looked out the window again.  “You’d think I’d want a little more time.  Just a day or two, to enjoy the summer weather, maybe see some of the people I shunned these last few years.  But I don’t feel that way.  I’m ready to go.  Whatever that means.  You don’t know where I go from here, do you?”

He turned to me and I shook my head.

“That’s all right,” he said with a smile.  “Whatever or wherever it is, I’m ready.  I’ve had a good life.”

“I’m glad,” I said.

“Me too.”  He looked out the window again and sighed.  “Make sure the people you love know that you love them, all the rest of your life.”

“Yes, sir.  I will.”

Then he kind of… I don’t know.  It’s like he folded in on himself.  He didn’t get smaller or just disappear, but he did kind of disappear.  But from the outside-in.  Like some invisible hand closed around him.  It only took a second, but he was like there, then his head and feet were gone, then his legs, neck, chest, arms and then everything was just gone.

I never looked at the clock on my nightstand, but I think this all happened about an hour ago.  After he was gone, I lay back in bed, closed my eyes and went to sleep, calm as can be.  I vaguely remember wondering if the thin vein in my brain was making me crazy or something, but it didn’t bother me.  I just kind of wondered, then drifted off.

I woke up again at 4:36 and started typing this entry into my journal before I forgot the details.  I wonder where Mr. Patterson is now.  He seemed like a really nice guy.  I remember the baby who came here too.  She tried talking to me before she left.  I wonder if she was trying to tell me about her life.  I wonder if she’s with Mr. Patterson now or if he’s with his wife.  I wonder if I’ll ever be with Dad again.

SAME DAY, 10:00 A.M.

I wanted to ask Emily how I’d find out if anyone in Glasgow died overnight to see if Mr. Patterson was like the baby and visited me after he died, so I texted her; u there?  She answered not now – in church.  She said she’ll text me when she gets out, so I’m waiting for her text.

We never go to church.  We didn’t when Dad was alive either.  Dad and his brother, Uncle Dave, started a business where they insure big oceangoing ships and their cargo from all over the world.  When Dad was younger and the company was just getting started, he used to travel all over the world to inspect the ships, their ports and sometimes their cargo so he could see what he was insuring and make sure it was safe to insure.  Sometime after I was born, the company got bigger and he hired other people to travel around the world to see the ships and stuff.  Anyway, he told me a lot about the places he went and the things he saw.

He really liked Pompeii, this whole city in Italy that got buried under several feet of volcanic ash like two thousand years ago.  Everyone in the city died within minutes.  They found the city a couple hundred years ago and dug it up.  Now you can walk around on the streets and see the buildings where everyone lived and worked and stuff two thousand years ago.

Dad said he saw temples in Pompeii for the Roman gods Jupiter, Isis and Apollo.  Temples are like churches, I guess.  Dad told me that the people living in Pompeii two thousand years ago would visit the temples to these gods all the time to worship them.  And there’s another really old building Dad saw in Rome called the Pantheon where they have statues of a lot more Roman gods who people used to worship, even though they knew that many of the gods they worshiped were based on Greek myths.  A myth is a story that isn’t true.  It’s made up.  The Greeks had hundreds of gods thousands of years ago, too.

Thing is, nobody believes in any of those Greek or Roman gods anymore.  I mean, people used to believe in them, visit their temples and worship them; even dedicate their lives to them and now nobody even believes in them anymore.  Nobody even knows the names of some of the gods people used to worship.

And it wasn’t just in Greece and Rome.  The Aztecs had dozens of gods and sacrificed people to honor the gods or convince the gods not to do terrible things to them.  Same with the Incas and Mayans.  Many of them sacrificed children to the gods.  A lot of children.  They found mass graves filled with babies and children who were sacrificed to gods that nobody believes in anymore or maybe don’t even know the names of anymore.

And the Celts, in western Europe, also believed in scores of gods that no one believes in anymore, though a lot of people spent their whole lives worshiping them.  Same with many of the Indian tribes in North America, and the native people of Australia.  The Hindus still believe in a bunch of gods.

Dad said that traveling around the world, seeing these things, makes you think.  He said nobody can deny that people have invented a lot of different religions and a lot of different gods.  And they always have.  None of the religions agree with any of the others so, at best, only one of the religions could be right.  At best.  Only one.  And it isn’t likely that even one of them were right about everything, including the religions today.  He said even the Christian Bible has two different stories about the creation of people and the stories are different.  Only one of the stories can be right.  If only one of them is right, the other one has to be wrong; and they both might be wrong.

Dad said that what we know about what happens after we die is way more amazing than any of the stories in our religious books.  When we die, he said, our bodies break down.  Even the molecules break apart.  Over a couple of hundred years, our atoms become parts of other things.  A lot of other things.  Rocks, trees, water, plants, clouds, animals, people; everything!  And there are so many atoms in our bodies that we can’t even imagine it completely.  Before we’re born, some of the atoms in each of our bodies once passed through stars somewhere in the universe.  When we die, we really do turn to dust.  And the dust becomes everything!  Everything!  Maybe some even makes it back into space.

Dad really liked Bach, the composer, who died more than two hundred years ago.  He used to listen to his music all the time.  “You and I, and everyone living today” he said, “each have about a billion atoms in our bodies that once used to be part of J.S. Bach.  No kidding.

“And it’s not just Bach, it’s anybody who died more than a couple of hundred years ago.  Kings or queens, paupers or thieves.  Everybody.  Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, the slaves that built the pyramids; everybody!  They’re all part of us.  Right now.

“People invent gods and religions because they need answers to question without answers.  Where did we come from?  What happens to us after we die?  The real answer to what happened to the people who went before us is simple and beautiful; they are us.  We are them.

“And that is far more beautiful… more elegant, than any of the stories from any of our religious books.”

I think Dad was right.

SAME DAY, 5:10 P.M.

Emily texted me after she got out of church, what’s up?  I asked if she could meet me and she answered, coffee shop –  downtown –  fifteen minutes.  I jumped on my bike.

When I got to town, I didn’t see a coffee shop anywhere.  You have to understand; downtown in Glasgow is a single block of stores.  That’s it.  If you stand in the middle of the block and look around, you can see all of downtown.  Easily.  No problem.  I looked around and saw Lara’s bakery.  The sign on the front said, Glasgow Bakery, Deli, Coffee, Cheese & Sweets Shop.  Then I saw Emily inside, looking at me through the window.  I waved and she waved back.

The place smelled like heaven and was packed with people.  It seemed like everyone in town was there standing around and sitting at tables talking, laughing, eating and drinking.  I spotted Lara behind the counter.  Her hands were full, so she kind of raised her head and smiled real quick to say hi when our eyes met.  I waved and sat down with Emily.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“This is my aunt’s partner’s place.”

“I know.”

“Why are there so many people here?”

“It’s always like this on the weekends.  It’s kind of a hangout.  There isn’t anyplace else in town where people can just sit and spend some time, unless they go to the park.  We come here after church sometimes.”

I looked around and didn’t see Emily’s parents anywhere, so I listened to the voices of the people for a few seconds.  I’ve always liked the sound of a crowd of people.  I don’t know why.  Kind of behind the voices, I heard a really cool kind of jazz piano playing.  I looked around to see if someone was playing a piano live, but I didn’t see anyone.

“Why’d you want to meet?” Emily asked.

“I wanted to ask you something.”

“Okay.”

“It’s kind of weird.”

She looked at me kind of funny.  “Okay.”

“How can I find out if someone died today?”

Her look turned from kind of funny to uh-oh.  “Why?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

She just stared at me for a few seconds.

“Not here,” I said.  She looked around and got it.

“The newspaper only comes out on Wednesdays,” I said.  “I need to know if anyone died today.  How would I find out?”

“They have an online edition every afternoon at about 3:30.”  I checked the clock on my phone: 11:12.

“Any way to find out before then?”

“You could go to the Gazette office.  It’s across the street over the hardware store.”

“Is anyone there on Sundays?”

“Yeah.  Mr. Waverly owns the paper.  He lives there.”

“He lives at the newspaper?”

“Yeah.  The rooms above the stores were originally built as apartments for the storeowners, so they could live above their stores.  Mr. Waverly rents the apartment from the hardware store and runs the newspaper out of there.  He’s the only person who lives in any of the upstairs apartments anymore.”

“Come with me?”

“Hi, you two.”  We looked up and saw Lara looking down at us, her hands behind her back.

“Hi, Lara.”

“Hi, Miss Bain.”

Lara brought her hands out from behind her back and handed us each what looked like candy suckers on sticks.  They turned out to be like little cakes with frosting.

“Thanks,” Emily and I said at the same time.

“This isn’t like the bakeries back in California,” I said.  “They just sell bread.”

“We started out that way, too.” Lara said.  “Over the years, we kept offering customers more and more.  Now we’re a little bit of everything.”

“This is great!” Emily said, a dab of frosting on her upper lip.

“Thanks, Emily.  I’m glad you like it.”

I looked at my treat and said, “I don’t have any money.”

“It’s on the house.”

“I thought we were just going to get a piece of fruit.”

Lara looked at Emily and smiled.  “Well, this is a special occasion.”

A man behind the counter called Lara’s name.  “Gotta go,” she said, and she was gone.

I took a bite of my cake on a stick or whatever it’s called and it tasted amazing.  Not really sweet, but creamy.  “This is good!”

“Everything here is,” Emily said.

We finished out treats and I wrapped our sticks inside a napkin.

“Want to go to the Gazette now?” she asked.

We ran across the street, climbed up the stairs to the Gazette office and found an old guy sitting behind a desk.

“Hi, Mr. Waverly.”

“Hello, Emily.”  He looked up and saw me.  “This must be the new boy in town, Master Ellis.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, surprised that he knew my name.  “Dylan Ellis.”

“What can I do for you two?”

Emily looked at me as if it was up to me to say.  “I’m wondering if anyone died overnight, sir.”

He looked at me kind of strangely for a few seconds.  “Care to tell me why you want to know?”

“Not really, sir.”

He looked from me to Emily.  “He won’t tell me, either,” she said.  “But he’s a good kid.”

Mr. Waverly thought for a few seconds, then said, “Pete Patterson died out at the hospice center early this morning.  The hospice called me so I could get it in the online edition today.  Old Pete’s wife died a few years back.  They didn’t have any children and he didn’t have any brothers or sisters or anything, so the hospice didn’t know who to call.  They took him over to the funeral home, but Bill MacRay is just keeping him in cold storage until we find out if there isn’t any kin.  If not, Pete’ll be cremated and disposed of by the county.  No grave or tombstone or anything.”

I felt tears welling up in my eyes and had to fight them back.

“I went to school with Pete back in the day,” Mr. Waverly said.  “He was a good man.  Lost touch with him after Marian died, though.  He turned kind of bitter after that.  Didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with anybody.  I heard he had a bad stroke last December, put him in a coma.  He never regained consciousness.  He was in a nursing home for a few months before they moved him into the hospice center.”  He looked at me intensely.  “Want to tell me anything about Pete, young man?  If you know anything, we need to know.”

“I don’t know anything about him, sir.” I lied.  “Thanks, though.”

Mr. Waverly could see that I wasn’t telling the truth.  “Well, if you hear anything, give me a call or send me an email.  I’m always here.”

“I will.”

“Thanks, Mr. Waverly.” Emily said and we turned to leave.

“We were going to print a half page article in the paper about you last week, young man,” he said.  “Below the fold, but on the front page.”

“About me?” I asked.

“Sure.  Isn’t every day we get a story about a young man urinating off the Clyde River bridge in front of two young ladies.  Lucky for you there was a fire at the dairy the next day.  We had to pull your story.”

I didn’t know what to say.  My mom reads that paper!

“Well, there might be room in this week’s edition.”

“Mr. Waverly, please.  I…”

“He’s joking, Dylan.” Emily said.

I looked at Mr. Waverly and saw just the slightest hint of a smile as he looked at me.  “I’m not joking about Pete Patterson though, son.  If you know anything, you need to tell me.”

“I wish I could help you, sir.”  I looked down at the floor in front of my feet, unable to look at him.  I felt bad about lying, but I didn’t know anything that could help Mr. Waverly find Mr. Patterson’s family.  If I told him about Mr. Patterson showing up in my bedroom in the middle of the night, he’d think I was crazy.  If he told Mom, she’d think I was crazy.  “I’m sorry.”

“Well, you know where I am,” he said.  “Tell your folks I said hello, Emily.”

“I will.”

Emily and I were on the street a few seconds later.  “Where can we talk?  In private?” I asked.

“Under the bridge.”

She rode on my handlebars the whole mile out to the bridge, telling me that she and her friend Megan go there sometimes because it’s quiet and no on can hear you talk or even see you when you’re there.

We climbed down under the bridge and sat on a flat space just beneath the road on the west end of the bridge.  We looked down at the river for a minute then Emily said, “What’s going on?”

I didn’t know how to start, so I just told her everything.  About the baby showing up in my room that night, the picture of the baby in the same shirt in her mother’s living room; Mr. Patterson telling me about his wife dying and him turning away from his friends and how they never had any kids, just like Mr. Waverly said in the newspaper office.

“When he was in my room last night, he said the last thing he knew it was December, almost Christmas.”

“And that’s when Mr. Waverly said he had a stroke and went into a coma,” she said.

“Right.”

She thought quietly for a long time.  I looked at the river and tried to think if I could remember anything that might help Mr. Waverly find Mr. Patterson’s family.  Finally, I looked at Emily and saw her giving me a strange look.

“You don’t believe me, do you?”

“Dylan,” she thought for several seconds.  “I just met you yesterday.  You seem like a really nice guy, but you have to admit…”  She left her sentence unfinished.

“Yeah.  I’m not sure I’d believe you if you told me this stuff either.”

I felt bad, but I didn’t blame her.  Until I heard Mr. Waverly talk about Mr. Patterson, I wasn’t sure I believed what was happening either.  If there was only a way to…

“My journal!” I yelled, hitting my head on the bridge as I got to my feet.

“What?”

“Come on!”

We jumped on my bike and headed for my house.

* * *

She finished reading the entry about Mr. Patterson and pushed down my computer screen.  “I’m scared,” she said.

“Don’t be.  Like I said, Mr. Patterson and the baby were like really happy.  They made me feel that way too, somehow.”

“Still.”

“I know.  It’s weird.”

She lifted the screen again.  “Did you write anything about the baby in here?”

“Yeah.  It was Wednesday.  Scroll up.”

She started to scroll up the screen and Mom knocked on my bedroom door.

“Come in.”

“Sorry to bother you, sweetie,” she said.  “I need to run to the store for a quick minute.  It’ll be a lot easier if I don’t have Amy with me.  Watch her for me?”

“Sure.”

“She’s in the backyard, in her wading pool.”

“I’ll be right there.”

Mom left and I told Emily she could come out in the yard when she was done reading my entry about the baby.

Outside, Mom smiled.  “Emily seems nice.  I like her.”

“So do I.”

She gave me a strange look.  I never had any girlfriends back in California.  I mean, I had girls who were friends, but not, well; you know what I mean.  I think Mom was trying to figure out what was going on.  “Keep an eye on Amy, right?”

“I’ll never let her out of my sight.”

“Thanks.  I won’t be long.”

She jumped in the car and backed out of the driveway while I took off my shoes and stepped into Amy’s wading pool.  It was like a game we played; I stepped into her pool and she pretended it made her mad.  “Hey,” Amy yelled, smiling up at me.  “This is my pool!”

“Mom just told me she’s giving it to me,” I said.  “So you’re going to have to get out.”

“No she didn’t.”  She splashed water onto my legs.

I looked up and saw Emily through my bedroom window, reading my journal, maybe ten feet from where I stood.  She looked serious.  And, well, the light was like perfect and she looked; beautiful.  Like a painting in a museum.  I know it sounds corny, but I held my breath for a second when I saw her.  I thought about the Harvest Festival and the after-dark hayrides and the teenagers kissing and I pictured Emily and me sitting in the hay, our lips pressed together, hearing a soft moan and not being sure if it was from her or me.

Amy splashed me again, this time getting my shorts wet.  I took off my shirt and threw it toward the house, then bent down and paddled water over her like the way a dog digs a hole with both its front paws.  She closed her eyes and squealed while I soaked her.  Her laugh was the sound of absolute happiness, so I paddled faster and she laughed even harder.  We went on like that for a couple of minutes, taking turns soaking each other.  It felt good to laugh.  I don’t know if it was because of my weird ‘dreams’ or because I’d made a new friend in Emily or if it was just that I loved hearing Amy laugh, but I thought, I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier than I am right now.

“My life has been wonderful, really.”

It was a woman’s voice.  I looked up and saw an old woman standing about three feet away from the pool.  The sun was behind her and I could see her shadow on the wet grass.  I was relieved to see that her shoes were wet where Amy and I had accidentally splashed her.  At least she’s not another dream, I thought.

“Hello,” I said, standing up and facing her.  “Sorry we got your shoes wet.  We didn’t know you were there.”

“Who are you talking to?” Emily asked through my open bedroom window.

“Yeah,” Amy said, “I’m not wearing any shoes.”

I felt that cold feeling in my stomach again and looked at Amy, who was looking around as if she couldn’t see the old woman.

The woman looked at Amy and asked, “They can’t see me?”

“I don’t know, ma’am.  I don’t think so.”

“Who are you talking to?” Amy asked.

“Nobody, sweetheart.  I’m just talking to myself.”

Sweetheart?” she frowned.  “You’ve never called me that before.”

“Come in the house, Amy.”  I looked and saw Emily staring at us through my bedroom window.  She didn’t look beautiful anymore, she looked scared.

“Go in the house with Emily, Amy.”

“I don’t want to.”

“She’ll give you something to eat.”

“Cookies?”

“Yes.”

Amy got out of the pool and headed for the house and Emily disappeared from my bedroom window.  She made it to the backdoor just as Amy opened it.  Amy stopped and turned toward me again.  “I forgot my towel.”

“It’s okay,” Emily said, pulling Amy into the kitchen.  “I’ll get you another one.”  The screen door slammed shut and I turned to the woman.

“I’m sorry I’ve upset your afternoon,” she said.  She was smiling that same happy smile that Mr. Patterson and the baby had.  It made me feel really good.

“It’s all right, ma’am.”

“Fran,” she said.  “Fran Pritchard.”

“I’m Dylan Ellis.”

She looked around for a few seconds.  “This is where Margaret Hesse lived before she died.  I used to play canasta with her and some of the other women before our husbands retired.”

I wondered if Margaret Hesse’s spirit was still in our house, somehow attracting dead people.

“Isn’t this a lovely day?” she asked, looking up at the sky.  “I was just out in the garden at home, digging up iris bulbs so I could split them and replant them for next year, when I just… blacked out, I guess.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I remember Frank, that’s my husband, calling my name.  I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear Frank calling to me, as if from a distance.”

Frank and Fran? I thought.

“His voice got quieter and more distant, then I was here.”  She looked at me for a few seconds with that really happy smile on her face.  “I’m passing on, aren’t I?”

“I don’t know, ma’am.”  I wasn’t really lying.  I really didn’t know for sure.

“Well, if I am, it’s fine.  I had a happy life.”

“That’s good.”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I looked through the screen door and saw Emily standing in the kitchen, staring at me.  She looked terrified, her face pure white.  Amy was at the kitchen table, eating a cookie with a glass of milk on the table in front of her.

“Oh,” Fran said, raising her arms a little and smiling up at the sky.  “I’m in a room!”

I felt a chill run through my body, remembering the feeling that I was in a room when I drowned the day Dad died.

Fran laughed a quiet laugh and suddenly like folded in on herself… disappeared in pieces from the outside in.  Just like Mr. Patterson.

I waited a minute or so, then went inside with Emily and Amy until Mom got home.  It seemed like we sat there for an hour, but it was probably only ten minutes.  Once Mom got home, Emily and I went into the backyard.

“It was Mrs. Pritchard,” I told Emily.

“Oh, no.” Emily said.  “I know her.  She goes to our church.”

“Do you know where she lives?”

“Yes.”

“Come on.”

We jumped on my bike and Emily told me where to turn to get to Mrs. Pritchard’s house.  I started to tell her what Mrs. Pritchard had said, but she said, “Don’t.”  I couldn’t see her face because she was riding on the handlebars in front of me, but I think she was crying.  It didn’t take long before we were riding down Mrs. Pritchard’s street

“Dylan, look!” Emily shouted.  I could clearly hear that she was laughing.  Then I saw why; Mrs. Pritchard was sweeping off her front porch with a broom.  She was wearing the same clothes I saw her in a few minutes earlier in my backyard.  She looked great.  I mean, for an old lady, she looked like she was feeling okay.

“It’s her!” I said.

“I know!”

Emily jumped off the front of my bike and turned around and smiled at me.  “Guess you were wrong!”

“I guess I was!”

We laughed as we heard Mrs. Pritchard’s front screen door slam shut and saw her disappear inside on the other side of the screen.

“What do you think it means?” Emily asked, more serious now.

“I don’t know.  In my backyard she said she was in her garden and blacked out all of a sudden.  That must’ve been, what?  Twenty minutes ago?”

“Yeah.”  We were standing at the curb opposite Mrs. Pritchard’s house.  I turned and looked at Emily, so I couldn’t see the house, but Emily could.  “Should we do something?” she asked.

“Like what?”  I didn’t get what she was trying to say.

“I don’t know.  Warn her or something?”

“No!  I mean, what if I was wrong?  She looked fine when we got here.  We can’t just knock on her door and say, ‘Excuse me, Mrs. Pritchard, but Dylan here just had a vision that you died a few minutes ago.’  She’d call the cops.  And they’d call my mom.”

I heard a screen door close behind me and turned to see Mrs. Pritchard at the far end of her driveway, on the other side of a gate in her backyard.  She had a trowel in her hand.

“No.” I said, feeling like I was going to be sick.

“What?”

“In my backyard, Mrs. Pritchard said she was gardening when she died.”

Mrs. Pritchard stepped to her garden, dropped to her knees and started digging.

“Emily, what is that she’s digging up?  Are they irises?”

“I think so.  Why?”

“She said she was digging up her irises when she…”

Without a sound, and without grabbing her chest or head or anything, Mrs. Pritchard suddenly fell face-first into her garden and lay there, still as death.

“Fran!” we heard a voice call from inside the house.  “Fran!  What’s wrong?”

An old man ran to where Mrs. Pritchard lay, bent over her and shook her shoulder.  “Fran!  Get up!  What’s wrong?”  He was crying.  I remembered Mrs. Pritchard telling me that she heard her husband calling her name from a distance after she passed out.

“Fran!  Don’t leave me!  Please!”  I heard someone crying nearby and turned to see Emily covering her face, sobbing.  Then I realized that I was crying too.

“Come back to me, sweetheart!  Please!  Fran!  Don’t leave me!  FRAN!

A woman in the backyard to the right of Mrs. Pritchard’s ran out of her house with a cell phone in her hand and shouted, “I called 911!  Help’s on the way!”  Then I heard a siren in the distance as Mr. Pritchard collapsed beside his wife, crying uncontrollably.

Emily grabbed my hand and squeezed it.  “Get me out of here.”

I got my bike and we walked all the way out to the bridge.

* * *

We talked for a long time sitting in our spot under the bridge.  A couple hours, I guess.  Trying to figure out what it all meant.  Unable to make sense of any of it.

I told Emily about Mrs. Pritchard saying she was in a room and started telling her about how I felt the same thing when I drowned.  “I know,” she stopped me.  “I read your journal.”

“All of it?”

“Yes.”

I thought about the stuff I’d written about her and seeing Lara’s breast and everything and flinched.  If it was a different situation, it would’ve bothered me.  With everything that happened, though, I decided to let it go.

“How could Mrs. Pritchard appear to you like a half an hour before she died?” Emily asked.  “I mean, that isn’t possible.”

“I’ve been thinking about that too.  Maybe time doesn’t work the same after you die.  Maybe it isn’t linear like it is for us.”

“So you can jump around in time after you die; travel to the past and the future?”

“Maybe.  I don’t know.”

“Do you think you can control it?” she asked.  “Like, decide, ‘today I’m going back five years and see myself when I was in grade school?’”

“I don’t know.”

“Or maybe go back like a thousand years, or back to when there were dinosaurs?”

“Maybe.  No way to know for sure.”

We were silent for a long time.

“I wonder if there’s something I’m supposed to do about all this,” I said.

“Do?” she asked.  “What could you do about it?”

“I don’t know.  But, I mean, it has to be happening for a reason.”

“Even if it is, there isn’t anything you can do about it.”

“I guess.”

She put her head on my shoulder and we were quiet for a long time.  After a while, I noticed that her breathing became slow and steady.  I looked over at her and saw that she’d fallen asleep.  Her eyes were kind of puffy and a little red from crying but, to me, she looked beautiful again.

SAME DAY, 10:10 P.M.

Dinner was a mess.  We were eating and everything was fine then Amy says out of the blue, “Did they find Daddy yet, Mommy?”  I gave her a dirty look, but I don’t think she saw me.  Which I’m kind of glad of because she just wanted to know and besides, she didn’t know it would upset Mom so much.  But boy did it.

“No, honey.  Not yet,” was all Mom got out before she broke down and ran to her room.  We could hear her crying from the kitchen even though she shut her bedroom door.

“What’s wrong?” Amy asked.

“It’s okay,” I said.  “She’s just unhappy about Dad.”

“I am too.”

“So am I.”

“What will happen when they find Daddy?”

I sighed.  “We’ll go back to California for a few days and have a funeral for him.” I lied.  “Everyone who knew him will be there.  It’ll be nice.”  But I knew it wasn’t true.

I looked on the internet and found out that by now the fish have eaten all of Dads flesh and organs and everything and left just his bones, which are scattered around on the bottom of the ocean because the fish have eaten the cartilage and other connective tissue by now.  They had photos of bodies that went through part of that process.  I don’t want to see them again.

I’m not really that sad about Dad and the fish and everything.  I mean, I wish he was still alive, but if he isn’t, it doesn’t really matter where he is.  Especially because of what he said about how our bodies are recycled and our atoms become part of everything.  The way I see it, if his flesh has been eaten by fish, he’s already started the recycle process.  Maybe I should think that’s gross, but I don’t.  I mean, who knows?  In a couple of years, maybe I’ll look at a cloud or a tree or something and part of it will be Dad.  It’s almost like part of him is already around me.  I like that.  Like Dad said, the idea is beautiful and elegant if you understand it.  And way better than any of the stories from our religious books.

MONDAY, AUGUST 25TH, 11:50 A.M.

Emily just called and said her father called from his office.  They’re going to the Upper Peninsula for a few days because he has to go look at some land that he’s been hired to design a building for.  They’re going to make a vacation out of it, too, since school is starting up in a few days and this is their last chance this summer.  They’re leaving right after lunch.

Shit.  No… double-shit!

Mom’s in a better mood today.  Amy didn’t say much at breakfast.  I think she’s afraid she’ll say something to upset Mom again.

I was thinking of asking Amy if she wants to ride our bikes out to the waterfall today.  She hasn’t been out there yet and I know she’s going to like it.  We might even take our bathing suits.  The pool at the base of the waterfall is only about three feet deep and it’s supposed to get into the nineties today.

Think I’ll stick around home a little while longer and make sure Mom’s okay before I bring it up though.

SAME DAY, 3:40 P.M.

Amy and I went out to the waterfall after lunch and swam in the pool.  It was really hot out; especially after riding our bikes all the way there in the hot sun.  The water felt cold at first, but we got used to it.  Amy’s always been a good swimmer.

I was nervous about getting in the water after what happened the day Dad died, but the deepest part of the pool only goes up to my ribs, so it was okay.

After a while, Amy stopped swimming, looked behind me and said, “Oh, look!”

Not again, I thought; sure that another dead person wanted to talk to me.  Then I remembered that Amy couldn’t see or hear Mrs. Pritchard in our backyard yesterday, so I turned around and saw two deer standing a few feet away from the pool.  I think they were there to get a drink, but they didn’t want to chance it with us in the water.  We stared at each other for a couple of minutes then they walked off into the woods.

I’ve never seen wild deer before.  They’re beautiful.

SAME DAY, 9:50 P.M.

Emily just texted me and said they’re staying at an awesome hotel with a pool and a view of Lake Superior.  She and her brothers went swimming before and after dinner and they met some cool kids from Chicago.

any visitors since i left? She texted.  She meant dead people.

none

goodkeep your cell on – i’ll text you tomorrow.

k

I was thinking about telling Mom about the people who have appeared to me or whatever, but I don’t think I’m going to.  I mean, she’s already worried that I’ve been acting out and had me talk to Mr. Burke and everything.  I don’t want her to think I’m going crazy, which I was worried about myself until Emily saw the evidence and realized it’s all true.  Besides, even if Mom believed me, there isn’t anything she could do about it.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 26TH, 1:05 A.M.

Can’t sleep.

I had a dream that bothers me for some reason.  I’ve had it every night since the baby came to my room.  It’s not a nightmare or anything, and it doesn’t involve any of the people who have appeared to me lately, but it’s upsetting and I’m not ready to write about it yet.

Anyway, I woke up from the dream and turned my light on about an hour ago and got Dad’s science book out of my nightstand drawer.

A few days after he died, I went into our basement back in California and opened Dad’s suitcase.  It’s filled with stuff from when he was a kid; even stuff from when he was in college.  I found a textbook called Basic Science, looked through it and found a lot of sections Dad had highlighted with a yellow highlighter and a bunch more he’d underlined with a blue ink pen.  He’d written a lot of notes in the margins with the same blue pen.  Most of his notes are just regular notes, but some are funny.

In the section I read tonight, about how our sun is going to become a red giant in about five billion years then explode and destroy the whole solar system, including Earth, Dad wrote, Better build a ship!

I flipped back to the back-inside cover and looked at the drawing he did of a naked woman.  Her legs are crossed, so you can’t see anything down there, but her boobs are really big.  Bigger than any boobs I’ve ever seen.  And they’re perfect!  I didn’t know Dad could draw until I saw that.

I’m reading all of the passages Dad highlighted and underlined in the book, starting from the front.  I’m about a third of the way though so far, but I don’t read from it every day.  Mostly just when I miss Dad.  I like to look at his handwriting and hold the book, knowing that he touched it a lot of times just like the way I touch it when I hold it to read it.  It’s probably my imagination, but when I smell the book, it smells like Dad.

I was just thinking about what I read about the sun exploding and destroying the Earth.  Dad was right… we better build a ship.  It’s hard to imagine that the Earth will be destroyed.  Not just the planet, but everything on it, too – including people.  I mean, people work so hard to make their lives happy, keep their kids safe and make sure they grow up to be good people and everything.  And you think about the advances we’ve made with technology and the arts and all the rest.  All that, and someday it will all be turned to dust.  Dust that’ll be blasted into space and scatter billions of miles around the universe.  Makes you wonder.

It reminds me of a conversation Dad and I had about a year ago about how brief our lives are and how it’s okay that there is no ‘larger meaning,’ he called it.  He said he liked that we live a few decades, then die.  When he was growing up, there was a church and private school at the end of his street he lived on, so a lot of his friends were religious because their parents lived on the street so the church and school would be near where they lived.  Dad’s friends would talk about how when they die, they’re going to heaven to serve God forever.

“Isn’t that an awful thought?” he asked me.  “Living forever and ever?  Never dying?”

“Sound good to me,” I said.

“Not to me.  Imagine living forever, even in heaven.  Even if everything was perfect all the time.  Forever.  Not hundreds of thousands of days, not millions of days, not billions or trillions of days and years and centuries and millennia and beyond.  Forever.

“As it is now, we have a relative few days to live before we die.  Each day is precious.  Each day is meaningful and we owe it to ourselves to make it matter.  The clock is ticking and we can’t afford to waste any of our days because, someday, we’ll run out of days.  As it is, today matters.  Yesterday mattered.  Tomorrow matters.

“If we lived forever, time would lose its meaning.  The days would never end.  They wouldn’t matter.  After all, if I didn’t spend time with the people I love on a particular day; you and Amy, your mother, Uncle Dave and others, it wouldn’t matter.  There would be countless trillions of other days, and countless trillions beyond that.  That’s not the way I want to live.  I want the time I have to mean something.  Every day.”

“So time is the thing that gives life meaning?” I asked.

“No.  It’s the people we love that gives life meaning.  Time just helps remind us of that fact.”

I don’t know if I fully understand what Dad was talking about, but I know that I love Mom and Amy.  And I know that I loved Dad and miss him a lot.  And I hate to think what my life would be like if I didn’t have Mom and Amy in it with me.

Anyway, I keep Dad’s science book in my nightstand drawer.  I’m always going to have it near my bed everyday for the rest of my life.  That way, I’ll always be able to reach over and look at it, read from it, touch it, smell it, anytime I want.  It’ll be like having Dad nearby any time I want to feel like part of him is with me.

 

I wish Emily didn’t have to go with her family on vacation.  I’ve only known her a couple of days and I already miss her.

I wonder if this is how people feel when they’re in love.

SAME DAY, 7:00 A.M.

Aunt Janice just called and said Lara’s closing the bakery for the day and taking her employees to Lake Michigan for a beach party.  She does it every year at the end of the summer as a kind of a thank you for her employees.  Some of them will be going back to college in a couple of days, so she always has the party at the end of August before they go.  She said she doesn’t know why she didn’t think of inviting us sooner.

Mom says Lake Michigan, which is only about forty minutes away from Glasgow, is so big it looks like an ocean, but it’s fresh water.  She said there are these huge sand dunes and a beach a lot like the ones we had back home in California.

I’m a little nervous about being near Lake Michigan, but it’s okay; I just won’t go swimming.

Anyway, we’re meeting Aunt Janice and Lara and everybody at the bakery in a few minutes, then we’ll all drive out to the beach in our own cars.

I think this is going to be a cool day!

SAME DAY, 11:30 P.M.

What a day!  I don’t even know where to start.

We got to the beach about 8:30 a.m. and we helped Lara and her employees set up these huge tents and canopies on the beach.  Mom, Aunt Janice, Lara and a guy from the bakery built a giant pile of wood for the bonfire, which we didn’t light until after dark, and several other fires for cooking on the beach. The whole morning was like a military maneuver; like we were an army setting up camp.  By the time we got everything settled, it was almost lunchtime and Lara and the people from the bakery went into action, cooking hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, making salads and stuff.

After lunch, the temperature was in the eighties and the beach started filling up with people.  Mostly mothers with little kids, but some kids my age too.  I met some guys from a nearby town with skim boards and boogie boards and hung out with them for a while.  We had a blast!  They were pretty good at skim boarding, but I showed them up.  They were amazed at how good I was.  They had a million questions about living in California, the beaches and everything.

“What town did you say you moved to?” the one named Eli asked.

“Glasgow.”

“Isn’t that where some kid our age peed off a bridge in front of two girls?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said, as casual as I could.  “I think I heard about that.”

“Kid must’ve had some balls to do something like that.”

“Or at least a cock,” the tall one said.  Everybody laughed.

Then somebody said, “Let’s go boogie boarding!”

“You guys go ahead,” I said.  “I’m going to find my mom and sister and see what they’re up to.”

“Come on with us,” the one named Mike said.  “As good as you are with a skim board, you must be awesome with a boogie board.”

I looked out at the lake.  “I don’t think so, guys.”

“What’s the matter?” Mike asked.  “Chicken?”

I thought about just blowing them off, but I was hoping to hang out with them again after they finished boogie boarding, so I told them about how I drowned that day and about Dad and everything.  They were really cool about it.

“Dude, I’m really sorry about your dad,” Eli said.  “I can’t imagine what that’s like.”

“Sorry I called you a chicken,” Mike said.  “I didn’t mean it.”

“It’s okay.  You didn’t know.”

“See you when we get back?”

“I’ll be here.”

They boogie boarded for an hour or so, then we hung out the rest of the afternoon until they had to go home for dinner.

Dinner was amazing!  The fishermen who sell Lara the fish she cooks at the bakery delivered live fish to us right there on the beach, then they joined the party.  We had a fish boil, which I’ve never even heard of, but I guess they’re a big deal around here and over in Wisconsin.

What happens is, they light a fire under this huge kettle full of water on the beach and get the water boiling.  Then they add the fish, potatoes, carrots, onions, corn cobs and stuff to the kettle and boil it for about twenty minutes.  Then everyone gathers around and watches a guy from the bakery throw a saucepan full of kerosene on the fire under the kettle and, BOOM!, there’s this giant explosion, the kettle boils over and they take the food out, add a ton of butter and spices and stuff and then we eat.

I don’t think I’ve ever had such fresh food.  I can’t explain how good it was.  Eating under a deep blue summer sky, watching the sun start to set into the lake, being with Mom and Amy, Aunt Janice and Lara after having a great day with new friends.  It was just; perfect.  The kind of day you don’t want to end.  Then it got better.

I helped light the bonfire after it got dark.  A bunch of people who didn’t work at the bakery or anything joined our group around the fire.  Two guys brought guitars and everyone stood around the fire talking and singing.  I really liked one of the songs they played from like a million years ago called Under the Boardwalk.  I even sang along with that one, surprised that I knew all the words.  There were a few smaller fires on the beach with people sitting around them talking, laughing, kissing.  I remembered the Harvest Festival Emily told me about and wondered if there would be a hayride tonight, but there wasn’t.

All day long, I kept thinking about how much better it would have been if Emily had been there with me.  I keep picturing how the firelight would have looked reflected in her beautiful green eyes.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27TH, 2:50 A.M.

I had the dream again.  Can’t sleep.  I guess I’m ready to write about it now.

Like I said before, I remember the water filling my lungs the day I drowned, and struggling to reach the surface, and the feeling that there was a room around me and the room expanding; the walls and floor and ceiling moving away from me.  That’s how the dream that I’ve had every night for a week always starts.  Then it gets weird.

As the room continues to expand, I realize that I’m not alone in the room.  I look around and see things around me; trees, mountains, clouds, water.  No people or birds or fish or anything, just stuff.  Then the room is gone and I’m standing on this beach on an island.  I can see the mainland over the water a couple of miles away through the fog.  Like the island, the mainland is mountainous.  I’m wearing the same things I was wearing the day I drowned; a bathing suit and rash guard.  My lungs aren’t filled with water anymore.  I can breathe fine.

I look around and see that there are no footprints on the beach.  There are these strange twisted trees growing in the water not far from shore.  I don’t know why, but I’m sure the water is fresh, not salt like the ocean.  I can hear this; I don’t know.  It isn’t music exactly.  More like the sound a bell makes after you strike it, but not the strike itself.  Like the sound you hear when someone rubs their wet fingers over the rim of a glass of water.  Only there’s more than one of the sounds all the time, ringing in harmony with the other.  And they change pitch every few seconds, always staying in perfect harmony.  I consider calling out to someone.  Dad, maybe?  But I think it might not be a good idea to call attention to myself.

Then I see these giant flower blossoms kind of floating-flying slowly over the island and water.  There are dozens of them everywhere.  They’re like ten or twelve feet long, with their petals all closed, so they’re shaped kind of like horizontal teardrops, in all different colors.  They’re like fifteen feet off the ground or water, flying perfectly silently.  For some reason, I feel that they are aware of me; that they know I’m there.  And it feels like they’re flying around with a purpose, each going its own direction.

Then the music sound stops and one of the flower bud things floats over the water toward me.  It points it’s closed end toward me, maybe fifty feet away from the shore.  Then it opens these three outer petals, revealing three more closed petals inside.  Some of the ends of the petals have yellow-gold around the edges.  I feel afraid.  Don’t know why.  I can see that something is moving inside the closed petals.  Something alive. Then the three inner petals open up and I see an eye in the middle of the blossom, looking at me.  It definitely knows I’m there.  It extends the bottom inner petal out toward me and cups the petal, making a kind of a hammock shape.  I don’t know how I know it, but I’m sure the flower thing wants me to climb into the petal.  Just as I realize that, the flower thing starts to float closer to me.  Closer and closer.  Extending the cupped petal toward me, inviting me to climb inside.  I think about the Venus Flytraps I’ve seen kill flies and I try to run, but I can’t.  My feet are like glued to the beach as the flower thing comes closer and closer.  It gets close enough that I feel coldness where it casts a shadow on my bare legs.  The eye looks at me as if it’s trying to tell me something, but I don’t understand what it’s trying to say.  Closer.  Closer.  The cupped petal is reaching as far as it can now.  One of the side petals curls toward me and brushes against my cheek.  It’s cold as ice.  Then I hear the flower thing sigh this horrible obscene sigh.

Then I wake up.

It always ends the same way.  I always feel terrified when I wake up; breathing hard, sweating, heart pounding, wanting to scream.

I can’t help thinking about the way Mr. Patterson and Mrs. Pritchard kind of disappeared from the inside out, like an invisible fist closing around them.  Or and invisible flower closing its petals, trapping them inside.

I don’t know why I think it, but I always have the feeling that the flower things are evil.  And they may have something to do with Dad.

 

Before I went to sleep a couple of hours ago, before I had the dream, I got out Dad’s science book and read a section about how the universe is dying.  Scientists call it entropy.  It talks about how the universe always goes from order to disorder and it’s happening everywhere all the time.

A long time from now, entropy will bring the universe to an end.  All of it.  It won’t be for more billions of years than anyone can imagine, but it’s happening and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.  All the planets, all the stars, all the solar systems, galaxies and everything will just fall apart just like the molecules of our bodies disassemble after we die, except even the atoms will break apart at the end of the universe.  Eventually, there will be nothing left but some black holes and a few particles of light called photons floating aimlessly through empty space.  And that will be it.  Everything gone.  Forever.

Dad wrote bummer in the margin at the end of this section in his science book.  I can’t say I disagree.  The end of everything is the ultimate bummer.  But no one will be there to let it bother them.

 

Emily texted me before I went to sleep last night and said she’s coming home tomorrow, which is now today!  They’re leaving in the morning and should be home before dinner.

I answered her with, good – i really want to see u

me too, she texted back, i’ll text u when I get home

I felt butterflies in my stomach when I read, me too.  Is it possible that she likes me as much as I like her?

SAME DAY, 5:05 A.M.

“We’ve had a pretty good life.”

The voice wasn’t unfamiliar this time.  I knew it.  Too well.

I opened my eyes and saw myself standing in my bedroom looking back at me.  The other me was wearing the same boxers I was and had the same old scar on his left shoulder that I have.  His eyes were welling with tears, just like mine.

“I don’t know what to say,” I said.

“Same here.”

He looked around our room and kind of sighed.  “What do we do?”

“I don’t think there’s anything we can do.”

We were both whispering; trying not to wake Mom or Amy.

“Do you think we’ll see Dad again?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”  His voice cracked.  He started to cry at the same time I did.  I stood up and stepped in front of him.  We hugged a hard, desperate hug.  He felt warm.

“I wish we could have seen Emily again,” he said.

“Me too.  I think I love her.”

We held each other and cried for a couple of minutes.

“The others weren’t unhappy like this,” I said.  “I mean, they seemed happy.  Like everything was okay with them.”

“They didn’t know.”

I realized he was right.  They all seemed to suspect that they were passing on, but they didn’t know for sure.

“Not much more time,” he said.

“Yeah.”

Then he folded in on himself, like the others, and was gone.

Mom will be up in about an hour.  I don’t want her or Amy to be the ones who find me.  I’m guessing I have about thirty minutes left.

I’m going to email this journal to Emily in a minute.

I don’t know what to write; how to make sense of all of this.  I don’t know why the people came to me as they passed over.  I wish I knew.  I guess life isn’t like a story in a book where everything is all wrapped up neat and tidy at the end.  It seems that it comes at us from all angles and we just have to deal with it as it happens.       It doesn’t really mean anything in the end.  Like Dad said, it’s the people we love and who love us that gives life meaning.

I keep thinking about how Emily said that Glasgow is on the forty-fifth parallel; half way between the equator and the north pole.  I think maybe I’ve been somewhere between life and death since the day I drowned.  Maybe that’s why the people came to me on the days they died; because I’d been there already.  I don’t think I helped them on their way, though.  I just listened to them.  But they seemed happy, so maybe just talking to me helped.

I don’t know how to end this.  Feel like I should have something profound to say, but I don’t.  I feel bad about how me leaving will be for Mom and Amy.  I hope they make it through okay.

I’m thinking about what Mr. Peterson said just before he went; “Make sure the people you love know that you love them, all the rest of your life.”  I’m sure Mom and Amy know I love them.  I’m sure Dad knew it.  I even think that Noah and the guys back in California knew.

I just wish I’d told Emily.

Emily, when you read this; please know that I loved you.

Post Script, by Emily Harold, Sunday, August 31st, 11:30 A.M.

Dylan’s funeral is at two o’clock today.  I didn’t really want to go, but Mom says I’ll regret it all my life if I don’t.  She said it’s up to me if I go or not.  Dad said he’ll stay with me and hold my hand all the time we’re there if I want him to.  I haven’t told them yet, but I’ve decided to go.

I got Dylan’s journal in my email as soon as we got home.  I’ve read it every day since then.  I’ve never cried so much in my life.

A neighbor told my mom that Mr. Waverly found Dylan’s body the morning he died.  I went to the Gazette office and asked Mr. Waverly to tell me about it.

“It was raining something awful that morning.  I got up and looked out the window and saw your friend sitting on the bench across the street in front of the bakery.  His bike was parked on the sidewalk beside him.  It didn’t look right, so I grabbed my umbrella and went out to see what he was doing.

“He was dead, of course, when I got there.  I can’t tell you how sorry I am, Emily.  He seemed like a wonderful young man.

“Anyway, I didn’t have my cell phone, so I came back up here to the office and called Sheriff Mueller.  He was out on the highway at a traffic accident.  Said he’d call the coroner and be here as soon as he could.

“It didn’t seem right to just leave young Dylan out on that bench alone in the rain, so I grabbed another umbrella and went out and sat with him until the coroner arrived.  I held an umbrella over him to keep the rain off him.

“I haven’t told anybody this, Emily, but your friend looked all right.  I mean, I can’t say he looked happy, but he looked – I don’t know – content, I guess I’d say.  Like he understood what was happening and had come to terms with it.

“Coroner says Dylan died of a brain aneurysm.  No pain.  Very fast.  I guess we can be grateful for that.”

I tried to thank Mr. Waverly, but I was crying too hard to talk.

“I don’t know what else to tell you, Emily,” he said.  “Except that I’m sorry.  So sorry.”

I reached out to him and he took me in his arms.  We hugged for a long time; crying together in the Gazette office.

 

I think Dylan wanted Mr. Waverly to find him.  That’s why he went to the bench in front of the bakery – it’s right across the street from Mr. Waverly’s.  I told Dylan the day we went to the Gazette office that Mr. Waverly was the only person who still lived in one of the apartments above the stores downtown.  I think Dylan liked Mr. Waverly and trusted that he’d know what to do if he was the first person to find him.

Same Day, Later

Dylan’s funeral was beautiful.  I never saw so many flowers.  It seems like most of the town was there.  I was worried that no one would be there because Dylan and his mom and Amy just moved here recently.

Dylan’s aunt and Lara were there, so were his uncle and two boys who were Dylan’s friends from California.

Dylan’s mom seemed okay but Amy was a mess.  All she did was cry.  I think it might have been easier for her if she couldn’t see Dylan.  On the way home, Dad said we’re going to invite Dylan’s mom and Amy over for dinner next week.  He said it might be nice for Amy to meet my brothers, who are close to her age, because she doesn’t have any friends here.  Mom said Amy lost her big brother, so it might be nice if I try to get close to Amy too.  I was way ahead of Mom on that one though.  I plan to be a part of Amy’s life for as long as I can – until I move away to college or get married, I hope.  She’s going to need someone – and it will probably help Mrs. Ellis too.

I couldn’t get close to Dylan and the casket until the end – after the service – when everyone kind of formed a line and walked by the casket.  I told Mom I couldn’t do it and she said it was okay – I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to.  Then, when the line was almost at the end, I ran over and joined the others.  I guess I realized that it would be my last chance to see him.

When I got to the casket, I was crying.  Dylan looked beautiful.  There were flowers all around him and Amy had put her favorite stuffed giraffe in the casket next to him to keep him company.  I stood there and looked at him for a long time.  I didn’t say anything.  But I thought about what he’d written in his journal about how love is the thing that gives our lives meaning.

 

I’m happy that I met Dylan and that I helped him feel that his life had meaning.  And I’m glad I learned what Dylan’s father said about how our bodies become part of everything after we die.  I like that.  It’s sad to think that I’ll never see Dylan again, but I like that we’ll be together as part of everything, everywhere, after I die.  And we’ll be together that way forever.

I mean, how cool is that?

 

 

Steve Hodge, an award winning, anthologized, internationally published poet, is the editor of Prune Juice senryu journal and an assistant editor at the Living Senryu Anthology.  Anyone interested in fifties-style low budget giant bug movies can check out the feature film, Mosquito, which Steve co-wrote.  Steve Lives in White Lake, Michigan.

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