My final spooky short story is entitled “The Tear.” I chose this particular story as the last because outside of being a tale steeped in the paranormal, it is a story about hope. Even in the darkest of times, when circumstances appear insurmountable, there is always the hope for new beginnings — a message that I feel is timely and essential, always. I hope you enjoy!!
Walking in this world on shards of glass.
Trying to evade the pain,
wondering what you are doing here
And it’s that question that is in need of an answer,
Because you’ll be leaving soon,
And all the whys are just singing in your ears,
like echoes that won’t quiet.
She closed her fat little book. That’s what they called it where she bought it — a fat little book, now being filled with fat little nothings that she was writing.
“Ah, you look unsatisfied.” She took off her sunglasses and smiled up at a friendly face. She hadn’t seen him approach the park bench that had been her custom to settle on every afternoon. Here, perhaps foolishly, she was trying to create something lasting for posterity — sometimes writing, sometimes sketching, or taking photographs. But none of it seemed to accomplish what she wanted. It simply wasn’t enough.
“Well, I guess I just don’t have what it takes to be a great poet.”
He sat down next to her. “It depends on what you term great. Most poets aren’t genius. They just find a moment that inspires them, moves them to tap into the finest part of themselves.”
“And if that moment never arrives?”
“Then have a nice cafe au lait instead, and don’t worry about it very much. These things can’t be forced.”
She laughed. He had a curious blasé manner that lifted her spirits, when often nothing else could. “But I could miss my inspiring moment, while I’m wasting time having that cafe au lait,” she teasingly retorted.
“Ah well, my dear, you must realize that enjoying yourself is never a waste of time,” and then he reached down and warmly squeezed her hand. And the anxiousness that she lived with, and quite frankly cultivated on a daily basis, slipped away unnoticed. He stood up, “Shall we?”
She rose to walk with him. Since she had met him in the park two weeks ago, she had never been able to, or perhaps been willing to, say no to the mysterious, engaging gentleman. A year ago, she would have treated this man who had befriended her with suspicion or at least a measure of caution. But there wasn’t time to be guarded now. She needed to experience and absorb everything that came her way. There was absolutely no time for second-guessing, only time to soak up what each experience had to offer.
It is unreal at times, listening to him speak to me with such ease, as though we have been long acquaintances. His voice is soothing, captivating, eliciting a peace that I find impossible to find elsewhere. Being in his company is like being drawn into that quiet sleep unawares. Am I being seduced into forgetting, into not resisting what is to come?
She sipped her overly hot coffee while he flipped through her notebook. It was crammed full of thoughts, impressions, and small sketches — a wealth of material that in most moments spoke to her of tedium and frustration. Letting him look at it might very well send him running off for higher ground somewhere, but she didn’t really care. Life’s incessant turns had left her stripped down of inhibitions, of any small worries. There were far too many larger ones looming close.
Glancing out of the large, picture window beside their table she noticed across the street, several buses had pulled in front of a school. The young girls dressed in their crisp white blouses and plaid skirts took her back for a moment to her endless days in private schools. It seemed so very far away now.
Resurfacing to the present she found his dark eyes watching her, studying her, “And you did not like school so much?”
She picked up the mug and took a sip of coffee. It had cooled to a tolerable level, “No, not very much, I guess I’ve always felt like I didn’t fit in. And school is the worst place for that, because there is no running away. Fitting in is not only essential, it is a necessity for survival.”
Nodding slightly as though in understanding, he closed the notebook, “You are too hard on yourself. You are gifted. The writing is strong but dark and very sad.” He slid the notebook across the table to her, and there was an instant of contact as she picked it up. She smiled at him, not knowing how to respond.
She was struck again at how handsome a man he was. His eyes were a dark brown shade and his hair very black but touched by grey on the sides. His bone structure was strong, almost carved looking — classical, as her mother would say — a classical European. As a child, the image of what exactly a classical European was had eluded her. After all, Europe was a mish mash of different countries. But now, she believed she could safely categorize this man as such. It had something to do with old-world mystery and a strong but refined look. It was something that you just didn’t see here in the states, or she hadn’t at any rate. But she was not really a good judge. Her experience with the other sex was limited. Her mother was much more a connoisseur of men than she had ever been. For Moira there had been the one mistake — one emotionally catastrophic marriage. And then, she’d taken time to heal, too damn much wasted time. “Tell me something. Why do you look so sad when you think about your past?”
Quite expertly, he drew her out of her morbid reflections, “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I haven’t known that much happiness. Much of my past feels depressing to me now.” She didn’t bother to cover with him. Their brief acquaintance had taught her how extraordinarily perceptive he was.
He looked out the window at the masses of teenagers pouring out of the school, and then there was a wistful smile. “I suppose we get into the habit of interpreting things a certain way. It’s really all a matter of perception.”
She smiled thoughtfully, “Oh, you are of the make lemonade philosophy.”
“Well, I suppose you might say that, as long as it keeps that smile on your face.”
“And are you taking care of yourself Moira? Are you sure you’re all right in that house all alone. You know you could move in with Roger and me.”
Even the momentary thought of living with her mother and her latest husband in that big drafty house on Napoleon Avenue gave her a sensation of claustrophobic panic. “No, really, I like it here Mom.”
“But baby you’re alone, what if, what if —”
“Mom, I told you I’m feeling fine. The doctors say I’m stable, and I truly need to be by myself right now.”
There was silence at the other end, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, yes, I know where to find you when I need you,” More silence, even in the whirl of her largely superficial existence Christina Redford had a sense of things, especially when it came to her daughter.
“Baby, let me help.”
“Mom, just give me some time. That will help.”
“Oh, do you still see that man, the foreign one? You know the one you met at the park.”
“Yes, I do every once and awhile.”
“What was his name again?”
“Jean, his name is Jean.”
Lying, lying to everyone.
Is that what it all boils down to?
She died, and she had lied to everyone.
“Are you all right?” She looked down at the cracks in the cement sidewalk beneath her feet. Her vision blurred for a moment, and then a strong arm linked beneath hers to prop her up.
It was a fight to catch her breath. She was stupid to be out, after this morning’s treatment. She was too drained to be out in the heat. But she couldn’t stop herself from going to the park. He was waiting for her there, just as she knew he would be. “We can stop, Moira.”
She nodded, too tired to respond. He pulled her toward a stone bench, and she gratefully dropped down to it. “You went to the doctor today.”
She smiled at him, “Yes, I did.”
“I see,” and he looked away from her. “Why did you come here? You are too ill.”
“It will pass,”
And then she felt him put his arm around her and pull her closer. “Yes, I promise. It will pass.”
These moments we share, they seem so removed to me, as though real life has already slipped away.
He had taken her home, to her small two-bedroom house on the corner of Canal Street that she had rented only a few months before. She watched as he put the keys into the heavy wrought iron gate that surrounded the front patio. In moments, they were in the den, the largest room in the house with its large picture window looking out onto the street in front of it. She actually liked being so close to a main traffic route, where life with consistency continued to go on daily.
She sank onto the sofa and nodded as Jean murmured something about getting her a cup of tea. Closing her eyes, she let the pure flood of fatigue take her.
“Why this house Moira?” her mother had asked. “Just the noise of the traffic on that busy street will stop you from getting any rest.” But it hadn’t. It had been a comfort to her. She had always liked living right in the midst of activity, and now that it was all ending, she preferred not to have things any different.
The sleep is heavy, dragging me along somewhere. The weight on my chest feels so heavy, as though it will plunge through me.
When Moira awoke, her body felt different. The sluggish heaviness that had seemed to enmesh her for so long seemed remarkably lightened now. Her very breathing came easier. Sitting up, she felt a distinct chill in the air and then, in the same thought, detected the unmistakable aroma of burning wood. Across the den was Jean kneeling next to the fireplace that had been unused since she moved in. She rubbed her head. The headache was gone, but there was a slight feeling of disorientation in its place. “Lay back and rest. I’ll have this done in a minute,” he called to her, not even turning around to see that she had indeed gotten up. “Use that throw on the couch to cover up until I get the chill out of the room. The heater here isn’t working too well.”
She did lean back and pull the dark green woven afghan around her. And then, as reason slowly began to filter in, she wondered why it was so cold now. It had been almost balmy outside earlier. New Orleans only seemed to catch a substantial chill in the dead of winter and right now it was early May. And then, as her eyes casually began to scan the room, she abruptly froze on the spot. Her mild bewilderment now exploded into tremendous proportions. This was indeed her house, but that was the end of it. Nothing beyond that was the same.
She sat up and rubbed her eyes, beginning to take inventory. Her television was gone, and in its place a short light-wooded bookstand. There was a small dinette set across the room that she had never laid eyes on and what looked to be a computer desk against the wall. Then she looked down at the sofa she laid on that wasn’t her old blue overstuffed couch but a tan rustic looking piece that, “Where’s my stuff?” The words flew out of her mouth.
It was then that he stood up from the fireplace and turned toward her smiling, “I think that will do it.” She took a sharp breath. It certainly was Jean, but even he was noticeably transformed. His hair was longer. He wasn’t clean-shaven, as he’d been earlier. There was several days’ growth on his face, and his clothes were different. When she had gone to sleep, he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt with a pair of dark pants. Now he stood before her in a beige pullover sweater and blue jeans.
This time she whispered to him shakily, “What’s going on? Where’s all my stuff?”
He smiled gently, “Are you warm enough?”
She pulled the throw more tightly around her. Then, looking down at it, realized that this too was not hers, “I — what the hell is going on?”
Sitting beside her on the couch, he quietly took her hand in his. “It’s all right Moira. This is not what you think. Just think of it as a dream.”
Her eyes widened, “A dream? You can’t be serious.”
“Well, that is all I can say for now. Why don’t you lay back and relax? Dinner is almost ready.”
She didn’t resist as his hands calmly but firmly pushed her back to a reclining position on the sofa, “Wait a minute now. I have to tell you that this doesn’t feel like any dream I’ve ever had.”
His hands were smoothing her hair now, like he was comforting an upset child. “Don’t try so hard to figure everything out right now. Relax and enjoy.” His eyes were so gentle, “Sleep.”
She closed her eyes as though unable or unwilling to resist his suggestion. Sighing deeply, she murmured, “I thought I was sleeping.” And then there was stillness.
When she awoke, she found herself still within the dream. Jean was no longer in the room, but the fire was blazing warmly and comfortably. There was a glass of red wine sitting on the coffee table beside her. She picked it up and took a sip. It was cool on her lips. And in that instant, she decided not to fight this anymore. It was as though she were under a spell, compelling her not to resist what this moment was offering her. She felt drowsy and relaxed. She rose and let herself meander across the room, studying its strangeness. As her eyes took in all its details, she realized that for some reason it now offered more comfort to her than when it was filled with her things.
For some time, she had felt her furnishings to be oddly tainted, as though there was a history of anxiety stuffed deep within all her possessions. Most of them had traveled with her through her disastrous marriage. She had considered dumping everything and starting fresh. But that fresh start had become indefinitely postponed, and then ultimately scraped when she became ill.
“I’m glad you found it.”
She turned toward the sound of his voice and found Jean standing in the doorway of the kitchen. “Well, I hoped it was mine,” glancing briefly down at the glass of wine in her hand.
Then he moved toward her, “If it wasn’t, I’m sure it would have taken little provocation for me to give it to you. Everything is almost ready. I hope you like fish.”
“Yes, but I thought that went with white wine.”
“Well, as they say overseas, anything goes in America.”
“Is that what they say?”
Smiling, he ushered toward the small wooden dining table that was now fully set, with a single white rose in the center, “A young country allows a lot of flexibility from tradition.”
She sat down in the chair that he had pulled out for her, “And this is good?”
“That does depend on who you are talking to.”
Taking in the setting, she whispered, “Everything is lovely.” She let her hand lightly brush the petals of the flower, “You’ve gone to a lot of trouble.” And then she felt him lean over and lightly brush the top of her head with a kiss.
“I’ve been planning this for some time. I’ll be right back.” He disappeared into the kitchen, leaving her wondering, but swirling in the contentment that was blooming inside her.
The fire was becoming embers as Moira sat on the couch, watching quietly as Jean tried to resurrect it. She sipped her coffee from the white, ceramic mug that she did not own, feeling contentment in the fact that she was unconcerned by it all. Dinner had been light, filled with smiles, and witty talk. She found him more relaxed than the other times that they had met in the park. It was as though now he was in his element, though precisely what that element was she didn’t let her mind wander to seek. He had told her it was a dream, and she was buying it. The fact that none of this was real had ceased to bother her. So what if she was losing it. What was so darned important in her life, in her mind, that she couldn’t afford to just let slip away?
The flames before them finally managed to reemerge. Being successful in his task, Jean left his work at the fireplace and joined her on the couch that she still did not recognize but was becoming increasingly fond of. “I think I’ve prolonged its life a bit,” he remarked, picking up his mug of coffee that was resting beside hers on the table.
“I’m sure it’s enough to fight back the chill, although I still don’t get this cold weather in the spring. Or has the world just turned upside down?”
He nodded, “Perhaps, it would not be so terrible if our little corner of it is comfortable.”
She laughed instinctively, “Yes, my mother has always said that Europeans are more concerned with their recreation than anything else.”
“Oh, and she has made such a broad study to draw this conclusion.”
“Well, of course she has. She has met at least one, and that is enough for her to pronounce a judgment.”
“She sounds like an interesting woman.”
“She is colorful anyway, not like her daughter.”
He sipped his coffee, momentarily focusing on the mutating firelight. “And what does that cryptic statement mean?” he murmured.
She leaned back on the couch frowning, letting herself speak without caution. After all, if it was just a dream, there was no accountability here. No reason to shroud the truth in tactfulness. “Mom has always been very flamboyant and aggressive about her life. She’s had several husbands, probably more lovers than I know about, has traveled, seen things, and does not second guess herself the way—”
He filled in quietly, “The way that Moira does.”
“Well, I suppose it is predictable that such a mother could only produce an inhibited, cautious, conservative little thing that couldn’t run fast enough to get out of her mother’s shadow.”
“Predictable, that’s interesting. I don’t find you in the least predictable. So, this pathetic description is truly how you see yourself?”
She supposed she should bristle at his comments, but she felt so relaxed and peaceful that she didn’t feel like it. “At times,” she sighed deeply, feeling any concern for anything in particular slipping away.
“It’s a pity, that people spend so much time in self, how can I put it, mutilation.”
“Mutilation? Hmm, is that what you’d call it?”
He’d picked up at her hand and seemed a bit stern at the moment for some odd reason. “No, what I think is that what you call inhibited and cautious, I call sensitive and intuitive. What you find conservative, I see as thoughtful and caring of others. Being aggressive about life isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes it’s just callous. When you are so anxious to reach something, you often miss the journey, the beauty around you, and your successes are without depth, without substance. So much is missed that can’t be recovered.”
His hand felt very warm around hers. She tried to consider his words. “I see your point. I am afraid of that, that I’ve missed too much and now.”
“But Moira, being afraid is a waste of time too. Too much time is lost in fear.”
She bent her head down and whispered, “What’s going on here? Am I really dreaming all of this?” And then she felt his hand caressing her cheek.
“Can I ask you just to trust me for a little while?”
She looked up into his face, such soft dark eyes, “I suppose.”
He smiled, “But it’s not easy.”
She shook her head. “I haven’t been the trusting type.”
“Then it’s time for a change, yes?”
And before she answered his lips were on hers, kissing her, and he was pulling her into a warm embrace that made her forget all the questions that were floating around in her mind.
The heat was unbearable. She felt like she was being drowned in the thick humidity. The sleep was exhausting and smothering.
She awoke from the dream drenched in her own sweat. She was lying on the couch, her own couch, and it was night-time. Her watch read eleven’ o’clock at night to be exact. And every inch of her body ached, as though she had just run several miles. Her stomach rumbled with the familiar nausea of the treatment from earlier that afternoon. Forcing herself to get up, she stripped her damp clothes away as she stumbled to the shower. It took a moment, but the cool water hitting her body began to revive her. The images in her mind were blurry, but she remembered his touch — being held close and being kissed. He had kissed her with passion, and she returned it. After that she recalled no more.
It must have been a dream, perhaps brought on by the powerful pain medicine the doctor had given her. Because beyond that she could find no rational explanation. Anything else was simply not possible.
“What’s the matter with you Moira?”
“I told you Mom. I’m just feeling a little tired.”
“You know. It’s been nearly a week since I’ve seen you. Honey, I’m really beginning to worry about you — the way you’re cutting yourself off from everyone.”
“Really, I’m not. In fact, Jean cooked me dinner last night.”
“Really? He did. You didn’t mention that.”
“Well, it was spur of the moment,” she breathed out deeply, stupid, stupid to bring this up.
“Oh where did—”
“Here, he fixed it here.”
Then there was a silence. “I’m glad you aren’t just staying in that house all alone.”
“No Mom, I’m not alone.”
Where am I Going? I feel so disconnected as though I am not resisting anything now.
“Am I privy to your thoughts today?”
She looked up from her writing. It was Jean, looking as he usually did — his hair short, clean-shaven, not at all like the dream. “I don’t know if they’re worth looking at really.” He sat beside her on the park bench, where she had come to sit only moments earlier. His timing in finding her was always remarkable. She’d never given it much thought, that was until today.
“I won’t push, some things should remain private. You look as though you are feeling a little better today Moira.”
She smiled, now vigorously debating with herself, whether or not to bring it up. And then, he took her hand in his and squeezed it in his own. It was something that he’d done before, but now oddly felt much more intimate and familiar. “I wanted to tell you something.”
“Yes,” but his eyes were looking forward, watching the young children playing on the swing set before him with great pleasure. There was the trace of a smile on his face. “Look at them Moira. This is life being played out in front of you. Now, this moment, they don’t worry about the future or carry pain with them from the past. They are simply enjoying what is. That is what we forget to do when we become tied to the world.”
And then she let her eyes follow his and travel to what was in front of her. She watched one little girl playing. She wore a short off-white dress with leggings underneath. Running around the swing set like a hellion, her neatly bound hair was becoming unraveled and her pretty lacy leggings getting smudged with dirt as she tumbled on the ground with her playmate. But her face was beautiful. It was lit up with joy and abandon. And Moira felt herself smiling with her. It must be wondrous to be so happy, not worried, not being cautious or regretful, just being. She felt his hand on her knee, “You see. It’s not so hard to be happy. Let them be your teachers.”
And she spoke low, “Was it a dream?”
“It was whatever you wish it to be.”
Winding down the Path, where it ends is not possible to know.
“Where are we going?”
“For a drive around the city, just lean back and rest.” They had walked to his car, which she had never seen before. It was parked on a side street not very far from her house. It was a beige car, some sort of sedan. The day outside, when she had headed to the park, had seemed very hot, but that had lessened. There was almost a breeze now. She didn’t question it. She just leaned back against the soft upholstery and let herself drift into a light sleep. The last thing that she felt was his hand softly brushing against her cheek as the car headed down the narrow, well-traveled roads behind her house.
Her eyes opened and a shiver passed through her. “Are you cold?” he asked.
She rubbed her arms, feeling goose bumps all over them. “Yes, I guess I am.”
“I have a sweater for you in the back seat.”
She turned and saw an ecru colored sweater lying on the seat behind her. She drew it to her, feeling its softness and noting the delicate craftsmanship that went into its making. “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s a gift.”
Her eyes focused onto Jean, and it struck her immediately. He was different again. “Oh God.”
He smiled, “You like books, don’t you?”
“That’s where we’re headed, to a book sale on St. Charles.” And then, she noted the elegant mansions quickly passing by her. There was no mistaking the opulent homes on this route.
“Jean,” and then she looked over at his smiling face, “another dream?”
“Well, maybe everything else has been a dream, and this is reality.”
“Oh, shut up.”
He laughed with real amusement as he pulled the car in front of a palatial house on a small hill. It was an elegant mansion that had been converted into a public library. People in their winter wear were mingling across its lawn under tents which evidently had been set up for the sale. Jean, this particular Jean, who was now dressed in a pullover sweater, walked around and opened her car door. “You better put that on. It’s a bit chilly.” And as she stepped out into the air, she found that it was indeed.
“I am so glad that you could make it. We’ve had a nice turn-out today.” The silver-haired lady, well up in her sixties, that addressed Jean was dressed in a royal blue sweater dress. She seemed to be officiating in some capacity at the party/ book sale. Moira, who now held a glass of white wine in her hand, had gleaned that this was some sort of a preshow fundraiser before the book sale opened to the public. She then turned to Moira, smiling broadly, “I’m sorry we haven’t met. I’m the managing librarian here, Bess Wilcox.”
Then Jean stepped in, “Yes Bess, this is a good friend of mine, Moira Claiborne.”
“It’s good to have you here Moira. I’ve only known Jean about a year, but I’ve found him to have excellent taste in books, as well as friends.” Moira smiled and sipped her wine, vaguely wondering why Bess Wilcox was in her dream. As Bess moved on, greeting other potential customers, Jean smoothly squired Moira to a table of books in the corner. She picked one book up entitled The Psychology of an Abnormal Psyche.
“Are you trying to tell me something?” she murmured. Jean looked down at the book in her hand.
A bit abruptly he took it from her and put it back on the table. “No, just trying to get you away from the crowd. How are you doing? And no, you are not crazy.”
“Are you sure? I have my doubts. And you evidently spend a lot of time here.”
“Some, did you know this place used to be a private home owned by a silent screen, movie star.”
“Yes, and it was donated to the city and converted into this library. Finish your wine, then we’ll take a walk around the area.”
She took the last few sips and put the glass on a nearby table, “Are you sure Bess won’t miss us?”
“Yes,” he bent to her and lightly brushed her lips with a kiss. “I am sure it will be fine.”
The sidewalks around the library were largely uneven and cracked from the huge tree roots bursting through the cement. But she found it calming and peaceful as the winter breeze swept through the branches overhead. Winter breeze and it was April? “Do you like it here?”
His voice interrupted her contemplations. “Yes, it’s lovely. I spent a good part of my youth in this city, but for some reason I never stopped here before.”
“Maybe you were waiting for me to show it to you.”
She glanced over at him. “Yes, and what a unique way you have of doing it. You know, I can only glide along for so long before I have to get my head screwed on straight again. All of this is not fitting well into my perception of the world.”
“And is it essential that everything makes sense to you. Can’t you just enjoy the moment like the little girl in the park?”
“I’d like to, but I’m not the little girl in the park.”
“No and yes, part of us is always a child. We just tend to push that part aside and give it no importance, which is unfortunate.”
“I feel sometimes like you’re speaking to me in riddles.”
“No, I’m feeding you pieces of the truth a little at a time, so that you can feel them out before I give you more.”
She asked with genuine curiosity, “Is that what you are, some kind of teacher for me?”
“Aren’t we all teachers for one another?”
“Can’t you give me any straight answers?”
He nodded, “Yes, here is something concrete. There is a coffee shop not far from here.”
“You Europeans and your coffee.”
“Now you sound like your mother.”
She laughed, “That’s really wounding.”
Home again, or am I? This place with my things is beginning to feel less and less like home. The dream is becoming my real life. Is this what insanity is? If so, why does it feel so comfortable?
She awoke on her couch again, her head pounding fiercely. She had to sit up slowly, because there was the dizziness also. What had happened?
She remembered the library sale and then the stroll to the coffee shop. It was casual, unhurried, both of them simply enjoying the crisp cool day. The coffee house was inside a small wood frame house that had been converted into a restaurant. They had settled out on the patio beneath an umbrella table sipping cafe au laits. It was all that she seemed to order these days. The wind was blowing cool on her face, but it didn’t bother her. She felt warm. The familiar heaviness that was always present in her chest was absent, and she scarcely had noticed its departure.
And there was Jean. She knew that somehow, he was deliberately striving to distract her. It amused and charmed her at the same time. They talked of books, of music, even of unsuspecting pedestrians who were walking by. “Have you ever wondered what their lives are like?” he had said to her.
“No,” she had answered sheepishly. She hated to admit how very ostrich-like she had been in conducting her life, so wrapped up in her personal dilemmas that she had never looked very far beyond her own backyard.
“How do you suppose they live? Can we ever really know what sort of joys or burdens each carry? What secrets?” He seemed to enjoy prodding her with questions, making her dig deeply within herself.
But at moments, she would only deflect him. She’d laughed and told him that he sounded like a voyeur.
He smiled at her with genuine warmth, “No, more like a voyager, a voyager of life.”
Soon after they had gone back to the car, he’d touched her hand and then asked her to rest. That was the last thing she remembered, until now.
The phone rang, shattering her pensive recollections.
“Yes,” her own voice sounded distant and groggy to her.
“Moira, it’s Jean. I wanted to see if you were all right.”
“I—I think so. I just woke up.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Confused, I can’t remember coming back here.”
“It’s all right. Don’t be concerned.”
“Hmm,” Rubbing her forehead that seemed to be throbbing a bit at the moment, “this is so strange. Yesterday, this afternoon, I don’t know.”
“Don’t try to sort it out now. Rest for a while. We’ll talk later.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “I am tired.”
“Please rest.” Then he hung up. And she was left vaguely comforted but also wondering. She laid back on the sofa and let the fatigue take her. There was no resistance left within her.
When she awoke again, it was sharply to the sound of a bell. The clock on the wall read 4:00 P.M. She had been asleep nearly an hour. Pulling herself up, she shakily walked out onto the wrought iron patio. Peering through the decorative bars on the front door, she could see Janice Deveroux waiting on the landing.
Wonderful, she was hardly in the proper frame of mind to entertain her somewhat gregarious landlady, but there was no help for it. Moira smiled widely because she knew she had been spotted.
Immediately, the words began to bubble over as she opened the door. “Moira, I was in the neighborhood, and I thought I’d save you the trouble of mailing your rent check. Unless you’d prefer to wait—” Janice continued to prattle on as she, with reluctance, escorted her inside.
Several cups of coffee and a half an hour later she was disconcerted to see that Janice Deveroux showed no indication of leaving. Moira had heard the dish on the neighbors, the latest successes of Janice’s real estate firm, and more details on the exploits of her two-year-old nephew than anyone could imagine ever wanting to know. As she sat in her glider rocker across this very vivacious yet disturbingly obtuse woman, she plotted quietly and somewhat desperately how to encourage a departure. Her patience was deteriorating at the same rate that the pounding in her head was escalating. She really had to go lay down for a while.
“You know you are looking a little pale. Are you feeling well?”
She responded, “Just a little under the weather.” There was no way she was confiding her chronic medical problems to this woman.
“Well, you should see about it. It’s very dangerous to let these things get out of hand. Like that poor man who lived here before you, it was terrible what happened with him.”
“Oh,” and then there was an awkward silence. Evidently, something had slipped that wasn’t supposed to. This was confirmed by the red tinge of embarrassment that had crept into Janice’s round face. “I thought I’d told you.”
“I seem to remember something about it, but the details escape me. What happened again?” This was in fact the very first that she’d heard about the previous tenant. But it was potentially the most interesting tidbit that had come up during the visit.
“Oh, well,” there seemed a bit of relief in her with the possibility that Moira already knew whatever it was she was going to reveal. “The gentleman who had rented the place before you, he was a quiet sort, kept to himself. And then suddenly, one day out of the blue, he had a heart attack. Didn’t even go to the hospital, just died. It was terrible. You know. He wasn’t found for several days. And although some relatives did claim the body, some of his things are still boxed in the attic. They weren’t very interested in his possessions. I’m still trying to track down someone to take them.”
“That’s very sad. When did it happen?”
“Several months before you rented the house. January or early February, I believe.”
“I had no idea,” her astonishment overwhelmed her attempt at subterfuge.
Her eyes widened a bit, as though she’d been caught in something. “I thought you said you knew about it. It’s not something I’d advertise to would-be tenants. Some might be unnerved by it.” And then she looked at Moira a bit sheepishly, “Are you?”
“No, not really, it’s just sad. That’s all. Is he buried around here?”
“Oh no, they took the body back to France.”
“Yes, he was French. He had only been here for about a year.”
“Really?” And then Moira felt the pounding in her head become stronger, as a distant uneasiness crept in.
“Yes, he was very distinguished looking. And polite, I remember that especially. You know, these days you don’t find that as often, well, as you used to.”
“Yes, that’s true.” For some reason, she wanted her desperately to stop now, no more about this man who was no longer here.
“He seemed very much a loner. You know, Mrs. Gallows next door said she did see a young lady here occasionally but only from a distance. Have you met Mrs. Gallows?”
“Ah, no, I guess I keep to myself as well.”
“Yes, well, I suppose I should be on my way. You look like you need some rest.” Moira nodded and walked with her to the front door. “And, of course, if there are any problems with the house, do call or give me a page on my beeper. I’m on the go so much.”
She nodded, “Yes, uh—”
“What, what was that?” She had turned around in response to Moira’s almost incoherent murmur.
Something compelled her, as though she had no choice but to ask. “The man, who lived here before, what was his name?”
“Oh, didn’t I say? It was Jean Soule.” And then the next few things that she said Moira did not hear. All she heard was the pounding in her head that had magnified to almost intolerable proportions.
She was alone in the house, sitting quietly and catastrophically stunned on the couch. It was simply a bizarre coincidence. She had just seen Jean. She had just spoken to him on the phone. This man, who had died in this house, was simply someone else. She touched her face and felt the tears that she did not realize she was shedding. They felt hot against her fingertips. Her whole face felt warm, like she had a fever. All of this was impossible, simply impossible.
The attic in the house was a large one with a huge fan atop to keep the items stored safe from the blistering heat of the South in the summertime. When she first moved in, Moira had put a few boxes of her own to the front of the attic, but she had ventured no further into its darkened corners. However, today, she had a different purpose. This was a mission of exploration. She must find out as much as she can about one Jean Soule who passed on months before she ever stepped foot in this house. More than whom he was, she had to confirm who he was not.
Although the attic was lit by a small light bulb at the front, she had brought a flashlight to illuminate its shadowed interior. She shone it along the back walls of the tapering walls and was quickly rewarded. For lodged in a stack, barely perceptible in the ordinary lighting, were indeed several medium-sized cardboard boxes. She walked back towards them, crouching now, because they had been placed in a section where the attic’s ceiling was at its lowest.
She situated herself beside the stack, sitting back on her legs. Pulling one out of the set of four toward her, she noted that it was sealed. Clearly labeled on the top with a thick black marker was the name Jean Soule. She stopped for a moment. Was this indeed an invasion of this poor deceased man’s privacy? Yes, of course it might be, but who would know? She would reseal these boxes, restoring their original condition when she was finished, and her angst would be satisfied. She felt driven, both compelled and desperate. She had to make some sense of her life again or confirm that the progression of her disease was somehow making her lose her mind.
It seemed endless, the time it took for her fingernails to lodge beneath the masking tape and rip it off the box. Then finally, it was open, releasing the musty smell of ink from the packing carton. The items within had been wrapped in newspaper. Quickly and frantically, she began to unfold each item, searching, but also hoping that there was nothing to find. Mostly books — it was filled with a stack of books on philosophy, some written in French, some English. There were books of poetry and even some New Age titles that she recognized. And then, as she reached further in the carton, there was another smaller box at the bottom. She pulled it out with some degree of difficulty, and then took off its lid.
It was filled with papers, letters that she scanned with impatience, and could hardly make sense of because they were in French. Her college French was to say the least rusty. Then lifting up a large stack of documents, she spied something that made her freeze. She remained in the same stunned pose for a moment, motionless, staring at the small item at the bottom of the box.
Ridiculous, her mind told her, just coincidence she whispered shakily to herself. Then her hand reached out tentatively toward it, as though she were about to grasp some unpredictable serpent. Gingerly, she lifted the small notebook out of the black box. Her eyes examined it carefully. It was the same type, but they were common and easy enough to come by. And with a sudden clarity, she realized that her notebook was no longer with her. It had been left in his car, Jean’s car, when they took the drive earlier in the day.
Impulsively, her hands flipped back the cover to the fat little notebook. It only took her a flash of an instant to recognize the handwriting. She dropped it, almost threw it to the floor, as though the contact had burned her. There was no doubt. It was her notebook. Her notebook that she had left in the possession of a man whose name was Jean, who was now dead, had been dead for months, before she ever stepped foot in that park for the first time.
It remained sitting in front of her on the coffee table. She hadn’t reopened the notebook, couldn’t bring herself to. She simply sat waiting. It was late. She had no idea how late. She simply waited, expectantly. He would come and explain all of this somehow. He might well be dead, but that had never stopped him before.
Then suddenly, the phone rang, startling her, shattering the tension that had been building all afternoon. There was no place to hide anymore. She picked up the phone with trembling hands and put the receiver to her ear. She waited, being unable to even speak.
“Moira? Are you there?”
It was he, impossible, but it was, “Yes, I’m here.” She wondered distractedly if she was still breathing.
Silence, and she heard him softly say, “You are upset. You must be calm.”
“Calm? You don’t know what—”
And then he interrupted her, “Would you like to meet me Moira?”
Vaguely, she wondered how this was possible. “Yes, I need to talk to you.”
“Good. There is a Chinese restaurant across the street from your house. Half an hour, will that be enough time?”
She paused. She wouldn’t let her mind acknowledge the fact that she was making a date with some sort of ghost. “Yes, that will be fine.”
“Good and try to relax my darling,” then click. He was gone. He called her my darling. Was she his darling? Her head was spinning. Now somehow her own impending disasters seemed very far away. She tried to concentrate on getting ready, making herself breathe again.
There was a small shopping center directly across the street from her home. She had dressed rather quickly, but also in somewhat of a detached state. She wore a pretty sundress. It was made of a soft, clingy, rayon fabric and imprinted with a design that had struck her as Egyptian-like, silver and black. It was quite becoming on her. And she wondered with distraction, if he would like it. Being attractive to him had somewhere along the way become important to her. There was no denying even in the face of what she suspected, that she was drawn to him, to him as a man. What was happening here, between them, all of it was simply not possible. She pulled on the light cotton sweater that had been his gift to her and stepped into the balmy heat of the New Orleans’ evening.
She stood on the corner in front of her house, waiting for a break in the traffic. The boulevard was incessantly busy. And it was a comfort to her. Absurd as it was, it made her feel connected to living. As the flow of cars briefly ebbed, she stepped onto the asphalt and quickly walked across the street. It smelled strongly of tar, only a week earlier a portion of it had been re-blacktopped. The noise, the smells of the city — all of it connected with her, felt reassuring somehow.
The restaurant that she sought was at the center of the strip mall. She had to walk past a grocery, a hair, salon, a drugstore and dry cleaner before she reached it. But the exercise was welcome to her. It helped distract her very overwrought mind. As she approached, she noted the name of the restaurant on top of the building. The Joy Inn, it made her smile ironically. Was it indeed?
As she pushed open the heavy swinging door and walked inside the dimmed interior, she felt that odd dizziness rush through her body again. Everything around her seemed to swirl momentarily out of focus. Luckily, the chairs in the lobby were in close proximity. She walked toward them and sank down into one. Closing her eyes, she tried to will the disorientation away. Then she felt a hand touch her shoulder, and she looked up into his dark eyes, Jean’s eyes. He sat beside her, “Give it a moment. It will pass.”
He took her hand in his. His flesh was warm. This was no ghost. He was as real as she. And then the dizziness began to ebb away, almost as though he had willed it to. Finally, she was able to straighten up in the chair. He smiled comfortingly, “Better?”
She nodded, “Yes.”
He stood up and with his arm around her gently propelled her to her feet. “Then let’s go. Our table is waiting. I took the liberty of ordering us some hot tea. There’s a chill outside tonight.”
She looked at him quizzically, “What do you mean. It’s absolutely humid. I was just outside.”
“Well Moira, things have changed just a bit.”
She sipped hot tea and sat across from him at a dimly lit table with a dark red tablecloth. At that moment, she couldn’t remember a Chinese restaurant that she’d been at that did not have a dark red tablecloth. With great distraction, she wondered if they all bought them bulk at some tablecloth wholesale outlet. “You’re bothered about something?”
She looked at the handsome man seated across the table from her. “Yes,” she murmured. “Yes, it’s true.”
“And would you like to talk about it now?”
She looked down at her purse that was looped around the side of her chair, and impulsively dug her fingers down beneath its open flap until her hand closed around it. And then she abruptly flopped the notebook down on the table in front of him. He looked down at it, and then up at her, with a blank expression on his face. “It’s your notebook.”
“Yes, it is my notebook,” she stated flatly.
“Is there something you want me to read?”
She shook her head with upset and impatience. There was no delicate way to launch into this. “Don’t you remember? I left it in your car this afternoon, after the library, after the coffee shop, after you told me there was nothing to worry about.”
His fingers lightly brushed across the cover of the notebook. “I see now,” he said quietly.
She waited for elaboration, but he seemed content to wait calmly for her to continue. “Don’t you want to know how I got a hold of it?”
He lifted the small cup of tea to his lips, as though there was no problem here at all, no stress to be concerned with, while she was ready to explode. He quietly put the cup back on its saucer. “First, you need to calm down a bit and then tell me the rest.”
She took a deep breath. Her heart was hammering so painfully against her chest. “I found it in a box, in my attic.” Tears were beginning to spill from her eyes. She couldn’t help it. “The box belonged to a man that has your first name, a man from France who died months ago. I need to know what the hell is going on.”
He leaned back in his chair and sighing deeply. “Yes, I see that you do.” He paused, looking off in the distance as though trying to pull the words from somewhere. “I suppose I’ve been a bit selfish about all of this. I wanted to preserve the fantasy for a while.”
“Fantasy?” She wiped her cheeks. “I don’t understand.”
He spoke with weariness and almost a sadness that she could nearly feel in her own skin. “I knew when I talked to you that something was wrong, but I didn’t know you were already putting it together. But then, why should I be surprised? That you are so intensely intelligent and creative was one of the first things that struck me about you.”
“Putting what together? I don’t know what the hell is going on. These bizarre dreams about us. Damn it, I had just about accepted that along with the deterioration of my body that my mind was going, or maybe it was just a side effect to the pain medication that I’ve been taking. But that’s not it. That’s too easy. Something else is happening.”
“Would it be so much easier for you to accept that you are losing your mind?” He strummed his fingers pensively on that red tablecloth. “You are right. Much more is going on here.”
“Tell me Jean. Who is this Jean Soule, and why was my notebook that I left in your car in his things?”
“I suppose you left it with me at some point Moira, and after I was gone, it was boxed up with the rest of my things.”
Her heart had clutched so tightly at his words that it was painful. “What?” she whispered with desperation. “What are you saying? Your things?”
His hand reached out to grab hers. “Be still. You are much too upset. I can feel it. Please calm down. Truly there is nothing to be frightened of.”
She could feel her breath coming in short stops. She was upset, beyond upset, frantic. “How can I? What are you saying? You, you are Jean Soule. But he’s dead.”
He leaned toward her, “Not so loud my dear. You must be discreet about these truths that most people never allow to touch their lives. The world is a much different place than most perceive it to be.”
She leaned back, forcing herself to control her anxiousness, and dropping the elevated volume of her speech. “Are you saying that you are dead, Jean?”
He smiled with a touch of irony, “Do I look dead?”
“No, you look and feel very alive to me. So, are you saying that Janice Devareaux was mistaken that Jean Soule did not have a coronary and die?”
He looked slightly disturbed, “Ah, it was the heart. I didn’t really know. Well, no, that is true. When it was his time or mine, Jean Soule did make the transition or die if you want to put it that way.”
“Moira, there is so much that you just don’t understand my dear. Look around you. How is everyone dressed?”
And then, she did look at the individuals seated at different tables. She was astonished that she hadn’t taken it in before. They were in sweaters and jackets and long pants, definitely cool weather wear. And yet, there she sat in her summery dress with her flats and light sweater draped around her shoulders. She was the oddity here. Then she noticed that he was dressed in a long-sleeved flannel type shirt. Why hadn’t she seen that before? “I was just outside. It’s hot. It’s muggy. What the hell is going on here?”
“Moira, we are in the same place you and I, but we have been travelers. For a while just I and then you. There is a tear here, a tear allowing us to step into each other’s lives and be together.”
“A tear? A tear in what?”
“In time, a rip in time.”
He had walked her back soon after. And she didn’t think of it as hers, because she knew where she was going, at the moment, was not her house. She had told him that she couldn’t eat. He had quickly flagged the waiter and got their check. As they stepped into the night, all the fanciful talk of tears in time was confirmed, although she had hoped it would not be. The night was frozen by the chill of a December breeze. It seemed to pass right through her and freeze her heart with fear. How could all this be? And the worst of it was that she knew she was falling in love with the man who protectively put his arm around her and led her quickly into the warmth of his home. There was no debating that whatever side of this rip they were on, it was his domain now.
He disappeared into the kitchen as she waited calmly by the closed front door. She felt afraid to move, and he quickly reappeared with two brandy glasses partially full of amber-colored liquid. He stopped and looked at her, “That bad?”
“It has all been a bit much.”
“Well, you have been here before, and it was comfortable for you then.”
“You made me dinner.”
“I can again, if you are hungry.”
“No, I’m afraid my appetite has fled for good.”
“Then come sit next to me and have some brandy.” She nodded and sat down on the beige couch, his beige couch. He sat beside her and gently put one of the glasses in her hand. Impulsively, she took a sip that was in hindsight too large. It stung her throat like fire. But the tingling aftermath was pleasant and distracting. “Did I mention how beautiful you look tonight?”
“No, but then there was hardly time. And as it is, I am inappropriately dressed,” she quipped.
“It is somewhat difficult to plan in cases like these.”
“No kidding,” she firmly placed the glass on the coffee table in front of her. “Okay, enough polite chitchat. I want to have all of this explained in a way that my human brain can wrap itself around it.”
He stared at her for a moment and then stood up and walked across the room to the fireplace as though collecting his thoughts before turning to face her. “You know Moira, the first time I saw you was not that day in the park. It was many years ago on that college campus uptown.”
“Yes, I think you had just started there, because you seemed quite young. I saw you sitting on the steps outside a building talking to some other students. I watched you for a few minutes, though I am sure you did not realize that I was there. I remember thinking how beautiful you were, so intensely animated and alive. And so, I was very disturbed that first day in the park to see how very tired you seemed, and how very sad.”
“I was dying, I mean I am.”
“And when you say it, that seems like such a terrible thing for you.”
She felt a bit stunned. How did one respond to such a statement? “Isn’t it? The end of life.”
“No, it’s the end of your body’s life. But what is really you, the spirit, goes on to another life.”
“What do you mean, reincarnation?”
“There are many different kinds of life, of living.”
“But Jean, that doesn’t explain all of this.”
He nodded, “Yes, well the point I am making is that I have always known of you. I come from an old family, from an old country who teach the world to its children in a more honest and truer way than is generally known. I was brought up to see clearly and to use all of my senses. You and I, our spirits are linked. Wherever they are living, whatever kind of life, our spirits are linked. They were created together so always wanting and needing to be together.”
Her mind was swirling, “But how?”
“I have always known we would meet, one way or another. It so happened that the paths we led did not allow for it during this lifetime, not in the usual way. But it was necessary that we help each other. I came here, to this place at the end of my life, knowing that here what seemed impossible would become possible.”
“This rip or tear as you call it.”
He sat beside her, “Yes, you see time is not a linear thing as we are taught. It is all happening at once. And here this tear exists. I don’t really know why. Maybe because of the location, the energy of the area. I don’t pretend to understand it all. But I was able to travel through it to what you call your time to meet you. And then I began to pull you back into my time.”
“Because to be blunt, your disease is not so advanced in my time. Frankly, you feel better and can enjoy life more. And that is why I am here, to help you enjoy life, to understand it.”
She stood up shakily, pulling away from him, “I can scarcely take this in.” And then, caught by a new realization and fear she abruptly turned to face him, “But I can tell you that I am not some charity case that you need to care for.”
His face hardened, “Don’t be ridiculous Moira. Do you think I did this just because you are sick, and I feel sorry for you?”
“It crossed my mind.”
“Did you not hear me? What I have done here was not selfless. I have led a very full but also very lonely life. There has been a chasm within me that no one else’s presence could fill.” He crossed to her and put his hands on her shoulders. “I need you. I have worked to try to help this world, but this time, this time with you, is for me as well as you.” He paused and then took a step backward, looking at her intently. “You can feel the truth. That is all it takes to complete this journey.” And then he held out his hands to her.
She could feel the genuineness of his sincerity. It seemed that in this moment a few small steps would start her on an entirely new journey. In many ways, it felt like a leap of faith, but she placed her hands in his, accepting the peace that he offered, content to let it flood her being.
Janice Devereaux walked through the open door of her rental property at the corner of Canal Street and Robert E. Lee. It was a simple, nice home, and it irritated her somewhat that she would soon again be looking for new tenants for it. If she weren’t careful to keep the matters hush hush, she feared that soon the place would soon irrevocably have a macabre reputation attached to it.
As she entered the dwelling, she had time to evaluate the two striking individuals that were sitting in her den. One was an older woman, at least five to ten years older than herself, and from the resemblance, she assumed was Moira’s mother. But for her age, she appeared very well-kept, even could be described as casually elegant. She was kneeling over a packing carton on the terrazzo floor. The other was a younger, good-looking man, who was sitting on the couch across from the lady. He was watching her with what could only be described as a deep concern on his face. Janice wondered if this was her son, but then Moira had never mentioned siblings.
Putting on a realtor’s smile, she entered the disturbing circumstance. “Ah, I hope I’m not intruding. I’m Janice Devereaux. I was Moira’s landlady.”
The woman looked up from the packing carton, showing signs of a tear-stained face. “No, not at all,” she said with the grimmest of smiles. “I am Moira’s mother, Christine Redford, and this is my husband Peter. We were just collecting some of her things.”
Janice smiled, realizing that this of course was a stepfather. He was much too young to be anything else. “Yes, well, I know what a difficult time this must be for you. It really came as quite a shock to me. I hadn’t known Moira long, but I was struck by what a truly lovely person she was. And, of course, I had no idea how ill she was.”
The lady stood up, dusting the wrinkle out of what Janice thought were linen pants, very nice taste, obviously expensive. “Well, Moira was very private. She had been in remission for some time, so we didn’t realize, that she had relapsed. It was quite advanced when she did tell us.”
Janice nodded with sympathy, simultaneously scanning what she could see of the dwelling. They hadn’t made much progress. She calculated that it would be at least several days to a week before they had everything out. She murmured, “She was a very friendly young woman, but she did seem to keep to herself, or so the neighbors mentioned. Of course, the lady next door did mention seeing a gentleman here a few times, from a distance of course.”
The lady’s expression seemed to harden a bit. Evidently, she was close-mouthed like her daughter. “Yes, she did have a friend. He was very kind and supportive. I met him often at the hospital.”
Janice smiled again, although her face ached a bit from it. “It’s good she was surrounded by people who cared about her.”
“Yes,” her mother said. “I can truly say she wasn’t afraid at all. At the end, she was just accepting and peaceful.” And then, she reached into the box that she had been packing, pulling out a small notebook. “Even her writings at the end seemed happy. It’s of great comfort to me.”
And then Janice looked at the small fat little notebook, and said absently, “These are popular to have these little books.”
Moira’s mother looked at her with a bit of a puzzled expression at her odd comment. “Yes, I suppose,” she murmured.
And quickly, Janice Devereaux, moving on to other concerns, dismissed the recollection that she had packed one just like it for the previous tenant.
I’m nearly to the end of this book,
And I feel that I should have something strong to say about it all. But I don’t know enough to sum it up, only to comment that I am still on the journey, and content to allow it to unfold.
Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Klebert
First appeared in Dragonflies Journeys into the Paranormal
A mystical wordsmith entices you into the world of the paranormal with this collection of inspired stories. Each tale takes the journey of the dragonfly imbued with the momentum and energy of change, following a winding and treacherous path that ultimately will lead you to find the truth buried beneath perception. Includes: “The Wizard,” “The Sojourners,” “Late One Night at Berstrum’s Books,” and “The Tear.”