"Ingrid, come sit next to me. I brought that blue-jacket-you-gave-me to sit on. Not that you need physical comfort. I want something you've touched, even if a breeze is more solid."
My wife died five years ago.
I pat the plush lining and wait. My wife won't take long to arrive. The veil between this world and the other side has been thin lately.
About a week ago she appeared in an early morning lucid dream as the young Ingrid. Even asleep I remained wobbly and weak. We walked hand-in-hand through this same park. I knew that everything I saw and touched would disappear the moment I opened my eyes. Even so, all the subtleties of nature emerged as we traveled familiar passageways. I saw details in each rock, blade of grass, hill, and squirrel.
Ingrid told me that direct contact with the deceased happens only under special circumstances. I asked her how we qualified, but she told me I would find out later. "Just relax and enjoy."
When I woke up she was sitting on the edge of my bed. She comes and goes now. All I need to do is call her -- no phone necessary. I have enough sense not to blab about Ingrid's visits. Recovering from toxic drugs is bad enough. I don't need my daughter to worry that I need psych meds, too.
Within about thirty seconds my wife emerges next to me. Slowly. Similar to the way a fog comes up from the horizon. But with a lot more warmth. At first she seems as transparent as air. Her features surface. Young. Beautiful. The way she looked when we first met.
She places her hand on my arm. "Okay, dear, what's on your mind?"
"Jan told me I could use some Vitamin D from the sun. That's why I'm out here today while she and the kids hike down to the lake. As if I'd miss the chance. She doesn't know I heard her talk to Dan on the phone last night. He can't babysit with me today. Got a new client coming in. True, I have the hearing of the seventy-two-year-old dog I am. But Jan's voice doesn't need a loudspeaker when she gets excited. Seems lately our daughter has the disposition of a ticking time bomb."
"I'd say she is upset and her attitude is more about her than about you."
"I'd say it's not easy taking care of your father when he's recovering from chemo. Not easy at all. Sure glad that last session's over! Last treatment forever."
Her hands have lost all their thick arthritic lumps now that she's in the spiritual state. They are small, delicate, gentle again. She runs them over my head, mostly bald, with a few sparse patches of dull, almost colorless hair.
"Ah, Mick! Jan's not ready for a halo, but I wouldn't jump to conclusions. Yet, anyway. Tell you what. I'll follow her for a while. Find out what's going on and let you know. Then I'll get back to you. We may need to talk through our thoughts if family is present. Our grandsons have been knocked by your illness. They don't understand what happened, why Grandpa doesn't have the energy to joke with them anymore. But you know you can count on me. We'll talk tonight. In your dreams."
Ingrid's kiss on my forehead could be a warm, gentle breeze. It feels that soft.
I sigh as I hear the kids run ahead of their mom up the trail. Much sooner than they would have if I weren't waiting. They don't know I'd feel just as miserable at home. At least in the park the sun casts incredible shadows through the tree branches. The birds sing an avian kind of harmony. The sky is never the same color longer than a few hours. It darkens or lightens, blends in with the clouds or not. A hint of silver has lined a cluster toward the west. Like the gray in the few clumps of my hair that refused to fall out. Maybe I have a stubborn streak. I have always worn my hair short, so I didn't go in for shaving my head.
Change arrives slowly. Although Ingrid says the word I'm searching for is really transformation. Sure I'm glad my wife broke through the impenetrable barrier from the other side. But I'd take the wrinkled-but-solid Ingrid to the see-through-yet-perfect version any day.
* * *
"Dan!" Jan leans her behind into the wall and turns her body into an awkward V. From the look on her face I'm guessing she wants the stretch to pull out all her anxiety.
"Yeah, it's me again," she says. "And no, Dad isn't listening in. He's sound asleep for the night. So, of course, the kids are out for the count, too. It is a school night."
I hover over the kitchen table, one of the benefits of spirit life.
"Yeah, I talked to Dad's doctor. No doubt about it. He hasn't got much chance. A heavier course of chemo could give him a few more months. Tops."
I hear Dan's voice on the other end of the line even though my daughter hasn't put the call on speaker. Another heavenly perk. "So why hasn't the oncologist told Dad?"
"That doctor has professional knowledge. Yes. But he has the bedside manner of a debt collector. I told him I would give Dad the options." Jan straightens up again. She groans, her hand to her forehead. "Actually, I insisted. Said he could answer Dad's questions on his next visit."
"Okay. Then I sort of chickened out."
"You mean you chickened out. No sort-of about it."
"Thanks for your support, bro."
"So what do you want me to do? I'm a lawyer, not a social worker."
"You are also my big brother. Come on. Give me an idea."
"Okay. I'll stop by after I see my last client tomorrow. We'll tell Dad together. Calmly. Let him decide. In the meantime let Dad know how much you love him. It's all you can do. Yeah, you're nervous about the situation. But all he sees is the nervous. He doesn't know why."
Jan drops her head almost to her knees. "Hey for a lawyer that's not bad advice."
"Uh, thanks for the backhanded compliment."
I put one arm around my daughter's shoulders. She doesn't know I'm the one comforting her, but after a few sighs she finally says, "Maybe I'm underestimating Dad."
"More than maybe, sis."
In a few hours I will slip into my Mick's dreams. I will break the news about what his children are going to tell him tomorrow. And if I know my guy he will allay his family's fears. Because Mick isn't afraid. He's seen me. He knows he will be okay. I will tell him why I broke the bridge between our worlds -- because he and I are closer than he knew we were. I slipped through a hairline break between this world and the next one, the designated place where we were meant to meet. When the time came.
When he accepts my invitation we will be together again. In a few days if he wishes. If he is ready all he will need to do is concentrate on the separation, nothing artificial or traumatic about the transition. In the meantime perhaps I should set up the scene for his final dream: a sunny day ... a park bench ... a place where we both can run, and laugh, and sing out of tune if we want. It doesn't matter. Some details look different after passing through the light. But the beauty Mick and I savored will remain the same.