I write short fiction

Tag: spirit world

shortfiction24 – my dance space

This week’s short story

Not all spirits move on right away. I offer you a story of two spirits intermingled after death. It’s quite loosely inspired by George Saunders’s book Lincoln in the Bardo.

Having some fun with Vinny and Lewis, a couple of dead guys whose spirits are stuck together in the transition. Can they move on?

My Dance Space

Bob Gillen

Margie Pasqualino slipped out into her small backyard after dark, pulling her sweater tight around her torso. The moonless night wrapped the neighborhood in silence. 

A ten-foot tall bottlebrush tree graced the rear of the yard, a handful of rocks circling the base. Margie knelt in the grass near the tree, next to the hole she had asked the gardener to dig for her. About a foot square, eighteen inches deep. A square of sod and the excavated soil sat on a flat piece of cardboard to the side of the hole.

Margie held her dead husband Vinny’s ashes in her hands, in a box made of thick biodegradable paper. She kissed the box gently, lowered it into the hole. With a garden trowel she scooped dirt over the box. When it was level with the rest of the lawn, she patted the soil firm. “Rest in peace, my love.” Tears fell, soaking into the soil. 

Eighteen inches below the surface, Vinny Pasqualino’s spirit moaned, stretched, wriggled into his new home. “Sure beats sitting on the bookcase,” he told himself. “I love my yard.”

“Move back. Gimme some room here.” A voice squeaked in the space.

Vinny’s spirit swirled around. “Who’re you? What are you doing here?”

“My name is Lewis. Lewis Bomer. Most of me is somewhere else, but a bit of me is here.”

Vinny stared at the wisp of a figure. “What the hell are you talking about?”

 “I got cremated before you. Some of my ashes got left behind as they cremated you…so here I am.”

You want a piece of me?

“Shit, this is my space.”

“You know the old line? ‘You want a piece of me?’ Well, you got a piece of me.”

“This is my yard.”

“Yeah, I get it. This is your dance space.”

“Dance space?”

“Yeah, you know, dancers don’t like to be crowded.”

“Okay, okay. Let’s start over. You’re Lewis. I’m Vinny.”

“Hi, Vinny. Was that your wife put us in here tonight?”

“Yeah. Margie. We were married fifty years when I bought the farm. Heart.”

“Good for you. I was single, still playing the field. Drunk driver got me.”

Vinny shivered. “Okay, so what the hell? You stuck here with me?”

“Beats me. My first time doing this.”

“Cramped in here. Can we move out of this box?”

The two spirits scrunched and wiggled, and found themselves up in the yard in the fresh air.

“Hey, this feels good,” Vinny said.

“Quiet here. Peaceful.”

“It would be more peaceful without you attached to me.”

“No worries. We’ll figure this out.”

Vinny nodded toward a faded red Adirondack chair. “I spent lots of hours after dinner in that chair. Margie would fall asleep watching her TV shows, and I would grab a cold longneck and sit out here.”

Lewis smiled. “The yard feels right for that kind of sitting.”

“I barbecued every weekend. Mostly burgers. My last year even some vegan burgers. Docs were all over me about my heart.”

“I had a studio apartment in the city. Cooked ramen noodles in a microwave.”

“Ouch.”

“I wasn’t home much. Ate a lot of snacks and happy hour food in bars.”

Dragging Lewis, Vinny’s spirit drifted around the yard. He hit a wall a few yards in each direction. “Looks like we got some restraints here.”

“Won’t last long, if we’re lucky.”

“How does this whole thing work?” Vinny asked. “I don’t think we’re supposed to be floating here forever.”

“Yeah, you know, shouldn’t we be part of that whole spirit world now? Back in touch with everyone we knew?”

“Sounds right.”

“This is truly weird.” Lewis shook his head. “Maybe some kind of transition.”

Vinny tested the boundaries again. No change. He said, “I feel like I should be standing in a rowboat paddling with one oar down a long dark tunnel with mist swirling around my feet, Phantom of the Opera music wafting around me.”

“Hah,” Lewis said. “More like going through Disneyland’s It’s a Small World ride.”

Vinny held up his hand. “Don’t make that song the last I ever hear.”

Lewis peered around the space. “I wonder where the rest of me is. I have no idea what my mom would have done with my ashes.”

“Maybe in her living room.”

“I don’t know…she would be too sad looking at me all the time. She’s kinda the move-on type.”

“My ashes will be here for a long time…my spirit, that’s another issue.”

Lewis laughed. “You know what would be cool?” 

He paused.

“You gonna finish that thought?”

“I would like my ashes to be stuffed into a giant fireworks canister and shot off on the Fourth of July.”

He gestured to the sky. “Spread everywhere… in a blaze of glory.”

Vinny shook his head. “Who’s going to do that for you?”

“I know a guy, who knows a guy, who works on the fireworks barges for the Macy’s celebration every year.”

“Yeah, but does he actually fill the canisters?”

“He could just tape my ashes to one of the canisters.”

Vinny shook his head.

“No, really. Think about it. My ashes would explode high over the East River in New York, then drift down all over the city.” He laughed again. “Picture this. Some tourist is walking down Fifth Avenue looking in all the store windows. He takes in a deep breath. Says to his wife, ‘What a beautiful night’… while he breathes in a speck of my ashes. Don’t you love it?”

“I gotta hand it to you, Lewis. You got a big imagination.”

“I’m feeling kind of diminutive right now, if I may use a big vocabulary word. I wish I knew where the rest of me was.”

“So do I.”

“Hey, not my choice to be here.”

Scraps of night fog began drifting into the yard. 

“Am I missing the obvious?” Vinny said. “Are we expected to let go…somehow? Are we keeping ourselves here?”

“Like I said, it’s my first time. And I’m not all here.”

“No argument there.”

“You won’t let this go, will you?”

Vinny shrugged.

“I should consider myself lucky, you know? My ashes could have mingled so much with yours that we became one spirit.”

Vinny pointed at Lewis. “Maybe you got a point there. If I can figure out how to move on, you can just come along with me. Find the rest of you at the next stop…wherever that is.”

“What are you saying? We swirl together and float out of here? Like the fog?”

“Yeah,” Vinny said. “We twirl around, mingle our spirits, drift up and out of here.”

“Sounds too easy.”

“Got a better idea?”

Lewis whirled his spirit around Vinny’s. The two mingled. Spun together. Shaped themselves into a single wisp. 

Nothing happened. 

“This is bullshit.”

“Damn, I can’t find the rest of me till we move on. We’re stuck together.”

Can’t stay here forever.

“Yeah, I’m not happy with the situation either, but it’s the best we got.”

“Can’t stay here forever.”

“Maybe I can stay here. I like my yard.” 

Lewis shook his scrap of a spirit. “Think of moving on in this way, Vinny. You can have an endless longneck. Ice cold, condensation running down the bottle, every sip crisp and cold.”

Vinny shrugged. “If I go, I would have to spend time with my dead in-laws, right? They hated my guts…”

Lewis wrapped himself around Vinny’s spirit. “What would you love to do, Vinny? Something you never got to do in your lifetime?”

Vinny did not hesitate. “I always wished I could play the guitar. Just one song. The delicate guitar melody Jerry Garcia played on ‘Ripple.’ You know, the Grateful Dead. That is one fantastic line.”

“Yeah. The song had such cosmic wisdom.”

“Don’t get sappy on me. It’s just a good song.”

“Ironic, though,” Lewis said.

“Huh?”

“Ironic you would want to do a song by the Dead.”

“I get it. Yeah, ironic.”

“Wouldn’t that make you want to move on? Spend forever playing ‘Ripple’ with a cold longneck at your side.”

“You’re starting to make sense, Lewis. Scary if all of you was here. You’d have me running to hug my in-laws.”

“Come on, Vinny. This life is over. Time to move on.”

Vinny smiled. “Maybe you’re right. Let’s try again.” He floated around the yard one more time.

“Bye, Margie. I’ll play guitar for you when you join me.”

Vinny and Lewis faded into the night fog.

Silence.

“Shit!”

“Yeah.”

“We’re still here.”

***

Let’s see what happens with Vinny and Lewis. More story to come.

shortfiction24 – the second date

What I’m Writing

Jack and Diane are back. They caught my interest in my last story. This week I’m following them on their second date. Will it work for them? No guarantees.

See my post for the first Jack and Diane story, Death by Millstone, here.

The Second Date

Bob Gillen

Jack Marin stepped into the hair salon. A young man greeted him from the reception counter.

“Who are you here to see?”

Jack glanced around, taking in the slick ambience of the salon. “I’m meeting a client of Krystal. Her name is—“

The receptionist grabbed a microphone. “Krystal, someone to see you.” He turned away to take a phone call.

Jack stood a moment till he realized he had been dismissed. He sat in a beige faux leather chair. In a room directly ahead of him a stylist dressed in black was blow-drying a client’s hair. The two chatted freely as she worked.

“You must be Jack. I’m Krystal.” 

A woman in a black apron waved him over. “We’re back here.”

Jack followed her around a corner to find Diane Somers sitting in a salon chair, draped in a black apron. Diane pulled an arm out from under the apron, waved, smiled at Jack in the mirror without turning.

“Hey.” 

“Sit here.” Krystal pointed to the empty chair in the next station. 

“Jack, this is Krystal,” Diane said. “My stylist and friend for more than ten years.”

“Welcome, Jack.” Krystal picked up scissors and a comb.

Jack nodded. Talking to Diane and Krystal in the mirror made Jack uncomfortable. 

“Thanks for meeting me here,” Diane said. “I’ve been running late all morning.”

Jack nodded to the mirror.

“So,” Krystal said, “I hear you guys just met last week.”

“We did,” Jack said. “At the beach.”

“Good beach weather,” Krystal said. “Almost too warm for this time of year.”

“Thanks to our fucked up climate,” Jack said.

“Tell me about it,” Krystal said. “My kids are so into climate change projects at school.”

“Krystal’s kids are adorable,” Diane said. 

“Yeah?” 

“Do you have kids, Jack?” Krystal asked.

“Two. Both back east, one in New York, the other Rhode Island.”

“Get to see them often?”

“Not enough. Damn pandemic. I haven’t seen them in almost two years.”

“I didn’t know you had kids,” Diane said.

Jack smiled. “Our first meetup kinda went down the toilet, huh?”

“No, no. I’m glad you had a chance to talk.”

“What about you, Diane. Kids?”

“One. A daughter here in LA. She’s an event planner, works mostly with a private high school.”

“Cool. She’s close.”

Diane shrugged. “I haven’t seen her since my husband died three years ago.”

Krystal had been listening intently. She returned to cutting and shaping Diane’s hair. She tipped Diane’s head forward to get at the back of her neck.

“My wife has been gone two years next month,” Jack said.

“You’ve both been through a lot, huh?” Krystal said.

“I still miss her like crazy,” Jack said. “The only comfort I have is knowing she’s in a better place.”

Krystal smiled. “She’s at peace.”

Jack laughed. “Funny. I believe in an afterlife. I know our spirits live on somehow. But I’m in no rush to get there myself.”

“It’s not your time yet,” Krystal said.

Forever, with nothing to do.

“It’s not that. I’m a doer,” Jack said. “I have trouble being idle. When I think of being in heaven, or in some spirit world, I shudder. It must be so boring. Sitting around feeling joyful. The joyful part is okay. It’s the sitting around. For eternity. Forever, with nothing to do.”

Diane peered at Jack in the mirror. “I think it would be wonderful.”

“Not so much for me.”

Krystal set her scissors on the counter. “Let me tell you a story.”

Jack turned to face Krystal, trying to keep one eye on Diane in the mirror.

“I went to a medium last year. We talked about this.”

Jack squinted at the thought of a medium.

“I felt something like you do, Jack. She told me the spirits aren’t just sitting around.”

“Oh.”

“She said they keep growing and learning.”

Jack leaned closer.

“The medium believes we go through a transition when we first die. We have to learn how to be in the new spirit world. In heaven. It takes some adjusting.”

“Do they join up with all the people who have died ahead of them?” Jack asked.

“Oh sure. They interact, learning from one another. Experiencing how they all were good, how they made mistakes, what they learned from that.”

“That’s fascinating,” Jack said. “So my wife is still growing…”

“Oh yeah. The medium even believes we all come back to live multiple lives. But we don’t remember our previous lives. Each one is fresh. We keep growing. Keep trying to get it better.”

Jack stared at his own reflection in the mirror. He murmured, “We keep growing.”

Diane looked at Jack, then caught Krystal’s eye in the mirror. Krystal winked.

“Jack, that means something to you.” Diane smiled.

Jack shrugged. “I think so. I need to think about this.” He turned to Krystal. “Your medium says we never stop growing, right?”

Krystal nodded.

“That’s cool. It makes sense. Why has no one ever said this before?”

Diane opened her mouth to speak. Jack cut her off. “This is why I gave up on religion.”

The conversation died for a few moments while Krystal blew-dried Diane’s hair. Jack stared at the mirror.

A half hour later Jack and Diane sat over hot drinks in a nearby coffee shop. 

“Krystal is amazing,” Jack said. “You’re lucky to have her as a friend.”

“She has helped me almost more than my therapist. Since my husband died.”

“I can’t stop thinking about what she said…about her medium. That’s life-changing. I mean, I never thought of the next life as a time of growing. Really cool.”

Diane sipped her coffee. “Were you and your wife close?”

“Oh yeah,” Jack said. “My best friend.”

“My husband and I were the same,” Diane said. 

Jack nodded. 

“Have you talked to a counselor since your wife died?” Diane asked.

“You mean, a therapist? Nah. No need. I’m dealing okay.”

Diane stared at her cup. “Are you?”

“What?”

She looked at Jack. “I said, are you? Are you dealing okay?”

“Yeah. It gets better as I move along.”

She looked into his eyes.

“Does it?”

“What is this, a therapy session?” He leaned back in his chair.

“No, but I wonder if that’s what you need.”

“You hardly know me. This is only our second date. What are you talking about?”

“You told me I was a good listener.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you even listen at all?”

Jack ran his hands through his hair.

Diane pointed to his gesture. “You just watched me get my hair done. You have not said anything about how it looks.”

“It looks good.”

“Thanks. Too late.”

Jack shook his head in confusion.

“The day at the beach you gushed on about yourself. I listened. You never noticed that I dodged talking about what bothers me.”

Jack shook his head again.

“And just now you were up to your eyeballs talking to Krystal about your wife. You never asked me if I wanted to talk about my daughter. About our estrangement.”

“Sorry. I didn’t realize.”

“That’s my point.” Diane shook her head. “When we were just leaving the salon, Krystal whispered to me, “That man would melt the polish off your toenails.”

Jack squinted.

“She thought you were hot. Me, I feel like this will be too hard to make it work.”

Diane stood. “Thanks, Jack.”

Diane picked up her coffee cup and headed for the door.

Jack stared after her.

***

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