Dearly Departed – Beyond the Veil #17
With each lapping of its great tide, time bore him further away, beyond the reach of all her grasps. Yet she was convinced that in all the important ways, time itself could not touch him. Strange, then, that she remembered having heard others in her situation make observations such as already, the memory of dear so-and-so was retreating into the haziness of dim recollection.
Well, she had an answer to that. A one-word answer — or perhaps two, depending on how it was spelled.
Those sentiments, they had to be nothing more than well-intentioned lies. Everything was too absurd otherwise. After all, how could memory betray you when it was needed most? When it was only thing you now had to show for all you once had? Or, more precisely, for all that you once had taken for granted. . ?
With utter certainty, she knew that she would never forget what they had shared — perhaps if her mind itself went, fine, that was her one concession on this point. If she no longer recognized even herself, then, yes, that might be the day she forgot him, too.
While such thoughts occupied her, at times bitter, at times self-pitying, the sympathetic souls that had known the two of them together journeyed to her to express their condolences. They formed a procession whose end she came to doubt; and then she realized when it would arrive: when they found another, fresher grief to attend to.
We heard news of his passing, they would say. We are so sorry.
Occasionally they would offer shared memories to her, delivering evidence they thought would comfort her in some obscure way. As if providing an outside validation that she should welcome: you see, he really was as good as you thought he was and even
you see, he really is worth all this fuss. All this grief.
Their hearts were in the right place — one had to assume that, or else send them packing — but at a certain point she started to feel that she could no longer bear such unsolicited kindness.
The worst occurred when these well-intentioned spirits would try an empathetic approach.
You know, it seems like only yesterday that I lost my dearest. Since he passed over.
It was then that she realized she how much she detested the phrase “passing over.” As if those to whom it applied could pass back again. As if her loss was something that had happened casually, in passing. No, she wanted to shout, the ones who leave us don’t “pass” anywhere.
Rather, they were simply gone: unreachable, irretrievable, unknowable.
And then there was her rage at God. She knew it was a cliché, but she couldn’t help what she felt. The shape her complaint took was you gave me something that made me so happy, that changed my very existence — and then you have the nerve to take it away?
This lament, too, she was aware, had been shared by millions before her.
But still, had that been too much to hope for, a dollop of happiness in what was otherwise (she could stand being frank now) a fairly bland existence? Pleasant yes, but shot through with banality, too, now that passion had been stripped from it.
Of course there were ones who, instead of feeling anger at God, took solace in the idea that He had fashioned a benevolent, albeit invisible, purpose behind all the world’s grief. There were many theories along this line — that loved ones would meet on “the other side” and all that nonsense — but there was never any hard proof. No, these were tales for those who were scared of the dark, and who saw it in constant encroachment about them.
Actually, she was one of those timid spirits now. Terrified, not so much of darkness, but of facing it alone. With him, it had seemed almost possible that she might be able to stand the prospect of her own departure some day. . .
He had been friend, child, and husband to her. There were no distinctions. Not her “better half” because with them there had been no “halves.” There had been only a meshing, and a union, and then finally a rending and a scar.
Many claimed that those like him had gone to a better place, where there were different pleasures, ones she could not imagine from this dimension. She had once even heard someone describe all souls as “energy beings,” and if that were true, then maybe anything was possible. Still, the fantasy of a reunion one day in the future — that just seemed like wishful thinking of the most childish sort. It was too much to hope for, and yet it was the only thing that really counted. What did it matter if there were some unimaginable paradise of new sensations awaiting her? If it included an eternity of separation from him, it could not be other than hellish.
Yet oddly, the prospect of that nebulous afterworld came to bring a measure of relief when her sorrow was most acute.
And so she found herself, as time passed, able to cope with her grief only by, in essence, grieving for herself in advance. She consoled herself with the notion that there would be no more pain when there was no more she.
The end comes for everyone.
It was a bitter notion to take comfort from — the knowledge that, one day she, too, would leave this place of peace, and take on a human body. One day, she, too, would be “born,” and live in a world of “the flesh” and “the senses,” as the learned termed these hypothetical components of the next phase in their migration.
No, there was no doubt about it: it was a horrible fate for any soul.
For all souls.
Of the many stories about the spirit world I’ve read, they always seem to take our everyday perspective as the starting point for issues such as transmigration, incarnation, and the like. For me, that’s like assuming your train station is the first one on the line even when you see a hint of the tracks stretching into the mist on both sides. The impetus for this story was to see what kind of emotional and metaphysical questions could be explored by planting the narrative stakes in the ground somewhere far back in those mists.
So quickly the challenge of the story was to keep it metaphysically-oriented rather than let it become a conventional fantasy piece. While this results in a more abstract setting (and perhaps a more bland tone overall) than in my other fiction, I was both excited to meet the challenge and gratified to learn that RTV is open to such experimentation.
Although I’ve heard people say this is a sad story, it was not intended as such — whatever sadness remains by the last line is meant to be mitigated by the distance the reader is supposed to feel from the point-of-view character: her nightmarish future is the one we not simply inhabit, but cling to.
©2010 by Peter Gutierrez.
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