Short Stories

The Day I Met Mrs. Dorian

by Jamie Barber

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     I blew on my hands to remove the sting from the icy winter air. My breath visibly hovered in front of my numb lips.  Shivering, I trudged through the frost-coated lawn in front of my small two-bedroom brick house which set secluded, tucked away behind towering white oak trees currently barren with thick outstretched prickly limbs, stark from the winter’s frost.

     I opened the door to my frozen silver sedan and maneuvered my heavy black wool coat so I could lean inside the vehicle to turn on the defroster.  Once the engine sputtered to a low hum, I began scraping a layer of thin ice away from its windshield.

     “Come on Ellie!  We need to get going,” I called to my four-year-old daughter who was still inside the house trying to locate a pair of lost shoes.

      She peeked her head out from behind the front door slightly ajar, and pouted. “I can’t find them anywhere, Mommy.”

     “Did you look under your bed?”

     She disappeared into the living room which told me she hadn’t.  Within a few minutes Ellie emerged from the house bundled like a plump colorful marshmallow in her favorite pink puffy coat and shiny fuchsia boots.  The few dangling locks of her curly blonde hair that were free from the constriction of her winter cap bounced as she spryly walked toward the car. Within seconds her cheeks and nose were rosy from the air’s chill.

     “Hurry Ellie, get inside the car or we're going to be late.” 

     As she obeyed I ran to the front door with my rigid, frozen hands tucked inside the pockets of my coat.  I locked up the house and within minutes we were on the road.

     I commuted to work every weekday.  Ellie and I lived about thirty minutes outside of the city.  We didn’t live there by choice exactly; it was the only real home I could afford for us as a single parent.  Every morning I would drop Ellie off at daycare and head into the city.

     The tires grinded on the uneven pavement as we pulled up to the small, bland, beige building we saw almost daily.  The daycare was adjacent to the church which supervised its programs.  The caregivers were well-educated and were more teachers than babysitters which made my daughter’s daily parting a little less stressful.  Ellie liked her teachers and they thought that she was “sweeter than a mouthful of candy.”

     Today the parking lot was empty.  The only movement was from the steam and smog that rose from my car.

     “What’s going on?  Today isn’t a holiday,” I said aloud perplexed.

     “What’s wrong Mommy?” Ellie asked.

     I didn’t answer.  I turned off the engine and helped my daughter out of the car, walking hand-in-hand up to the daycare’s door.  Posted on a small glass window in the middle of the door was a piece of paper taped to the inside, with one scribbled word, “Closed.”

     “Just great,” I sighed frustrated.  “You would think they would give some kind of notice on these things.”  I took a deep breath and suppressed the anger that was rising within me.  “I guess I missed the memo,” I grumbled, fully aware that the lack of communication had been my fault since no other cars had pulled up alongside me.

     I looked down at Ellie who was searching my expression with her large brown eyes.  “You aren’t going to school today, honey.  It looks like I’m taking the day off from work,” I explained.

     I retrieved my cell phone from my coat pocket and proceeded to call my boss.  “Harold?”  He answered after only a few rings.  “Harold, it’s Dara.  It looks like I’m not going to be able to come into work today.  I’m sorry.  I know you really wanted me to be there for the Stanton pitch.”

     “Are you feeling alright?”  His voice carried concern.

     “Yeah I’m fine.  There was just a little miscommunication this morning.”

     “Can you come in by noon?  The pitch was postponed until this afternoon anyway.  I really need you here for this one.”

     I didn’t know how I would be able to go into work at all.  I didn’t have anyone else to watch Ellie.  I lived across the country from my parents whom I never spoke to and didn’t have any relatives nearby that I could coax into watching my little girl.  It was just me.  I was alone.

     “I’ll try,” I muttered anyway.  I couldn’t promise anything but maybe I would be able figure out something.  The McCulligans had a huge family and lived just down the road from me.  They had a girl around Ellie’s age.  Maybe I would ask them to take her in for the afternoon.

     “See you at noon?”  My boss wasn’t one who took no for an answer.

     “Yeah, noon,” I conceded unenthusiastically.

     “See you then.”  And then there was a click.

     I slipped my cell phone back into my coat and leaned my head against the icy door.

     “It looks like you are having a rough day,” a low female voice came seemingly out of nowhere.

     I looked around to see who was there.  The parking lot was still empty albeit the presence of my own car.

     “You look like you could use a cup of warm cocoa,” the female’s voice had a somewhat harsh timbre, as if she was a stern woman who had dealt with several tribulations, but it also had a kind of friendliness about it.

     “It is cold out here,” I admitted turning toward the church where I saw an elderly lady and a young boy leaving the crucifix adorned exit.  They stepped down the small set of concrete stairs that led to the parking lot.

     “My name’s Mrs. Dorian,” she introduced herself, “and this is Christopher, my grandson.  He lives with me.”  Whenever she said her “S’s” it almost sounded like she was whistling.

     Mrs. Dorian had mousy brown hair with grey strands strewn through the edges.  Her hair was wavy and she piled it on the back of her head in a loose bun.  She wore a wide-brimmed hat with flowers on top that laced around her chin with a white ribbon.  She looked elegant and old-fashioned.

     “I’m Dara and this is my daughter Ellie,” I chimed in so as not to be rude.

     “Well Dara, it looks like the daycare is closed and it’s quite chilly outside today.  Would you like to come over to my house for a cup of cocoa?”

     She was a stranger and I would normally have politely turned her down, however I was exhausted and a cup of cocoa sounded like a nice temporary cure for my current predicament.  I wasn't ready to make the drive back home just yet.

     “That sounds nice,” I smiled.

     Ellie and I followed Mrs. Dorian and her grandson on foot just a block up the street to a large blue house.  The porch had an array of bright flowered plants dangling from its trellises and a cozy rocking chair with a blanket and a book propped against the wall.  It was far larger and more beautiful than my house.

     As Mrs. Dorian opened the door a draft of lilac perfume wafted in our direction.  The lilac perfume suited her delicate hands and smiling eyes but not her voice.

     I took a seat on a floral patterned couch.  It didn’t look anything like my couch that had stains from spills and slumped in the center from too much wear.  The entire house was kept pristine.  Dark cherry tables shined without a coat of dust to conceal their luster and the wood floors glistened.

     Ellie took a seat in my lap and I hugged her close to me.  “My sweet angel,” I whispered into her ear and I gave her a kiss on the cheek.

     Mrs. Dorian disappeared into the kitchen where I could hear clinking of silver and porcelain.  A couple minutes later she appeared with her hat and coat removed, and a tray full of teacups.

     “Heavens!  Excuse me.   I wasn’t a very good hostess.  I don’t entertain company very often.  Forgive me.  Please, may I take your coats?”  She set the tray down on the round wooden table beside the couch and proceeded to relieve us of our bulky attire.

     “Cocoa?” she offered when she had returned from the closet.

     “Thank you very much,” I accepted the first cup and saucer handing it to Ellie.  “Be careful with this.  Don’t spill,” I cautioned.  Then I took a cup for myself.

     Mrs. Dorian and her grandson sat in side-by-side cushioned chairs and sipped their cocoa along with us.

     “You are not originally from around here are you?  I can tell by your accent.”  Mrs. Dorian began to make conversation.

     “No,” I blushed.  “I am thousands of miles away from where I grew up.”

     “I could tell by the paleness of your face when you saw the closed sign on the daycare center that there isn’t anyone around to help you.”  She set down her cocoa and straightened her ruffled blouse that had twisted slightly askew upon seating.

     “That obvious?” I chuckled nervously.  “Huh.  I didn’t think anyone paid that much attention.”

     “At my age you notice a lot of things,” she smiled gently.

     “I’m a single parent,” I divulged.  “My husband dragged me out here for his work and then was gone all of the time traveling.  We drifted apart.  We just wanted very different things.  Eventually we divorced.”  I had suddenly burst open without thinking, practically revealing my life story.  My sudden forwardness would have bothered most people, but not Mrs. Dorian.

     “I didn’t mean to impose,” her smile melted into her wrinkles and guilt tinged her eyes.  I was surprised she actually felt sorry for me.  She seemed like the sort of person who would have normally told someone to “buck up.”

     “Don’t worry about it.  It’s kind of nice to talk to someone about it.  I haven’t said much to anyone but Ellie, and people I am forced to work with of course, for the last few months.”

     My fidgety daughter set her cocoa aside after a few sips, becoming antsier by the minute, and continually shifted her body on the sofa.  Her movement caught Mrs. Dorian’s eye.

     “Christopher.  Why don’t you show Ellie here some of your toys?” she suggested.

     Christopher gratefully popped up from his chair and he grabbed Ellie’s hand, running wildly into his room yanking her behind him.

     “Children have so much energy,” Mrs. Dorian laughed.

     “A few minutes is fine,” I called after them.  I was feeling somewhat antsy myself and would be ready to leave soon now that I was warm and toasty.

     Suddenly I heard a small thump on the window behind me and I jumped up off of the couch to see what it was.

     “It’s just a bird,” Mrs. Dorian chuckled.  “I guess those windows are a little too clean.”

     “Oh,” I sat back down, embarrassed by how easy I was startled.  “I hope the poor thing's okay.”

     “It’s probably dead,” she replied cynically.  “Of course that doesn’t mean it’s not okay,” her tone changed to that of optimism.

     “What?”  I let her continue.

     “It was just last year when we were sitting on the porch—Christopher, his mother and me—and Christopher asked us what we thought happened to all those birds that hit the window.  ‘Where do they go?’ he asked.  I gave him the generic answer everyone gives.  ‘Heaven,’ I said, even though I didn’t believe such a place existed.  Puffy clouds and cherubs playing harpsichords while people frolic all day sounded too Utopian for my taste.”

     I nodded in agreement offering a smile.  I had to admit I didn’t believe in a place where suddenly magically, everything was impossibly perfect after a lifetime of imperfections.

     She went on.  “When we were parted in the car crash—when his mom and older brother were taken from us—I thought the world had come to an end.”  Her voice broke.  “That’s why we live, after all, to love and to be loved.  I thought that every reason I had to live had been stolen from me.”

     I studied her eyes and face.  She looked shattered.  She looked like one of my mother’s prized vases I had broken as a child and had glued back together to conceal the damage.  The tarnished vase was irreparable, and would always have the marks of where I had smashed it to bits.  Mrs. Dorian would forever carry the same marks.

     I leaned forward wanting to console her but she turned her head away as if wiping a tear from her eye.  Then she blinked her weathered eyelids and took a deep breath, angling back toward me.

     “You know what I think now?” a pressed smile was starting to break through the pain.  “I think heaven’s not much different than here, and there is a very fine line between the living and the dead.”

     I wondered how our conversation had turned so morbid.  “Why do you say that?” I asked.

     Her chin tilted upward and her eyes steadily looked passed me as if in cogitation.  “I just know,” she said confidently.  “I know because every day it feels like I can reach out and hug my daughter.  I can feel when she cries for me and I know she feels when I cry for her too.  We are parted but only by a thin veil.”

     I could feel the emotion build up within me.  It wanted to surge through me, racing like a turbulent river to my heart, and make me remember those I had lost from my life.  But before the tears could well up I fought the feelings away.

     “I'm sure you are right,” is all I responded, detaching myself from the grinding my heart would endure if I let myself remember the same sort of pain she had felt.

     She desisted to look past me and met my eyes.  I could see the weariness in them but also concern for me.  Maybe she knew I was fighting back memories of loss.  Maybe there had been a time when she too hadn’t wanted to bleed from all the heartache.

     I didn’t push it any further.  Instead I changed the subject.  “Mrs. Dorian, I would like to thank you for your hospitality, but I'm afraid Ellie and I should get going.  I need to be to work by noon and I need some time to go door-to-door throughout the neighborhood so I can look for a babysitter.”

     “Why don’t you leave Ellie here with me?” she offered.

     I gave a nervous chuckle, “Thank you for your kindness but we've just met.  I wouldn’t think of imposing.”

     “It’s not at all an imposition.  Ellie and Christopher will have a great time playing.  Christopher doesn’t get to have much company.  It is a treat for him.  I will watch them.  Don’t worry she will be right here waiting for you when you get back.”

     I watched her warm eyes intently and then I sighed, shaking my head because I was baffled by her kindness.  “Alright, if you insist.”

     “I insist.”

     “I guess I should go tell Ellie that I am leaving for a few hours,” I shrugged.

     “I’ll show you the way.”

     Mrs. Dorian led me through the hallway which was wallpapered in some kind of Victorian motif.  I wondered if anyone nowadays still wallpapered their walls, but Mrs. Dorian seemed like the type who was set in her ways regardless of what the trends and styles were.  She led me to Christopher’s bedroom scattered with miniature fire trucks and cars.  An electric toy train circled the room occasionally “toot tooting” as it passed its plastic station.  Ellie was wide-eyed watching the train go round and round.

     “Ellie honey.  You are going to stay with Christopher for a few hours while I go to work.”

     Her eyes immediately left the train and she ran to me throwing her arms around my waist.  “Don’t go mommy.”

     “Sweetie, it’s just for a few hours.  I’ll be back before dark. I promise,” I knelt down to be at her level.  “Besides, that train looks like a lot of fun and I’m sure Christopher will let you help him build some other cool places for the train to visit.  A train needs more than a station.  It needs a destination.”

     I sat down with her and we started to stack building blocks to create a bridge over the train track.  Mrs. Dorian remained in the doorway simply observing.

     “See.  Isn’t that neat?”  I asked.

     Ellie grinned and nodded.

     When it was time to leave I left my daughter with a hug and a kiss.  “I love you sweetie.  Be good.”  I tapped the tip of her nose with my finger.  She said she loved me too and giggled at the nose tap.  I didn’t have any trouble leaving her with Christopher and Mrs. Dorian.  When I left the room I peeked back to check her expression and she looked as content and happy as any child.

     For several days I dropped Ellie off to play with Christopher and to chat with Mrs. Dorian before and after work.  Mrs. Dorian didn’t make small talk like most people I knew, but instead always had something interesting and thought-provoking to say.  We talked about love, we talked about heartache and we talked about what it meant to be happy.  During some of our latest conversations I began to watch her more closely and started to get the feeling that she believed she was educating me in some way—an older woman passing along her stories and life, her legacy and knowledge, to me.  I felt grateful for her.  In a short time she became my closest friend.

     The daycare never reopened and I wondered if they had closed it down for good.  It bewildered me how I had missed such an important announcement.  Every day I would drive by just to see if the sign had changed but it never did.

     After a while Mrs. Dorian set up a classroom in her study for Ellie and Christopher.  She even began teaching my four-year-old daughter French which I thought was beyond impressive.  I tried to pay her for constantly watching my child but she always refused to accept any money.  I mused at how lucky I had been to find exactly the person I needed at the time that the need for her arose.

 

     Spring was hastily approaching and the trees were beginning to show signs of early buds.  The frosty weather had melted away and was replaced with curtains of rain.

     It was one of the stormiest eves I can remember.  The grey clouds had rolled in, eclipsing the sun from view.  The sky lit up with flashes of light, and whirs of rumbling thunder boomed their bass melodies across the plains.

     I had returned from a gratifying day at work.  My boss had given me a pay raise after my annual review telling me that I had impressed him, especially in the last couple of months.

     I parked in front of Mrs. Dorian’s house and ran to the porch, becoming instantly soaked the second I stepped foot outside the sedan door.  When I reached the porch I had to ring out my hair it was so wet, and I attempted to shake the scattered raindrops from my arms and legs.

     I knocked on the door.  “Mrs. Dorian, I’m here to pick up Ellie,” I called through the thick wood.

     There was no answer.

     “Mrs. Dorian?”  I began to pound harder.

     Again there was no answer.  I tried to peer in through the window but it was too dark inside.  I couldn’t see anything, but one thing was certain, there was no light on in the living room and no strings of muted chatter seeping through the walls. 

     They weren’t there.  My heart felt like it sank into my stomach.  No note had been left on the front door for an explanation.  There had been no phone call.

     I tried to jiggle the handle ajar but immediately found that it was locked.

     “Where could they have gone?” I asked myself aloud. My voice caught in my throat. "There must be something wrong."

      The blanket had been removed from the rocking chair and there were no plants hanging from the trellis.  There was just an old battered rocking chair leaning against the wall.  I couldn’t imagine why she would take down her plants when she tended them so carefully.  Then again, the rain was unnaturally violent this evening and perhaps she was protecting them from the harsh downpour.  Even when I sat way back in the rocking chair I could feel the mist of the rain being thrust toward me by the whirling, blustering winds.

     Then I began to think the worst.  What if something had happened to Ellie?  What if there had been an accident or Mrs. Dorian had gotten sick?  Could they be in a hospital somewhere?  Or what if I had misjudged Mrs. Dorian all along and she had uprooted and left with my daughter?

     I started to panic.  “Ellie?!” I yelled, running around the side of the house and peering into the dark windows.

     A flash raced across the sky illuminating the windows for a split second, but all I could see through the glare of the panes were silhouettes of empty furniture.

     “Ellie?!” I called again.  Tears were beginning to form.  I needed to know what had happened to my daughter.

     After several minutes of searching around the outside of the house I became exhausted and sunk into the rickety rocking chair on the front porch.  I was soaked and tired and shivering from the wet.

     "They will be back," I told myself.  "Nobody leaves all of their furniture behind.  There will be a good explanation for all of this."

     Nonetheless, I wasn’t going anywhere.  I curled up in the rocking chair and after a few hours drifted off to sleep, despite the crackles of thunder and the discomfort of my sopping attire.

     When I opened my eyes the sun had barely begun to peek over the horizon and its orange rays bled through the trees.  The raining had stopped and I realized that my hair and clothes were now only slightly damp.

     As I rubbed my eyes to adjust to the onslaught of light I heard the click of a car door.  I fully expected to see Mrs. Dorian, Christopher and Ellie appear from behind the passenger doors of a vehicle that had helped them return home from the hospital or somewhere else that was completely forgivable. After all Mrs. Dorian didn’t own a car and would have needed someone else to drive.  But it wasn’t Mrs. Dorian.  It wasn’t Ellie.  It was my ex-husband, Gabe.  He was coming up the patio. 

     Gabe had reddish-brown hair that he combed and gelled to the side. I always thought it made him look like a vintage salesman.  He was dressed in a black business suit indicating he had just come from work, probably returning home from one of his business trips.  I hadn’t talked to him in a while and so I wasn’t well-informed on what he had been doing.

     I realized how uncomfortable I was in the solid chair and shifted to relieve the ache in my back and neck. However that mere physical discomfort was the least of my worries.

     “Dara, what are you doing out here?  The sheriff called and said that you were sitting out in front of the old Dorian house and so I came right away.”

     “The sheriff?  Why would he call you?  Does he know where Mrs. Dorian is?”

     Gabe crumpled his brow.  His expression looked like the same one he had held the day I told him I couldn’t bear to be married to him anymore.  His eyebrows were furrowed, and his deep blue eyes looked hurt and angry all at the same time.

     “Dara, the Dorians haven’t lived here in over a year.  Why would you be looking for Mrs. Dorian?  This house is abandoned.  The Dorians left after their car accident.  It was in the local paper.  After the grandmother and youngest son died, the mother took her eldest son and left.  I guess they couldn’t bear to look at all of the things that reminded them of their lost family members.  Nobody’s been here since, which is why the sheriff thought it was so strange you were sleeping on their porch in the rain.  Are you okay?”

     I felt all of the warmth drain from my face.  He was wrong.  This place couldn’t be abandoned.  I had just talked to Mrs. Dorian. I had just seen her with my own eyes.  Besides, she hadn’t died.  It was her daughter that had died.  None of this made any sense.  Gabe must have been mistaken.

     “Gabe, I was just talking to Mrs. Dorian last night.  I’ve been visiting her almost daily for the last couple of months.  You're misinformed I'm afraid.”

     He crouched down so that we would be eye-to-eye and took my hand in his, stroking it with his fingertips.  “Are you sure you are alright?  This place is abandoned, Dara, I am telling you.”

     I pushed away his hand and stood up from the rocking chair turning my back on him.  “No.  There is furniture inside the house and look at the windows.  Do those look like windows that haven’t been touched in a year?”

     I watched him as he slowly came to his feet studying the impeccably clear glass around the house.  “It does look pretty clean,” he admitted.

     I was at least validated, but my stomach remained knotted and unappeased.  I frantically began pacing.  “Gabe, Mrs. Dorian has Ellie!  I dropped her off here before work yesterday and when I came to pick her up, no one was here.”

     A small gasp escaped his throat.  Gabe stopped dead in his tracks and stared at me wide-eyed.  Then he started walking over to me carefully.  He was staring at me like I belonged in a mental institution.

     “Dara,” Gabe spoke softly as if he was trying to calm me.  “Ellie’s gone.  She’s been gone for months.”

     Hot water filled my eyes and I could feel my stomach turn.  “What do you mean she’s gone?!” I exploded.  “I just held her darling little face in my arms and kissed her sweet cheeks goodnight last night.  She’s with Mrs. Dorian is all!”

     He approached me cautiously and when I nearly collapsed, he put his arms around my waist and gently escorted me back to the rocking chair.  I didn’t fight him, but instead slumped into the chair letting my body hang listlessly.

     “Don’t you remember?  We lost Ellie last summer.  She drowned.”  He took my hand again.

     I didn’t feel anything.  I was numb.  I felt like an ice sculpture.

     Suddenly the memories all flooded back to me in a relentless, tortuous tidal wave.  I could almost feel my insides ripping into pieces and dropped my head in agony instantly bawling aloud.

     I remembered it.  I remembered running to the poolside where my precious daughter laid limp and cold.  Her plump lips were nearly blue and her cheeks without their usual rosy hue.  I remembered feverishly pumping her ribs and blowing into her mouth to save her, but it had all been too late.  Death had already stolen her from me.  Its scythe had already cut the string that embodied her invaluable life.  My child, my world, my life had been taken from me.

     I had blamed myself for a while. I couldn't figure out why I never had the prompting, the motherly instinct, to know that she was in danger.  I wondered how I could have been chatting inside the neighbor’s house and not noticed that out of the children running back and forth from room to room, my child had not been among them—how I had simply assumed my child was playing quietly when she had really wandered outside.

     I had known all of this, but I had somehow forgotten.  I had somehow pushed it all away. Maybe to protect myself from what I couldn't bear. Maybe because it was the only way I could cope. But it didn't change what had happened.

     Gabe rubbed my back to try and soothe the pain but it was pointless.  There was absolutely nothing in the world that could console me from this truth...However, there was another truth that I wanted to consider. Needed to consider.

     “Gabe, but I saw her.”  My breath was unsteady and I was nearly hyperventilating as I spoke, tears continued cascading down my cheeks.

     “Shhhhh.  Dara, breathe.”

     “No, you don’t understand.  I’ve been seeing her every day as real as I see you now.  I can touch her and I can hold her and tell her that I love her.  I have seen her.”  I was adamant.

     “How could you see her?  She is dead.  She is gone,” his voice remained soft and calm.  He was the antithesis of me.  I was a wreck.

     “I don’t know but I have.”  I stood up pushing him away and ran to the door jiggling the knob.  “I need to get inside this house.  I need to see if she’s in there waiting for me.”

     He sighed and dropped his head pushing his knuckles tensely against his sticky gel-clumped hair.  “That’s breaking and entering.  She’s not in there, Dara.  She’s in heaven now.”  He was trying to remain composed although I could tell by the tightness of his jaw and conciseness of his words that it was difficult for him.

    I refused to believe him.  The sound of her voice and touch had been too real for me to have been mistaken.  I continued pulling and pushing, even kicking the door, doing anything to get inside.

     “I can’t just leave you here like this,” he said exasperated.

     “Of course you can.  I’ve been alone for some time now.”  I thrust my entire body into the door, grunting as I thudded against its sturdy wood.

     “And look at you.  You are chasing our child’s ghost!”  His voice was becoming stern and unsettled.

     “You can think I’m crazy all you want, but I am telling you Ellie is in there.  I can feel her.  I can feel her calling for me.”

     Gabe shook his head in disapproval and then walked to his car.  I thought he was going to hop inside and drive away but instead he pulled a screwdriver from his trunk.

     “When you see that she is not there will you at least listen to me?  Promise me that if I open this door for you that you will let me drive you home.”

     To hold onto my last thread of sanity I needed to look inside that house, and so I agreed.  “Okay,” I nodded and I backed away from the door.

     Gabe unscrewed the doorknob and after a short while of fiddling was able to get us inside. 

     The entry and living room did not look like I expected.  There were pieces of furniture but no lamps or decorations.  There were cobwebs in the corners and dust on the tables and chairs.  It smelled musty, old, dead.

     I, however, recognized every piece of furniture from my visits with Mrs. Dorian.  I had not fashioned the images in my imagination.  The floral sofa that was without stains and didn’t slump was just as it had been when I had conversed with Mrs. Dorian.  The only difference was that a thin layer of dust coated the fabric.  I ran my fingers along its edge.  I had felt it, touched it, sat there only a day ago.  Yet this place was untended, neglected like a discarded memory.

     Once Gabe had finished reattaching the doorknob he tucked the screwdriver into the side pocket of his suit’s jacket and sighed.  “You know what?  I’m going to wait in the car.  Don’t be too long.”  He didn’t want to have anything to do with this…or with me.

     “Ellie?  Mrs. Dorian?  Christopher?  Are you in here?” I called searching the rooms.

      There was silence.  “Ellie?  It’s Mommy, honey.”

     I walked back to Christopher’s bedroom.  There were no toys strewn along the floor, just a small bed, the perfect size for a young boy, only with no sheets or blankets.

     I collapsed onto the mattress kicking up a cloud of dust.  I tried to take in deep breaths.  I felt so light-headed I thought that I would faint.  I had to be crazy.  There was no other explanation.  There was no Mrs. Dorian or Christopher, and my Ellie was gone. 

     I sobbed oceans of tears.  I thought that my heart would collapse into my chest.  I belonged in a mental hospital.  I was ill and more importantly I had nothing left.  Ellie was my life and she was gone.

     I only lifted my head when I heard the floorboards creak.  I thought maybe Gabe had come in to find me, but when I waited a few moments I realized it wasn’t Gabe.  There was no one outside of the door.  I was alone.  I conjectured that the noise was probably the house settling since it was an old house.

     A few minutes went by and I again heard a creak, only it wasn’t just a creak this time.  There were footsteps.  They sounded so clear and distinct—heel toe, heel toe—I expected someone to appear in the doorway at any moment. But no one appeared.

     My heart began to flutter with hope.  Mrs. Dorian and Christopher do live here, I thought to myself.  I tried to sort it all out.  It’s just not in the way I thought.  They may be dead but they are still here.

     But I wondered if ghosts could really see and hear and smell and feel the way that I had known them to.  Were they that elaborate?  Did the dead really have the capabilities to still live?  And why had I seen everything so vividly: the immaculately kept house, the shiny tables and the steam off the hot cocoa?

     It could have been a coincidence but at that moment a burst of sunshine blazed through the windows.  I felt a blanket of warmth…of comfort.  There was a melodic humming that rang from somewhere inside the room, but it bounced off the walls so that I couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from.  The humming was sweet, childlike, beautiful.  And then I saw her face.  It was even more angelic than I had remembered.  It sparkled in the air like a mist of glittering gold.

     I wanted to reach out and touch her face but I was afraid that if I did, the illusion would disappear and I needed it to be real. I needed her to be real.

     “Mommy, I love you,” Ellie’s beautiful voice tinkled like bells.

     “I love you too, sweetie.  Mommy misses you so much.”  I tried to wipe my eyes to clear the tears but they continued to pour.

     “I have to go away now,” she said, “with Mrs. Dorian and Christopher.  Mrs. Dorian says it’s time to go.”

     I wanted to tell her no she couldn’t go, but I couldn’t bring myself to cough out the words.  I knew she had to go.  I knew wherever she was going was somewhere she needed to be. I just wished I could go too.

     The mist only stayed for a short while longer and then dissipated.  I wanted to hold onto her.  I didn’t want that small piece of her to disappear, but I didn’t have control over it and it eventually dissolved.

     I threw my face into my hands and cried. However I didn’t feel the same unbearable ripping in my chest.  Instead, I felt a small piece of solace like Ellie’s small hand was pressed over my heart warming it.

     “Goodbye, Mommy.”  Her voice echoed through the air for the last time, fading into the silence of the still morning.

     Gabe peered into the room and his expression was doe-eyed.  His mouth was agape and he said nothing.  He simply stared at me.  He didn’t have to say anything.  I knew that he had heard it too.

     That day I left Mrs. Dorian’s blue house with Gabe, wondering what other mysteries it had to reveal, but the house remained motionless, quiet and dormant.  I glanced back only once.  I knew it no longer housed the spirit of the one most dear to me.

     Eventually things went back to normal in my life—well, as normal as they could possibly be.  I went to visit my parents whom I hadn’t seen in what felt like ages, and Gabe and I began to talk again rekindling a friendship that had been broken.

     I never stopped missing Ellie.  When I closed my eyes at night I never stopped seeing her face. Sometimes I wished that I could sleep forever so that I wouldn’t have to wake up and find that she wasn’t there.  But I was able to hang on, regain my sanity and eventually feel somewhat happy again, because I knew that she was somewhere loving and missing me the same way I loved and missed her.

     Sometimes when people would learn that I had buried a child they would ask me how I was able to go on and this is what I would tell them:

There is a thin veil between the living and the dead.  Eternity creeps in and out of our lives as swiftly and as quietly as a shallow breath, our daily lives a mere flicker in the immeasurable length of all things.  However, time is relative, and when someone dies and a flame is snuffed from our known existence a mere day, an hour, a minute can feel like a lifetime.  But hope should always remain, for if we strive to clear the smokescreen and seek to understand something beyond ourselves, we are likely to find more than we ever thought possible.  There is something beyond the eye’s reach.  There is something that cannot be explained by measurable methods.  There is something to hold onto.  Never let go.

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