I wasn’t there very long. What’s funny is, now? I’ve been here, a place I didn’t even want to go to at all, for longer than I was there.
My last year there was tough and I hated to say goodbye to everyone but it wasn’t up to me. It was just time to go. It was hardest to say goodbye to my family, that’s never easy, especially when you have such a great family like mine. But life is funny that way, you can’t stay in one place forever, can you?
They don’t really know I’m still right there with them, my family, I mean. Well, except for my little sister, Jenny. She gets it. She’s tuned in sometimes to more intangible things when her antennae are up, Yeah, she gets the messages loud and clear most of the time. Like when I send a black crow, our family namesake, her way, it’s me. I’m the one perching on the branch in front of her bedroom window making all the fuss. She knows.
I’m just happy I got her that apartment she loves so much right near downtown with the big oak tree. A couple of years ago, the listing came up and I made sure she saw it and that the landlord chose her and it all worked out, even if she didn’t know it was me working it all out behind the scenes.
She lives on the first floor beneath the piano player. I did that one on purpose. ‘Cause I didn’t want her to forget me and sometimes it seems like I’m slipping away from her a little too much. Every afternoon at two o’clock, the tenant above her will practice and Jenny can’t help but think of me. Why? Because that lady is endlessly plinking out two of my favorite songs. Those two songs that used to drive Jenny crazy, my practicing and playing them day in and day out, perfecting each passage until I got it right.
Beethoven’s Bagatelle in A Minor, Für Elise, for one. I never did learn to play the whole thing from beginning to end. Oh well, next lifetime, I guess. Now all these years later, Jenny is still hearing those songs again in the same way. The stumbles, the repetition, the triumphant movements of flowing music followed by the sudden wobble and pause. The do-over. And over. And over! I laugh. This is me laughing.
Sometimes I cry. Because I miss them all so much. Miss the little things that make it all so worth it. I was given twenty-nine years. Twenty. Nine. Can you believe it? I was born into all the best things you can think of and it was all just taken away. I was real pretty, I even did some modeling for a while. And I was smart, so smart, ask anyone. Funny – and fun – life of the party, really. I was creative and talented, intuitively expressive. I had it all, as they say, so it was pretty unfair what happened to me.
Just one thing can go wrong and change everything you’ve ever worked for, ever loved, ever hoped to accomplish and become. One little thing.
I can tell you something about being here, though, if you want. It’s different for everyone depending on, well, depending on what you believe in, how you behaved in the past, how you got here to begin with. For me, it’s not too bad, I mean, there is music and a few paintings on the walls. And, on family visitation day, I can hear children laughing and playing hide-and-go-seek outside, which is a pretty funny game here, that’s for sure.
Oh, and there’s the piano in a room down at the end of a big hallway with a picture window where you can actually see the clouds float by. That was a lucky break! Could not exist without that!
Some days, an old friend or someone from my family will start to visit out of the blue. I’m always surprised the first time some of them show up. And sometimes I’m sort of expecting them. Dad came first on his own, then mom a few years later when she was finally ready. Now they visit together, hand in hand, more accepting now of the whole thing. At peace with it.
Let me tell you about my family, ok? They are a fun crew, and full of compassion and love each one of them. My people come in all shapes and sizes and we all sort of look alike but different but the main thing is we carry a common thread, a similar sense of humor, a certain look in the eyes or a way that we laugh, or walk, or an expression we use, or a way we look at the value of a thing or a moment in time. It’s all the same for each one of us. That’s the link. The forever link.
I know the boys all wonder about me from time to time, they talk less about it than my sisters do, the way things went down, but that’s just the difference between men and women, I think. Not a true reflection of their feelings or their awareness. Mom and Dad, they were a hoot, a great pair, a couple of love-bugs who did their best for us, that such-a-big-family of us, bless their hearts. My being sent away was the hardest on them, it just wasn’t right.
I suppose I should tell you more about me, too, huh? Before I had to come here, that is, because I’m pretty different these days. It changed me.
When I was a baby, I was the only girl in the family so far with three older brothers and one younger and my parents just loved me to pieces. The only girl, the only daughter for a good long while until my two younger sisters came along, so I was pretty spoiled by all of them. I was a tom-boy, too, because of all those brothers until I got to be a teenager and then I was the girliest girl you could ever meet with lots of boyfriends and girls who wanted to always be around me.
I still liked sports, though, and my dad, a big jock himself, loved it. I was more into sports than any of my brothers ever were! I was a star on the girl’s basketball team at my high school, ran track, was a great swimmer, gosh, I was super athletic.
I had to share a room with my sisters growing up which I hated at the time, but boy, what I wouldn’t do to be in that room with them now instead of this one! I ran the show, I mean, I. Was. The. Boss. The boss of them. I made the rules. Like, for one, I got to wear all of their clothes but they weren’t allowed to so much as breathe on anything of mine hanging in the closet. And I had the final say what went up on our walls. Bobby Sherman, no. James Taylor, yes. David Cassidy, no. Eric Clapton, yes.
And I picked out the hippy color scheme of the room, walls and dressers painted up in purple and yellow and aqua blue! There was no democracy in that room, believe me. I decided when lights were out and what records rotated on the hi-fi and what radio stations would be set to. I directed them at what parts to sing and how and when. I decided when the Yahtzee or Monopoly or Scrabble board would get set out, what TV shows we should watch and who it was ok to have a crush on.
And how they should wear their hair, how they should dance, what shoes and eye shadow and perfume to buy. I was the stylist, the comedian, the game winner and star of the show. Always. I mean, sometimes we would put on these fake talk show skits and I was always the starlet coming out to sing. But, they loved it all, I know they did, because overall there was less bickering and more laughter all the darn time. Gosh, we had fun.
But it’s not all that bad here, I guess things could be worse. I tell myself that and you’ll see if you happen to end up here, too. If even for just a short visit. You see, in my mind I can still go there, I’m still really there in my own way. And, like I said, Jenny knows it, maybe the others know it sometimes, too. I can hear them telling a story about me right now or getting a little teary listening to an old song from those years we were growing up together. I know. I just hope they know, too. It’s just time and space between us, that’s all and if you haven’t figured it out yet, that stuff is not linear. It’s a circle. No, really. You’ll see. Eventually.
It will feel like an eternal stretch if you get stuck on the linear thing, I warn you. But if you let me explain things in a way you can understand, it goes like this:
It was on my twenty-eighth birthday when the sentence was handed down. Yep. I know, so young. So much life ahead of me, so much potential. But it happened so quickly and I could not have seen it coming. Wrong place, wrong time. There I was playing my A-game one day, and the next day, no matter how hard I swung at the ball, it just sailed on by and there was nothing I could do about it. That day, everything changed for me. Changed for all of us.
Yeah, who goes to the doctor on their birthday and even worse, finds out something like that! My brother Robbie used to tell me I was a drama queen, that I should go to Hollywood and become an actress. But I didn’t mean to be so dramatic on my birthday, it just sort of worked out that way. At the time, I was so mad and I felt like I let everyone down, especially my Dad. But later, when I saw the light? I found out they weren’t disappointed in me. They were disappointed in the crappy hand I was dealt.
Wasn’t I supposed to get married and have kids and be happy for a good long time, after all? What the heck happened. Why did it go so wrong? So soon?
Now, I just have to take part in what I can to stay connected to that life. The love.
One day, for example, when Jenny was sitting in the park near her apartment, that apartment I directed into her consciousness, I mean, Mom and Dad and I appeared at her feet. Three crows – les trois Corbeaux – doing our little dance around her in a circle. She sat and watched us and we could tell she knew it was us. She even talked to us a little bit.
Funny. The things she felt were important to say, we already knew all of it. Still nice to hear it, though that was more for her than for us, I think. That was a sweet visit.
So, I guess this is my ending. The ending of my story to you about me. Twenty-nine years is not a very long time. I enjoyed my embodiment, my time on the physical plane, even if it was so brief and I missed out on so much. I did not enjoy my last year, though, I’ll admit that. It was full of terrible stuff; visits to the hospital, losing my hair, losing so much weight from that pretty body of mine. Losing my sense of Self. Losing my way.
Until I found the proper map and got myself ready to go. I pretended I was going to a big party that night, my last night there. Got all dressed up and ready, put some make-up on and my favorite dress. My prettiest shoes. But then I was tired. Just got so darn tired. And I just had to lie down on the bed. And wait. Wait to go.
Oh, there it is. It must be two o’clock! Jenny’s upstairs tenant is practicing her piano. Today it’s my other favorite, that other song for Jenny. Beethoven again. Moonlight Sonata, First Movement, Opus 27 No. 2. I did finally get all the way through that one before I left. Phew! Jenny is hearing it and staring off into space, feeling my visit. She was just sitting there drawing something – she’s an artist like I was, you see – and she sort of stopped and set her pen down to listen. I like that. I like that a lot. Hi, Jenny! Listen up, this one’s for you, sister! Remember it? Feel it? I know you do.
We’re all just temporary residents. I was just a brief visitor, but so are you, you just don’t really think about it or get it yet. I never did. Never realized I was just passing through. And you might get to visit a lot longer than I did, but it’s all the same, really. We’re all just on a walk through that world together, some take the long way and some just have to find the shortcut. Leave the party early. In the end, we’re all just walking each other home. You’ll see. I wish I could let them all know, everyone I’ve ever loved that I’ll be there for them.
Jenny, I’ll be there for you. I’ll meet you on the corner and we’ll walk together hand in hand. Back home together.
© 2020, Mary Corbin.
The Visitor is from the Ephemerata Collection. This story was first published in an abbreviated form, as a Flash Fiction submission, titled “Visitor,” in (mac)ro(mic) on April 7, 2021. Featured artwork: “Always With Me” – painting by Mary Corbin. No reprints without permission.
This story is dedicated to my sister Colleen. I wrote this on Halloween night 2020, the night of the the first Blue Moon in 76 years. On this night, it is said that the veil between worlds is at its thinnest, opening the gates for ancestors and departed loved ones to visit.