Push – Final Episode

Marvin Cantor pushed his way up the stairs leading out of the subway station. He felt like he was swimming against a school of fish that had surrounded him. Most people dodged left and right to avoid him as he rushed up the steps. He felt his right shoe flapping loosely against his foot, and he feared that he’d lose it, but with a thousand dollars waiting for him, he didn’t have to worry. Or did he? What if the strange man wasn’t waiting for him in the alley as he’d promised? A moment of panic washed over him. Had he killed another man for nothing?

The daylight flashed against his face as he stepped from the station’s exit. The crowded sidewalk crushed him, but people made way for him as he turned left and headed toward First and Macon streets. He turned left again and hurried through a narrow alley until he came out on 10th Avenue. He stopped for  a moment and observed the rush hour crowd walking by. He hesitantly turned and looked down the alley, but no one was following him as he had feared. He took a deep breath. The sweat beneath his layers of clothes chilled his skin. He’d use some of the money to spend the night in a hostel, maybe even get a shower. He couldn’t remember the last time he had taken a shower.

He walked as casually as he could down 10th until he passed in front of Schulz’s. He peered through the big windows, but he didn’t see Schulz. He walked by and turned down the alley next to the deli. Down a ways next to the dumpster, stood a dark figure leaning next to the wall. Marvin felt as if someone had trespassed into his home. This was his alley. He spent many nights here.

He had a sense of unease as he approached the dumpster. He could barely see the man’s face as he approached him. He waited for the stranger to speak to him as he stopped a few feet before the metal trash bin. The door to Schulz’s deli was to his left. The man stood up straight and took a step toward him.

“Did you do it?” he asked.

“Yes.” Marvin’s voice shook.

“Did he die?” The man seemed agitated.


“Did you see the body?”

Marvin hesitated. “No, I had to get out of there before the cops came.”

The stranger sighed. “How do you know he’s dead?”

Many thoughts raced through Marvin’s head. His memory flashed back to the moment he had pushed the man onto the tracks. He remembered distinctly the wailing of the train’s horn, the screams of the crowd, the rush of the riders as they went to and fro on the platform. He had heard a sickening thud and a screech of metal on metal, but he didn’t turn around to see anything. He’d simply hurried away, too scared to see what had happened as a result of his actions.

The truth was that he regretted what he had done. He didn’t know the man that he had pushed onto the tracks, and the stranger hadn’t shared anything about the man to justify his killing, but Marvin was desperate. He needed the money.

“I heard the train hit him,” Marvin replied.

“I need more proof than that.”

“He’s dead. Now, where’s my money?” Marvin tried to sound confident, but it came out weak.

“You don’t get to decide when I give you the money.”

Marvin took a step back and stammered, “I did what you asked.”

“You’re nothing but some worthless homeless guy. You don’t get to decide anything.”

“Come on, man, I just need the money. I didn’t want to kill someone. I don’t even know why you wanted him dead. I don’t care. I just want my money.”

“I’ll tell you why. Because he was a worthless husband. His wife hated him. She wanted him dead.”

Marvin kept his eyes on the man. A fear rippled down his spine. He felt a breeze to his left and turned to see Schulz opening the back door to the deli. He thought to tell Schulz to go back inside, but as he turned to the old man, he noticed a long shiny object in his hand. Before he had time to react, Schulz plunged the knife into his chest. Marvin stumbled backwards and looked at Schulz in shock. He felt the warm blood run down his chest. He put his hand on the handle that protruded from his body, but he was too weak to remove it. The stranger moved closer to him and sneered at him as he fell to his knees.

The alley spun around him alternating between light and dark. He thought he could hear the rush of blood from his chest. He tried to put his hand on his wound, but both of his hands were too heavy to lift. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. Feet shuffled near him. A car horn honked in the distance. The din of traffic echoed through the alley.

He heard muffled voices over him, but he couldn’t discern what they were saying. He opened his eyes and strained to see, but his eyes were blurred by tears. He tried to say something, but he couldn’t force any words from his mouth. He heard footsteps moving away from him. Nothing but the usual sounds of the city engulfed him as the blood drained from his chest.

His breathing became labored and his chest hitched and jerked before he took his final breath. His last thoughts were of the sound the man’s body had made when the train had hit him.


Push – Episode 5

Fred stepped through the door of his home into the dark hallway just outside the kitchen. The garage door rattled shut behind him piercing the silence that otherwise engulfed him. Another dreadful week had come to a close ending with him exhausted and ready to go to bed at 8 PM. He crossed the kitchen diagonally and beat a hasty path to his office where he dropped his briefcase onto an empty chair. He shrugged off his rain coat and hung it on the hook behind his door before he returned to the kitchen.

He took a deep breath and surveyed his surroundings. He listened for any signs of Shelly, but he knew she was out with friends for the night. She did that a lot lately, more so than she had before Alan moved out. When Alan lived with them, she spent more time at home with their son, cooking meals or just watching TV with him. They’d always been close, so much so that he often felt like a third wheel or an interloper in his own home. That had changed now.

The light above him struggled to fend off the darkness in the living room. The house felt somber and abandoned without his wife or son around. Fred pulled open the cabinet near the refrigerator and removed a bottle of scotch. He filled a small glass with the honey-colored liquid and gulped it down. The burn made him exhale loudly. He poured another and held it above his head, staring at the liquid through the kitchen light before he sucked it down too. He quickly lost track of how many drinks he had poured.

He hadn’t eaten anything since lunch, and although he was hungry, he didn’t feel like eating. Exhaustion weighed on his shoulders and the alcohol made it worse. He felt lightheaded. His stomach rumbled like a volcano spitting hot lava. The scotch wasn’t settling well. A burp threatened to erupt into vomit. He braced himself against the countertop. In spite of it all, he downed another glass.

He didn’t want to end up on the floor again. Shelly had yelled at him before for passing out in the kitchen. He stumbled a bit as he stepped toward the stairs, but he managed to navigate them quite well. His feet felt like they were trudging through wet cement. His head undulated to a dull ache as his stomach protested. The door to his bedroom stood open, but it seemed smaller than usual. He bumped his shoulder against the door frame as he entered, which temporarily diverted his attention from everything else that ailed him. He yelped and rubbed his throbbing shoulder.

He stumbled to the bed and tried to remove his shoes before he fell on top of the comforter. His face smashed against the plush material of the bed covering making it hard for him to open his right eye. He couldn’t move or he didn’t want to move. The weight of the day overwhelmed him and crushed him into the bed. He just wanted to sleep, to give into the forces that threatened to drown him at that very moment.

Before he drifted into an intoxicating sleep, several thoughts drifted through his mind, but he was too drunk to understand them or grasp the consequences that lay before him.

Shelly wasn’t out with friends. She was having an affair with another man, a younger man. He knew this man but couldn’t picture his face.

Alan had left him a threatening message, but he had deleted it before he heard his son say what he had been thinking all along.

Paolo had accosted him outside his office at lunch. The big man had not been happy about losing the lawsuit and accused him of seedy tactics to win one for his wealthy client. He could still smell the cheesesteak on Paolo’s breath, and it made him sick.

His life spiraled out of control. He floated above his body and saw himself sprawled out on the bed below him. He looked around him and saw his wife embracing the younger man, his son loading a gun beneath the kitchen table, and Paolo walking toward him with a big stick in his hand. He turned away and drifted into a fitful sleep.

Push – Episode 4

Fred sat across the table from Paolo Fenta and his lawyer, Ricardo Montes. Montes looked ridiculous in his over-sized, double-breasted suit. The shoulder pads hung over the edge of his jaunty shoulders. His skinny neck struggled to fill the collar of his shirt. He looked like a bad mob character from the 1980s with his garish mismatch of colors – dark, blue satin shirt, pale green tie, and forest green suit. He was beyond naturally tanned and had dark hair greased back like some beatnik from the 1950s. The visual dissonance made Fred queasy.

Paolo offered no relief. He wore a tight, floral-patterned, short-sleeved shirt and dress slacks that were probably a size too small. Unlike Ricardo, he threatened to burst from his clothes given his considerable bulk. His belly protested against the table as Paolo leaned on his elbows to listen to what Fred had to say. Ricardo sat back as if daring Fred to say something that he didn’t like.

“This is my client’s final offer,” Fred announced as he slid the paperwork across the table to Ricardo.

Ricardo eyed him suspiciously as he pulled the paper toward him. “Where is your client?”

“He wasn’t able to make it today. He had an important meeting at work.”

“I’m sure he’s making six figures whatever he’s doing today. Meanwhile, Paolo here had to miss another day of work thanks to your client.”

Fred exhaled exasperation. “It’s a good offer. It’s much more than you’d get if this goes to court.”

Paolo leaned over his lawyer’s shoulder to glance at the paperwork. “How much is it?” he asked. He leaned in further almost pushing Ricardo aside.

Ricardo seemed aggravated but he quickly scanned the page. His eyes darted left to right until he hit the part of the page that warranted his attention. He paused and stared for a moment before he said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“What? How much?” Paolo asked sounding like a kid whose parent wasn’t telling him something. Ricardo pointed at the amount on the page as he turned it toward Paolo. Fred could see the anger boil up in the big man. His face turned red and his eyes narrowed. “Fuck that!” he said as he looked at Fred.

“Mr. Gillian, there’s no way we’re accepting this offer. You must take us for fools.”

Paolo’s anger grew in intensity, but he seemed to struggle to find words to express it. He leaned into the table against his moaning gut and stared at Fred. His fists clenched. Fred heard his chair slide back against the carpet every so slightly.

“Mr. Montes, the accident was very minor. Paolo’s car wasn’t even totaled. He wasn’t even admitted to the hospital for his injuries. How can you possibly think you’ll get more in court.”

“I’ve missed a month and a half of work!” Paolo yelled.

Paolo threatened to bound from his chair, but Ricardo put his hand on his arm as if to calm him or restrain him in some way.

“Your client is immensely wealthy. This is chump change for him,” Ricardo said.

“My client’s wealth has nothing to do with what’s fair, Mr. Montes. That offer is more than reasonable given the circumstances.”

“Then, we’ll see you in court.” Ricardo stood up. When Paolo didn’t move, he tapped his back to get him to stand as well. Paolo kept his eyes on Fred, but Fred ignored him.

“Rachel will show you out,” Fred said to the men as he walked to the door of the conference room. Paolo maintained his angry stare and huffed as he walked past Fred into the waiting room. Rachel stood and greeted the men before she led them toward the exit. Fred shut the door and took the opposite direction toward this office.

He sighed as he returned to his desk. He hated dealing with the despicable personal injury lawyers. They gave other lawyers a bad name, especially when they sought big payouts for minor things. Fred knew Ricardo simply wanted a big payday for himself, but he also knew that his offer had been very fair. Any jury would see right through Ricardo and Paolo. He felt confident he’d win the case and that the men would receive far less than what he had just offered them. They’d regret their stance. He would make sure of it.

Push – Episode 3

Fred Gillian looked in the mirror and disliked what he saw. The young man he had always been had been replaced by an aging man with gray, receding hair, sagging jowls, and a spray of crow’s feet at the corner of his eyes. The soft, taut skin of his youth had roughened like sandpaper, and the glorious five o’clock shadow that had made him feel masculine in his youth troubled him with its patchy gray. He no longer sported a full beard because of the gray. On this morning, like every morning for the past ten years, he shaved his face clean in hopes of keeping himself youthful looking. It didn’t work.

He grabbed a towel from the rack near the sink and wiped the steam away from the mirror so that he could see to shave. The mirror cleared, but the steam gradually crept into his one visible spot. He cursed beneath his breath. He was going to be late for work. He pulled the razor up his neck clearing the hair in a sharp line and repeated several times until he nicked his neck.

“Oww! Fuck!”

“What’s wrong?” his wife asked from the bedroom just outside the door of the bathroom they shared. Her voice sounded concerned or bothered. He couldn’t tell which.

“I cut myself,” he said curtly.


His wife of 30 years seemed not to care. She didn’t come to the bathroom to check on him, but he’d cut himself plenty of times, and by now, she was probably used to it. Nevertheless, something bothered him about it. Some deep-seated worry nagged at him like a sixth sense had detected something was wrong but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. She had seemed aloof of late – a little less invested in him, a little less caring. Being together 30 years had blunted a lot of the charm in their relationship, but this felt different. Fred shook the thought from his head as he put a torn piece of toilet paper over his cut. How such a tiny nick could bleed so much, he had no idea.

He finished shaving and wiped his face clean with a hot cloth avoiding the covered cut as best he could. He dried his face as he walked into the bedroom. His wife stood near the window looking outside.

“It’s going to be a beautiful day,” she said without looking at him.

“It’s about time. I’m tired of the rain.”

Fred heard a noise downstairs and perked up. “Is Alan still here?”

His wife finally turned to him. Her tentative expression answered his question before she said anything. “Yes.”

“Why? He should be on the way to work by now. Do we still have to make sure he gets up for work? He’s 24 years old!”


“Don’t ‘Fred’ me. What is he doing?”

“He’s not working.”

“What? What happened?”

“He was let go.”

“Let go? Why?”

“You know how he and that boss of  his didn’t get along.”

“So he was fired?”

“No. He quit.”

“He quit again? You just said he was let go. Why wasn’t I told this?”

“It just happened yesterday. I’m not sure if he was laid off or quit. He hasn’t said much about it.”

“You didn’t say anything to me last night. Why not, Shelly? You could have told me then rather than let me figure it out on my own. That boy can’t keep a job. He can’t live with us forever!”

Fred stomped out of the room before his wife could offer up any response. He picked up the pace to his anger as he stormed down the stairs. Shelly trailed behind him trying to get his attention and calm him down.

“Fred, give him a chance to explain…” she stuttered behind him. He ignored her, blocked out all of her pleading words. He’d had enough. His son had pushed him to his limits with his irresponsible and reckless behavior. He may be 24 years old, but he had somehow never made it past 16 mentally.

“Alan!” Fred yelled when he stepped into the living room and didn’t see his son. “Alan!”

“What?” his son replied. He stepped around the corner from the kitchen.

“What the hell happened to your job?”

“I quit.” Alan spoke defiantly, but Fred could see the fear in his eyes.

“Why? What happened?”

“I didn’t want to work there anymore.”

“That’s it? You’re just too lazy to work?”

“No, it was a crappy job, so I quit.”

“How many is that now? Eight? Nine?”

“I don’t know.”

“This is what happens when you go don’t go to college. You don’t have many choices. You have to take what you can get.”

“I know. You keep saying that. I know.”

Fred took a deep breath and clenched his jaw shut. His son was a monumental disappointment. His only child was going nowhere fast, and worse, he still depended on his parents for support.

“You’re going to have to move out. I’ll give you until the end of the month.”

“What? No. I have no place to go. I can’t afford rent anywhere.”

“Then, get a job fast because you’re going to need it,” he said as he turned to leave the room.

“Fred!” Shelly said as he stomped past her. “You can’t do that to your son!”

“Dad, wait!” Alan pleaded.

Fred ignored both of them as he bounded up the stairs. He could hear Shelly comforting their son. He could hear him reacting out of anger, his words unintelligible but clearly angry. Fred didn’t care. His son had threatened him before, but Shelly had stepped in and defused the situation. She had a hold on him that gave her extraordinary powers it seemed, but Fred had been pushed to his limits this time. Nothing she could do or say would change his mind. He was kicking his son out of the house, and he was changing the locks. It was time for him to grow up and move out. Fred was determined this time. He wouldn’t change his mind. Not like the last two times.

Push – Episode 2

Marvin Cantor had had another bad night like all of his other nights over the past few years. He drank too much, wandered the streets until the wee hours of the morning, and then collapsed next to the dumpster at Schulz’s Deli. At least he was purposeful in where he finally slept. He knew old man Schulz would give him food in the morning. He always did. Marvin needed the kindness of strangers. That’s all he had. He had lived on the streets for several years, and without that kindness, he would have been been dead by now.

Marvin felt something push against his thigh, a nudge. He shifted in his sleep and huddled closer to the dirty brick wall beside the dumpster. The rancor of rotten food filled the air. Someone had taken a hose and washed the alley next to the dumpster giving the area a foul, moist odor that would have made most people want to leave it immediately, except for Marvin. These alleys provided him with some measure of privacy. The crowds on the street stayed away from these alleys unless they had a specific need to be in them.

Marvin felt the nudge again.

“Wake up,” a disembodied voice said.

Marvin, eyes still clamped shut to ward of the pain of another piercing headache, moaned and buried his face into his backpack that doubled as his pillow. The backpack, torn and soiled, reeked like the dumpster. He kept days-old food in his pack in case he couldn’t find any other food to eat. He didn’t mind eating food that was beyond a few days past its prime. He couldn’t be picky. He had to eat.

“Wake up!” the voice said again, this time more authoritative and firm.

At first, Marvin had thought Schulz was waking him for his breakfast, but Schulz usually spoke lightly and kindly to him, and if Marvin didn’t wake up immediately, Schulz would leave the food next to him and come back to check on him later. Oftentimes, Marvin would wake to the food and leave for his day’s journey around town, begging for money and scrounging for items in the garbage that he could eat or sell for a few bucks. If he was still there when Schulz returned, the men would talk, or mostly Schulz would talk to him. Schulz always tried to talk him into going to the shelter for help. Marvin didn’t need that kind of help.

Marvin heard shuffling in the alley, like someone stepping toward him, and then, he felt a firm kick to his side.

“Wake the fuck up, you bum!” the voice said.

Marvin grunted and arched away from the force, clutching his back. The sharp pain competed with his headache for his attention. He wanted to cry. He opened and then squeezed his eyes shut trying to ward off the pain and the tears. When he turned over and opened his eyes, he held his arms over his head to defend himself from further blows, but the owner of the voice, through the veil of the hangover and his watery eyes, stood back away from him. Marvin couldn’t see the man’s face.

“You awake?” the man asked.

Marvin mumbled something unintelligible and grimaced toward the man as he scooted up against the brick wall.

“I ain’t got no money,” Marvin said.

“I don’t want your money. I have plenty of my own,” the man said, his voice mocking Marvin.

“Why’d you have to kick me?”

“I needed you to wake up.”

“I’m awake.”

“I have a job for you.”

The man stepped closer and his face came into view in the growing daylight. He squatted down and rested on his haunches for a moment. The man was relatively young but he had a hardness about him that suggested trouble. A long, slender nose dominated his trim face with two dark, close-set eyes peering above sallow cheekbones. Clean-shaven and doused in a lot of cologne, the man reeked in his own way even in the smelly alley.

A realization hit Marvin. “I don’t do that shit, brother. I’m not that hard-up for cash.”

The man shook his head and frowned as if he had been insulted. “Sit up, you dumb ass, I’m not into that. I have a real job for you.”

Marvin felt some measure of relief despite the threat that still hung between the men. He followed the man’s orders and sat up to be eye level with him. He mashed something in his backpack with his hand and shifted to avoid damaging whatever it was under him. He pulled his leg toward him and realized he had lost one of his shoes. He quickly scanned the area around him for his shoe.

“What’s wrong?”

“My shoe is missing.”

“Well, if you take this job, you can buy yourself a brand new pair of shoes.”

“How much are we talking about?”

“A thousand bucks.”

Marvin’s heart stopped and he caught his breath. He’d never seen that much money. He thought of all the booze he could buy. He could party all week on a thousand dollars. He could even get one of the ladies on German Street. His mind whirred in spite of the headache, and all he could think about was the money. Money.

“What’s the job?”

“In short, I need you to push someone onto the train tracks. Make it look like he jumped in front of the train. Like a suicide.”

“What?” Marvin sat up straight. His voice shook. “You want me to kill someone? I can’t do that. No way, no how. I can’t go back to prison.”

“Do you want the thousand bucks or not?”

Marvin paused and thought again about what he could do with that much money. He’d love to walk into Schulz’s deli and buy one of the fresh sandwiches and one of the pies, not the days-old ones that Schulz gave him.

“If you do it right, no one will know. You won’t go to prison.”

“How do you know that?”

“I have it all planned out. All you have to do is follow my orders and not fuck it up.”

Marvin thought for a moment, but his mind still reeled from the headache and he couldn’t think clearly.

“Okay,” he said meekly.

“You’ll do it?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Good. Here’s the plan.”




Push – Episode 1

A gust of wind whipped up the stairs that descended to the subway. A distinct odor of urine greeted Fred Gillian’s nose and he breathed out quickly to void the stench. He held his breath and a grimace on his face as he walked past exiting passengers from the station. No one seemed to notice or care about his displeasure. He scooted past a homeless man sitting on the steps who reeked of a sour body odor, and he wondered if this man was the offender.

He let out a loud breath when he reached the bottom of the stairs. The horrid smells had given way to a stale, mildew stench like rancid moss on wet concrete, which was not exactly pleasant but better than tangy urine and body odor compressed in the small space of the stairway.

The crowd thickened noticeably. A train arrived, not his, and unleashed a torrent of harried passengers who bolted for the exits bumping and pushing against him as he went against the tide. His nose, always sensitive, caught a myriad of smells as humanity rushed by him – sweet perfume, over-done cologne, sweat, musk, and many others too subtle to recognize. He caught sight of a comely young woman in a tight dress and watched her vaunt her way through the crowd, hips swaying ever so gently.

His attention diverted, he bumped into a body. A grunt followed, a curse. He apologized, and the crowd swallowed the body before he could focus on a face among the sea of faces heading toward him. He angled his feet to his right and dodged his way to the edge of the crowd waiting for the flow to subside so that he could resume his march to his train.

In that instant, he smelled it again, that distinctively awful body odor from the homeless man he had tip-toed past on the stairs. He scanned the crowd rushing by him, both to and fro, but he could not spot the putrid man in the tattered clothes. He couldn’t remember exactly what he looked like, but he stood in such sharp contrast to many of the people around him, that he knew he’d recognize him in an instant, like finding a colored button in a drawer full of black and white ones.

He shook off the aural recognition and continued on his way. The crowd thinned and his steps became more natural. He pulled out his phone and checked the time. Two minutes. His train would be on the platform soon. He picked up the pace, his heels clicking against the dirty concrete.

With over 90 seconds to spare, he arrived at the platform. Another crowd had amassed on the wide tiled path along the edge of the tracks. He nudged his way to the front and stood a few feet from the bright yellow caution band that capped the platform. A sign etched into the concrete warned him to stay back behind the marked area.

He exhaled again but this time to relax. He had made his train. He’d be home on time tonight and by 9:30 he’d be in his bed ready to sleep away the frustrations that had made his day tortuous. He looked down the platform toward the tunnel. No sign of the train appeared. He shifted in place, hopeful that the train was not delayed. Greta wouldn’t be too understanding if he was late yet again.

In his line of sight, many people with necks bent stared down into their phones. Others chatted with people near them. A few children played near their watchful parents. The noises of the station filled the air and rose above the chatter of the impatient passengers. Shoes squeaked. Heels clicked. An errant horn echoed through the tunnel. A few pigeons fluttered through the air. Fred waited.

A faint breeze rustled across the platform. It slowly gained momentum, and Fred relaxed even more. The train was just a little late. He waited for the headlights to appear in the tunnel, and once he saw them, he could taste being home soon. He just wanted to get away from the cramped confines of the city even if for only another hapless weeknight.

In the instant that the train turned the corner and forced more air down the tunnel, Fred caught the scent of the homeless man again. He turned around and scanned the crowd. He didn’t see the man anywhere among the suits and dresses that surrounded him. The smell made him wince and unsettled his stomach. He stepped closer to the edge of the platform until his toe touched the yellow band. He hoped the homeless man didn’t get on the same car as he did. Being in such a confined space with someone who smelled so bad would be uncomfortable.

He stood on his toes as the train rattled closer to the station. The noise and the breeze engulfed him and swallowed the cacophony of the crowd. It felt as if he were hanging his head out of the train window as it rushed through the countryside. He felt the urgency of the oncoming train and remained poised to board quickly to get a seat before the impending crush of the crowd left him standing.

In an instant as the train charged toward him, he felt hands on his back. The force was so great that his head whipsawed before the weight of his body carried him over the edge of the platform. He had no time to react, nothing to grab onto to save himself. He only caught the blur of someone running away from him, disappearing in a crowd that had parted in horror. Fred screamed, a last gasp of fear as he fell from the platform.

Before he fell to the tracks below, the train caught up with him and impaled him with a blunt force that knocked him unconscious. A crescendo of screams filled the station as witnesses unwillingly watched the last seconds of Fred Gillian’s life flash before them. Many looked away. Others rushed to help him as the train ground its way to a stop. In the chaos that followed, no one noticed the lone figure quickly making its way toward the exit.

Birds on a Wire – Episode 10

I woke up in the bed that I had shared with Barbara for so many years. My head felt heavy, cloudy, and a wave of disappointment fluttered over me when I looked at the empty space beside me. The pillow sat unmolested, still round and puffy as if it had never once been used. I sat up and looked around the room rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

The blinds bowed under the intensity of the sun outside. The muted light seemed filtered and eerily fragile. Spots danced in my field of vision blocking a clear view of the room. Darkness hunched in the corners and I could barely discern if they were empty or if something lurked there. A chill ran down my spine as if I just realized someone or something watched me as I sat there on the side of my bed.,

“Hello,” I called out, my voice raspy and barely audible. My throat hurt and my mind spun in circles. I wanted to lay back down. No answer came to me. I sat there for moments longer, waiting.

I finally willed myself to stand up on my shaky legs. I wobbled like a strong wind had taken hold in my room, but I managed to stumble to the window. I braced myself on the window frame, stuck my thick fingers in between the blinds, and peered through the gap to the outside. A beautiful morning warmed my spirits, but the scene felt like one of those faded, old photographs that Barbara and I had in our photo albums we kept on the shelf in the living room. Something odd lurked beyond my window, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

I shook my head and looked outside again hoping that my imagination had gotten the best of me. Nothing changed. The sunlight sparkled in an unnatural way. It reminded me of when I used to run among the bed sheets hanging on the clothesline as a kid – I could only see the world through the thin, white sheets.

Agitated, I turned away from the window and left the room. All of the blinds in the house were closed tightly keeping the light at bay. I could smell the hot vinyl of the blinds even though it didn’t feel that warm outside. My sense of smell surged like I had suddenly become more aware of the odors around me. The air I breathed felt cool and soft. I reached for my nose to touch the cannulas, but they were gone. I didn’t remember having them removed.

My gait felt unfettered, light, but I paid no heed to the strangeness of it all. I had some subconscious goal in mind; I just didn’t know what. When I walked into my living room, the door to the patio stood ajar. At first, concern flooded my mind. I swiveled around to see if someone else had come into the house.

“Carla? Rudy?” I said to the room.

I repeated myself, but no one answered. My heart raced in my chest. I didn’t feel alone anymore. I couldn’t see anyone, but I could feel a presence. The sensation startled me. My breathing increased. An old man like myself couldn’t defend himself much against an intruder.

I stepped toward the door and peered out onto my patio. The old bench that Barbara and I often sat on in the mornings and evenings when she was around stood empty at the back of the patio. The sight of the bench calmed me down, and I decided to take a seat there. I needed to be some place close to Barbara. Nothing would make me feel better.

Once I sat down, I did feel better. Birds chirped in the bushes. A bee whizzed by making the rounds among the roses in my backyard. The grass seemed greener than I remembered, but maybe the odd, sparkling light made it appear that way.

I glanced up at the power line that swung between the poles at the back of my house. The clean black line sat empty barely swaying in the breeze. I exhaled and relaxed. I only momentarily looked at the patio door, still ajar, to see if anyone had decided to join me. I no longer felt fearful. I felt happy, content.

I heard an excited chirping and turned to find the bird that sang so forcefully. A lone cardinal sat on the wire now, looking and chirping at me. I smiled. “It’s just you and me, buddy,” I said under my breath. The bird continued to sing, and I closed my eyes concentrating on his melodic song. The sun bathed my face in warmth, and the sweet smell of the roses swirled around me like the intoxicating perfume that Barbara often wore.

I opened my eyes ever so slightly and peered at the cardinal. It had been joined by another cardinal and they sang together side-by-side. I laughed to myself. My laughter belied pangs of loneliness. I missed Barbara.

“Jim, I knew I’d find you out here,” a voice interrupted me.

Startled, I turned quickly toward the patio door and saw Barbara standing there smiling at me and looking many years younger than she did the last time I had seen her. “Barbara…,” I said. I sat there with my mouth agape unable to form more words or get up from the bench.

She walked over to me and sat down beside me. She took my hand in hers. “I’ve missed you, Jim.”

I stammered as if I had seen a ghost, “I…missed…you, too.”

Her gaze moved to the cardinals sitting above us. She smiled and looked back at me. “I see the birds are back.”

I shook my head and gripped her hand harder. Her hand felt solid, real. I put my other hand to her face and rubbed her soft cheek. “Where have you been?” I asked.

“I’ve been here the whole time. I’ve always been with you.”

“Why did you leave?”

“I didn’t really leave you.”

Confused, I stopped talking. My hand dropped to her shoulder, and I leaned in to kiss her. Her warm lips felt familiar and inviting. This couldn’t be a dream. Maybe I had dreamed that she was gone.

“We should call the kids. They’re worried. They think you’re gone. I need to tell them it was all a misunderstanding.”

She shook her head and pulled my hand to her heart. “Jim, the kids will be okay. They know we’re together now.”


“They know. Just sit back and enjoy the moment.” She dropped my hand to her side but still held it firmly in her grasp.

“Carla will be upset.”

“She’ll be fine eventually.”

“How do you know?”

She laughed and smiled at me. “Mothers always know.”

I didn’t understand it at all, but I didn’t want to question it. Barbara was back. I squeezed her hand and sat back against the bench. She scooted close to me and I felt the warmth of her thigh against mine. So many beautiful memories with Barbara flooded my mind rollicking in succession like a movie reel. We sat in silence watching and listening to the cardinals sing. Somehow I knew she would never leave me again.