Open Your Soul

The woman knelt before a gravestone, pushing wire spokes into the earth. Fixed to the spokes was a large placard, brightly colored but illegible from where I stood. I watched for a few moments as the wire sunk into the ground, and faintly through rustling leaves I heard her voice. A few words drifted to me, but most were caught up in the wind. She’d speak, pause, and then start speaking again. And at one point, as if feeling the forehead of a fevered child, she reached out and placed her palm on the headstone. Finally she rose, but before she turned from the gravesite, she slipped her hand under her shawl. From beneath it she pulled a small stuffed white dove. She brought it to her lips for a moment and then placed it on the ground next to the placard. Slowly she turned, pulled her shawl around her, and exited through the wrought iron gate.

I tugged at Bo’s leash as I headed up the bluff. “Come on, Bo, let’s go.” Stubborn, just like Kaden had been. I gazed at the picture and read the words on the placard. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Each letter was a different color, blue, green, bright yellow, orange, all followed by a large purple exclamation mark. And beneath the words, a picture of a birthday cake with fifteen candles, all carefully colored in. And lastly, down in the right hand corner, printed in blue magic marker, the words, “Forever here.”

Sophia Trebicka. Born July 14, 2001—died November 8, 2005. Only one year younger than Kaden. I had walked by Sophia’s stone numerous times but had never taken the time to read it. I looked out over row after row of markers, each one representing a child’s life that had ended too soon. Sophia had been four years old when she passed. The marker next to hers, Eddie, was only three months old when he died. Kaden must have been one of the lucky ones. He’d made it to his fifth birthday.

* * *

Susan and I had decided to play it up. We knew Kaden wouldn’t see his sixth, so we invited friends and relatives over. We bought the hats, the noise makers. We decorated the house with balloons and streamers and even rented a pony. We played games, listened to Kaden’s favorite Sesame Street tunes, and everyone pretended it was a day for celebration. People remarked how great both Kaden and Ethan looked, how much they’d grown, and Aunt Louise remarked that she was finally getting better at telling them apart. I remember thinking how the hell could you not be able to tell them apart? One was pale, eyes sunken, the chemotherapy robbing him of his curly blond hair. The other pink cheeked and ebullient. Of course, Susan and I tried our best to include Ethan in on the festivities. It was his birthday, too, and we knew why we were making such a big deal out of it all.

* * *

I decided to start taking Bo for his walk at dusk, after dinner. Usually the woman with the shawl would already be there kneeling in front of Sophia’s stone. But the first time we spoke, I arrived before her. I stood looking at the engraving on Kaden’s monument, repeatedly scanning his date of death. I remembered his smile, his courage, and that horrific day.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The words had rolled off Dr. Port’s tongue with a certain ease of indifference. In those moments, as he was telling us how much progress had been made in the fight against leukemia, I felt numb. As I sat only hearing his words, Susan’s jaw clenched; fear flooded her eyes. I waited for her to break down, waited for the tears to stream down her cheeks, but then, as if someone had flipped a switch, her face hardened, icy and detached, and she started to argue with the man.

“No, you’re wrong. It’s a mistake. You have to test again.” Her voice like a wounded dictator.

“But we’ve had great success in treating this strain of leukemia,” Dr. Port explained. “Eighty to ninety percent of children with A.L.L. go into remission. Many live a full and long life.” I could tell he’d given this pep talk multiple times and I kept waiting for him to get to the part about the ten to twenty percent who didn’t go into remission.

* * *

The whoosh of the woman’s ankle-length skirt pulled me from my thoughts. I turned as she took her last few steps to the top of the bluff. She opened the gate, smiling at me.

“Hello,” she said, slightly out of breath. “That hill feels higher every time to climb.”

I smiled back. “Yes, maybe it’s the getting older that makes it so.”

“Ah, but you are not old, you look like you can climb mountain.”

Her vowels were heavy, her consonants clipped. I wondered: Middle Eastern… Greek? She brushed a long strand of graying hair from her face and walked over to me.

She tilted her head toward Kaden’s gravestone. “Your son?”

“Yes.”

She gazed out over the sea of memorials. “They are all sons and daughters of someone.” She brought her eyes back to Kaden’s. “He was six.”

“Actually, he passed shortly after his fifth birthday.”

“Ah, one year older than my Sophia.”

“Yes, I noticed the placard you put next to her headstone.”

“Placard?”

“The happy birthday sign,” I said.

“Ah, yes.” She paused. “Sophia will be fifteen. We celebrate all the birthdays.”

“You and your husband celebrate?”

“No… no husband. My Sophia and me. We celebrate.”

I wondered if she baked a cake for the occasion, too, or if she set an extra place at her dining room table. There was something I couldn’t pinpoint, something that felt slightly creepy about it.

“You do not?” she asked.

“Do not what?”

“I think you do not celebrate your son’s birthday. Is that right?”

“Kaden has a twin. We celebrate his birthday.”

“But not your Kaden’s? How must he feel about that? You should have party,” she said. “Invite a lot of people, have good time, laugh. Celebrate both.”

“With only one guest of honor?” I asked.

“Guest of honor?”

“Celebrate without Kaden there?”

The woman paused for a moment and brought her hand to her chin, her index finger lightly tapping. Slowly, she said, “And you are sure he is not there?”

“But he’s here,” I said, as I glanced down at Kaden’s stone.

“Yes, well, maybe his body is here but his spirit? You cannot bury spirit. My Sophia is not in ground,” she said. “She is with me.”

“You mean in your heart, your thoughts.”

“Yes, but not only there.”

I wondered if this woman were delusional. Just then, Bo came trotting over from a grove of pine trees set behind the cemetery. He sniffed at the woman’s skirt.

“And who is this?” she asked.

“This is Bo.”

She leaned over and held her hand out for Bo to sniff. She crouched down and cupped his head in her palms. “Ah, he is gentle, smart,” she said. “You can see in the eyes.” She leaned in and gave Bo a little kiss on his forehead. “Nice to meet you, Bo,” she whispered.

“He’s a good dog. Kaden loved him.”

“And you think he does not now?” she said. She glanced over at Sophia’s gravesite. “You hear of little children that talk to the dead? They are young—how you say, little ones that are innocent, not influenced by bad things in the world.”

“You mean jaded?”

“Yes… yes, that is the word. They are not jaded. Their little souls are open. It is shame that old people lose that.”

Her comment made me think of all the times I’d heard Ethan talking in his bedroom. Mostly it was in the middle of the night as I was coming back down the hall from the bathroom. I’d hear his voice, pop my head in, and find him talking to his imaginary friends.

“And you haven’t lost that?” I asked.

“I did at first,” she said. “I was mad—mad with doctors, mad that my Sophia was gone, mad with God, mad with life!” She paused and looked over at Sophia’s headstone. “And then I think to myself, Ida—what good is all this mad? Will this mad bring back my Sophia? Will this mad make me happy again? Will my Sophia want me so mad?”

“What did you do?”

“I decide no more mad. I try to believe. I think maybe my Sophia is not so far away. I go back to church. I open up to things I cannot see and touch—to the spirit. I let go all the mad. You know what I mean?” she asked.

“Yes, I think I do.”

Ida stood for moment looking at me, questioning. “Hmm, I am not sure you do,” she said. “That is sad. Not too late, though. Maybe you find your Kaden. Maybe you open your soul and he come back.”

“That’s a nice thought,” I said.

“Yes, nicer when thought is real.” She glanced once more at Sophia’s marker. “Okay, I need to go talk with my Sophia, now.” She started to turn away but stopped and looked back at me. She wagged her finger. “Don’t you lose hope. Nice talking to you—”

“Paul,” I said.

“Ah, yes—Paul. Good name. Strong name,” she said. “Okay, my Sophia is waiting. I keep good thoughts for you, Paul.” She then turned and walked over to Sophia’s gravesite.

* * *

Susan thought of it as an obsession. I thought of it as a need, that time just before going to bed when I’d slip quietly into Ethan’s room and check on him. I’d stand next to his bed looking down at him, checking for any sign of paleness in his cheeks. I’d place my hand against his forehead, feeling for fever, and carefully I’d look under one half of the band aid that had peeled loose from his knee and search for bruising. And right before leaving his room, I’d lean over, place my ear by his mouth, and listen for shortness of breath or wheezing.

“Where have you been?” Susan glanced up from her vanity as I walked in the room. She sat brushing her hair, periodically leaning into the mirror as if searching for a blemish or wrinkle that hadn’t been there yesterday.

“Just checking on Ethan.” I sat down at the foot of our bed and kicked my shoes off.

“And?” she asked.

“He’s fine. Sound asleep.”

“Like always? How much longer are you going to keep this up?”

“What?”

“Your obsession,” she said. “What happens when he’s in high school or eventually goes off to college? Are you going to follow him for the rest of his life so you can keep watch?”

“I can’t help it. You heard what Dr. Port said too, about Ethan having a twenty-five percent chance of getting A.L.L.”

“But it’s been almost ten months now and he’s fine,” she said.

“You make it sound like we’re out of the woods.”

She stopped brushing her hair and picked up a jar of cold cream. “You’ll make yourself nuts if you keep this up, you know.”

I looked at her reflection in the mirror. She wasn’t the same person who, within a week of hearing Dr. Port’s diagnosis, started sequestering herself in our back television room. She sat alone in her robe, day after day. I worried about her, wondering if she’d find the strength to get through it, and it seemed like months before she finally pulled herself together. But what really baffled me was the suddenness of her recovery. “And you don’t ever worry now?” I asked.

She dotted her face with cold cream and started massaging it in. “What’s the point? There’s nothing we can do. Life goes on,” she said.

“God. You sound so blasé about it.”

“Not blasé, just realistic. Why would I put myself through…” She stopped abruptly, grabbed her brush, and started combing again, quick, deep swipes, over and over. She’d glance up at me, then look quickly away and brush harder, the tendons in her neck taut, her jaw set. Then she stood up, tossed her robe over the chair and slid under the covers. “I’m going to read for a bit. Will it bother you?”

“No, no… it’s okay.”

I finished getting ready for bed and climbed in next to her. For a few minutes, she read and I just lay there, staring at the ceiling, my mind wandering.

“Do you believe in life after death?” I asked.

She looked up and sighed. “What makes you ask that?”

“I don’t know. I was just thinking about those people that say they can talk to the dead. You know, that their loved ones come back to them.”

She closed her book and set in on the nightstand. “You mean like those people on TV? Those so-called mediums?”

“Yeah. Someone told me that we all have the ability, but most of us are too jaded.”

“Who told you that?” she asked.

“Just some lady I ran into while walking Bo in the cemetery. She said little kids are more receptive to it—you know, more open to that kind of stuff.”

“I’d wonder about that lady. If you ask me, it’s all a sham. Those people on TV? Really listen to them sometime. They’ve got it down to a science, what leading questions to ask—just enough to get some information that they can build on, and then they have those poor people sucked in and believing in it.”

I leaned over and flipped the light off. “I don’t know. Seems like there must be more than just what we experience here on earth.”

The bed creaked as Susan turned her back to me and then, in the dark, she said, “I think you’re obsessing again. Just go to sleep. ’Night.”

* * *

The next evening, I was the one out of breath as I took my last few steps to the top of the bluff. Ida was there, kneeling in front of Sophia’s stone.

“You are like me, out of breath as when I climb hill,” she said, turning in my direction.

I smiled. “Yes, you’d think it would get easier.”

“Things are not easy when we are old. Well, I am old but you are not. You are strong like ox!” Her eyes widened with amusement as she pulled herself to her feet and walked over to me. “How are you, Paul?”

“I’m fine, and you are not old,” I said.

“Ah, I am more close to end than beginning.”

Perhaps that was true, but Ida certainly didn’t act old. Her graying hair, the lines creasing her forehead, the small puffy half-moons beneath each eye. None of it fit the woman who stood before me. If anything, she seemed almost childlike, as if she thrived on what life offered and at the same time was unfazed by what had been taken from her. Although, if you asked, I’m sure she’d say nothing had been taken from her.

“And how are you?” I asked.

“Ah, yes. I am good. Sophia and I are talking.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“No, no. You did not interrupt. My Sophia likes to talk here, in the nature,” she said. “She will come back.”

“She isn’t here now?”

“Ah, no—Sophia is shy.” The wind kicked up and Ida pulled her shawl around her shoulders. “Maybe soon you will meet her.”

Before I realized it, I said, “Yes, I’d like that.”

“That is good. Yes, very good.” Ida glanced down at the bag I held in my hand. “You have been to shopping?”

“I… I bought this… for Kaden.” I handed the bag to Ida. She looked at me with a glint in her eye.

“Hmm, let me see.” She reached into the bag and pulled out the small brown stuffed bear. “Oh, Paul, so nice—such a nice gift. You know what means? This bear?”

“No, but Kaden loved bears.”

“This little bear mean strong, lots of… how you say when someone is not scared?”

“Courage?”

“Yes. That is it. Strong and courage.”

“Well, that certainly makes sense. He was a trooper.”

“Trooper?”

“Someone who fought hard,” I explained.

“Ah, yes… like his name, Kaden,” she said. “That means little soldier. You did not know?”

“No, I didn’t, but how do you know?”

“It is my hobby. I learn what names mean, what animals mean. It is old lady’s hobby.” She laughed.

I walked over to Kaden’s marker, kneeled, and placed the bear on the ground in front of it. Ida stood a few feet behind me.

“He will like this bear, Paul. Maybe soon he will thank you,” she said.

“Yeah, maybe.”

“I have feeling, Paul. Your Kaden is hearing. He will know when.”

I pushed myself up from the ground and turned, facing Ida. “How will he know?”

“Your Kaden is watching. He sees you are not ready, but your Kaden? He will wait. All the spirit are… how you say when we wait and wait and do not care?”

“Patient?”

“Yes—patient. Spirit is patient. There is no hurry.”

“Did it take long for Sophia?”

“Yes, some time.” She paused and looked off into the woods that bordered the children’s section of the cemetery. “I was so mad and my Sophia does not talk when I am mad. But then, I tell you, I let go of mad and after one night, here, for first time…” Ida’s eyes grew wider, “I see my Sophia.”

“Where? What happened?”

“Over there.” She pointed to the grove of trees off in the distance. “It was first time and I am alone, talking to Sophia. I tell her about my life, about what I do every day, and I talk about when she was alive, you know, memories, the things we do before. And then I start asking my Sophia questions. Are you happy? Are you with Nena and Papa? And can she hear me? I ask her to show if she can.” Ida looked off toward the trees.

“And then, I feel… like when someone is near. I remember I turn to see. I look behind me. I look to side but there is nothing, only little light and wind in trees. And then… oh, Paul, it is like magic. I look to forest and there, there for first time, she is there.”

Ida’s eyes glowed.

“There was two. Like shadow, Paul. One tall, one little, but I could tell. I could tell shadow were people. And I call, ‘Sophia? Sophia, is it you… really you?’ I hold breath and listen, and then far away in distance, I hear little voice. ‘Yes, mama, it’s me.’ Oh, Paul, I jump out of skin! I cannot believe it is my Sophia and that I hear her voice, like when she was little girl and I hold on lap. It was best day of life, Paul.” Ida stepped back, startled. She caught her breath and pressed her hands into her skirt, her face radiant. “You have no idea.” She shook her head. “No idea what is like.”

* * *

A simple bed sheet wouldn’t do. Ethan had his heart set on a “real” ghost costume, like the one he saw on TV, so we piled into the car and headed for the nearest Walmart. I drove and Susan fiddled with the radio, scanning through stations, adjusting the volume. She opened her window a crack, and then thirty seconds later, closed it. Then back to the radio again, playing with the treble, the bass. Ethan sat in his car seat behind Susan, trying to hum along with tunes that appeared and disappeared too quickly.

“What’s with you? You seem fidgety,” I said.

“What? Me? I’m okay.”

As we pulled up to a red light, Susan turned in her seat and looked back at Ethan.

“Ethan, honey. Mommy has a question for you.”

“What?”

She waited a beat, cleared her throat, and then asked, “Would you be mad at Mommy if she didn’t go trick or treating with you on Halloween?”

“You said you would.”

“I know, honey, but Mommy is going to have to go out of town for work.” Susan glanced at me, then quickly back to Ethan. “I promise we’ll have our own little Halloween party when I get back. Just the three of us.”

“But you promised.”

“I know, but Mommy has to work, so she can’t.”

“But you didn’t come to my class play, too. And you promised. Remember? When I was the rain cloud?”

“Sometimes I can’t get out of work because—well, it’s hard to explain.” Susan’s voice faded away as if she knew any excuse wouldn’t matter to Ethan. She glanced helplessly at me as if hoping I’d come to her rescue.

“Don’t worry, champ. You and I will go together. We’ll have a great time,” I said. “And when Mommy gets back, we’ll have a party. How does that sound?”

“I guess it’s okay.”

I could tell by the tone of his voice that it wasn’t okay.

* * *

“Your timing was great this morning in the car. When were you planning on telling me?”

Susan sat at her vanity, brushing and dabbing. “I just found out yesterday,” she said. “Stan was supposed to go but his wife went into labor.”

“And you volunteered?”

“I’m the only one who could go. Besides, you know we’re launching the outreach program in a few weeks. Stan and I are the ones in charge and one of us has to go. This meeting is important.”

“More important than going trick or treating with your son?”

Susan stopped brushing for a second. She turned and looked at me. “Is there a problem? Ethan’s okay with it,” she said.

“He says he is.”

“But you’re not?” She turned back to the mirror, tugging on her skin.

“Do you even want to be here?” I asked. “Seems like you’d rather be anywhere but.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It means you’re pulling away.”

Susan picked up her brush, glancing up at me in her mirror.

“It’s like you found a new family or something. That damn job…”

“That ‘damn job’ as you put it,” she said, “is paying the bills.”

“Yeah, I know. And it’s taking you farther and farther away from us, too. So how many events and holidays have you missed at this point? I’ve lost count.”

“Well, what do you want me to do? I’m moving up in the company. It’s expected of me.”

“Yeah, expected of you—must be nice to feel that affirmation, that perpetual need.” Their phone call asking her to come back came five months after Kaden’s death, and, as if she’d been tossed a lifeline, she’d grasped it with the same urgency that Kaden had when clutching his favorite teddy bear.

“Well, one of us has to work. You’re not,” she said.

“Someone has to stay home with Ethan. You know what really bugs me, though? What I can’t understand is that it seems so easy for you. It’s like you don’t care, that you’d rather be away.”

Susan glared at me in her mirror. “That’s not true. What, just because I’m not obsessed like you?”

“At least I’m here.”

Susan slammed her brush down and stood up. “This is bullshit.” She picked up her book. “I’m going to go read in the other room,” she said as she turned and walked out the door.

“Yeah, fine. Just keep running,” I mumbled. But by then she was gone.

* * *

I rolled over and looked at the clock. Three a.m. On my way back from the bathroom, I glanced in the living room. Susan was curled up on the couch, sound asleep, her book lying next to her, still open.

“Mom can’t go trick or treating with me.” I stood at Ethan’s door, listening. “She says she has to work… a ghost… we got a neat costume… yeah, I remember. You looked cool… I think it’s your turn… are you sure it’s mine?”

I nudged Ethan’s door open. He sat on the floor with the checkerboard in front of him. “Hey, champ. Who are you talking to?”

Ethan looked up at me, smiled, glanced back at the board, and jumped one of his red checkers over a black one. “Kaden,” he said. “Which one?” he asked. He placed his finger on one of the black checkers. “This one? Oh, okay.” And then he moved his finger to another and slid it to an empty square.

“Can I come in?” I whispered.

“Yep,” he said, and then he tilted his head, listening. “Kaden says, yeah, too… it’s okay.”

I crept into Ethan’s room and closed the door. The room was awash in pale yellow, and at first I thought the light was coming from Nathan’s dolphin night light. But as I lowered myself into a chair set back in the corner of the room, iridescence seemed to radiate from the walls, floor, and ceiling. It spun itself out into the room, where it floated, veiling, as if one were looking through chiffon. And above Ethan’s bed, his airplane mobile slowly rotated, untouched by the slightest puff of air. I said nothing for fear of disturbing the moment. I sat motionless, breathless.

“Are you sure it’s my turn again? I thought I just moved,” Ethan said.

I tilted my head in Ethan’s direction, needing to hear. I closed my eyes struggling to catch a murmur, a trace of Kaden’s voice.

“Huh? I already told you, Mom can’t go trick or treating. She said she has to work… no she’s not… just for a few days, I think.” And then Ethan turned to me. “Is Mom going away?” he asked.

I wasn’t sure if I should speak or not, but Ethan kept looking at me, waiting. I whispered, “She has to go out of town for work.”

“That’s not what Kaden says. Is she going away for longer? Huh?” Ethan asked. “Okay, I’ll talk to you later.” And then the yellow light dissipated, the glow from the nightlight sharpened the room’s edges and moonlight streamed in through the window.

“Did Kaden leave?” I asked.

“Yeah, he had to go do something with Bumpy.”

I smiled and thought back on Kaden as a toddler trying to pronounce “grandpa,” and it kept coming out Bumpy. “But I couldn’t hear him.”

“I know,” Ethan said. “But you will.” Ethan started picking up the checkers, stacking them. “Kaden says Mom is going away, but not just for work. What’s he talking about?”

“Hmm, not sure,” I said. “You should probably get back to bed, don’t you think?” Before I left the room, I stopped and looked back. I lingered. I wasn’t ready to let go of what had just happened. I’d forgotten what it felt like to be with my boys.

* * *

The ride to the airport was predictably quiet. After our spat the other evening, I decided to keep my mouth shut. It would have been easy to get into it all over again, but I didn’t want to send Susan off to Houston with any more tension between us than already existed. She sighed, looked out the window, and at one point opened her mouth as if to say something. But she didn’t, and I wasn’t in a particularly encouraging mood.

Finally, she looked over at me. “Take a picture of Ethan in his costume for me, okay?”

“Yeah, sure.”

I pulled up to the American Airlines terminal and retrieved her suitcase from the trunk. For a moment, we just stood there looking at each other, mere acquaintances. I held my arms out for a goodbye hug, at least. A year ago, we would have embraced, kissed, and said how much we’d miss each other. But that loving embrace was replaced with an awkward, mandatory half pat on my arm. “Call me when you get in, okay?” I said. She nodded, turned, and walked away. I watched her walk through the terminal doors, wondering who she was.

* * *

Bo was sleeping next to me, his eyes fluttering beneath his lids, paw pads twitching. I sat with my back against Kaden’s stone. A breeze swirled around me as dusk crept over the cemetery.

“Hey bud… not sure if you can hear me.” I thought of Ida, of how Sophia had come to her that first time, her questions, her yearning. “Are you okay? Is Bumpy there with you?” I paused for a moment, waiting, hoping I might feel his presence or hear his voice. “I miss you, bud. We all do.” My voice trembled, but I kept talking. “Do you remember when you and Ethan were three years old? We went to the zoo, just us guys, remember? And you were so taken with the polar bears. You didn’t want to leave. Remember? That was fun, wasn’t it?” I waited. “And your birthday party with the pony? Your mother and I walked alongside supporting you and you didn’t want to get off. Do you remember that? And the snowman we made after that big snow storm, and the angels we each made in the snow?” With each memory, I felt my throat constrict. “I just need to know, bud. I need to know you’re okay.”

Bo’s nose twitched, his eyes opened, and he lifted his head. He cocked his ears and started craning his head from side to side. “What is it, Bo?” He stood up and his hackles raised. I looked around, trying to follow Bo’s gaze, but saw only headstones of deceased children in a fading light. Slowly, Bo turned his head, and his eyes locked with mine. He stood still, holding me.

Kaden’s voice came from within me, and at first I thought it was imagined, simply his voice I’d heard countless times in my mind. But these words resonated deeply. They felt rooted in a way I couldn’t describe, as if they had wrapped themselves around my core and were finally ready to be heard. I felt a deep flush of warmth and I heard each word clearly, as though he were standing in front of me.

“Don’t let her drift away, Dad.”

“Kaden? Is that you, bud?” For a second, I questioned. My breath knotted in my chest.

“It’s me. You have to talk to her, Dad.”

“Are you okay? Are you with Bumpy?”

“I’m good. Bumpy is here. You have to help her. I can’t do it by myself.”

“Do what? Help her what?”

“Believe.”

“I’m not sure she will.”

“Just get her started, Dad. Promise me.”

“Okay. I promise, I promise I’ll try.” And then he was gone. I felt it immediately. “No, no, not yet, don’t go. It’s too soon… Kaden? Come back… please.” I wasn’t finished.

Bo’s ears perked up. He walked over, pressed his head into my chest, and started wagging his tail.

* * *

“He come to you, yes?”

We faced each other, standing at the bottom of the hill, Ida’s eyes knowing and her smile broad. “I can see, Paul. Your Kaden,” she said. “I know he would.”

“But I didn’t see him. I only heard his voice, inside of me. I’m… I’m not even sure…”

“Be sure,” she said. “They all come in different way. Some spirit show to us, some speak. Why they not? They are like you and me. No one is same.”

“But it didn’t last, only a few seconds.”

“He will have more later,” she said. “This is first time for him, too.”

“He’s asked me to do something, something I’m not sure I can do,” I said.

“And so you try. You do best you can.” Ida reached down and scratched Bo’s ears. “And if you cannot do? It is okay, Paul. Spirit does not… how you say when someone does not have bad thing to say?”

“You mean when someone doesn’t have an opinion, or doesn’t judge?”

“Judge, that is word. Spirit does not judge.”

“I can’t let him down.”

“You will not let down. Your Kaden understand.”

“I hope so.”

“This is beginning, Paul. Beginning of new life.” Ida wrapped her fingers around my forearm. She looked me directly in the eye. “You go celebrate. You have your Kaden back,” she said as her fingers squeezed my arm. “He is with you forever here.”

She paused and then glanced up to the top of the bluff. “I must climb hill now and go talk with my Sophia. I see you again soon, Paul.”

Bo and I watched as Ida slowly trudged up the hill. Half way up, she stopped and turned back to me. “Paul,” she called out. And when I raised my hand in acknowledgment, she said, “I am happy for you, Paul. You have open your soul and God listened. That is wonderful thing!” She clapped her hands together, her expression euphoric. She waited another few seconds as she stood there beaming at me, waved, then turned and continued on. I watched as she made her way to the crest of the bluff, walked through the wrought iron gate, and disappeared from sight.

* * *

After I paid the sitter and she’d left, I walked into the kitchen. The light on the answering machine blinked. I checked the caller I.D. and then pushed play.

“Hi… it’s only me. Just wanted to let you know I arrived. I’ve been thinking.” And then there was a long pause. “I may try to move tomorrow’s meeting up if I can… see if I can get an early flight back… you know, in time to go out with you guys. I’ll give you a call in the morning and let you know. You don’t have to call back unless you want to.” Another long pause. “Okay, I guess that’s all… my love to Ethan.” And then she hung up.

I stared at the answering machine, the delete button.

The doors locked, the lights off, I headed to the bedroom. Out of habit, I stopped outside of Ethan’s door, my hand on the doorknob. I listened for a moment, smiled, and continued down the hallway.

Just before slumber took me, Ethan’s voice drifted into my room. It rose and fell with innocence, lots of questions, and a giggle.


Jim Krehbiel is a professional musician nearing retirement and have come to writing quite late in life. He’s always had the desire to write but due to a very active career, he didn’t pursue writing until recently. He attended the Eastman School of Music, played the violin professionally in the Syracuse Symphony and served on the School of Music faculty at Syracuse University. Jim has had work accepted for publication by: Through the Gaps, The Roundup Writer’s Zine, Foliate Oak, The Legendary, Fabula Argentea, and Down in the Dirt literary journals.