In the meantime, after twenty minutes of being knocked out cold, Brandon was just starting to stir. For someone who had crashed through a plane of glass, he was not in bad shape. There were a few superficial cuts and of course, the huge lump on his head. He took out his cell phone and called Clarice.
“Clarice,” he said apologetically, “I’ve had the worst day of my life.” He told her all about Janie and about the strange voice that seemed to come from nowhere.
“Oh Brandon,” said Clarice on the other end. Alfie and Lucy got as close to the phone as they possibly could.
Brandon shivered. “And to top it all off, I hurt myself too.”
“What do you mean!?” Clarice asked in alarm. “How did you do it?”
Briefly he told her all about the sliding glass door, the cuts and the walloping lump on his forehead.
“Stay there,” Clarice said authoritatively. “I’ll come to you if you give me your address.”
“Oh no,” said Lucy. “What about Ivan?”
Back at the restaurant, Sarah was just beginning to annoy Ivan. She started going around table to table looking at the food on the plates and trying to get a little taste. So far, she had tried licking the food (looking not only ridiculous but disgusting too), putting her mouth in front of the diner’s mouth so the food would go straight into her’s (also looking ridiculous and disgusting) but worst of all, drilling Ivan about how she could get physical force points. With her obsession with food, it was a wonder she wasn’t huge.
“Look,” Ivan said patiently, “You just have to wait to see what comes up.”
“What? You mean I have to wait for opportunity to come to me?”
“I’m afraid so,” Ivan said firmly, now getting a little nervous. “You can’t force things here and you have to find out what you’re good at too.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “I’ve never waited for anything in my life. I saw what I wanted and I went for it!”
Ivan explained to her how Alfie had accidently discovered he could pull a face only babies could see.
“Hold on now,” Sarah said. “I saw that face too. Remember it scared me into a fatal heart attack?”
Alfie found himself again staring at his prostrate body. He did not think he had begun to stink although he was pretty certain rigor mortis had set in and then moved on. His skin tone had taken on an odd greenish tinge and, for lack of a better word, he thought he looked “mushy”. From these signs, he reckoned he could have been dead for around four days which meant it would be Thursday or Friday. He had not had to deal with many dead bodies before. When his parents died, the hospital and then the funeral director took care of them. He and Lucy had bought the coffins, the best they could afford, although Alfie secretly resented having to spend so much money on an item they were never going to see again. Their memorial services were simple affairs: a short church service with the singing of their favourite hymns and a luncheon afterwards. Lucy had arranged a cremation before her death as well as the service so it had been easy for Alfie. Perhaps it was too easy, Alfie reflected. There just didn’t seem to be enough time to get his head around her illness and passing before she was taken away from him forever.
Well, he thought it was forever.
Whoever would have thought he’d get to see Lucy again in the strange after life. He had thought she had died angry with him and the relief he had felt when he discovered this wasn’t the case almost overwhelmed him.
But now, they really had problems. If he had known how things were going to turn out for Elliot, Beth and Nathan, he certainly would have been a bit more careful around the stairs so he could be a bit more helpful to them. Perhaps he would have even installed a stair lift as Clarice had suggested.
Elliot was having an affair. That was a shock. He was such a judgmental kid, so quick to get on his high horse over any kind of morality issue. Hell, even Alfie knew he himself was less conservative than Elliot. But if he were honest, he never did like Elliot’s wife. Well, maybe he thought, I never gave her enough of a chance for her to prove herself to him.
And Beth, such a dreamer and idealist! She and Tom had really thought about their future together—except they had never thought of the possibility of having anything but healthy children. When they had been building their home together, Alfie had been secretly impressed with the plans they had made and the sacrifices they made to build a future together. He remembered how embarrassed Beth had been when Lucy discovered the coupon book. How he had shouted at Tom for not taking better care of Beth when he had spotted her on a public transport bus. Alfie cast his eyes downwards.
It was more than a little shouting. He had grabbed a hold of Tom by the lapels and had shaken him until utterly spent. And Tom had done nothing but hang his head in shame. He had offered no defence, no excuse and revealed no information. He had just turned on his heel and left Alfie on the porch with the neighbours gawking at him. It was only later he found out that they had given up the luxury of a car so they could remodel the kitchen. Alfie had never found the courage to say he was sorry for the misunderstanding. Instead, he avoided both of them. And just when the thought they had everything in order, Julie came along. Alfie smiled, remembering her delighted face as Maurice tickled her. And then he frowned, knowing he was powerless to help Beth and Tom through the darkest days of the relationship. He knew Julie had medical problems but the extent of then was something Alfie had never considered. Nor had he ever thought about the impact of having such a needy child on a relationship.
Nathan was different. They were lucky Nathan was still with them. When Lucy had received the call from his panicked teacher to say Nathan was on his way to the hospital after being hit by a car, they had sped across town. When they arrived, they hadn’t let them in to see Nathan until they stabilised him. And then they had said they weren’t sure if he would survive. It had been an awful time for Alfie and Lucy but they had never given up on the hope that their youngest son would pull through. Lucy prayed so long and so often that she fell asleep on her knees. Alfie wasn’t much of a praying man but he sure did spend a lot of time willing Nathan to open his eyes. Alfie couldn’t imagine why Tom had given up on Julie. There had to be hope, right? Medical miracles happened all the time.
Nathan’s recent behaviour was an oddity. As he kid, he was organised but not overly so. Certainly Nathan was not one for home decorating.
And then there was the whole Clarice thing. If his reckoning were true, in a few days she would find his body and raise the alarm. He hoped she would also see to it that he would have a good send off. Nothing grand as he felt he really didn’t deserve it but just enough to let his few remaining friends and family members know he had passed.
Alfie was just about to go through a portal that had appeared in his bathroom when there was a sucking noise and his old childhood friend Steven dropped in.
Steven looked like a slightly older version of his childhood self. He had filled out of course but there was no trace of the injuries that had ended his life so prematurely. It made sense of course—he wasn’t walking around with his neck bent at an unnatural angle.
“Alfie,” said Steven as a means of greeting.
“Steve!” Alfie said a bit more warmly. “How the devil are you?”
“Well, you know, I’m dead and have been so for quite a long time.”
“I remember when you died,” Alfie told him. “I was at your funeral and I paid my respects. There were plenty of times in my life that I missed your company.”
“At least you got to have kids,” he said sadly. “I died too young.”
Alfie was at a loss as to what to say in light of his recent reflections. “You know my Nathan had an accident similar to yours,”
“I know,” said Steven, “I showed him how to get out.”
“You what?”Alfie asked, shocked.
“I showed him the path back to life,” Steven shrugged.
Once again, Alfie was speechless. “Steven I don’t know what to say,”
“Thank you might be a start,” teased Steven.
“Thank you Steven,” said Alfie with genuine gratitude. “So is that what you do then? You show people who are trapped the way out?”
“Only if I think they will be better for it. And I can tell you—despite what you’ve been thinking—Nathan is better with a second chance. He got better and he’s going to get even better.”
“I sincerely doubt it,” Alfie said sadly. “Something’s wrong. I don’t know. Maybe it has to do with the accident.”
The sucking sound came and Alfie and Steven found themselves in Julie’s room.
“Ah, she’s a goner for sure,” Sarah was saying at Julie’s bedside. She was looking at Julie as if examining her for flaws.
Alfie gasped in shock, suddenly angry at Sarah’s lack of sensitivity. Lucy only watched Beth, gently giving her daughter a bed bath.
“I suspect you boys should make yourselves disappear,” Sarah ordered sharply.
Alfie, Steven and Ivan nodded and walked out to the living room where Tom had helped himself to a measure of dark amber liquid.
“Yuk,” said Steven, “I wasn’t on earth long enough to develop a taste for it.”
Tom swirled the contents of his glass and held it up to the light before knocking it back. He grimaced and poured himself another one.
“I don’t imagine getting drunk is a way to resolve the situation,” Ivan said.
The three of them sat down on the sofa. Steven poked at the remote and the screen with all the dots came on. Several were flashing red and even more green dots appeared.
“Hospital’s busy with births tonight,” said Steven, cocking his head at the screen. “And it looks like a few deaths too.”
Alfie was glad they weren’t there.
“Uh-oh,” said Ivan, pointing. “I think we had better check on Nathan!”
Nathan was slumped in his sofa again with the phone in hand. The mess that had been there when Persephone had arrived was cleared to a positively glorious finish but there were little signs all was not well. The tins of paint that had purchased only a few days before had been allowed to harden into an useable mess with the paint rollers stuck to the pans. There were tell-tale signs of take-out meals and excessive cola consumption as well. Worse, the cats were back, fighting with each other, walking all over the garbage that had accumulated after only a few days and peeing all over the place.
“Maybe he should get a dog,” said Alfie, nodding to Persephone.
“Really,” said Persephone as if offended.
Steven walked over to where Nathan was slouched and had a good look at him. He peered into the empty containers and looked around in the kitchen. He looked in Nathan’s transformed bedroom, the bathroom and then came back to meet the others.
“I think Nathan could do with a visit from Clarice,” he said simply. “And by the way, not to alarm anyone, we should probably check on Clarice and Brandon.”