June 6, 2:30 pm
“I think I’m doing pretty well, for a guy that woke up dead yesterday,” Richard said.
Although he couldn’t know for sure, he sensed that it had been close to two hours since the fight on the playground. And he had spent most of that time just lying next to the boy on the blanket and staring up at the sky. To his surprise, his thoughts had actually calmed a great deal.
It is amazing what the human mind can eventually accept as normal, Richard thought.
About a half hour ago a girl his own age had joined the boy, and Richard immediately sensed she was a perfect match for the kid’s dark brooding. They both had a bit of Goth about them, or as Richard had learned recently, the more modern parlance was “Steampunk.” She had black hair that looked like a home dye job, and a black and red, skin tight top with a silver studded black skirt down below. She had plopped herself next to the boy on the blanket and kissed him briefly. Richard felt a pang of jealousy rush through him, followed immediately by disgust.
Sheesh, just back from the dead, and already I’m latching on to another young man? Really?
But after an hour lying next to the young lovers, he felt almost as close to the girl as the boy. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about either of them. But they were young and they were in love, and those two things alone made Richard’s heart ache with loss and loneliness.
Pushing up on his elbows to look at the reclining pair, Richard saw the boy was now just lying with his eyes closed, and his head on the closed journal. His left hand was under his neck, and the right was on his girl’s arm, stroking it lightly. The girl had pulled out a thin volume and was reading it, her head on the boy’s belly. She had kicked off her shoes and extended her skinny legs off the blanket and onto the grass. She had her knees drawn up so should could wiggle her toes in the grass and the clover.
Somewhere, over the last couple hours, Richard had taken to just talking aloud to the pair. They didn’t pay him any mind, and it helped to put his thoughts into words.
“Everything feels different,” he said, toying with unmoving strands of the girl’s hair. “I’ve been wandering in this park all afternoon, touching everything, and that’s the first thing I’ve noticed. Take for instance, this grass.” He ran his hands over the lawn next to him. “To your toes it feels soft, maybe even sensual. But to me, it’s like running my hands over the bristles of a giant steel brush. And see this fold in the blanket? I can’t smooth it out, no matter how hard I try. If you laid down on this, you’d hardly notice. For me, it would feel like lying on a line of cobblestones. And your hair. I know it’s soft, but it doesn’t even feel like hair to me. And even though I’m touching it, you’ll never know. So what’s the point, really?”
The girl turned the page of her book, readjusted the sunglasses that were slipping down her nose, and let out a long sigh.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to bore you. I wasn’t that exciting of a guy, even when I was alive. Work, work, work during the week, and most evenings just home on the couch with Keith. We used to be party animals, when we first met. But I guess we both just eased into another way of living. Time does that to people. Maybe in twenty or thirty years, if you two are still together, you’ll know what I mean…”
His voice trailed off as the image of Keith filled his mind. Not the image of him weeping uncontrollably in that pool of blood, but an image of him as Richard wanted to remember him—smiling and laughing across a dinner table. Either just the two of them, or with their friends. They had several other bear couples they spent time with, and Keith was always happiest when Richard would accompany him to a meal with Michelle and Pil. The four of them had spent many evenings at restaurants across the city, and dinners in their own homes. Richard always knew that the Kilanis thought him to be an odd duck, and didn’t quite know what to make of him. Many people he met felt that way. But more than most, Michelle and Pil put forth a grand effort to make him feel included. He knew they did it completely for Keith’s sake, but what they probably never knew was how much Richard had desperately appreciated their efforts to make him feel part of their circle.
He tried to keep the smiling image of Keith in his mind, but the thought of Michelle forced that pleasant vision away. Instead, he saw the image of her holding Keith there in the hallway of their home, just last night. The pain radiating off of them had thickened the very air they breathed.
The home that had been so full of love and life only a few days ago was now such a dark and sad place.
Richard had once told Keith that if anything happened to him, there was no way he’d want to stay in their house. Richard had said, “Our house is about us. And if there ever comes a time when there is no ‘us,’ there would be no reason for me to be here.” He wondered if Keith felt the same way.
A trio of joggers ran by, sweating and huffing in the June sun. Richard watched them come and go, but the girl didn’t look up from her book, and the boy just lay there with the sun on his face.
“Here is a fun fact,” Richard said. “It’s something else I’ve learned about being dead. It seems that now I can run like the wind. Who knows, maybe I could finally climb Everest. Do the whole thing without bottled oxygen. What do you think? I’ve always wanted to.”
The girl turned a page in her book and stretched out her legs with a yawn.
“I should be home. I should be with Keith. I’ve only been back a day, and already I miss him so much. But being with him isn’t really being with him now, is it? He doesn’t know I’m there, and I can feel that empty space the most when I see the pain and loss in his eyes. It’s the space where I’m supposed to be, but I’m not.” Richard felt his voice cracking, and that familiar tightness twisting in his chest. “He’ll never know I’m here. He’ll never know I’m watching. I could follow him around like a puppy for the next fifty years. I could watch as he finds someone new. Watch as he falls in love and figures out how to be happy again. I could follow and watch, and he’d never know I was there.” He turned to the boy, as if he really expected a reply. “So would I be, really? If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there, does it make a sound? If you love someone, but they think you’re gone, are you really loving them at all?”
The girl suddenly sat up, entranced by a page of her book which she read repeatedly, her lips barely moving as she sounded out the words. She turned and shook the boy who was apparently dozing. He woke with a start.
“Hey listen to this part,” she said, and read aloud:
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner
“‘For an interval.’ That sounds pretty, but what does it mean?” the boy asked.
“I’m not sure. But he’s talking about death.”
The sky was a shade of blue deeper than Richard had ever seen when he was alive. The boy considered the verse for a minute. Then he quoted from memory: “‘The carriage held but just ourselves, and immortality.’”
“Yes, exactly! ‘… just ourselves and immortality,’” the girl repeated. “But that’s Dickinson.” She dropped her book on the blanket.
“I think she was a witch,” the boy said, lying back down.
“Who? Emily D.?”
“Yeah. She knew way too much for a shut-in. Wasn’t Amherst Massachusetts close to Salem?”
The girl laughed. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. And that was a long, long time before.”
“Still…” the boy said, closing his eyes again. “All that talk about death. I think maybe she was a witch. Or a zombie.”
The sun had passed over the bank of trees, and their blanket was now moving into the shade. The girl squinted at the trees, then at her watch, before playfully punching her boyfriend on the shoulder.
“Come on, Kimball. Let’s get out of here.”
Richard salt bolt upright and stared at the boy.
“Kimball? Your name is Kimball??”
The girl gave the boy a hand up, and they gathered their things. Richard didn’t think to move in time, and her gathering up the blanket dumped him roughly on the grass.
He lay there, staring at the departing couple. Then he said it again… “Your last name is Kimball?”
It was a common name. There were a lot of Kimballs in the world, especially in Salt Lake City. It had to be a coincidence. It just had to be…
He watched as the young couple broke into a jog across the park.
The Last Handful of Clover is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you are enjoying this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.
For more information (including maps of the story’s world and a contact form) visit the author’s website.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.