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June 6, 2:30 p.m
“I think I’m doing pretty well for a guy who woke up dead yesterday,” Richard said.
Though he couldn’t be sure, he sensed that almost two hours had passed since the fight on the playground. And he’d spent most of his time lying on the blanket next to the boy and staring up at the sky. To his surprise, his thoughts had actually calmed down a lot.
It’s amazing what the human mind can finally accept as normal, Richard thought.
About half an hour ago, a girl his own age had joined the boy and Richard felt immediately that she fitted in perfectly with the boy’s dark musings. There was something goth about them both, or as Richard had recently learned the more modern parlance was “steampunk”. She had black hair that looked like she dyed it herself and a black and red skinny bodice with a silver-trimmed black skirt underneath. She had dropped onto the blanket next to the boy and kissed him briefly. Richard felt a surge of jealousy, followed immediately by disgust.
Gosh, just back from the dead, and I havejoin another young man? For real?
But after lying next to the young lovers for an hour, he felt almost as close to the girl as to the boy. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about either of them. But they were young and in love, and those two things alone made Richard’s heart ache with loss and loneliness.
Richard propped himself up on his elbows to look at the reclining couple and saw that 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 one 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 stomach. She had removed her shoes and stretched her skinny legs from the blanket to the grass. She had her knees drawn up so she could wiggle her toes in the grass and clover.
At some point, in the last few hours, Richard had taken to just talking out loud to the two of them. They paid no attention to him, and it helped to put his thoughts into words.
“Everything feels different,” he said, playing with the girl’s unmoved strands of hair. “I’ve been wandering around this park all afternoon, touching everything, and that’s the first thing that caught my eye. Take this grass, for example.” He ran his hands over the lawn beside him. “It feels soft to your toes, maybe even sensual. But for me, it’s like running my hands over the bristles of a giant steel brush. And do you see that crease in the ceiling? I can’t smooth it no matter how hard I try. If you lay on it you would hardly notice it. To me it would feel like lying on a set of cobblestones. And your hair. I know it’s soft, but it doesn’t even feel like hair to me. And though I touch it, you’ll never know. So what’s the point, really?”
The girl turned the pages of her book, adjusted the sunglasses that had slipped down her nose, and let out a long sigh.
“Sorry, I don’t want 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 at home on the couch with Keith. When we first met, we were party animals. But I guess we both just sucked into a different way of life. Time does that to people. Maybe in twenty or thirty years, if you two are still together, you know what I mean…”
His voice trailed off as the image of Keith filled his mind. Not the picture of him crying uncontrollably in that pool of blood, but the picture of him as Richard wanted him to be remembered – smiling and laughing across a dining table. Either as a couple or with your friends. They had several other pairs of bears that they hung out with and Keith was always happiest when Richard joined him for a meal with Michelle and Pil. The four had spent many evenings at restaurants across the city and dinners in their own homes. Richard always knew the Kilanis thought he was a weird duck and didn’t quite know what to think of him. Many people he met felt the same way. But more than most, Michelle and Pil have gone to great lengths to make him feel included. He knew they were doing it for Keith’s sake, but what they probably never knew was how desperately Richard appreciated their efforts to make him feel a part of their circle.
He tried to keep the smiling image of Keith in his head, but the thought of Michelle crowded out that pleasant vision. Instead, he saw the picture of her holding Keith there in the hallway of her house just last night. The pain emanating from them had thickened the air they breathed.
The home that had been so full of love and life just a few days ago was now such a dark and sad place.
Richard had once told Keith that there was no way he wanted to stay in her house if anything happened to him. Richard had said, “Our house revolves around 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 puffing 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’s a fun fact,” Richard said. “It’s something else I’ve learned about being dead. It seems I can run like the wind now. Who knows, maybe I could finally climb Everest. All without bottled oxygen. What do you think? I’ve always wanted to.”
The girl turned a page in her book and stretched her legs with a yawn.
“I should be home. I should be with Keith. I’ve only been back a day and already miss him so much. But being with him isn’t actually being with him With him now, right? He doesn’t know I’m there and I can feel that emptiness the most when I see the pain and loss in his eyes. It’s where I’m supposed to be, but I’m not.” Richard felt his voice crack and that familiar tightness in his chest tighten. “He’ll never know I’m here. He’ll never know I’m watching him. I could follow him like a puppy for the next fifty years. I could watch him find someone new. Watch him fall in love and find out how to make him happy again. I could follow him and watch and he’d never know I was there.” He turned to the boy as if he really expected an answer. “I really would be like that? When 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, do you really love them?”
The girl sat up suddenly, mesmerized by a page of her book she was rereading, her lips barely moving as she said the words. She turned and shook the boy who seemed to be dozing. He woke up with a start.
“Hey, listen to this part,” she said, reading aloud:
Life means everything it has ever meant.
It’s the way it’s always been.
There is absolute uninterrupted continuity.
Why should I be crazy
because I’m out of sight?
I’m just waiting for you.
For a break.
Somewhere. Very close.
Just around the corner
“‘For a while.’ That sounds nice, but what does that mean?” asked the boy.
“I’m not sure. But he’s talking about death.”
The sky was a blue deeper than Richard had ever seen in his lifetime. The boy pondered the verse for a minute. Then he quoted from memory: “‘The carriage contained only ourselves and immortality.'”
“Yes, exactly! ‘… only 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.”
“Yes. She knew far too much to enclose. Wasn’t Amherst Massachusetts near Salem?”
The girl laughed. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. And that was a long, long time ago.”
“Nevertheless…” the boy said and closed his eyes again. “All that talk about death. I think she might have been a witch. Or a zombie.”
The sun had gone over the bank of trees and their ceiling was now moving into shadow. The girl blinked at the trees, then at her watch before playfully slapping her boyfriend’s shoulder.
“Come on Kimball. Let’s get out of here.”
Richard Salt sat up and stared at the boy.
“Kimball? Her name is Kimball???
The girl gave the boy a hand and they gathered their things together. Richard didn’t think to move in time, and as she gathered up the blanket, she threw him roughly onto the grass.
He lay there staring at the departing couple. Then he said it again… “Her last name is kimball?”
It was a common name. There were many Kimballs in the world, especially in Salt Lake City. It had to be a coincidence. It just had to be…
He watched the young couple jog through the park.
The Last Handful of Clover is a supernatural thriller directed by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thank you for reading! If you like this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.
More information (including maps of the world of history and a contact form) can be found on the author’s website.
To read earlier chapters in this book, go to the Table of Contents page.
If interested Listen to The book, instead of reading it, the audiobook is available at the Patreon link above and also as a podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Anchor and all other podcast platforms. Visit the podcast page for more details.
Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.