by Walter Pierce
Harry was sitting on a park bench soaking-up some of that free Vitamin D doctors were telling folks to absorb this time of year. The sun’s rays felt warm, hinted at the prospect of better weather, but it wouldn’t be the first time, he thought, when we’ve been sucker-punched by a surprise late April or early May snow storm.
Harry liked to take walks through various neighborhoods and then sit down for a lunch break in some cozy restaurant he discovered along the way, topping it off with a glass of wine or beer to celebrate the occasion.
Lately, he was slowing down, seemed to lack the stamina of a few years ago when he could speed-walk up Beacon Hill to the State House without stopping to lean on a lamp post to catch his breath.
He was past seventy, closer to eighty and maybe the inevitable was in sight. Better not to think about it.
He was feeling a bit weary, caught himself dozing off, but soon he’d awaken feeling recharged, and that always brought a spring to his step.
He was surprised to see a former neighbor, Sidney, heading his way. He couldn’t believe it. Harry attended Sidney’s funeral a month ago. Harry admits his eyes are not what they used to be, what with the cataracts and all, but dead is dead. It must be some guy who resembles Sidney.
He couldn’t resist. “Is that you, Sidney?”
The person stopped, stared at Harry, began to shuffle along much the way Sidneyused to drag his feet as he walked.
Harry said: “Sorry, I thought you were someone I knew.”
The person turned and said, “It’s me all right.”
“You can’t be here.”
“Why not, it’s a public park. I’m not trespassing.”
“But you’re dead. I attended your funeral.”
“I saw you there. You didn’t look unhappy.”
“I’m not one to display emotion.”
“For a friend you could shed a tear. How long did we know each other – ten, fifteen years?
“Maybe, closer to twenty,” said Harry.
“That’s not worth a little grief?”
“I told you I’m not an emotional person.”
“Come to think of it, nobody showed much grief. It was an obligation they were forced to attend, but couldn’t get away fast enough. My own daughter acted as if she was missing a once in a lifetime sale at Filene’s Basement. I should have cut her off without a cent, given my money to some bogus charity. Family is overrated, remember that.”
“What are you doing here?” asked Harry.
“I’m taking a walk, it’s a nice day. Is there a law against that?
“Do dead people do this?”
“I can’t speak for the others. For me, a daily walk keeps me fit. Otherwise, I get lazy, lie around, do nothing.”
“What’s it like over there?” asked Harry.
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
“Can you tell me a little of what to expect?”
“When it happens, it happens. Then you’ll know.”
“Just a hint, that’s all I’m asking.”
“I have no time for that. I have a way to go before lunch.”
“Do you still eat lunch?”
“A guy gets hungry.”
“What do you eat?”
“What did you have for lunch yesterday?”
Harry thinks a moment: “A little soup, a sandwich, some tea.”
“So there – lunch is lunch. You eat what you like, I eat what I like.”
“Does it hurt when you die?” asked Harry.
“I suppose it hurts if you’re in an automobile accident or a fire. But if you pass in your sleep, you just wake up on the other side.”
“Do you have a room, an apartment?”
“It’s what it is — could be better, but not so bad.”
“Do you have furniture, a bed, TV?”
“You don’t need that stuff – it’s a lot simpler.”
“Tell me more,” said Harry.
“What’s to tell? You’ll find out soon enough.”
“What do you mean soon enough? Do you know something about me – my future?”
“I’m getting a headache from all these questions.”
“I want to know, and yet you won’t tell me anything,” said Harry.
“What’s to tell?”
“See what I mean. You evade the issue – answer a question with a question. Tell you what. I’ll take you to lunch – my treat. We’ll go anywhere you like, just answer a few questions – is it a deal?”
“I don’t make deals — that was in another life.”
“All right, no deals, just a chat about the other side. What I should expect, stuff like that.”
“You make it sound like you have to pack a bag, bring the right clothes. No need for anything like that.”
“I want to know the living conditions,” said Harry.
“There are no living conditions – you’re dead. It’s not a hotel – you don’t check in. You arrive, that’s it.”
“And then what?”
“You’ll find out.”
“Can’t I have a hint? Something to help me get ready – it’s a big move,” said Harry.
“I have to go.”
“I’ll slow down, be more discreet.”
“Goodbye, I’m on my way.”
“Wait. What about lunch?” asked Harry.
“I’m heading there.”
“Can’t I go with you?”
“Your time will come soon enough.”
“No, I meant to have lunch with you,” said Harry.
Sidney picked up the pace of his shuffle and disappeared from view. Harry got up from the bench intent on following him but Sidney was nowhere in sight.
Walter Pierce has been writing short fiction since his retirement as managing director of the Celebrity Series the major presenter of music and dance in Boston. His story “Foliage Weekend” was recently published in the 2013 Vermont Literary Review.