The prickling at the back of my neck started about twenty miles from my destination. Though I’d been driving through the night, I was wired as though on triple espresso. Anticipation kept me wide awake. Mom’s threat to haunt me literally came true. She was waiting at the gate to Everton Cemetery, shimmering in the moonlight, just like last year, and the year before, and the first year before that.
The moment I stepped from the car, she was calling to me, “Honey Bear, you made it!” I hate that name, and now I would hear it for the rest of my life, not just the rest of hers. Asking her meant absolutely nothing. I may as well have asked my cat to stop meowing. She loved that name. Ugh
“Come in. Come in. I’ve missed you so much.”
“How does that work exactly?”
And then she was hugging me, ghost style, moving her diaphanous self through me like ice water. I shivered and clenched my teeth.
“Stop clenching your teeth. You’ll give yourself a headache.”
“I can’t help it. You’re freezing me.”
“Oh, you’ll get used to it. Eventually.”
“I don’t actually think I will. Ever.”
“Sit. Sit.” She patted the stone at her grave. “I feel so much ‘more’ closer to my resting place.”
“I don’t even want to know what that means.” I set the ledge of my butt across the top of the stone. “Tell me again how this happened.”
She sighs. “Must we go over this every year?”
I nod vigorously. “Yes, because this is so far outside of what I believed was reality. It still feels like a dream.”
“You’ll get used to it, I swear.”
“I don’t think I will, Mom. I can never tell anyone. Who would believe me?”
Another sigh and she attempts again an explanation. “I panicked. There was so much confusion. You have no idea how confusing dying can be.”
“Yes, I can only imagine.” My hands are on my head pushing my hair back. “Except I have you to tell me from firsthand experience, which shouldn’t be happening.”
She reaches for my hands to pull them away, a familiar gesture, but this time eliciting only the shivering and teeth clenching. So she puts down her arms, steps back, and gently shakes her head.
“The choices offered made no sense until my kids were mentioned. After that, I kept nodding until I signed a contract.”
“Really? Signed a contract. Tell me again how that worked.”
Another sigh and she twirls in a circle, which honestly was fun to watch, the shimmer spiraling. “The paper appeared in front of me and I signed with my finger, just like magic, you know, in that show about that witch that you liked when you were a teenager.” I nodded, recalling my favorite after-school show.
“Did it sparkle, like a magic wand?”
“We go over this every year.” Her hands lay in front of her, palms up, beseeching. “We have only two hours. Please let’s talk about your life.”
“Okay, okay.” She leans back as though against something, in a reclining position on air, an action that makes me inexplicably jealous. “I’m still working at the same place, which is why I get my birthday off still. So no worries.” I give her my best ‘anything for you’ look, pouting just a touch.
“I’m not going to apologize again for having you at 3am. That was not my choice.” She reaches up and behind her, as though around a giant ball, in a melodramatic gesture. “The deal is made. You have to be here at 3am. That is also not my choice. You’re the one who moved so far away from home.”
The stone is making my butt numb. I’ve been here only half an hour and the sandman is sprinkling me. I yawn.
“Don’t you dare fall asleep. You know I cannot control the consequences.” My hands return to my head, pushing back my hair.
“Put your hands down.” I stand up and do jumping jacks. That helps. I try not to think about the wailing in my dreams, reminiscent of my night terrors as a child.
“Okay, if I start to nod off, hug me.” She nods, tight-lipped.
I tell her more about my life, which really doesn’t change all that much, especially in only a year. Then I ask about my baby sister.
“She doesn’t come. Still. I guess night terrors for only half an hour are not enough to convince her.” Her sigh this time sounds more wistful. “She was such an easy birth. Half an hour. Boom!”
Halfway done, I think, as I look at my watch. Fortunately, I am more awake now and enjoying the company of my deceased mother. I’m feeling a pang of guilt, and a little mirth, at the though of my older sister whose birth took 21 hours.