2021 Reading Year in Review

I read some books this year. Here are some words about a few of the titles, placed into random categories I just invented.

Biography of someone I’ve always wanted to know more about:

Sometimes You Have to Lie by Leslie Brody. The subtitle for this is “The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy.” Though her book was formative for me in my youth, with a relatable main character who embraced her own quirks, I never knew much about Fitzhugh. Brody presents a satisfying portrait of Harriet’s creator, a person as real and passionate and complicated as the iconic character she brought to life. Fitzhugh was also an accomplished artist, outspoken against racism, and a person who strove to live a life true to herself, openly gay in an era when closeting was more the norm.


Sweetness and awww:
A Handful of Happiness by Massimo Vachetta. This little memoir by an Italian veterinarian who opened a hedgehog rescue center will remind you that compassion is never wasted.


Nonfiction book that made me go hmmm while rubbing my chin in a thoughtful way, but also laugh several times:
A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling. This book is a sometimes hilarious, other times scary look at a failed attempt to build a libertarian Utopia in a small New Hampshire town. The author does a good job showing the humanity of the people involved, while also detailing the sometimes tragic consequences of prioritizing a rigid black-and-white ideology over the nuances of reality. You can ignore zoning and wildlife regulations in the name of freedom. But when you end up trapped in your house by bears that have come to see humans as their best source of food, that might not feel a lot like freedom.


Poetry that stands the test of time:
Flame and Shadow by Sara Teasdale. I went to the way back transporter for this book by one of Missouri’s Pulitzer Prize winners. Her work puts me in mind of the nature-y essence of Mary Oliver combined with the sharp-edged insights of Dorothy Parker. “There Will Come Soft Rains” gives me chills every time I read it.


Nonfiction that made me want to do what they did:
Wanderers, a History of Women Walking by Kerri Andrews. The author begins with some of her own experiences in the mountains of Scotland, then forays into ten separate essays, each one focusing on a single woman who walked. How had I never heard about Dorothy Wordsworth before?


Novel written by a friend that’s so good I didn’t have to pretend even a little bit when I said I loved it:
A Song for the Road by Kathleen Basi. Full disclosure — I was a beta reader for early drafts of this. I liked it so much, I still took the time to read the final version. It’s a touching but never maudlin look at grief. A year after Miriam loses her husband and two teen children in an accident, she happens across a road trip app her daughter was developing and decides to follow its prompts in an effort to find a way forward in her life. Along the way, she picks up a young pregnant hitchhiker. This sounds heavy, but there are also moments of real levity.


Highly original fiction celebrating neurodiversity, set in a specific cultural niche:
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated to English by Ginny Tapley Takemori. This is a story about a woman who truly finds her calling, working part-time at a convenience store. If only everyone else in her life could accept this, things would be peachy. But her parents and sister always hold out hope that she will eventually “get better.” Keiko tries with all her might to understand and obey the rules of being human, observing that “foreign objects get expelled.” This book will resonate with anyone who has ever felt like a misfit.


Science memoir that made me say, Wow!:
Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard. Suzanne Simard is a scientist who knows how to tell a story. Part memoir, part ecology lesson, this book is engaging and enlightening all the way through. The author has a knack for explaining science for the layperson. I was fascinated by the details of her experiments in old growth forests. Her nature descriptions are often breathtaking.

Some things I learned: Many trees in a forest have a reciprocal relationship, sending water and nutrients back and forth. Various kinds of fungi are instrumental in this. In a forest setting, if there’s a dry spell, the older, bigger trees with deep roots will pull up water from underground and send it to the younger, smaller trees with shallower roots to help them survive. That’s one of many reasons that clearcutting out big trees for wood products and replacing them with all new seedlings might not work out well. “We can think of an ecosystem of wolves, caribou, trees, and fungi creating biodiversity just as an orchestra of woodwind, brass, percussion, and string musicians assemble into a symphony.”


Historical fiction with added ghosts that made me say, Wow!:
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan. Set in 14th century China, this story explores themes of fate, free will, loyalty, the nature of power, and of course, gender. Though we’re often taken deep into the point of view of Zhu, a girl who takes on her late brother’s identity in pursuit of his unclaimed fate, the author keeps back just enough so that the story does not become predictable. The characters are complex, the plot is clever, and the story a real page turner. Overall, I’d say this book accomplishes what art is supposed to – it made me feel and think deeply.


Laugh riot classic:
Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. These short stories are a hoot, with the ever-resourceful, comically understated gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves, time and again saving the skin of his employer, the hapless Bertie Wooster. In the process, Jeeves often advances his own agenda as well. Wodehouse had a genius for turns of phrase — “shrubbery that looked as if it had just come back from the dry cleaner” to describe a meticulously groomed garden, for instance. There’s quite a bit of slang of the era, and some that Wodehouse invented, but it’s easy to figure out the meaning by the context. I felt these stories were bracing — not the least bit rummy.

~~

On Today’s Bike Ride: 72 Degrees on Christmas Eve

Bike
Freida taking a rest break.

Unseasonably warm is becoming more the norm. It was 72 degrees F here today on Christmas Eve. Nothing for it but to hop on a bicycle. My husband, son-in-residence and I rode together far enough out of town that we had to dodge cow patties on the trail.

field

It was one of my longer journeys with Freida at nearly 13 miles round trip. After being sidelined for medical reasons earlier in the year, I’m doing everything I can to stay healthy in the hopes she and will be able to keep increasing our range.

Happy holidays!

On Today’s Walk: Rock Bridge

I’m using up some holiday and vacation leave this week while my oldest kid visits. Thanks to climate change probably, the weather is warm enough for many long walks.

Today we went to Missouri’s Rock Bridge State Park. There were a few other walkers there, but very few. We had most of the wonders to ourselves. Of course, the first thing we had to see was *the* rock bridge for which the park is named.

Rock Bridge
That’s my cohort there in the distance.

Here’s another view of the rock bridge, this one from above:


We made our way down the Devil’s Icebox Cave, but the water was up too high for us to explore it much. We also neglected to bring flashlights.


Next, it was off on the trail that leads to a disused stone grain silo built 100+ years ago. As evidenced by the artwork, plenty of people have been here before us.


I found a friend inside.

Toad
Howdy, friend!

Silo interior
View from inside the silo

A little research told me this festively colored fungus is called fulvifomes robiniae.

Fungus

It is nice to get out of my own neighborhood occasionally. Missouri is a state with a lot of natural beauty, so I don’t have to travel far to find a pleasant hike.

~~

On Today’s Walk: Talk of Sycamores and Ancient Greek Sculpture

Son the younger, who is currently living with me and the hubs, accompanied me today on my walk. We stopped to marvel at some large American sycamore trees, notable for their size and the fact that the bark sheds off, revealing stunning white wood underneath.


According to the Missouri Botanical Garden site, the American sycamore “is generally regarded to be the most massive tree indigenous to eastern North America. It is a deciduous, usually single-trunk tree that typically grows to 75-100’.” Indeed, I left the houses and cars in two of the photos for scale. The trees looked especially magnificent against the vivid blue, cloudless sky.

I know what you’re wondering about now, dear reader. When does Ancient Greek sculpture come into this story? The answer is, right now.

Son II commented that the peeling bark and white wood reminded him of some articles he’s been reading about statues from Greek antiquity. I learned some things from him during this conversation, notably that for centuries, scholars believed said statues had always been white. However, new scientific examinations reveal traces of pigment ingredients, showing the sculptures had originally been painted.

He also told me he believed from the images he’d seen imagining the original colors were off the mark. He thought artists who were so skilled and took such great care when carving wouldn’t have then made their creation garish. When I came home and looked on the internet, I saw what he meant. But I guess we can’t really know. Still, it’s fascinating to read about how a misconception is being revealed after all this time. Here’s a good article I found. The authors must know about culture, because they use British spellings, right?

Anyway, today’s walk was educational in more ways than one.

~~

On Today’s Walk: Admonitions

It’s a sunny and slightly brisk fall afternoon, perfect for walking off those Thanksgiving calories. Just make sure you behave yourself while doing so.


Curb your dog

No worries. I don’t even have a dog.


Private property

I’m not sure what prompted the posting of this sign on a quiet residential street, but I kept my distance to take the photo.


Road signs

No worries. I’m not even in a car, so I can’t park. I’m unlikely to exceed 25 mph on foot.


No dumping

I also have nothing with me I can dump. No streams will be polluted due to me.


Sidewalk closed
Don’t even think about it.

I heeded the warning and took an alternate route. I was a model neighbor on this walk.

~~

On Today’s Walk: Down But Not Out

Tree
Down but not out

This tree is in a park near my house. Maybe someone else can identify the kind for me. I like to think of it as a survivor tree. At some point in the past, it fell over on its side. But did that make it give up? It did not!

It pushed some roots down from one side of its trunk and branches up from the other. It’s thrived like that for years now. I like to visit it for encouragement when things get difficult. It reminds me that life can knock you down, but that doesn’t always mean you can’t survive or even flourish. It reminds me not to give up, but to look for new alternatives, to adapt when faced with changes beyond my control.

Incidentally, the branches on the right side of the photo were propped there by someone recently. There’s a nice space in the middle, the right size to for a small child to sit in. Hmmm.

~~

On Today’s Walk: Who Goes There?

I was using some vacation hours today to work on a personal writing project, so naturally I took a three-mile walk. I assumed the day’s theme would be fall colors, but assumptions are often wrong. Also, the world around is full of astonishing finds if you pay attention.

First find, two doors down. A new resident in the neighborhood? You can’t tell from the photo, but this figure is BIG. I estimate at least seven feet tall, maybe more.

Yard art
Fee fi fo fum?

This gentleman has a polite request for us:

Be Civil Sign

Whoa, how did these two get trapped here? Was it when the veil parted on Halloween? I nearly walked right over them without noticing! They’re not drawn on. They were put into the original sidewalk design when it was poured as far as I can tell.


I don’t know who Joe and Betty Wood were, but it seems they’re fondly remembered. Hi, Joe and Betty.


And finally, I did see some colors, too. ‘Tis I, Autumn.

Autumn colors

~~

On Today’s Walk: Arachnid Sighting

Marbled orb weaver

It’s an unusually warm and idyllic day for November, and I have to work. The silver lining is that I get an hour for lunch and live close enough to walk home. I encountered one of nature’s wonders casually crossing the street. The iNaturalist “Seek” app on my phone informed me this critter is a marbled orb weaver spider. I almost said “guy” instead of “critter” because further research revealed that the females tend to stay hidden in piles of leaves, except when retrieving food from their webs. However, even more research tells me the size of this one indicates it’s a female. I’m going with “I don’t know.”

According to the Insect Identification site, these spiders are common in wooded areas near water.Aha! The road I was on runs alongside a park, and the park has a creek running through it. Common or not, it didn’t look familiar to me. Maybe because they’re usually hanging around in the brush and not out on the asphalt. It sure is eye catching, isn’t it? And nothing to worry about. They are neither aggressive nor venomous.

This one was trucking right along and seemed to have an agenda. Whatever its destination, I hope it arrives safely.

On Today’s Walk: Civic Minded Edition

I voted sticker
Got my sticker!

~~

Today’s walk took me to my polling place, exactly one mile from my house. It was sunny and 48 degrees, perfect voting weather. We have one issue on the ballot — whether to renew a tax that funds some parks and rec projects. My town has a pretty good trail system, but it needs to be expanded into a couple of underserved neighborhoods. Passage would help fund that, in part, as well as possibly reopening a couple of local playgrounds. As is obvious to anyone who reads my blog, I love walking/biking trails and make frequent use of them.

On my way home, I met a new friend. I felt it was another civic duty to engage with them:

~~

Speaking of civic mindedness, I’m blessed to live in a neighborhood abundant in little free libraries. Here’s one I hadn’t noticed before today:

Little free library

~~

Short Story: Posthumous Divorce

…it’s time to move on, and I believe a divorce might convince James of that, too.

With Halloween upon us, it seems like a good time to share a ghost story I wrote. Posthumous Divorce originally appeared three years ago in Boundless: an Anthology of Prose.


Photo by Aidan Roof on Pexels.com

Posthumous Divorce

I’d waited a respectful two weeks after James Weldon’s funeral to move into his office. In a town slow to accept change, I wanted to avoid the stereotype of attorney as vulture. I was also daunted by the shoes I had to fill. Five months on, I was about to face the real test of how well I’d taken ownership.  

James’s widow, Kathleen, would be arriving any minute. She’d declined to say what she needed, telling me she’d explain in person. I’d sent the secretary on errands, so I could greet Kathleen personally. 

When she entered the reception area, she looked impeccably groomed, but a little more creased and worn than she had been. We exchanged pleasantries and I poured us both cups of coffee before escorting her into my office.

“What can I do for you?” I asked.

“I’ve been thinking for days about how to tell you, Andrew,” she said. “I believe I have to settle with blurting it out. I’d like you to help me obtain a divorce.”

I nearly choked on my coffee, but tried to keep any hint of shock from my voice. “I’m sorry, I was unaware you had remarried.”

“I didn’t. I’d like a divorce from James, posthumously.”

It became clear in an instant. Kathleen must had found something in her husband’s personal effects — evidence of an affair, possibly — that had shaken her.

“It’s an unusual request,” I said

“It’s an unusual situation,” she responded. “I know how this is going to sound, but please have an open mind. I loved James. I certainly didn’t wish for him to die when he did. But it’s time to move on, and I believe a divorce might convince James of that, too.”

“I’m not following you,” 

She put her cup on the desk and folded her hands in her lap, gazing down at them. “James insists on continuing to live…er, dwell…at our house. He says when he elected to stay, he had to choose a location. I don’t really understand, but apparently there are rules of some sort. He selected our home, and he is bound there as long as he remains on earth.”

An alarm sounded in my mind. “Are you saying James’s ghost is…” 

She looked up. “Yes.”

“I see.” She needed a good mental health professional, not an attorney. I’m sure my thoughts were clear on my face.

“I never believed in ghosts,” Kathleen said. “In your place, I would have trouble believing me. But I hope I can call on our friendship to ask this favor.  Will you hear me out, then come speak to James? He wants to see you. He respects you. I’ve tried talking to him about it, but he always changes the subject before I can ask him to leave. He might listen to you.”

“You want me to come to your home?” 

“If you could be so kind.” Kathleen searched my face for a second. “To be fair, I should explain the situation. I said James wanted to see you, but I was the one who planted the idea. He’s repeatedly asked me to visit you here and report back to him on how you were handling the practice. Finally, I suggested he speak to you, himself.”

I saw no other way out than through, so I settled in to hear her story. “I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around what you’re saying, but I’m willing to listen.”

Her posture lost its rigidity. “Thank you. I haven’t been able to tell anyone. I can’t continue to live as I have been the last few months.”

“When did you first see James? I mean, after his demise.”

“When I went home from the funeral. My sister stayed with me the first night. As soon as I had seen her out the door the next morning, I turned around to find James standing in the foyer.”

“Has anyone else seen him?” I tried to keep my tone gentle.

“No. I’ve had friends over a couple of times for cards, and the Friends of the Library held a board meeting at my house. But I’ve convinced James to remain in the bedroom. I feel guilty about it, but I can’t…have him…”

“No, of course not,” I patted her hand awkwardly.

“He listens in, though,” Kathleen continued. “and gives me what he considers helpful advice. It’s a side of him I never had to deal with, much. He was always too busy with work. I value my autonomy. As you know, I’ve been dedicated to my volunteer activities for years. James had his sphere of influence and I had mine. Now he’s at my elbow every moment, second-guessing my decisions, trying to…”

“Meddle?” I suggested.

“Yes. I’m his only conduit to the world. I’m uncomfortable having guests any more. Yet, I can never leave without James asking for an account of how I spent my time while I was away. If I stay up late reading, he says I should get more sleep. But how can I sleep? I feel like that fellow in the George Orwell book, watched all the time, worrying about every movement. The best thing for both of us would be for him to move on.”

I could picture James behaving as described. A part of me almost believed her version of events. Almost. I would agree to Kathleen’s request, I decided. But I wanted time to think over how to tell her James wasn’t really there. 

“Will you take my side – case, I mean?” Kathleen asked. 

“I’ll come see if I can speak to James,” I offered. “Let me check my calendar.”

“Of course.” She sounded relieved.

I consulted my phone, thinking James would not have approved my abandonment of a paper appointment book. “How about Thursday evening, around 7:30?” 

“Perfect. I’ll let James know. Thank you.”

**

Kathleen opened the door the moment I rang the bell. The circles under her eyes were darker than they had been earlier in the week, but she managed a half-smile. “Come in and have a seat.”

As she led me into the living room, I thought about how difficult it had been for me, moving into James’s office, how unnatural it had felt to be there on my own. How much more intense would Kathleen’s feelings be about the home she had shared with her husband? It would be easy for anyone to imagine a departed spouse still present, especially when the late loved one possessed such a forceful personality.

As I settled myself into a wingback chair, Kathleen said, “I’ll get us some coffee, and let James know you’re here.”

When she left the room, I eyed my briefcase, trying to decide when to present her with the information I’d gathered on bereavement counseling. How long should I wait before confronting her with the truth of her husband’s absence? James Weldon had taught me that evidence wasn’t enough; the manner and timing of its introduction were paramount. 

“You take your coffee black, right?” Kathleen’s voice drew me out of my meditation.

“Yes, thanks.” 

As she set the cup on the table next to me, the lights in the hall flickered. Kathleen moved to the sofa, and the lamp on the other side of her flickered as well. I hoped she didn’t have problems with her wiring.

I focused my attention on the lamp to see if it happened again, and saw the light playing tricks with the shadows around the other chair. A voice said, “Hello, Andrew. It’s good to see you.” The shadows lightened and changed, filling themselves in with details that comprised the form of James Weldon, in the suit he’d worn the day of his heart attack.

I jumped from my chair, banging my knee into the coffee table and sloshing the contents of my cup. “James!” my voice wouldn’t raise above an urgent whisper. “I…I…you’re…”

Kathleen stood and patted my arm, the way I’d patted hers in my office. “I knew you wouldn’t believe it until you’d seen him yourself. Please have a seat again so we can chat.”

I fell back into the chair, cutting my gaze back and forth between the two Weldons, the living one and the post-living one. Was I imagining him? 

“Whatever your beliefs about the afterlife have been,” James said. “the overwhelming evidence shows I am still here, though in a limited fashion. That being the case, let’s get down to business.” Marching straight into action. It was James, all right.

“Suh-Sorry about the coffee,” I said.

“No worries.” Kathleen wiped the table with some tissues. “James is right, we should discuss why you’re here.” She gave me a pointed look, but I was focused on trying to stop my hands from shaking. 

“I’ve been following the news,” James said. “I saw you managed a successful resolution for the Ramirez family. But there are some other cases I’d like to hear about, ones I left hanging.”

I felt a slight clutch in my chest, worried he was about to bring up Mrs. Winthrop. Her case had been in the news, too. I had encouraged her to settle much sooner, for a lower amount than James would have considered. I felt the emotional toll it had saved her would be worth it. But how to get James to see it this way? I became aware he was still talking, and wasn’t sure what I’d missed.

“…you could drop by weekly to fill me in on our current cases,” he said. His attention shifted to his wife, and he added, “We’d have to find a convenient time for Kathleen, of course. Perhaps for now you could give us some privacy, dear?”

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. Kathleen, making no move to leave, said, “We have something to discuss, the three of us.” 

“Right,” I managed to say, “Kathleen has asked me to represent her in a matter.” I wished I had prepared for this, in any way at all. 

“I see. We can discuss my wife’s concerns first. What is it? The liability issues I brought to her attention regarding the Friends of the Library fundraising activities?” James asked.

“Nothing like that,” I replied. “It’s of a more personal nature.”

James raised his ethereal eyebrows. “Personal?”

“Very personal.” Kathleen’s voice trembled. “It has to do with the two of us.”

“I don’t see what personal matters we’d need to involve Andrew in. There should be no probate issues. I wrote a clear will and the law is straightforward in this kind of situation.”

I felt I’d better speak up while I still had a chance to gain control of the conversation. “Your wife has asked me to be here – “

“Because I requested it,” James interrupted.

“Not exactly,” I told him. “I’m here on Kathleen’s behalf, not yours.”

“In what capacity?” His voice sounded more sharp than ghostly. Death had made him cranky, apparently.

Kathleen said, “Andrew is here as a friend and advisor. I have something difficult to say. I’ve tried to broach the matter before, but please hear me out this time.”

“Go ahead,” James told her.

“You know I love you, James. We made a good life together. But there is a time for everything, and the time has come for you to move on.”

“Move on?” he echoed, and now his voice did sound a bit ghostly.

“I believe we’d both be happier if you were out of the house.”

“As I’ve explained, I’m tied to one place. There are rules.”

I entered the discussion again. “But the rules don’t require you to stay here indefinitely? You can…go?”

“Yes, but I wouldn’t be able to come back. If I leave, it’s permanent.”

After a moment’s uncomfortable silence, James said, “You understand I’d be gone forever? But there are matters for which I’m still needed. I’m willing to discuss how to make this arrangement work better, but we’ll have plenty of time for that. While you’re here, Andrew, there are some other things I need talk over with you. Why don’t we get those out of the way first?”

“I’m sure Kathleen understands your leave-taking would be permanent,” I told him. “It’s not a request she’s making without serious deliberation. Do you understand what you’re requesting, Kathleen?”

“I do. I’m sorry, but you need to go,” she said in a quiet voice.

“You’re asking me to leave?” He could no longer pretend not to understand.

“It’s not that I won’t miss you or that I didn’t – don’t – love you.”

“I can see how it’s an imposition, but you haven’t thought this through,” James said to her, before turning his attention to me. “I’m glad you’re here to mediate. I’m sure we can work out some sort of agreement that will be less burdensome for my wife.”

Okay, he could keep pretending not to understand.

“Your widow, you mean.” I surprised myself by saying this.

“Technically…” he began.

Kathleen spoke. “James, sweetheart, I’m sorry, you can’t — “

James held up a hand. “Let’s have a rational discussion. This home belongs to both of us. I have as much right to be here as you do. Then there’s the matter of our wedding vows. I took them seriously, and believed you did, too. Can you disregard them so easily?”

I responded, instead of Kathleen. “Assuming you had traditional vows, the words are ‘until death do us part.’ You can’t deny you have died, releasing Kathleen from her obligations to you.”

“But death did not part us,” James countered. “I can’t believe my wife really wants a complete separation. She needs a little more space, but we can work out something amenable to both of us.”

Kathleen took a deep breath, before asking. “Do you remember when we first moved here and I was so miserable?”

“You were?” James sounded surprised.

“I didn’t know anyone. We planned to start a family right away, so I didn’t take a job. I assumed I’d meet people through mothers’ groups and the PTA. But the months went on, and… I had nothing, except you.”

“We’ve made a good life together. You said so only a few moments ago,” he replied.

“Yes, but only after I realized I couldn’t live through you. When you couldn’t be everything I needed, I resented it. I was unhappy and I was making you unhappy, whether you remember or not. Things needed to change; I couldn’t sit here waiting for you to bring the world to me. I was attached to my vision of the life I wanted, but had to face the fact that I needed to move on from it.”

“This is my home, and I’m within my rights to stay,” James responded, with a petulance I had never before heard from him.

“Then I may have to leave.” Kathleen wiped away a tear.

These personal revelations made me uncomfortable, but my years of experience dealing with this kind of family matter – minus the ghost part — served me well, I think. Kathleen had anticipated James’s reaction and thought through her alternatives. Under different circumstances I’d consider her the ideal client. I didn’t want to imagine her being forced to uproot herself at this point in life.

“Legally, this is not your home, James,” I said. “Let’s revisit your own words. You wrote a clear will and the law is straightforward. The house belongs to Kathleen alone as your only surviving family member.”

My words felt brutal, directed toward my old mentor. Then again, I remembered what James could be like in the courtroom. I knew I couldn’t back off an inch.

“I’m still here,” James said. “The law does not cover this eventuality.”

“But you’re dead,” I countered. “And the law does cover that eventuality.”

He cocked his head. “There are gray areas, as we’re discovering.” 

“Do you believe a judge would see gray areas?” 

“How would a human judge become involved in my decision?”

“As I said, your wife is acting from sad necessity. If you refuse her request, she is prepared to seek a divorce. Am I correct, Kathleen?”

“I don’t want it to come to that,” she answered. “I hated having to involve you, Andrew. I certainly don’t want to drag others into it, but if it’s the only way-“

“There is no legal precedent,” James objected. 

“It would become the precedent, ” I answered.

“No judge would hear the case.”

“It’s possible Judge Ferson would agree to come to the house. She’s open-minded. You always taught me to look at things from the judge’s point of view. How do you think she would rule?” 

James looked to his wife. “Surely you don’t want that kind of attention to our personal lives.”

“If I could have what I want, I’d have you alive. It’s a matter of what’s best in the circumstances.” Kathleen was openly weeping now. 

James moved to her side and attempted to put his arm around her shoulders, but his hand only passed through her.

“You see, don’t you?’ I said. “You can be an observer here, but not a man of action, not the man you were.”

“I’m glad I’m here,” I continued. “It gives me a chance to thank you for everything you’ve done for me. You taught me most of what I know, including the futility of trying to deny what must be faced. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, but as hard as it is, it’s time to say goodbye.”

After a moment’s silence, James put on his decisive face. “I did teach you well. Will you continue to look after my wife’s interests?”

“Of course.”

“Goodbye,” Kathleen choked out. “I’ll always love you.”

James nodded and the lights flickered. As I looked at the place where he had been a moment before, I thought I heard a whispered “Goodbye.”

It could have been the wind rustling the leaves outside the window.     

~~     

Copyright, Ida Bettis Fogle