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OPINION: Voices in the night

by Devin Houston | January 12, 2022 at 5:25 a.m.

She awakened, the same as most every other night, to the loud voices of children in her room. She couldn't see them, but their laughter and shouts were clearly audible. This surprised her since she was quite hard of hearing, as her own children reminded her often. Though she was alone in the house, the voices didn't frighten her. But they did annoy her. She was tired and needed to sleep. "Please be quiet and go away," she said loudly. Gradually, the voices disappeared, as they always did. They must be good children to mind her so quickly. She knew what, or rather, who, would come next.

In the dark, she felt his presence to her right, as he sat on the side of the bed. "What are you doing here?" she asked. He laughed. "You always ask me that, dear. I'm just not ready for bed yet. Too much coffee, I guess." "But you died years ago!", she replied, "how can you be here?"

The conversation always started in this manner, though the words changed slightly. He had died of a heart attack. His cremated remains were still in the container in her bedroom closet, wrapped in a plastic Walmart sack. She and her kids weren't quite sure where to permanently place him. "That may be so, but does that mean I can't still be with you? Besides, you're cold. Want me to get under the covers and warm you up?"

She was cold now that he mentioned it. She lifted the covers to let him in. "How are you tonight?", he asked. "I'm old, tired and angry that I can't do things anymore," she replied. "Well, you are almost 88 years old. That's to be expected at your age." She heard the smile in his voice, which irritated her. "And if you had taken better care of yourself, you would have been around a few more years," she snapped. In his later years, her husband was consumed with writing, reading, and watching movies. His stroke had limited his ability to get around, so he was more sedentary in his later years.

"It was my time to go, and we had sixty good years together," he said rather casually. "Besides, I'm here now, right?" She glared at the figure, barely making out his features in the dark and her near blindness. "No, you're a dream. You're not really here. My mind just imagines you're here."

"Oh, dear, you have no idea. No one does. Here, I picked a jonquil for you." She felt the flower touch her cheek, but her hand came up empty when she reached for it. "It's the dead of winter, jonquils aren't blooming yet." She felt his face come close to her ear as he whispered, "Where I go, they're always in bloom."

She awoke to the sound of the dogs barking, wanting to be fed. They could wait, she needed coffee. Those dreams... She used to never remember her dreams. But the nightly visits of children's voices and her dead husband were still vivid in her mind. They didn't scare her, quite the opposite, she felt a comfort from them. She told her sons about them, expecting them to tell her she was senile. But they listened to her without judgment. "The brain is a wonderful thing, we have barely begun to understand how it works," her oldest had told her. "Perhaps the aged brain opens doors to insights previously not discerned." Right, and perhaps he was just patronizing her.

She retrieved her cup from the cupboard, so ready for the first coffee of the day. As was her routine, she traced her fingers inside the cup to make sure nothing had crawled into it. She couldn't see well enough to know if a spider was making a home there, even though she never encountered one before.

This time, she felt something. Putting the cup down, she carefully grasped the object while turning on the kitchen light. But she knew what it was even before her eyes could focus: a dried jonquil bloom.

-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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