Before I Fade Away
Doctor Cooper told me not to get too excited. But that was impossible. My heart pounded in my chest like a hammer and then gave out. The end came quicker and with less pain than I ever expected.
At 11:10 p.m. my spirit left my body through the crown of my head.
I had no eyes, yet I could see. I had no ears, yet I could hear. I had no body, yet I could move. I looked down on my corpse, slumped forward in my chair. My dead fingers still clasped the winning lottery ticket. But they weren’t really my fingers anymore, were they? My spirit had shed its skin. I was an ethereal, formless ghost. After being trapped in my old, decaying body for so long, I was free. Death is not as bad as they’d have you believe. I did a twirl around the room.
I didn’t know why I lived on as a ghost. But I knew that $657 million was a hell of a lot of money. Sure, the taxman would get a chunk of it, but the rest was still a lot. I don’t believe in signs, but maybe I got this afterlife because I was meant to get that money to someone.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that was what I needed to do. At 11:33 p.m., I flew out the window of my apartment and headed south toward Manhattan. My sole surviving relative, my middle-aged son, lived in the city. I found him at the bar drunk at 1:37 a.m.
“Another,” he said bluntly. I could see the bartender’s disdain as he poured him another shot of well whiskey and a draft of cheap beer. My son shot the whiskey and then sucked down the beer. The fizzy foam lingered on his ragged mustache.
“Another,” my son said.
“You need to slow down, Jerry,” the bartender said. “For your own good.”
“Pour another, you son of a bitch,” my son ordered.
“Can't do it. You know the rules. You’ve had too much.”
“Set the timer then.”
The bartender reached below and pulled out a dirtied white kitchen timer. He turned the dial and set it behind the bar.
“Least now I have something to look forward to,” Jerry said.
It was a nightmare out of a Dickens novel. We’d hardly spoken in years, but I couldn’t believe my son had become such a hopeless drunk. I shouted at him to snap out of it. I cried about the winning lottery ticket. But no matter how loud I became, he could not hear me. Of course, this made sense. I was a ghost. I needed to find another way to get his attention.
Jerry had a metal chain from his belt to his pocket to hold his keys. I grabbed for it, hoping to shake them loose and get him to see the key to my house. I went right through it. I tried to hit him, but the same happened. My hand went through his face clear to the other side. He shivered.
“You know, my father is a little shit,” he said to no one in particular. The bartender had stepped away to serve another customer, leaving him alone only with the ticking of the grungy kitchen timer. “Always made me feel worthless, small. But he’s the little shit. He doesn’t have a nice bone in his body.”
I was biased, but I could not help but feel he was wrong. I spoke about the countless times I’d taken him to the baseball games, the times we went to his grandfather’s house and took out the rowboat on the lake. It was fruitless. He couldn’t hear me.
The timer went off, and the bartender returned. “Another,” my son demanded. When he had the shot and chaser in front of him, he lifted up the small glass of brown whiskey and said, “To my father. May he die a slow, painful death.” Then he knocked it back.
I was a ghost on the streets of Manhattan when the nearby clock struck 2 a.m. People walked right through me. I wandered all night thinking about how unusual it all was. How I didn’t even know my son or the kind of person he had become. I also didn’t know how long I’d be stuck here between the living and the dead. I was growing to resent it, and it had only been a few hours.
The sun rose, and I found myself uptown. Aimlessly, I walked the streets, passing the newsstands with papers advertising the headline “$657M Lotto Ticket Sold In NY.” But what’s money when you’re dead?
I made my way to Riverside Park. The sun was still new to the day and cast long shadows of trees across the grass. I left no shadow. Eventually, I slowed to a stop and found myself looking out at the Hudson River, thinking, thinking, thinking. Being a ghost was not too different from being in a coma. Even if I could experience the world, no one knew I was listening or even existed.
“Are you a ghost?”
The voice was small and high. I turned around without turning around and saw the little girl standing there looking right at me. She had wandered over from the nearby playground. Never in all my life did it feel this good to be seen.
“Why yes, I am.”
“You aren’t scary,” she said. Her hair was black and done up in two pigtails. Her smile was missing teeth.
“No?” I said. “That’s good.”
“You look like a normal person. Only your edges are funny.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yup!” she answered, looking quite proud.
“So you really can hear me?” I asked.
“Of course I can hear you. I can see you too.”
“What am I doing right now?”
“You’re bouncing up and down with one leg in the air. One hand is patting your head, and the other is rubbing your stomach.”
“Never could do that when I was alive.”
“Why are you here?”
I thought about that for a moment. Then I started telling her how I’d gone to see my son after I died and learned that he didn’t even like me, so I wandered around the city.
“No,” she said. “I mean why are you here? Don’t ghosts always have a purpose for staying on after?”
That’s when I remembered the lottery ticket. But that couldn’t be the reason I got stuck here in the afterlife. Could it?
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Well, I’ll tell you what I would do if I were a ghost. I’d come back to haunt mommy. She took away my doll yesterday and said I couldn’t play with it until I did my homework. But I already did my homework, but mommy didn’t believe me, so I just sat in my room without my doll and wished that I could get mommy more money, so she didn’t have to work all the time and always be worried about everything so much.”
“It sounds like your mommy cares about you.”
“I guess. But she took away dolly for no reason.”
“And that upset you.”
“Yes because she didn’t listen,” the little girl said. “But I feel better now.”
“I’m glad,” I said. “I know something that might help your mommy relax about that boring money stuff.”
“You do?” she said.
I told her about the lottery ticket and gave her my address. “There’s a key underneath the mat at the front door.”
We said goodbye, and the little girl ran back to the playground. As I started to fade away, I knew she’d remember.