I died about twenty years ago, but I haven’t been conscious of that fact until now. Why, I don’t know. I’ll rephrase that. I wasn’t conscious of being dead because you’re not supposed to be conscious when you’re dead; especially after twenty years. What I don’t know is why suddenly I’ve regained consciousness. I could think of a couple of reasons, in light of what I’ve discovered in the last days -supposing they were days and not hours or months. We can always think of reasons why, if we set our minds to it. It’s difficult to set your mind, though, when you’re dead. It feels as if you had put too much water into the jelly mix. And then, again, it’s difficult to know what you’re feeling.
Let’s try again: I’m a woman, or I was. A mother, I was. I don’t remember how I died or what I died of, but I remember I died at that age when you wonder whether to stop saying ‘I’m getting old’ and start saying ‘I’m old’. In any case, it could be considered that I died, as people say, ‘before my time.’ However, people can also say ‘her time was up’ or ‘her time came’, regardless of your age when you die. If humans are confusing in life, you can’t blame them for sounding confusing in death.
I don’t remember that much about my life, but I remember I had a daughter. I should say I have a daughter, because even after death your children are always your children and you never forget that. At least, I hope I’m not forgetting any other children I might have. What a horrible thing that would be, even if they have no way of knowing whether their dead mother has forgotten them or not. From their point of view, it feels like she has forgotten because she’s fallen off the face of the Earth. I know how it feels because my parents died when I was in my late twenties. I learned since then the true meaning of being alone and left to your own devices, even though I had been away from home and earning my keep for a decade by the time they had their absurd car accident.
What am I saying? I did forget about my daughter for twenty years for God’s sakes! It’s only now that I begin to remember her. Talking of God. I have to confess that I was an agnostic when I was alive and my condition hasn’t improved in death. Given that I’m not completely dead, I can confirm my belief in life that there is a part of you that exists without the aid of the organic body. But, as for the concept monotheistic believers uphold that God created Man according to His own image, well, so far I haven’t seen anything resembling anything in this… place.
Never mind all the questions about God. They don’t seem to be relevant here. I just hope I don’t bump into Santa Claus in a nightdress one of these eternal days. I don’t think I could cope with patriarchal society being ratified. I’d probably ask to be transferred to hell; if there is one.
I said I haven’t seen any living beings here, but I’m having trouble seeing and finding out exactly what ‘here’ is. I’m in a nebulous otherworld of enigmatic sensations and ambiguous ideas. As if you were in a permanent state of being about to fall blissfully asleep, images come and go; they flow like cotton-like clouds in a Parrish blue sky, and you let them go on in their journey, unhindered. You don’t have a body, but you drift, too, as if you had one and it floated down in a river of warm water, twitching occasionally when brushing against an imaginary pebble or swaying around a theoretical bend. You let your hypothetical self by taken by the fictional current. You don’t see a stream or trees, but can hear them. You can’t smell them, though. You see only light and shadows.
Sometimes you hear fragments of music. Classical, pop, jazz, like a radio changing stations. I recognise some of the pieces. They don’t last long. You don’t mind that. You don’t mind anything. It’s like being in love without the sickness. You might think it is a fool’s paradise, but there’s no doubt about it in my soul: This is heaven.
A couple of days ago I started seeing the world of the living from above, as if I were perched on a cloud or were a cloud myself. I saw fragments now quite sharp. They fade in and shortly after they fade out, the way images do sometimes in films. Black and white or colour. It varies.
The natural world is still magnificent. As it happened when I was alive, its impervious beauty enraptures me every time like the first time. On the other hand, the living creatures, the human ones in particular, look small from above, puny, their struggling pathetic, their worries insignificant. I feel like laughing when I see them. Not at them. No. I want to go down to them and spread the news: none of that matters. But then, it’s easy for me to say: I’m dead.
I didn’t feel that way when I was alive. When I was in the world of the living, I recall most things were of terrible importance to me. For the life of me, now I can’t understand why. But if I were to go down as a human being again and insisted on saying to those having a hard time that nothing really matters, they would look at me as if I were mad, I’m sure.
It’s a matter of perspective, I realise. Nevertheless, I wish the living had a little bit of the view from where I’m standing. It tickles me. I’m dying to talk to the soul next to me about it. But there are no souls next to me. I’m alone. And yet I don’t feel alone. You can’t feel alone when you’re not a separate entity, but an indivisible part of an infinite and eternal whole. It tickles me that people down there don’t seem to know this, don’t believe it. Even those who know it or believe it, on the whole, don’t feel it. That’s it: if they felt it, they would be able to see my view.
I have to help my daughter with this or something to do with it. I think that must be the reason for my regaining consciousness of… myself. How prosaic, how inefficient, how typical of life and living creatures. But it has to be, hasn’t it? If you come back after twenty years, it must have something to do with your family or your friends, mustn’t it? Or they would have woken up somebody else’s individual consciousness.
They. What do I mean by THEY? Please, don’t tell me that there is someone in charge here, a government in Heaven! No, no, there can’t be. It’s just me and my tired old notions regurgitated from my past life on Earth and its country-states and recalcitrant nationalities. I can’t help laughing. I hope you don’t mind. Now I’m quite glad I’m dead.
Anyway, I’m sure it was some remnant of my individuality that decided to come back and not an imposition from God or any other type of governmental body. How confusing it is to be part of everything at the same time as being an individual. Nevertheless, there has to be freedom in heaven if it is to be heaven. Right?
I saw my daughter yesterday morning. At least I think it was yesterday, but I’m sure it was the morning because she was getting out of bed and she never slept during the day, unless she was very ill. She didn’t look ill. Tired, yes, but not ill. I didn’t expect to see her and, after the initial shock, a current of euphoria ran through me, turning me less unsubstantial. As if the feeling could somehow access some vestige of my molecules and submit them to a centripetal force that had the power to amalgamate them.
My beloved daughter has aged, naturally, after twenty years. She’s lost her puppy fat and her features are sharper, harder. Her hair is streaked with premature white. The corners of her mouth are turned down. Her eyes look sadder. But they still have the dreamy patina they had when I knew her. She preserves that from childhood. She lost her chiming laughter when she was eleven, but she hasn’t lost the gleam in her eyes at forty. That is good news.
She faded out of sight after a few seconds and along with it my slight materiality. I’ve seen her again today, though, and this time she lasted longer. She has a partner. I haven’t seen him, but I sensed him around her and I could hear his voice. He sounded stern but kind. I couldn’t see or hear any children. That is a shame. I wanted her to be a mother. I thought she would have wanted to be a mother at some point. I wonder what’s happened. Maybe they can’t have children. There’s still time. My mother had me when she was forty-two.
It’s coming back to me that nasty feeling: frustration. I don’t need it, but it is frustrating for me now that I’ve seen my daughter, not being able to be with her, talk to her. She definitely seems to need help with something. Of course, all living creatures need help with something. But how can I stick around when I’m in a cloud most of the time? When I am a cloud myself? If I were a ghost to my daughter, perhaps I could make my presence felt. I myself never felt any otherworldly presence when I was alive and I suspect my daughter has inherited my disability in that area. She has clearly inherited others, like a bad sense of balance and a weak digestion. She’s also inherited good traits, naturally, like beauty, intelligence, modesty.
I’ll think of her all the time; see if that improves my control of the situation. One of the first things I should do is remember her name, because, hard as I’m trying, it doesn’t come to mind.
My daughter and I didn’t part in good terms. At least, that is the feeling I’ve got. It might be guilt, about leaving her, about not being a good enough mother. No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to be a good enough parent. And yet, I couldn’t have been a terrible one, or I wouldn’t be in Heaven, I suppose.
In any case, perhaps something did happen in the last days of our being together – or not being together – and we didn’t part in good terms. I can’t tell. And this not being able to tell is further discombobulating me. I recall this is how I often felt in life: the more I craved for harmony and clarity, the more conflict and arguments there were in my life. It was like being in a nightmare from which now I have wakened. I don’t want to fall back into it.
Her name might be Constance. I think I heard her partner calling her Constance. Never mind the name. Perhaps they do have children. At least one. I feel a human presence in the house that doesn’t belong to either my daughter or her partner, but I can’t determine what or who it is. At the moment, there isn’t a strong sense of happiness in the household. Perhaps that presence is a teenager. That would explain it. I remember the horrible time my daughter and I lived through when she was a teenager. So many times we wanted to strangle each other. So many times I said to her I was throwing her out of the house. So many times she said to me she was leaving for good.
I didn’t throw her out in the end and when she finally left because she had to live her life, we didn’t see each other for a long time. I can’t tell how long. What I can tell you is that she came back and we lived happily under the same roof for a while. I recall watching silly tv shows together before me having to go back to the office in the late afternoon, and watching sublime black and white films together in the evening while having dinner. We talked about the films afterwards, but I don’t recall us talking about our lives. We shared the same black flag politics – yes, I’m proud to say, that’s another trait she inherited from me -, but we didn’t talk about important things or much about anything else for that matter. She didn’t want to; that wasn’t the kind of thing my daughter did with her mum. Perhaps it is like that with all children and their mums.
This is provided I’m remembering things correctly. Most of your past, you forget, even in life. When your loved ones die and you eventually brave reading again the letters you wrote to them from a far away place and they kept amorously in a tattered blue folder for twenty years, you can’t believe you were that person and did all those things once. You wonder how much more you have been and how many more things you have done that you didn’t write down.
I don’t know. I seemed to have left the world with a virtually empty bag of knowledge. I just hope I don’t have to go back and relearn it all. I don’t think I could cope with going through The Teen Age again, either mine or my child’s. I wouldn’t drag myself through that hell again if they killed me again. Indeed, like the concentric circles in Dante’s Inferno, each teen year in my life was heavier and cloudier than the next, culminating in my eighteenth year on Earth, when I left home, school and lost myself for years. Perhaps, in some respects, I lost myself irreparably. It’s difficult to tell; as I said, the state of affairs is not less confusing when your dead than when you were alive. And when you were alive I think life felt like a collection of fairytales all brewed together in the witch’s cauldron. The happy ending all broken up in little bits, floating around cruelly among the big chunks of misfortune and hardwork in the slippery soup of time.
In any case, if they offered me to be born again and live another life, I’d say, on one condition: no adolescence. If they tell me that is not possible then I’ll tell them to stick their life where the sun don’t shine.
There I go again: they-they-they. What is wrong with me?
‘Look at the sky today, mama!’
That’s my daughter’s voice!
‘Isn’t it beautiful? I know you would like it.’
She’s talking to me! The words are muffled, as if she were in another room with the door closed. She’s walking along the dirt track in the woods and she’s talking to me as if I were there. Which I am, because, right now, there is here. But, does she know? Or is she just wishful-thinking I’m there? She stops to contemplate the tawny cows gracing in the bright green field behind the dry stone wall. I think my daughter sent me a postcard just like that during the year she was living in Switzerland. No, it was me that lived in Switzerland and sent the postcard to her.
‘Constance?’ I call -now I remember her name is Constance, like the lake. ‘Can you hear me?’
She doesn’t answer. She’s smiling but she looks troubled.
I call again softly. If she can hear me I don’t want to spook her. ‘My dearest, what’s the trouble. It’s not love, is it?’
The question was rhetorical, because her look carried a different misery. It wasn’t the melancholy that can give the lovelorn the bearing of a heart-wrenched poet; it was the soulless, unattractive dejection that comes with financial problems. It could also have to do with the things one ends up doing in a desperate effort to mitigate the said problem. Things that have nothing to do with poetry, or music or love. None of the things that make life worth living and humankind worth saving. Too much of those things you do for money can kill you just as surely as having no money, except you don’t die. You can live like that for many years, as a smiling undead, an organic machine.
‘I know all about it, my dearest,’ I whispered. ‘Try not to worry.’ Easier said than done, I knew. But I couldn’t help saying it. ‘I worried, and fretted, cried and failed to sleep… None of that helped. Look, I’ve turned into these beautiful flowers all over the green grass, just for you to…’ I stopped myself before I said rejoice. Why would I want to sound like a Christmas song, dancing and throwing streamers? How was that going to make things better for my daughter? No wonder she can’t hear me: I don’t seem to have anything to offer but platitude. So much for ‘only say the word, and I shall be healed.’ But I’m no Jesus, no divine physician, no bread of angels to offer or turn into. I’m just an ordinary disembodied spirit with no apparent special powers.
‘I wish I could ask you things,’ my daughter was saying. ‘About how you managed… what would you do if you were me…. It’s funny, in all the time since you died, I never wanted to talk to you. I wanted to see you, go to a cafe together, but not talk. Now I wish I could talk to you. I’d so much want you to be with me. It’s selfish, I know. Wishing you were alive just because I suddenly need you.’
Tears ran down her face. She wiped them off and resumed her walk into town. She stopped talking to me or to the sky and she faded away.
It’s the winter. The world is covered in snow. I can still see the deep green of the conifer trees and the hollies tearing holes here and there through the pure white blanket. A pure black bird alights in the middle of the pure white garden, the grass dormant underneath. I am the black bird. I take flight into my daughter’s house through the closed window. It doesn’t break. I perch myself on Constance’s shoulder, but she doesn’t move. She can’t feel me. She’s talking to the unknown presence with words I don’t understand. New technology perhaps. I’m tired of being an ignored ghost. It is me who is not worthy of entering her house. I won’t talk. But if she can’t feel me either, if I can’t even be here for her, what is the point of my being here at all?
I’ve been thinking about when my parents died. They didn’t ‘fall off the face of the Earth.’ The truth is I felt them everywhere, as if their substance had permeated everything around me. After a while, I stopped feeling it, or perhaps I got used to it. Maybe that’s why Constance ignores me: I am everywhere, like God. I’m part of God now. I am God. Why do I feel so powerless then? Why can’t I affect my daughter’s life? Why can’t I give her the hand she needs?
‘How’s your flu?’ her husband asks. He’s just coming out of another room.
‘The flu is doing great,’ Constance answers while she’s peeling a fruit. ‘But I feel like crap.’
I feel myself being pulled away. While I ascend vertiginously back into the empyrean, the way is pervaded with a strong scent of tangerine. Is it possible that after twenty years of being in heaven I’ve gone to purgatory? Did they make a mistake with me? Wasn’t I as good as they thought I was? Of course I wasn’t. And now I’m so unhappy. I don’t want to go back to being completely unconscious, but perhaps consciously unconscious. I want to be high again. Have I lost that?
A house. Today Constance was making a house with an empty biscuit cardboard box. She was making the pitched roof with the flaps that closed the box at the top, but they were not long enough and she had to look around for more cardboard. It was a surprise present for somebody’s child. Not hers; she definitely has no children. I sat on a chair and looked on while she did this. That’s all I can do. Since I can’t be here for my daughter, I’ll be here with her. Even though she doesn’t know.
Once the shape of the house was built, Constance started glueing bits of gift wrap all over it. When she finished, it looked like a magical object… It dawned on me:
Many years ago, when she was little I had done the same thing for her. Door, windows, curtains, roof-tiles, chimney, exactly the same: a humble biscuit box turned into a little doll’s house.
Constance had been ill in bed with one of the childhood diseases. She had been off school for a few days. She was beginning to feel better and I was beginning to worry about her missing important classes. I wanted her to do some homework. But first I gave her the biscuit box house I had just made for her. You should have seen her face, as if I had just presented her with something out of a fairytale. She couldn’t believe I had done it myself. Just for her. A few months earlier, I had made her first communion dress myself, but that was normal: any mum can make a white dress with a chantilly lace bodice and a tutu skirt all the way to the floor. This dolls’ house, on the other hand, was something that not all mums could, or would, make.
I told her she could play with her new toy for a while, but then she had to do some homework. I gave her a couple of school workbooks. She put them down on top of the bedside cupboard and, propped up against the wooden bedhead with three white pillows behind her back, started playing with the house. Her brown eyes wide with wonder and pride.
Connie was a wilful girl. Just as I was. Were we not to be, as grown women we could get trodden upon and worn down like cheap carpets. Some hours later, I went to visit her in her childhood bedroom. The workbooks had an air of desolation about them, as if not only the student hadn’t opened them, but hadn’t even bothered to throw a glance in their direction, poor things. Poor me, too, her conscious mother. My girl looked at me with a cheeky smile; she still had the decorated box in her hands, she had put little things inside to turn it into a home. I screamed at her in a rage. She tried to explain. I snatched the cardboard house off her and tore it to pieces.
Now, many years later, Constance is making the same house. But if she’s making it for a child, she’s not going to bother about useless homework and she’s not going to tear the house down. She will make her own mistakes and she won’t be forgiven for them either. It just occurs to me that perhaps she is trying to fix things by doing them again. Perhaps she is trying to forgive me. I’ve forgiven her completely for all she’s done, including her stealing money from me that she never knew I knew she had stolen. But then it is easier for parents to forgive their children than it is for children to forgive their parents.
I’ve got a bad feeling about this one. Constance has been going through her papers, looking for my death certificate. My death certificate! What the hell does she want that for? If she wants an autopsy, it’s a little late. If she wants to know what I died of, I could tell her, if I could, since I remember now: I died of leukaemia and despair at the state of the world. But I’m not dead! Not completely! I’ve noticed in the last couple of days that materialisation is taking a hold on me.
I don’t feel half as dead or absent anymore. Heaven and Earth are not nebulous places any longer, the shapes are sharpening and the colours saturating. I don’t know what it means and I’m not sure I like it, but that’s how it is. So my death certificate can’t be relevant to anybody because it doesn’t apply anymore. That contract was been declared void by me. It is my body and soul and, mark my words, I’ll be the judge of that.
My daughter can’t understand why she can’t find the damn paper, but when she looks in her files, I move it to a cupboard, and when she looks in the cupboard, I move it to a drawer. I’m very good at that sort of thing now; it’s like magic, which I was always good at. Let me find out first what she wants the paper for and then I’ll decide if she can find it or not. I hope I can hear the conversation that will tell me what I need to know. I can’t choose what I hear, and I still can’t make myself heard or felt, no matter how loud I shout or hard I push. I feel present and alone now in Heaven, happiness folding up on itself, the completeness of the universe receding into its infiniteness. Oh, well, I hope this transition is not as painful as my death.
This morning in Heaven, I heard a voice next to me. It electrified me. I had never heard a voice in Heaven before.
‘I knew I would see you again one day,’ the voice said. It was as clear as a bell. I turned cautiously, as in a horror movie. I thought I was going to fall down to Earth when I saw it was my ex-husband, Constance’s father. He was standing tall, as he was tall, in a rippling background of dark green water.
‘What are you doing here?’ I blurted out. I couldn’t speak his name. The anger and grief I had suffered for years due to his abandonment of us, daughter and wife, flared up for a brief moment, like a will-o’-the-wisp. What can anyone expect, nearly forty years after having been expelled from the fool’s paradise of romantic love. Oh, how I believed. I believed so blindly. The dark green water rippled some more.
‘I wasn’t such a bad person,’ he complained. ‘But I have to admit, I’m a bit surprise to find myself here. I’m not sure I deserve heaven straight away.’
I thought of saying ‘I’m not sure either’ but I couldn’t be too snug about the subject; I wasn’t sure I deserved it myself.
‘I didn’t know you had died,’ I said instead.
‘It was coming for some time. I kept wanting to sound the horn but I wasn’t brave enough.’
I looked at him. He must have been in his late seventies, but he look about 40, the age he was when we separated. His face took me back: handsome, sensual, weak in places. I looked away. I thought I heard anger again, coming from around the corners of my mind, screeching: How could you do this to me and our daughter!
‘What are you doing here?’ I repeated. ‘Next to me, I mean.’
‘I have no idea. I have no control over this. I’m new to it,’ he said in that arrogant foreign tone of his. I wanted to say, ‘Yeah, tell me about it’.
‘I’m sorry you died so young. I called when you were in hospital but…’ He said this in a softer tone with a kinder accent. I had loved this man to the point of disintegration. I shook my head in disbelief. I wasn’t in the slightest interested in anything he had to say. Still, I was puzzled by his presence. I wanted to know the meaning of it. Something occurred to me.
‘Do you know why Constance might be looking for official papers?’
‘What? Constance, our daughter?’
I nearly said ‘no, my daughter, since I had to raise her without you,’ but I checked myself.
‘No, the neighbour’s daughter!’ I said instead. ‘Yes, of course, our daughter!’
He thought about this. As it had happened to me after regaining consciousness, he was confused about what was going on. He hadn’t been asleep in heaven for twenty years, like me, and yet he had been away from Constance’s life for nearly 40. All this provided I was getting the times right.
‘She was looking for death certificates yesterday,’ I said. It occurred to me that it could have been the day before that, or an hour ago, but I didn’t say anything. It didn’t matter because it was still happening.
He nodded. ‘It has to do with my will.’
Yes, I thought, I remember: everything had to do with your will.
‘You know,’ he looked at me, his eyes dark and sad. ‘My last will… and testament.’
Right, I thought, a tenuous light flickering inside me. Again, like a will-o’-the-wisp, but this time not fading so fast.
‘What’s in your will?’
‘Not much,’ he admitted. ‘And she has to share it with her… half-brother. It’s the law,’ he explained.
I felt good for a moment. The fact that he was sharing whatever little assets he had left behind with our daughter, after a lifetime of not given her anything, could do something towards redeeming him. Then I realise what ‘It’s the law’ meant. It wasn’t necessarily his will to give our Constance half of what he had; it was the law, whether he liked it or not. The little warmth he had kindled inside me, he snuffed out already. Deja vu all over again, as they say. Still, money is money, and money was what Constance and her partner needed right now. Provided I was getting the picture right.
‘Constance,’ I call softly. She’s lying awake in her bed at night. She’s alone. Her partner is in another bed, sick with the same flu she has just overcome. Or perhaps they had a row, I’m not sure. She’s terrified about tomorrow – about the future. She hates the future. She doesn’t remember much of the past and the present is a short dark night.
‘Constance, my dear,’ I whisper. ‘I’m here. Things are going to be all right. Do you remember things are always in the last place you look? Well, that’s where I’ve put my death certificate!’
But she doesn’t want to know. She’s tired of all the million little things she knows, most of them been forced to learn throughout this life as well as past lives. A lot of them inaccurate, misleading. None of them she invented or thought of. They now seem irrelevant, a ridiculous burden she will soon enough be rid of, whether she wants it or not. The truth is, she doesn’t want to be this limited being anymore. I know how she feels. I want to go back to not being a little thing. But I fear it’s too late. I’ve gone too far down into Earth and into human life, I have been sucked back in. Oddly enough, I’m too interested. It’s beginning to dawn on me that what my daughter and her partner are seeking is not money but a child.
It is possible all this awakening has to do with me living again. I didn’t believe in reincarnation when I was alive and yet I had always said that were I to come back after death, I wanted it to be as a bird. A black bird or a coal tit. Then I would be heard for sure. But would I be understood?
No, I’m clearly not going to come back as a bird. I’m coming back to be near my daughter, and perched in a tree in her garden is not near enough. I’m coming back to listen to her and be listened to by her; chick-a-dee-dee-deeing all day long, as lovely as it is, wouldn’t do the trick. I want to be close to Constance, not fly away every time she comes near me.
The universal soul took a chip out of itself and that chip was me. Now I’m coming back as a round egg -ovule is the scientific name. It’s like being in Heaven again, but with a detectable current of electromagnetism, as well as something else to which I can’t give a scientific name. Is ‘life’ a scientific name? Is it ‘soul’? Condensed life and soul in an organic capsule. I’m bursting at the seams, expanding and expanding, like the Big Bang in its beginnings. But I am in a confined space and, as happy and as comfortable as I am in here, I know I will have to come out and forget who I am and how I was. I wonder if my daughter will recognize me.
I feel the current of Constance’s warm hand on her belly coming through to me. She bursts out laughing. Her jubilation makes me grow some more inside her.
When you wake up in the middle of the long winter night a revelation might unexpectedly come to you. You repeat it to yourself frantically to ensure you will remember it in the morning. You mustn’t forget something so important, so paramount to your existence. You fall asleep again and when you wake up in the morning, try as you may, you can’t remember.
I will forget. I will think I am living for the first time and learning everything for the first time. And thus humanity keeps making the same mistakes over and over again, in a cruel relentless loop. We don’t learn from history because we don’t take it seriously. We think it’s just a story inaccurately written by an anonymous hand at a no particular time about people other than us. In the beginning, we ate from the tree of knowledge. Then we regretted it, and in an effort to return to paradise we insist in remaining stupid.
Vivi, 24 July 2022
© Viviana Guinarte