Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves;
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do as much as the Soul?
And if the body were not the Soul, what is the Soul?
—“I Sing the Body Electric”
Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
I stepped through the wall and into my daughter’s bedroom.
She was sleeping contentedly on her side. It was before dawn, and the building was quiet. The curtains were open, and the sky beyond was black. If there were any stars, they were lost to the LA smog. The curtains were covered with ponies, as was most of the room. A plastic pony light switch, a pony bed lamp, pony wallpaper and bedspread. Someday she would outgrow her obsession with ponies, although I secretly hoped not.
A girl and her pony, it’s a beautiful thing.
I stepped closer to my sleeping daughter, and as I did so, she shifted slightly toward me. She mewed like a newborn kitten. Crimson light from her alarm clock splashed over her delicate features, highlighting a slightly upturned nose and impossibly big eyes. Sometimes, when she slept, her closed eyelids fluttered and danced. But not tonight. Tonight she was sleeping deeply, no doubt dreaming of sugar and spice and everything nice.
Or of Barbies and boys and everything in between.
I wondered if she ever dreamed of me. I’m sure she did at times. Were those dreams good or bad? Did she ever wake up sad and missing her father?
Do you want her to wake up sad?
No, I thought. I want her to wake up rested, restored, and full of peace.
I stepped away from the far wall and glided over to the small chair in the corner of her room. We had made the chair together one weekend, a father-daughter project for the Girl Scouts. To her credit, she did most of the work.
I sat in it now, lowering my weightless body into it, mimicking the act of sitting. Unsurprisingly, the chair didn’t creak.
As I sat, my daughter rolled over in her sleep, facing me. Her aura, usually blue and streaked with red flames, often reacted to my presence, as it did now. The red flames crackled and gravitated toward me like a pulsating static ball, sensing me like I sensed it.
As I continued to sit, the lapping red flames grew in intensity, snapping and licking the air like solar flares on the surface of the sun. My daughter’s aura always reacted this way to me. But only in sleep. Somehow her subconscious recognized me, or perhaps it was her soul. Or both. Either way, from this subconscious state, she would sometimes speak to me, as she did now.
“Hi, baby,” I said.
“Mommy said you got hurt real bad.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Mommy said that a bad man hurt you and you got killed.”
“Mommy’s right, but I don’t want you thinking about that right now, okay?”
“Okay,” she said sleepily. “Am I dreaming, Daddy?”
We were quiet and she shifted subtly, lifting her face toward me, her eyes still closed in sleep. There was a sound from outside her window, a light tapping. I ignored it, but it came again and again, and then with more consistency. I looked over my shoulder and saw that it was raining. I looked back at my daughter and thought of the rain, remembering how it felt on my skin, on my face. Or, rather, I was trying to remember. Lately, such memories of the flesh were getting harder and harder to recall.
“It’s raining, Daddy,” she said.
“Do you live in the rain?”
“Where do you live, Daddy?”
“I live here, with you.”
“But you’re dead.”
I said nothing. I hated to be reminded of this, even by my daughter.
“Why don’t you go to heaven, Daddy?”
I thought about that. I think about that a lot, actually. I said, “Daddy still has work to do.”
“What kind of work?”
“I miss you,” she said. “I miss you so much. I think about you every day. I’m always crying. People at school say I’m a crybaby.”
“You’re not a crybaby,” I said. “You’re just sad.” My heart broke all over again. “It’s time to go back to sleep, angel.”
“I love you, sweetie.”
“I love you, too, Daddy.”
I drifted up from the small wooden chair and moved across the room the way I do—silently and easily—and at the far wall, I looked back at her. Her aura had subsided, although some of it still flared here and there. For her to relax—truly relax—I needed to leave her room entirely.
And so I did. Through the wall.
To hell with doors.
I was standing behind him, reading the newspaper from over his shoulder, as I did every morning.
His name was Jerrold, and he was close to sixty and close to retirement. He lived alone and seemed mostly happy. He was addicted to Internet poker, but as far as I could tell, that was his only vice.
He turned the paper casually, snapping it taut, then reached for his steaming mug of coffee, heavy with sugar and cream, and took a long sip. I could smell the coffee—or at least a hint of it, just like I could smell a hint of his aftershave and hair gel. My senses were weak at best.
As he set down the mug, some of the coffee sloshed over the rim and onto the back of his hand. He yelped and shook his hand. I could see that it had immediately reddened.
I hadn’t known pain in quite a long time. My last memory of it was when I had been working at a friend’s house, cutting carpet, and nearly severed my arm off.
I looked down at my translucent arm now. Although nearly imperceptible, the scar was still there—or at least the ghostly hint of it.
Still cursing under his breath, Jerrold turned back to his paper. So did I. He scanned the major headlines, and I scanned them along with him. After all, he was my hands in this situation.
He read through some local Los Angeles news, mostly political stuff that would have bored me to tears had I tears to be bored with. I glanced over at his coffee while he read, trying to remember what it tasted like. I think I remembered.
Hot, roasted, bitter, and sweet. I knew the words, but I was having a hard time recalling the actual flavor. That scared me.
Jerrold turned the page. As he did so, something immediately caught my eye; luckily, it caught his eye, too.
A piano teacher had been murdered at St. Luke’s, a converted monastery that was now being used as a Catholic church and school. Lucy Randolph was eighty-six years old and just three days shy of celebrating her sixtieth anniversary with her husband.