Thomas Eddings restlessly waits for his friend, Dr. Martin Willis. A physician himself, Eddings sits on a leather couch, uncomfortable with the cliche of lying down. The familiar room’s walls are dotted with psychiatrist’s certificates and awards, plus a few prints of artwork. Though having been in this room countless times before, he is less at ease this morning. Today’s visit is not as a colleague.
In a few minutes, Dr. Willis enters, taking a seat across from his old friend. Edding offers a nervous hand and begins explaining the reason for his visit.
“I’ve been having troubling discussions with my father,” he explains.”He comes to see me every evening insisting I’ve spent too much time away from home; that I should go back to my wife.” Lowering his head, he continues, “I can’t go back. I wish he’d mind his own business.”
“Maybe he feels it is his business . Why can’t you go back?”
“I just can’t, Marty. I wish he’d stop interfering.”
Dr. Willis hesitates, then says, “You know, Tom, your father has been dead almost a year now. Do you honestly believe he is coming to see you?”
“I know he’s dead, Marty. I used to think seeing him was just a recurring dream, but every night when I go up to the apartment over my office my dad is sitting on the same chair, waiting to give his next round of advice.”
“Apartment over your office? So you don’t go home at night?”
“I don’t feel I can go back.”
“What has happened to keep you from Mary?”
“I can’t talk about it, but it’s serious. I just don’t think I can go back.”
“Okay,” Willis says, “Let’s go back to these visits, then. Are you positive you aren’t dreaming them?”
“No! The only dreams I have are of Mary. That is, I think they’re dreams. She’s always begging me to come back to her. But after what’s happened . . . I don’t feel I should.”
“About your father,” Willis continues, “Why do you think he comes to you every night?”
“I don’t know, Marty. He can’t really be there, but he is. I swear I’m always as awake each time as I am now.”
“Interesting!” Willis says without looking up from his notepad.”Do the two of you ever touch, shake hands or anything?”
Eddings pauses before answering.”No, I don’t think we ever have. Strange I didn’t think of that before.”
“You’ve apparently been under a lot of stress lately and it’s wearing on you, Tom. You may feel you’re awake, but your subconscious mind is fooling you. Possibly because you are missing your wife, but can’t bring yourself to reconnect with her.”
“Do you really think that’s it?”
“Perhaps. Your psyche can turn to someone else you miss dearly. The need may be so strong you believe these visits to be real.”
As Eddings ponders Willis’ thesis, the psychologist asks, “Tell me about the dreams about Mary. Do you ever touch her as well?”
“No, I never touch her. I never even see her.”
The statement catches Willis off guard, but he doesn’t interrupt.
“It’s always just her voice coming to me in the darkness. It’s usually soft and tender, but at times through a quiver as if she’s crying.”
“Is she ever apologizing?”
“No. She has nothing to apologize for.”
“Then the separation is your doing?”
Eddings is hesitant, but concedes, “Sort of.”
“Well, yes, it’s my decision.”
“Can you tell me about that, Tom?”
“I’m sorry, Marty. I don’t want to talk about it.”
As the session winds down, Willis suggests, “When you go back to your apartment, confront your father with his passing. What follows may convince you he is not really there. Perhaps then you’ll see it’s just your subconscious creating him as an authority figure to help you through a stressful period.”
Eddings nods his consent as Willis returns behind his desk to alert his receptionist to send in the next patient. Looking up, he tells Eddings, “We’ll pick up where we left off next time. Good luck.”
That afternoon at his own office, Dr. Eddings is examining one of his regular patients, his neighborhood mailman, Mr. Brewer. During the exam, Brewer mentions, “I haven’t seen you or your wife at the house lately, Doc. I used to see the Mrs. at the door when I made my delivery. She always had a wave and a pleasant smile for me; always something friendly to say. I miss seeing her. Nice lady.”
Accompanied with a gesture of his head, Eddings tells him, “I’m staying upstairs for a time.”
“Seriously, Doc? I’ve gotta tell you, whatever’s come between you two should be settled. If she were my wife, I’d let nothin’ in the world keep us apart.”
Though Brewer’s intentions are good, Eddings considers him just another meddler in his personal affairs. After the examination, Eddings politely thanks him for his concern and tells him, “I’ll see you at your next visit.”
On his way out, the postman reminds Eddings, “Take my advice, Doc, don’t let nothin’ keep you two apart.”
With the waiting room empty, Eddings flips off the office lights and climbs the stairs to the apartment. As he enters the small, moderately furnished rooms, his father is waiting in the familiar chair, facing the dark TV.
Having grown accustomed to his father’s presence each evening despite the impossibility of his being there, Tom simply responds, “Hi, Dad. How come you’re not watching TV?”
“I don’t watch TV anymore, son. Don’t you remember?”
“Since I died,” his father deadpans.
Tom is amazed by the admission and plops down in the chair next to his father.”You know you’re dead? Eddings asks.
“Of course, son, the dead know when they’re dead; maybe not at first, but it’s been a year.”
“Why did you wait until now to tell me?”
“I thought you knew.”
“I did, but.”
“But you weren’t sure.”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“I talked to your friend, Marty Willis.”
“You talk to him! When? How?”
“We talk all the time. Not much else to do. Time is very different here.”
More confused than ever, young Eddings blurts, “What do you mean, here?”
The young doctor is nearly at wit’s end when his father says, “He’s dead too, you know.”
Tom turns pale.”Who, Marty?” he gasps.
“Don’t you remember? He’s been dead longer than I have.”
Being told, Tom recalls how his old friend Marty died of a heart attack two months before his father had died.
“Why couldn’t I recall that before, but could remember that you had died?”
“Marty’s death wasn’t as traumatic as losing your father. The deep sorrow you carry for losing me is the difference . . . Thanks for caring, by the way, son.”
After a moment trying to grasp the situation, Tom tells his father, “One of my patients, my mailman, told me today that he hasn’t seen Mary at the house for a while. It’s made me worried something has happened to her.”
“Don’t worry. Nothing’s happened to Mary. Besides, old mister Brewer died before Marty, so he wouldn’t have seen her anyway.”
“Brewer, too!” Tom anguishes, wondering when the insanity will end. “Does this mean I’m dead?”
“You’re somewhere between life and death, son. Your fate is still up to you.”
“Up to me? So I can just choose life?”
“It’s not that simple, son. The choice of life is difficult; death is easy. You must want life with your whole heart. Be willing to face any consequences of life. You can’t just choose life because you think things will work out OK. You have to want life regardless of how the rest of it may measure up for you.”
Before Tom can respond, he hears his wife’s voice: “Oh Tom, darling; please come back to me!”
“Do you hear that, Dad?”
“No, son, the only thing I hear is you. Whatever you hear is only meant for your ears.”
“Please, Tom. I need you so!”
“I remember now, I remember,” Tom cries.”There was a terrible accident. I recall hearing sounds of people all around me trying to revive me until everything went black.”
“Oh, Tom, please!”
“Some time after that, I recall only darkness and the monotonous beeps of monitors. There were occasional voices; one of them was Mary’s. Then came noiseless black again. My first recollection after that was in Marty’s office.”
“I’m aware of how you had been revived at the scene of your accident and taken to the hospital, son. After getting to the hospital your vital signs took a nosedive. That’s when you landed on Marty’s leather couch.”
“How long has it been?”
“Time is very different here. It can’t be measured as it is in life.”
“What am I supposed to do, Dad?”
“You must choose, son. Even the elastic time here has its limits.”
“What if I end up a cripple or paralyzed? How can I put that burden on Mary? Her life would be misery.”
“What would her life be without you? She’s always loved you. I’ll bet she’d accept any circumstance that presents itself as long as she had you in her life.”
“You really think so?”
“She’s a remarkable woman. I don’t think you give her enough credit for her strength.”
Tom’s excitement diminishes. “If I go, I won’t see you again, will I?”
Through a gratifying grin, his father tells him, “You will, eventually . . . and who knows, maybe I’ll sneak into your dreams every now and again.”
“I’d like that, Dad.”
“Can you hear me, Tom?”
“There she is again. She’s crying.”
“Go to her,” his father insists.”Choose love and a chance at life. Be ready to fight for both.”
Tom moves to hug his father with his eyelids shut tight against his tears, but before he can do so, his eyes flicker open to the bright lights of a hospital room. May is leaning over him. Her eyes are closed. She is crying softly for the love of her life.
“Oh Tom, please come back to me!”
Eddings is in rapture by the sight of her. He lies motionless until her eyes open to see him staring back at her. Her anguish turns to joy. She kisses his face, squeezes him tightly and kisses him again.
Seeing Eddings awake from his coma, the on-call doctor makes a rapid check of his vitals before allowing the couple to renew their celebration, then is obliged to interrupt again with an analysis for Eddings.
“You have a spinal injury, Mr. Eddings. Your legs have yet to respond to any stimulus. There is still swelling around the spinal column that must subside before I can assess your chances of walking again.”
The news of a possible recovery brings Eddings’ arms up around his wife for a thankful embrace.
The doctor continues, “There is hope, but it will require great dedication on both your parts. With determination and the grace of God … you may very well walk again.”
Understanding the couple’s embrace as the reason for their not responding, the surgeon continues, “Recovery is several months down the road, if at all, but it’s something to shoot for . . . something to live for.”
“Sounds like we’ve got our work cut out for us, doesn’t it, Mary?” Eddings says with a renewed vigor.
Mary’s eyes light up as she squeezes her husband’s hand.”As long as we have each other, we’ll work at it together as long as it takes. Everything’s going to be alright, Tom, I’m sure of it.”
“I know it will be, Mary. I know it will.”
Somewhere, on another plane of existence, Eddings Sr. smiles in front of a blank TV.
Duffy is a retired architect and lifelong Mercer County resident. He is married with two children and two grandchildren and belongs to a writers’ group that meets monthly at the Hamilton Barnes & Noble.