Eight Years Ago

‘I’ve always wondered what it would be like to die.’

‘Maggie, don’t you think that’s a little morbid?’

She looked up at Darren and shrugged. ‘I dunno,’ she said, ‘Chrissy in my class lost her mum, and then this, everyone says different things, makes me wonder what it’s really like.’

Katie held out her hand. ‘We should move out a little, so we can talk.’

‘No, no,’ Darren said, ‘I’ve got this.’ He crouched, then easily boosted her up onto his shoulders. ‘See? Now I don’t have to wait for her little feet.’ Katie sighed, but they walked away from the church, and the rest of the funeral party without another hitting-Darren-with-the-newspaper incident.

‘There’s a park over there,’ she said as they reached the end of the driveway.

‘That,’ Darren said, ‘was my master plan all along.’

The park was empty, aside from a couple of birds – the non-talking kind.

Darren spun toward a swing set. ‘You want to play, Maggie?’

She shook her head, then rocked his head side-to-side in case he couldn’t see her. ‘No, I wanna talk. Dad doesn’t want to, but…’

‘It’s ok, Maggie,’ Katie said, ‘you can talk to us.’

‘Well,’ she said as she kicked the dirt, ‘what’s it like? What’s…how’s it work and all that?’

‘Has your dad told you about heaven?’ Katie asked.

She shrugged. ‘The Simpsons told me more. I don’t think he believes in it. He hasn’t said that grandma and grandpa are in heaven or anything, he just told me what happened, and hugged me a lot.’

‘Do you believe in it?’ Darren asked as he lifted her down and put her on a bench. ‘All the clouds and…um, clouds?’

‘Aren’t you from there? I mean, that’s where angels come from.’

‘Angel,’ Darren said, ‘is more of a nickname than anything real, I take my orders from that lady there, not some beardy dude. Unless Ryan grew a beard. He couldn’t pull off a beard. He-’

Katie cleared her throat, and Darren stopped talking.

‘I don’t know,’ she said as she thought about the question. ‘I mean, if it’s real, I’ll believe in it, but if it’s not, then…’

‘We could tell you-’ Darren started. ‘If you like.’

Katie gave him a nod. ‘There’s no harm in a little knowledge. And this is the kind of magic that your dad doesn’t mind you knowing about.’

‘This is magic too?’ she said.

‘Everything is,’ Katie said as a bottle of water appeared in her hand. ‘Gravity, life, fireballs, electricity, it’s all magic in one way or another. Want a sip?’

She took the bottle and drank some before handing it up to Darren.

‘There are three ladies,’ Darren said, ‘Life, Death and Limbo, they’re pretty much like you’d expect…if you’re thinking about it, I guess. Life is pretty and blonde and is a suit-supporter, but she pulls off white, I could never do white-’

‘Because you would spill something on it,’ Katie said with a smile.

Darren reached over her head and brushed Katie’s cheek. ‘That’s why I have you. Death is very sombre-’

‘What-er?’ she interrupted.

‘She’s sad, Maggie,’ Katie said as she took back the water bottle. ‘And no one really knows why.’

‘Limbo, her I don’t know much about,’ Darren said, ‘I’ve heard people say she looks like a little girl, but I find that hard to believe, they’re…really the three most powerful beings in the entire everything of the universe. Like…they could beat up Superman.’

She gave a smile – they hadn’t really explained anything yet, just talked around it, like her dad did, like her teachers did, like anyone did when she asked about her mum. It was one of those “you aren’t old enough” things…but she was, and they just didn’t know it.

‘I’ll say that I haven’t died, nor has anyone close to me, so everything I know is…like reading it from a newspaper, it’s true enough, but some of the details are missing, if you know what I mean.’

She nodded.

‘It’s like a fall,’ Darren said, ‘through…nothing, I guess, or like the twister from Wizard of Oz, people say different things, and then there’s Death. She sees you, then she sees you on your way. Some fae people just call her the Gatekeeper, because she lets you through the turnstile onto whatever’s next.’

‘And that is?’

‘None of the Ladies could tell you, it’s not something for us to know, it’s not something for anyone to know.’

‘But people have come back to life!’

‘They have,’ Katie said, ‘but they were in Limbo, they hadn’t passed on yet.’

‘So…it’s like cheating?’

Katie smiled. ‘Sort of, but not really. They still died, but they hadn’t…They made a choice to come back.’

‘And ghosts?’

‘I don’t know,’ Katie said quickly.

She pouted. ‘But you’ll know when I’m older?’

‘Katie…she wants to know.’

‘There are things I didn’t want to know,’ Katie said as she held her hand, ‘sometimes it’s better to wait to know things.’

‘I want to know!’ she said, then blushed at how loud her voice was. ‘Sorry. But I’m not a kid, I just-’

Darren stood, looked down at her, and held a hand above her head. ‘According to this highly inaccurate measurement, you are still a kid, but I understand your point.’ He lifted her and pointed to the sky. ‘Can you touch the clouds, Maggie?’ he asked as he slipped his hands under her shoulders and lifted her higher – making her feel like she was almost flying.

She reached for them. ‘It looks like I can.’

‘Coming back, so much as I understand it, is like climbing all the way up a ladder to touch the clouds. If you get tired on the climb up, or fall off, or anything like that…you become a ghost.’ He spun her around and made airplane noises, which she pretended to hate. ‘But there’s some benefits to that, you would get to haunt boys and scare people, and all good things like that.’

He put her back down on the bench, and Katie looked down at her. ‘I like to believe the thing that people say, that it’s just like going to sleep, that you close your eyes, and it’s all gone. I don’t…I don’t like to believe in heaven, because I don’t like the idea of being separated from the people I love.’

Darren held a hand out to Katie. ‘Give us a minute Maggie?’ he asked as he pulled Katie to her feet.

She nodded, then laid down on the bench as they walked away.

She closed her eyes, imagined falling, and imagined going to sleep for the last time.