The Final Time
by Stan Crown
The steeple sings out ten chimes, and he’s out there again, under the elm. The lantern glows brighter tonight; he must have cleaned the glass. Once again, Hallie can’t bring herself to look out, can’t bear to initiate this final exchange. She only knows he’s there because the beam, filtering through the arched window, casts quivering elm-branch shadows on the ceiling and walls. The passage master says tonight is the last opportunity. Hallie must move on through.
How did he know to come that first night two weeks ago, the night she peeked out the window, the night she drew back when she saw it was him? The passage master won’t say. Hallie wishes it wasn’t necessary, wishes she didn’t have to move on, wishes she wasn’t a ghost at all.
She was steering the Mustang for home. Surprise visit. Making amends. Sober a whole week. Hadn’t talked to her daddy since the call a month before, the call when she was total-ass drunk, the one when he said he wasn’t bailing her out anymore, the one when Hallie, well, it was really the booze talking, said fine, he could go to hell, she didn’t need him anyway, and then the booze flipped the phone shut.
She had switched on the Mustang’s cruise control. Dared not get caught speeding; her license was suspended. Rolling along, Hallie imagined ringing the doorbell. “Hi Daddy, I’m home,” was all she’d say. She didn’t know, maybe he wouldn’t even speak to her, maybe not even open the door, but she liked to think he’d melt and his coal-black eyes, same shade as hers, would drip all over and his hands would envelop her and he’d comb ecstatic fingers through her thick hair, hair even darker than her eyes.
Should’ve turned the cruise control off. She’d have reacted faster, maybe survived the irony of a plastered trucker deciding her lane was his.
Funeral, two weeks ago, was right here at St. Anthony’s. Hallie floated above, invisible, as her daddy’s eyes dripped on the coffin, as he ran sorrowful fingers over her framed photograph.
Hallie can’t leave the cathedral, can’t even escape the sanctuary. If she tries to float through the walls, she finds herself right back inside. The place stays empty except for mass, and Hallie has spent the fortnight counting chimes, dreading the hour when she counts to ten.
He comes every night with the lantern, swinging it back and forth. Hallie stares at the flickering on the wall. Some kind of signal? The passage master won’t say. “Go to the window when he comes. You will see,” is all the master tells her.
“Why should I go? He can’t see me anyway. People don’t see ghosts.”
“You will both see everything. Go to the window.”
“I can’t face him. Just can’t do it.” For two weeks she hasn’t. Does he know tonight’s the last chance?
The beam and shadows shift to and fro on the wall. “Go now,” the passage master says from the altar.
Hallie drifts toward the window, facing away, still unable to look out. As she moves closer, she hears singing. Her daddy’s voice. Moonlight Lullaby. Has he sung every night? Then, she remembers! He’s swinging the lantern in time to the music, just like he used to do with a candle. The music pulls her in. Hallie turns around and starts singing along. Peering out through the dark glass at her daddy, she scratches at the window, groping for a way to open it. She pounds at the glass and then the magic begins, for the glass falls away. Father and daughter’s dark eyes lock together in a unison gaze. They keep singing, and he moves toward her. The great cathedral’s organ joins in the lullaby and the music peals out over the whole town. Shimmering lights of all colors decorate the dark sky and the whole universe dances for the reunion.
He reaches for her hair.
“Hi, Daddy. I’m home,” she says for the final time.
I am a family physician who loves to write. I'm proud to have published in the November 2010 edition of With Painted Words. My first novel, The Victors Club, is getting a thorough revision. I hope to have a personal website/blog up and running in the near future.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'Doing It In The First Place'