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The International Writers Magazine: Fiction Archives

The Last Hour
James Nantau

The fire pit was equal distance between the hundred year old cabin and the shallow lake. It was laid there by his great grandfather and it was still the perfect place for it. How many fires, conversations, songs, laughs and tears took place around that venerable pit over the countless years, Cory could only imagine.

It was now past midnight and the fire was snapping and popping in the cool evening, still going strong. He was alone by the smokeless fire staring into the bright orange coals. There was nothing quite like a heaping bed of coals at the end of a long night’s burning. He went through a lot of wood tonight and now those coals – ominous bright orange - shimmering at him all alone by the small black lake. Those coals are the color of heat he thought to himself. No, they were the color of hell. If hell had a color - it was this particular brand of orange – he was sure of it. He continued staring into the hell, there at his feet.

All around the fiery pit stood the empty chairs and they made a perfect circle including the one he was in. He leaned over the side of his lawn chair and studied the dark sandy ground where he had piled gads of wood earlier in the afternoon. There were still a few bits left, so he tossed another piece of silver birch onto the fire, not so much to feed the burn but just to get rid of the wood.
He scanned the empty chairs again as he sipped his red wine.

That’s when he saw her.

She was in the middle chair, opposite side of the circle, and he could see her overtop the dancing flames.
"I can’t believe what I’m seeing."
She didn’t say anything.
"Are you really there?"
Still nothing but a peaceful silence.
"I guess I must be drunk," he said.
"Are you drunk?"
"So you can talk."
"I can talk."
"What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you."
"Wow, I honestly don’t know what to say. It’s incredible to see you."
"It is, yes. It’s good to talk to you again."

He looked at her in quiet disbelief and although he was amazed and excited, he was not alarmed.
"I really can’t believe this is happening."
"I’m here, you can believe it."
"This is too amazing," he said
"How are you Cory?" she asked him.
"I’m okay I guess. Much better now."

He looked her over carefully. She was wearing cottage clothes like she might have done long ago, a turtle neck and a pair of baggy jeans. There were no signs of additional aging, or undue wear and tear upon her, she looked just as he remembered.
"So obviously there is an afterlife then – I guess you’re proof of that?" he asked.
"You guess I’m proof?"
"Well – maybe I am just drunk."
"Are you drunk?"
"Probably a little yeah. If I was truthful about it."
He sat up straight and took another sip of the merlot in his glass then he leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees to take a closer look at her.
It was her all right and she was sitting there in front of him plain as plain can be.
"It’s been twenty years now since you left," he said.
"I know."
"I was twenty- three when you went."
"It’s been a long time."
"So why now? Why tonight after all this time?"
"Better now than never, don’t you think?"
"Absolutely. I’m just glad to see you."

He smiled at her and she smiled back. They’d always had a certain way of smiling at each other and it had been too long since they did that together. It brought a comfort to him.
"Why did you come then? Do you have something to tell me?"
"In a fashion I do," she said.
"What does that mean exactly? Are you here to help me somehow?"
"In a fashion I am yes."
"Well what kind of fashion. How can you help me now?"
"I can’t do too much really."
"No? So what’s it like for you?"
"I’m not supposed to talk about me, only about you."
"So I can’t ask you about heaven and what it’s like?"
"I couldn’t tell you anything about it."
"Why not?"
"I just can’t."
"You said you were here to help me. How are you going to help me?"
"Like I said, I can’t do too much really."
"You can’t give me three wishes or something like that?"
"No. I am not some kind of genie in a bottle and it doesn’t work that way."
"I can always use money."
"Sorry, but I couldn’t do it for you anyhow. I told you I am not some magical genie."
"Maybe not but you’re still my mother aren’t you?"
"Of course I’m still your mother."

He paused in silence, not quite understanding. Still, he felt calm in her presence.
"So how can you help me?"
"Do you need help?"
"You know what happened."
"Maybe I know some."
"Why don’t you tell me what happened?"
"You know what the hell happened, or you wouldn’t have come."
"I honestly don’t know much because I wasn’t there."
"I thought you’re supposed to be everywhere and you can see everything all the time."
"That’s not how it works."
"So how does it work then?"
"I am only there with you if you want me to be."

He didn’t know what to say or ask next. So he sat there watching her for a long moment. He wasn’t too sure he wanted to have this conversation with her at all. He’d had it with himself over and over again. Still, he didn’t see any clear way around it either.
"So why don’t you tell me what happened?" she said.
"You bloody well know what god damn happened."
"I told you I don’t know."

He drank another big sip and looked down at his feet. He started kicking at the sand in front of his chair. His mind traveled back in time - three weeks – when he was alone in the garage back at home, on that sticky night, at three in the morning. He had it in his hand, cold steel, it was loaded, three rounds, two more than he needed. He wasn’t crying at the time, but he was sweating. He thought for sure he’d do it, but he didn’t. He looked up at her again. She was still there and he could tell that she had traveled back in thought with him.
"I had it in my mouth for over ten minutes," he finally started explaining.
"That must have been terrifying."
"I had to take it out because I was drooling on it."
"Then what happened?"
"I put it under my chin for a while."
She wiped a tear from her cheek as she listened. "And then?"
"Then I put it against my temple."
"For how long?"
"At least ten more minutes. I pushed so hard I had a mark there for two days afterwards."
"Where is it now?"
"In the car, under the driver’s seat."

He stood up and walked around the fire toward her chair keeping his eyes fixed upon her to ensure she didn’t accidentally melt away. He didn’t want to lose her like you might lose a cell phone signal in the deep woods. He moved right alongside her and squatted down close by her lap still looking into her face.
"I can’t believe it’s really you."
"It’s me."
"I’m so glad you’re here right now."
"Me too."
"Can I touch you, or is that against the rules?"
"You can touch me."

He set his wine glass down in the sand and put both arms around her. He squeezed her tight and she felt familiar. It was a warm memory returned from another lifetime, unremembered until now and yet now unforgettable.
"I love you," she said.
"I miss you so much."

He kept hanging on to her and didn’t want to let go. He started crying on her shoulder. She moved her mouth to his ear and kissed it gently. He was crying full on now.
She squeezed him tighter and then whispered in his ear. "Let’s go to the car together and get it"

The fire cracked proudly and sparks rose up in the warm night air before cascading downward across the stony fire pit, richly illuminated in it’s orangey splendor.

© James Nantau October 2008

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