“Where’s my digitalis!”
“Where’s my magazine?”
“That’s Sports Illustrated. I want Sporting News!”
“They don’t print Sporting News anymore.”
“Where have you been all morning?”
“I went to the store to get you a magazine.”
Picket sat up in bed, coughed, and spat into a cup. Ace watched the emphysema consume his father.
Picket asked softly, “You’re going to put me down next to your mother, right?”
Ace thought of the double grave where his mother lay in the beautiful cemetery overlooking the ocean and shook his head.
Picket’s face pretzeled. “Damn you, you little mole! I tried to teach you everything I knew. I named you Ace–”
“So that I would be your star pitcher. I hate baseball. I’m giving away your collection, even the autographed stuff.”
“That shit’s worth thousands!” Picket wheezed then took a breath. “Ace, I’m sorry how I treated you. I’d get mad and … well, I was wrong.”
Wrong? Ace thought to himself. Remember when you knocked me out bashing me in the temple? Remember when you broke Mom’s nose?
Ace said aloud, “Today you’d be thrown in jail.”
Picket looked out the window of Ace’s guest bedroom. “I talk to Beth every day. I feel her. I can hear her. She knows I loved her.” He coughed again.
Ace handed Picket a glass. “Here’s some water for your pill.”
“I want beer!”
“You’re not supposed to mix alcohol with meds.”
“Go to hell! I’ll get it myself!”
Picket rose slowly from the bed, slipped the bottle of pills into his robe pocket, and waddled down the hallway.
Ace made up the bed and opened the window to air out the room. In the front yard he saw his nine-year-old, Marty, jump off a bike and run inside. Ace could hear Marty and Picket talk in the hallway.
“Hi, Marty. How did my grandson play?”
“I got to first, Grandpa! Then I got thrown out at second.”
“You need to lead off more. I’m proud of you!””Grandpa, tell Daddy to coach my team! You taught him all about baseball!”
“I’ve tried, Marty.”
“I love you so much, Grandpa!”
Ace had considered coaching Marty’s Little League team, with the current coach losing his job and needing to step down. Since Ace’s wife died two years ago Ace had struggled with how a single dad raises a son. It would mean the world to Marty for Ace to be his coach. But Picket was so abusive when Ace was a boy, any thought of baseball made Ace’s skin crawl.
Ace heard a thud.
“Grandpa! Daddy, Daddy!” Marty yelled.
Ace dashed into the hallway. Picket had fallen, his bottle of beer smearing the wall with suds. Marty stood at the end of the hallway with his hands over his face. Ace called emergency.
Picket died that night in the ER. Ace had a mortuary pick up the body and place it in refrigeration until he could decide what to do for an internment. Then he bundled up his son and went home.
Ace tucked Marty into bed. He cleaned up the spilled beer and settled into the living room sofa. He opened a photo album and turned directly to an eight-by-ten glossy of him up on a mound and releasing a pitch. Banners and flags flapped in the background. The stands were packed. With his curve ball he’d led his team to a division title that day. Picket never acknowledged Ace’s accomplishment, instead telling Ace that he’d let too many counts go full.
Then Ace flipped to the front of the album, to a snapshot of Beth pushing little Ace on a swing. Why did you marry him, Mom, Ace wondered. I know you got pregnant. But how he treated you!
“Ace, bury me next to Beth.”
Ace laughed at the voice in his head.
“Ace, bury me next to Beth.”
Now the voice seemed to drift out of the guest bedroom and down the hallway. Ace jumped off the couch and dashed to the guest room. He opened the door. The claustrophobic nursing home smell of bowel movement heavy with vegetable hung in the air.
“Ace, bury me next to Beth.”
Ace gasped and backed away. He peeked into Marty’s room at the end of the hallway. Marty was fast asleep.
Ace went to the living room and powered on the TV. The voice had stopped. After an hour of staring at CNN, Ace got up to pour himself a tumbler of sun tea from the refrigerator. The tea was a fruity blend his mother would make using ten herbal bags and two blackcurrant. The beverage was cool on his tongue.
“Where’s the beer?”
Ace jerked the tumbler and spilled some tea. He looked around the kitchen and shook his head. He returned to the living room and Roku’d to a movie. He set the remote in a caddy on the coffee table.
“Where’s the remote?”
Dr. Chickory was typing on a tablet. “What about after your mother died, Ace? Did you hear her voice?”
Ace shook his head. He was bleary eyed, not having slept the last night. “I don’t hear voices and I don’t have delusions. My doctor sent me to you because he said I fit your profile. What is it you do again?”
“I practice under a grant to study afterlife communication. Your doctor knew me in med school.”
“So what is this? I’m hearing my dad’s voice because I didn’t carry out his dying wish?”
Chickory held up a hand. “His name was ‘Picket’?”
“As a kid he hit a ball over a picket fence and the name stuck.”
“And you hate baseball because he forced it on you. But you kept the nickname ‘Ace’.”
“I am the top seller at A-1 Insurance. So, yes, I use the name.”
“Love and hate are a powerful pair, very complex and hard to resolve. The fact that your son adored your father likely makes this conflict worse.”
“So I’m going to hear his voice the rest of my life.”
“There is a theory. Atoms and molecules form patterns in our brains that hold all we have ever said, thought, and experienced. These patterns being composed of matter also curve space. When people claim to hear voices from beyond the grave, or sense a presence, these sensations may be from hypersensitivity to curved space.”
“You’re joking. Space curved by atoms.”
“Though small, an atom’s nucleus is incredibly dense, so dense that one nucleus bends space more at its surface than does the entire earth.”
Chickory added, “Fifteen trillion times more.”
Ace took a breath. “Ok, assuming that’s true, I’m hearing space curvatures.”
“No, not in the sense of sound waves. But the voice may indeed be real for you in some area of physics that the brain decodes and we don’t yet understand.”
“Is the voice conscious?”
“Current theory holds that the sensations are just remnants, not consciousness itself. You said it wanted beer?”
Ace nodded. “Dad hated Mom’s sun tea.”
“And the remote?”
“He never wanted to watch what I was watching.”
Chickory grinned. “These are impressions of dialog still residing in the areas where your father’s mind assembled the words into chemical patterns and spoke them. And these dialog remnants are alongside impressions of his personality and character which act like signatures for each snippet of dialog you hear. These signatures let your mind pick out your father’s words from who knows how many patterns exist in the space-time matrix.”
Ace shook his head.
Chickory grinned again. “The brain seeks patterns to make sense out of the jumbled world we live in. What do you think your mind is trying to resolve?”
“If he loved me. Trite?”
“Not at all.”
“How do I make the voice go away?”
“I think you should listen for it.”
“How long will it last?”
“When your father died the patterns in his brain disintegrated but the curvatures they created persist. I suspect you will hear the voice in your house until your issues are resolved, or the curvatures merge with others and become indistinguishable. Of course, footprints left by loved ones in the form of curved space are just theory. But listen for the voice – your mind is trying to resolve your feelings. Let’s meet again in a week.”
Back home that evening, Ace relaxed with his tumbler of tea in the living room. He hadn’t heard Picket’s voice while he was busy preparing dinner and getting Marty to
bed, but now the voice startled him like a barking dog.
“Where’s the remote … where’s my magazine … get me a beer … turn up the heat … get me a blanket … get my heart meds!”
Ace moved to the guest bedroom. The barrage continued but one flurry of dialog made his eyes pop open.
“Beth, I loved you … farm league … farm league … I never left you … farm league.”
Ace ran back to the living room and grabbed the photo album. He flipped to pictures of Beth pregnant with him. The backs of the photos contained handwritten dates. He then turned to a letterhead invitation from the Dodgers offering Picket a spot on their farm team. The invite was dated around the same time as the photos.
Ace sighed. So that’s why you never played pros, Dad. You stayed with Mom.
Ace finished off the tumbler of tea with a big gulp. The barrage of dialog returned like machine gun fire.
“Get me some beer … turn the channel … bury me next to Beth … where’s my robe … give me the remote … get the paper you little shit!”
Ace pressed his hands to his ears. The voice wouldn’t stop. The room was spinning. He started panting. He fumbled for his cell.
“You blacked out,” Chickory said, smiling down at Ace. “You’re in the ER. You left me one crazy voice mail.”
Ace looked around from his bed at beeping monitors and nurses roaming about. “Marty?”
“He’s okay. He let me in when I banged on your door. He’s watching TV in the waiting room now.”
“Tell Ace …”
Ace sat up. “I hear my dad!”
“Tell Ace … Tell Ace …”
“He’s talking. He’s saying ‘Tell Ace’.”
Chickory called over to the nursing station. “Ace’s father, Picket Padget, was brought in to the ER last night. Was anyone here on duty then?”
A nurse nodded and walked across to the bed.
“Where was he placed?” Chickory asked.
“Bed five, two beds over, Doctor.”
Ace asked the nurse, “Did my father say anything?”
“Well, yes, but he was incoherent. He kept repeating ”Tell Ace.” We couldn’t make out the rest of it. He was moving his lips but inaudibly. Normally we would report any last words to the family but we couldn’t understand him. I’m sorry, Mr. Padget.”
Ace said, “Dr. Chickory, please.”
Ace started to get out of bed, wavered, and Chickory caught him. The nurse looked puzzled as Chickory helped Ace shuffle over to bed five. Ace put his hands on the bed, fell silent for a minute, then looked at Chickory.
“Doctor, my dad says, ‘Tell Ace I put digitalis in his tea.’ ” Then Ace laughed and fainted in Chickory’s arms.
Chickory shouted, “Call the attending!”
Ace slid open the window of his guest bedroom. “Thanks for coming over, Doctor Chickory. Barbecue’s ready in a half hour.”
Chickory smiled. “So you interred your father in the double grave and you’re going to coach Marty’s team next season. And the voice?”
Ace closed his eyes and listened to the room. He shook his head. “Been three weeks. Not a peep.”
“Your case will make an interesting paper. Someday we will have instruments that can measure space curvatures directly.”
“So everything we do is being recorded?”
Chickory laughed. “Because space curvatures impress themselves on surrounding matter, in turn curving more space, it may be that our entire intellect is being replicated like ripples to infinity.”
Marty jumped up and down outside the open window. “Hey, want to see my curve ball?”
Ace said, “Sure, Marty, just a minute.”
Chickory’s eyes squinted. “Luckily we had time to counteract the digitalis. But, Ace, when your dad tried to warn the ER staff that he’d spiked your tea – is that what resolved your feelings?”
Ace sensed Chickory’s skepticism and said, “Well, my dad said one other thing: ‘Tell Ace he pitched a good game’. Long story.”
Food for Thought
Sometimes when we have a moral dilemma, nature comes to our aid. You can look at nature in spiritual terms or purely physical. But if you listen to nature it may point the way to resolution. In the story if Ace had been less torn over his father and hadn’t tuned in to the space curvatures, what would he have done with his father’s body? Leave it to the coroner? In Ace’s case, nature came strongly to him. But for the rest of us, who knows what links our minds have to nature? As Doctor Chickory says, “Listen for the voice.” It may be nature showing you the way.
About the Author
James Fitzsimmons holds a BA in English from California State University, Los Angeles where he studied literature and creative writing. He works as a computer programmer and lives in Long Beach CA. James says that writing computer programs is much like writing stories, but hopes his stories have fewer bugs! James’ work has appeared in Bards and Sages Quarterly, Aoife’s Kiss, and Frostfire Worlds.
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