“Good morning, Mr. Kleet. I am Mrs. Greer, and I’ll be your operator today. Just have a seat and make yourself comfortable. You may remain upright or adjust the chair to the convenient leanback position. As you will note, your phone is mounted on the padded arm.”
“Will it be very long?”
“No, sir. Just a few moments now.”
“You’re, uh, here somewhere?”
“Yes, sir. I am at the operators’ station. I will be on hand throughout the procedure to answer any questions you may have. I see you have completed our standard form. We have verified your payment of $15,875. Our congratulations on choosing Hi-Fone’s A-One service.”
“Ought to be A-One at that price.”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Nothing. You work here long?”
“We’re ready for your call, sir. You may pick up the phone and speak to your party.”
“Yeah, got it. Hello? I don’t hear a thing. Just some kinda buzz or—Okay, right. Hello? I can’t hear you real—”
“John, My Lord, is that you?”
“It’s me, Mom. Boy, it’s so great to hear your voice again. I can hardly believe it! How are you, is everything okay?”
“You know where I am, John. How do you think I am?”
“Well, sure, I just, you know.”
“Everyone here is okay. I thought even you would have figured that out by now.”
“I didn’t mean I don’t know, I just wondered what you were doing, I mean, like what you do up there and all.”
“I have a great many things to do, John. And in spite of what you read in those ridiculous books of yours, I do not have little wings, I do not have a freaking harp. I do not sing Hallelujah all the time. We are all very busy. I was busy when you called. Just what did you want, John?”
“Like I said, I just—Mom, how’s Dad? Is he okay too? Is he around right now?”
“He is certainly not around. We are divorced, son. And to answer your foolish question, I am sure he’s just fine.”
“You’re what? You can get a divorce there? I didn’t know that.”
“As ever, there is a lot you don’t know, John. You remind me so much of your father. As I asked a moment ago, exactly what did you call about? Do you have any idea at all?”
“Mom, I just—hello? Hello?”
“Your party has disconnected, sir.”
“What? She can’t do that. I paid a fucking fortune for that call!”
“We hope you will take one of our four-color brochures, Mr. Kleet, and trust you will consider Hi-Fone for your future calls…”
“You talk to Herb? He’s all excited about the tour. Says it’s something to see.”
“That Big Bang deal? I hear it’s not worth it. Sort of Bang! Like that. You like the cosmic stuff? Sign up for End of the Line. Got the whole works. Alpha meets Omega, universe goes FLAT! Just like that.”
“Sounds kind of schizy to me. Ed says the titty bar thing—”
“I don’t think we’re supposed to do that.”
“So? It’s better’n nothing.”
“Don’t talk to me about nothing. If I’d known we couldn’t do IT I wouldn’t have been so hot about getting here. Anyway, what I’m thinking ‘‘bout is the spook thing. I kinda like the idea of that.”
“You don’t like that either?”
“You talkin’ Ghosting, pal? I DID it, friend, and no, I don’t like it.”
“You never told me that.”
“I try to forget it. Being dead is one thing. Least we got beer and football. Shit, I don’t like to think about it. You start off with little stuff. Houses, graveyards. Then I got caught in this old castle, right? Didn’t know what I’d walked into. Got stuck there four-hundred years. Felt like four-hundred, tell you that.
“No, huh-uh, find something else. You do the past, the future, yet?”
“Fred was talking about animals. You know, going down getting in giraffes, cats, one of those big-ass go-rillas?”
“No way. You get that bored you can always run over to Reborners. Do it all again.”
“You kidding? I’m going to flunk 5th grade again, grow up, get a dumb job and die? Hey, I’d be a fucking cocker spaniel first.”
“You gonna do it, a poodle dog’s the thing. Least a poodle’s got a little class…”
Mary Jo was painting her lovely toes. Mary Ellen popped in and sat down by her side.
“You look gorgeous,” said Mary Ellen.
“You look gorgeous, too,” said Mary Jo.
“You hear about Mary Sue?” said Mary Ellen. “You hear what she wants to do?”
“Oh, I forget. You’re kinda new.”
“I am? I didn’t know that.”
“Sorry, never mind.” Mary Ellen swept back her lovely hair. “What it is, Mary Sue wants to try and contact the living. She’s going to have a seeantzdown by the lake.”
“A what?” Mary Jo went back to painting her toes.
“A seeantz. What you do you hold hands and sorta think about the living, see if someone thinks back.
“That’s what Mary Sue says.”
“Think about the living? Mary Ellen, why would anyone want to do that?”
Mary Ellen gave a little shrug. “I don’t know. That’s Mary Sue. She’s always into something. Like, when she wanted to know where men go? Mary Sue says men die too so where do they go? They’ve got to be somewhere, we know they’re not here.”
“This Mary Sue asks an awful lot of questions,” said Mary Jo. “Most girls don’t do that at all. You don’t, Mary Ellen. I like that in you.”
“Mary Sue’s all right,” said Mary Ellen. “Just because we all look the same doesn’t mean we can’t be different inside.”
“You’re gorgeous, Mary Ellen.”
“You’re gorgeous, too,” Mary Jo.”
Mary Ellen and Mary Jo popped in by the river. A lot of girls were there. Mary Jane and Mary Lou said Mary Sue was on her way.
“It might be fun,” said Mary Lou.
“I never thought about something like that,” said Mary Jane.
“Me either,” said Mary Lee.
“Wouldn’t anyone, I don’t think,” said Mary Ellen. “No one but Mary Sue.”
“Here she comes now!” said Mary Lou. “She—”
“Oh my,” said Mary Ellen.
“Would you look at that!” said Mary Lee.
The other girls gathered around the river looked at Mary Sue, looked at each other, looked at Mary Sue again.
“She’s got—close on,” said Mary Jane. “Why’s she want to do that?”
Mary Ellen looked at Mary Jo. She knew Mary Jo was bothered and thought she knew why.
“I know you all must be surprised,” said Mary Sue, standing in the center of the girls. “I made this little thing out of leaves and stuff, just for theseeantz, that’s all.”
Everyone gave a visible sigh.
“What I thought, I thought if we did get through to the living, they might be surprised to see we didn’t wear close like they do.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Everyone remembers different things,” Mary Ellen told Mary Jo. “I remember katz. Mary Lee, she remembers kars.”
“Now, if we can just hold hands,” said Mary Sue, “I’ll sit in the middle, and we can give this a try, all right?
If someone sees anything, or, you know, feels something different, just hold onto that and we’ll talk about it when we’re done.”
A lot of the girls closed their eyes because Mary Sue was 10 doing that too. Mary Ellen looked at Mary Jo. Just as she expected, Mary Jo kept her eyes wide open.
“I know you don’t care for this,” said Mary Ellen. “I don’t either, Mary Jo.”
“It doesn’t feel right,” said Mary Jo. “Why would anyone want to even think about what there used to be?”
“It’s just something that—tags along, you know? I didn’t have any business saying you were new, Mary Jo. We don’t do Time, but stuff stays in your head sometimes.”
“I know it does in mine, and I don’t want it there, Mary Ellen. I like being dead. I like how I look, I like being twenty-two. I like being blonde and I love having pretty feet. I like being gorgeous, Mary Ellen. I really do.”
Mary Ellen glanced around the circle. No one was watching Mary Sue anymore. Some of the girls had wandered off. Some were curled up, taking a nap in the sun.
“You are so gorgeous, Mary Jo,” said Mary Ellen.
“You are real gorgeous, too,” said Mary Jo, “and I like you more than anyone I know…”