After You’ve Gone ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Around midnight Dorothy “Doodles” Plover heard a disturbing sound in the house and went downstairs to investigate. When she saw her husband, Reginald, sitting in the leather wingback chair in the living room, she let out a little scream and jumped back a couple of feet because he had been dead for eighteen months. When she recovered her senses enough to speak, she turned on a light and said, “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m sitting here,” he said. “What does it look like?”
“Still a smart ass, I see,” she said.
“You’ve put on some weight, haven’t you?” he asked. “And what have you done to your hair?”
“After you died,” she said, “I went in for different things. I changed my hair color. Don’t you like it?”
“I can’t say I have a particular fondness for orange hair.”
“Never mind my hair. I want to know why you’re here.”
“Aren’t you glad to see me?”
“No, I can’t say I am, considering you’re dead. When a person dies, you’re not supposed to see them anymore.”
“You haven’t felt my presence in the house these many months?”
“At first I did.”
“And then you didn’t?”
“I guess I just got used to your being gone.”
“In such a short time?”
“You’re not really here at all. I’m only dreaming.”
“That would explain it, wouldn’t it?”
“If you are here, shall we say that are you a ghost?”
“Use whatever word you feel comfortable with.”
“All right, let’s say you’re a ghost. I’m seeing the ghost of my dead husband. But why? Why are you here? Did you forget something?”
“I’m here because this is my home.”
“Not anymore. Your home is someplace else now.”
“You really don’t know anything about it, now, do you?”
“This is one of those dreams that seems like it’s really happening and you don’t know for sure it’s a dream until you wake up.”
“Whatever you say, dear.”
“I’m going to take my pill and go to sleep and when I wake up I’ll know for sure it was a dream.”
“You already took a pill. Two, in fact. That’s probably why you’re seeing me. Those pills always did funny things to your head.”
“They’re for my nerves. Dr. Renault prescribes them.”
“He’s not a competent doctor. He didn’t go to a school that other doctors go to. You only keep going to him because he reinforces you in all your neuroses.”
“You don’t know anything about it.”
“He’s built up a lucrative practice catering to neurotic housewives who believe they’re ill when in truth they are not. If he gave you a sugar pill you’d think it was a wonderful curative for all that ails you because that’s what you want to believe.”
She opened her bottle of pills and made a show of taking one out and placing it on her tongue and swallowing it. “I’m going to sleep now,” she said, “and when I wake up in the morning I will have forgotten this ever happened.”
“One day you’ll take one pill too many and you won’t wake up at all.”
“You don’t need to worry about that. You’re dead.”
“Dead is a relative term. You don’t really understand what being dead means until you are yourself dead.”
“No offense, but I really hope I don’t see you again. I’m getting along just fine without you. And, quite truthfully, now that it’s been this long, I’m glad you’re gone.”
“But I’m not gone. Not really.”
“Goodbye. Have a safe trip.”
The next time she saw him she was in the supermarket. She picked up a box of donuts and placed them in her cart along with her sweet rolls, candy and ice cream.
“That’s why you’ve put on so much weight,” he said in her ear.
She dropped the donuts into the cart and turned on him. “Why are you doing this to me?” she said, her voice trembling.
“It’s bad enough that I’m seeing you in my own home, but now I’m seeing you in public?”
“I’m wherever you are.”
“Don’t I have anything to say about it?”
“Well, I want you to stop it!”
In the checkout line she knew he was right behind her. She would have felt him breathing down her neck if he had breathed. On the way to her car, he was walking along beside her.
“I could find a policeman and tell him you’re bothering me,” she said.
“He’d think you were crazy because he wouldn’t see me.”
“Are you saying that only I can see you?”
“That’s the way it works.”
“Why don’t you go haunt somebody else and leave me alone?”
“I have to tell you I’m hurt that you take that attitude. We were married for over twenty-five years and now you’re willing to turn it off so easily.”
“It turned itself off when you died. I didn’t ask you to die. I didn’t make it happen. It was one of those things over which I have no control.”
“Well, you needn’t take that tone! I haven’t done anything that I need to be scolded for.”
“Why do you want to be here when you can be in heaven? Heaven must be wonderful. You’ll have to tell me all about it some time, but not now. If you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment to see my doctor.”
When she got into the car and drove away, she was relieved that Reginald stayed behind. She didn’t want him interfering with her time alone with Dr. Alonzo J. Renault.
She had to admit she had developed a romantic attachment to Dr. Renault. When she arrived at his office, she freshened her lipstick and brushed her circus clown hair back from her face before going inside. Her knees were shaking and she felt a little short of breath. She was happy to see there were no other patients waiting to see him.
When Dr. Renault knew she was there, he dismissed his nurse and personally escorted her into the examining room. With his thrilling bedside manner, he made her feel as if she was his only patient, the only woman in the world worth anything. He sat her in a chair and pulled his chair around close to her so their knees were almost touching.
“How have you been, dear Doodles?” he asked, leaning forward so his face was just inches from hers. He was as smooth as Charles Boyer ever was.
“Not so good,” she said, sniffling into a handkerchief for effect. “I’ve been having these headaches.”
“Yes, but now they’re even worse. And, if that’s not bad enough, I’m seeing things that aren’t there.”
“I’m seeing ghosts!” She was surprised to find that she was sobbing.
He leaned forward and enveloped her in his arms as though she was a child who had just fallen off her roller skates. “We both know there’s no such thing as ghosts,” he said.
“Tell that to the ghost!” she said.
“Do you want a stronger pill?”
“If you think that’ll help.”
“I’ll give you a pill that I guarantee will make any ghosts go away and leave you alone.”
“While I’m here,” she said, “could you give me another one of those special pick-me-up shots?”
“Of course I will!” he said. “Anything that will make you feel better.”
When she heard that he had recently become divorced from his most recent wife, a woman half his age, she saw the field as being wide open. She called him one afternoon and invited him to come to her house for dinner to get a jump on his other female patients.
The evening alone with him was everything she hoped it would be. He was much more romantic when it was just the two of them. He held her in his arms on her French sofa before the fireplace while they listened to the patter of rain on the window. (Always a gentleman, though, he didn’t try to take advantage of the situation.)
He spoke to her in an intimate way she treasured. He told her all about his life, how he had been raised by his grandmother in a small town and how he struggled to get through medical school by posing nude for painters and picking up odd jobs wherever he could. When he segued from his youth to recent financial reverses, his voice trembled and his brown eyes filled with tears. He took her hand in both of his and faced her solemnly as if to make a confession.
“I don’t know how I dare ask it of you,” he said.
“Ask me what?” she asked.
“I was wondering if you might lend me a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for six months.”
“Of course I will, darling,” she said.
“I promise to pay you back with interest.”
“Are you sure a hundred and fifty thousand will be enough?”
She gave him the money and they began seeing each other frequently. He was attentive and considerate in a way she never believed possible. He lit her cigarettes for her, held car doors, and helped her on and off with her fur coat, like a gentleman of the old school. He took her on little overnight trips to places she had never dreamed of going. And, always, always, he provided her with the pills she needed and pick-me-up shots. She trusted him so completely she never even thought to ask what the shots were.
She reached the dizzying point in her friendship with him where she would do anything he asked of her. One night he called her at midnight when she was sleeping.
“I’m so sorry to awaken you, dearest,” he said, “but I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Can’t it wait until morning?” she asked.
“I’m afraid it can’t. I need you to stop by my office and pick up a little package and deliver it to a patient downtown.”
“I’m afraid to drive downtown by myself at this hour.”
“Nonsense! You’ll be perfectly safe. We can’t go through life afraid of our own shadows, now, can we?”
“Well, all right, if you say so.”
She began delivering packages for him all over the city and then in a fifty-mail radius of the city. Soon she was traveling to other states by airplane, always to pick up or deliver a small package. She didn’t mind these trips because she had always liked to travel and it gave her a chance to see new places and stay in beautiful hotels at somebody else’s expense. She felt as if she was living somebody else’s life, a dream life.
It wasn’t until she went to Mexico City that she thought to question what was in the packages. The first couple of runs went smoothly but on the third trip some men were waiting to pick her up when she landed back in the U.S. They humiliated her by treating her as a common criminal. They went through her baggage and took the package she had gone all that way to pick up. When she professed her innocence, they just ignored her; one of them even made as if to slap her. They took away her clothes, jewelry and money, locked her in a cell and told her she’d better hire herself a good lawyer because she was in plenty of trouble. “But I didn’t do anything!” she wailed. She gave them—or tried to give them—Dr. Renault’s address and phone number. “He can explain everything,” she pleaded, “if you will only call him.”
After several days in jail, she still hadn’t been able to get through to Dr. Renault. She didn’t want to believe he wasn’t willing to come to her aid. There had to be a perfectly logical explanation, she told herself, although, for the life of her, she couldn’t imagine what it was.
One night after lights-out as she lay on her bunk in her jail cell in the almost complete darkness, she realized there was somebody near her, just inches away. When she raised herself on her elbows, she saw Reginald, her deceased husband, looking down at her. He was wearing a cowboy hat and western attire.
“What’s with the getup?” she asked.
“Never mind,” he said. “It’s a long story.”
“He’s not coming to help me, is he?”
“I tried to tell you he was a rat. Worse than that. He wanted your soul and he almost got it.”
“If you hadn’t died, none of this would have ever happened.”
“I didn’t want to die. Nobody asked me.”
“You were the one that was always steady. You always knew what to do. You took care of me.”
“You realize that now.”
“After you died, I couldn’t manage on my own.”
“I thought you were doing pretty well without me.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me now. I’m afraid. I don’t want to go to prison. It seems that just telling people I didn’t know what was going on isn’t going to work.”
“Do you want me to get you out of this?”
“More than anything. I don’t like being in jail.”
“You know what it means?”
“And you don’t mind?”
“No, as long as I can be with you.”
He reached out and put one hand on her chin and pinched her nostrils together with his other hand. She felt nothing. Her limbs relaxed and in just a minute she stood up and smiled at him. He took her by the hand and they drifted away together like a little puff of cigarette smoke.
In the morning the guard found her dead in her bunk. A doctor examined her, found she had had a heart attack in her sleep, and signed the death certificate. Nobody ever claimed her body, so she ended up in the morgue. It didn’t matter to her, though, because she had gone to a better place.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp