Become a Fan
By Sandra I. Smith
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Rated "G" by the Author.
Something kept Karla in her earthly body after she died. When a little girl needs her mother, Karla learns why she was left behind, and finds the release she requires to complete her journey.
by Sandra I. Smith
Fifty-two-year-old Karla Langstrom seldom woke up easily. Today it was harder than usual. She fought the blackness, struggling against staying in its enveloping softness. Her eyes finally popped open. Everything appeared soft and hazy, as if she were looking through a gauzy curtain.
"I slept too long, nothing's wrong, I just need to get up and take a walk," she said, forcing herself from the bed.
Everything outside was blurred by the same eerie softness. Karla walked briskly toward Pioneer Park, blinking her eyes, trying to bring the trees and sidewalk into clear focus.
She returned home half an hour later, to an ambulance with flashing red lights and wailing siren in her driveway. She saw the driver speak on his radio, after which he turned off the siren and lights.
Oh no, Jim's heart finally gave out, she thought as she rushed into the house.
Jim was standing in the living room, talking to a paramedic. "My wife usually napped in the afternoon," Karla heard him say. "Today was no different from any other day."
"What's going on, who's hurt?" Karla yelled, grabbing Jim's arm. He ignored her and continued talking to the paramedic.
"I thought she was just tired and taking a longer nap than usual. I didn't realize anything was wrong until I went into the bedroom to get my book. She was so quiet--and when I touched her, I knew she wasn't . . . that she was . . . ." Jim was unable to continue.
"Jim! What's going on? Why is the ambulance here?"
Jim and the paramedic both turned away from Karla, as if she wasn't there, to watch two other paramedics bring out a stretcher from the bedroom. They paused by Jim, and he carefully pulled the covering down from the face of the body on the stretcher.
Karla shrieked when she saw it was her face. "No, that isn't me. I'm here. Right here. I'm not dead." She grabbed his arm, trying to shake him, to make him look and see her standing there.
Jim gently touched the face on the stretcher one last time. No one noticed the hysterical woman beside him.
That night, Karla lay in their bed beside Jim. He cried as he hugged her pillow. Karla stroked his hair, murmuring "I'm here, I'm not going away, don't cry, dearest, I'm here, I haven't left you, I'm here, I'm here, I'm here." Jim remained oblivious to her. She curled up next to him, unable to fall asleep.
Karla did not attend the funeral held two days later.
A week after the funeral, Jim put the house up for sale. He moved his clothes and a few items from the kitchen to a small apartment across town. Karla tried to follow him to the apartment, but couldn't. She learned that she could leave the house for periods of up to an hour or for distances up to two miles. If she exceeded either, she found herself instantly back at the house.
Karla began taking short, frequent walks, just to get out. She tried to accept that people were totally unaware of her. No one ever returned her greetings, or even looked at her. She mingled with a group picnicking one day in the park. I can't be a ghost, she decided after that, because people don't complain of a cold chill or their hair rising when I'm around them. I'm just a fragment that somehow got left behind. And I am here all alone--there is no one I can turn to for help.
Jim organized a huge yard sale. Much to her surprise, he didn't seem to need Karla's help with it. When the sale was over, he hired a professional housekeeping service to clean the house. Karla followed the cleaners through the house, explaining to unhearing ears that their services weren't needed. "I kept this house spotless. Hiring professionals wasn't necessary. All Jim had to do was dust and vacuum a bit."
The empty house increased Karla's loneliness. Nothing remained of the nearly thirty years she and Jim had lived there. They had only been married two years when they bought the house--big enough for the family they expected to have. But the babies never came. As the years passed, Karla turned the nursery into a sewing room. Jim built shelves in one of the children's bedrooms and they kept their extensive library in it. Jim used the other child's room as his den.
Karla wandered from room to room now, remembering all the plans they had made. "Our whole lives were here, how could you sell it so easily?" she whispered to Jim's memory. One day, while rummaging around in the attic, she found an old doll stuck back in a corner shelf. It was Olivia, the pretend baby of her childhood, whom she had saved to give to the daughter she never had.
"I don't know how I got left behind like this," Karla told the doll, "but I'm happy that you were left here with me. I'm not alone anymore."
Some days the real estate agent came with potential buyers. They all rejected her beautiful house because it was "too big" or "too old." No one heard Karla's explanations that it was a family house or that she and Jim had lovingly remodeled and cared for it.
One day the agent brought a family to look at the house. "The appliances in the kitchen are all modern, Mrs. Allen. There is also plenty of room in the garage for your workshop, Mr. Allen. And, of course, separate bedrooms for each of the children."
Karla hovered anxiously, listening to the agent and watching the faces of the Allens carefully. I'd really like them in my house, she thought. "Tell them the master bedroom is extra large, with it's own bathroom. And don't forget all the extra closets downstairs," she coached the agent.
The children were both round-faced blondes. The boy, about six years old, had blue eyes. His sister, about two years younger, had beautiful brown eyes. They are adorable, Karla thought, I'd love to have them to watch over. She quickly learned that their names were Joshua and Shawnna. The parents were Cynthia and Victor.
A week later, the Allens moved into Karla's house. Cynthia wallpapered Shawnna's room with a pattern of tiny pink roses. Victor painted the shelves in Joshua's room in bright blues, greens, and yellows. Karla rushed unseen from room to room, trying to help, offering unheard advice and suggestions about everything. She was almost as happy as she had been when she and Jim first moved into the house.
Karla spent the nights upstairs with Olivia, telling her everything that happened during the days. When not in the attic, Karla kept Olivia hidden in the corner of a high shelf. "You're all I have left from before," she reassured Olivia. "I couldn't bear to lose you."
The Allens were almost settled in their new home, when Cynthia's mother had a stroke and was hospitalized. Mrs. Webster, the Allen's next door neighbor, agreed to babysit Joshua and Shawnna, and Cynthia flew to San Diego to be with her mother.
The day after Cynthia left, Shawnna began complaining that her stomach hurt. "My head hurts too, Daddy," she told Victor. "I want my mommy."
When Victor called Cynthia, they agreed that Shawnna was suffering from "separation anxiety." They decided to call the pediatrician only if Shawnna got worse.
Shawnna refused to eat anything the next day. Victor tucked her in bed early that night and explained that "Mommy has to take care of Grandma for a few days, but she'll be home soon." Joshua tried to read her favorite story to his little sister, but Shawnna wasn't interested. She didn't hear when Karla told her how much her mommy loved her and wanted her to feel better.
The house finally quieted down, with even Shawnna falling into a restless sleep. Karla sat by the bed, brushing the hair from the girl's eyes and straightening the covers when she tossed and turned. At 3:00 a.m., when Shawnna seemed to be sleeping soundly, Karla went to the attic and retrieved Olivia from her hiding place. "We have to stay downstairs tonight, to help Shawnna," she told Olivia as she carried her to Shawnna's bedroom.
Shawnna had grown restless while Karla was gone. "There, there, baby, everything is going to be all right. Don't you worry, we're here, we'll take care of you. Everything is okay." Karla stroked and comforted the whimpering child.
"Here. This is Olivia, a friend. You'll never be alone as long as you have her," Karla said, as she placed Olivia close to Shawnna. Shawnna's tiny arms tightened around the doll, and she sighed as she relaxed. She smiled at Karla, and then fell peacefully asleep.
Karla stroked the sleeping child's hair a moment longer, then lay down beside her.
With Shawnna holding tightly to Olivia, and Karla curled warmly around Shawnna, Karla felt sleep coming to claim her. "Rest well, little one," she told Shawnna, "I have to go now." Karla closed her eyes, welcoming the blackness that carried her softly away.
First published in 1996, in Dogwood Tales magazine
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