After weeks of mental anguish, Myra resolved to crack the mystery. She knew she had not been hallucinating when seeing J. C. the week before. She had come from a long line of hard-thinking dirt farmers and knew reality. So she slipped out before sunrise one morning and made her way to the spring, sitting in the dark and emptying her mind of any expectations, as her sister Eva had told her.
A cool breeze blew. Water splashed and a bird chirped, and she began singing, “As a mother stills her child,
Thou canst hush the ocean wild.”
Can it be, she wondered, that people do not really die? If they haven’t gone too far, or if they’re so upset, or if they just can’t let go—maybe you can see ’em?
Birds flitted across the road like leaves before the wind. Their calls intensified, and the sun began to break through the pines. She closed her eyes and lifted her head to the bluing sky.
“Mama?” she heard. Looking down with astonishment, she saw J. C.
The only word he knew.
This time she did not reach out, but just gazed into the child’s face and waited.
“I’m all right,” he said.
He cain’t talk! He ain’t ole enough.
“Yes, I am,” J. C. answered. “Not true about ole an’ young. We’re the same.”
Myra’s eyes rolled in disbelief. “I ain’t crazy!”
“No, you ain’t. You see somethin’ ’cause you’re the mother. You can see me because of that. Poppa an’ Jeddie an’ Rob, they’ve gone on. Not important how or why, just that they’re goin’ along. But I be here for you; then I’ll go along, too. After, you’ll know what’s real about me.”
“What’s real is we ain’t dead. You’ll have us with you all the time, an’ you don’t need to mourn no more.”
J. C.’s presence echoed with sermons she had been heard in the Cave Depot church. She stared into the toddler’s eyes, blue and bright and intelligent.
“What am I to do, son?” she asked.
“Give up the idea I’m goin’. Give up carryin’ death. You seen me. You’re knowin’ I ain’t dead, an’ if you’re hangin’ onto somebody’s been hurt, you cain’t be whole.”
Tears came to Myra’s eyes. “An’ all that sufferin’? There was sufferin’! There was!”
“If you carry it with you. I ain’t askin’ you to drop it. I’m askin’ you to see with new eyes.”
Myra wiped her tears and asked, “Can I hug you?”
“What you hug is what you remember. I’m not here, but I’m with you still. That’s the secret. Some people say memory’s all. Maybe it helps ’em, but what’s real is more.”
J. C. turned and walked away.