Brandon stretched slowly and sighed. He’d thought it was supposed to get easier after you died, but he’d found out for himself that death wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Where were the angels with the harps? Where was the billowy white cloud that had his name on it?
He was pretty sure he hadn’t landed in – you know – hell, which was a plus. There weren’t any red devils with pitchforks, and it wasn’t any hotter than a Georgia summer. Anyway, he couldn’t think of anything truly bad he’d done in the thirty-four years he’d spent on earth that would have landed him in – you know – hell.
How long had he been here now? It was difficult for him to keep track. The motorcycle accident had happened in the late summer and it was now – he squinted to peer through the mist that seemed to be getting deeper with each passing day – spring. He could smell the honeysuckle that climbed over his sister’s back fence. It was definitely spring. Must be about six months then.
Six months of watching the people he’d left behind. He scratched his chin and considered that for a moment. Maybe he was in – you know – hell, after all. His parents had never gotten over the horror of burying their only son. They’d aged a lot in the last six months. His sister tried to keep it together for her daughter and for their parents. His death had hit her like a ton of bricks, but she refused to show it. She hadn’t even cried at his funeral.
It wasn’t fair that just when he’d decided to settle down and grow up, he’d had that stupid accident that had ended it all. He’d even gotten a puppy; he’d needed something to care about and someone who needed him. The little guy had been perfect for him. It hadn’t worked out the way he had planned it though.
He wished now that he hadn’t asked his sister to take care of the dog. Melissa had promised him she would as he gasped his last breaths, but he could see now that the puppy was just one more chore for her. She kept it in the backyard and fed it, but that was all. She couldn’t even stand to look at the poor thing. The dog was a tangible reminder that her brother was dead. His puppy was neglected and lonely. His beloved sister was an emotional wreck. She wouldn’t be able to heal until she came to terms with the fact that he was dead. Brandon felt their pain writhing inside him and wished for the thousandth time that there was something he could do to help them both. Being dead was horribly inconvenient.
He sat next to the puppy for a while, and then got up and went into his sister’s house. He blinked in surprise to find it empty. There wasn’t a stick of furniture left in the entire house. Melissa had moved out? When had that happened? And why was his puppy still in the backyard of this abandoned house?
He focused on his sister, and found her settling into a house on the other side of town. She was taking glasses out of a moving carton and putting them in the dishwasher. She had music playing, but she wasn’t singing along. Her every movement was deliberate as she simply plodded through the motions of living.
Melissa started the dishwasher and then sighed deeply. There was only one thing left to move out of the other house, and she couldn’t put it off anymore. She grabbed her car keys and got into the car. Lily, her10-year-old daughter, jumped into the passenger seat without saying a word. She knew where her mom was headed, and she knew her mom would need her. Brandon touched his young niece on the shoulder and smiled when she unconsciously put her hand over his. She was sensitive, a special girl.
Brandon headed back to the dog; he had an idea. He had noticed a woman walking past his sister’s house every afternoon. She smiled wistfully at her neighbors who were walking their dogs, but she didn’t have one of her own. He saw her coming up the hill today, and hoped that she was “the one”. With a wave of his hand, he opened a small hole under the fence. The puppy crawled under the fence and stood in the front yard. Waiting.
“Hey there, little one,” the woman cooed when she saw the dog. She bent down to see if he had on a collar, and he jumped up into her arms. “mmm…no tags.” Brandon smiled. She didn’t seem to mind that the puppy was filthy and covered with fleas. She held him close and kept moving up the street. A neighbor, shaking her head in disgust, let her know that Melissa had moved out and had obviously left the dog behind. The woman headed home, his puppy cuddled in her arms. Brandon was a sucker for happy endings.
Lily ran into the backyard. She saw the small hole under the fence and wasn’t surprised to find the dog gone. Melissa sat on the front steps, her hands shaking. The only thing Brandon had asked her to do was to take care of his dog, and now she’d lost him. Lily knocked on the door of the house next door and was told about the woman who’d taken Uncle Brandon’s dog home with her.
“I know where the dog is, Mom,” Lily said, coming back to sit next to her mom.
Melissa jumped to her feet. “Let’s go get him, then.” She was incredibly relieved.
“I don’t think we should,” Lily answered thoughtfully. Brandon wished he could hug her. “I think we should let the lady who found him and took him home keep him.”
“I can’t do that, Lily! I promised Uncle Brandon that I’d take care of his dog.”
“Maybe you can take better care of Uncle Brandon’s dog by finding him a good home, Mom. You can’t even look at him without getting sad. I bet the lady who took him home with her loves him already.”
Melissa burst into tears for the first time since her brother had died and hugged her daughter close. “How did you get to be so smart? Do you really think Uncle Brandon would approve?”
Brandon put his arms around his sister and niece. He was satisfied that Melissa was going to be OK now. He didn’t know how he knew it, he just did.
Just as he knew that he was about to find out what being dead was really like.