Every time the bells ring, I know she is trying to speak to me. Jaime. How she does it, I haven’t been able to figure out yet. Maybe it’s her ghost. Maybe it’s a supernatural breeze she sends down from heaven – or wherever the hell she is. For all I know she’s in her own corporeal flesh, running through the garden and ringing the bells. It’s not as if my blind old eyes would be able to tell. However she does it, I know it is Jaime.
“What is it, Sweetheart?” I call into the darkness that doesn’t go away with the sunrise anymore. “I know you’re there.”
I smile and wait for her to speak. I listen, but all I hear is an owl hooting in the trees and my own heart lub dub-ing irregularly in my chest.
Don’t think I don’t know what I’m listening for either. I remember her voice well, like a voicemail in my mind that I never deleted. It was like a lullaby, the faint remnant of an accent cropping up with the occasional word as an homage to her Irish heritage.
Jaime stays quiet, so I continue making my way to the garden. I hold the line of fencing wire in my left hand, shaking it gently with every step. The bells on the line jingle as I go along, a path of sound illuminating my way.
Jaime came up with the idea.
“We’ll buy a bunch of little bells,” she said. I still had some sight left at that time, but the macular degeneration was getting worse, and my stubborn insistence to continue smoking my daily half-pack of Marlboros wasn’t helping. “We’ll string them all around the property, and you’ll be able to get around by ringing the bells.” She smiled as she said it, and it was beautiful. I remember it clearly, because it was one of the last smiles I remember before the world became a permanent shadow.
“And it’s not just for you,” my wife said, protecting the pride I didn’t even know I had. “I’ll need to use them, too, so I don’t trip when I’m walking in at night.” Except with Jaime it sounded like “walkin’ in at noight” and I fell in love all over again.
I let go of the line and the ringing stops. I know I’ve made it to the garden because we hung smaller bells around the perimeter – the higher pitch tells me to stop and turn to the right. I reach out and feel my tomatoes. Almost ripe. They fit nicely in the palm of my hand and have just the right amount of give when I squeeze. Jaime always said I had a green thumb. But it was never as green as her eyes.
It’s not like God took her too early – she was seventy-nine and we had been married for fifty-six years – but I still hated Him for a while. I still do sometimes. She has been gone three years this week. Who would be surprised that I’m angry today? I need to direct these emotions at someone.
I pick two tomatoes and place them in my bag. One would probably be enough to satisfy an old man’s appetite, but I guess I just got used to cooking for two.
As I fiddle with the veggies – and I swear on my life that I did not touch that line of fencing wire! – the bells rang again. Just a soft jingle in the night. I perked my head up like a deer that hears a twig snap.
“Jaime? It’s okay, I can hear you. Go on, talk to me, Honey.”
She doesn’t. I’m not sure what she is worried about. She gets my attentions with the bells, but then she is too shy to speak. But shy isn’t the right word – it never was with Jaime.
“It’s the wind, Mr. Walker,” said Tom the check-out boy at the grocery store in town. I had to tell someone. It was like I was a tomato and a worm was burrowing inside me. I had to get it out, and Tom seemed like a nice kid. “Just the wind.” I couldn’t see them, but I know his eyes were full of pity.
I stand in my garden, straining to hear that sweet lilting voice whispering to me. The seconds turn into minutes. Silence.
After about an hour or so, I shiver and realize how chilly the night had become. I grab the line and follow the bells back into the house.
The evening proceeds as usual – usual meaning the same as every evening for the last three years. I eat the dinner I made for two, listen to an audiobook for a couple hours (right now I’m listening to Walden, and I struggle to relate to what this guy finds so fabulous about being alone), then call it a night.
My joints creak as I climb into the queen bed I once shared with my wife. I still keep to the left side, hoping that maybe this is all a dream and she will crawl in next to me like the old days – the young days, I think they should be called.
I always sleep with my window open, even in the winter, so that I can listen to the bells. So I can listen to Jaime, whatever she is trying to tell me.
Maybe it’s a warning, her trying to pass on some supernatural knowledge of a terrible fate to come, but I don’t think so. Jaime was more of an ignorance-is-bliss type. Perhaps it’s just her telling me that she loves me one last time. I like to think that’s it.
The bells start again just as I’m about to drift to sleep. I try to pick up on any pattern to the ringing – Morse code, perhaps? – but there doesn’t seem to be any particular rhythm. The jingling is as random as the breeze.
But I can’t believe that. What would be the point of getting out of bed every morning? It’s Jaime. She is trying to speak to me, and I am going to spend every day from now until we meet again trying to figure out what she is saying.
I close my eyes. What I see doesn’t change. I listen to the bells. Like a lullaby, they sing me to sleep.
Markus Eckstein lives in Albuquerque, NM, where he is studying medicine. He enjoys drinking coffee and playing board games with his wife. His previous work has appeared in Schlock! and Liquid Imagination.