Life After Death
“Mommy, where do we go when we die?”
And there it was, the question Emeline has been dreading to answer aside from the birds and the bees.
How does an atheist answer this question? Does she tell her child there is nothing after death, that we all just turn to dust six feet under and that’s that? Emeline takes a deep pause. She clears her throat repeatedly and mumbles “um” as she scrambles for an answer.
She eyes the door, maybe she could make a run for it. She pushes the thought from her mind, puts on her best fake smile and begins.
“Well honey, you see-” she says as she brushes the hair from the little one’s face, “we don’t really go anywhere.”
The little boy’s face scrunches at the response.
“You mean we just stay here?”
Emeline realizes she’s been vague, but maybe vague was the answer to her problems. Maybe she could “vague” her way out of this question.
“Yeah, kind of.”
The little boy’s eyes light up as he sits up straight in his bed.
“Does that mean daddy is still here?”
Emeline’s breath ceases momentarily. Suddenly the purpose for the question makes more sense. Her husband had died two years prior in an accident. He was in critical condition at the hospital before he passed. It was the first and last time Emeline prayed.
Emeline’s tone becomes more stern.
“No sweetie. Daddy’s not here anymore, you know that.”
Oddly, the light in the boy’s eyes grows brighter.
“But I’ve seen him, and you just said we stay here when we die. So, I know I’m not seeing things.”
A rumbling begins in Emeline’s stomach. She takes a deep breath, tightly clenches her teeth and says, “Sweetie, you know that’s impossible. Daddy is gone, and he’s never coming back.”
The boy is deflated. Emeline realizes she may have come off a bit too harsh.
“No,” he screams, “you’re lying. Daddy is still here. I’ve seen him!”
“Honey, I need you to calm down. Don’t you speak to me like that-”
“You’re lying, you’re lying,” he says over and over again.
“Sweetie-” Emeline tries to hold him, but he pushes her off.
“He’s still here,” he shouts.
Emeline sighs defeatedly. “Fine!” she screams, “Fine, fine I believe you, just please settle down.”
The little boy stops, breathing heavily. “You do?”
“Yes” Emeline says, “yes, I believe you.” Emeline realizes she has to let him keep his imagination. He’s far too young for her truth, and if “seeing” his dad gives him comfort and let’s him cope, then what kind of mother is she to take that away?
“Good because daddy said you had to believe so I could tell you.”
Emeline’s face is befuddled, but she plays along.
“Tell me what?”
The little boy yawns. “He told me to tell you to open the top drawer of the corner cabinet in his study. He said you’ll find a box in there with a note attached. He said he’d been meaning to give it to you, but never got the chance.”
Emeline’s once blush cheeks fade into a shade of white paler than a ghost. Her throat clogs as she is at a loss for words.
“I-” she begins to say, but the little boy is fast asleep.
Emeline regains her composure. Confused, she turns off the lights in the bedroom, closes the door behind her and takes a moment outside of her son’s room. “He’s confused,” she says, “it’s just his imagination.”
Emeline attempts to brush off the bizarre conversation with her son as she walks away only to pass the study. She pauses and stands in front of the door. She hasn’t entered since her husband’s death. Emeline’s pulse is racing, her palms sweating profusely, she takes a deep breath and reaches for the handle. Her hand rests on the handle for a beat as she musters up the courage to open the door. “This is ridiculous,” she finally says, “it’s all in his head and this will prove it.” With one turn she enters.
The study is dusty but everything is as her husband left it. Emeline storms towards the cabinet in the corner and opens the top drawer as instructed. Other than a few envelopes there was nothing. Emeline is somewhat dejected, but reassured that it is all in her son’s head.
As she is about to close the drawer, she notices the board in the drawer is lopsided. Emeline removes the envelopes from the drawer and pushes further on the lopsided end. The board pops open and reveals a false bottom with a single box within it.
Emeline gulps at the reveal. Suddenly the room is spinning and the walls are closing in.
“Breathe,” she tells herself, “he must have seen David putting the box in the drawer. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Emeline deeply sighs and slowly reaches for the box and sees a note attached.
“To my dear Emeline, I am a man of my word. I’m only sorry it took so long and wish I could give you even more. I love you forever. David.”
Emeline brushes her fingers across the ink on the paper as though for a brief moment she has her husband back.
A single tear strolls down Emeline’s face as she opens the box. Emeline begins sobbing uncontrollably as she stares at an emerald cut diamond ring, the ring David had promised Emeline when he first proposed with a ten dollar silver band. She takes the ring from the box and places it atop the rusty silver band on her ring finger. She laughs nervously, not knowing what to believe.
“Mommy?” she hears her son’s voice behind her, “are you crying?”
She quickly wipes her tears and turns to face her son. “No baby, mommy’s okay,” she says.
He sees the box in her hand. “You found it!” he shouts excitedly, “see, I told you.”
Emeline smiles. “You were right. Come on let’s go back to bed.”
Emeline takes her son’s hand as they head back to the bedroom, and she tucks him in.
“Mommy, does heaven exist?” he asks.
Emeline looks down on her son’s pure face. “You know what sweetie, I don’t know, but I know you exist, and if there is a heaven, you’re it for me.”
The little boy smiles, temporarily satisfied by his mother’s answer.
Whether heaven exists, or there’s life after death, or if Emeline’s husband really did show himself to their son doesn’t matter to Emeline because in this moment she has everything she needs right on earth.
She kisses her son’s forehead and closes the door behind her. She looks at the rings on her finger and smiles as she makes her way to her bedroom.
Some things are better left unknown.