Audrey insisted on keeping the room dark. “You’re complaining about headaches, Mike. Keeping the lights in the room off and the light coming in from outside out will help.” She turned off the bedside lamp on my side and flipped the switch for the overhead light. Next, she shut the bedroom blinds and pulled the drapes. “There,” she said, slapping her hands together like she was shaking off some dust, which, as far as I knew, was exactly what she was doing. It was hard to tell. I was, frankly, pretty much out of it.

The bedroom was transformed into twilight. Audrey had a temper and an attitude, and I’d learned over the five years of our marriage that neither were anything to be trifled with. “That’s better,” I muttered through cracked lips just to keep the peace. Although I have to say the sudden gloom was a little depressing. I kind of missed the sunlight.

“Good,” She smiled, as she busied herself puttering around the room. “I want to do everything I can to help you get better.” She reached for the pillow next to me and punched it to fluff it up with the vigor of a prize fighter going for the knockout punch. “You’re all I’ve got, you know. I want you to get better.”

My mouth felt like the desert. I wetted my lips and croaked, “I know. And I love you for taking care of me.”

Just talking that much was exhausting. What was wrong with me? I’d been tested recently for COVID, so that wasn’t it. I had no fever, but I was really nauseous. And weak. Nothing tasted right. Even my English Breakfast tea was off.

I’d been confined to bed for what, two or three days now? Everything hurt. Even my eyes. No television, no smartphone, no tablet, no nothing; just lying in bed, feeling not only like crap, but, that, without a doubt, I was dying.

My only companion was my orb: my hand-blown paperweight the size of a baseball that sat beside me on a lighted base and served as a sort of nightlight. I’d purchased it on my trip to Scotland five years ago. It was clear glass with a cascading wave made of blues and purples and greens. It even had bubbles in it. Its name was Surf and I bought it as a treat to myself on a trip I’d taken to forget the loss of my wife Kim and eight-year-old daughter Millie, both of whom had been killed when our car was smashed into by a drunk driver on I-94 in Minneapolis. We had been going home from an outing at the Como Park Zoo, a place I’ve never been back to since.

I survived. Big deal. Feeling I had nothing to live for, shortly after the accident, I took the trip to Scotland, home of my ancestors on my mom’s side, to help heal the wounds and deal with the loss of my family. It didn’t help. I found Surf in a quaint little gift shop in Edinburgh and something about the artistic piece of glass talked to me, reminding me of a paperweight my beloved grandmother used to have. Earlier that day, I’d been seriously contemplating ending it all. But when I saw Surf, the sight of that beautiful glass blown orb cheered me up enormously. I think I might even have smiled.

I paid for it and went across the street to the Rock Steady pub to celebrate. The bartender was a pretty woman with short auburn hair who, when I showed her Surf, said, “That’s one bitchin’ piece of glass,” which made me laugh out loud for the first time in a long time.

Between her serving the increasingly raucous crowd and chatting with me, I found out her name was Audrey. She was 33, the same age as me, and had lived in Edinburgh her entire life. We went out that night and got on really well. She told me she’d always wanted to come to America, so when it came time for me to fly home to Minneapolis, I asked her to come with. She said yes and we’ve been together ever since.

In the murky darkness of the bedroom, Audrey leaned over me and kissed my forehead. “How are you doing?”

I must have dozed off. I pried open my sleep-encrusted eyes and looked at her. In the last five years, she’d grown out her hair so it was now shoulder length, which I liked. She had blue eyes, full lips, and a figure that kept my motor running, if you know what I mean. Except for now. Now I just felt like I’d rather be dead than endure any more pain and nausea. I wetted my cracked lips and muttered, “I don’t feel too good.” I’d have said more but just those few words took all my strength.

“Well, frankly, you really don’t look too good,” she said, feeling my forehead. “Not good at all.”

On that cheerful note, I closed my eyes and tried to ignore my heaving guts. In the background, I heard Audrey say, “You just rest. I’ll be back in a while to check up on you.”

Thanks, I might have said. I don’t know. All I know is when I awoke, the room was dark. “Dark as night,” as they say. Or a coffin. Only my orb Surf on its lighted base was there to keep me company. Oh, yeah, and there was one other person. My daughter was there. The one that had died in the car accident? The one I’d buried five years ago?  Millie. She was there. Standing right next to the bed, dressed in one of her favorite outfits; a pink T-shirt with a unicorn on it, dark purple tights with stars and rainbows on them and red high-top tennis shoes. She had her light brown hair braided into two pigtails and a smattering of freckles across her cheeks. She looked like a dream come true.

I was stunned. She had to have been a hallucination. I blinked my eyes rapidly to make the image go away. But it didn’t. The experience would have been weird and unsettling if it hadn’t been so wonderful to see her.

I opened my parched mouth to speak, but before I could say anything, she beat me to it. “Hi, Daddy,” she said, bending down and hugging me tight. “I’ve missed you so much.” Her words came out in a torrent. “I’m so sorry you aren’t feeling well. I want you to get better so me and you can go outside and play. Can we do that? I’ve missed playing with you. Please, please, please?”

It felt great to hug her. I smiled, feeling my lips crack, but didn’t care. “Oh, sweetheart, it’s good to see you, too. And, yes, I want to go outside and play. Maybe when I’m feeling better, we can get a kite and fly it or something.” I said all of that before something started troubling me. “What a minute, honey. Is that really you?” I asked, holding her at arm’s length and looking closely. Was I talking to a dead person? She seemed so real.

She smiled, reached out and took my hand. “Oh, Daddy, you are so funny. Of course it’s me. Who else would it be?”

Who else, indeed?

Well, whatever was going on, I didn’t care. I told her what was in my heart. “It’s great to see you, Millie,” I said, happy to play along. “How have you been?”

She threw her arms around my neck, “I’ve missed you so much.”

Tears formed in my eyes. “Oh, sweetheart, I’ve missed you, too.”

After a few minutes, Millie sat down on the bed next to me and pointed to Surf. The lit base for my orb was the only light in the room. “What’s that, Daddy? It’s so pretty.”

“It’s a glass paperweight,” I told her. “I bought it on a trip I took to Scotland.”

A puzzled look crossed her face, “Scotland?”

“Yes. It’s across the ocean. I went there after…” I was going to say “after the accident” but suddenly didn’t want to get into all that. Instead, I picked up the orb and gave it to her to hold. “Here, take a look. It’s called Surf. Isn’t it cool?”

There was enough light shining from the base so Millie could see it clearly. “It’s so pretty! I love it.”

She held Surf in her lap as we sat chatting and reminiscing. She had no problem talking about the day of the crash. “I loved going to the zoo and seeing the orangutan,” she said, without a hint of irony, “He was so slow,” she said, giggling drawing out the words “so” and “slow.”

I laughed with her. It felt good.

I had a memory of my own. “Remember when we went hiking along the north shore? We found those stones and polished them in the rock tumbler? That was fun.”

Millie’s eyes sparkled at the memory. “I remember. They were agates. With the lines in them? They were really pretty.” She held up the orb and smiled. “Like Surf.”

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to spend time with my daughter. I hadn’t realized how lonely for her I really had been, but I guess I’d done a good job stuffing those feelings deep down inside. Now they were starting to come out. It felt wonderful to be sharing past experiences and reliving being with her again.

I have no idea how long she was with me. As bad as I felt, all my pain and nausea took a back seat to talking with Millie and spending time with her.

She was telling me about how much fun she’d had at her eighth birthday party when there was a sound in the hall outside the bedroom door. Immediately, Millie stood up, looked at me wide-eyed, and said, “I’d better go.”

She hugged me and set Surf on the lighted stand, rubbing its smooth surface lovingly one last time before turning to me, “Okay. Bye, Daddy. It was great to see you again.” A tear ran down her face.

I wiped the tear from her cheek and one from mine as well. “Hold on a minute.” I picked up Surf and gave it to her. “Here, sweetheart. You take this. I want you to have it.”
Her eyes brightened at she took the orb and clutched it to her chest. “Really? It’s yours and it’s so pretty. I wouldn’t want to…”

“No discussion,” I said, smiling and interrupting whatever argument she was mounting, “I want you to have it.”

Then the bedroom door burst open. Audrey rushed into the room and turned on the overhead light, illuminating everything like an airport landing field at night. I shielded my eyes with my hand and blinked rapidly while my eyes adjusted. I quickly scanned the room. Millie was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t know if I was happy or sad.

Audrey stood in the middle of the room twisting back and forth looking around, “What’s going on in here? I thought I heard voices.”

I fought against the harsh glare of the light and said, “Nothing’s going on. I was just resting.”

Audrey looked hard at me. I looked back at her with what I hoped was a noncommittal look. “Well then.” She brushed my hair off my forehead. “That’s okay. Resting is good.” She looked at the nightstand. “Hey, where’s that paperweight thing?”

I had a sneaking suspicion I shouldn’t tell her about Millie. “I don’t know. Maybe it fell on the floor and rolled under the bed,” I suggested.

“Hm. Well, I’m too tired to look for it now,” Audrey said. “Plus, those rechargeable cadmium batteries aren’t cheap.” She turned the base off and removed the batteries. “It’ll save us some money.” She looked around the room again. Was she suspicious about Millie being there? Maybe, but she didn’t show it. Instead, she said, “But you’re probably thirsty. I’ll bring you some tea. How’s that sound?”

“How about a bowl of lentil soup, too? That sounds really good.”

“How about if I take care of you and you take care of getting better?” she said, grinning, showing teeth that suddenly looked like fangs. And was that a malevolent look I saw in her eyes? I blinked rapidly to make it go away. But it didn’t.

I decided not to push it. “Okay. Whatever you say.”
“That’s good. You listen to me. I’ll get you fixed up in no time. For now, rest. I’ll be back in a bit with your tea.” Then she left, flipping the light switch off on her way out, plunging the room into darkness.

Unable to see anything now that Surf’s base had been taken, I lay there on my back in my room as dark as the inside of a cave trying to ignore the waves of pain and unrelenting nausea coursing through my body. I tried to convince myself that I’d talked to my daughter Millie. But really, there was no way. Right? She and Kim were dead and gone. I’d been to the funeral and afterwards to their gravesite in Lakewood Cemetery every week since. For five years. Five long years. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that Millie had been sitting right next to me on the bed talking with me like in the old times. I couldn’t be making it all up. Right?

One thing was for certain, though: I was happy I’d given her Surf even though the room was now completely dark. Seeing the smile on her face made it all worthwhile.

I closed my eyes and must have dozed. When I awoke, it wasn’t to a sound; the room was so quiet you could hear the proverbial pin drop. But there was a scent in the air, a scent I recognized; sandalwood and sage. It was a scent Kim used to wear.

I snapped my eyes open and sat up, “Kim?” I asked. “Kim? Is that you?”

Then, unexpectedly, out of the darkness came a voice. It was the voice I’d missed for five long years. A voice as sweet and pure as honey and soft as the warmest summer day.

“Mike. Hi. It’s me, Kim. How are you, dear?”

Hesitantly, I whispered, “Kim?”

“It is, dear. It’s me. Kim. I’ve come to see you. Just like Millie did.”

Oh. My. God. What was going on?

Well, for starters, it was Kim. There was no doubt about it. I watched as she opened the drapes and shades on one of the windows, letting some ambient light in. “It’ll make it easier for us to talk,” she said, smiling at me. It was the smile I remembered so well, bright and cheerful. Then she came over and sat on the bed. She took my hand, kissed my lips lightly, and said, “Millie told me you weren’t feeling too well.”

To say I was completely blown away was putting it mildly. If I’d have been of the right predisposition, I might have had a heart attack right then and there, I was so shocked. But I rallied. After all, I’d just talked to my daughter. Why not talk to my dead wife, too?

But she couldn’t be dead. She was right here. It had to be the real Kim. I could just feel it; feel her presence. It was her, all right, and that feeling of having the love of my life with me was the best I’d felt in years.

And she was, too, the love of my life. I knew that now. Just seeing my dear wife brought it all back, all those unique and special memories only two people truly in love can have. How we first met, our first date, the first time we’d made love, our wedding, Millie being born. Our ten years together that had been the happiest times of my life. Then the five years since she and Millie had died that had been the worst years of my life. Even with Audrey.


As Kim and I talked I couldn’t get the image of Audrey out of my mind. And it wasn’t a very good image either.

Audrey was always angry, always yelling about this or that. She was never happy or satisfied with anything I did. Sometimes I wondered why she even stayed with me. But she did.

And now, so did Kim. We sat talking and reminiscing and it felt wonderful to be together. For both of us. I guess time just slipped on by, and I forget that Audrey was coming back with my tea.

She must have been listening for a while at the door, because all of a sudden, she burst into the bedroom, took one look at Kim, and screamed, “You bitch!” Then she threw the cup and saucer at her and attacked, fingernails clawing for Kim’s eyes.

Kim stood her ground and slapped Audrey across the face, thwarting her. Then the two of them fell to the floor fighting and kicking and screaming.

“Stop it,” I yelled, and swung my legs over the side of the bed to intervene. It was a bad idea. I was so weak, I felt myself beginning to lose consciousness. “Quit fighting, you two,” I mumbled as I fell to the floor. The last thing I remember was Audrey kneeling on Kim with her hands around her throat, strangling her.

Then I passed out.


In the end, who really knows what happened? But here are the facts: fact number one is that Audrey is no longer with us. She was killed soon after I was visited by Millie and Kim in a car accident on I-94 near County Road 48 when a drunk driver plowed into her, just like what had happened to me and my family five years earlier. When the police came to give me the news, and I didn’t come to the door, they checked with my next-door neighbor, who told them as far as she knew, I was home, even though she hadn’t seen me for three or four days. Acting on instinct, they’d broken in and found me near death. I’ve got officers Bentley and Marcovitz to thank for the rest of my life.

Fact number two: I’m in North Memorial Hospital. I’ve been here a week and I’m recovering from cadmium poisoning. Yeah, Audrey had been slowly poisoning me to death. The doctor figures it’s been going on for the last six months or so. She’d been putting it in my tea. I guess I was the fourth guy she’d tried to get rid of that way. Wow.

Fact number three: I will make a full recovery. I’ll be able to go home in about a week and resume my normal life. Obviously, I’m looking forward to it.

And here’s the last fact: I’ve got Surf back. Yep. Remember I’d given my treasured orb to Millie? Well, in the hospital, the night after I’d regained consciousness, I awoke to the scent of sandalwood and sage in the air. I also thought I heard someone giggle. I looked around in the dimly-lit room but saw no one, just your normal hospital stuff. Then I saw it. Displayed prominently on the table next to my bed in all of its glory was my beautiful orb. It was even on a base just like before. I reached over and turned the switch on and Surf lit up. It was beautiful.

I lay back and gazed at my orb. I swear I saw Millie in there riding that wave. And Kim was there, too. They both were waving at me. I waved back. It felt good for us all to be together again. It still does. And I have a feeling we’ll be together for a long, long time. I guess some things are just meant to be.