I went back to the shoe shop the very next night, at the same time as the night before when I'd witnessed Aunt Clara flying in her wheelchair, but this time she wasn't there. No wooshing sound, no elegant gliding in the half-light around the room. All I saw was the room with its myriad of antiques and collectibles, including Aunt Clara's wheelchair, just sitting there. I swallowed hard, gritted my teeth, and rounded the corner. In the incredible silence I slowly walked to the far end of the showroom. As I made my way to where the wheelchair sat on display, my mind was spinning around the vision I'd had the night before. The gentle gliding of the chair and the radiance on Aunt Clara's face. I did not want to think that it might've been a figment of my imagination. It was too real. Too beautiful. Still, I couldn't help doubting my own eyes. It was also too fantastic. My mind still spinning and my heart pounding, I reached out and touched the photograph of Aunt Clara which hangs on the wall near the wheelchair. In the photo she is sitting in her chair in front of the telephone switchboard. She is wearing headphones and a small mouth piece. She is plugging a wire into one of the small holes on the switchboard. I think the photograph was taken in the nineteen twenties or early thirties. I brushed the picture with my fingers and then walked over to a bench on the other side of the room and sat down. I was simply gazing at the wheelchair and the many pictures of Aunt Clara on the wall behind it. In the dimness of the room there, I suddenly felt overwhelmed with exhilaration. At the same time a wave of fear washed over me.
I needed a drink of water. I needed it badly and was just about to make my way to the other end of the room to the water cooler when there was a clanging sound over by the wheelchair. Clanging? No. I realized as the sound continued, that it was a ring. The ring of a telephone. "Brrrring, brrrring, brrrring, brrrring..." I don't know how many times it rang before I got up from the bench and leaped across the room towards my collection of telephones. I picked up the receiver on the nearest phone and put it to my ear, but the ringing continued, and I hung the receiver back on the cradle and reached for another one, an even older phone. This was the one which had sat beside the couch in Aunt Clara's living room. Her personal phone. As soon as I picked up the receiver the ringing stopped. I raised it to my ear and reached out with my other hand to the wheelchair, to steady myself. I felt dizzy and weak. Then a voice, amid the static said,
"Hello...hello, Clara? Clara, is that you? Hello..."
I dropped the receiver and it fell with a dull thud to the floor. I bent down quickly, shaking, and grabbed the thing. I held it an arms-length away, staring at it. I was breathing hard now, but I could still hear the voice, whoever it was,
"Hello? Hello? Clara?"
I sat it on its cradle and lowered myself to the floor and rested my body against the wheelchair. I wanted to run but I couldn't. I could only sit there and breathe, heavily. Actually, I was gasping. Had that old phone actually rang? Had I heard the voice on the other end? Was it real? Had I lost my mind? I'd had dreams about Aunt Clara many times in my life. I was ten years old when she died so I remember her well. When I was five or six, I remember standing on the footrest of the wheelchair and Aunt Clara riding me all around the house. Sometimes we would ride out onto the large porch. Then I would sit in the porch swing and watch as Aunt Clara deftly turned the wooden cranks just so, and would slowly begin to spin in place, the small swivel wheel in back making this possible. Very difficult, but possible for someone like my Aunt Clara. I would clap my hands and slap my knees wildly, as she spun around and around laughing and laughing. Then she would bring the wheelchair to a stop, facing me. She would give a big smile and open her arms wide, saying, almost singing, "Davey, Davey, come give me a hug," and I would jump down from the swing and run to her and she would wrap her arms around me, whispering, "Davey, Davey, Davey."
Later on, after she's passed away, I began having dreams about her. Not bad or unpleasant dreams, just dreams. The only thing that might be a little unusual about them is that she's walking. Or rather standing, usually by her kitchen sink or stove, but never in a wheelchair. Also I don't remember her even speaking in my dreams.
But now, I wasn't dreaming. I was sitting on the floor of the shoe shop, leaning against the wheelchair, remembering. I was breathing normal now and my heart had calmed down and I was actually wishing, hoping, that the phone, her phone, would ring again. I wanted to know who it was. Who was trying to call Aunt Clara? Then, again, I began to question my own eyes. I had seen her flying the night before. I doubted my own ears and yet I had heard, just minutes before, the ringing of the phone. I had heard the man's voice. Hadn't I?
Then, indeed, that phone rang. Again. Not believing, but knowing it was real, I swallowed hard and began to crawl across the floor. I reached the phone and picked it up on the tenth ring. I put the receiver to my ear. Static. Then a distant, muffled voice.
"Hello, Clara? Clara? Hello? It's Don, your brother Don. Hello?"
I took a short breath and spoke into the receiver. "Hello....who is this?"
The voice, Don's, said, "I can't hear you, speak louder. Clara?"
I said, much louder now, "Hello, who is this? Who are you?"
"It's Don, Don LeMaster. Clara LeMaster's brother! Who are you?!"
I said, "This is David, Aunt Clara's great nephew, but...Aunt Clara's...dead. She's been dead for more than forty years..." It felt strange, even awkward, nearly shouting these words.
Don said, "Hell, I know she's dead! I'm dead! Aren't you?!!" Static. Then Don, again. "Aren't YOU??" Static. My own silence.
Then I said, too softly, "No, I'm not...I think..."
Then Don said, "Did you say...you are NOT...dead?!"
Louder now, I replied, "No, I am not dead."
Uncle Don answered, "Well...alright then, David...goodbye. Goodbye, David."
Static. I said nothing else and hung the receiver in its cradle, my heart telling me this conversation was over. My heart was also telling me I was not dead. Crazy maybe, but not dead.
(To Be Continued)