A short story from my book Old Bones.
THE COFFEEHOUSE WINDOW Larry sat beside reminded him of sitting in his car at the carwash. Except, this wasn’t Get Wet Express. This was another rainy day in Ridgewood, at Mabel’s, on Monday, around eight-thirty in the morning, and he sat across his sister Elaine, her lined face drawn up in a smile for a moment before her naked lips pursed and she blew gently at the steam rising from her white cup. Her blue eyes twinkled despite the fact that she had lost her husband a week ago.
“Damn weather,” Larry said. He clutched his cup next to his mouth and felt the heat warm his hands and face. It did not, however, go any farther. He looked at the coffee cup next to Elaine and closed his eyes.
“We’re moving,” Elaine said.
Larry opened his eyes. Elaine grinned at him.
“Stan and I found a place in Tampa. In Florida. I hear the weather is a lot nicer there.”
“Look, Elaine,” Larry said. He felt at odds to have to tell his sister that she needed to see a doctor. She had always been the healthy one in the family. “I need you to listen to me—”
“Although I’m told they get a lot of rain in the winter. But it—”
“It beats the snow,” she said happily, “and I’m getting too old for these terrible winters here.” She glanced at the empty seat next to her. Then she signaled at the waitress behind the counter near the front door.
“We need more sugar,” she said to the teenage girl who left the counter and approached their table.
The girl, whose white blouse and red skirt seemed too large on her short and thin frame, grabbed a sugar container from the table behind Larry and brought it to Elaine with a smile.
“Thank you, honey.” Elaine grinned.
“Can I get you anything else?”
“No. Thank you.”
Larry looked up at curious brown eyes.
“Sir?” the girl said.
“Uh, no, I’m good. Thanks.”
The waitress scurried back to her counter, although Larry and Elaine were the only customers in the place.
Elaine sat the sugar container next to the full coffee cup next to her. Then, “You’re welcome, dear,” she said before returning her attention to Larry.
“You were saying?” she asked.
Larry sipped at his coffee before he said, “He’s dead.”
Elaine stopped smiling. “Who’s dead?”
“Stan. He died of cancer ten days ago.”
Larry put down his coffee cup and sat back. “If you know, then why do you pretend he’s alive?”
Elaine smiled. “I would never pretend that he’s alive like you and I are. Stan is a Spirit. He’s here right now.”
Larry looked at the empty spot next to his sister.
“He’s just your imagination, Sis,” he said.
Elaine grinned and leaned forward. “I’m not crazy.”
“You’re acting like you are.”
The happiness weakened on Elaine’s face.
“Look,” Larry said, “I’m worried. You’ve been pretending since the day he died that you can see Stan. Hell, you even pretend to talk to him.”
“And now you’re talking about you and Stan moving.” Larry leaned forward. “Look around you, Sis. There is no Stan.”
Elaine kept her gaze fixed on Larry. Her eyes glistened with tears but she did not cry. Instead, she said, “No, you look around. I see things differently than you do, Larry. I see a world where the dead go on living.”
“Look, have you talked to Dr. Thompson about this?”
“I’m not crazy. You need to accept that.” Elaine finished her coffee in three quick swallows. “Just because you believe something a certain way doesn’t make it so.” She stood and reached for her umbrella propped against the table.
“I wasn’t trying to offend you,” Larry said, standing and taking her into his arms.
“I love you, little brother,” Elaine said, returning the hug. “And I wasn’t trying to offend you, either. But you need to open your mind.”
“I’ll try.” Larry released her and kissed the side of her face. Then, “Sometimes people see things the way they want to see them—”
“I love that you worry about me, but please stop. I’m fine.”
Larry wanted to believe her.
He watched her leave before he sat back down and drank his coffee. His job at the newspaper started at nine. He felt like it was going to be a long day. He reached for the extra cup of coffee, eager for the caffeine.
The cup was empty.