Previously: The ghost of Wayne's deceased father, Jerry, shows up in Wayne's apartment on Father's Day.
The two talk about the various transgressions Jerry had committed against his wife and their two sons before abandoning them outright. Jerry had cheated on his wife frequently, and had often ridiculed his older son, Matty, for not being "man" enough in Jerry's eyes.
The only outstandingly good thing Jerry had ever done -- saving several people trapped in a burning building -- had ironically cost him his own life.
Now, as Jerry and his younger son talk about their pasts and the afterlife, Jerry idly informs Wayne that the souls of the departed are less emotional than they'd been while alive. He goes so far as to say that he's spoken with the spirit of his estranged wife, who died only a year ago, and that she's more or less forgiven him for his sins against her. Only moments after Jerry says that, his ex-wife appears, brushing rudely past Wayne to slap Jerry in the face with all her ghostly might!
* * * * *
I had no idea that my Mom -- living or dead -- could ever have contained such rage. But she'd just slapped my Dad hard enough to knock him off balance.
In spite of myself, I found myself stepping toward him, asking "Are you okay?"
He nodded. "Yes, I'm fine. We ghosts can touch each other, but we can't hurt each other. Not really. It's... it's..." He hesitated.
"Let me guess. Complicated, again?" He nodded.
My Mom was standing there, trembling, looking almost homicidal. "And you are so lucky I can't hurt you, Jerry!" she screamed. "I swear, if you weren't already dead, I'd consider killing you!"
"Mom! Geez!" I protested.
She finally -- finally -- acknowledged me. "I am so sorry you had to be here to witness this, honey," she told me.
My Dad clearly didn't know why she was so upset, any more than I did. "Pam, what's the problem?"
"What's the problem? You selfish idiot, it's because of you that my son is dead!"
I suddenly got a cold chill. So, is that... I mean, this... whatever... what my Dad's visit was all about? I'm dead? (Damn that "last cigarette!") And some smartass jamoke in the heavenly Front Office decided to send Jerry to collect me, instead of one of my grandparents, or my Mom herself, or anyone else from the long list of people who were closer to me than Jerry?
"Mom... What are... what are you saying?"
She turned to face me again, tears streaking her face -- can ghosts cry? -- and said, "Oh, my poor baby, I'm so sorry you had to learn it this way!" She placed her hands on either side of my face, but of course, I felt nothing... physically, that is.
My Dad still looked befuddled. "Pam, please! What on earth are you talking about?"
She was still livid. "You despicable...! You really don't know, do you?" He shook his head, kind of nervously. "Matty killed himself tonight! And it's your fault!"
("Matty?" I whispered.)
"What?!?" he exclaimed. "He... he..."
"Yes, Jerry, our son is dead. Dead."
"But... Come on now, Pam! You can't blame me for that."
(So, I'd been way off base, thinking I'd died. But... "Matty?" I whispered again. "Oh, my God. Matty.")
"I've been watching over him as much as I could for the past few months, Jerry," Mom said. She seemed a bit calmer now, but something about this "calm" told me not to trust it. "I've learned far too much about his inner demons. Plus, Matty was kind enough to reference you in his suicide note."
"Pam, it's been over thirty years since Matty even saw me. Don't you think people need to take responsibility for their own actions, at some point?"
"To an extent, that's true, but..." She seemed to rile herself up again suddenly. "Oh! You're... you're doing it again!"
"Doing what?" he asked.
"What you always did! You can rationalize everything to make yourself look innocent, or even victimized!" She stepped closer to him, standing face to face with him. "You know I'll only be able to sustain this anger for a relatively short while, so you're just waiting for me to cool off." He stared at her, blankly. "Aren't you, Jerry?"
He didn't answer her, but I could see the faintest sign of a smirk on his lips. That was a big mistake, because if I could see it from three or four feet away, my Mom could definitely see it.
Her eyes narrowed, her lip curled back into a sneer, and she screeched "You killed my son!" at the top of her lungs. And out of nowhere came my Mom's punch. I not only heard it connect with my Dad's face, but I practically felt it. And I don't care what Jerry or anyone else would have told me about the way things worked for those in the spirit world... It had to have hurt.
Dad ended up on his knees, on the sidewalk. He looked up at Mom, as if he was expecting more. But all she did for a follow-up was look down at him, shaking her head. She smiled in a way that was almost scary. "I had to do that before I lost the mood, Jerry. After having read 'I'm tired of trying to live up to my father's expectations' in the midst of Matty's wordy final letter, I had to throw that punch."
Don't tell me that ghosts don't breathe. She was panting. For all intents and purposes, I was staring at a sixty-eight-year-old woman after she'd belted a forty-five-year-old man. She looked like she'd just done an hour on a treadmill. I was proud of her, in a weird way. Also kind of frightened by her, admittedly, but proud of her.
And then, with a sick little feeling in my stomach, I wondered how I'd feel if things were reversed, and my Dad's ghost had smacked my Mom's ghost around for some transgression(s) she'd made against him in their previous existence. Would I be cheering him on?
No. Of course not.
True, after all the things he'd done to my Mom, I figured she owed him one. Maybe I was justifying things in my way, even as my Dad had always been able to justify his actions.
Or maybe I was just glad someone was finally able to lay a hand on the elusive sonofabitch. Yeah, I guess he was right about years of built-up anger, after all.
Too much to think about, especially on a deserted street at two in the morning. So I decided to concentrate on the one thing that truly mattered at this point.
"Mom, what happened to Matty? Did he really kill himself?"
She looked at me strangely. "Yes, Wayne." Like she'd lie about that, right?
"And... you actually read his suicide note?"
"And he really blamed Dad?"
"Well, in all fairness to Jerry... to your father... there were several other things. Matty was pretty 'messed up,' for lack of a better way to put it. And as I told your father, I've been spending a lot of time watching over your brother. I've seen things no one else saw. And regrettably, I saw where things were headed."
"Then why didn't you show yourself to him, like Dad did to me tonight, and try to stop him?"
"We can't interfere that way. It's..."
"Yeah, yeah, right. Complicated. No kidding." I sat down on the sidewalk.
She sat down next to me. "Don't be angry, Wayne. At least..."
"My brother's dead, and I can't be angry? And after what just happened here, who the hell are you to tell me that, anyway?" She looked hurt, and I couldn't blame her. I hadn't talked that disrespectfully to her since I'd outgrown my bratty teenage years.
But instead of becoming defensive -- like my Dad would have -- she just said, "You're right. I can't tell you how to feel."
"Hey, I hate to ask this, but have you been visiting me? You know, watching over me like you did with him?"
"Visits, yes. Occasionally. But you didn't need supervision. Outside of your broken marriage, things have always gone fairly well for you."
"So you saw this coming? Matty, I mean?"
"Oh, yes. I could sit and talk with you for hours about what he's been going through. Before I died -- obviously -- he'd visit me, and I always knew he had terrible things going on in his mind. I suggested therapy, I asked him to quit drinking..." She shook her head. "Did he ever let you know about any or all of the things he was dealing with?"
"No." I thought back to that Father's Day phone call. "Well... once," I said, correcting myself. Then I thought of her "I could sit and talk with you for hours" remark. "You know, I wouldn't mind if you'd come around every so often, so we could talk. And not just about Matty, of course."
Mom looked at me rather sadly. "This wasn't meant to be the start of anything. Your father's reasons for showing up had nothing to do with Matty. He didn't even know."
"Then why did Dad show up tonight?" She looked uncomfortable when I asked that. "I know, I know. It's complicated." Then something else occurred to me. "Hey! If Matty's dead -- and since I seem to be locking into this whole 'I see dead people' shtick -- why isn't he here with me... or maybe I should say, with us?"
"As you keep saying..."
"It's complicated!" I finished. She smiled. "More front office stuff? Paperwork for new arrivals, maybe?"
Mom laughed, almost girlishly. It was so good to hear and see her laughing again. "That's one way of describing it, I suppose." She stood up. "I have to go," she said. I didn't bother asking her where, or why. Kind of pointless, right?
I stood up, too. Mom brought her face close to mine, and if it hadn't been for that whole "plane of existence" b.s., she would have kissed me on the cheek.
Mom looked over at my Dad. He'd been standing about ten or twelve feet away from us, probably to give us a little privacy. "So long, Jerry. See you around."
"Good-bye, Pam. It was good seeing you again... believe it or not." I was looking at my Dad when he said that, and when I turned back to look at Mom, she was gone.
I sat back down on the sidewalk, and Jerry joined me moments later. "Just for the record," he said, "I never -- ever -- struck your mother."
"I knew that. Well... I didn't know that, actually, but... I assumed it. You may have had your faults -- still do, from the looks of things -- but you weren't a total scumbag." He found that funny, and laughed out loud.
Maybe I could get myself a new career as a stand-up comic at ghost gatherings.
"You know something, Wayne?" he asked.
"Tonight didn't go at all like I expected it to go."
"Ha! You're telling me! When you showed up, you gave me this big build-up about wanting to discuss things I wouldn't have been 'ready' for before now, but I don't really see anything we talked about which fits in with that..."
"Yes. Well... it's complicated." We both laughed at that one.
"So does that mean we try to talk about those things now?"
"No? Do we get a do-over?" I wasn't anywhere near as willing to have ongoing visits from him as I would have been with my Mom, but hey...
"I'm afraid not, son," he said, standing up.
I looked up at him. "So what's next? Do you wait until I look away from you, and you do a fade-out like Mom did?"
"So what, then?" I asked.
He smiled. "You just close your eyes..." And to my surprise, I did so, despite my total unwillingness to do it! "Good-bye, son." Then he said something I'd never heard anyone in my immediate family say to anyone else in my immediate family: "I love you."
* * * * *
The digital clock on my bureau said 5:52 when I opened my eyes. My CD player was still going; Ray Charles' "Busted" was winding down.
"No," I said aloud. "No way that was all just a freaking dream." Yeah, I sounded pretty sure (as I talked to myself), but I needed proof. Now where could I get that?
I thought for a second, and grabbed my cell phone.
I called Matty.
After five rings, I heard, "Hi. This is Matty. Can't come to the phone right now, so when you hear the beep, you know what to do."
This wasn't good. It wasn't even six yet! Where the hell could he be? Had he finally found a job, one that made him get up before dawn? Not bloody likely. And I doubted he was ignoring the phone because he had a girlfriend there, since his social life had been even worse than mine for quite some time...
I left a message. "Hey, Matty, it's me, Wayne. Call me back the instant you get this. It's very, very important!"
And I waited.
* * * * *
Th-th-th-that's all, folks! Thanks for your time, fellow babies.