Macy Rose: I dreamed of Claire Louise last night. She was speaking to me, saying that she feels much more alive since her passing than she ever did back when she was alive. Death is nothing more than another dimension, Macy Rose. Nothing more, nothing less. Think of it this way, a person who dies doesn’t go away, she exits the body she’s in and emerges in a newer, nicer, and extremely toned if I do say so myself, body. I’m in the best shape ever, and I’m not alone. I’m having a great time. Showstopper One, Two, and Three are here, and Old Bessie, she’s here too.
Grandma chimed in at that point, although I’m not clear on whether Claire Louise could actually hear the words that Grandma was saying. During the night time, things aren’t as clear to me as they are during the day. During the daytime for sure, both of them can be speaking to me at the exact same time and I know that Grandma hears Claire Louise’s words because Grandma will respond to them. But Claire Louise, from the things that she says, you can tell that she doesn’t hear a word that Grandma is saying. Come to think of it, Claire Louise never was all that good a listener so this habit of hers shouldn’t come as all that much of a surprise to me.
Last night provides an excellent example. Right after Claire Louise told me that she now resides in a presumably eternal location where all three of her horses, all dead, and our dead Longhorn cow also reside, Grandma said, “You know your grandfather and me, we never did hold with that New Age lunacy that Claire Louise used to spout. My best advice to you, honey, just ignore her.”
Carlton wasn’t real impressed with what either one of them had said when I reported in over breakfast in the morning. “Doesn’t sound like she’s made it to heaven if all she’s got to say is that her body’s in better shape than it used to be and she’s living with animals,” constituted his take on the matter. It was seven-thirty and we were eating breakfast. He planned to leave for his office in Molly’s Point, five minutes away by car, in thirty minutes.
I more or less had been thinking the same thing myself, but, leftover from the days when we were kids and Claire Louise and I always stood up for each other, I defended her. Certainly, I didn’t want to think of my sister as having gone to hell, what kind of a sister would that make me? “She’s not in hell, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. Carlton didn’t grow up going to Sunday school and church every Sunday morning, back to church on Sunday nights for a second sermon and then again on Wednesday nights for the midweek service, so he is unable to speak with the level of Biblical certainly that I regularly employ.
Referencing Dante rather any actual Biblical scripture and feeling pretty sure that he wouldn’t catch me out, I said, “There are seven levels of hell, I should know, I wrote a paper on them when I was in college, and there isn’t a level that’s just animals, so she’s not in hell, whatever you say. Maybe purgatory, though. I’m talking about the Inferno, not Purgatory or Heaven.”
“I didn’t know you’d ever been Catholic,” Carlton replied.
He knew darn good and well that I hadn’t ever been a Catholic, he was just trying to get under my skin. “A person doesn’t have to join a particular denomination to read about and attempt to learn about any particular church’s theology and beliefs,” I retorted, allowing him to continue to believe that my information about the levels of hell came from my Catholic cousins rather than a college world literature course. I was actually a bit proud of this bit of misdirection and had no trouble at all allowing him to assume that I was referencing a Catholic theological version of the various levels of hell as opposed to a literary and entirely secular Dante’s Inferno.
“I guess we’ll both just have to wait and see when we get there,” Carlton said, grinning at me. So maybe he’d seen through my bluff all along. He’s a pretty good psychologist, a fact that at times I’d do well to remember. He’s also never heard from Grandma or Claire Louise since they passed, but he’s a nice enough person to concede that if I say that I’ve seen them, then he’s going to give me the benefit of the doubt. In point of actual fact, he generally acts quite interested in the things that I tell him that I’ve learned from them.
Old Bessie was the last longhorn ever to live on our ranch. We only have Hereford cattle, and precious few of them, these days. Claire Louise was the rancher in our family, not me, and certainly not Carlton. About all that he and I did during the year after Claire Louise’s sudden passing was make sure her horse and the cows didn’t starve to death. In our defense, we were preoccupied with her unexpected death, and then the funeral, and then finding a lawyer to defend us against charges that I was responsible for my sister’s death, so the welfare of the cows didn’t exactly make it to the top of anybody’s list for an entire year. Eventually, we found Showstopper a good home, and one of the Bains kids, the one who still runs their cattle business, started running some of his cows on our land in exchange for looking after our herd and that appears to be working just fine. At least it’s working fine as far as I can tell.
Grandma always told us that Old Bessie lived for about thirty years before she died of old age. Last anyone knew Old Bessie was standing up in the barn right beside our house chewing her cud. The one night she went outside into the corral from the house, Grandma and Belle could see her from the window over the kitchen sink as she stood eating from the hay stuffed into the trough in front of her. Which was odd, Grandma said, because Old Bessie had never been a night owl. She’d always gone to bed with the chickens. But that night, her last night, for some reason Old Bessie bedded down for the night out in the open lot, and the next morning she didn’t get back up. Is it possible for a cow to live that long? I don’t really know. The thing about beef cattle is this, nobody gets attached to an animal that is destined to become somebody’s sirloin steak.
“Maybe Old Bessie didn’t bed down, maybe she fell over dead,” Carlton offered, sounding callous and indifferent to my ears. I preferred to believe that Old Bessie had gone to sleep and died during her sleep. “Doubt it makes a lot of difference, sort of like being awake when you have a fatal heart attack rather than having the same fatal heart attack in your sleep,” he clarified.
He had a point, I’d give him that much. My grandma was always real phobic about death and avoided funerals like the plague. Her favorite dodge was to offer to supervise the food in the fellowship hall while the actual funeral service was being conducted. I’m nowhere as avoidant of funerals as Grandma was, however, when push comes to shove, I’d just as soon not think overly long about the ways in which a cow, or a person for that matter, might come to end up suddenly dead.
My grandfather wasn’t a sentimental man, but he loved that cow just the same as Claire Louise loved her American Paint horses. Old Bessie is buried alongside our other pets in the pet cemetery back behind the old chicken yard. Biggest hole he ever had to dig, Granddaddy said. He had to get the backhoe attachment onto his tractor, which was a task in and of itself, and then it took him most of an entire day to dig the hole, use the tractor to drag Old Bessie into the hole, and then fill the soil back in on top of her. This occurred at least thirty years ago now. Carlton and I weren’t living in Molly’s Point at the time, although of course we were back out here for her funeral ceremony. Or had we actually come to Old Bessie’s funeral, I now wondered? I could clearly recall standing over the grave at some point and marveling at the sheer size of the mound of dirt that hadn’t yet settled back into the earth, but I couldn’t remember who had spoken words over Old Bessie. Likely that task would have fallen to Grandma, Claire Louise or me, because Granddaddy wasn’t a talker, and both of our parents thought that funerals for pets, regardless of how much we’d loved them, weren’t necessary.
Let me think. Perhaps Old Bessie actually died sometime during the ten years right after high school when Claire Louise had been MIA. In which case, I might have been away in college or living down in Houston which might indicate that neither one of us had personally attended Old Bessie’s funeral. Last night, in my dream, for some inexplicable reason, I’d asked both my sister and my grandmother this question: “Exactly how long ago did Old Bessie pass?” Speaking to this question today, all that I can guess is that neither Grandma nor Claire Louise appeared to been listening, as neither one of them ventured a reply.
Claire Louise had said a few other words, none that make a whole lot of sense in the light of day. No really, she said. You know, like a snake slithers out of its skin and just keeps on going, passing on to the other side is more or less the same thing.
“You are so full of it, Claire Louise,” I remember thinking. Except that I must have been thinking out loud, because at the moment Carlton sat up in bed, fumbling about looking for his glasses so that he could read the clock across the room. He announced to the room at large that it wasn’t even five o’clock in the morning yet and stated that he could sleep until seven because his first appointment wasn’t until nine-thirty, if and this was a very big if, if only his wife would cease and desist with the conversational overtures. Then he replaced his glasses back on the bedside table, and make a big production out of adjusting his pillow and the blanket to his liking.
When I woke up the next time, I was freezing cold and covered all over my entire body with oily beads of sweat. It was six in the morning, which is the time I like to get up in the morning. Moving as quietly as possible, I stepped through the French doors onto the side porch, the one that opens out from our bedroom and that we never lock because the wood is warped and it won’t close all the way. We have to get this fixed, Carlton says about once a week. In the dead of winter, when we get a blue norther in the middle of the night and the wind is really blowing, sometimes both of those door panels will swing wide open bouncing against the walls with a crashing noise that makes a person believe that their home is being invaded. Last time that happened, Carlton leapt out of bed, grabbing the loaded handgun that he keeps locked up during the day and on the bedside table at night and yelling loud enough to wake the dead, “Stop where you are. I’ve got a gun and it’s loaded and I’m not afraid to shoot it either.” He’s been hanging out with Curtis too much lately, he’s starting to sound like he thinks he’s law enforcement himself.
We should have fixed the doors by now, but things stack up and we never get around to it. Carlton and I both work full time and neither one of us is what you’d call the handy type. We’ve been back living on the ranch for years now. First thing Carlton did when we moved into Grandma’s old house was get a locksmith to change all the locks. Not because he was worried that there might be keys out there that we didn’t know about though. The sad fact was, nobody, not me, not Claire Louise, not Belle who was moving in with her daughter in Galveston, had any earthly idea where to find a key to either of the doors. There’re here somewhere, we’ll find them when we start cleaning things out, I said. Just as well he didn’t listen to me; it’s been years now and I’ve cleaned out maybe half of the possible locations and have yet to run across the front and back door keys.
Carlton’s acclimating to life in the country, he forgets to lock the back door more nights than not of late. It is the case that both he and I understand, on a visceral level, that we’re safer here than we’ve been in any place where we’ve previously lived. Still, cognitively, we know that bad things do happen. Houses get broken into, although, knock on wood, ours never has. People who live in houses die. Nobody lives forever so death is to be expected. Grandma died in the room we now sleep in, that fact doesn’t bother either one of us the least little bit. Claire Louise, though, I’ve got to figure out what really happened to her instead of simply trying to deal with the fact of her death while ignoring the cause of her demise. My sister was a risky sort of person, as either Travis or Scott, most likely Travis, once described her. And he’s right, she was a risk-taker, but she didn’t kill herself, now did she?
Our side porch is full of ghosts. It was Grandma’s favorite place and now it’s the place from which I like to sit and talk to her, the place from which I sometimes can still look out into the pasture and see Granddaddy’s favorite cow, old Bessie is here . . . just so you know . . .it’s where I always like to sit at six o’clock in the morning. I drink a cup of tea, I read my daily devotional, I write down my Scriptures, I make a second cup of tea, I watch the sun come up, and I try to pray. Some days this is easier than others, a person has to keep trying. Sometimes I’ll feel a bit lonely, but never when I’m sitting on the side porch waiting for my day to begin.