The Gates to Forever
What awaits you when you go?
In a blink, it is over. The pain is gone. You feel a comforting nothingness, like floating in an ocean without waves.
You were somewhere else, before. You struggle to recall the rough sheets, the smell of antiseptic, your daughter’s halting breath against your ear.
“You can let go now, mum. We’ll be okay. I love you.”
You reach for her, but she isn’t here with you. You feel lost and disoriented, but only for a moment.
That one moment, you feel like — like when you’re just about to fall asleep and you jolt — half in a dream and half in the world —
And then you feel it.
A wet nose nuzzles into your palm.
You aren’t alone here.
You feel a warm presence by your side. Buddy. That mangy stray your sister brought in off the streets when you were six years old.
He was bigger than you then. Now you are big and he is the same size he was when he drifted off to sleep for the last time.
You run your hand over his ears and scratch that spot he liked.
You feel the waves of happiness coming off of him, as if he were saying, I knew you’d remember! He moves his whole body from side to side as his tail wags.
Buddy begins to move and you follow instinctively. He will guide you.
One hand on the back of his neck, he leads you into the nothingness.
You feel another presence near you and reach down for her. Milkshake, the cat your daughter named.
Her fur is soft as you lift her into your arms. Buddy’s flank is warm against your leg.
You walk for the first time without pain in decades, reassured by his bodyheat and his growing excitement. Milkshake begins to purr.
Where are you going? What is there, at the end of this place?
There is a smell, like firewood and cigars and newspaper ink and something else. Something warm and familiar. A human smell.
You’re not expecting it when he touches your face. His thumb sweeps across your cheekbone like when he used to wipe your tears as a little girl.
Your breath catches. Papa.
It has been a long, long time.
Another hand touches your elbow, guiding you forward, upward, as if climbing steps in the dark, into a cloud of perfume.
You reach out for the apron strings you know will be there and tangle your fingers in them. Mama.
They walk with you.
Your heart is so full, but there is something missing still. Someone.
You stop walking.
You sense that there is a doorway here, a gate to open. Mama and Papa walk through it — they will be waiting on the other side.
Buddy vibrates with excitement. Milkshake purrs, winding herself around your ankles.
You feel a kiss on your temple.
I was waiting for you.
You take his hand in your hand and remember it all so vividly.
Knocking your heads together going in for the first kiss. Necking in the back of the old blue Chevy. Knocking boots. Walking down the aisle. Dancing in a thunderstorm. Screaming his child into the world. Birthdays. Christmases. Anniversaries. Family vacations. Planting tomatoes in the garden. Lounging on the dock. Taking a splinter out with tweezers. His lips pressing softly against your fingertip. A whole day spent in bed. The hospital room. The end.
It is all here, his hand in your hand.
Together, you walk through the gates to forever. You reach down and scratch Buddy behind the ears.
Thank you Christine Graves for her Weekly Prompts, one of which inspired this story: “Titles | Write the story behind this title | The Gates to Forever.”
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