Her Gospel, Part 2
A Short Story
\“How is this even possible?”
The two of them sat at a table in the cafeteria. Crowded as it was with people, nobody seemed to notice the two of them at their table. They both ate salads: hers a plain side without dressing, slightly wilted; his, large and full of exotic vegetables, covered with some kind of cream dressing. She drank Perrier, he sipped from a large fountain drink.
“I’m serious,” she repeated. “How is it possible they haven’t noticed us? I mean, I get that we’re ghosts or whatever, but how did they not see the floating food and drinks? And how exactly do ghosts eat?”
“Well, metaphysics aside,” He said, picking up his fork, “Food is more than food. It is something of a spiritual,” he hesitated for a moment. “Construct. Yes, that is a good word. It is something of a spiritual construct. People bond over food, over meals. It provides the opportunity for people to come together. And more than that. It’s a way of feeling satisfaction. A way of resting, and enjoying the smaller things in life. Or so I have always thought.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.” Judging from her tone, she clearly didn’t.
“Ah, but you never did understand.” He waved his hand at her salad. “That will never bring you fullness. Not physically, and not spiritually.”
“It’s a lot more than other people in the world have to eat,” she countered.
“Yes, that is very true,” He accepted.“But that is talking about other people. We are talking about you. Your situations, and your story. You cannot live your entire life trying to justify your actions as martyrdom for people you’ve never met. There are many people, with much less to eat, that are much happier than you.”
“But food isn’t . . .” She seemed to struggle with her thoughts.
“A good attitude toward food does not cause happiness?” He let her struggle for a moment, but then seemed to pick up on her train of thought. “Of course not. It is that old argument of correlation and causation.”
“What?” she asked, her mouth full of salad.
“It is not important,” His voice was smooth. “I have grown rather pedantic after all of these years.”
There was a lull in the conversation, as both of them ate and drank their food. It seemed that they were each in their own little bubbles, sitting together, perhaps, but not really together. But they were, if nothing else, both comfortable in their silence.
“I get what you’re saying,” she said. “At least, I think. But that’s who I am, isn’t it? How much of that — how much of anything that I do — is actually me. How much of what I do, of what I think, is my choice, versus my brain’s chemistry?”
He smiled. “Now that is a good question. I think that you are, at last, on the right track. It’s much like Paul said: ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.’” He laughed. “Oh, Paul was interesting.”
“But how do you overcome that? How do you always do what you know you should do? How do you always do the rational thing, even when you’re not a rational person?”
“You don’t.” He gave a dazzling smile. “You do the best that you can. You rely on other people to help you. You love, you trust, and you grow from your mistakes. There is no recipe for perfection.”
“It sounds like I’m on Dr. Phil,” she groaned.
“Miracles happen,” He said, “but they happen through the natural order. I did not come here to wave a wand or give you a magic serum to make your life perfect.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I am here to give you something to hold on to. I am here to give you surety in an unsure world. I am here to give you something that you will remember. I am here to give you a second chance, because this is one of the few opportunities that I can give a second chance. And you will have one. But it will not be perfect. You will not be perfect. You will struggle and you will fight.”
“And how will it end?”
“It will end as all stories do.”
“That’s not very reassuring.”
“Perhaps not, but you will be reassured nonetheless.”
She opened her mouth to speak, perhaps to ask him what he meant by that, but at that moment, the two of them faded into mist.
It was two weeks later that Jane Doe 136 truly awoke, wincing with pain as she felt her body for the first time in a month. Though the doctors had been raving about her recovery — miraculous as the nurses insisted it was — the girl was still deathly ill. Sure, the ventilator no longer breathed for her, and there weren’t quite so many tubes sticking out of her; but she was far from being the healthy and bright girl she had seen in that reflection.
“My Tirzah,” the voice of an old woman crooned,“Have you truly returned to me?”
She opened her eyes. She was no longer in the Intensive ward, but in a private room. The speaker, a woman with curly white hair and bright blue eyes was sitting in the seat next to the bed. She could feel the old woman gently petting her hand. There was something about the woman’s presence and gesture, small as it was, that made her feel comfortable and safe. She was surrounded by an aura of warmth, something that she had not felt for years.
“Who are you?” The girl’s voice was a dead rasp, barely decipherable after such a long period of disuse.” She was unsure of many things, but she was certain that she had never seen this woman before.
“I am Sophia,” the woman said. “As far as anyone knows, I’m your grandmother.”
The girl’s face rearranged into a look of confusion. It was as though she was trying to place the woman’s face, somewhere in the dusty annals of her memories.
The woman laughed. “A little dove told me that I would find you here, and that you would need me.”
Dove. The moment that the old woman said the word, the girl’s eyes sparked with a moment of recognition. But it faded just as quickly.
“Ow,” the girl rasped. She raised a hand to her temple. The gesture was slow and seemed to cause her more pain.
“It will come back to you, my Tirzah,” the older woman said. “Don’t worry yourself too much, okay? Your job is just to rest, and to make sure that you will get better.”
The girl was quiet for several minutes before attempting to speak again.“What are you calling me? Tir-something?” Her lips stumbled over the unfamiliar name.
“Don’t you recognize your name, little one?” the woman asked. Her smile became wry.
“That’s not my name,” the girl said. “My name is . . .” She screwed her face in thought, but it was in vain. Her shoulders slumped. “I can’t remember my name.”
“That is because you are Tirzah,” the woman said, serenely. “You may not have always been Tirzah, but you are, now. I find it best not to question these things.”
And the girl drifted back to sleep once again, safe in the older woman’s presence.
The girl’s recovery was slow. Her bones and flesh had to mend; she had to learn how to stand and walk again. That, in itself, was an agonizing process, at first filled with anger and frustration, but slowly, hope began to blossom as she took her first steps. Eventually those steps grew strong and steady, enough so that nobody would guess she’d ever had trouble in the first place.
Fixing her mind was a similar process, albeit much more difficult. For several years after her time in the hospital, she went to a doctor who was trained in thoughts, speech, and the inner workings of the mind. Through talking and, for a short while, medication, she learned how to forgive, to live, and, in time, to love again.
Eventually, the girl came to reflect the image she had seen of herself, once upon a time in a dream long forgotten. She never did regain conscious memory of that conversation. But on occasion, in the depths of her dreams, scraps of it would flutter back to her, and she would draw encouragement from it.
Her journey was not faultless; but together, she and the older woman overcame every obstacle that presented to them. And even when the older woman’s life drifted to its end, the girl carried her memory as a flame, and thus persevered. Through everything that came, she stood strong and resolute, walking the path that Wisdom and love had dictated.
She fought her battles well. And thus she lived.
Zach Payne is, to borrow the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, “a polymath, a pain in the ass, a massive Payne.” He acts, sings poorly, and writes poetry, plays, and young adult fiction.
He’s an assistant at Ninja Writers, where he helps new writers find their voice and their tribe. He was the query intern for Pam Victorio at D4EO, and his novel Somehow You’re Sitting Here was selected for Nevada SCBWI’s 2015–16 Mentor Program. He lives in Reno.