“Whooee!! You got a nice shape to yourself girl! In my day I would’da loved to grab me a big ‘ol handful of that.” A distinctly old man’s voice bellowed absurdities yet remained unseen.
“Excuse me? Who said that?”
“Oh don’t pay him no mind lady. He don’t mean no harm. He been here so long he pretends like he ain’t dead, like he can still feel sumptin’.” A younger male voice comforted.
“Who are you and why can’t I see you? Where am I?”
“Who I am don’t matter no more It’s what I am that matter now. I’m dead…you dead too lady.” Sad words echoed off stainless steel walls.
“Now boy don’t go getting all troubled again I told you there’s still hope and don’t cha be upsetting our new lady friend here neither. She’s got enough to take in for now.” The gruff one said on the verge of a cough.
“I’m dead? I thought I was asleep.” Fear trembled in the feminine pitch.
“Yea well…you are kind of…but you’ll probably get over that. It’s the dead part that you won’t recover from, but don’t panic ‘cause in case you hadn’t notice there’s not a whole hell of a lot that pretty little body of yours can do right now excepting provide me with a stiffy in one of my old parts. UM HMM Moma!”
“You’re not wanting me to say stuff to upset her but you gonna talk at her all disgustin’ like that? Old man…no wonder you still here. I did some bad shit out there, but I never talked to no lady like that.”
“Pardon me, can one of you just tell me why…if I’m dead, I’m not in heaven by now?”
“Well let’s start at the beginning…” He paused and cleared his raspy throat.
“Oh no…lady, now you done it…you ain’t never gonna shut Henry up now.”
“Oh hush punk she has a right to know.”
“Know what? Your lame—ass theory ‘bout why we’re here?”
“Yea, my theory ‘bout why we be here.” Henry mocked the young man. “You see mam…You got a name?"
“Rachel, my name is…or was Rachel.”
“It’s still your name until you get another one, but I’ll come back to that later…if there’s time. Miss Rachel you’re not in heaven ‘cause one of two reasons. One, there is no heaven or two there is a heaven and you just didn’t make the cut. I’m a firm believer in option one…while my roommate DeShawn over there thinks he still has a chance to slide in under the wire. Ya see when we come in here we’re either hollow or not. I been dead a long time now and I got it all figured out. I concentrate real hard so’s I can hear what the workers say when they shuffle the bodies in and outta here. Seems the ones that come in with a name are either already hollow when they get here or they go they go hollow pretty darn quick.”
“Old man…you cain’t hear them…you know you cain’t hear nuttin’, except dead people.” The adolescent interrupted Henry’s soliloquy.
“Hollow? What’d you mean by hollow?”
DeShawn jumped in with the enlightenment he’d heard repeatedly. “According to Henry, if ya make it here with a voice your head then you’re not hollow yet.”
“I’ve seen ‘em come in here like you…all thinking and full of questions. Some’ll be in midsentence when they go…poof…gone just like that.” The sound of a finger snapped because that’s what Henry wanted to do. They all heard it, but it didn’t really happen. “Are you cold Rachel? Think about real hard, are you in pain?”
She tried to move a hand up to touch her head, but she couldn’t. “No I’m not. I must be paralyzed. I can’t move at all. I’m paralyzed and they think I’m dead! I have to communicate to them somehow that I’m really not dead.” Rachel panicked. “HELP!!! Get me out of here! I’m not dead!” Reverberated words left the refrigerator, but fell on the deaf ears of the living beyond the thick door.
“Hey lady shut up…trust me you’re dead…no one can hear you.” DeShawn shouted.
“You must’a hollered for three hours that first day.” Henry chuckled. “You ‘member that DeShawn? Didn’t get him nowhere and it ain’t gonna get you nowhere neither. I’ll prove it. Now, what’s the last thing you remember?”
“Mmm…I can’t really remember. I arrived here a short while ago, but I don’t…wait…wait let me think. I was at a restaurant with my sister, it was Tuesday. We have dinner on Tuesday every week. I hugged her goodbye…and then I was driving…I didn’t feel so good. I drank too much wine and I should’ve eaten…I remember thinking that…maybe I shouldn’t…that’s all… I don’t know what happened next. Oh my God I must have been in an accident.” Inconsolable sobs shattered the reverent silence the two men shared.
After Rachel’s episode ran its course Henry interjected. “So you got a name and you’ll be missed soon. Then you’ll be hollow too. Like old Mildred over there, well you can’t see her she’s up behind ya next to me…”
“Oooo she was a stinkin’ when she got here. I smell some bad shit before…but nuttin’ like that. She kept apologizing too, but it weren’t really her fault.” The tough guy exterior softened.
“Seems her family up and forgot all about her until they didn’t get the Christmas check in the mail. By then she’d already been here a month, the lady upstairs smelled her. I sure was happy when she went hollow. She talked about her granddaughter all the time. Mildred’s due for removal shortly. I heard ‘em talking.” Henry bragged.
“Sure Henry…hey let me know when they’s coming for me.”
“You see…the soul, what stays on with the unhollow ones until a loved one misses ‘em. When they hear of your passin’ and feel that pain in their heart that’s where you go. You go live in the hearts of those that’s missing you and wait for a chance to get reborned. There’s nothin’ to fear about this purgatory if you know you’re loved.”
“Thanks for trying to make me feel better. If you’re right I could go any second. Tell me about yourself Henry. DeShawn, how long have you been here?”
“He killed the only ones that could’a felt a pain in they heart for him and ain’t nobody love me since my momma….”
“Yea it’s true. My wife and my brother ran off together a long time ago and when I finally caught up to ‘em I shot ‘em both. My mother would’a felt the pain I guess, but she’s gone now. Last time she come to see me in prison she forgave me for killing my brother and told me, I got a daughter out there somewhere.”
“And me…my Ma’s a crack whore and probably just don’t know I’m dead yet.”
“Sad part is she hasn’t missed him enough to look for him. At least we know she ain’t dead yet, ‘cause she would’a come through here and we ain’t seen her. Have we Deshawn? ...DeShawn? See what I mean…poof they gone…just like that. Rachel did ya hear me? Rachel?”
Alone again, Henry prays. “God send a healthy pregnant worker in here. I promise next time I’ll be good. I’ll be a preacher. I’ll get ordained and ever’thing, just give me a chance to jump. A girl, I’d like to be a girl next time…with a nice…” Snap!