The Mourning Man. Wow. Every time I read this, it brings me back to where I was emotionally when I wrote it. This story is actually very special to me. I wrote if for a friend that had lost her grandfather. They were very close and I can only imagine what it would feel like to be given one last gift born of love from someone that was departing this world. I poured all that emotion into this story and I believe it turned out into one of my best yet. Please, enjoy the story and remember that love is what really makes the world go around.
The Mourning Man
by: Joe Forrest
The hospital air stung Jim’s nostrils, a pine forest mixed with blood and death.
“Excuse me.” He asked a nurse. “Room 282?”
“Elevator, end of the hall, second floor. Take a right out of the elevator.”
“Thanks.” His boots clicked against the linoleum.
He found the room. Somers, Ralph shown in block letters on the door. He knocked. The door opened.
“Can I help you?” asked the woman who answered the door.
“My name is Jim Rivers.” He paused. “The Mourning Man.”
She grabbed his arm and pulled him out into the hall.
“I’m Annie. My mom, Connie, is the one that called you. Can you do what you say you can?”
Some didn’t believe. He nodded affirmatively.
“If this is a con, I want you to know, I’ll hurt you,” she said.
She opened the door and motioned him inside.
The family turned. A middle-aged woman came up to him.
“I’m Connie Somers,” she said through tears. “I called you.”
“I remember your voice.”
“Please,” she said, voice breaking. “Help us.”
Simple words, Help us. They crushed his soul like the weight of the world.
“Do it,” said Anna, voice flat.
Jim sat and took the dying man’s hand. The connection was instant. So much life. So much love.
“It’s summer. Ralph is smiling…”
An idyllic pasture spread before him. On a hill, under a poplar tree, a picnic. Ralph sat there with a baby.
“I suppose you’re here for me,” he said as Jim approached.
“Come on. Sit down.”
Jim sat. Ralph reached over and rubbed the baby’s head.
“Connie loved this place,” he said. “After her momma passed, Connie was who I lived for.”
The scene morphed to a Christmas morning.
“I was home that Christmas, instead of working.” He smiled. “Connie said she didn’t believe in Santa anymore. So, I dressed up like Santa and made a lot of noise when I put out the presents. When her head popped around the corner, her eyes went wide. My heart sang. She believed again.”
The memories shifted. They were in a church.
“The day she got married,” explained Ralph. “Hated that boy. Thought he was terrible. I was right. Knocked her up and moved on.”
The scene changed to a circus. Ralph sat next to a small girl.
“Annie,” he said. It was the younger version of the woman who answered the door. “She loved the circus.”
Another wedding, Annie’s this time.
“He was also a bad egg, that boy. Promised the moon and couldn’t even buy a Moon Pie. Damn shame he made her feel worthless.”
They now stood in the hospital room, Ralph’s family all around.
“Can I talk to them?”
Jim smiled. “Say what you want. I’ll tell them.”
“I’ve lived a long life,” he started. “I’ve seen a lot, good and bad. I’m happy seeing them all in this room, together, supporting each other. Tell them I said don’t be sad when I’m gone. I’m content and happy. I’ll miss them all.”
Everyone knew Jim wasn’t a con man now.
“Connie,” said Jim, echoing Ralph. “You saved me. You kept me going even after your mom was gone. Thank you, baby girl. I’ll always love you. Be strong.”
Connie collapsed into tears.
“Annie,” Ralph began. He stopped and collected himself. He looked at Jim who squeezed his hand in the living world for encouragement. “You grew into a beautiful, strong woman. I’m so very proud of you.”
A tear rolled down Anna’s cheek.
“You have so much to offer, but you find it hard to see. Believe in yourself, Annie. Life is short, and there’s no time for regret. If you could only see through my eyes, you would understand.”
Anna knelt next to her mother, sobbing.
“You’ll be fine. This isn’t the end. We’ll see each other again. Live your lives. Remember me when you can, but don’t dwell. I love you.”
They were back in the meadow. The wind picked up. The world shifted and a door appeared.
“So, this is it?” Ralph asked.
“Yes,” said Jim.
“I’m afraid,” he said as he looked in the distance. “I need to ask for two favors.”
“Sure thing,” said Jim.
“First, I’m scared,” he said. “Can hold my hand until the end?”
Jim smiled. “Absolutely, and the other favor?”
Ralph smiled. “I need you to help Annie.”
The man let Jim know exactly what he needed to do and then they made their way to the door. He opened it and bright light haloed him. He turned once more to look at the Mourning Man. He smiled, released Jim’s hand, and stepped through the door, on to his next adventure.
The EKG delivered a steady tone. Ralph was gone. Jim let go his now limp hand and placed it carefully next to his side. The grief was palatable among the family. Jim stood, grabbed his jacket and made his way to the door.
Connie stopped him. “Thank you.”
Jim looked at her with compassion and understanding. “No thanks necessary. It’s why I’m here.”
He left the hospital and went into the cold night. He looked up at the sky. The stars looked alive. He waited patiently.
Anna came out of the hospital. She walked up next to him.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t believe.”
Jim just hung his head. “No apology is necessary, Annie.”
“Grandpa was the only one that called me that.”
That stood together, in the cold, silent. They just shared the moment.
“I need to get back inside,” she said. She turned to leave.
She stopped and looked at him, puzzled.
“Give me your hand,” he said.
She looked hesitant but placed her hand in his.
“This will be strange. Ralph asked me to give you something.”
“What did he want you to give me?” she asked.
He looked at her and smiled. “This…”
Memories flooded into her. She saw herself as a child playing, a teenager getting ready for a dance, a young woman moving away, as a new mother holding her baby, as a caring granddaughter holding the hand of her grandfather.
“He wanted to show you how you looked through his eyes.”
He let go of her hand. She wiped away tears.
“Annie, love never dies,” he said. “Sometimes it weakens or changes, but it never dies. As long as your love for Ralph lives in your heart, so does he.”
Tears streamed down her face and her smile beamed.
“Now,” he said. “Go inside. Your family needs you.”
She turned, silent, and walked back inside.
The Mourning Man turned, as he had so many times before, and walked into the night.
Also published on Medium.