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Signal to Noise

old-telephone-receiver-phone-call-phoneHe regained consciousness in the hospital corridor, finding himself standing in the middle of a stream of people flickering past without pause. He was dimly aware he couldn’t be seen. The world he had emerged into was grey, faded and separated from the world he had just left. It was also silent. He reached out to touch a nearby nurse, but his hand, insubstantial, entered her arm and passed through without making contact.

As soon as the time of death was recorded most of the staff cleared the emergency room, moving onto the next crisis. She stood over his shell, stunned, ignoring the nurses who fussed around him, tidying up the detritus of the failed attempt to save him. She thought back to the accident; they had been walking across the road, moving from pub to pub, then boom, the taxi had hit him. The next few minutes were a blur; a scream, bystanders arriving, the police, the wail of the ambulance, the emergency room and the medical staff. Then this, the unnatural quiet.

He found himself floating down the corridor towards an unknown destination. The world around him was moving faster and faster, the people mere blurs. He was slowing down, fading from the mortal realm as his life energy dissipated. He was moving between worlds.

She left him and stepped out of the triage room. The policeman, who had diplomatically waited outside, agreed to meet her the following day to take a statement. She signed the required documents and received unwanted, rushed condolences from the harassed admin staff. It was the week before Christmas, the busiest time of the year for the emergency department. Falls, fights, drunks and car accidents overwhelmed the staff. With nowhere else to go she went home, getting back at about ten o’clock. She left the house in darkness and slumped onto the sofa in the lounge. An involuntary shudder shook her thin frame, memories returning. The worst thing was she hadn’t had the chance to say farewell to him, he hadn’t regained consciousness and she knew her whispered goodbye as he lay dying hadn’t been heard. That, above all, was unbearable.

He started to notice other shapes around him. Diaphanous, smoke-like figures floated next to him. The real world, the world of living people could still be seen, but it was blurred, as if observed through a film of ice. His mortal energy was almost gone, but one thing kept him focussed on the world he had just left. Her. He didn’t know if he could, but he knew he had to try. Concentrating, he steered himself towards his goal.

She tried to sleep, but found it impossible. She rose and made some tea, watching the darkness out of the kitchen window. She hadn’t cried yet, the emptiness she felt had driven out every other possible emotion. She knew with the coming of the dawn she would have to start phoning. It was then the emotion of the truth would overwhelm her.

He reached for the pay-phone praying he was still able to lift the receiver. Around him, the shapes of his new companions whirled and danced, some grieving and some celebrating. His companions were fading away, just as he was, but he had to do one last thing before he left the mortal world. His fingers, through sheer willpower, made contact with the receiver and he managed to find the strength to lift it. He had to reach her, had to say goodbye. The shapes around him scattered in confusion at this merging of the two worlds.

She finished her tea and rinsed the mug. The early morning sun was streaking the eastern sky with reds and yellows. She knew she would have to reach for the phone soon, to start the task of letting friends and family know the news. Suddenly, shockingly the phone rang. She lifted the receiver and placed it to her ear. A crackle of white noise made her wince, but some hidden emotion kept her from hanging up. She strained to listen. A voice spoke, faint beneath the crackling. The voice was achingly familiar and she gasped when she recognised it. The voice spoke a simple message, over and over again. All too soon it faded to nothing amongst the overwhelming white noise, but it had been enough. He had said goodbye. Tears flowed down her face.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Richard Meldrum

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