A Short Story by Maryetta Ackenbom
The kitchen clock struck eleven as Sherry drifted toward sleep. She pulled the blanket around her a little tighter, to ward off the sudden autumn chill. Then, for the first time, she heard it.
It sounded far away, but the voice was George’s!
Not possible. George died, her mind told her. Her eyes came open, but she kept still. She heard it again.
“Baby! Baaaby!” George had always called her that, his pet name for her.
Sherry did not feel frightened, but she sat straight up in bed, listening. Nothing more. She got up, walked around the house and checked windows and doors. When she could find nothing else to do, she went back to bed.
Now she couldn’t sleep. Was her mind playing tricks? What if he really was calling her? What if he was alive, if it was all a mistake? Impossible. She still cried when she thought of his body, mangled beyond recognition in a head-on collision. Then—could he be sending her a message from the Beyond? Wearily, Sherry plumped up her pillows, took a pill and made herself lie quietly as she listened to the wind in the trees outside her window. She eventually dozed.
The next morning she decided she had dreamed it all, but she wanted to tell someone. She called her neighbor, Joan, who had been her friend for years, and asked her to come over for coffee.
“You know,” she said as she placed Joan’s coffee cup on the table, “I had the strangest dream last night. I thought I heard George calling me.” Sherry paced nervously around the kitchen, sat, then got up again.
Joan said, “Really? I guess that’s normal. It’s only been two months. Tell me about it.”
“Nothing else, really. I heard his voice, calling me. Then silence.” Sherry shuddered, and again sat briefly at the kitchen table. She automatically reached for the sugar bowl and added another spoonful to her coffee.
“If it happens again you call me. I’ll come right over. No matter what time it is.”
“All right, dear. Thank you. Sometimes I feel so alone . . .”
Sherry put the dream out of her mind and went to the gym, a new plan of hers to help ward off the loneliness as well as the middle-age flab. She worked out for a couple of hours, then browsed through some stores in the neighborhood. When she found that she was just plodding, rather than browsing, she went home. There, she continued the onerous chore of sorting through George’s clothing. The odor of mothballs made her gag, and she had to stop as she swallowed back tears, fondling his favorite sweaters.
In bed again at an early hour, Sherry was tired enough to put her book down after a few minutes. She turned out the light and slept.
She was awakened again by George’s voice: “Baby, Baby!”
Still drugged with sleep, she sat up and said, “Yes, George?”
She listened. There was nothing else. “George, do you want something from me?”
Nothing. She shivered. She had taken to wearing George’s heavy tee shirt to bed, but it did not prevent the chill she felt.
Sherry’s mind came awake, filled with questions. What else could this be, but George trying to contact me? Why? Why is he scaring me? She decided she might need professional help. In the morning, she would think about what to do. She lay still until she slept again.
Madam Olga lived a few blocks away. Sherry had noticed her house before, a clean, middle-class brick house, nicely kept, with a discreet sign by the door announcing “Readings by appointment,” and giving the telephone number. Sherry called.
That afternoon, Madam Olga welcomed Sherry into her living room. Here, everything looked normal. Olga did not look especially mysterious; she looked quite elegant in a beige silk pants suit. Sherry felt a little out of place in her cotton shift which had become slightly too small for her. She looked around for crystal balls, Ouija boards, but saw nothing unusual. The scent of the rose petals in a cut-glass bowl on the coffee table began to relax her.
Olga said, “Let’s sit over here on the sofa. Would you like some coffee, or a cold drink?”
“No, thank you. I’d like to know what you think about a dream I’ve been having.”
“Straight to the point. All right. I remember your husband was killed recently; I read about it in the newspaper. I assume the dream has to do with him?”
“Of course.” Sherry paused. She liked Olga but she wasn’t sure how to begin. “Uh, I’ve been awakened a couple of times by George calling me.”
“He must be trying to reach you. How did he sound?”
“It was his voice, and he used his pet name for me, ‘Baby.’ The second time I sat up and asked what he wanted, but I heard no reply.” Sherry gave an involuntary shudder.
“Definitely trying to reach you, and there is some kind of a block in the way. Let me meditate on this for a few minutes.”
Olga closed her eyes and sat still. Sherry tried to be just as quiet, but kept twisting her hands together. George, if you are here, let me know what you want!
Five minutes passed.
Olga finally said, “I’m getting nothing. Mrs. Bryant— “
“Please call me Sherry.”
“Sherry, I suggest you call me when this happens again. I’m a light sleeper, you won’t disturb me. If I don’t feel something right away through the telephone, I’ll come over to your house immediately. If it’s George, he’ll probably be there for awhile, and maybe I’ll be able to sense him.”
Sherry was grateful for Madam Olga’s calm assurances. She thanked her, paid her, and went home.
Entering her house, she again heard George’s voice, “Baaby, Baaby.”
This time she was terrified. Ghosts shouldn’t be at large in the middle of the day! She stumbled toward the couch, sat and covered her eyes with her hands. “George!” she shouted. “What do you want? I’m right here, tell me, please!”
There was no response.
With shaking hands, she telephoned Madam Olga. The line was busy. She called her doctor. The secretary heard the panic in her voice and connected her immediately.
“Doctor Rood, this is Sherry Bryant. Doctor, I’m hearing voices! I hear George calling me! I’m scared!”
“Be calm, Sherry. I’ll be able to come see you in about an hour. Meanwhile, take two of those sedative tablets and lie down. Why don’t you call a friend to come be with you?”
Sherry took her pills and called Joan, who came over immediately. Joan found her trembling and sobbing, and tried to make her comfortable on the sofa with pillows and a blanket. She didn’t say much when Sherry told her what happened, she just tried to soothe her as she would a child, tucking in the blanket and patting her shoulder.
When Dr. Rood arrived, Sherry was calmer, but her blood pressure was high and she was almost incoherent. He decided it would be wise to hospitalize her for tests. Joan helped her gather her things while Dr. Rood made arrangements for her admittance.
As Joan helped Sherry to the car, a young man passed the house, leading a small dog on a leash.
“Hello,” he said. “Something wrong? Can I help you?”
Sherry heard him and looked up, puzzled. “Your voice . . .”
Joan said, “I’m taking my neighbor to the hospital, she doesn’t feel well. Are you new to the neighborhood?”
“Yes, I’m George Styles. I just moved in the house two doors down with my wife Lisa. This is our little dog, Baby.”