I went out back to smoke and think my deepest thoughts when I saw the man tied to the tree. He had been there for some time. At least I guessed so by the state of decomposition. Even still, his hair looked great, all styled and intentional. His eyes were open and milky, seeing right through me. I wondered what he had been looking at the moment he passed. From his view, you could make out my kitchen and I thought maybe he had been watching me wash dishes. How mundane an ending, how minimal.
It made me wish I lived a wild extravagant life; not for myself but for him.
I had read somewhere that the soul can linger in the body, though I don’t know that mine would, if given a choice when the moment arrives. But, if he was still around, I thought I might offer him something better than sudsy water in his parting from earth.
I put my cigarette in his mouth and tried to think of what I would want to see before I shifted dimensions or whatever. I ran back in a grabbed some poetry and then read him my favorite lines. I tried to sing a hymn, but I only remembered the tenor line and it sounded odd by itself without the other harmonies. I danced wildly, with abandon. I performed a small one-act play I made up on the spot. I painted something I had never seen. I moved from one thing to the next without pause. I laughed. I wept. I was everything.
Exhausted, I leaned on the tree next to the man. The light in my kitchen leaked out into the lawn but that wasn’t what drew my eye.
It was the sky. It was everything besides my kitchen window. It was everywhere I wasn’t, and it all took on an enraptured, amber hue. I couldn’t look away.
And I wished someone would come along and support me, tie me up when I began to falter, so I could continue to view it, long after I had lost the strength.
No one came.
Eventually, the sun set and it got cold. The light from kitchen beamed like a beacon, calling to me. It wasn’t anything compared to the sky. Not what it had been anyway. But it was a warmth at hand, one I was familiar with.
I went inside and didn’t know what to do. I turned the television on but it was too garish. I had once read that canned laughter had all been recorded in the fifties, so every time a laugh track ran, it was really dead people chuckling so you would understand and laugh too. I moved from the couch to the bed back to the couch, and then to the kitchen. I couldn’t have told you what I was looking for. I didn’t do the dishes, but I did lean beyond them to look for the man who couldn’t stop gazing at the sky. It was too dark to see him. To see if he was still there. If he was still there, I would be a silhouette, a suggestion of personhood backlit in the near neon-blue of television glow.
Then I had an impossible thought and wondered if the man had shaken free of his tether, started walking, and simply kept on up and up and up. And if you were always walking up, with nothing to keep you on the ground, why couldn’t you step right into the sky? I craned my neck looking for the ember of my cigarette in the sky, even though he finished it a long time ago.
Behind me, dead people laughed and laughed until I couldn’t stand it any longer and I left the kitchen to see what was so funny.
Evan James Sheldon’s work has appeared recently in the Cincinnati Review, Ghost Parachute, and Litro. He is a Senior Editor for F(r)iction and the Editorial Director for Brink Literacy Project.