Before Corrie’s dad died, he used to tell her about his dreaming. Every night for months he’d have them, long and detailed, filled up with the people he’d known across eighty-five years. Childhood playmates he hadn’t thought about since he was a boy. Grocery store clerks, the neighbour from his first apartment building, his grandparents long buried. ‘I must be getting ready,’ he’d say, cheeks full of grey stubble and phlegm in his throat. It made sense, his dreaming. Corrie used to say it was like organising, sifting through a long life lived before saying goodbye.
Her own dreams had started, and they did not come gently. Forty-two years of life flashed by in seconds. A fly buzzed on Corrie’s face while a circle of shoppers pressed in around her. Blood pooled on the asphalt where her temple had hit the ground, winding into the smallest cracks looking for a way down.
‘The ambulance is coming.’ The woman in the sari wanted to be an anchor, to keep Corrie here. But the soil beneath the asphalt had already started to yearn for her bones.
Corrie almost died once before. It was two decades earlier, and she was white-water rafting. There was a drought that year, the waterline still low. The raft tipped over on unexpected rocks, then the waves pushed her under. The river swallowed her whole and she felt nothing. No pain, no sound, no movement. When the water finally released her, shooting her up to the surface, she saw yellow raft, green-brown shoreline, white rapids. She heard the aspiration of water in her throat. Then the river swallowed her again, back to absolutely nothing at all. No angels. No portals. No heaven or hell. Until she resurfaced, back to life.
The woman in the sari waved the fly away from Corrie’s nostril. A single tomato, fat with seeds, rolled across the white lines of the parking lot and lodged beneath the rear tyre of a Toyota Rav 4. Corrie’s dreams flashed like strobe lights as she squeezed her last words into the woman’s hand.
I have a husband. He has the most beautiful freckles and red hair. We had a baby together, and she grew into a girl who looks exactly like the both of us. Tell them I’m so sorry.
Corrie slipped away then, into nothing.
They dressed Corrie in a blue sundress embroidered with daisies. At the cemetery, Oscar and Isabelle held their fists like hourglasses above her simple pine coffin, letting the dirt fall in a slow and steady stream. When they finished they sat on the grass while the mourners walked to their cars. Oscar and Isabelle stayed, uninterested in coffee and houseguests and catered platters of food. Isabelle did not want her mother to wake in the morning cold and alone. Oscar had no words to argue.
They stayed until the gravediggers covered Corrie’s body, until Oscar’s sister drove all the way back up the gravel road. She wrapped them both in her arms and shepherded them home, among friends and family and deli meats and into nighttime, sitting bedside until Isabelle cried herself to sleep.
Midnight fell over the graveyard, covering linden and oak and yew. The fly laid its eggs across all the aspects of Corrie’s body, and the straight line of time reworked itself around her, coiling like a snake around a caduceus. The rain came, water droplets finding paths in small spaces. The sun rose, the sun set, time and again.
One evening the fly crawled inside Corrie’s ear, its egg-laying done. ‘I give you my eyes,’ it buzzed. ‘I give you my wings.’ It fell against Corrie’s shoulder then, body stiff and legs extended.
Her eyes opened. There was damp. There was dark. There was a sense of things closing in. The shock of it sent Corrie flying skyward, a soul above the grave.
Spring buds bloomed on the nearby linden, on top of bare winter branches holding vibrant autumn leaves. The sun shone while stars twinkled in the dark night sky. She saw Oscar and Isabelle at the grave, she saw them walking away. Sorrow burst from her form and she keened.
The keening dropped her back beneath the earth, inside her box full of beetles and woodlice. She wailed until the crackling of fly larvae soothed her ears, until she slipped back into death’s strange sleep, her body still but her hair and fingernails curling.