Flash Fiction: A Visit from the Bardo

Mary Louise awoke at three am to the distinct smell of bacon frying. For just one moment she wondered what John was doing up so early, then remembered that he was dead, and had been for forty-nine days. That was when she walked into their study and found him in his armchair, skin cold, eyes staring off at some distant point on the wall, the victim of a defective heart valve that no doctor had noticed in John’s thirty-seven years on earth.

The bacon smell grew stronger. “What in the world?” She slipped on her robe and headed for the staircase. The house was dark save for a dim lamp burning in the upstairs hall and she leaned over the stair rail to see if she saw a light under the door in the kitchen. She didn’t, but still she tiptoed down the stairs, avoiding the steps she knew creaked.

Off in the distance, she heard a siren and stiffened. Maybe the police were in search of the very person who had broken into her kitchen. She crept past the kitchen door and headed for the hall closet where she kept a pistol. She wondered if she should telephone the police. Yes, of course, that is exactly what she should do, a woman alone in an old two-story Victorian home. But first, she decided to put her ear against the kitchen door to determine if she could hear any activity. Silence. Even the bacon smell, which still wafted in the air, was beginning to wane.

Mary Louise screwed up her courage, held the pistol steady as she had been trained to do by John, and pushed the door open with her foot. It banged against the far wall, making her jump, but the overhead light she flipped on revealed only an empty kitchen with everything neat and tidy just as she’d left it and the chain still securely fastened on the back door. She peered out the kitchen window. The back porch light glowed, revealing nothing.

“I must be losing my mind,” she said as she headed back upstairs.

Just as she reached the top step, Mary Louise saw a man sitting in the wing-back in the hall, his face hidden in the shadows. She screamed, scrambled down the stairs, and ran out her front door to the house across the street. “Help me!” she yelled as she pounded on the door.

Eighty-year-old Morrie, her neighbor, appeared in his bathrobe. “What’s happened, child?”  

“A man — in my house— call the police!”

The police came, searched Mary Louise’s house, found no evidence of any break-in, and suggested in as kind a tone as they could muster that she was, after all, a grieving widow and perhaps her imagination had been playing tricks on her.

Mary Louise was indignant. “How dare they treat me like I’m some hysterical woman,” she snapped at Morrie, who had remained while the police searched her house. “I mean I couldn’t have made up that bacon smell, for God’s sake. How would I ever come up with that on my own?”

Morrie patted her hand. “The mind can do amazing things, my dear. Right after Ruth died, I’d be sitting in the living room when all of a sudden, I’d hear her singing “Love Me Do” in the kitchen.

“Love Me Do?”

“Yes, it’s a silly old Beatles song.” He wiped his eyes with his handkerchief. “Oh God, I loved hearing her sweet voice.  Made me feel close to her.”

You don’t hear her singing anymore?”

“No. Just when I was still raw from the loss. I like to think it was Ruth’s way of letting me know she was close.” He stood up, picked up his cane, and headed to the front door. “Call if you need anything. I’ll be over like a shot.”

Mary Louise watched Morrie navigate her front steps, then shuffle back to his home. “Sweet man,” she muttered, then turned off the porch light.

“He is sweet,” a male voice said softly behind her.

Mary Louise wheeled around to see the same figure who had been sitting on her chair upstairs, but this time his face was illuminated by the table lamp. “John?”

“Hey, Doll Face.”

“But—but—how are you here?”

“Not quite sure about the how, but I’m here to tell you something.”

“But, John…”

“No. It’s important. After seeing your face when you found me, I felt so bad. So unsettled.  I just couldn’t leave without saying a few words to you.”

You saw me?”

“Yes, I was floating above my body – just like they say – when you came in. That look on your face, aw, that stricken look has haunted me.”

“Haunted you? No irony there.”

John laughed. “Did the bacon smell remind you of anything?”

Mary Louise looked puzzled.

“Sunday mornings?”

“Oh, you mean when you brought me breakfast in bed? Of course!’

“That was my way of letting you know I was around.”

“Like Ruth with Morrie?”

“Just like Ruth with Morrie.”

“But Morrie doesn’t hear Ruth sing anymore.”

“No, because she’s moved on in her journey just like I need to do.”

“But you just got here!”

“Actually, I’ve been lingering, but today is the day I have to go.”

“No! I can’t stand the idea of losing you again.”

“I know, but let’s face it. You’re physically here on earth and I’m—I’m not.”

“But what about us?”

“That’s what I wanted to tell you. Love never dies, Mary Louise. Our souls are connected forever.”


“Truly.” John blew her a kiss, then vanished.

Mary Louise stared at where her late husband had just stood. Souls connected forever? She felt the first real comfort she’d experienced in forty-nine days. “Thank you, baby,” she said out loud, then headed back up to bed, her heart filled.

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