Nellie was sitting on the couch of her living room when I was finally able to nudge her. She was reading an old, weathered copy of The Sun Also Rises. The nudge was soft, as if a skittish cat were sitting next to her, wanting attention. She barely felt it. But she did feel it.
“Mmmhm?” she muttered, looking up, expecting to see something or someone.
She couldn’t see me of course, not yet anyway. It had taken years, wading through the warm glow of almost nothingness that is the place where we all go. We float as clouds at first. But over time, we find ourselves and slowly begin the long, long process of pulling ourselves back together. We are like stars in that way in our new beginning: ethereal and nebulous. Unlike stars, though, it is not gravity that pulls us in, back into ourselves; it is love. Not quite an ache, but a pulse that drives us to re-form.
I rested my hand on Nellie’s forearm. I could feel her beneath my palm and fingers. She was my great-granddaughter. She had my nose, my chestnut hair. And she had my name. They had named her Helen, a name said only in rebuke. She was, to anyone that loved her, Nellie, just as I had been.
She could feel the warmth of my hand, but she couldn’t see it or me. I thought she would be scared. But when she looked to her arm, and then up to where my face would have been, she smirked. It wasn’t a smile. It was a curious smirk. It made me laugh. She could hear that. But it sounded like the wind.
She smiled then.
I put my hand on her cheek, warm tears running down my face. Nellie’s eyes were glimmering and glistening in the light that shined through the bay window behind us.
A tear ran down her cheek. I felt it on my thumb. It warm and real, and I felt it.
“I do not know you, but I love you, my dear,” I whispered. “Ever so much.”
The book closed in her lap, and she lifted her hand to her cheek. She put her hand on mine.
“I’ll come back,” I said.
Her head moved just an inch. It could have been nothing. I wanted it to be a nod.
As I got up to leave the room, she opened the book in her lap to the first page, and put her hand on an inscription. The blue ink was faded. The letters flowed elegantly into each other.
Helen Reynolds, 1908