Surprised doesn’t begin to describe my reaction to seeing Bob standing at my front door, wide grin on his face. His unexpected death twenty years earlier had filled me with a sense of loss and anger I now felt once again.
“Hey there, Big Dave.” Bob laughed the words out through his mustached lips.
I stood there, mouth agape, not knowing whether to scream for help or cry.
“Can’t I come in?”
“You are dead!”
“Yeah, well, nobody’s perfect.” A roar of a laugh followed.
Pushing me aside, Bob entered my apartment. “I never figured you to live in such a ritzy building. Your place is a mess though.”
“I suppose I’ve been lucky.” I spoke with bitter irony, Anne being dead a month.
“Remember that game with Seaver that we went to at Shea? Where he struck out the side with the bases loaded in the ninth? Do you still go to Shea, or whatever they call it now?”
“What the hell, Bob. I’m having a psychotic break again.”
“So, who do you think was better, the ’69 Mets or the ’86 ones?”
“You’re an apparition, a figment of my mind. I need a drink.”
“No thanks, I can’t have one.”
I thought of how Bob had died. Drinking didn’t seem appropriate.
“Let me touch you,” I demanded, believing tactile evidence more reliable than what my eyes were showing me.
“Hey, now, Big Dave, don’t get frisky.” I loved being called Big Dave, Bob being the only person who ever called my slim, less than athletic frame and diminutive 5’5” height, big. “Have you seen Times Square lately?”
“The place looks like it was taken over by Disney. At least Minnie Mouse never propositioned me.” Again, a roar of laughter.
My heart began to pound. Sweat dripped from me like a man who has just seen a ghost. Either I had lost my mind or I was dreaming. Certain that this didn’t involve sleep, I assumed the worst. Who cares, I thought, this wouldn’t be the first time.
“Remember, how I would hand some candy wrapper or some other piece of garbage to you while we were walking and you were lost in some deep philosophical or political talk, and I would laugh and you wouldn’t even notice.” Bob laughed out his words. “Or when we played miniature golf and you would get the lead and I would cough every time you made the shot? I’d end up winning by a stroke! Those were the days.”
“What the hell do you want, Bob?”
“Hey, what’s the matter with you?”
“I just lost my wife, Bob. What do you think?”
“That’s why I’m here buddy.”
“Why isn’t she here?” My face twisted in anguish.
“You ask a lot of questions, don’t you?” Bob spoke without anger. I fell back into my couch and stared into space.
“I know what you’re thinking.”
“What’s that?” I asked not caring about the answer.
“You’re planning to do what I did.”
“Well, look where that got me,” he laughed.
“Doesn’t seem so bad to me.”
“Listen, Dave, I jumped off a six-story building because I was depressed. I was bipolar. I got courage by drinking. What’s your excuse? Your wife died? Get over it.”
“Damn, for a ghost you are awfully insensitive. I guess that hasn’t changed.”
I stood up from the couch and decided to have that drink anyway. I poured a very large bourbon neat.
“I know you miss Anne, and believe it or not, she misses you. She loves you still. She wants you to go on living your life. Your time isn’t now.”
“You’re just my imagination, Bob.”
“Then listen to what it’s telling you. Death isn’t that bad. Life’s hard but it’s what we’re meant to do. Don’t screw it up.”
“When did you become so wise?”
“When I passed, Dave, when I passed. There is a little poem I’d like you to hear. St John of the Cross wrote the words.”
“We’re Jewish, Bob.”
“No separate religions where I come from, Dave.”
Bob put on his reading glasses but didn’t pull out any paper to read from.
“And I saw the river over which every soul must pass
to reach the kingdom of heaven
and the name of that river was suffering:
and I saw a boat which carries souls across the river
and the name of that boat was love.”
Bob slowly removed his glasses.
“Please leave.” I cried.
“Can’t Big Dave. I’m the boat and when the time comes, I will be back. Not now though. Not now.”
“Anne still loves me?”
“And she wants me to live?”
“Yes, in every sense of the word.”
I swallowed my drink down whole. “Well, maybe I just talked myself out of it.”
“Whatever you want to believe Big Dave. Whatever works for you.”
Bob headed for the door. “Be seeing you.” With that, he was gone.
I opened the door and looked out into the hallway. Nothing. I put my empty glass down and thought of Anne. I poured my several bottles of bourbon down the sink. “Maybe I’ll clean this place too,” I thought. First, though, I had friends to call.