At the end of autumn the brilliant reds and golds of the maples have faded past their peak and they flutter down to the leaf-littered ground. The scent of impending winter is on the brisk breeze, blending with the sweet, pungent fragrance of the decay underfoot.
Louis Goldstone loves the heady perfume of autumn. If he could choose a time to pass away, he would choose this season. Seated in his favourite reclining chair he watched television while Howie Mandel tried to give away a million dollars on ‘Deal or No Deal’. Louis Goldstone was happy, comfortable, and ready to leave his earthly bonds behind, although in no particular hurry to do so.
Lou didn’t know what there was after life, although he had always been confident that there was no God, no Heaven, and no Hell. He had enjoyed a fertile life, filled with adventure, family, creativity, success, failure, gain and loss. Never had he been bored, nor had he been boring. He had loved his only wife deeply as she had loved him. His sons and daughters loved and respected him as he loved and respected them. He had striven to live life in an honourable, generous, legitimate way, and felt that he had enjoyed success and good health for those reasons, devoid of any belief in the religious icons.
No matter what lay ahead for him in what he called ‘The Afterworld’, he was ready for it. He had no fear of it, no trepidation. He liked his old age, except that he missed his beloved wife and all of his closest friends who had passed before he did. His children visited him, every day different one, and often his grown grandchildren as well. Still, the inactivity that age had forced upon him caused an unaccustomed discomfort in his daily life.
Life was good, but he was tired. He had long since been forced to give up the pleasure he’d taken in risky adventures. He was pleased that his enemies and his competitors had predeceased him, and he was sorry that his friends and loved ones had done so also. His dogs, which he had loved almost as much as he loved his children, were long gone too. For fifteen years he had been too old to give a dog the attention he believed it deserved, so he had been that long without the companionship he’d always enjoyed.
Lou Goldstone had many good, warm, honest reasons to pass away at ninety-three. Comfortably, in his sleep, it happened. He was delighted to find that he could see from the other side, the warm, sincere send-off that his children provided for him. Although he was sorry for their pain, it was his time to go, and he was glad it came to pass so gently. He had no regrets.
Lou Goldstone woke from a nap feeling rested and relaxed on cool, dry grass in a pool of shade beneath a broad, lush Maple tree. He had no recollection of how he came to be there, and it didn’t matter to him. He was pleased to find that he felt none of the normal aches and pains that befall the elderly upon waking. He felt energetic and at ease. He rose up from the ground with the smooth grace he’d not experience in many years. On all sides were vast green fields where tall grasses swayed gently in the soft, fragrant breeze. Nearby, a long, winding trail of dry, packed earth led toward distant rolling hills. Along the way, the trail passed through a copse of lush deciduous forest like an island of shade.
Goldstone wondered if he had been wrong about God, heaven, and hell. The strong, pain-free feeling in his body and the glorious surroundings led him to feel that he might be in heaven. At the same time, he didn’t believe he belonged in heaven, having done a number of sinful things for which he had never atoned in his long life.
He stood on the trail, looked along it to his right and to his left, and observed that there seemed to be little difference between the distant scenes. The environment was bright with a warm glow like a mild summer day, but no source for the light was visible. Lou turned again to take a hard look down the trail. For the first time he noticed what appeared to be a park bench alongside the trail, with a person seated on it. Lou strode briskly toward the person on the bench. The freedom from pain and stiffness in his legs and hips reassured him that he must be in heaven.
As he approached the person on the bench he realised that the person seated there was a middle-aged black woman. She was strumming a guitar and singing softly to herself a lilting lyric that Lou could not quite hear. When he drew close, she stopped strumming and looked up at him.
“Hello, Lou,” she said, “We’ve been waiting for you a good long time. You’ve enjoyed quite the lengthy life, haven’t you?”
“Katie Brooks? Are you Katie Brooks?” Lou Goldstone laughed.
“That be me, Lou.”
“What are you doing here?” he said.
“Same as you, Louie. We’re both dead you know,” she said.
“Is this heaven,” he said.
“There is no heaven, Louie,” she said. “Come, sit by me.” Lou Goldstone sat beside Katie on the bench and looked into her smiling face.
“It’s good to see you again, Katie. You haven’t changed… still pretty as a picture.”
“It’s good to see you again too, Louie,” she said.
“Even though I’m in my nineties Katie? I’m not exactly a hunk.”
“You weren’t a hunk when I fell in love with you either,” Katie said. She looked away across the verdant field.
“You fell in love with me?” Lou said. “We were just kids when we were lovers.”
“Silly, isn’t it? But that’s the truth all the same,” Katie said. She looked up into Lou Goldstone’s eyes. “I don’t understand it either. I lived to my middle fifties, and never loved another man.”
“You never married?” he said.
“No. I enjoyed a lot of men in my time, but never loved any,” she said
“I hope you had a happy life,” he said.
“Oh, happy as any, I suppose,” she said. “I became a singer, made a good living, did a lot of travelling, had many adventures, but always hoped I’d meet you again. I wish it could have been before we died.” Lou sat quietly for some time, pondering the situation. Katie took up her guitar and began to strum again.
“In those days, Katie, we’d both have suffered too much if we’d become a visible couple,” Lou said.
“Both societies, the black and the white, would have ostracised us,” Katie sighed.
“I guess I have to admit, Katie, that I loved you too. But don’t you agree that it was just teenage infatuation?” Lou said.
“Not for me, Lou. I wrote a song about it,” she said. “My best song, in fact. Nobody has ever heard it, because I saved it just for you, in case we met again. Do you want to hear it?”
“Of course,” Lou said. Katie began to sing with her soft, warm voice.