When we got home Mom wasn’t there. We learned later she’d called a neighbor who took her to the hospital. By the time Dad and I arrived a doctor was waiting to meet us. He asked to talk to Dad in private, and through the glass in the other room I saw Dad cry for the first and only time in my life. He was still strong as my dad always was; he locked eyes with the doctor and nodded as the doctor was no doubt giving him the details of my mother’s death. For a moment Dad looked away from the doctor and caught eyes with me.

His look told me everything. It said, Well, it’s just you and me now, Charlie.

When he finally came out of the glass room Dad wasn’t crying anymore. He knew it was his time to be strong as he told me, “Charlie, your mother isn’t with us anymore.”

I was crying now. I asked, “Can we see her?”

“Sure,” Dad said.

When I looked at her, I thought of the bouquet of helium balloons I’d gotten for my birthday that year. At the party they were colorful and full of air. They seemed ready to race to the sky — if only the ceiling weren’t in the way. But slowly, over the next two weeks, the life started to leak out of them.

At first I noticed they were no longer reaching the ceiling, then it seemed like just staying off the floor was a chore.

Finally they were lying on the ground, flat and lifeless, and I could barely remember when they were so vibrant and full of life.

My mother was a helium balloon.

Life had been leaking out of her ever since that day she and Dad told me she was sick. Maybe that’s why seeing her there pale and dead wasn’t all that much of a shock. I did think about the last thing I said to her, which was, “I think Dr. White is secretly in love with Susan Ward.”

We had been discussing the latest General Hospital. I was the only one around for Mom to discuss soap opera plots with. I loved those discussions because Mom didn’t look at me like a child. I was a peer and a friend. I think this change happened when she started realizing her fate. She understood she’d never get to see me holding a college diploma, she’d never help me think of creative ways to propose marriage, nor would she give me advice on how to raise my own kids. The most adult moments she’d ever get to have with me involved the plots of As the World Turns.

When we went back to mass for the funeral I stared at those candles again. As everyone bowed to pray I held my head up because I knew there was no God to pray to — if he was out there he would have healed my mother. He would have done something for me and for all those other people who light candles and cry out for him to save them.

The pallbearers carried my mother’s casket, and I followed it and left the church.

Any chance I had at having faith in God left with me.


*Come to find out, there are several nutrients in pee. There are large amounts of calcium, magnesium, and potassium. I found this out later when I was in college. I called and told my dad, and he just said, “Well you can let your kids pee on the neighbors’ rosebushes then.”

**Even at a young age I loved horror movies. They take you to another world and always make me jump a little. All my friends got a thrill from riding roller coasters. We never had the money for amusement parks so I had to find thrills from werewolves and axe murders.

†I didn’t just like horror. I also appreciated the acting talent of Ricky Schroder.

Homemade Haunting
Copyright © 2011 by Rob Stennett
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