Dallas came downstairs to find Paula dressed for the day and sitting in the den. The morning paper was folded on her lap and she had a stricken look on her face. “Victoria died yesterday,” she said.
“How did she die?” asked Dallas. “And also, Victoria who?” He immediately regretted the second question. He felt strange having this conversation wearing only boxer shorts and a hooded sweatshirt.
“My friend,” said Paula. “Victoria Clemons. I’ve been friends with her since middle school.”
“Oh yeah,” said Dallas. “I guess I just don’t remember you mentioning her…ever…before.”
“We hadn’t been in regular contact in a while,” said Paula. “Just when we ran into each other around town.” She looked down at her hands as she patted the newspaper on her lap.
“And how did she die?” asked Dallas.
“She fell down the library steps,” said Paula, getting to her feet. “The funeral’s on Thursday. We should go.”
“Sure,” said Dallas. He wondered if it would be appropriate to change the subject yet.
“I feel so strange,” said Paula, pacing back and forth in front of the easy chair she’d just vacated before sitting down again, her elbows resting on her knees and her chin resting in her hands. “The last time I talked to Victoria was at the library. And then, a few weeks later, she died there. Isn’t that eerie?”
“Yeah,” said Dallas, but he didn’t think it was eerie at all. He started to edge backwards in the direction of the kitchen with his mind drifting towards the powdered doughnuts in the pantry.
“I don’t know why I’m not crying,” said Paula.
Dallas stopped backing up and said, “Maybe you’re not that sad.”
Paula glared at him. “Of course I’m sad. I’m devastated. I’m not crying because there’s no closure.”
“I thought you said you didn’t know why,” said Dallas. He didn’t want to argue, especially while Paula was feeling fragile, but he was hungry and the introduction of the word “closure” seemed to indicate that the conversation was heading somewhere ill-defined and inescapable.
“I know that I’m not crying because there’s no closure,” said Paula. “But I don’t know why there’s no closure.”
“I guess we’ll never know,” said Dallas. “Maybe the funeral will fix it.”
“Maybe,” said Paula, but she didn’t sound convinced.
Dallas supposed a somber breakfast was better than no breakfast.
The funeral did not provide Paula with the closure she wanted. “I didn’t cry at all,” she said. “My eyes didn’t even get misty.”
She and Dallas were on their way home from the cemetery. Dallas was driving and Paula was sitting in the passenger’s seat and not crying. The day was bright and warm. Dallas had kept his ears open at the funeral hoping for more information as to how Victoria had fallen down the library steps, but everyone seemed to be consciously avoiding the specifics of her death. Dallas also noticed that most of the people at the funeral either expressed surprise that he and Paula were there or had no idea who they were.
“It was too impersonal,” said Paula. “Too official. That’s no way to get closure.”
“I saw a lot of people crying,” said Dallas. “I guess it wasn’t too official for them.”
Paula sighed. “I wish I could just push a button and get closure, Dallas. I really do. But that’s not how closure works.”
The sun shone directly into Dallas’s eyes as he exited the highway. He reached under his seat for his sunglasses and found them broken in half. “Maybe you’re just exceptionally strong, Paula.”
“What does being strong have to do with crying when a friend dies?”
“I don’t know,” said Dallas. He wasn’t too proud to retreat. He also distinctly remembered Paula crying when she accidentally backed the car over a opossum that was in such bad shape it had probably thrown itself under the wheels on purpose. But he knew better than to bring that up now.
Dallas pulled the car into a gas station parking lot and went into the convenience store to buy some beef jerky. While he stood in line to pay for the jerky, he sang quietly to himself, substituting the word “closure” for every lyric of Yankee Doodle.
The next day, Dallas and Paula stood looking up the cement steps that led to the Multioak Public Library’s front entrance.
“Think how many people go up and down these steps every day without falling,” said Paula. She was overdressed for an afternoon trip to the library, but Dallas supposed her plain blue dress and high heels were about right for an afternoon trip seeking closure at the spot where a former friend had died in a freak accident. Paula hadn’t insisted that Dallas dress up too so he hadn’t.
A young mother and her son walked past Dallas and Paula and up the steps. “You have to check out one book for every movie you check out,” said the mother.
“No!” shouted the little boy. “No! No!”
“I’m the mom!” shouted the mother. “I make the rules!” She and her son went inside to continue their argument where it would disturb other patrons in violation of the library’s noise policy.
“It’s always people like that who navigate a flight of steps without incident,” said Dallas.
“This isn’t working,” said Paula. “It just feels like we’re going to the library.”
“Oh,” said Dallas. “You feel that too?” He’d never been inside the library. He liked reading but he never did it. There was never a time of day that seemed right for it.
Paula stepped off of the sidewalk and sat down on the library’s front lawn with her back against a tree. Dallas didn’t feel like joining her. Sitting in the grass made him itch.
Paula watched the library steps, her eyes attentive and dry. Occasionally someone would come out of the library and trot down them without thinking. Most of them didn’t even bother to use the handrail. “You know I’m usually a skeptic,” said Paula. “Right, Dallas?”
Dallas knew no such thing.
Dallas was a little surprised at how normal Mr. Hafley’s living room looked. He’d expected a medium to have more beads and tapestries and grotesque figurines. Instead there were framed pictures of Mr. Hafley’s teenage daughters and a coffee table littered with deep-sea fishing magazines.
“Sorry about the clutter,” said Mr. Hafley. He moved a newspaper, the only apparent clutter in the room, from the brown leather couch to the coffee table and motioned for Dallas and Paula to sit. Then he sat down in a matching chair across the room and said, “I charge 50 dollars a session. How does that sound?”
“It’s fine,” said Paula. “Do we pay now?”
Mr. Hafley nodded. “It’s better that way. It’s better to put money matters behind us before contacting the dead.”
Dallas had already resigned himself to losing at least a hundred bucks to the medium so even though he objected to paying up front, he decided not to make it an issue. Mr. Hafley walked over to Paula, accepted the cash, and slipped into the pocket of his khaki pants without counting it. He was very thin with unnaturally good posture and curly brown hair cut close to his head. Dallas didn’t immediately dislike him, which was another surprise.
Mr. Hafley returned to his chair and, smiling, said, “Well, let’s get started, shall we?”
“Yes,” said Paula. “Do we need to go somewhere dark or sit in a circle and hold hands or something?”
“No,” said Mr. Hafley. “That stuff’s just theatrics. Here is fine.”
Paula looked surprised but she said, “Thank you for your honesty. I had heard you were a straight shooter.” She gave Dallas a significant look that he resented.
“So who do you want to contact?” asked Mr. Hafley.
“My friend Victoria,” said Paula. “She died in a fall down the library steps last week. I’ve tried and tried but I just can’t get any closure.”
Mr. Hafley nodded gravely. “Yes, closure is very important. Helping people find it is maybe the most rewarding part of my job. Well, the most rewarding part of this job. Not so much in my other job.”
“What’s your other job?” asked Dallas.
“I’m an event-planner,” said Mr. Hafley. “Anyway, OK, I’m going to channel your friend Victoria now, Paula. What was her last name?”
“Got it,” said Mr. Hafley. “Victoria Clemons who died last week when she fell down the library steps.” He paused for a moment. “OK, here she is.”
Dallas was confused. Mr. Hafley hadn’t even closed his eyes.
“Here’s how this works,” said Mr. Hafley. “I found her spirit and I’m going to let her talk to you. But since she’s talking through me, it’s still going to sound like my voice. Got it?”
“That makes sense,” said Paula, sitting forward on the edge of the couch.
“Here she is,” said Mr. Hafley. “Hello, Paula, it’s me, Victoria. Victoria Clemons.”
Paula looked at Dallas again, a hint of uncertainty on her face that Dallas considered well-justified. He shrugged and gestured for Paula to go ahead and talk to Mr. Hafley.
“Hello, Victoria,” said Paula.
“Are you sad that I’m gone?” asked Mr. Hafley.
“Yes,” said Paula. “I’m having trouble moving on. I haven’t been able to cry at all. I don’t know why.”
“I understand,” said Mr. Hafley. “So I’m telling you, Paula: move on. I don’t want you to waste what’s left of your life missing me.”
Dallas held up his hand. “I’ve got a question for you too, Victoria.”
“What year did you graduate high school?”
Mr. Hafley’s brow furrowed. “I don’t think your wife decided to seek contact with my spirit to ask trivial questions that she already knows the answers to.”
“I don’t mind,” said Paula. “Go ahead and tell him.”
“1996?” said Mr. Hafley.
“No,” said Paula. “Victoria graduated with me in 1998.”
“Days and months and years all run together when you’re only spirit,” said Mr. Hafley. “I’m outside of time now, Paula. So that explains my mistake.”
Paula burst into tears, her shoulders quivering as she hunched forward and wept, covering her face with her hands.
“That’s right,” said Mr. Hafley. “There you go. Let it all out and then move on. I’ll rest easier knowing that you’ve found closure.”
“You can drop the act,” said Dallas, scooting closer to his wife and rubbing her shoulder. “You can keep the money, I don’t care.”
“Spirits don’t need money,” said Mr. Hafley. “Being one myself, I would know.”
Paula’s sobs had begun to subside. She wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her shirt. “You are a terrible faker, Mr. Hafley.” She shook her head and made a sound that was primarily a laugh. It was the first time Dallas had heard her laugh since she’d started talking about closure.
Mr. Hafley threw up his hands and leaned back in his chair. “Well, Victoria’s gone. Your doubts and accusations scared her away.”
Dallas wondered why Mr. Hafley’s commitment to his charade didn’t extend to putting more effort into the charade itself. Dallas stood up and Paula stood too. Dallas put his arm around her shoulder and offered his hand to Mr. Hafley. “No hard feelings,” said Dallas. “Really.”
Mr. Hafley stood and shook Dallas’s hand without shame or discomfort.
“I might even call you again,” said Dallas. “If I need an event planned.”
Driving home, Dallas said, “Closure: yes or no?”
Paula sipped at the watered down remainder of the drink she’d gotten with her value meal at lunch. “I don’t think I was even crying for the right reason.”
“So no closure,” said Dallas.
“No closure,” said Paula. “But oh well.”
Dallas stopped the car at a red light in the middle of town. He turned the air conditioner off and rolled his window down. There was a lazy three-on-three basketball game winding down at the outdoor courts by Multioak Elementary. The kids involved appeared to just be taking turns trying to dunk. The truck in front of Dallas and Paula had one big dog riding in the bed and another small dog leaping around the cab and barking at the big dog. The man driving the truck was trying and failing to subdue the small dog. The big dog blinked at Dallas and Paula, oblivious to the chaos in the cab. Then Dallas saw the driver look in his rearview mirror and he realized it was an old friend of his dad’s named Hal Burke. Hal stopped wrestling with the small dog and broke into a wide grin, giving Dallas a friendly wave. Just as he did, one of the kids playing ball rattled in a dunk and Paula slurped the last of her soft drink out of the bottom of her cup and a teenage boy pushing a baby in a stroller on the sidewalk swerved to run the stroller through a deep puddle, soaking the baby and himself while the baby shrieked with laughter.
And Dallas didn’t have any closure either, as far as he could tell, but he did get a little teary-eyed.