Vases

Just Colors? by Florin Deleanu (750 words) 

The blue vase toppled from the piano at precisely the same moment that the red candle holder on the coffee table fell, overturning the golden model of the Rump Tower next to it. The clock struck 12 midnight.

 The cheeseburger crumbled between his greasy fingers. What the hell was happening? It looked like an invisible hand was toppling things. He scanned around. No one…. Then why? And why precisely at the stroke of the midnight of his birthday?

He approached the piano cautiously. The mouth of the vase had chipped. Where did it come from? And the candle holder? Melany’s decorations? He hadn’t noticed them before. A gift? From whom?... He knew the model, of course – a golden replica of his Tower, but the other two items?   

There was something fishy about all this… But what were they trying to prove him? A prank? Who would dare? Then a plot? A threat?!...

He dashed to the mahogany desk, and pressed the emergency button. Two men in black suits lunged into the room, hands ready to pull the guns. They looked around unable to find any cause for alert, then turned their eyes to the massive man standing by the table, his blond mane towering a frowning orange-tanned face.  

“Anything wrong, Mr. President?”

“You bet your f*cking asses. Check the piano… On the left.”

The older agent cast a cursory glance at the fallen objects.  

“We’ll call the house cleaning right away, Sir.”

“We’re facing an emergency here, and you morons talk of cleaning? You call everyone in the National Security Council – right now!”

Grumpy faces, sleepy eyes, all staring confused at the blue vase, candle holder, and Tower model sitting on the big round desk.

     “Who the hell has the technology to move things from distance?,” resounded President Rump’s harsh voice.

     “We don’t. And as far as we know, nobody in the world has developed it. Am I right, John?,” said Myttis looking askance at the Director of the National Intelligence.

     “Guess so. Never heard of anything like that…”

     “Could be just a random accident, Sir.” Bombeo turned toward the President with an affable smile.

     “No way!,” shouted Rump, slapping the desk. “Saw it with my own eyes. Somebody’s messing with us! With me, the President of the United States!”

     “But who are they?,” Mytiss asked the question on everybody’s lips.

     “That’s what I want you to find out, and deal with it – pronto!”

     Silence fell over the stuffy room. The Director of the National Intelligence picked up the vase and surveyed it carefully. Nothing! He passed it on to two analysts seated behind him. One of them knocked it listening to the sound. The other started searching the Net.

     “Pay attention to the colors, too. Blue, red, golden – that’s a clue.” Rump’s face lighted up. It feels good to remind these “specialists” who the smart guy in the room is.

     “Usually… blue’s democrats, red’s republicans.”

     “Might be, Bombeo. Never trusted either. But how about golden?”

     “Or rather yellow, Sir,” said one of the analysts, now inspecting the Tower.

     “Hmm… like in the yellow race. Then it’s the Chinese,” Rump concluded.

     “Actually their flag is red and golden stars,” Bombeo added with a grin.

     “Come on, Sir! It’s just colors.”

“There’s nothing like ‘just colors,’ Mytiss.”

“Actually, there’s more proof,” the other analyst turned his iPad for everyone to see. It showed a blue vase identical with the one on the table. “And it clearly says, ‘made in China’.”  

“Here you are? They must have given it to me as a gift last year. Cunning bastards!”

“But why blue? Commies prefer red,” Mytiss persisted.  

“’Cause blue is…’

“The color of the working class, like in blue-collar. And commies think they represent the workers.” Bombeo proved himself useful again.

“Here you are! Now that we got the proof, what measures do we take against the Chinks? Anything is on the table, from missiles to… whatever.”

The Council members looked at each other in utter disbelief.

“Missiles are way too extreme, Sir. You must desist from such a course.”

Rump’s face was foreboding a storm of rage. Why the hell did he appoint Mytiss as Secretary of Defense?

“Maybe we could hit’em with tariffs first, then missiles.”

Rump turned to Bombeo nodding. That’s even better. The Chinks are getting away with billions. Taxes on Chinese goods had been long overdue. He’d been hesitating, but now the proof was here: the blue vase! 

Florin Deleanu, PhD, is a professor of Buddhist studies and writer based in Japan. Apart from his scholarly work (which can be found on Academia and ResearchGate), he also pursues creative writing. Recently he has completed the script How to Kill a Black Dragon, a Chinese Don Quixote story set in the world of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. 

  

Crashing Down by Miriam Drori (513 words) 

The blue vase toppled from the piano at precisely the same moment that the room turned silent. It seemed to the crowd as if Janice had called for quiet so that all those present could listen to the crash of shattering glass on the parquet floor. Yet, the next sound proved otherwise.

Janice let out a piercing scream and collapsed in a flood of mascara-flavoured tears. Friends who stood close to her reached out their arms to prevent her from crumpling to the floor. Later, she recovered sufficiently to tell them, over a buzz of subdued conversations and while still finding herself the object of furtive glances from the various groups dotted around the vast room, that the cobalt glass vase had been a family heirloom, about three hundred years old. Later still, a guest taking her leave – one of the many who tempered their thanks for the party and congratulations to the happy couple with so-called profound sorrow for Janice’s loss – mentioned how she’d noticed Robert leaning against the piano and possibly causing it to wobble.

Clara acted coldly to Robert after that episode, and soon broke off their engagement. Robert fixed sad eyes on her, full of pain.

“I’m so sorry,” said Clara. “I did love you, really I did. But I can’t carry on, not after the vase. I’ll send you a little something.”

Robert used Clara’s little something as a deposit for a shop that he turned into a restaurant. He left the job where he’d learned the trade, and worked hard to make his business succeed. The restaurant flourished and became the first of many. Robert demonstrated a talent for television appearances that further increased his earnings, directly and indirectly, as customers flocked to his chain of restaurants. He was widely acclaimed for his modesty and for his generous donations to charity.

Robert was awoken from his reveries when the door opened and a young girl skipped in.

“Daddy, I got a gold star for my test today.” The girl beamed as she held up a page of meticulously drawn letters in pencil. The gold star shone at the top.

“Well done.” Robert hugged his daughter to him. “I see you worked hard. If you carry on like that, you’ll get somewhere in life.”

Her eyes fell on the newspaper that had dropped to the floor beside his armchair. She lifted it and returned it to Robert’s lap. Then she stood beside the chair and, with determination, read the headline, even the first word. “Millionairess found guilty of murdering husband. Daddy, who’s Clara Madison?”

“Just some woman with too much money.”

The girl giggled. “You can’t have too much money.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. Some people have so much money that they don’t know how to handle it. Money can turn you into a nasty person and it can make everyone hate you.”

“Where’s Mummy?”

“In the kitchen, I think, preparing our meal.”

Left alone again, Robert glanced at the photo in the newspaper, reflecting on what might have been. Yes, he’d done well to push that piano.

Miriam Drori, a writer based in Jerusalem, Israel, has written in various genres, including romance and crime fiction. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies, the last being Dark London. Her most recent novel is Style and the Solitary, published by Darkstroke Books. Miriam has also presented public talks, often around the theme of social anxiety, a topic that crops up in some of her writing.

Broken to Pieces, by Marlene Goldberg (729 words) 

The blue vase toppled from the piano at precisely the same moment that Mahmud rushed out in anger and slammed the door shut. Angry tears welled up in Fatima’s eyes as she picked up the pieces of the vase she loved with its depiction of unrequited love – always seeking, never reaching. Mahmud had always hated the piece. The Greek goddess depicted was pagan and immodestly dressed. Fatima would turn it around to the wall when he was home.

Fatima loved looking at the vase while playing the piano. Mahmud had let her study with an elderly French woman who would travel far from the city to give her lessons. But Madame Elaine was getting too old to make the arduous journey, so Fatima was now on her own. She knew the notes, the hand positions, but the rhythm was often too challenging. Mahmud wouldn’t allow her to take the bus alone to the city - unaccompanied by him. And he had no time for such nonsense with his long hours at the office.

Then the war broke out. Mahmud was sent to Iraq to help clear out the office there. There was much to do.

“Mahmud is in Iraq. He’s stuck there. Couldn’t get a plane out,” Fatima repeated to herself as if the unexpected freedom would vanish if she wasn’t conscious of the fact at every waking moment.

Sigh of relief. “Quarantine. How sweet it sounds. I can read as much as I want. The kids keep me busy. But no one is telling me what to do. I can sing them songs. Like Mama used to do.”

“Mama. I hardly remember her. She smelled so delicious. I used to swallow her perfume when she bent over me to tuck me in at night. Her eyes were translucent olive green. You could look into her eyes and see another world. Her long dark lashes usually were blinking away tears.

Except when she sang. She always sang in the language that must not be heard. Our secret language. Never tell Baba.

Baba never liked music. Always yelled at Mama if she put on the radio and songs went on. Especially songs sung by women. Even Um Kul Tum.

I miss Mama. But it’s morning. The day is young. I am free to fill this day and do whatever I like. Inside.

Well, I’m always inside. But I can open the windows. Well, maybe just this one. Let the sunshine in. So warm on my face. No mask needed at home. No burka either. Not until Mahmud comes home.”

“Mama! What are we eating? Cornflakes again?”

“Why, Alma, what do you want? An omelette?”

“Yes, Mama, with cheese!” Alma, the smart 10-year-old knows not to make such requests when Baba is home. Especially with cheese so expensive. Baba has a good government job but is always frugal with the family budget. So he can spend freely on himself – at the hair salon, the masseur, and expensive suits.

“Inshallah this quarantine lasts and lasts. So much to do. So little time.”

Fatima fed all the children. Put the baby down for her nap. Gave the boys an assignment in their Arabic workbook. The girls helped her clear away the dishes and clean up the table. Then they sat down on the shiny kitchen table with their workbooks to do their Zoom homework.

Fatima looked out her window. No cars in the street. No donkeys either. Only voices were heard. Husbands yelling at wives. Mothers yelling at children.

Fatima never yelled. Almost never. Usually, she was too weak to reply to Mahmud’s bossing her around.

“The birds are singing. They sound so happy. Free to chirp as much as they like.

Such beautiful wildflowers – looks like anemones blooming at the Abu Hussein’s garden. The most beautiful garden around.”

She takes a deep breath thinking “the air is so fresh today. But I can smell someone’s cooking. Must be the Ben Shaweed family. They love to barbeque. Even this early in the morning.”

“There, dishes done. Now I can read.” She picks up her dog-eared copy of Scheherazade. She has read it so many times, she almost knows it by heart.

And the Sultan raised his eyebrows and glared at her until her soothing voice enchanted him with another tale of bravery and derring-do whose end has yet to be revealed.

Based in Israel, Marlene Goldberg has published 100-word stories on Word Press through LinkedIn Friday flash fiction. A former high school/college English teacher, Marlene is a certified translator and librarian with a BA (major in English literature/ minor in political science) and MA in English Literature. 

A Beginning, a Middle But Hardly an End, by Nina Lichtenstein (750 words) 

The blue vase toppled from the piano at precisely the same moment that her husband slammed the door. It wasn’t the first time he’d stormed out, but for some reason, Nora had a premonition it would be the last time she’d be here, in their apartment, to witness his explosions. He could be gone, now, for the rest of the evening, or, as often happened, for a day or two, or even three. She stood up from the wingback chair where she had been correcting papers when he started yelling, and moved toward the heap of blue glass. The antique, Norwegian vase, which her mother had given her just before she died, had broken open as it landed on the hardwood floor. Three pink peonies lay scattered. When Nora bent down to pick up the silk flowers, she noticed something else on the floor. A charm? A pendant? She picked up the object about the size of a nickel but with pointed edges, and held it up toward the light. It was a Star of David in intricate, filigree design, the silver tarnished almost black. It must have come from inside the vase, she thought. She wondered how it got there, and even more, why it was in her mother’s collectible vase?

 

II

 

The flight to Tel Aviv was full, and Nora sat next to an orthodox couple; the wife in her long skirt and kerchiefed hair in the middle seat, her husband with a white beard and black kippah tilted on his bald spot by the isle. Nora gazed out the oval window where what looked like mounds of white cotton balls made her feel like she was being carried in a soft dream, one she hoped would lead to answers. Her family was not Jewish, but she had begun to feel a visceral affinity to and curiosity about all things Jewish after she’d discovered the pendant. First she recalled her mother once having told her about her boyfriend, Elias, and how at twenty, they had been madly in love. The oldest son of the Berowitz family who had owned the only shoe store in their small, seaside town of Sandefjord, he was deported to Auschwitz on November 26, 1942 together with 749 Jews from Norway. Only his younger brother Samuel survived from the family of 8. She saw it as a sign, discovering the Star of David that evening last June. So much had happened since then. She’d moved out and asked for a divorce; she’d discovered that not only had her mother been in love with Elias in 1933, but that she had given birth to a little boy, their son. But because it was impossible for the young couple to get married at the time–a Jew and a Christian—the baby was adopted by a Christian family in the mountains. The boy, Erik, grew up there, on the farm, but in 1969 he was discovered hanging from a beam in the barn. He was 36. In his overall pocket, the police found the Star of David.

III

 

In Jerusalem, Nora meandered through the Old City, stopping at every shop where she saw jewelry, old and new. She was on a hunt, looking for a clue that might lead her to a specific shop, or maybe even jeweler, who was known for this intricate craft. It was Erik’s older sister, Astrid, who had filled her in on some of the gaping holes in the story about Nora’s half-brother, and how her mother had visited him on the farm, every year on his birthday, until it became too dangerous during the occupation. Nora could only guess, but one scenario might be that it was Elias who had given her mother the pendant when they were dating, and that she in turn passed it on to their son, as a token. Nora imagined her mother saying, while pressing the Star of David into the palm of her son on his 5th or 7th birthday, “Hold onto this, Erik. One day you will use this to guide you in your search for your birth-parents’ story.” Now, she was the one holding the pendant in the pocket of her modest skirt, tracing the edges of the star with her fingers, hoping she’d find a way forward. She had so many questions, and she could sense on a cellular level, that if she kept going, not giving up, it was possible she’d come to understand so much. Maybe even forgive.

Nina is a native of Oslo, Norway who lives in Maine. She holds a Ph.D. in French literature and an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast program. She has blogged as The Viking Jewess since 2014, and her writing has appeared in Tablet, Brevity, Lilith, The Washington Post, and Hippocampus (forthcoming), among other places. Her book, Sephardic Women's Voices: Out of North Africa was published in 2017. She is currently working on a memoir titled 'My Body Remembers' and on editing a collection of personal essays by converts to Judaism.

A New Terror by Robert Loewen (599 words) 

The blue vase toppled from the piano at precisely the same moment that her neighbor’s chimney collapsed. Her ears ringing from the deafening explosion, Lisa bounded to her broken front window from the piano bench where she’d been practicing Brahms. A plume of smoke rose from the space where Mrs. Smith’s living room had been. Still wearing her school uniform, Lisa, a twelve-year-old whose brown hair hung straight to her shoulders with bangs in front, scurried outside in the London neighborhood where she’d lived her entire life.  

“Jimmie!” she screamed as she ran toward the Smiths’ house across the street. Lisa stopped, mouth agape, while she surveyed the devastation. They had known each other since Jimmie’s family moved in when they were both six. From the beginning, Jimmie was nice to her even when the other kids weren’t. Jimmie’s father had died in the war, and his mother had gone back to work. But Jimmie was home. She glanced back toward her house, where some smoldering embers threatened the roof, wondering whether her own mother was close behind, but she saw no one.

Lisa hated German bombing raids, but at least until now, there had been a warning before bombers appeared in the sky to drop their deadly ordnance. Each time, her family and the Smiths had walked briskly together to the shelter two blocks away. This time, there’d been no warning--and no bombers.

A loud buzz, like a swarm of hornets, startled her. Lisa tilted her head toward the sky. At first, she could not locate the source. Then she saw a solitary cylinder flying so high that it looked like a tiny bug. Suddenly, silence. When the buzzing stopped, the strange object abruptly plummeted to earth. Kaboom! Although the explosion was several blocks away, it was nearly as loud as the one that toppled the blue vase. Breathing hard, Lisa ran toward her house, determined to hide under the piano, but she stopped before she reached the front door, staring back at the smoldering ruin that had been Jimmie’s house.

The Smiths’ front door was still standing, but it fell away the moment Lisa touched it. Inside, flames flickered from small fires. “Jimmie!” No answer. She put a handkerchief over her face to block the smoke.  

Hearing sirens in the distance, Lisa eyed the closed door that she knew led to a part of the house that was still standing. She grabbed the doorknob. “Ouch!” She shook her hand to ease the sting as she examined it for blisters. Using her handkerchief for another try, Lisa slowly turned the doorknob. Coughing as she entered the room, Lisa peered through the dense smoke. Then she found Jimmie, his motionless body seated in a chair with a large beam lying across him. A book that Lisa had lent him lay on the floor.

She placed her hand gently on Jimmie’s cheek. It was warm to the touch. Still alive! she exulted. Lisa used all of her strength, but the beam would not budge. She surveyed the room, wondering what to do next, when two firefighters burst through the window. Lisa followed when they carried Jimmie outside, grateful for the fresh air she gulped deeply into her lungs.

Next day, the newspapers reported on an insidious weapon used by the Nazis for the first time. The Germans called it a V-1 rocket, giving a terrifying new meaning to an old word--rocket. Lisa was relieved that Jimmie would be all right, but for the rest of the war, she had nightmares about rockets raining down on her city.

Bob Loewen is a retired lawyer and freelance writer who lives in Laguna Beach, California. Co-founder of the nonprofit public policy think tank, California Policy Center, his writing is often found on the Op Ed pages of traditional media and on the internet. He is currently writing his first novel, about the experiences of his mother-in-law in the Dutch Resistance during World War II.

Struck by a Chord by Emily Mesch (645 words) 

The blue vase toppled from the piano at precisely the same moment that the piano toppled from the roof.  Being the slightly more aerodynamic of the two, however, the vase hit the sidewalk a few inches before Seymour’s feet with just enough warning for Seymour to stop, look up, and acknowledge his doom.

 

When Seymour next opened his eyes, he found himself on a gurney, being pushed down a hallway at a rather fast pace by two figures in dark cloaks.  Still woozy, but ever the optimist, Seymour found the words “Is this the hospital?” escaping his lips.

“No,” came the expressionless reply from the woman in the dark cloak.

 

Slightly less optimistically, Seymour tried again: “Is this heaven?”

 

“No,” came the expressionless reply from the man in the dark cloak.

 

His optimism exhausted, and a lump forming in his throat, Seymour finally asked, “Is this… am I in hell?”

 

“No,” came the expressionless reply from the woman in the dark cloak.
 

Seymour’s optimism returned, but at a slower pace than his confusion.  “Then where am I?”

 

The two cloaked heads turned in unison, displaying stares as blank as the hallway they were in.  “You’re in the Steinway and Sons Customer Service Warehouse.”  Then the faces turned away once again, leaving Seyour to process that pronouncement, allow it to ruminate in his head for a few moments, just to ensure that he had heard correctly.

 

“I’m in the Steinway--” Seymour was cut off

“And Sons Customer Service Warehouse.”  The two figures remained facing forward this time, even as their monotones stayed synchronized.

The gurney passed by a large window, through which Seymour could see an open floorspace full of grand pianos, about twenty in total.  One single piano in the far corner was being played by a person, but the others were empty.  Seymour could faintly hear a few measures of “Hall of the Mountain King” before they were too far past the window for sound to carry.

So he was in the Steinway and Sons Customer Service Warehouse.  It was just as this concept was beginning to make sense to him that his gurney was pushed through a set of swinging double doors, and he found himself in the middle of a sparse room with wood flooring, a woman in judge’s robes seated behind a wooden desk.  The cloaked figures were nowhere to be seen.

“So I am told,” the judge pronounced, “that you were killed by one of our pianos?”

Seymour took a breath.  “I believe so, yes.”

“You believe so?” She leaned back in her chair.  “Can you recount the events of the incident, as you recall them?  This information will help us to process your claim.”

“Well, I was walking down the sidewalk, when a blue vase fell just in front of me and shattered--”

“So it was the blue vase that killed you?”

“No, I didn’t say that.  It was just the blue vase that I noticed first.”

“Well, if a blue vase was involved…” the judge paused a moment to rifle through some papers on her desk, “then we won’t be able to determine our liability until we can determine theirs.”

Seymour felt a rising sense of suspicion that he wasn’t going to like the next words out of the judge’s mouth.

“Ah, here’s where you belong.” There was a feeling of satisfaction in the judge’s tone.  “I’ll send you on your way.”

A trap door opened up beneath the gurney, and Seymour found himself in complete darkness for somewhat longer than he was comfortable with.

When the gurney finally rolled into the light once again, Seymour was greeted by two young women with fresh faces and blue polo shirts.

“Hello,” they said in unison as they each grabbed hold of one side of the gurney, “and welcome to the Bed, Bath, and Beyond Customer Service Warehouse.”

Emily Mesch is a writer based in Juneau, Alaska.  Her writing can be found on Medium.com 

Flames by Lisa Newill-Smith (746 words) 

The blue vase toppled from the piano at precisely the same moment that flames flew from her fingertips. Strange that she should remember the vase shattering on the ground. It was such a small detail, one that meant nothing compared to the shattering of her life. But even ten years later, that moment remained frozen in her mind. The pale blue shards of painted glass shone brightly against the pale white keys, and the once-proud violet lilies lay lifeless on the floor.

Just like her father, lilac blood spilling out, seeping into the plush white carpet.

Kira shook her head, trying to focus on the task at hand. The dark mages who murdered her parents had escaped death for long enough. Ten long years of tracking, training and waiting had finally paid off. She could not let this opportunity slip through her flaming fingers. She closed her wild golden eyes and took a deep breath, reaching through her center to the fiery magical line that ran below the ground. 

The fire entered through the soles of her feet. The familiar tingling sensation swept upwards, filling her veins, her bones, and her lungs with fire. Her tensed shoulders dropped as the tingling permeated every aspect of her body. Since the moment the fire came to her, Kira only felt truly at peace when her soul brimmed with it. 

The fire cleansed her. The night her fire came, her first kill, the day she lost her partner Ky, all became bearable with the flames. 

Her golden eyes flew open, shimmering as a tiny flame danced within. No longer distracted, her fingers glowed, ready to fling flames in an instant. 

Kira turned her head sharply to the left. A footstep, brought to her ears by the flames. Silently, she called the fire magic to her feet, creating a puff of hot, flowing air. She rode the steam in the direction of the footstep, eyes wide and alert. 

She stopped abruptly. She floated at the top of a hill, looking down at the command center of the dark mages if you could call it that. After years of raiding from other dark clans and concentrated attacks by fire mages, the Black Swans’ command center had seen better days. But somehow, the Swans themselves had always managed to slip through their enemies’ fingers. Drawing on the shadow line gave the Swans the ability to vanish through tiny cracks or ride an errant wind to safety.

Kira’s silent approach had worked. The guards were still at their game of cards, arguing loudly over who had won the last hand. Inhaling silently and deeply, she reached for the fire line. 

This will kill you, Kira. We’ll find another way. Every day, she regretted listening to Ky’s advice. Instead of following Kira’s dangerous plan, they had followed Ky’s cautious one, with disastrous results. 

This is for you, Ky. 

This time, Kira grabbed the line and sucked it into her soul. The flames consumed her, bursting outward and fanning inward, creating a ball of fiery orange and brilliant red. Distantly, she heard the guards shouting and scrambling for their superiors. 

But it was too late.

Riding a high, Kira swept her arm up, shooting a trail of flames down the hill. Before they could find the shadow line and dissipate, the flaming trail chased down the guards, engulfing them. Kira felt their flesh burning and their pain as they perished in her rage. She pushed it further, creating a ring of flames around the center, preventing escape from within. With no time to waste, she raised her left arm. Cupping her hands above her head, she threw every bit of flame within her to them. Time stood still as the fireball grew. Blue, orange, white, and red flames played with each other, waiting to roll. 

Without a word, Kira heaved the ball at the center. As soon as it hit the dilapidated building, Kira felt the metal melt, the wood burn, and the Black Swan mages dissolve into her fire. 

It is done. Kira tried to turn her back, to return home. She reached down to release her iron grip on the fire line. Panicking, she couldn’t.

The flames which had once given her purpose and clarity became unstoppable. The clarity became pain, the purpose became an end. As the flames consumed her, Kira welcomed them and joined them. As she melted into the flame line, she finally felt at peace, surrounded by her flames. 

Lisa Newill-Smith is an American writer based in Germany. You can find her writing on her blog, www.womenwhocomposed.com. She is currently working on The Cayana, a space fantasy novel. 

High C by Paula Wagner (500 words) 

The blue vase toppled from the piano at precisely the same moment that Ophelia  belted out a high C. Whether the vibration of her voice or the stealth of an unseen hand, she would never know. But somersaulting over the keys, it careened wildly into a large potted ficus before rolling to a final stop on the carpet. Miraculously intact! Save the lid landed at the edge of the sofa. 

In truth, the shape of the blue vase qualified it more as an urn. With its fitted lid, it had offered the perfect resting place for her father’s ashes. Until this moment, he (that is, his ashes) had sat atop the piano whose keys he’d once caressed while Ophelia sang along. 

He’d been a fond but benevolent tyrant, always pushing her to reach for the highest note. After so many years enduring his control, Ophelia had found comfort in keeping him under her control. Now a fine gray plume of dust spiraled upward from the urn’s gaping maw. With her mouth agape, its metallic grit soon covered her tongue. How would she ever get the genie back in the jar?

She gasped again, but no sound came out. Her normally robust lungs felt limp and sticky as deflated balloons on a rising tide within the tightening cage of her ribs. Time blurred, scrambling her memory of what happened next.

Two puffy figures clad all in white seemed to lift her onto a bed, then a tube was thrust down her throat, which made her gag. Now a monstrous machine was pumping her ribs up and down. Its wheezing the only sound in the windowless room save the swish of double doors admitting and expelling the white-clad figures. 

A diaphanous curtain appeared to separate a rapidly vanishing real world from an increasingly plausible Other World where an entire host of folks seemed suspended.

Were those her father’s fingertips she felt tapping faintly on her back? A game she’d loved as a child – he strumming the rhythm of a song on her shoulders until she guessed its name: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star? The Farmer in the Dell? His light tickling had made her wriggle with glee. Those fingers, despite their thickness, that had played the piano with such grace. Her heart constricted.

Now they are dancing on a mezzanine to mellow music. The father-daughter dance they never had while he was alive. He, the classical musician, too awkward for a waltz or samba or God forbid, Rock and Roll. Yet now they whirl in perfect harmony, his feet never touching the ground. That’s how she knows he’s a ghost. Were they all ghosts now?  

At home months later, Ophelia discovers that someone has returned the blue vase to its rightful place on the piano. Of the ash on the carpet not a trace remains. She misses her father but hesitates to check the urn for him. Was it all a fever dream? She opens her mouth and reaches for a high A.

Paula Wagner lives in Albany, California, and is the author of Newcomers in an Ancient Land