Bob Sanders awoke one morning from a dream to discover that he no longer existed. He had died in the night. He had been fifty-eight years old when he died. Now he didn’t exist.
Bob was alone in his bed, not existing. His wife Linda was already up. Bob got out of bed and walked to the kitchen. It was Saturday morning. Linda was scraping plates from the night before. Friday nights were movie nights.
Bob said good morning to Linda, but she didn’t hear him, because he didn’t exist. Linda finished with the plates and went to wake up her husband. When she didn’t find him in their bed, she looked through the house, room by room. Bob just followed. Linda called her husband’s name, but no one answered. Bob could see that Linda was starting to panic. He heard her say, quietly, “Not again.”
Eight years earlier, Bob and Linda’s son—their firstborn—had also disappeared. But he did not stop existing.
With a husband that didn’t exist, Linda was now a single mother. She had a thirteen-year-old son and a ten-year-old son. Steven and Teddy. They all searched and searched for Bob. They called the police, they put up fliers, they knocked on doors.
At night, Linda would cry. Sometimes she would scream and beg.
“Why?” she would scream.
But Bob couldn’t answer. He didn’t exist. He could only listen.
Eventually, they gave up the search. They set a date for the funeral.
When Bob had existed, he had often imagined his funeral. Who would be there. What they would say. He was pretty excited that he would actually get to see it.
But as the date approached, Bob had this feeling that the funeral would represent something final. A threshold would be crossed.
So he decided to take a trip instead.
Bob wondered where he should go. New York City? Paris? Vegas? Or, Bob thought, why not all of them? But Bob had another feeling, like he had had about the funeral. Bob had a feeling that he had just one shot at this.
Bob decided to go back home, to where he had lived as a child. But Bob didn’t go back to his mother’s house, where his Aunt Sue now lived, and he didn’t go to the house with the blue barn where he’d stayed with his father some summers.
Bob went to a small apartment, not far from where he lived now, or from where he had lived until he stopped existing.
The apartment was the only place Bob had lived with both his mother and his father. Bob could hardly remember the apartment. All he had was an image of his mother looking sad and angry and his father sitting up straight and staring ahead.
But when Bob arrived at the apartment his mother and father were there. They were on the floor with a Bob that still existed and was a baby. They laughed and laughed, then they all had ice cream for dinner, still laughing. Bob laughed too.
When it was time to go, Bob tried to leave quietly, but his mother asked him to please give a hug first. Bob hadn’t known they could see him.
Bob hugged his mother and then his father. Bob hugged the baby, too. The baby smiled and then they were gone.
B.H. James‘s first novel, Parnucklian for Chocolate, was a finalist for the 2014 PEN Center USA Literary Award in Fiction. He is the co-author of Method to the Madness: A Common Core Guide to Creating Critical Thinkers through the Study of Literature, and he teaches high school English in Northern California, where he lives with his wife and two sons. www.bhjames.com
Image by Peter H from Pixabay