Whisper 1.39


The hardest part of growing older is seeing friends pass. Mike Nix is gone, and when Annie comes to our party, she is heartbroken.

“I keep hearing his voice,” she says. “And then I turn around, and he’s not there.”

Bobobo is crying in the other room. “I’ll be right back, Annie,” I say.

“That’s OK, Mrs. Tea,” says Chet. “I’ll get him. You can stay and talk with your friend.”

Chet’s a good kid.


When I turn back to Annie, I see a golden light around Frank, and he’s rising off the floor.


I’ve seen this too many times not to know what is happening.


Frank smiles as if he hasn’t a care in the world, which he doesn’t anymore.


Which he doesn’t.

But I do. It hits me. He’s leaving.


This one hits hard. Frank!


I lose track of everything around me. My own heart feels like it’s being pulled out of my chest. Frank!


The party goes on without me.

I head out to the garden.

Frank has been my best friend since that night we played music together in the meadow. Somehow, he’s always understood that I’d pledged my love to Dante, but Frank stayed anyway. He knew I needed a living friend, too, and he was there, my support. He kept asking me out, writing me love letters, but he never stopped being my friend when I ignored the letters and declined the dates.

He stayed my best friend.

It’s rare to have a friend who’s there for you, and rarer still to have one who stays, no matter what, no questions asked, no strings attached, just love.

I’ve had so many loves in my life and one eternal heart-throb, and of all those, the truest friend has been Frank. I miss him more than I’ve ever missed anyone.


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Whisper 1.35


We invite Marigold’s “mutual crush” to one of our parties.

“Mom, I think I’m over it,” Marigold says. “He never talks to me or even looks at me. I sort of want a crush who at least acknowledges I’m alive.”

“Maybe he’s shy,” I say.

But when he takes a spot in the middle of the dance floor and spins a move, I think he’s not shy after all.


He is very cute. I wonder if he’s showing off for Marigold, hoping that she’ll make the first move.

Bobobo has become a toddler.


He makes the funniest faces.


I call Shea now and then to check in and give him updates. I still feel a little unsure of caring for a plant baby, and I want to do the right thing.

“Sometimes he’s cross-eyed,” I tell Shea.

“Always?” Shea asks.

“No, just sometimes.”

“He’s probably messing with you,” Shea says. “No worries!”


Shea assures me that all he really needs is love and attention.

“Plants are easy,” he says. “Love us and we grow.”


Marigold takes him from me as I wrap up the phone conversation.

“He’s sleepy, Mom,” she says. “Let me put him down for a nap.” She’s such a good sister.


I look at our friends gathered at our party. Arkvoodle, dressed like a 19th Century gentleman, reminds me how old we’ve become, this circle of friends and I.


Every night, I wish on the first star that I’ll make it until Bobobo enters school and Marigold graduates, and longer, if possible. But at least if I make it until then, she won’t be strapped caring for a toddler while still in high school. Mara Nix has agreed to be the children’s guardian, if anything happens to me before then, but I know Marigold. She would take the bulk of the family responsibilities–that’s just how she is.

I look up from my revery to see Frank and Hetal slow-dancing. Now that’s a surprise. Frank still regularly sends me love notes and asks me out, even though he knows I’ll regularly ignore the notes and decline the dates. I think he’s long accepted my decision to be faithful to Dante, in spite of the spark of attraction and deep friendship between Frank and me. I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy when I see him looking deep into Hetal’s eyes, with the smallest, sweetest smile. But I shake it off. It’s good to see him happy.


“Thanks for a great party, Mrs. Tea,” says Chet as the guests are leaving.

“It’s Ms. Tea . Or you can call me Cathy,” I say. “Would you like to stay for supper, Chet? It would give you and Marigold a chance to visit.”

“No, thank you, ma’am,” he says. “I best be getting home so I can do my homework. But you thank your daughter for opening up her home for me.”

“Ok, Chet,” I say, thinking what an usual mutual crush this is, indeed.


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Whisper 1.20


I’ve started writing. I love it! I can’t even describe the feeling. I tune into his channel within me, where all these stories stream, and I watch the words appear, form sentences, flow into paragraphs, and before I know it, I have a chapter, then two, then a novel! I don’t even know where these stories come from, but somehow, they all seem to relate to me and what I know of one person’s conflicted attempts at discovering meaning when surrounded by confusion, mystery, and magic.

Now that I think of myself as a writer, it helps me accept the other weird aspects of my life.

For example, though I know in my heart that I love Dante, my body can’t forget he’s a ghost, so every time I see him, I shudder.


I wonder what it might be like to love someone who didn’t make my stomach turn at first sight. So when Frank calls me for a date, I say yes.

I start feeling excited as I ride my bike to the park where we’re going to meet. I remember back to our first and, until now, only date, right after Dante became a ghost. I was still heartbroken then. Frank was so sweet to understand and not to pressure me and to wait until I was ready. That was so long ago. And he kept waiting. And, who knows? Maybe I’m finally ready!


Oh, when I see Frank reading while he’s waiting for me, it hits me how old he’s become. His hair is gray and his back is stooped.

Time speeds too quickly, scooping up the living in its net. I heard that Rainflower Ivy passed. Last I saw him was that weird morning at the beach, when he was dressed like a clown while he was searching emptiness for meaning. I hope he found what he was looking for before he left this plane. Thinking of Rain makes me wonder about Frank. How much longer does he have? I make myself a promise to make the most of every moment.


We have a great time. The park is gorgeous, snuggled in a muffler of fog, and Frank and I both feel a little high from being outside where it’s so beautiful.

I tell Frank about this neat comic book I’ve been reading about a cat with super powers. I don’t think he’s listening.


“What were you saying?” he asks.

“It doesn’t matter,” I say. “I was just feeling plugged into the world-building of this comic book I was reading.”


“I’ve been reading about monarch butterflies,” he says. “Have you been keeping up?”

“Yeah,” I reply. “I ordered a whole bunch of milkweed seeds for the kind that’s native here, and I’ve been planting them everywhere I go.”

“You, too?” he asks. “I thought I was the only one planting milkweed here!”


We get hungry, so I suggest we head back to my place and I’ll whip up some spaghetti.

Driving back in his car, he’s smiling and humming to himself. I fall silent. I think how if we’d gotten together years ago, this would be our normal, driving through the valley, planting milkweed seeds together, having long conversations where we float in and out of paying attention. Companionable silence.

But it doesn’t feel right. Not now, not in my daydream. Something’s missing for me.


When we get home, Frank points at the Snowman gnome.

“Look! Snow’s got a friend! It’s winter and summer, like you and me!”


He rocks in the chair while I prepare our supper. I’m glad my gnome has a new friend. I’m glad I’ve got Frank for a friend, too. I don’t really need more from him.


He asks me over to the gym the next day. I feel happy to see him.

“We’ve got so much in common,” I tell him, after he tells me about an old oak he discovered out by the gypsy wagon. “You’re a great friend.”


Annie Nix invites me over that night. I haven’t seen her for a while, and I’m surprised at first by her gray hair. But a few moments of talking, and it’s just like it’s always been between us: kindred spirits who read each other like open books.

“I hear you and Frank are dating,” she says.

“Oh, we’ve gone out a few times,” I say. “But they’re more buddy dates.”

“Buddy dates?” she laughs. “Well, that’s what I was pretty much figuring. Your heart’s still taken?”

I confess to her that it is. She’s not surprised.

“You’re like me, Cath. You’ve got a one-love heart. Once your heart’s given–or stolen, doesn’t matter which–that’s it. Nobody else stands a chance. That’s how I felt the first time Mike and I kissed. And I could tell, looking at you whenever you and Dante were together, that’s how you felt, too. He’s still got you, huh?”


I think about what Annie said while I ride my bike home. It’s the truth. It’s not like Dante was the first guy I ever spent time with. Chauncey and I sort of dated. I dated a few guys in college. And I’ve had a lot of guy friends. Seems like I usually make friends with a guy first, and then, once we’re best friends, I’m just not interested in romance. I want the friendship without the complications.

But Dante. I fell in love with him before we became friends. Then, after we got close, we were just in love, so any friendship that developed was wrapped in love’s mantle. I never really even found him attractive, even before he was a ghost. I’ve just loved him.

I still love him, and it doesn’t feel like it’s ever fading, and there’s no way I can love another in that way while I still love him. My body may shudder, but my heart beats for him.

“Do you got a cell phone with you in that place you go when you’re not here?” I ask him, next time he comes by.

“No,” he says. “I don’t think it works that way. Why?”

“I thought maybe you could call me, maybe.”

He chuckles with his laugh that echoes.


I’ve started complimenting him on his ghastliness. He loves it because it’s so silly, and it helps me acknowledge the shivery way he makes my body feel when I first catch sight of him.

He’s started scaring me. It’s not a mean scare, though. It’s funny. It’s playful and flirtatious, and I find it utterly charming.

One night, he tells me, “Let me take you for a ride. Meet me out at the bench.”

I grab my salad and head out. When I get there, bench is rising up into the air and shaking and spinning, and Dante’s nowhere to be seen.

“Dante?” I call. “Where are you?”

He laughs with a wooden sound. “In here!” he says, muffled. “Get on!”

The bench lowers for a moment, and I sit on it. Then, while Dante laughs in splinters, it floats.


He gives me a wild ride. Sometimes, the bench spins. Sometimes, it shakes. Sometimes, he floats it so sweet. All the time, he’s laughing like lumber.


“That was fun!” I say when he finally sets the bench down and slides out.

“I’m bushed!” he says.

I follow him into the bedroom, and he falls fast asleep. Lying next to him, I’m happy and satisfied. So, it’s not a normal romance, but we’ve made it our own. We’re figuring it out, and I think I can live with it.


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Whisper 1.18


I consider returning to college for a second degree. I figure that my career as a gardener might benefit from a B.S. in botany. I’d forgotten how hard the aptitude test is! But I do well–I qualify for a full scholarship and advanced credits in science. So, this option is available.

Just because a door opens doesn’t mean you need to walk through it–check with your heart and do what you love.

When Dante comes by that evening, I talk with him about returning to college.

“Are you hungry for it?” he asks. “If so, do it! If not, then what are you hungry for?”


I’m hungry for painting.

Before I start the painting for Mara, I’ve got this other idea that I have to express. I’m not sure where it comes from or what it means. It just says something to me that I feel needs to be said. It feels like it hooks up with my life somehow, but I’m not sure how.


Before I know it, my birthday rolls around. I invite Chauncey and the whole gang.


It’s a funny party. We take turns rocking in the rocking chair. We hold father-daughter video game competitions. (Mara wins.) We eat spaghetti.


My alien friend does his thing in the corner of the room. I have no idea what he’s doing, but it makes this neat buzzing sound and I like the way the air around him feels like it’s charged with knowledge.


“My! These games are quite original!” Beatrice says. “Did you really just knock off that zombie’s head, Frank?”

Frank just chuckles.


And then it’s time for my cake.

“Remember the power of birthday wishes,”says Beatrice.


Mara asks if it’s true if a birthday wish doesn’t come true if you say it aloud.

“Any wish loses power when spoken to others,” Beatrice said, “unlike an intention, which gains power when shared.”


Before making my wish, I turn and look at the room filled with my friends–each one cheering for me, each one wishing me well, each one celebrating another year of life!

I realize that my unspoken wish has already been granted.


Frank is the last one to leave. We sit together on the love seat. He reads, and I enjoy the warm feelings of friendship.

Frank and I haven’t done much with our band. We haven’t done anything with the budding romance which we both thought might be happening between us.

But we’ve done a lot with our friendship: we’ve let it blossom.

“Thanks for being here,” I tell him.

“Sure thing, Cat,” he says.


Dante comes that night and we have our own private party.

I play a song I wrote for him.


We asked the Love Machine
all about us.

It foretold doom–but not for us.
It foretold the end–but not of us.

It said what lasts
Was what we had.

You didn’t last.
But we did.

You faded out
But not our love.


I celebrate my first day after my birthday by going for a long run at dawn. This eerie world is so beautiful.


With the mist settling over the mountains and the autumn trees bare against the gray sky, some might call this view sombre or even Gothic.

I might have said that when I first moved here. But today, I love it. I’m drawn by the mystery, the shadows, the hidden.


At the fire pit by the beach, I spot an odd figure, dressed like a carnival clown.


It’s Rainflower Ivy.

“What are you doing here, Rain?” I ask him. Rainflower and I have a bit of a history. He’s Chauncey’s best friend, and back when Chauncey was my roommate, Rainflower asked me out a few times. I went out with him once, but as soon as I learned he was married, I cut the date short. But we’ve stayed wary friends.

“I wanted a little time alone,” he says.

“Are you all right? Why’re you dressed like this?”

“I’m feeling rather tragic,” he replies. “I thought it might help me feel happier, better about my life, if I dressed cheerfully. But it just makes me feel worse.”

“Well, take care of yourself, OK? You want me to call your wife or Chauncey?”

“Naw,” he replies. “I’ll just sit here for a bit. Contemplate emptiness.”

“Nothing’s empty, Rain,” I say.

“That’s what you think,” he replies.


Back home, I feel the inspiration that I needed for Mara’s painting.

When we were looking through the inspiration books, she kept pointing to paintings in folk style, with bright colors, simple shapes, classical composition, and symbolic content.

I think about Mara, a young woman with a strong mom, a member of this strange and vibrant community, a person drawn by meaning and magic. I hope she likes what I paint.


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Whisper 1.16

I’m on the rebound. I know that. Not just any rebound, but epic-love-reaped-eternally rebound. The Big rebound.

Still when I get a call from my mailman, Frank Renaldo, asking me out, I want to say yes, even though every ounce of logic within me says, wait.

It’s OK not to always follow the logical course. Sometimes, friendliness can help heal a sore heart.

We meet at the park.

“I’ve always wanted to get to know you better,” I say.

“Cathy,” he says. That’s it. Just my name. I can’t tell if he just doesn’t have much to say, or if he likes the way my name sounds.

“What, Frank Renaldo?” I ask.



“Frank,” I say back. “Renaldo is a really cool last name. Like ‘Renaldo the Fox,’ right?”


He laughs. “Oh, no one’s made a crack about that since grade school, when our class read the fairy tales. I got a reputation then. Guess it didn’t really stick.”


“I love those old tales of Reynard or Renaldo the Fox! Always tricking the rich or mean-spirited! Are you a trickster, Frank?”


“Hardly,” he replies. “I’m more like a wolf. Lone and loyal.”

At the word “loyal,” I start to tear up.

“What,” he says. “What did I say? Are you OK?”

He hadn’t heard about Dante. Nobody even really knew that Dante and I were a couple. Were we a couple? I mean, we were in love, but we weren’t engaged or anything. That makes losing him feel even weirder–like no one knows that his passing would affect me. I still love him.


“You know,” he says. “Let’s not rush things. It’s a a beautiful misty night. We’ve got this whole meadow to ourselves. Let’s make music, darling.”

He laughs and pulls out a portable keyboard from the back of his truck. He hands me an old leopard-spotted guitar.

And there, in the moonlit fog, we jam while the sky slides into the silver dawn.


Music grounds me. It makes me feel whole. It helps me remember and forget at the same time. It binds me to Frank with silver chords that feel light and elastic, like I’ve got room to run when I need to and like nobody’s gonna ask me to abandon what I found and what I lost.

When I finish playing, I realize I want to do that again.

“I love the way you play the keyboard,” I tell Frank. “We should make a band.”


“That’s a great idea,” he says. “I got a lot of pubs on my route. I’m sure I could get us gigs.”

“We could call it Fox and Cat.”

“Fox Whiskers and Cat Paws.

“Foxgloves and Catmint.”


“Fancy Fox.”

“A Cat in Every Kettle,” he says.

“That’s weird,” I say, but I’m feeling happy in the tiny corner of my heart that isn’t ripped apart.


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