Saturday, April 27, 2019

“The voice” by Ann Gray


It was the first time I heard the voice.  Clear as a bell: “Buy the roses.

I was at the corner store buying a pack of smokes. A middle-aged guy was behind me. “Did you say something?” I asked. 

The guy shook his head and moved back a step. No one else looked like they were close enough to be the speaker. 

I didn’t want to buy flowers. Hell, I hadn’t had a girlfriend in years, but I remembered my father had always bought yellow roses for my mom. I was visiting tomorrow, and it would be her first Easter since dad had died. It'd be nice to bring flowers.

And when I walked out of the store with the roses, I saw a twenty dollar bill on the ground. I picked it up and smiled. 

Mom’s face when she saw the roses was like a sunrise coming over the hills. “I was feeling really down yesterday, thinking about your dad and everything. How did you know?”

I felt a bit of shiver on my skin, but I didn’t explain to her, just gave her a kiss on the forehead.

I forgot about the ghostly prompting until weeks later, I was walking down the street and the voice came again. “Call your brother.”

This time I ignored the voice. My brother and I weren’t speaking, his fault, he had disappeared around the time of the funeral leaving Mom and I to deal with all the arrangements. 

I couldn’t forget how hurt Mom had been and how we had to keep explaining to all the snide vultures at the funeral: “No Jim couldn’t be here,” or “Jim sends his love, of course” or my favourite, “So sorry, Jim is not here, but we’ll tell him you asked for him.”

It took all of my control not to say, “Jim is a selfish bastard that couldn’t bother to drag himself away from his drugs to come to his own father’s funeral. I hope he goes to Hell.”

Call your brother. Call your brother. Call your brother.” It got louder and louder, like rain on a tin roof, drumming into my head all night. Finally I decided if I wasn’t going to get any rest, damned if Jim should be sleeping. 

“Hello?” His voice sounded groggy. Good, I woke him up.

I don’t even remember what I said, just rambling, trivial things, and when he got over the shock he started to talk back. He said he was cleaning up his act. He had a job and was going to AA.  Maybe it was even true. All I know is that the next morning, I felt better than I had in months, and when I went to catch the bus to work, there was a ten dollar bill on the sidewalk.

The voice was there almost every day after that. Smile at the old lady in the corner. ... Get Joe a cup of coffee. ... Give the homeless guy two bucks.” It was automatic now to follow the voice, and although there were no more bills floating down from the sky, there were other things. Like Joe at work now gave me the better shift assignments, and my friend Bob saw me giving money to the beggar and bought me a beer, and I tell you, Bob never gets anyone a drink!

I never told anyone about the voice. It was my secret. But every time I did what I was told, it felt good. It was like walking around with a little ball of sunshine in my chest. I loved the voice and the way it made me feel special and powerful, like I was on the side of the angels,  imagine me, John Black with big white wings.  

Until one day it wasn’t. I was walking down an alley on the way to work. Kill the cat. 

That couldn’t be right. I couldn't have heard the voice correctly.

The cat was a mangy looking stray, probably had fleas.  It looked up at me trying to decide if I had a scrap of food.

Kill the cat. Kill the cat. Kill the cat.

I drew back my foot and then screamed as loud as I could, “Run!”

The cat jumped and ran like the devil was on it’s tail. Brick dust puffed out from where I had kicked the wall, missing the cat by inches.   

That little ball of sunshine in my chest was cold now. I felt like I was going to throw up. The void in my head where the voice lived ached with disappointment and betrayal. Why would my voice want me to kill the cat? The question kept going around and around in my head. Maybe the cat had rabies or something. Maybe it was going to bite some kid and then the kid would die, and it would be my fault. Was it some kind of test?  What did it mean?

But the voice was quiet for a while until I went down to the subway station.

My eyes kept going to a middle aged woman, looking at her phone, standing very close to the yellow line beside the subway tracks.

“Push her.” It wasn’t too loud this time, just a light whisper like a Spring breeze in my ear. 

Push her.” It sounded a little louder, and my feet were moving closer to her. It was as if I had no will of my own, as if my small act of defiance with the cat had drained all my strength.  I was a puppet and the voice held the strings.


I moved close enough to touch her. I tried to say something, but no sound came from my mouth. The woman’s face blurred  and shifted until she looked like my mom, but her face was all scratched and bleeding like a cat had attacked her.  She turned to me and said, “Push me.”

I reached out, but then there was a smell like roses, and I remembered the first time the voice had come to me. I knew what I had to do. I grabbed her coat and jumped sideways.

Then the transit cops were there, helping the lady up from the ground away where I had flung her away from the tracks.

And as they grabbed me and put me in the cuffs, I could hear the voice laughing in my head.
***
It’s been six months of talking to shrinks. They say there wasn’t any voice, just  chemicals in my brain. And when I tell them it was real, they pat me on the back and talk about  psychotic this or schizo that. I don’t argue anymore. People like me, we used to be special; they used to write stories and poems about us. I remember in Sunday School the story about a voice that told the old man to take his child up the mountain and  kill him, and then the voice that told him to let the child go. 

So I pretend to take my blue pills every morning, and I wait and listen for the voice because  angel or demon, this time when it comes I’ll be ready.

Ann Gray is a retired microbiologist, who is now looking at the bigger issues of life.  She is an enthusiastic birder and occasionally writes short pieces for local nature publications.  Ann is currently writing a historical fiction based on events during the cholera epidemic of 1832 in Kingston, Ontario.


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