Who She Was Remains


My wife, Eileen, already knows the loss I feel, and knowing, she is hurt and a little angry with me. Still, we agree it’s been far too long since I traveled home. Karen’s death has tipped the balance in favor of a visit.

In Seattle’s airport lounge, Eileen sits with folded arms, knees crossed, one foot bobbing in the air above my shoes. She leans to nudge my shoulder. “What did you tell Karen’s younger sister?”

“That I’m coming home since we’re thinking about selling the farm.”

Eileen shakes her head. “Rob, you’ll never sell.”

“No. Probably not.”

“So, all this effort and misdirection is to pay your respect at Karen’s grave because she was your high school sweetheart?”

“Yes, mostly. Is that wrong?”

Eileen throws up her hands. “I’m not jealous, Rob. Honestly, I’m not.”

“If you don’t think I should go, I won’t.”

“Show me the email again.”

I dig into my carry-on and search for the tablet.

Hello Rob,

My maiden name was Marilyn Grant. Do you remember me? I was Karen Grant’s younger sister. There’s sad news. Karen died last Friday.

Our family knew it was coming, but everyone kept hoping for a breakthrough, a miracle. About five years ago, Karen’s memory started fading. By the end she’d lost all of us, lost herself. First her grown sons, then me. She didn’t even know who I was.

Tomorrow we’ll bury Karen in Shiloh Cemetery, east of town. You know the one I mean, your parents are there. I don’t want you at the service or cemetery. That’s why I’ve waited so late to tell you. But someday you’ll come home and wonder where Karen is.

Bless you, Rob.


Outside airport windows, a June dawn gathers.

“Rob, didn’t you tell me Karen got married? There’s no mention of a husband, only her sons.”

“I thought she was married, but folks divorce, die. I don’t really know.”

“Marilyn tells you not to come, then says where you’ll find her grave.”

“You’re right, Eileen. That’s odd.”

“Are you sure Karen was your sweetheart, not this Marilyn person?”

“I’m sure, Darling.”

“Rob, you don’t have to lie to me. I’d be okay with it if Marilyn was your girl.”

I chuckle. “No, you wouldn’t. You’d be hopping mad if I visited my first love.”

“There’s still time to buy me a ticket,” Eileen whispers. She touches her forehead to my temple.

I kiss her brow, stand, head for the ticket counter. “Be right back.”

“Don’t be silly. I’m teasing.” She jumps up to pull me back to our seats. “Call me first chance you get.”


Late spring corn grows on both sides of this county road. It’s nearly 6 P.M. when Shiloh Cemetery comes into view. Squinting, I flip down the rental car’s visor, turn and drive slowly along grass lanes towards a white pickup truck parked near my family’s plot. A woman is there, watching me. She is alone, back resting against the pickup’s box, right foot braced on a tire behind her. She waves and begins walking to where I stop beneath sycamores.

It must be Marilyn; she’s the very image of Mrs. Grant, Karen’s mother. Long, brown hair tied in a pony tail, plaid shirt jacket falling over trim blue jeans, open sandals, a sad smile. She extends a hand. “Mid-fifties, Rob, but you look a graying seventeen.”

“Marilyn, I never thought to see your mother again.”

“I get that a lot.”

She glances into my eyes as we shake hands. Marilyn leans close, pulls herself up to peck my cheek, then steps back. “Sorry.”

Memories of Karen’s tag-along sister live before me. “Don’t be sorry, Marilyn, not ever.”

Long rows of headstones fill this pioneer cemetery. Monuments are modest but varied. “I found your parents and grandparents over there,” she says, motioning a couple rows away.

She takes my hand as we walk to a group of reddish, granite tombstones. The largest marker reads ‘Crossman,’ my parents buried on the left, grandparents to the right. Lingering, as always my thoughts drift to memories of Mom and Dad from whom I inherited the farm.

A dove calls from Shiloh’s gate. Our merged shadows extend beyond the graves. Marilyn and I stand hip to hip, her hand pressing my off side, her shoulders warm beneath my arm. Taken aback by our unconscious intimacy, I ease away when she says, “Karen’s buried near the sycamores.”

We approach a turf mound on the cemetery’s southern border. The grave is covered with bouquets and wreaths. Its surrounding lawn is muddy, trampled and torn. There is no headstone. Trees cast shade onto a lane where Marilyn pauses. She latches tight, restrains me from closer approach. “It rained that morning. There was a pavilion, but when pall bearers carried her casket, it was like we were wading through a swamp.” She glances down. “You didn’t miss a thing.”

The gravesite is isolated in this vacant corner; towering trees and a fieldstone wall beside a cornfield. Staring at wilted flowers, I feel nothing, none of the sadness or bittersweet longing I expected on my way here. Unmindful, again I slip my hand into Marilyn’s. “Where are your mom and dad?”

Her attention returns. “Up by the entrance. No plots any closer to our parents. Jerry was cremated.”


“Karen’s husband.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t . . .” I fumble with regrets for a man I’ve never known, before returning to safer ground. “A monument for Karen will take a few weeks.”

“I thought to have a natural stone and small plaque.”


What disease could destroy,

lies buried here.

Who she was,



“Incredible! I’ve never heard anything like that.”

“Not incredible. Simple truth.” With a warm smile, she turns away and heads for her truck. “Ready to go?”

“Sure. I can always find the grave again, so near to my family and all.”

As Marilyn withdraws, she reminds me of Karen, her figure and grace. Slipping both hands into back pockets, I prepare to bolt, to escape this reminder incarnate of what was.

“Marilyn, thank you for meeting me here today.”

She stops, and then returns to lay an open palm upon my chest. “Don’t leave me, not yet.”

So close again, her green eyes and soft voice are Karen’s. I should step back, but don’t.

“Rob, you need to know what’s happened, all of it. I’ve important things to tell you.” She brightens. “Besides, I’m hungry. Aren’t you hungry, too?”

I confess my airline lunch was a diet cola and bag of chips.

“Let’s go to The Dockside in Culver. Best fish fry in the county. I’m dying for a drink.”

“All right, Marilyn. I’ll follow you there.”


We flip through restaurant menus.

Marilyn asks, “Have you been here before? Catfish, buffalo fish, trout, all great. Of course, they have steaks and chops, if you like. Hard to go wrong.”

“Eileen and I came here the last time I was home, ten or twelve years ago.”

The cafe deck faces Lake Maxinkuckee’s shore. Sailboats and motor launches line the wharf below. The sun is four fingers above the horizon; red streaks paint water and scattered clouds.

At this narrow table, Marilyn sits opposite, a beach umbrella open overhead. She slips off sandals and tucks her feet below a railing bench. Yes, there is a startling resemblance to her mother, but she has Karen’s disarming manner and lovely smile.

“Chilean white,” she says. “That’s best with fish. My treat.” Her eyes sparkle when a waiter appears. “A bottle, on ice. Please, bring it now.”

The young man returns with two glasses, pours wine and waits for a decision on the vintage. Marilyn sips, then nods to me. “It’s fine,” I tell him.

“Food will take a while,” she says, relaxing against the bench. Her glass is already half empty. “I don’t know how to begin, Rob, so I’m going to plunge right in.”


She fixes my gaze. “When you emailed me, you said you might want to sell the farm. I’m interested in buying.”

I blink, surprised anyone would want the ramshackle property. “A neighbor sharecrops the fields, but the house has been empty all these years. It must be quite run-down. Eileen and I have talked of selling, but we haven’t truly made a decision, or even thought how much to ask.”

“I know it’s hard to part with. That land’s been in your family since the Indians were driven away.”

“Close on two hundred years. But our daughter’s not interested and . . . Marilyn, are you on your own? Would you be the sole owner?”

“I’m a widow, as Karen was. I expect you’d like to hear about Karen’s life?”

“Please, Marilyn. I would.”

“Well, you’d never guess. Karen met Jerry at a Grange dance in Knox a couple years after you left for university. He was a farmer’s son, like you, and to Karen I know that counted for something. He was nice-looking and gentle with her.”

Marilyn pours a second glass for herself and offers. I shake my head, no.

“Jerry had a best friend at work, at the refinery in Whiting. His name was Matt and he took a shine to me. One thing led to another, and not much later, Karen and I married those boys. As husbands, they were fair enough and we stuck by ‘em to raise our babies, but I know Karen was thinking of you when she walked the aisle at United Brethren – before the music started, she told me so.”

Amazed, I’m lost for words.

She winks and tops up her glass. “It’s okay, Rob. We don’t need to talk about that now.”

“When did Karen lose Jerry?”

She looks out at the setting sun. “Not too long ago, about six years. There was an explosion at the Whiting Refinery. Did you hear about that? No? Well, it was hell on steroids. The fire was so bad the coroner said it was either Matt or Jerry got hurt in the first explosion and the other one must have tried to pull him out. Then the cracking tower went up. Next day firefighters found their bodies at the tower, incinerated, melted together and mostly gone.”

“Oh, Marilyn. That’s awful.”

“Karen and I were on our own after that; all our kids married and gone to the four winds. Matt and Jerry left us with mortgages and debts, and that’s about all. Banks took back our homes pretty quick.”

I slide both hands across the table to Marilyn. “I am so very sorry.”

“There’s more I’ve got to tell you. You need to hear what Karen and I did when she got sick. At first, I thought maybe it was Jerry’s death, the depression and pain that caused Karen to start losing her memory. Eventually my sadness began to lift, but Karen forgot more and more. Since then, she drifted into delusions, and finally, about all she could recall was you.”

I slouch, overwhelmed. My head aches. Our waiter brings supper and she gulps dregs of her second glass. Again, the young man pours for us both. Marilyn leans forward, begins to debone the fish. “Try some. It’s delicious.”

“Could you tell me what Karen remembered about me, about us?”

“Oh hell, even towards the end she could recollect most everything about you. Your parents and the farm, searching the fields for arrowheads, making love in the woods north of the farmhouse. She’d lost everyone else, but hung on to you for dear life.”

Marilyn tops up her glass. “Rob, if you don’t help me with this, you’ll have to carry me outta here.”

She fidgets. “As Karen got worse, I took her out to your farm, lotta times. Some days it was the only way I could keep her calm. And when we’d both lost our homes, the two of us just stayed there together. I’ve been making repairs, slowly, over the years. You didn’t know Karen and I were living at your place, did you?”

“No, Marilyn, I didn’t know that.” My food is getting cold. Marilyn’s plate is empty.

“Yes, I’m sorry Rob, we moved in without asking. But I didn’t know what else to do. Seemed like no one would help us. If we had no place to live, the county would take Karen into a nursing home; break us up, when she was already lost and alone.”

I can hear Eileen’s voice, all the way from Vancouver. “For heaven’s sake, Rob, it’s no problem. We haven’t been there in ages.”

“How do you live, Marilyn?”

“I was a cashier in town, but there came a time I couldn’t leave Karen by herself. I needed a stay-at-home job and I found one. I’ve still got it!” Marilyn chuckles and pours a few last drips into her glass. “Can you guess?”

I shake my head.

“I grow pot in your north woods. It ain’t a fortune, but we . . . I get by. Probably enough for me to buy your place on time – if you and Eileen would let me do that.”

She glances up to the pale moon rising behind scudding clouds. She stretches out, rubs bare toes inside my pant leg. “Robbie, you won’t know the place. I been renovating, hiring what I couldn’t do myself. Come see what we’ve done.”

“I think I’d better drive you home, Marilyn. You’re a magician; the wine’s gone.”


A gibbous moon lights the sky. I negotiate the gravel driveway and rumble across the cattle grate. With Marilyn slumbering beside me, I park the rental car beneath a century-old apple tree. To my left, atop a slow hill, is Granddad’s twelve-sided barn, with cupola above and silo inside. Trees – catalpa, pear and mulberry – cast shadows over the barnyard and hide accumulated decay. It’s been a decade since Eileen and I were here.

Marilyn wakes when I open the passenger door. “Hello, Robbie. Fancy meeting you here.” As I lean to help her, she wobbles upright, wraps her arms around my neck and kisses me with some enthusiasm.

“Come on, Marilyn. Let’s get you inside.”

I bend to a shoulder carry, and with a “Whoop!” from Marilyn, we head through a weathered picket gate, then up porch steps to a metal swing. Marilyn props herself up on dusty cushions while I search my pockets for a key.

“Karen will be along pretty soon,” she says.

Marilyn must be five sheets to the wind. “Yes, Karen loved silver nights. I’ll turn on the lights so I can get you to bed.”

“Yes, Robbie! My sentiments exactly.”

Inside the kitchen are new taps, even new plumbing below the sink. There’s a working refrigerator and a late model electric stove. The kitchen flooring is still the familiar ancient linoleum, but mopped and polished. Quickly, I inspect both dining room and living room, the whole ground floor. Marilyn and Karen accomplished a lot.

Out on the porch, Marilyn’s head lolls on the swing’s armrest. Thinking perhaps she’s asleep, I kneel to listen to her breathing, but she opens her eyes, looks straight into mine. “Sweetie, it’s time we went to bed.”

“No, Marilyn. I’ll go to a motel.”

“Karen told me to bring you home, Robbie, but I want you for myself.”

Tragedy heaped upon tragedy, Marilyn is quite demented. “Please, which bedroom is yours?”

She thumps me on the chest. “Atta boy! It’s been too damned long.”

“Marilyn, you’re staying. I’m finding a motel.”

Her hand is on my chest again. Reluctantly, she pushes me away. “You ain’t gonna love me?”

“No, Marilyn. Let’s go find a bed.”

“Okay,” she says, and with a gleam in her eye, she pulls herself up on both my hands.


When we reach the landing, Marilyn detours to the bathroom. The last time I was here, we didn’t have an upstairs bathroom.

Prodding open my teenage bedroom door, I don’t recognize the lamp and night stand by the west window. This room is freshly painted, with a double bed and flowered duvet. She shuts off the water faucet, sashays down the hallway, and with a wolfish grin, ushers me inside. She blocks the doorway behind her, kicks off sandals and begins to unbutton her blouse. I open bedcovers and retreat to the window. Now Marilyn’s bra is off, jeans a blue puddle at her feet.

“Stay with me, Robbie.”

“Not making this easy on me, are you?”

“Should I?”

“I’ll stay until you go to sleep.” Maybe I’m the one who’s demented. I slip off shoes and sit opposite on the bed. “But only if you talk to me a little.”

She slides in and I drape the sheet over her. She’s so very beautiful, but after all, she is Karen’s sister.

“No talking, Robbie, ‘less you hold me.”

“Marilyn, I shouldn’t.”

She glares at me. “Then leave me alone.”

I need answers.

After switching off the bedside lamp, the room fills with moonlight. I tug the sheet higher, lie near, reach to embrace her. She opens the buttons on my shirt and snuggles her face against me. “You see. Nice.”

“Marilyn, please tell me something.”

“Hmmm, what?”

“The neighbors – they must know you’re living here.”

“A’course, they do. I told ‘em we were renting from you.”

“Something else.”

“Sweetie, love me or shut up.”

“Growing pot, you’re breaking the law, in this state anyway. Won’t Eileen and I be arrested?”

“Because of all that drug money we sent you?”

“You never sent us a dime.”

“Nuf said. Go to sleep, Robbie.”

Then we are quiet together. Her breathing evens out, and in a couple minutes, she’s mumbling in her sleep. I disentangle gently, roll over and pad out into the hall.


Moonlight streams in and it’s easy to find the new bathroom. I wash, then peer from the window, directly overhead into bright light. A bat swoops and darts before the moon.

It’s a wonderful feeling to be here again.

There is motion on the driveway. Someone waves towards the house. It’s a woman, with long hair, pale sweater and tapered trousers. She looks afraid, but doubtless sees me here in the window and waves again to attract my attention.


I rush through the hall, pound down the stairs and outside onto the porch. The driveway is empty. Fireflies launch from tall grass as I walk barefoot onto the lawn. There’s no one in sight, but at the sound of my name, I turn towards the barn. In shadow-casting moonlight, Karen waits beneath the catalpa. I approach cautiously until I realize what Marilyn meant. Who she was, remains. This is Karen, no matter the impossibility.

Blonde hair falling to her shoulders, trembling lips, green eyes edged in tears; she thrusts out her arms to fend off my embrace. “Rob, don’t touch me. I’m so frightened.”

Stumbling, my mind reels, reality lost in absurdity. “You’re frightened? Dearest Karen, shouldn’t I be the one?”

She clasps both hands over her mouth to smother a hysterical giggle. “I don’t understand anything!”

“You’ve never been a ghost before.”

I reach to caress her cheek, but hear only a frantic, “No!”


My eyes open. Morning dew glistens on stalks of grass pressed against my nose. Empty grain sacks cover me. Cold and aching, I manage to rise to one knee, then stand. Barefoot, shirtless, just as I left Marilyn last night, I stumble to the house.

Sounds of country lyrics and a running shower drift along the second story hallway. I plunk myself down on Marilyn’s bed. When she appears, she’s wrapped in a bath towel. “Well, there you are. Did Karen have her way with you last night?”

I swallow and shake my head slowly. “I woke up out by the barn.”

Taking a hair brush from the dresser, she sits with bare knees pressing my pant legs. “Now you know my first problem.”

“Karen’s frightened.”

“Terrified, I’d say. She’s mighty sorry about knocking you out.”

Water droplets shine in Marilyn’s brown hair. She loosens the towel and begins to dry her head. “Karen wants to leave – you know, pass on – but she refuses to do that before talking to you. That was my second problem, luring you back home from Seattle.”

“Marilyn, I’ve no idea what’s happening, but right now you’re distracting as all get-out.”

“Oh, all right, Robbie. Take a shower, get dressed. I’ll start breakfast.”


I wield a set of long-handled tongs as bacon pops and sizzles in an iron skillet. Asking how I like my eggs, Marilyn stays out of range of bacon splatters. Dressed now, with tanned legs below yellow shorts, she’s no less fetching than before. She pours orange juice at the kitchen table, then tells me, “Karen knocked me out, five or six times, until we got the knack.”

Astonished I turn; the tongs dribble grease onto the polished floor. “Is that what happened; she knocked me out?”

“Better sit down, Robbie. Right now, making breakfast is a tad too complicated for you.”

I take a seat facing the south windows and feed the toaster. Marilyn kneels by the stove to wipe the linoleum. “Didn’t you touch her?”

“I was reaching out. She looked so miserable and I wanted . . .”

“Ho, ho. I’ll bet you did.” Marilyn extends her own hand as she takes the seat next to me. “Why don’t you try touching me? I won’t knock you on your keister.”

“Marilyn, you weren’t like this when we were young. What’s wrong between us?”

“No, I wasn’t like this, was I?” Marilyn grumbles. “Just a sweet little virgin, watching her big sister fall desperately in love. No hint you’d leave us, leave her, behind.”

Thirty years ago, I met Eileen at university. I thought she was more wonderful than all the world, and I never spoke to Karen again. “I didn’t want to hurt Karen. I thought we’d drifted apart, that she’d forgotten me, found someone else.”

Marilyn studies the table knife in her clinched fist. “Robbie, that’s bull; you were a miserable shit. This last year, Karen’s disease destroyed everything except her love for you. She won’t pass without talking to you first.”

Eileen’s judgment of me is scalding. I close my eyes in shame. “You’re right, Marilyn. There’s no excuse for what I did to Karen. I should have tried to explain, asked her forgiveness.”

“Don’t tell me, Robbie. Tell her. Karen’s next to you.”

To my right, almost translucent in morning sun, Karen offers us toast and a jar of grape jelly.


Marilyn has left us, gone beyond hearing our whispers. Karen and I share the bed in the guest room. Face to face on the same pillow, we do not touch, but talk quietly.

“Marilyn likes you, Rob. But it’s mostly my fault; the way she acts. That’s me, teasing you.” She beams in my face.

Lovely green eyes I yearn to kiss. “Karen, do you and your sister merge somehow?”

She shrugs her shoulders and nods her head. I feel the mattress and pillow move. (How is that possible?) “Rob, I don’t know what a ghost can do, or even what to try.”

“I have so many questions.”

“And I, almost no answers.”

“But, Karen, there is one question you can answer.” She arches an eyebrow at me. “What can I do to help you?”

She breathes deep. (Do ghosts need to breathe?) “Two things, Rob. Please, could I meet Eileen, and will you help me find what comes next?”

“Yes, and yes. I think Eileen will agree.”

Karen’s is the loveliest smile I’ve ever known. “Rob, you won’t collapse, just fall asleep if we try again, right here.”

“How do you and Marilyn manage to touch?”

“Clear your mind, Darling, that seems to help. And don’t be afraid, not even a little. I’ll come to you.”


Yesterday I telephoned Eileen, and with no explanation, begged her to take the overnight flight. She arrived early this morning.

“Of course, Karen’s not here,” Eileen says as we pause before the new grave in Shiloh Cemetery. “She’s passed on.”

“But she hasn’t. She was right here, inside Marilyn somehow. Karen’s a ghost.”

Eileen clasps my hand and pulls it tight to her heart. “Rob, you’re not feeling well. Has Marilyn been slipping you dodgy medication?”

“No, Dear. But Karen hasn’t passed because, a long time ago, I did something really lousy. I’ll explain on the way to the farm.”

When we arrive, a stern-faced Marilyn meets us on the front porch and shakes Eileen’s hand. “Has Rob told you what’s happened?”

“Yes, Marilyn, as much as he understands.”

“Karen wants to talk with you.”

“Yes, I think I know why.”

Marilyn leads us inside, and from across the kitchen, I can see Karen shivering outside the living room door. Eileen approaches softly, but Karen is transfixed and crosses her arms as if chilled. Karen looks from Eileen to the floor. “You’re so beautiful. He will be yours forever.”

“Karen, I’ve never met a ghost.”

“Neither have I.”

Eileen reaches to touch Karen’s hand but stops abruptly. “When Rob told me about you, I thought he’d lost his mind.”

Karen brightens and glances to where I stand clutching a kitchen chair to keep from fainting. “I think he’s worried we’ll hate each other. I’m a little worried, too.”

“At university, Rob didn’t say much about you. But, Karen, I know he’s never stopped loving you.”

“Such a waste. You and I should have met years ago.”

Gingerly, Eileen and Karen lean into a hug, then close the living room door behind them.


“She’s sleeping,” Eileen tells us when she emerges in mid afternoon.

I can’t help but ask, “Do ghosts sleep?”

“Karen sleeps, but maybe she doesn’t get hungry. I’m starving.”

Wordlessly, Marilyn fixes a late lunch; soup, sandwiches and a tomato salad. We suffer in silence around the kitchen table until Eileen slides close to Marilyn. “It’s good news about Karen’s memory returning.”

Marilyn nods, stares at the lunch dishes.

“In the living room, Karen and I talked a lot about her sons and husband. She said talking helps her to remember more and more.”

Marilyn sighs as Eileen continues, “I told her about Rob and me, about our daughter and how much we love each other.”

I feel their eyes upon me.

“Eileen,” Marilyn says, “I’m not angry with Rob or you. But I am anxious about Karen.”

“Troubled about where she goes from here, and how she’ll get there?”

“Yes. Did she say anything about that?”

“Karen’s reconciled with Rob.” I brave Eileen’s glance. “Probably best if I don’t ask him exactly how they managed that. But anyway, now she feels free to leave and there’s somewhere she needs to go.”

Marilyn shakes her head in frustration. “Somewhere!  That’s all she knows?”

Here’s my chance to help. “Karen and I talked about when we were young, about how we roamed the fields together.”

“Yes . . . and?” Marilyn says.

“That’s where she thinks she should go, into the fields. But they’re different now; or as a ghost, she sees them differently. Since I grew up here, I might be able to tell how they’ve changed.”

“We should let her sleep,” Marilyn says as she clears the table. “Tonight, she can show all of us.”


The full moon creates a bright, but almost colorless, world. Behind Grandad’s barn are grain and hay fields stretching south, west, and north. Karen leads the three of us to the paddock. Westward, beyond the wire fence, is a growing corn field, and beyond that, a field of soybeans sprouts that barely top our ankles.

Karen points towards the fence. “I’m supposed to go out there. It’s so powerful. Don’t you see it?”

Marilyn shrugs. “Karen, it’s just an empty corn field.”

“Rob? Eileen?”

We shake our heads. “Just corn.”

Marilyn drapes her arm over Karen’s shoulders. “Maybe we should . . . Oh, my. Look at that!” Karen snatches up Eileen’s hand, who is already holding mine.

Touching Karen, now all of us can see the mature, soaring forest that surrounds us in every direction. A hundred feet overhead, light twinkles as a midnight breeze stirs the leaves. Here below are massive pools of darkness where treetops block the moonlight, but openings in the canopy leave a connecting, lighted pathway that leads west through the trees.

Karen pulls us onto the moonlit trail and surges ahead as we follow in a hand-holding chain. “Look everybody! What’s that?”

Far away, almost at the limit of sight, is a small fire. We move in silence until a standing torch appears beside the trail. “I can see the next one,” Karen says in joyous wonder. “I’ll go on from here.”

Marilyn clasps her sister around the waist. Eileen and I grip Karen’s arms. “Wait. It’s dark,” Marilyn says. “Where is this? Are there dangerous animals? What if there’s not a third torch? Am I losing you?”

In Marilyn’s grasp, Karen twists to embrace Eileen, and then myself. She kisses Marilyn and gently separates her sister’s arms from her waist. Now fingertips are our only link to Karen.

“I love you all. Come to me in your own good time.”

Karen’s fingers slide away and we stand alone in the hay field.