A Short Story by Lewis Turco
As soon as he woke up he remembered the last thing that had happened before he lost consciousness. He had been sitting in his favorite chair in front of the television set watching the evening news. His wife had been sitting on the sofa watching as well in the parlor of their second-floor flat in the house that they had bought late in their lives and marriage. The news wasn’t good — was it ever? — but he and his wife were comfortable for the first time in their lives, and had been for several years of his retirement as pastor of the First Italian Baptist Church. They had lived in this small Connecticut city since 1939; their children had grown up and gone, gotten married themselves, one lived nearby — a toolmaker for Pratt & Whitney, the other in upstate New York — a college professor. The professor, the older boy, was the one he’d wanted to be a minister too, but that was not to be.
He remembered the sudden sharp pain in his chest, falling forward out of his chair, hitting the floor and then nothing until he had awakened.
No, that wasn’t right. He awoke, and still there was nothing.
There was no light, if he had eyes, only darkness. He saw nothing, he felt nothing, if he had fingers to feel with; he heard nothing — there was nothing to hear or, apparently, with which to hear. He could not breathe, nor did he need to even had there been something to breathe. He did not understand how he was able to think, if he were, indeed, thinking.
He lay awhile (was he “lying”?) attempting to do the things he remembered he used to do. He tried to shout, but he could make no sound, couldn’t have heard it if he had made one, had no mouth with which to utter anything. All he could do was recollect, feel as though he were going mad, experience despair and frustration for — how long?
The conclusion he reached was inevitable and inescapable: he had died in his parlor while watching the evening news on NBC. Until that moment he had been certain that when he died something would happen. He would awaken to the Life Beyond. He would be ushered into the Presence of his Maker. Glory would abound. Something certainly would happen, not nothing. It was impossible for Nothing to happen! Or, if it did, it would be impossible for him to experience it. He would simply be nothing.
Or had the ancient Greeks gotten it right? Was this Erebus? Was this the pure darkness of Tartarus, of the Underworld where the lost souls go to “live” in emptiness, without hope? When he was a boy living in Sicily, which the Greeks had colonized centuries before his own people, the Turks, had conquered that island, he had from time to time heard snippets and shards of Greek mythology. He had heard about Erebus and wondered about it.
And as a member of an unobserving Roman Catholic family, long before his conversion to Waldensian Protestantism, he had wondered about Purgatory. Had the Church adopted the Greeks’ Erebus, as they had adopted so many other things from paganism, like holidays and saints? Was this, then, Purgatory, which would prove that his concept of the afterlife had been erroneous, and his life, consequently, had been useless? What there was left of him, here, in this all-consuming darkness, despaired.
Would there be no end to this nothingness? Would there be no union with the Godhead, no reunions with those he had left behind, those who had preceded him? He tried to put out feelers, tentacles from his mind to test the blankness engulfing him. He felt that he would go mad, that he would like to go mad because he could not bear this soulless emptiness any longer. And how long had it been? It felt as though it had been eternal.
He could not believe it when he woke up again. But had he awakened? What was all this light?
Originally published in Per Contra, Summer 2012, atwww.percontra.net/issues/24/fiction/afterward/, copyright © by Lewis Turco, all rights reserved.