Fiction | Issue 1 (April 2023)

Dysfunctional Medium

Sara Dobbie

Tommy isn’t the first dead person to visit me. He is one in a series of random acquaintances from the other side who grace me with conversation. Other frequent messengers include my neighbor’s wife who died of an aneurysm, a co-worker’s brother who suffered a heart attack, and my cousin’s best friend who drowned. I ask Tommy why I can’t talk to people who really matter to me, like my grandmother or one of my aunts. “No offense, I say, “but I barely know you. Knew you, I mean.”  

“I don’t know,” he says, “I must have made a big impression on you.”  

It’s true. Tommy was the new boy back when I was in grade seven or eight. All the girls adored him because he did boxing, and his hair was slicked over to one side like a movie star. He used to say hi to me in the hall and flash a heartthrob smile. Fifteen years later, I heard Tommy drove into the canal in the middle of the night. It was in the paper and even on the news. There is something jarring about a person dying so young, a person your own age, from your school. 

“Maybe,” he suggests, “your family can’t get through to you. I don’t know how it works.”  

I always figured that once you passed over to the other side, the complexities of the universe would become clear. That you would understand everything. “Nah,” Tommy says, “I’m still confused, still trying to figure it all out. But in your case, I bet you’re not paying close enough attention. You have to look for signs.” 

I think about the time a crow flew into my living room. It must’ve been stuck inside the chimney, but it escaped through the flue, flapping its great black wings right over my head. My Nanny used to tell me the same thing happened to her after her first husband died. That she didn’t go to the funeral, but at the very moment that he would have been getting lowered into the ground, a blackbird bust in through the back door and flew right past where she was sitting on the couch.  

“Could it have been?” I ask Tommy. 

He shrugs. “Why not?” 

I cry for a while on the cold bathroom tiles. This happens sometimes, when I feel like I can’t take it anymore, when I lack strength to pick myself up and go to bed. I wonder if Tommy drove into the canal on purpose. I wonder what all these dead people want from me. I wish I could see my grandmother again.  

I fall asleep there on the floor, curled in the corner like a kid playing hide and seek, except no one comes to find me. I wake up at 3 a.m. to perfect silence and one ebony feather resting on the tiles at my feet. Whiskers, my cat, is sitting in the doorway watching me with glowing green eyes. Tommy’s gone, and no other wandering, stray ghosts have shown up. I pick up the quill, drag the black plume across my wrist, picture the edge of infinity. 

Sara Dobbie is a Canadian writer from Southern Ontario. Her stories have appeared in Fictive Dream, JMWW, Sage Cigarettes, New World Writing, Bending Genres, Ghost Parachute, Ruminate Online, Trampset, Ellipsis Zine, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Static Disruption, is available from Alien Buddha Press. Her collection, Flight Instinct, is available from ELJ Editions. 

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