“No,” whispered Sascha. “I only understand you didn’t want me. And now you do. I should leave.”
“But you just got here!”
“Here I go, anyway.”
Don’t, Sascha! Stay!”
“Good-bye.” The small voice faded. “Oh, good-bye.”
And then silence. Maggie opened her eyes with “Sascha’s gone,” she said.
“He can’t be!” The room was still.
“Can’t be,” he said. “It’s only a game.”
“More than a game. Oh, God, I feel cold. Hold me.”
He moved to hug her.
“No. I had the funniest feeling just now, as if he were real.”
“He is. He’s not gone.”
“Unless we do something. Help me.”
“Help?” He held her even tighter, then shut his eyes, and at last called:
“I know you’re there. You can’t hide.”
His hand moved to where Sascha might be.
“Listen. Say something. Don’t scare us, Sascha. We don’t want to be scared or scare you. We need each other. We three against the world. Sascha?”
“Well?” whispered Douglas.
Maggie breathed in and out.
There was a soft flutter, the merest exhalation on the night air.
“You’re back!” both cried.
“Welcome?” asked Sascha.
“Welcome!” both said.
And that night passed and the next day and the night and day after that, until there were many days, but especially midnights when he dared to declare himself, pipe opinions, grow stronger and firmer and longer in half-heard declarations, as they lay in anticipatory awareness, now she moving her lips, now he taking over, both open as warm, live ventriloquists’ mouthpieces. The small voice shifted from one tongue to the other, with soft bouts of laughter at how ridiculous but loving it all seemed, never knowing what Sascha might say next, but letting him speak on until dawn and a smiling sleep.
“What’s this about Halloween?” he asked, somewhere in the sixth month.
“Halloween?” both wondered.
“Isn’t that a death holiday?” Sascha murmured.
“Well, yes . .
“I’m not sure I want to be born on a night like that.”
“Well, what night would you like to be born on?”
Silence as Sascha floated a while.
“Guy Fawkes,” he finally whispered.
“That’s mainly fireworks, gunpowder plots, Houses of Parliament, yes? Please to remember the fifth of November?”
“Do you think you could wait until then?”
“I could try. I don’t think I want to start out with skulls and bones. Gunpowder’s more like it. I could write about that.”
“Will you be a writer, then?”
“Get me a typewriter and a ream of paper.”
“And keep us awake with the typing?”
“Pen, pencil, and pad, then?”
So it was agreed and the nights passed into weeks and the weeks leaned from summer into the first days of autumn and his voice grew stronger, as did the sound of his heart and the small commotions of his limbs. Sometimes as Maggie slept, his voice would stir her awake and she would reach up to touch her mouth, where the surprise of his dreaming came forth.
“There, there, Sascha. Rest now. Sleep.”
“Sleep,” he whispered drowsily, “sleep.” And faded away.
“Pork chops, please, for supper.”
“No pickles with ice cream?” both said, almost at once.
“Pork chops,” he said, and more days passed and more dawns arose and he said: “Hamburgers!”
“With onions,” he said.
October stood still for one day and then…
“Thanks,” said Sascha, “for helping me past that. What’s up ahead in five nights?”
“Ah, yes!” he cried.
And at one minute after midnight five days later, Maggie got up, wandered to the bathroom, and wandered back, stunned.
“Dear,” she said, sitting on the edge of the bed.
Douglas Spaulding turned over, half awake. “Yes?”
“What day is it?” whispered Sascha.
“Guy Fawkes, at last. So?”
“I don’t feel well,” said Sascha. “Or, no, I feel fine. Full of pep. Ready to go. It’s time to say good-bye. Or is it hello? What do I mean?”
“Spit it out.”
“Are there neighbors who said, no matter when, they’d take us to the hospital?”
“Call the neighbors,” said Sascha.
They called the neighbors.
At the hospital, Douglas kissed her and listened.