After We’re Dead 

Cheryl Pappas | Flash Fiction

They let me in the room to ask my husband, Jerry, a question I couldn’t let go of, after all these years. “It’s not typically done,” they’d said. But when I told them what I needed to know, they nodded slowly and signed the necessary paperwork.  

It was all white the room almost not even a room but space and in the middle two chairs were on either end of a table split in the middle by a pane of glass. It was open all around the glass. On each side was a small black recorder with a big gray button. Jerry sat there fidgeting and looking around. He didn’t hear my heels clacking on the marble floor as I approached the chair, and it was like he couldn’t see me, either. What was in that glass I didn’t know. His black and gray pinstriped overalls he wore working the furnace for years had that stain near his heart I could never get out, and his face looked ruddy as if he’d been drinking Chivas. Even so, I hardly recognized him.  

I sat down and after a minute pressed the gray button on the black box. I heard static. The sound startled Jerry—his face scrunched like our son’s when he was a toddler, after all the blocks fell on the linoleum floor—so I unpressed the button. Jerry coughed, like he would when we were at the doctor’s office. He always hated to wait.  

I pressed again.  

“Jerry, this is your dead wife, Rachel.”   

He looked at the box and confusedly pressed the button. “Reggie?” 

I’d almost forgotten that was his nickname for me, we’d been dead for so many years.  

“Jerry, I need to ask you a question.” 

Jerry’s eyes blinked with full recognition, really seeing me. “Oh, Jesus. Reggie!” His eyes were as blue as the Mediterranean, watery even. He tried to stand up but couldn’t.   

“Jerry. Calm yourself now. I need to know something.”  

“Reggie! You look the same! Wow. We did it. We’re together. I knew it! I wondered all these years . . .” He laughed like he’d just heard a joke from one of his buddies. He tried to get up again. 

“Jerry we have to talk.”  

“Oh. God, it’s so good to see you!” 

I spoke but realized I hadn’t pressed the button. I pushed the button, waiting for the static to clear. “Jerry, why did you never do the dishes or clean the bathroom once after I cooked and cleaned for you for thirty years?”  

Jerry sat back in his chair. “Woman! That again?” 

“I understand why you hated your father, why you worked past retirement, why you never forgave Larry for cheating you in poker. But I never understood why you didn’t help me.” 

Jerry took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his forehead, like he used to do.  

“I’ve told you this a million times, Reggie. I was tired.”  

“Don’t you think I was tired, too? I worked just as hard as you: you worked the furnace, I worked the oven. I bought the clothes, I did the taxes—” 


“—It’s always bothered me. Why?” 

“Stop, Reggie.” He stared into my eyes through the glass, his chunky index finger pressing hard on the button. He kept it there. His face got red. His eyes held mine; I tried to look away, but I couldn’t. He seemed angry again, like he used to get sometimes. I could still feel the muscle memory of scrubbing that overall stain. Then he lifted his eyebrows like he did when Tom was born, as if he’d been surprised by a beautiful sunrise.  

“Thank you, Reggie,” he said, finally, his voice quiet. “I’m sorry I didn’t help more. You’re right. You did so much, too much. It was not a great life or even a great marriage. We had no time. We both worked ourselves into the ground. We did get to Greece, though, remember?” That old smile.  

I felt my dead heart rustle and whirr.  

I remembered how his lips trembled during sex. I remembered the open verandah window onto the sea, the sheets so crisp, his hands so grubby, so good. 


We took our eyes off each other to watch the stain on his overalls lift off and disintegrate into millions of particles in the air, until it was nothing, then the pane of glass shattered in silence and all the little pieces disappeared one by one, and Jerry’s body blended into the white of the room until only his big bulbous heart was left, and my arms started to go, and I let go as I reached out to him, my legs and feet, too, until we were two fast-beating hearts in the air of a white room, until we were nothing, until we were clean.