"So what would you like?" I asked Callie. My little sister scanned the menu but didn't answer, and I huffed impatiently. "What would you like to have?"
We were standing in line at our local ice cream shop. It was a typical summer day: hot, humid, and lazy. It was also a perfect day for ice cream, and I thought I'd treat us accordingly.
"Callie," I said, as calmly as I could manage. "Pick something now." I tapped my foot against the tiled floor and, waiting for her to answer, absentmindedly ran a hand through my curly hair, which had been made a jungle by all of the humidity.
Still, she insisted on honoring her right to remain silent. "Fine. I'm choosing for you."
I stepped up to the cash register and smiled at the attendant – Logan. He'd worked there since I was three. He smiled back, only his smile held something: sadness, perhaps, maybe sympathy. But why I garnered sympathy was a mystery to me; he was the one who had lost all his family in a fire, and that was nearly fifteen years ago.
"Everything going all right?" I furrowed my eyebrows in concern. "Bad day?"
"Nah, everything's going fine. And you, Miss Kate?"
"Fine, thanks." I smiled at him again, and again he smiled back, but I saw something in his eyes. The same thing I saw in his smile. However, I chose to ignore it; Logan had always been somewhat of a mystery.
"So what'll it be?"
"One scoop of chocolate ice cream and another of strawberry. Both in waffle bowls." My sister and I loved waffle bowls.
Logan looked at me strangely, but went off to fulfill the order regardless. Moments later he returned with two sugar cones. One filled with pink ice cream, the other with a rich brown. They looked delicious. I looked down at Callie, expecting her face to light up as it always did, but her face held no emotion. I sighed and led her over to a table in the back corner, next to the window. A fan spun over our heads, causing tendrils of our hair to lightly slap our faces. The breeze felt good.
I handed the strawberry ice cream to Callie. Without saying a word, she took it and set it down on the table, brushing aside today's newspaper that a previous customer had left behind.
"You're not going to eat it?" I struggled to mask my annoyance.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Are you not hungry?"
She shrugged her shoulders again.
"That's fine. Who knows? Maybe you'll get hungry in a few minutes."
Having said that, we – or rather, I – ate my ice cream in silence for awhile. I never took my eyes off Callie, not even to swat away the lone fly that had landed on the blue and white checkered table. Something was bothering her, something she wasn't keen on sharing with me. But I knew she would.
I was so caught up in my musings that when Callie spoke, I jumped in my seat, startled.
"What happens when you die?" she asked.
I gazed at her in bemusement. "What do you mean?" Did normal children ask these kinds of questions?
She gave a small sigh, and I could tell she was already impatient with me. "Well, mommy said you become a star in the sky, and my teacher said you go to heaven on top of the clouds." Here she paused, wanting to give me time to digest the information. "So? What do you think?"
"It's whichever you choose," I said, eager to put the conversation to a halt.
"But Tommy said you become a ghost or a spirit. He said he saw one once!"
"Oh Cal, that's crazy."
Callie's jaw dropped. "That's exactly what Allen said!" she exclaimed. "He said only real crazy people can see dead people."
"That's true, but crazy people don't actually see ghosts; they just think they see them. That's what makes them–"
"Exactly." I slowly nodded my head, trying not to let myself be too disturbed by her sense of understanding. She was only nine, and girls her age were supposed to be obsessing over dolls and the latest teeny-bopper singer, not death and the mentally ill.
"But don't the crazy people know there are no such things as ghosts?"
"No," I said. "Crazy people don't know they're crazy. Their brains function differently, and they think that whatever they see, smell, think – whatever – is real."
Callie thought for a second. "So anyone could be crazy, but they wouldn't know it. Right?"
The thought sent a shiver down my spine. "Yes, hon, you're right. Now how 'bout that ice cream?"
Instead of eating her treat, however, Callie grabbed the newspaper and shoved it in front of my face. "Here," she said, pointing to an article on the bottom of the page. I bent my head down to read it.
Local Girl Dies in Tragic Accident
"Wha–?" I started to say, but Callie motioned for me to continue reading.
Yesterday, at around 1 PM, a large truck carrying gasoline ran over a small four-person vehicle, injuring a woman, Jocelyn, and killing her nine year old daughter, Callie. It is unclear whether the driver was under the influence of alcohol, but…Fatal Car Crash, page 6
Shocked, I looked up from thr newspaper.
And found I was the only person in the room.