North Hollywood, California, March 1975
Davids never going to get up on that roof and fix the antenna. Hes acrophobic! Hell, Im a little acrophobic myself, but there he is out selling vacuum cleaners to all the pretty little housewives and here I am stuck in a house with a TV that cant get two or four so that I have to miss my favorite soap opera and all the really decent programs and walk around the stupid house talking to myself. I meanyou can only scrub the floor so often. You can only dust so many times. And you cant sit around and eat all the time when your rear-ends already bigger than it should be. So whos going to end up climbing up onto that goddamn roof? Rosalie, thats who! Who else is stupid enough or cares whether I watch two or four?
David doesnt careeven if they are the best networks with some of the best shows. David hates television. He calls it a conspiracy against intelligence and creative thinking. Well, if David Rosenberg is so goddamn intelligent and creative; then what the hell is he doing out there selling vacuum cleaners? I meanwhy isnt he president of the whole goddamn world?
Rosalie was talking to herself, pacing back and forth, something she did often. After all, it was supposed to be better to express herself than keep it all inside and make herself sick because she was repressed. But then, Rosalie was also a little repressed. She hadnt asked David to fix the antenna for at least a week. Granted, shed asked him to do it several times over the past several weeks, but David almost never watched television. He couldnt care less about two or four. Maybe it was because he sold vacuum cleaners days, was taking creative writing classes on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and trying to write a book the rest of the time.
Rosalie took a deep breath and sighed. Then she walked out into the front yard. Sighing helped her to relieve tension as she turned to glare at the roof.
A large black crow was perched on the antenna.
Get off of there, bird! she called out in dismay.
Rosalie shook her short, curly hair. In a fit of depression, she had cut off her long, dark hair only last Wednesday afternoon. David had yet to notice. He could be unobservant at times. Maybe he needed glasses.
Rosalie narrowed her large, brown eyes and headed for the open garage. There was a tall wooden ladder resting against the wall. What the hell do I know about antennas? she muttered dragging the ladder to the middle of the driveway where she could better see the roof.
After four months things were beginning to shape up. The house still needed paint on the outside, but Rosalie had already painted three rooms. Only that morning she had added orange and yellow poppies to the corners of her freshly-painted kitchen cupboards. She planned to add the green leaves and stems that afternoon. The landlord wouldnt agree to repaint the neglected house. He seemed to think of himself as generous by providing the paint for them to fix the inside. It was a small house, nothing to rave about, but it was beginning to feel like home. David hated apartments. Rosalie liked to grow things, especially flowers. It was hard to grow flowers in an apartment except in boxes and pots. She turned to study the yard, thinking about the flowers she would plant that month. Spring was on the way. It was early March.
Still frustrated about missing her favorite soap opera yet one more time, Rosalie decided it might be easier to get up on the roof from the back of the house. She carried the ladder with her.
The back yard didn’t look too bad. To her way of thinking, it just needed lots of flowers and more green plants. There were no trees, so lots of sun. Rosalie was planning a rose garden. She loved roses. All colors. All sizes. Daisies bushes, too. She wanted pansies and geraniums, lots of colors all around the yard. But for the moment, she stopped mentally landscaping and stared up at the roof.
The large crow was still sunning itself on the dilapidated antenna.
Get off of there, bird! For all I know, it’s your fault I can’t get two and four!
With that, the crow flew away, apparently intimidated.
With effort, Rosalie placed the ladder near what she hoped would become their patio. Then she stared up at the roof, telling herself it wasnt really that high. It was hardly like climbing a mountain or even the Statue of Liberty, and yet, she had this strange feeling in the pit of her stomach that crept up into her chest¾a heavy, gnawing sensation that wouldnt go away. But she wanted to see two and four, so up the ladder she climbed.
The antenna was on the top of the roof, so she had to climb all the way up to reach it. All the pieces of metal linked together with screws, nuts and bolts looked sort of strange and puzzling. It reminded her of a futuristic scarecrow. Totally put off by the whole situation, she sat and glanced around the neighborhood. Rosalie had never seen it from the roof before, and it looked different. The mail truck was two blocks away. Probably just more bills and advertising, she thought, although maybe Honey had sent her a postcard from Miami.
Honey was visiting her retired uncle in Florida. She hoped to meet a tall, dark stranger who would sweep her off her feet and beg her to marry him. She said that was what she saw in her tea leaves. Among other things, Honey MacIntosh read tea leaves. Strange as it seemed to Rosalie, Honey had managed to predict a few things that actually happened, like David changing jobs. But then, no one had been buying encyclopedias. Vacuum cleaners were more in demand. People could go to a library to read an encyclopedia. Everybody needed a vacuum cleaner.
Sometimes Rosalie thought Honey was a little bit nutty, but sweet. Really sweet. The name seemed to suit her. Honey MacIntosh was her best friend. They had known each other for five years, since right after Rosalie moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
Rosalie noticed two dogs at a standoff down at the corner. One dog lived down the street. The other was a stray. Someday Rosalie hoped to have a dog of her own. But David didnt want her to get a dog yet. He thought she should go back to work to help out with expenses, so they could save more money. Then a dog would have to be left alone, and that wasnt a good idea.
Grocery checker! What an exciting job, standing on her feet all day checking groceries, with everyone complaining about inflation and about how people wouldnt be able to afford to eat anymore with the way things were going. Why didnt people grow their own food and stop buying groceries? That way they could stop complaining. Why did people gripe and never do anything about changing the things that bothered them?
Rosalie had never realized that climbing up on a roof would make her think about so many different things¾like the Goldsmiths’ swimming pool south of the boulevard in Encino. Only one of her North Hollywood neighbors had a pool, and it was cracked. It leaked. Someday Rosalie wanted a swimming pool, and maybe a Jacuzzi. Why not? She could wish, couldnt she? It didnt cost her anything to wish.
Why didnt people in that neighborhood take better care of their yards? They rarely even mowed the grass. God forbid they should plant flowers. What a shame, she thought. The world definitely looked different from up there. Roofs were obviously a good place to think, even if it could be depressing. Then she remembered her soap opera would be on in an hour, so she turned to stare at the antenna.
Its too bad you cant talk. Then you could tell me which way to turn you to bring in two and four.
As she stood to study the metal maze before her, she heard a car pulling up in front of the house. David got out. It wasnt his car. He said something she couldnt hear to a driver she couldnt see. He waved and the car sped off. Then David headed for the front door. He hadnt even bothered to look for her on the roof.
Hey, David! she called out. What are you doing home so early?
David stopped and looked around, puzzled.
I’m up here, stupid! On the roof! Trying to figure out this goddamn antenna.
David looked up, shading his eyes from the sun, as a startled expression formed on his face. He frowned. David wasnt bad looking. Honey thought he was handsome. But then, Honey was twenty-five, single, overweight, and slightly desperate. David had beautiful teeth and a really nice smile. But according to Rosalie, his ears were too big. They stuck out. And his hair was getting pretty thin for a guy who was only thirty. Besides that, he was skinny. He seldom ate enough. Rosalie always told him he was lean like Jimmy Stewart, with ears like Clark Gable, and half of Jimmy Durantes nose. No one could miss it right there in the middle of that face.
So what do you think youre doing? David was standing with his hands on his hips, shaking his head and rolling his eyes.
I told you. I’m fixing the antenna. You may not like television, but I do. And if you wont fix the antenna, I will. Its as simple as that.
Youre crazy! Do you know that, Rosalie? Plain crazy! She figured his blood pressure was probably rising. I told you Id get Kenny to help me with that as soon as I can find time. I told you that! What do you know about antennas? Nothing! That’s what you knowa big fat nothing!
So wheres the car? She was really starting to like the roof.
It caught on fire. David stared at the bushes with a disgusted look on his face.
On fire? What do you mean the car caught on fire?
The electrical system short-circuited, something like that. He shrugged it off. Smoke and flames poured out from under the hood and dashboard. The fire department came. It was awful. The car had to be towed. He looked discouraged. Rosalie, if you want to know the God-honest truth, this has not been one of my best daysnot in the least!
So what are you going to do now?
I dont have a clue what Im going to do now, he said as an increasingly anxious expression appeared on his face. But I know what youre going to do. Youre going to get down off that stupid roof…thats what youre going to do…before you fall and break your stupid neck! He sounded tense. After all, David was acrophobic.
You want to know something, David? I like the roof! Being on a roof is very interesting. You should try it sometime. Really, David, you should try it!
She knew she was being ridiculous but she couldnt care less. So now the car had caught on fire. What next? How could David sell vacuum cleaners without a car? He couldnt carry all that stuff around, door to door, and they did have to pay the rent.
Rosalie, will you please get off that roof? You’re making me nervous. Please! he yelled. Then he started pacing. Next, his ulcer might start giving him trouble.
That was when a strange thing happened.
The big black crow that had been sitting on the power lines across the street suddenly flew off and took a dive straight at Rosalie. As she dodged to one side to get out of its way, she lost her balance, fell, and started rolling down the front of the roof. She was so startled by what had happened that she didn’t even cry out.
The last thing she remembered falling headfirst toward the front porch was David running toward her crying out, R o s a l i e! at the top of his voice.
All around there was a bright golden mistsort of like fogbut it wasn’t cold and dampand it wasn’t hot. It was pleasant. Rosalie could hear music. Not ordinary music, more like harmonious notes accompanied by a choir of perfectly blended voices. It was indescribable. Nothing she had ever heard before could even begin to compare with it.
She had a warm, lazy, drifting sensation like floating in the Goldsmiths swimming pool with the temperature at eighty-eight degrees, or lying in a warm bathtub full of bubbles. There was a sweet fragrance that reminded her of spring flowers after the rain combined with the scent of freshly mowed grass. And just as she was beginning to adapt to the mist, strange light, and lovely sensations, she discovered she was lying on freshly mowed grass. There were beautiful, brilliant flowers all around her. Flowers she could not remember ever having seen before.
Now why can’t my yard look like this? As usual, she was talking to herself.
The mist was clearing. About a hundred yards away was a wide, calmly flowing deep blue river. In the distance were gentle rolling hills, lush and green. Rosalie was entranced when an orange and white and blue butterfly lit nearby. She was very fond of butterflies and had never seen this kind before.
Rosalie talked to butterflies the same as she talked to flowers and plants and to herself.
To her delight, the butterfly fluttered up and settled on her knee. Onetime when she was a child, a brown and yellow butterfly with bright blue dots on its wings had stayed on her hand for several minutes. It was one of her fondest memories. The same as back then, she was afraid to move or to say anything, afraid if she did that the butterfly would fly away. Nonetheless, the butterfly stayed on her knee, gently moving its wings in the soft breeze.
Slowly, Rosalie sat up. She took a deep breath and gazed at the magnificent landscape around her. The butterfly was still on her knee. She wondered if the butterfly thought her bright green pants were part of the grass. Suddenly, it fluttered up in front of her face and navigated a change of course toward the river. She watched it and sat very still, filled with an extraordinary sense of wonder.
Then, from out of nowhere, a rowboat appeared on the river. The man rowing was dressed in black and wore a clerical collar. He had a Santa Claus kind of face without a beard, and as he rowed he sang, Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream… What he lacked in voice, he made for in enthusiasm.
He got out of the boat at a small pier near the edge of the river and he waved.
Rosalie looked all around. Since she was the only one there, she waved back. He looked harmless enough. He was all smiles as he walked toward her at a quick pace for such an old gent.
Hello, hello! And how are you this fine moment? His voice had a lilt that sounded Irish.
Rosalie tilted her head to one side, the way she always did when she was trying to figure someone out, and said, I’m fine. Just fine.
I’m so very glad to hear that. And with that, he joined her on the grass.Lovely here, isn’t it? I particularly like this spot.
Yes, it’s beautiful.
That was when Rosalie realized she had no idea of where she was or of how she had even gotten there. Strange, she thought, and she started searching her mind.
Excuse me, she said, but for some strange reason I don’t seem to remember… she abruptly stopped and cautiously inquired, That is, could you possibly tell me…where we are?
Most call it Halfway Point here near the crossing. It has other names, of course, depending on your point of view. I like Halfway Point. It’s a descriptive name and quite accurate.
Rosalie was puzzled. For the moment she felt so good about being there that she guessed it didn’t matter how she had gotten there, and yet, What river is that? she suddenly asked.
Before we discuss the river, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Father Timothy. As he spoke he pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket. Naturally, I already know your name. Rosalie Rosalie Rosenberg.
How come you know my name? Are you psychic?
You could say that, he said with a chuckle. Actually, your name was given to me by my superior.
What superior? Things seemed to be getting stranger by the minute.
Well, I call her Mother Superior,” he said, chuckling. It’s a private joke we share. Most folks here call her Marcella. You’ll like her. She’s a wonderful being. He refolded the paper and placed it back in his pocket.
Rosalie began searching her mind trying to remember how she had gotten to this place. Nothing made sense. How could this Marcella know her name when she couldn’t remember ever having met anyone named Marcella at any time in her life? And even if she had, why would this Marcella give her name to this odd little man dressed in black? And, how did he know she would even be here in the first place, wherever here was? There was something really strange happening.
Are we anywhere near Los Angeles? she decided to ask.
Dimensionally speaking, Father Timothy replied, you could say that, and yet, we’re not really anywhere near Los Angeles. He thoughtfully closed his eyes for a long moment.
Rosalie braced herself, tension mounting as she asked, Then where are we?
Again, Father Timothy closed his eyes. There was a long pause before he opened his eyes to directly look at her. He seemed to be searching for the right words when he said, What’s the last thing you remember, lass?
Asking you where we are. Now, he was making her very nervous.
No, I mean…
Before what? she blurted out. What I mean is, what do you mean by before?
Before you found yourself here?
Before I found myself here? she more or less squeaked, scratching her head. Not that it itched, it something she could do when she was nervous. That’s one hell of a question. I mean, just minutes ago I was trying to figure out where I am and how I got hereand now you’re asking me to remember.
She frowned before she went on, If you want to know the truth, I seem to have amnesia or somethinglike I don’t remember. Honest, I plain don’t remember.
With that, Rosalie let out an audible sigh. Then she stood and looked all around as though the flowers and trees might fill her in. This is the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me. Honest to God! I’m not putting you on. I don’t know where I am. I know who I am. I’m Rosalie Rosenberglike your friend Marcella, or Mother Superior, or whatever you two have going on, tells you.
He raised his eyebrow in some disapproval.
No offense intended, she added, once again scratching her head. And if you want to know something really strange, for some crazy reason, I don’t even give a shit!
At the word shit Father Timothy closed his eyes for several seconds, and then he released a very controlled sigh.
Im sorry. I guess my choice of words isn’t always the greatest, she said with a grin. I mean, you must be a rabbi or something, and I guess religious folk aren’t too keen on hearing obscene language, so I apologize. I’m sorry.
I accept your apology. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders before he said, It’s not uncommon for people to feel as you do when they first arrive. The truth is, many do. Some at least remember that they were on their way, but in your case, I guess there wasn’t time to prepare for your transition.
Transition? Again she scratched her head.
My dear Rosalie, you have crossed over.
Crossed over where?
To the other side.
The other side of what?” her voice rose in pitch, the way it always did when she was extremely nervous. Los Angeles?
He simply shook his head with a strained look on his face.
Again he was shaking his head.
Not exactly, he said, momentarily pausing. But I suppose you could say that. Father Timothy was aware of her plight, having dealt with many such souls. Recently, they seemed to be becoming his specialty.
Rosalie was ready to panic. Since your friend Marcella knows who I am and that I was going to be here, maybe we should ask her how I got here? I mean, I’m sure she’ll be able to clear everything up for both of us in nothing flat. For all she knew, this guy was some kind of nut case recently escaped from the state hospital at Camarillo.
I really wish they wouldn’t give me these assignments, he said half to himself.
I’m an assignment? Sure, that makes sense.
We have jobs here. The same as you do, tasks to help us grow. The jobs we have here can be just as trying as the ones you have on the earth plane. Trust me.
Thats correctearth plane.
Oh, come on, she started laughing you’re not going to tell me I’m on Mars or something? I’ll admit I’ve never seen butterflies like that before, but I haven’t been to a lot of places. For all I know, those butterflies are common in Africa or the Amazon or someplace like that. And I know I’ve never seen flowers like those before, but I’ve only been in New York, New Jersey, and California. I haven’t been to lots of places with all kinds of strange things that most people only see in picturesor on those nature programs on TV. Am I dreaming? Am I having some kind of freaky dream where I can’t wake up? Maybe I’ve lost my marbles. Or I’m hallucinating because some stupid doper put LSD in the drinking water. Her head was starting to reel at all the implications.
Come on, Timothy, level with me. You’re not trying to tell me what I think you’re trying to tell me, are you? I meanthe last I remember is trying to figure out the stupid antenna. And David drove up, and then, this stupid crow took a dive at me so that I lost my balance and fell and rolled down the roof and, she stopped and raised both hands to her face.
Go on, Father Timothy said with an understanding look on his face.
Rosalie took a deep breath and let it out very slowly, her voice just above a whisper as she said, What you’re trying to tell me is… I’m dead. That Rosalie Rosenberg has died?
Father Timothy nodded.
Rosalie had finally accepted the truth.