Jerry was finally dozing off when his doorbell rang. He had a tough time sleeping alone, but Susan and the kids were visiting her mother in California so he had the place to himself for the next week, whether he liked it or not.
“10:30 at night? Who the devil?”
Then he abruptly got out of bed and grabbed a robe. No good news arrives so late at night. What if something happened to Susan, Denise, and little Frankie? “Please don’t let it be the cops.”
Jerry pulled on his robe, turned on the front hall light, and then the one over the front door before opening it.
“Bill?” It was Bill Henderson, the guy he used to share a cubical with at work until…
“Let me in Jerry, it’s freezing out here. What took you so long to answer the door?”
“It can’t be you, Bill.”
“What? Are you blind? Of course it’s me. Let me in.”
Jerry mutely stood aside and Bill rushed in rubbing his hands together. “God, I hate winter,” Bill remarked as Jerry closed the door again.
Jerry felt as if he were in bed dreaming or in a trance. “What do you want, Bill?”
“I need a loan. You know my daughter’s getting married next month and expenses have gone through the roof.”
“Oh, that’s right. I heard about that. We’ve taken up a collection at work to help out.” Jerry’s mind felt numb. It couldn’t be Bill. How did Bill get here?
“Good, but I’m afraid it’ll still come up short. Could you make me a personal loan? Just a few hundred bucks should do it, damn that wedding planner. She’s always suggesting expensive add-ons to the reception.”
Finally, Jerry started feeling lucid again. “I don’t know how to break this to you Bill, but you’re dead.”
“Dead? What are you talking about. I’m right here, aren’t I?”
“You can’t really be here, Bill. Don’t you remember? The brain aneurysm. You died a month ago. Keeled over in your cubicle.”
“What? No, I’ve just taken some time off. You know, to get this wedding thing set up. God, it’s turning into nightmare.”
“Look, Bill. I was in the cubicle when you died. It was awful. You were keyboarding and talking one minute and the next you just stopped and fell on the floor.”
“What are you talking about. I don’t remember any of that.”
“I think you’re just having a hard time letting go. I mean, your daughter getting married and all. I can see why you’d want to hang on.”
“Look, if you don’t want to give me the loan, just say so. Don’t make up ridiculous stories.”
“Wait right here. I’ll get something to prove it.”
Jerry ran back into his bedroom, then the walk-in closet. He was glad he kept that particular newspaper.
Carrying the paper back to Bill, Jerry opened it up to the obituary section.
“See, it says so right here. When you died, who survived you, when the funeral was, everything.”
Bill’s eyes widened and then narrowed. He grabbed the paper and threw it to the floor. “What kind of a sick joke are you making? Why did you have this phony obit printed up? Were you planning ahead to not loan me the money?”
“Think, Bill. I couldn’t have known you were coming over tonight, especially to ask me for a loan. How could I have planned for it?”
Jerry bent over and picked up the crumpled newspaper. He straightened the pages out as best he could and handed it to Bill.
“Look at it, Bill. Look at the Sports section, the Local news, everything. Nobody prints a fake newspaper with all those details.”
“It’s against my better judgement but…”
Bill snatched the paper from Jerry and began to read. He turned the pages quickly at first, and then more slowly. He became less agitated. Tears welled up in his eyes.
Solemnly he handed the paper back to Jerry who took it and set it on a small cabinet next to him, the one Susan thought was a nice decoration for the entry way.
“That was last month’s news, October twenty-first. It’s a real newspaper, with real news. Sports, Local, National, Weather…Obituaries. All real.”
Bill’s voice trailed off.
“Look, I understand.” Jerry put a compassionate hand on Bill’s shoulder. “Your daughter’s wedding is coming up. You’ve been looking forward to walking her down the aisle for a year. It’s the day you’ve been dreaming of. Your little girl getting married.”
“Yeah.” Bill absent-mindedly patted Jerry’s hand which was still on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry to be the one to have to break it to you, that you’re dead I mean.”
Jerry took his hand off of Bill and stepped back.
“It’s okay, Jerry. I think I understand now. You’re being a good friend. And you’re right. I didn’t want to face it. It was just so sudden. No chance to say good-bye.”
“Your wife, your kids, they all love you, Bill. They miss you. You were a good man.”
“Thanks, Jer.” Bill wasn’t really looking at anything, well, not anything in this world.
“I have to be going now, Jerry. I’m overdue for my visit to the next life. Now that I’m listening, I can hear them calling me.”
“Good-bye, Jer. You’re a good friend. Visit Liz and the family. Check in on them. Make sure they’re doing okay.”
“Sure, Bill. I promise.”
“Gotta go now, Jerry. Bye.” Even as Bill said the words, the sound of them became smaller and smaller. Bill became thinner and thinner. Jerry could see through him.
And then he was gone.
“Good-bye, old friend. Rest in peace.”
Jerry didn’t sleep that night.
This story was inspired by a small article written by Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky at Aish.com. He told a parable about how a departed soul visited Rabbi Issachar of Wolborz to ask for a loan for his daughter’s wedding.