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Grand Valley Times Masthead
THE OTHER LIGHTS


Chapter 1


Norma could not understand why she had been abandoned. As hard as she tried, she could not shake the feeling of isolation. She had talked to Cynthia about it. She had tried to speak to John, her brother about it.

He would never remember their conversations. So she would spend her time, floating, gazing at the lights. She wanted to call them the Northern Lights, but as she had never seen the Northern Lights, she had named them the Other Lights.

She would stare at them for hours, ever fascinated by their ebb and flow, their prismatic separation recombining into colours she had never seen before. After awhile, she would want to join them, to become one with them, and often she would feel it possible to do so.

Lately, much of the time, Norma wasn't sure what was a dream and what was reality and indeed, whether the two were really as different as she had once believed.

Chapter 2


Martha would spend hours, staring down at the daughter as she lay paralyzed on her hospital bed. Occasionally, she would hold her hand, squeezing it ever so gently, often wondering if she imagined Norma squeezing it gently back. Her daughter had not gained consciousness since the accident. Her husband was reluctant to visit his daughter in this state. It hurt him so.

She had noticed how Bob had buried himself in his work of late, coming to the hospital only in the evenings and then spending most of his time in the cafeteria, where he could smoke. He would come in to get her, stopping only long enough to give Norma a kiss on the forehead.

It hurt Martha so much. She tried to understand her husband, but, with Norma lying there looking so frail and delicate, connected to the ever-present life support machines, with the constant beep, beep, beep, of the heart monitor, she wondered why Bob had abandoned his daughter.

He was a very logical man. He would tell Martha that Norma could not possibly know of their presence and that all they could do now was pray, even though neither one of them was particularly religious. They had both been baptized Anglican, one of the least demanding of religions. Or so Martha thought.

Martha turned and watched the sun slowly set over the lake. The flaming red ball of an autumn sun, perhaps at another time, would have conveyed the hope of a spring that surely must follow. Now, it signified only the beginning of winter, a time of sleep. She prayed that it would not signify death.

She gently placed Norma's hand back on the bed. It was time to go and prepare dinner. After all, she still had her son, John and Bob to look after.

"I'll be back," Martha thought as she looked down at her sleeping daughter, gently brushing a tear from her cheek.

Chapter 3


Up here, it felt so safe. The cottony light had substance and it would hold her, freeing her from all pain. It wasn't like that back there, when she would spend time near her mother.

There was pain and the frustration of being unable to respond to her. Sometimes, summonsing all her will, she would try to respond to her mother by squeezing her hand, as she had just squeezed Norma's. At times, she felt as if she had succeeded. However, it was extremely difficult to make her body work.

She always felt her mother's presence. Norma's being would fill with love at her mother's closeness and she wanted to reach out and comfort her . Norma wished she could tell her not to worry.

It was during the night that she had many times tried to contact her. Norma had learned to manoeuvre with great agility in her dream-like state, and would gently attempt to meet Martha while she slept. Her mother would never let her get too close. Once, they were sitting at a table, outside on a sun-filled lawn, the green grass and leaves of the tree shimmering translucently in the bright white light. She had reached out ever so gently to touch Martha, only to have her disappear instantly.

John was another matter entirely. His mind, being youthful, had a creative flexibility that their mother lacked. The problem with John was that he would forget, or rather deny that the experience had taken place. She had even contacted him at school, when he was hovering in that twilight between waking and sleeping, learned through the long hours of boredom he had to endure. At certain, perfect moments, he could be contacted.

She had learned when these moment were. Regardless of the times that they had made contact, he would always, upon waking, deny the reality of the experience.

Her friend, Cynthia, on the other hand, was more open. She felt that had they been able to communicate on the physical plane Cynthia would quite candidly acknowledge their previous, silent conversations. As far as she could recall, Cynthia had only visited her once.

It was the other people that she met near the Other Lights that fascinated her the most. She would encounter them only at certain times, mostly when she least expected it. They were all very nice people, like old dear friends that she had lost contact with. In their presence everything seemed perfectly logical, familiar, natural. It was only when she was away from them that the whole thing seemed very strange.

There was one person in particular that she recalled the best. He had communicated his name very silently and she had remembered it. He was always there when she was the most troubled, suddenly appearing through the greyness of her doubt, holding her hand, whispering silent reassurances, communicating directly with her mind. Then as quickly, he would be gone, leaving a longing that she could not understand, a feeling that seemed so familiar but one that she could not remember of having ever felt before.

The nurses would come in and move her motionless body on the bed, forcing her attention back to that room with all the machines that were keeping her body alive. It was then that she would feel the presence of the material life around her.

Chapter 4


"Do I have to mum?" "Yes, John, you have to. She is your sister..."

"But she just lies there. She doesn't move, she can't talk, she might as well be dead."

"John, watch your mouth!" Martha could hear the anguish in Bob's voice. She looked over and watched the shadow pass across his face. The strain was increasing day by day.

"We should face it Bob, we can make the decision." She had finally done it. With John's inadvertent outburst, she had broached the subject.

Bob was well aware of what the doctor had said. She had told him herself just last week. all the hospital needed was their permission. A signature on a consent form and the machines would be turned off.

It was too final for Bob to contemplate. His memories of his darling little girl, of how she used to be, clouded his judgement. All the hopes for his child reaching womanhood lay broken like the body on the bed that was once his daughter. A casualty in a war that no one understood. Martha lacked the strength to pursue it.

"Unplug Norma? You want her to die? Why didn't anyone ask me?" John was suddenly hurt now his suggestion was being taken seriously.

"We are asking you, John." He was making them all confront it, finally.

Bob stared out the window. Through his tears, he watched the rain falling from the leaden sky, taking with it as it fell, one by one, the golden leaves from the maple tree in the back yard. He watched them land on the soft moist grass, staring at the kaleidoscope of colours forming through his tears. the tire that he had hung from the tree was swinging in the breeze. It had not been used for years.

"I must take it down some day."

"What?" asked Martha.

"I don't know," Bob replied, " I really don't know."

Chapter 5


At times, everything seemed frozen. Norma always knew when they were coming. There were certain rhythms. Even up here, there were still rythmns. She always knew when they would disturb her body. It would cause her to return to the ice, the frozen comatose shell they knew as Norma.

She could not communicate through the ice. The whole family would come at night and she would just lay there, surrounded by the ice, unable to move. Norma appreciated their visits. She was also glad when the left so she could escape from the clutch of the ice. She looked forward to returning to the Other Lights. She was finding it more difficult to pull herself away from their fascination. Their passionate attraction grew more intense each visit. She would lose all track of time while she was near them, and then suddenly she would feel the presence of Joshua, gently leading her away, back to the ice, back to the hospital bed. Just before coming back, she would be aware of her family standing around her, looking down at her and she could feel their sadness. She wanted to tell them, to cry out, to touch them, to express her love for them. They felt so close, and then she would enter the ice and become frozen. On this particular day, Norma was aware of the doctor standing with her family. The ice always prevented her from hearing what they said.

Chapter 6


"Are you sure it would be painless, Doctor?" Bob was craving a cigarette. He was fidgeting with his hands.

"Well, of course it's impossible to know what people in this condition feel, but as far as we can tell, there would be no pain."

"And how would it happen?" Martha had to know. The thought of Norma suffering any more was unbearable for her.

"Quite simply, really. We just disconnect the machine and Norma, very quietly, passes away."

"Like going to sleep, right Doctor?"

"I guess so, John. It is the supreme mystery, is it not? Now, please excuse me. I have another patient to attend to. There is no pressure to make this decision right now. You may take all the time that you need. However, you do know the prognosis. Good night."

Martha's eyes followed her as she left the room. She had felt her discomfort. Her words echoed in Martha's mind. "It is the supreme mystery, is it not?"

"I need a cigarette." Bob quickly left the room.

John reached down and gently took Norma's hand in his. He placed it on his cheek, smudging a tear.

"Must we mother?"

Martha turned away and looked out the window. It was starting to snow.

"I don't know, John. I just don't know."

Chapter 7


Something strange had happened when John had lifted her hand this time. Norma had felt a crack in the ice. And then, suddenly, the presence of Joshua. For the first time, she could see a form.

She felt him beckoning her. Even if she wanted to, she couldn't resist his gentle urging. She followed him, up through the twilight of another reality towards the Other Lights, trusting him absolutely. She felt no fear.

And then, suddenly, Norma stopped. She could not go on any further. She felt a boundary, an invisible boundary that she must not cross. Joshua stood on the other side, beckoning her to follow. She stood, frozen, on the threshold, overcome by doubt, unable to move.

"Why do I hesitate?" she wondered as she stared at Joshua on the other side of the Other Lights.

Chapter 8


The ride back from the hospital began in silence. They were all trapped by thoughts too fearful to express. It was John who broke the silence.

"I think we should let her go, Mother."

Bob's grip tightened on the wheel. Martha watched as his knuckles whitened.

"I agree with you son. What's your feeling," he said turning towards Martha.

Martha sensed something that she couldn't explain. Perhaps it was the vague memory of a dream she had had. She felt that they must wait.

"I think we need more time," was all she could say.

Chapter 9


Joshua returned from the other side. He was standing by her side. It was the first time that he had appeared so clearly. The light from his body was almost too much for Norma to bare. She tried to turn her head but could not. She felt his thoughts communicating with her.

"You will not come. Why?"

"I am afraid, Joshua. I know that once I cross the boundary, to the other side, I cannot come back."

She looked up to his face. In his eyes, Norma could see eternity.

"Then what is your choice? You know of your body, lying unmoving down there. Up here, you sense the freedom, you have felt the joy, you see the beauty..."

"Yes, yes that is true. But there is something down there that I must complete. I have unfinished business, Joshua. But my body, the ice, being frozen for ever..." Joshua felt the despair in her voice.

A smile came over his face, and through it shone the light of a million stars.

"All is possible, my child."

Norma watched as he crossed back over the boundary, to the other side. She felt a terrible loneliness as she watched him disappear. A final thought crossed her mind.

"One day, we shall be together again." And then, he was gone.

Chapter 10


Perhaps it was the strange dream that kept repeating itself that had finally convinced her. In it, the promise of spring brought the promise of a new life for Norma, Bob and John had agreed to wait.

She looked out the window and watched as the warming sun slowly awakened the trees. She watched the sparrows building nests under the eaves of the hospital. She watched and the promise of life was everywhere.

Since Joshua had left, Norma had felt the ice melting within. She had travelled to the Other Lights many times, but never again bad seen him. Every time she returned, more ice had melted.

Perhaps it was the pressure of her mother's hand on her arm that caused her to push through. She felt her eyelids free from the awful pressure of the ice. Once broken, the force became irresistible. Norma, for the first time in nine months, moved.

Martha suddenly remembered the words of the man who had appeared in her dream and warm tears of joy began trickling down her cheeks.