Tuesday 31 January 2023

The Afterdeath Room by Mandy Mahan chai tea latte with caramel syrup

A flash of white, and I’m awake. I look down, and my hands are soft. They’re soft and all one color. No sun-spots like there were before. I want to look in a mirror, but there’s nothing around me. Nothing but the chair I’m sitting in and a silver side table with a thick book atop it. I reach for it and as soon as I feel the slick cover, it all comes back. I’m dead. I’m dead, and I’ve been dead before, been here before. Lot’s of times. The familiar sadness that I feel every time I’m here washes over me. I think about Shannon. I know how she feels too. I've been where she is now. Losing the person that means the most to you and being left back there, to live in a world that is suddenly duller and more cruel.

I open the book and there we are, on the first page. Our wedding picture. This was a good life. Longer than some, shorter than some.

I know I’ll see her again, she’ll get here and we’ll be off again. I just wonder how long I’ll wait this time. I’m happy to wait, happy to look through this book as long as I'm here, knowing that when she does get here, we’ll add another chapter to this book, but I miss her. Miss them. Our souls can take any form, but whatever form we take, our souls are connected, made of the same thing, and we can’t enter our next lives without each other. So, in each life, when death comes for one of us, we wait here, in this chair, with this book, reading and remembering all of the lives we have lived together until the other one comes, and off we go, back to life, not always at the same time, but we find each other regardless.

I look down at the first page, and see us in our most recent forms, me as a 78 year old man, thin and worn, and Shannon, 72, although she looks more like 60. As beautiful as ever, her hair piled atop her head with the insane amount of bobby pins that I was always so annoyed to find around the house, dressed in her favorite floral mumu. Only she could make that hideous thing look fashionable.

On the next page begins the written story of our life, but I don’t really need to read about this one. All of the memories are fresh and as I close my eyes, I can see them. I can see Shannon. I can see our first date, and our wedding, and the births of each of our four kids. I can see the fights and the vacations, and everything in between.

I begin to read anyway, to reminisce on the life I left. I’ll read about it until I can no longer bear the grief that I feel for leaving Shannon, and then I’ll explore lives and lives that I’ve spent with her, in all the different forms we have taken. I’ll read and feel the waves of memories crash into me, until she is with me again. Until it’s time to leave Grant and Shannon behind and become what awaits us next.


Grant was born to a teen mom, scared and poor and living with her aunt, who seemed to be the only person in her family that didn’t disown her upon hearing the news that she had gotten knocked up at the ripe age of 16.

Her parents screamed at her, declaring that she would now be going to hell for the sin she had committed. How was she so stupid? So careless? They promptly, seemingly without much thought, decided to send her to a school for girls in her ‘situation.’

When her aunt, who seemed to love her more fiercely than her parents, heard the news, she offered for her niece to come live with her. Her parents didn’t bat an eyelid as they pulled suitcases from the hall closet so their disappointment of a daughter could pack up and head North.

When she arrived at her aunt’s house in Illinois, she was embraced, and in that moment she knew she would be okay. She was still terrified but she knew she was no longer alone and somehow, that made the fear of the unknown seem bearable.

Five months later, she gave birth to a little boy in the back of her aunt’s Taho on the way to the hospital. She named him Grant David Mills.

Although a plan of adoption had already been conceived, when she saw his cherub face and smelled the top of his head, she and her aunt made eye contact and tacitly agreed to keep him. Grant was raised by his mom and her aunt until the day before his twelfth birthday. His great aunt passed away of old age, leaving her house and all of her money to Grant’s mother.

Grant grew up knowing he was loved without end, although only by the two women that raised him. He was encouraged to be creative and clever and was aware of his mother’s strength and resilience and respected her and loved her more than anyone else. He heard the story of his mother creating him at such a young age, and being disowned, and then, with her aunt’s help, coming out of all of that as a loving and successful mother.

Although his mother was never able to go to college or pursue her dream of being an art curator, she rose to the top of a local diner and by the time Grant was 14, she owned the diner, buying it with her inheritance from her aunt. Every month, she held an art show for local creatives.

One Tuesday night, as Grant’s mother was closing the diner, and walking in the dark to her car, she was mugged and left to die in the parking lot, bloodied and wet from the late afternoon rainfall.

Luckily, a police officer was cruising the neighborhood, and noticed her car, seemingly abandoned, in the parking lot. As he pulled in, he saw her body on the pavement. He gathered her barely breathing body into his arms, deposited her into the back of his cruiser and rushed her to the hospital.

Once she was being treated, the officer called Grant, now 18 and a freshman at Northwestern University, and he rushed to the hospital, tears spilling from his eyes the entire drive.

The doctors called it a miracle that she survived. She left the hospital with a limp and the phone number of the police officer that saved her life. She called him to say thank you and extended an invitation to dinner with her and her son. A year later, they were married, and at the age of 19, Grant had a father for the first time.

The day that Grant’s mother married the officer, Shannon was three states away, burying her father, who had loved her unconditionally for the entirety of her 17 years on the earth. She felt hollow and full at the same time. Hollow because her father wouldn’t be around to watch her graduate that year, or walk her down the aisle or become a grandfather to her children. Full, because she knew she was lucky to be loved by her father at all.

Shannon was born to her mother, with her father there to watch her come into the world. She grew up supported and rich, vacationing for every summer, winter, spring, and fall break. She was smart, not naturally, but because she had a tutor in every subject. It was important to her parents that she attend college and continue the family legacy of education and success. 

When her father got sick, he told Shannon that he was sorry for all the pressure that he and her mother had placed on her to be a success. Do what makes you happy, he told her.

A few months later, her mother applauded with tears escaping her eyes as she watched her only child move her tassel from one side of her graduation cap to the other.

In the fall, Shannon arrived at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where she would eventually graduate with a journalism degree, following her father’s advice to do what she loved.

The evening Shannon arrived, she wandered into her first party, where she met a sophomore Econ student, Grant Mills.

From across the room, she could see that he was tall and confident, two things that Shannon was not. Opposites attract, she thought to herself as she found herself walking towards him.

When Shannon arrived next to Grant that night at the Pi Kappa Alpha school year kickoff party, he was taken aback. He smiled at her expecting her to ask him where the bathroom was, but instead she said “I’m Shannon.”

Eventually, Grant and Shannon found themselves alone on the couch, realizing that they hadn’t even noticed the party had died. They weren’t ready to say goodbye that night, so they walked to the diner right off campus and Shannon learned of his mother, the previous owner and they bonded over their losses while sharing a stack of chocolate chip pancakes.

For two years Shannon and Grant became one, going to the same parties, coordinating their class schedules together, and every Saturday morning, they went to the diner and shared a stack of chocolate chip pancakes.

They rarely fought, and when they did, it was short lived. The sex was good. Not mind-blowing, but sweet and sensual and simple, with the occasional kink. Everything was easy and to each other, they felt like home.

They discussed marriage and their future as if it was a given. Of course they would get married and have successful careers and kids and retire to travel the world together.

When Grant graduated and moved South to start his first job, Shannon was left behind to finish her degree. They said they would keep in touch, but every call was a reminder of the distance that was complicating things. They feared that the stress of long distance would turn their sweet love bitter, so things ended, leaving Shannon to end her college career lonely and never fully recovered from the shatter of her broken heart.

4.5 years later, Shannon arrived at a Thai restaurant to pick up her takeout order. She had just finished the first day at her new job, where she was writing obituaries for a small paper in St. Augustine, Florida. As she was about to look down at her phone to busy her eyes and mind while she waited for her Pad See Ew, she saw a familiar face in her new town that up until then had been filled to the brim with strangers. She felt relief and panic all at once. She hadn’t seen him in years, but for some reason, after spotting him, this lonely and unfamiliar town felt like home. She stood in that feeling for a few seconds, and then reminded herself that he was her past, and she had come to Florida for her future, so she adjusted herself so he wouldn’t see her.

She was handed her food and headed to the exit, away from her past, right as she heard Grant’s familiar voice, smooth and sweet like cinnamon butter, call out her name.

They were married within the year and pregnant shortly after.

Shannon gave birth to their first child, a son, and they named him after her father, George David Mills.


I close my eyes and my mind becomes a screen, playing out scenes of the life I just left. It’s too painful to continue to dwell on this story.

I turn to the next chapter. I smile. This one will be good. In this life, we were a mother and daughter. I was Annie and she was Ophelia. 

About the author 

Mandy Mahan works as a study hall teacher in North Manchester, Indiana. She resides with her husband. She studied English and Professional Writing at Ball State University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts. Although unpublished, Mandy is excited to share her writing. 


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