The father looks down on the salesman.
“Will you do it?” asks the salesman; asks Mr. Brown, holding out a pair of shoes, limply, to his father; pitching them, desperately, to his father, who is dead and gone.
“No,” says his father.
His father looks away, then. His look is distant. “I know what you are thinking, son. The dead are the last great untapped market. But I will not buy them. I will not take them beyond. We have no use for shoes.”
“You could . . . you could be like Mike.”
“He is alive,” says the father of Mr. Brown. “I am not.”
Then the father is gone.
A door opens in the silvered sphere. Mr. Brown walks out. He walks away. He is thoughtful. He is not dejected. It is not over. He will try again.
He tries every year, on the anniversary of his father’s death.
Out on the sidewalk, there is a young girl waiting to use the sphere. She is carrying a flower.
“Are you done, then?” she says, to Mr. Brown.
He smiles to her. “The dead have no use for flowers,” he says.
“I know,” she says. Her name is Emily. “It is for me.”
“Good child,” says Mr. Brown, and he ruffles her hair, and he is gone, walking down the white sidewalks by the green grass of the world.
So Emily steps forward. She walks up to the sphere. She enters it. It closes behind her.
“Grandma?” she asks.
Inside the sphere there is a tree, and a glade, and above it all the sun.
“Grandma?” asks Emily.
The wind stirs the grass and the fallen leaves. Then her nana Lily is there.
“Emily,” says Lily. She bends down on one knee. She holds out her arms for Emily. Emily runs into them, fierce, as if defying something that is not there.
“Nana,” Emily says.
Lily holds Emily at arms’ distance. “You have brought me a flower,” she says, in tones of wondrous discovery.
Emily thinks. Then she places the flower in Lily’s hand. She closes Lily’s hand around it.
“I’ll treasure it,” says Lily.
“Don’t go, grandma,” says Emily. “I don’t want you to go.”
“I don’t want to go,” says Lily. “I don’t want to go. But I’m gone.”
“I miss you.”
There is a smile on Lily’s face. It is whole and pure. “I’m always with you.”
Emily lowers her head.
“I can’t stay long,” Emily says.
“That’s all right,” Lily says. “Have you been doing your homework every day? Have you been washing behind your ears? Have you been brushing your teeth with Crest-brand whitening toothpaste?”
Emily smiles shyly. “Yes, nana,” she says.
“And you still eat those McDonalds Happy Meals, a registered trademark of the McDonalds corporation, that you loved so well?”
“I do,” says Emily.
“Good,” says Lily.
Emily looks down. “I can’t stay long,” she says. “Mommy says that we only get a ration of three hours a month in the sphere, for the whole family.”
“I know, hon,” says Lily. “I’m glad you came today.”
So Emily hugs her again, and turns away, and the sphere opens, and she steps partway out, and she is almost gone when she asks, “But Mommy says we shouldn’t take charity.”
“It’s not charity,” says Lily. “It’s love.”
So Emily steps out, and the sphere closes, and Lily is left behind.