Hot Flashes, Cold Cases
By: Sue Hawley
I woke up suddenly, sweat pouring down my back. Damn. When are these ridiculous night sweats going to end?
I was miserable and extremely tired of menopause. “Crap, now I have to pee,” I muttered. As I swung my legs over the edge of the bed, I shuddered; the cold seeping through the century-old windows in my husband’s and my farmhouse was brutal. Being only just an inch over five feet, my feet didn’t quite reach the floor unless I scooched a bit closer to the edge of our king-size bed. Whoever had decided it was a good idea to make king mattresses this deep had probably been tall and lucky enough to have long legs. As my feet hit the cold floor, I winced.
Stumbling back from my nightly visit to the toilet, I stopped in my tracks. There were two people, two women, standing in our bedroom. Glancing quickly at my husband, Andy, I dared to hope—absurdly, I had to admit—that he was awake. I quickly realized that he would be no help at all, and my eyes darted back to the figures. Heart pounding, I was frozen in place.
Some part of my brain was actually working, though, and I recognized one of the figures: my long-deceased grandmother. Funny the thoughts that raced along the pathways of the brain when it was trying to make sense of an absurd situation. Squinting, I recognized her steel-gray hair, curled with a fresh perm and even shorter than mine. She hadn’t changed a bit. Well, except for the being dead part. My facial muscles contorted into a puzzled frown.
“Nana?” I finally ventured once my voice worked.
A huge smile appeared on her face. “Peg, sweetie.”
Now I knew I must be in the middle of a major stroke. To my way of thinking, when you started seeing dead people, the probabilities of your imminent death were rather high.
“Well, at least I am finished with menopause,” I told her spirit.
Her familiar ornery laugh echoed in my ears. “Oh, babe, you’re not
dying. You’re merely seeing all of life fully for the first time.”
My heart finally started to slow down enough that the pounding in my ears was no longer the bulk of the sound. Does that mean I’m hearing my nana with my ears or my brain? I wondered, my mind reverting to a type of logic I could wrap my head around. Here was a bizarre situation right in front of my eyes. Was I really trying to figure out what part of my head had the ability to absorb her words? Just went to show how much we craved normal, whatever “normal” might be at any given time.
“Fully? What the hell does that mean?” I asked, a part of me convinced I was experiencing a brain malfunction. I knew menopause could cause breakdowns; was that what was happening to me? Just because I had to pee in the middle of the night? Jeez.
Before Nana’s death, her skin had been soft and smooth, despite her age, and I had loved it. That soft face now smiled before me. “You are fine, Peg,” she assured me. “You’re just seeing the spirit world for a moment. Enjoy the experience.”
“Nana, I can’t afford to go nuts at the moment.” All I wanted was for the sensation of imminent throwing up to recede.
Laughing once more, she shook her head, amused.
“Who’s your friend?” I asked, jerking my head in the direction of the other ghost. I say “ghost” because I had no idea what else to call them.
“Friend of mine I met here.” She smiled.
“So you socialize on the other side? Parties and such?” I asked with maybe just a touch of sarcasm. “Really?” Partying didn’t fit in with my idea of heaven.
“You’d be surprised what goes on over here,” she said with an impish grin. Ornery. Cocking her head to one side, Nana studied my face. Then her eyes drifted to my hair. She sighed. “You really should quit dyeing that head of hair,” she said, referring to my habit of twenty years. “Are those wrinkles I see?”
I glared at her. “It’s not my fault that menopause ruined the color of my
hair. The mousy brown was horrible, so I dyed it.”
Shaking her head, she chided, “Mousy had nothing to do with it; you spotted a few stray gray hairs and panicked, plain and simple.”
I took a deep breath. “True, the gray didn’t help, but it really was the crummy color.” I wasn’t in the mood to argue, knowing I would lose any argument. She was giving me a more critical once-over, making me squirm.
“You’ve put on weight too. Shame on you; at your age, weight is hard to get rid of, you know.”
“For Pete’s sake! Ten pounds is all! Problem is, every ounce settled around the middle. Those pounds could have had the decency to spread around a bit!” I pouted.
Throwing back her head, she laughed. The sound was rich and deep.
Okay, so I was short, pudgy, and graying. Not many options open at this point in my life.
Tired of my body being analyzed, I decided a change of subject was in order. “Is there something you want, or are you just dropping by for a visit?”
By now my nerves had settled down. I looked over at my husband again, annoyed that none of this seemed to disturb his sleep in the slightest. Here I was in the middle of either a huge psychotic moment or having a bizarre nightmare—and the snoozy stinker was snoring away in his own never-never land.
My nana’s face still held that irritating smile as she said, “Visiting and introducing you to your new way of life.”
“What new way of life? I like my old way just fine. Remember—boring is beautiful!”
She shook her head again, her smile giving way to her mischievous grin I remembered so vividly. She said, “You and your love of tedious life. I failed you somehow.”
“Nana, you were too much for me at times. Exhausting! That’s probably why I love dull and predictable now,” I retorted as memories flashed through my brain. She had been exciting, but it had been a bit much at times. It had been like having my very own Auntie Mame down the street. So draining.
However, she had been able to provide an emotional stability I had needed.
“Well, I’m introducing you to a new way of seeing life. Trust me—it will
be good for you. It’s time for you to experience exciting new pathways. Anyway, the boys are grown; what else are you going to do with yourself?” she asked. “I’ve been watching over you for years, Peg. I know you better than you know yourself.”
The second ghost nodded as Nana spoke, which concerned me. The woman didn’t need to encourage her. Couldn’t she talk? I looked at the unfamiliar woman with new interest. “Do I know this person?”
Seeing me study her friend, Nana said, “Meet your spirit guide. I selected her personally just for you. She will help you become accustomed to our realm. It works a little differently than you probably think. Takes a bit of getting used to, I would imagine.”
“Really?” I hoped my new guide could still recognize sarcasm, because I laid it on pretty damn thick with that one word.
Looking over at the alarm clock, Nana raised an eyebrow. “It’s getting late, and you need to get back to bed; tomorrow is a busy day for you.”
“You’re worried about time? I thought heaven had no time,” I replied, sarcasm still in place.
“Time? That’s for the living. I’m aware of your love of a good night’s sleep. Love you, sweetie.” Nana and her friend slowly disappeared.
I was alone again. I sat on the bed wondering if I had imagined the scene. Did that really just happen? Hormones were nasty buggers and could wreak havoc on the best of us. Deciding it had to be another major drop in my hormone levels, I slid back into my warm bed and eventually convinced myself to sleep.
I’d figure it out in the morning.
Enjoying my first cup of coffee the next morning, I convinced myself the events of the night before had been the work of a bedtime snack consisting of salami, pepper jack cheese, and crackers. I sure wasn’t indulging in that combo again. However, it would have been a bit cool if it had really happened. I’d never heard of spirit guides outside of Native American culture. Did that mean (if it had been real) the ghost with Nana was an Indian?
Andy had left for work, thank goodness. My mornings went better when I could wake up slowly with no chatter from him. Brewing my second cup of coffee, I started planning my day. I enjoyed looking out the window as I put my thoughts into an organized pattern. I had such a great view of the woods at the edge of our property. This hill at one time had been an Indian village. Thickly wooded areas had surrounded the village, and the trees still stood as though given the task of never-ending surveillance. We had families of foxes and deer and nests of hawks each year to enjoy. The deer had a nasty habit of eating my tulips each spring; my neighbor called tulips “deer candy,” and boy, was she correct. Beautiful as they were, deer could munch through flowers faster than I could eat through a box of Malley’s Chocolates. Turning from the view, I realized I was no longer alone in my kitchen.
Okay, so last night wasn’t the salami.
“Hi, sweetie,” Nana said with a smile. She quizzically looked around my kitchen and then finally said, “So you haven’t changed this kitchen at all? That wallpaper looks pretty tired.”
She was referring to my favorite piece of redecorating done many years ago. With its cream background and small blue cornflowers scattered through a field of tall green grass, this wallpaper had immediately caught my eye the moment Nana and I had spotted it among the gazillion samples in the store down on Exchange Street near downtown. After forcing my heartbeat to slow down with deep-breathing exercises I had learned at a stress-relief class, I found my voice working again. “Hey, Nana.” I was surprised I sounded somewhat normal. Glancing at the wallpaper, I said, “You picked it out for me. Couldn’t make myself change it after …” Fighting back tears, I stopped.
Nana smiled knowingly. “It’s all right, babe; I never went far.”
“Well, I didn’t know that, did I?” I snapped. Ah, there I was. It was nice to feel normal and not afraid. Never one to back down, I continued, “Why now? All those years when I needed you, I never saw you. Why can I see you now?”
Nana was watching me closely. “Well, you really didn’t need me much. You don’t need me now, not really. But I need you.”
I stared at her in shock. I was a little skeptical of her need of a mere mortal. Since when did the spirit world need us to help? I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond to this morsel of news. Wanting to clarify the situation, I asked, “You need me?”
Still inspecting my kitchen, she nodded. “Yep.”
I realized she had noticed the spot above the stove where the worn-out wallpaper was peeling. Hoping to redirect her attention, I pressed her for more information. “How?” Not the greatest interrogation skills.
Finally turning her gaze to me, she said, “Well, I’m in a bit of a pickle.” She turned back to the issue of the wallpaper. “I think a change is in order, don’t you? Ever think about ripping it out and painting instead?”
“Nana, forget the damn wallpaper. I’m not changing it till it falls off on its own accord.”
Still inspecting, she smiled. “I’d say that will be sooner rather than later.”
“Why exactly are you here?” I asked. She looked so real, so solid. A lump formed in my throat. God, how I had missed her through the years.
Glancing out the window before turning back to me, she said, “Well, I can’t really tell you much about my side of the equation. We aren’t allowed, you see, but I do need your help.”
I frowned. “Okay. You mentioned that before. What you aren’t telling me is how and why?”
She searched my face as though hunting for a clue of some sort. Finally, she nodded. “Yes, well, it isn’t too complicated.”
I waited for her to continue. It seemed an eternity, but I supposed she had no fear of time slipping away; however, my coffee was getting cold.
“We have assigned tasks here,” she began slowly. “The task I was given should have been simple but has grown a little knotty.”
I raised an eyebrow. Tasks? Wow, I had no idea we had to work on the other side. This news was unsettling.
“You need to help the police a tad,” she finally said with a sigh, sending my raised eyebrow to historic heights.
“Help the police?” I snorted. “I have no background in police work.”
“Hm?” Her tone indicated she was dodging the issue.
“Nana!” She turned back to face me.
One look at her expression and I knew what she was trying not to tell me. “You mean become one of those psychics? Like the TV show?” I asked, horrified.
Slowly nodding, she said, “Sort of.”
“How ‘sort of’?” I demanded. “I can’t have ghosts popping in and out of my life! At least I know you, but it’s disconcerting at the very least.”
“I was sent here to help you get used to the fact,” she said. She was back to inspecting the wallpaper. Nana had been an exuberant woman when alive but had been known for her ability to ignore pieces and parts of life she found distasteful, including anything that made her uncomfortable. Even death hadn’t cured that part of her personality. I thought we became perfect with death; wasn’t that what life was all about somehow? Jeez.
I suddenly remembered an earlier statement of hers. Suspicious, I narrowed my brown eyes and asked, “What pickle are you in exactly?”
Her inspection of my wallpaper became intense. Uh-oh! Something really big must be up with her. I kept my mouth shut, determined to outwait her. It paid off a minute later.
“Peg, my assignment was to clean up Akron and surrounding areas. The situation got away from me a tad,” she said, sighing slightly as she shifted her stance, diverting her eyes again.
My husband and I lived approximately twelve miles from the old Rubber City, Akron, Ohio. Akron was only about thirty-nine miles south of Lake Erie, one of five considered the Great Lakes. Surrounded by smaller cities, along with various townships, the total population was close to three hundred thousand people. Our township, Bath, clocked in at a whopping ten thousand, so we were little fish compared to Akron’s other local communities.
“Clean up Akron? Why? This isn’t New York City or Chicago. This township is just a speck in the world.”
Clearly frustrated at the limitations of her jurisdiction, she turned to face me, disappointment written on her face. “There’s a big push to get the world prepared for the next step, and cleaning up the crime is the number one goal at this point,” she said.
I decided to ignore her inner struggles with the situation. Let’s face it: I was dealing with my own struggles and didn’t have energy to help her.
“So some hierarchy decided to send you to clean up an entire city?” I asked in disbelief. “That’s a tall order.”
Shaking her head, she said, “Not just me, but we all screwed it up. Akron may be small potatoes in your eyes, but we have to start somewhere. They’ve been trying to clean the bigger cities for decades—putting the right politicians in office, making sure good judges are in place and the police forces are effective. It hasn’t worked for a variety of reasons.”
Heaven was in charge of politicians? Good luck with that!
Nana sighed heavily. “It appears that no matter how honest a person is, once in an office of authority they seem to fall off the rails. Human nature being what it is, keeping politicians honest is hard work. Judges are the worst in my opinion, though. Too much power in some cases, not enough in others. A big mess.”
I thought about this bit of information. Heaven can’t even control this stuff? Hells bells, we were in trouble.
“I can’t make people stay honest! If you guys can’t do it, what makes you think I can?” I said hotly.
“Calm down. You’ll have help. Lots of it, actually.”
The hairs stood on the back of my neck. Uh-oh, this didn’t sound good. “Nana, no.”
“It wouldn’t be hard.” She smiled. “Might put a little excitement in your
“I don’t want excitement. I like dull,” I pouted. It was a true statement. Raising four boys, Adam, Bryan, Christopher, and David, and trying to make sure they stayed out of trouble had been enough excitement for me. Andy liked life’s surprises, not me.
“You won’t be the only one involved. You could make new friends,” she told me patiently.
“I like the friends I have now,” I said. “I’m not interested in making new ones,” I said with more than a little heat. I could feel my eyes narrowing again. “What do you mean, I wouldn’t be the only one?”
She returned to inspecting the wallpaper. I sat back in my chair to wait her out again. Until that moment I hadn’t realized I had been sitting forward, leaning with anticipation, during the conversation. Had my subconscious figured this mess out before Nana had told me? No, I decided. But somehow I had known this was going to be a situation I didn’t like.
I didn’t have to wait long. Turning back to me, she said, “There were a few of us that had this assignment. All of us grew up in Akron at different time periods.” She smiled at me. “Some as far back as the mid-1800s, a few much earlier.”
“Interesting. But what does it have to do with me?”
“At one time, Akron was an important city. The Ohio and Erie Canal helped the city grow, the school system used across the country started here, and then there was the boom of the rubber companies.”
“I don’t need a history lesson,” I snapped.
“Yes, actually you do,” she told me.
Sighing, I nodded, rolling my eyes. “Fine.”
“Believe it or not, Akron has been more vital through the decades than you may realize. But that importance also invites the unsavory elements,” she said, frowning.
“Like crooked politicians and lousy judges?”
Slowly nodding, she added, “People react to the corruption in different ways. Some try to clean it up; others decide to make a profit from the corruption. Then, of course, some ignore it altogether. Crime isn’t only muggers, murderers, and mayhem. It rots the soul of a place.” Okay, she had a point.
Looking straight into my eyes, she emphasized, “Our job is to make sure the world is prepared for the next step, and cleaning up the mess is important.”
Her intensity was unnerving. “Nana, I can’t clean up an entire city, even with help.”
She smiled again. That smile was starting to get on my nerves. “I’m not asking you to do the impossible, just your corner of the world.”
I sat quietly thinking about her information as she went back to looking out the window toward the wooded area. “Okay, let’s say I’ll help. What exactly does this entail?” Seriously, I
couldn’t believe those words actually left my mouth.
Keeping her gaze on the woods, she said, “Working with law enforcement. Helping to solve crimes.”
Was she nuts? “Nana, there is not one bone in my body that can solve a crime.”
She smiled, still watching the woods. Her attention to that area made me curious. Was she waiting for something or someone? I decided I’d rather not know if anything was back there. Those were my woods, and I refused to allow the thought of them being infested with more entities to ruin my years of enjoyment.
“You won’t be working on your own.”
Time to take the bull by the horns. “Who exactly would be helping me?” I asked, determined to get an answer.
Turning toward me again, she said, “Other spirits.”
Wow. Just slap that information out there to hit me in the face. I could only stare at her. Not one word came to mind. My greatest fear justified.
Finally finding my voice with words to go with it, I said, “Not sure I can handle any more spirits than I’m dealing with right now.” I gave her my most stern look.
“Sweetie, you can deal with much more than you realize. What’s a few
more spirits? No biggie.”
No biggie? Who was she kidding? Jeez.