The dead scatter the parts of their sum after death, casting themselves onto the bodies of the unsuspecting living. Strangers become conduits for the memory of the deceased. In these ways, the dead are all around us: in the bridge of a nose of a child blowing his soup cool, in the particular twist of a knuckle of a person reading a newspaper. For me, half an hour after a stranger finishes a Chesterfield behind a shot of Cutty Sark, I can smell my father's reproaches. Every other bald neck revives a passion for a lover seen forever for the last time, leaving me to climb the hills of Brazil.
This phenomenon can occur between people who have never met. It happens most often with dead rock stars. Skeptics note that they appear with regularity in the unlikeliest of places and with the unlikeliest of people--in a cosmology that places them four or five notches below saints, it makes sense that dead rockers would reveal themselves in this unexpected, saintly fashion.
Consider that you were 10 or 15 or even 20 when you were first beguiled by the movement of a man's hips. The delicious shimmy of women you have learned to accept and take for granted. But the gait of a man--especially a boy just manly turned, slightly ripe, still mischievous, and set to music--can prove blindingly hypnotic. Give a man like that five minutes, and even if you never meet him in the flesh, you remember him long after he's gone. If his star hits, he becomes fixed in the public psyche. Then millions see and know exactly the same thing you see and know about him. Your admiration is confirmed by the throng, and your desire is magnified to near-violent proportions by the desire of the mob, all wanting him. When that man dies, doesn't it make sense that people still see him? Devotees spot him buying corn dogs in wintry Michigan, leaving car dealerships near the Great Salt Lake, getting fitted for shoes in Milan, and swallowing empanadas by hot greasy pairs in Costa Rica.
For Haroletta Dixon this anomaly has taken the strangest of turns. Haroletta regularly sees someone she doesn't know and has never met--it isn't anyone she remotely admires; in fact, her vision is of a man she detests. And Haroletta's phantom isn't dead, but quite alive.
"It ain't no damned vision!" Haroletta argues. "When them Catholic peoples see Miss Mary smiling on a cloud, that's a vision. It's a miracle. They vision does things for them like give them money. They gets to growin' feets and walkin', and predicting the future and things like that. That's not what's happening to me, and I wished it would quit."
"I have a friend that's always seeing midgets," I joke with her. "He walked into a casino in Vegas once and stumbled into a midget convention. Ever since, he sees midgets everywhere. Drives him batty."
"Do they really be there?" she wonders. I shrug. Maybe, maybe not.
"That friend of yours is crazy. If he see midgets that don't be there, then he out his mind. Me, I ain't crazy, though. I ain't making this up, and it ain't no vision of no god or no devil neither. Just an ordinary man gettin' in my way."
Haroletta explains that she first started having these sightings almost a decade ago. Like those "Catholic peoples," her first sighting was sudden. She received a letter of summons for jury duty. Haroletta, like most of her friends, decided it wouldn't be worth the time, trouble, or teeny bit of money they paid to be a juror. She intended to tell whoever was in charge that she was "not about no Perry Mason thang" and could not be bothered messin' up her life with the messed-up lives of people she didn't want to know.
Haroletta misplaced the summons, and by the time she recovered it, it was too late. She was committed to participating. She cleared up her schedule and made herself presentable to fulfill her civil duty. She arrived at the courthouse not thinking about weapons or contraband, and was startled at the line of people waiting to be searched.
"I musta stood in line a good 20 minutes or so, hating the fact that I had to prove to somebody that I wadn't gonna harm nodamnbody. At the front of the line I notice this man, what looks like a police officer, pattin' peoples down like they was under arrest. Then I noticed that the only people in this line was womens. I looked ahead of me and behind me... nothing but women waiting to be searched by this man. I'm thinking, 'Now how wrong is that? Couldn't nobody find no lady policeman to search nobody?'
"Then I noticed it was HIM. Of all the damn people to be searched by, it would be this fool. Court or no court, jail or no jail, Haroletta Dixon wadn't about to let this police-somebody look at her. And she was certainly not going to let him touch her. So I left. Jist turned around and walked away. Never did hear from the court peoples after that. It wadn't long after, I sort of forgot about it."
"Did you tell anybody who you saw?" I ask.
"Not at all. At first after I got home I thought maybe I was overreacting. I was just carried away by the affront of simply being at the courthouse. I decided to forget the whole day. I didn't see him again for a couple of years.
"The next time I seen him was at Sister Parker's son's funeral. You remember that? Sister Parker's boy got killt in Cleveland the night after his graduation from college, caught in some mess between some crack freaks and some police. It turned out that in the gunfire, the onliest person that caught bullets was Parker's boy. Didn't neither the freaks or the police get hurt. We was at the graveyard puttin' him in the ground, and I looked up and had my vision again. He was walking between some trees. That time I had to squint twice to make him out, but it was him all right.
"He was wearing a long black robe like a raven and he walked in slow motion, even as the leaves above his head flickered in the wind. Then like a mean ghost, he turned full-face and looked at me once, dead in the eye, and then walked off. I was sure nobody could see him but me. But it seemed like when he looked me straight-eyed, it was like he was claiming me. Like he was telling me he showed up just for me. Since then I seen him lots. Always in conjunction with some bad news, like somebody's death."
"Surely that's it," I interrupt. "He's a death vision. Like some people see crows or buzzards. He's your black crow."
"But I don't see him before peoples die, only after. And I don't see him every time somebody dies. I only see him when somebody dies wrong."
"Accidentally?" I ask.
"No. Wrong. Like when somebody dies 'cause they been done wrong, like Parker's boy. It don't hafta be somebody I know, neither. Them rapper children you know, that don't nobody know who shot up? He showed up then too. I seen him after church when I was praying for them boys. And that L.A. thing. And all during OJ, he'd be lurking outside my house. Last year when they dragged that man in Texas, I saw him lots then. I'd be reading, and I'd look up and see him just outside my window. Always wearing that robe. Sometimes I'd see his face and sometimes not. When I do, he had this satisfied look.
"But this last time I seen him it was a little different. Two weeks ago, when the news came that they convicted one of them guys for that man's lynching, that crow showed up again outside my window. This time he wadn't going nowhere, wadn't moving, he was just standin there and staring with that same satisfied look. But he didn't have that same shine like before. He was ashy and a little thinner. And for one brief moment right before he went away, a sparrow from a tree at the neighbor's flew to a branch behind him. That crow didn't flinch or move, and that bird flew through him, like he wadn't even there. Surprised, I blinked to see if this new thing I was seeing was real. And the thinner crow walked away like he always does, but not before I caught a final look through him at that bird making himself a new house, tiny but surely real and right outside my window."