How to Blush in the Afterlife

Jennifer Genest
Photograph by Pavel Okrema on Unsplash

When I die, I go find Freddie Mercury right away; I figure his is the only voice that might cut through heaven and reach you.

I’m told he spends most days at the roller rink. At the rink they’re playing ABBA, and Freddie glides by. He’s just silver light and a mustache on skates but I can tell it’s really him because his wheels ring out in a four-octave range. I hold my cup out to him, which is how you greet someone in the afterlife. His light reveals him cocking his hips, and he throws a bit of that light to my cup, which is how you say, “Hey, baby,” here, and the thrill heats me like a horseshoe, red and almost ready to bend—this is how you blush in the afterlife.

He reaches for me. This is how you can share each other’s memories. When you touch light with someone, you also share each other’s talents. You can both look at loved ones on Earth. Freddie is a good listener; he doesn’t interrupt or talk about himself. He nods, and we look to Earth:

We see you walking past the scene of the accident, eyeing the skid marks, the jumped curb, the tree with the chunk out of it, the muddy ruts in the lawn. You, blaming yourself for sending that last, plain text message—asking me to please pick up your prescription—a message you assume I looked down to read when I hit the tree.

Half a mile away, the cat I swerved to avoid is asleep in a pile of clean laundry. Its owner, a recently heartbroken woman, is teaching herself to crochet a blanket. You’ll meet her someday.

You’ll hold each other under that crocheted blanket, which she will make slowly over the next two years, big enough to cover you both. But not today.

I ask Freddie to sing down to you. He resists, says there’s sort of a rule that songs should only go up from Earth, not the other way around.

I send tears instead, which is the usual way to tell someone on Earth you’re thinking of them. We watch you cry; pain is released from your body—it isn’t enough.

“Come on, Freddie,” I whisper. “Please, break a rule for me. Sing.”

Freddie smirks, naughty under the mustache. “Fine,” he says, and though we’ve only just met, he adds, “For you.”

On Earth you turn the radio on, and I direct our favorite Queen song over the waves. Freddie Mercury grips my hand, closes his eyes, and lends me his voice. I sing in perfect coloratura. You gasp, and when you echo back up to me, I heat red, blushing, bending like a horseshoe toward Earth.

Jennifer Genest grew up playing in the woods of Sanford, Maine. Her writing has appeared in Colorado ReviewKenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and has been noted in Best American Mystery Stories and Best American Essays.