Lucielle Adams lived on the outskirts of town. Opposite her house sprawled a slightly overgrown cemetery--a staple of small towns. Every once in a while, a middle-aged maintenance worker revealed himself and attempted to clear away the many years' worth of brush, giving the headstones a chance to see the sun. Around the corner were a two-pump gas station and other houses, just as small as Lucielle’s, separated by broad lawns, mowed weekly by grandchildren. Recently widowed, she now lived alone with her failing health. Which, only after the death of her husband, began going downhill. The doctors even said that it was likely that she was suffering from a broken heart.
Katelyn hoped and prayed that that wasn’t right. She had heard stories of elderly spouses who had passed away days or even minutes after their partners did. Katelyn could not imagine her life without her grandmother. Katelyn visited her grandma every day for months after Lucielle’s husband died.
After two knocks, Katelyn pushed open the front door. An old chandelier dimly illuminated the wallpaper-covered walls of the living room. Lucielle sat in her recliner staring at her reflection in the dark television screen. Her eyes constantly gazed around the room. Pictures of George, the love of Lucielle’s life, decorated the mantle above the fireplace. In the midst of dying funeral bouquets and family pictures, set a folded American flag placed within a wooden and glass case. George had been a World War II paratrooper. Once they had married, he took a higher ranking to get more money for his wife and kids. He had always been her protector and hero. Now, Lucielle felt like she was in a constant state of loneliness and decline. Katelyn and Katelyn’s mother, Julie, made sure to keep her mind away from those thoughts.
“Grandma?” Katelyn called. She set a few bags of groceries on the kitchen counter and tried again.
Sighing, Katelyn walked into the living room to get her grandmother’s attention. Lucielle’s hearing had also been getting worse. At first, her family thought she was blatantly ignoring her family due to depression. However, it turns out, she was just becoming more hard of hearing.
It was heartbreaking to watch. All of Katelyn’s life, she had spent Saturdays with Grandma and Grandpa. She loved no one more than those two. She felt the need to be strong for her grandmother. Julie sat Katelyn down and discussed ways to make her grandmother’s life easier. Katelyn immediately wanted to help in as many ways as she could. Both she and her mother dedicated more of their time simply to being with her. She needed loving company. They had adopted more of a parental role with Lucielle. They made most of her meals, helped with groceries, filled her medicine organizers weekly, and did any small repair jobs they could. Katelyn had matured over the past few months, and her mother had told her many times how proud of her she was.
Lucielle’s face slightly lit up at the sight of her granddaughter.
“Hi, sweetheart.” she said with a soft smile. Katelyn grabbed her hand while Lucielle gave it a light squeeze.
“Hi, Grandma. How ya feeling today?” Katelyn was practically shouting into her grandmother’s deafened space.
“Oh, I’ve been better.” Lucielle replied.
“Well, would you feel better if I told you that I brought you some butter pecan ice cream?”
Lucielle smiled again and began to stand up.
“I can get it for you.” Katelyn said, patting her grandma’s hand. Lucielle didn’t hear her and continued to stand. “Grandma, let me get it.” Katelyn tried one last time, basically screaming at her grandmother. “I can bring it to you!”
Lucielle looked up. “Oh, thank you. I’d appreciate it.” She sat back down in her worn maroon La-Z-Boy. Katelyn walked into the kitchen and pulled out her phone to text her mom.
I think Grandma is getting worse. I was basically yelling in her face, and she couldn’t hear me.
Her mom responded almost immediately: I already talked to the doctor and made her an appointment for tomorrow. They said we should fit her for hearing aids.
Katelyn sighed with relief. She worried about her grandma not being able to hear important sounds. What if someone broke into her house and she didn’t know? What if the fire alarm went off and for some reason she couldn’t hear it? Hopefully it wouldn’t be a worry much longer after her appointment tomorrow.
Katelyn dished out the ice cream and served it to her grandma with a grin.
Katelyn and her mother drove Lucielle home after her appointment. She smiled in the front seat. Her head was nodding slightly to the music. Her new hearing aids were planted in her ears, immediately improving her life. The small, almost illusory machines were placed comfortably in and around her ear. They matched her fair complexion as to add to the illusion of invisibility. Almost immediately, she became happier. Her family didn’t have to scream at her in order to have a normal conversation. She was speaking at a normal volume. Five minutes in and life was different.
“Thank you for driving me, Julie. You do too much for me.”
“It’s never too much, Mom. We would do anything for you.” Julie smiled at Katelyn in the rearview mirror.
Besides the quiet melody of the music, the rest of the ride to Lucielle’s house was silent. When the women pulled into the driveway, Lucielle put her hands up to her ears and cringed.
“You all right, Mom?” Julie asked, putting the car in park.
Lucielle didn’t respond immediately, instead, taking a minute to collect herself. She shook her head and blinked her eyes a few times.
“There seemed to be something wrong with my new machines. Just for a minute. I’m okay.” She didn’t seem to be fine. She acted almost afraid. “Do I ever take these out?”
“The doctor said to take them out while you’re sleeping. Remember?” Julie said.
“Oh, yes. Well, what if they’re not working right?” Lucielle asked nervously.
“Mom, we’re speaking at a normal volume. They’re working very well.” Julie smiled, fitting the key into the lock on the front door. Lucielle nodded and Katelyn followed both of them into the house. Once the women stepped inside the house, Lucielle’s hands shot up to cover her ears once again. Her eyes widened.
She took hold of both hearing aids and ripped them from her ears.
“Mom! What’s wrong?!” Julie exclaimed, almost dropping the keys.
“I--I heard something.”
Katelyn was already on the ground inspecting the hearing aids. “Maybe they’re faulty, Mom.” After realizing they weren’t damaged, she held them out to her grandmother. Lucielle shook her head. Julie looked as if she was becoming impatient.
“Mom.” Julie’s firm response matched her facial expression. “Of course you heard something. That’s what they do.”
Without the hearing aids in, Lucielle once again couldn’t hear her daughter. She reached for them and placed them back in her ears. “Maybe it takes time to adjust to them.” She fiddled with them for a moment before eventually leaving them alone. “I’m sorry.”
Julie nodded, “It’s all right, Mom. I understand that it’s an adjustment, but it’ll be helpful. I promise.” She smiled and squeezed her mom’s hand.
Lucielle’s first evening alone with her hearing aids began incredibly. She could watch television on a normal volume. She could hear her phone ring when her daughter made her nightly call to check on her. She could even hear the microwave beep when her popcorn was done.
In her chair, she sat watching the local news station. She chomped away at her popcorn while listening to the meteorologist talk about incoming thunderstorms in the next week. She finished her snack, clicked off the TV, and slowly made her way into her bedroom. Before she lay down, she sat in her pajamas on the corner of her bed. A sudden static crackling sounded in her ears. Her eyes widened. It was happening again. It got louder until it was almost unbearable. She held onto her ears and yelled. Again, she could make out sounds. Letters. Almost words.
And just like earlier, Lucielle pulled them from her ears. The hearing aids rattled onto her nightstand. She took a deep breath. She didn’t quite know how these things worked, but she knew she shouldn’t be hearing voices that weren’t there. She picked up her landline and started to dial her daughter. It only had to ring once before Julie picked up.
“Mom? Is something wrong?”
Lucielle couldn’t really make out what she was saying so just began talking, “Julie? I’m--I’m hearing things.”
Julie sighed and spoke up, “What exactly are you hearing?”
“Well, I can’t explain it. It sounds like a voice. Or multiple voices. I hear sounds and letters.”
“You’re hearing voices?” Julie asked with concern in her voice.
“I--” The phone cut out. Lucielle tried calling again, but the line buzzed as if it were busy. Lightning flashed outside and completely illuminated the previously dimly lit room. She placed the phone back onto her nightstand by the hearing aids and lay down in bed.
I’m being foolish.
Lucielle turned off her lamp and drifted into a dream.
The next morning, Lucielle was hesitant to put in her hearing aids, but she did anyway. She hobbled into her kitchen and began making herself breakfast.
For the past decade or so, Julie had spent Saturdays with her mom. Usually it entailed a big breakfast, grocery shopping, Lucielle’s weekly trip to the beauty parlor, and other activities that encompassed what Lucielle called a girl’s day. They would sit and chat until George waved goodbye from his recliner and shouted his signature sendoff, “You girls don’t have too much fun, ya hear me?” He would fall asleep before they had stepped out of the front door.
Promptly at 8 this morning, Julie had arrived to spend her Saturday with her mom. It was hard for both of them without George’s presence, but their routine had not changed. She was greeted with a waft of frying bacon.
“It smells wonderful in here, Mom. What do you want me to help with?”
“Oh nothing, have a seat. I’m all finished!” Lucielle said, shoveling crisp bacon onto a large plate. Shakily, she placed the plate among the cups of coffee and the platters of eggs and hash browns on the table.
They both sat down and started to eat the smorgasbord of a breakfast.
“How did you sleep last night?” Julie asked between bites.
“Wonderful once I fell asleep.” Lucielle replied.
“How were you feeling after…” Julie’s voice trailed off as if searching for the right words. “...after you took out your hearing aids?”
Lucielle stopped chewing for a moment. “Julie. I probably sounded crazy last night. And you don’t have to believe me, but I know it’s out of the ordinary.” She wiped bacon grease off of her mouth and placed her napkin back on her lap.
“Mom, it’s okay if you were hearing things, but I would just like to get it checked out. It’s normal to start imagining things after you go through trauma or a hard time. We can take you downtown to--”
“Oh, no no.”
Julie put her fork down and looked at her mom. “I’m just worrying. We can take you back to Dr. Brundt. Please. Or, we can get the aids checked out?”
Lucielle though, “You know what? Okay. If it settles your nerves. Let’s see your psychiatrist.” In reality, she was not going to argue much. She wanted to know what was going on as well. “But, I don’t want to go back to Dr. Brundt. He barely knew what he was talking about.”
“What if I took you to a psychiatrist?”
Lucielle nodded. She didn’t want to go to a shrink, but it would make her daughter happy and possibly calm herself down, she’d do it.
“Today.” Julie said.
Once again, Lucielle nodded.
She almost choked on her coffee. “Now?”
“Okay, Ms. Adams. How are you today?” Dr. Crowe asked as he sat down at his desk across from Lucielle.
Lucielle froze for a second, as if she was hearing herself being addressed as “Ms” for the first time.
“I’m well. How are you?” She asked, obligatorily.
“Good, good. So, the hearing aids? Let’s talk about that. How are they working?”
“They aren’t. That’s my problem. I’m hearing things, but they’re other voices.”
“And these ‘other voices’...they are communicating words to you?”
The words “other voices” sarcastically hang in the air, as if he had put them in air quotes.
“Yes. Well, I cannot really understand the words. It’s like the voices are struggling to speak.”
“Can you make out letters?”
“Yes, sort of. But it sounds jumbled because there are many voices at once.”
Dr. Crowe stared at Lucielle for a moment before taking off his glasses and setting them on the workspace in front of him. “Are you talking back to the voices? Are they telling you to do something and you’re doing it? It’s okay if so, I just need you to be honest with me.”
“I’m being as honest as Abe.”
“Well, can you describe how the voices sound?”
“They’re whispers. At first, I thought it was eerie, but…” She trailed off.
“I’m hearing voices but they are oddly comforting. I feel a presence that I haven’t had since George passed.”
Dr. Crowe looked at her with sympathy. “Ms. Adams. Grieving is a difficult process. In times like these, it’s easy to cling to hope in situa--”
“This isn't grief,” she cut him off, “I know what grief is like, and this aint it! I’m not a child. If you think there’s something wrong with me, you can say it.”
“Ms. Adams, all I am saying is that these mindsets can be quite normal after a negative experience like death. You shouldn’t have anything to worry about. We can run a few more tests, but I doubt that these voices are, in any way, threatening to you and your mind.” He finished his statement with a closed-lip, insincere smile.
Her voice tensed up. “They won’t like that”.
These last words left a chill in the air.
The psychiatrist came out with a clipboard. “So what she is describing is as if her hearing aids are speaking to her. Rather, someone or a group of people are speaking to her through them. She’s hearing voices, yes. But, she has to have at least one of these other symptoms for an extended period of time--say, a month--before we can diagnose.” He showed Julie the list of other possible indications. She didn’t have any of the others.
“So, what do you think it is?”
“There’s no chance of schizophrenia. It’s rarely diagnosed after adolescence. There’s a possibility for an early-onset of dementia. She said that you had already gotten the hearing aids checked out, yes? Well, I’m ordering a blood test and other labs later this afternoon over at St. John’s. Take her and we can continue from there.”
Julie stood, trying to process all of that information.
“Do you have any questions? Or concerns?” The psychiatrist clicked his pen and stuck it on the clipboard.
Julie was whirling with questions, but she simply shook her head instead. “Thank you so much, Dr. Crowe.”
On the drive home, Lucielle was silent. Julie worriedly asked, “Are you okay?”
“He doesn’t understand.”
“What?” Julie questioned.
“He doesn’t understand.” Lucielle repeated. “And I don’t think you do either.” She sat back against the seat and her head sunk down.
“What don’t we understand?” Julie pulled into Lucielle’s driveway and shut the car off, but neither one of them moved.
“They’re here.” Lucielle’s head lifted and eyes widened.
Julie looked uneasy. “Mom...who’s here?”
“All of them.” She lifted her finger and pointed out the passenger window.
Julie shuddered. Lucielle was pointing at the cemetery across the road from her house.
“You’re worrying me.” Julie placed her hand on her mother’s exposed arm. She was cold to the touch.
“I hear them. They’re speaking to me. He’s speaking to me.”
Julie had tears in her eyes as she pulled out her phone and began to dial Dr. Crowe’s office.
Lucielle’s neck snapped towards Julie. “No.”
“Mom.” Julie said through tears.
“He wanted this. He needs me. He’s calling me. They’re calling me. I couldn’t figure it out at first, but the doctor made me realize that it’s George. It’s our friends out there. He’s with them. And he needs me too.” Lucielle looked back at the cemetery.
Lucielle took a deep breath in and felt a pressure unlike anything she’d felt before. It was dark and overwhelming. A pressure so terrifying that the life left her body.
The following weekend, Lucielle Adams was buried beside the love of her life in Groves Cemetery. Julie, her husband, and Katelyn stood at the edge of the grave, peering deep into the hole. Lucielle’s dark brown oak casket matched her husband’s--which hadn’t even been underground for a month. Katelyn wiped tears from her eyes as she looked at the joint headstone for her grandparents. The etching of her grandmother’s death date would later become the final piece of the bereavement puzzle. In cursive, beside their birthdates, it read:
“Always In Our Hearts. With Us Forever.”