Sunday Stories: “Come Thru”


Come Thru
by Claire Siebers

If you ask my cousin, Valentine, where his Aunt Maggie is, he’ll say, “Silver Springs, Illinois, at Grafton and Center Street.” My brother Leon is “644 Maple Street in Winnetka.” Our other cousin Graham is “78 Madison Place, Ann Arbor, Michigan” but also “Knight’s Market, on the drinking side.” Great Aunt Tali is “Beirut, Lebanon, where we’ll never go.” Val’s favorite question of all used to be, “Where’s Grandie?” to which he always responded, “22 Magnolia Lane, Lake Helen, Florida, otherwise known as the Gem of the South.” But now when I ask Val where our grandmother, Sylvia, is, he just says, “She’s dead.”

It’s my job to drive Val from Winnetka, Illinois, to Grandie’s funeral in Volusia County, Florida. Some of our more distant relatives are flying, but Val’s afraid of planes, and I’m up for an adventure. Plus, both our mothers and my brother, Leon, have decided to boycott the service, so that leaves me and my trusty 2012 Mitsubishi Mirage. In Grandie’s final years, a gaping interpersonal cavern opened between her and our immediate family—but Val endured as her one and only favorite. I like to think I’m doing Sylvia, or Grandie as we called her, a nice posthumous solid by making sure he gets to the church on time.

When we roll up to the chapel, women are rushing around talking about God and it really freaks me out. It doesn’t seem to phase Val the way it phases me. He just points out different relatives and tells me their addresses, which I make him swear he’ll do at my funeral, too.

“I can’t make any promises I might not keep.” He says, counting the words on his fingers as he speaks them. I ask him to try, as a final gift to me, but he admits he’ll probably just help the mortician pick out a nail polish for my open-casket instead.



St. Anthony’s Deeper Life Funeral Chapel has a bright pink lobby and a trophy case filled with taxidermy lizards. Joan, who works the front desk, kindly explains that I am looking at a temporary exhibition about Biblical dragons, like the Leviathan, and their link to modern-day reptiles. “There’s an under-investigated relationship between Creationism and Evolution,” she whispers, then offers me a tissue in case I need to cry.

After the service, we eat cold mini-quiches in the corner of Grandie’s living room. After Grandie got divorced from her second husband, Todd, she escaped Winnetka, and established a really glamorous scene down here in Florida. She got a condo, a Russian Blue cat, and a group of oddball friends that she could cream at Bridge. The friends mill about, casting shady glances at our extended family. This is the Catholic side of our lineage, a bunch of people who still have earnest mullets and talk about Jesus like he’s their next-door neighbor. It’s funny to see them transplanted from their mild midwestern towns to the hot frizzle of Lake Helen.

Val starts mumbling in the corner. He has always done this — reminded himself of important advice, counted cracks in the sidewalk, or recited his favorite lines from the Batman movie franchise with private delight. Val has a photographic memory and a remote job writing complex computer code, but right now, he seems a little possessed. After our recent field trip to church, Val’s murmuring might not charm our present company.

“Come on,” I whisper to Val, “let’s take this party to the porch.”



The porch is an institutional balcony overlooking the bay where Rhonda, Grandie’s best friend, is also hiding out. Rhonda is a serious smoker who smells like an elusive mix of Chanel 5, witch hazel, and cigarette butts. 

“Hey kids,” she says beckoning us over, “Having fun?”

“I feel guilty,” Val explains, “I shouldn’t admit that I’m having an outstanding time.”

Rhonda nods, “Even in death, your Grandie knows how to throw a party.” She holds her skinny Vogue cigarette pinched between two manicured fingers and her eyes glint in the setting sun. She peels a tiny piece of paper off the tip of her tongue, then flips it into the breeze.

“I miss your Grandie a lot. Getting old’s not for sissies, babes.”

She turns to hug me. I rest my hands gingerly on her bony back and mostly wait for it to be over.

“She loved you so much, Hannah. She told stories about you all the time. Did you see all the photos of you on her fridge? She was so proud of the young woman you turned out to be.”

My grandmother called me once a year, the month of my birthday, if at all. The conversation always went something like this:

“Happy Birthday, darling!”

“Hey, Grandie.”

“You thought I would forget my favorite granddaughter’s birthday? You’re my favorite granddaughter, did you know that?”

“Thank you, Grandie, I love you.”

“You’re my favorite granddaughter.”

Then a silence where I didn’t remind her that I was her only granddaughter.

Then, “Okay, darling, I’ve got to go. Albert and I are getting ready for the hurricane.”

Then she’d hang up.

Grandie was fun but she was petty. She had been mean to my mother when my mother was a child, and she was horribly nasty to my mother once my mother was an adult. Grandie only thought about herself.

Val and Rhonda argue about the fate of Grandie’s crystal miniature collection. She owned a multitude of tiny porcelain plates, itty-bitty samovars, and sleek see-thru ice skaters. Val, in his detail-oriented way, thinks it would be obscene to divide them up; Rhonda’s all for it, “We own our objects—don’t let them own you.”

Yet Val insists that they belong together, “If we separate them, we’ll diminish the power of the collection. You know she’d hate it! You know she would, Rhonda.”
Rhonda sighs, “Kid, you’re killing me. Why don’t we just ask her what she wants to do with them?”



Two days later, Val and I stand in the middle of a living room in Cassadega, Florida, where the séance will be held. Grandie’s friends have informed us that Grandie’s spirit is not in heaven or in hell, but in “Summerland,” a sort of halo that surrounds the earth in seven wispy spheres. They agree that Grandie is probably in the third sphere, where normal people go, and also maintain that she’s clad in a spiritual replica of her wardrobe from earth. The consensus is that she should be pretty easy to contact. I hope that if she does visit us today, she’ll be holding a vaporous version of her favorite green Fendi handbag. 

The mood in the room is more like a low-key potluck than a summoning. People complain about their grandkids, ask each other questions of chronic conditions, and talk about the weather, vamping until we begin. Rhonda rushes around, refreshing everyone’s tea cups. I try to help her carry some sugar cubes into the living room, but she swats me away, “Let me do it! I haven’t smoked all day. I feel like a cat on fire!”

A woman with short blue-tinted hair lights six candles and places them in a circle around the room. A monochromatic man puts out a bowl of soup and hunk of bread, then asks a woman with long braids where the trumpets are. 

“I moved them when I was cleaning. They’re on the piano.”

“You’re always moving my things,” the monochromatic man mutters, limping out of the parlor. He returns with what look like two tin megaphones and places them on a small round wooden table at the center of the room. Another man wheelchairs over to the window and draws the evergreen drapes. Then, all ten members of the séance settle into our seats, arranged in a circle.

“I’ll be the battery,” says the blue-hair woman. We hush and concentrate. The monochromatic man, who is clearly the leader, opens with a prayer that everyone else seems to know. I poke Val in the ribs when no one is looking, but he slaps my fingers away. This is serious. We flip our hands palms up, ready to receive whatever message Grandie might send us.

Then, the monochromatic man moves on to what he calls the invocation, “Infinite Spirit God, as we come toward the white light, we invite only the highest and best spirits to come into this circle.” At the mention of spirits, little goosebumps rise on Val’s arm. He’s a highly logical person, but when he’s afraid, no one can reason with him. When Val was little, my brother and I loved to mess with him. Once, we told him there were wolves living in Lake Michigan who came out of the water at night to hunt. Even after our mother caught us and made us swear that we’d lied, Val wouldn’t touch lake water for years. Nowadays, he’ll go down to the beach and lie under a big sheet, but he still won’t swim.

The monochromatic man stands one of the tin megaphones on its bell and an older guy with a hairdo like a friar’s declares, “That’s going to fly right away!”

“Don’t jinx it,” the braid woman yells. “Sylvia won’t come through if you jinx it.”

“This isn’t about jinxing or not jinxing,” the friar quibbles.

“Take it back for Sylvia’s sake, for all our sakes.” The friar takes it back, so that the monochromatic man can implore the guides and teachers to come forward. Everyone’s fingers are trembling, everyone is cranky and breathless. We sit in the damp half-light, touching the table with the tips of our fingers.



We need to raise the vibration in the room, so we sing an energetic hymn about a lamb on a throne. Then we do “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad.” I try to make a joke to Val about Dinah’s horn, but he’s singing with his eyes shut tight, mumbling a bit between verses. A lady with a potato nose cries out, “I feel the energy in the table! I’m seeing a bright light and you’re all bathed in it.” And maybe I do feel a quivering within.

We all close our eyes. The monochromatic man instructs the spirits to rap on the wooden table — once for yes and twice for no. 

“Or,” he calls out to the air, “if there’s a message for someone, simply tip the table towards that person and the group will try to receive it. Or perhaps make one of the tin trumpets fly towards that person.”

We don’t hear any raps, but old potato nose is getting something, “I don’t know if someone named Butch is part of this séance, but his name is coming through. Butch, if you’re there, knock once!”

The whole group calls out, “Come on, Spirit!” 

It seems we’ve unwittingly stumbled upon a call and response situation. Val and I join in.

A guy with tortoise shell glasses receives a message, “There’s a Beatrice and a Jacob and a Sudsy, I’m not sure if they’re together.”

“If they’re separate, I’ll take Jacob, since Jack was my brother’s name!” Now the voices are flying. “Come on, Spirit!” We all chime in.

“It seems like the table wants to tip!” Someone proclaims, but I feel another someone to my left leaning hard on the wood, and it might just be that.

We get back to Grandie, the reason we’ve gathered today. “Come on, Sylvia Cooper. If you’re here, make the table tip! Do it!”

“Come on, Sylvia!” We encourage her. “Come ON, Sylvia!” But Sylvia does not come on.

“Okay.” Rhonda takes charge, jostling the blue-hair woman’s shoulder to wake her out of her trance, “Oona, let Anne-Marie be the battery instead.” Anne-Marie, formerly known as the braid woman, slumps down.

Rhonda has a real can-do attitude. “Come on, let’s do it, let’s sing again! Come on! We need verification, Sylvia! Move the table, babe. Make it snappy.”

The group starts in on an up-tempo round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Rhonda calls out over us.

“Sylv, we apologize for being so disorganized today. We have a lot of questions for you. Some of your grandkids are here. I know you can see ‘em. Check out those sweetie-pie faces. I know you wanna talk to Val…” 

No response, so Rhonda keeps talking. “Look, I’m sorry for that trick at the Publix, and the thing with that guy in Harlan Oaks, that was some shady business. And fine, fine, I’m sorry about the crystal cat. I broke her, I admit it! I didn’t mean to do it, but my finger slipped.”

We finish the chorus together and nothing has changed.

“Can anyone see her around me?” Rhonda asks. Everyone is tired, energy is low. It seems like we might rest, when Val speaks, “I think Grandie wants us to stand up.” So we stand up, we sit down, we stand up, we sit down, but eventually, it kills the mood.



Back at the motel, Val and I get ready for bed. He sits on one of the full-size mattresses with their slippery plastic covers while I brush my teeth in the bathroom. I’m happy to be alone for the moment, to inspect my newly receding gums in the dirty mirror. I don’t want Val to know how disappointed I am, how I keep playing the séance back in my head and thinking: I should have sung louder, I should have concentrated harder, I shouldn’t have made those stupid jokes.

The room billows with the few memories I do have of Grandie: how she gave me a watch with mold growing on the band; how she said my hair looked like a rat; how Grandie never gave me anything that wasn’t broken — when all I really wanted was a sweet grandmother, the kind who bakes cookies and tells you stories, the kind you read about in books. I remember how her weird boyfriend mailed Val pencil drawings of Kim Kardashian in the nude; how in the end, we found out he was trying to overdose her with her own medications.

“Will you let me drive tomorrow?” Val calls from the other room. My mouth is frothy with toothpaste like I’ve got a real bad case of rabies and I’m ready to bite.

When I was little, I heard an urban legend about a scary old witch who would come through the bathroom mirror and kill you, if you said her name three times in a row. I put my mouth close to the glass, fog it up, then trace a squiggle in the steam. 

Grandie? I whisper to the mirror. 

Grandie, I whisper to the mirror, looking all the way through. 

But I’m afraid to call Grandie’s real name, even once. I put my hand in front of my face. If she’s in there, I don’t want her to see me cry.

“Did you hear me?” Val calls out to me again. “I already charted the exact route from here to the first rest-stop. It’s only 200 miles if we take 68 North to 20 South.”

Val’s an excellent driver, and much better with rules and engines than I am. For all his anxieties, he’s not afraid to change a tire or use a jumper cable. In fact, Grandie has left him her ancient Dodge Dynasty. For the moment, we’re not sure what to do with the champagne-tinted behemoth because even though Val is in his twenties, he’s still not technically allowed to drive. He’s in a long-term course, and should, with any luck, be licensed in a year. 

I rinse my mouth and emerge from the bathroom. Val is turned towards the corner, mumbling again.

“Val! Valentine!” Val’s mom and my mom are twins, which means Val’s genetically more like a brother to me than a cousin. Sometimes, I use this science to justify being mean to him, “Who you talking to, dummy?”

He says something under his breath to the wall, or maybe to himself, then turns to me.

“Grandie’s here.”

I’m honestly not down for this game after the day I’ve had, but I try to be nice.

“No, Val, Grandie used to be here. But now she’s dead so where is she? She’s in…” 

I don’t know why I’m trying to get him to say “Heaven,” like we were taught as kids. Val rolls his eyes at me.

“Don’t you think I know exactly where she is, Hannah?” He tips his head to the corner, nodding like he’s having an inside joke with the wallpaper. “She’s dead but she’s sitting right next to me.” In this instant, I’m so jealous of Val that I could kill him. I’m jealous that Grandie loved him so much, that she knew him, that he knew her back.

“Grandie’s here.” He says, gesturing to the bed next to us. “She’s right here.” But of course, I can’t feel her anywhere around me.



Claire Siebers is a writer from Michigan and France. Her work has appeared in Story | Houston, and most recently, the UK-based Signal House Edition. She is also an actor in New York City where she lives and often performs in new plays. You can find more info here:

Image source: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

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