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The Ghost and his mistress
The first words I ever said to him again were:
“You are supposed to be dead”
The man smiled, stretching across my very nice, Armani couch.
Part I – Her Sonnet
Work was a tedious game I was far tired of playing. With the rules engraved into memory and every move so utterly predictable, I often wonder why I still play. I joined law with the dependable idea of getting money and now, 4 years working at the firm, I was tired. Every night I ask myself why I go back there the next day and the answer is simple—undeniable and unarguable—it is the only one you know how to play.
But I was tired.
Working late that day, I gathered my belongings slowly. No rush, after all. Darren had already told me he’d be working late that night and would grab take-out again.
My apartment was nice—located in a small corner of Manhattan where the view was picturesque enough to become someone’s computer wallpaper, and the noise was minimal. Riding up the quiet elevator at eleven at night I found myself staring at the mirrored walls, observing the creature in it.
Nothing special, to say the least. Every badly-clashing ginger thread of hair hung limply down her shoulders; strands easing themselves out of her bun after countless run-throughs with fingers. Her hands on its own were long and the nails bore only the faint pink of skin underneath. Her face was angular; high cheekbones, small nose. Small body; neither tall nor short in any such way of notice. Years of strict parenting gave her the long arched pose of a model too—but not the rest of the body to match. Her frame was long and thin and not anemic in any way.
Darren used to always say how good I looked in a bikini.
I save my eyes for last because it’s hard to look into them. For some reason, they are the only thing that can give away my purpose. Dark, bleak tea-colored things, my eyes are. They fit with my pale skin and almost orange hair but when I see them now, all I see is an empty ocean. I press my hands against the cold metal, liking how it feels so real.
The large scream of the elevator bell jars me rudely out of my reverie and I finally yawn as I step out onto my floor. Silently, I walk to my apartment, fishing out my key I slip it into the lock and open the door with a soft click.
“Good, you’re back”
And there he is. Lounging, like I said, on my extremely expensive couch, his feet propped up rudely on the coffee table and arms spread lazily on the cushions, like he’d never left.
“You are supposed to be dead”
He smiled as I repeated the question and it made me angry to see him so calm. “I told you, I AM”
I close my eyes, wishing it was a dream and slowly open them again. Still there. Annoyed, I dropped my keys into the bowl and make my way to the living room. Grant follows. I sit down in my favorite chair with the best view of the city and turn on him.
“Are you telling me you are a ghost?”
My mind scrambled for explanations as this question was met with silence. Was I finally losing it? Did that lady with the dagger-eyes really exact some kind of vengeance on me when she gave me my sandwich for lunch? I wondered if illusions lasted long; was this a sign of over working?
As my thoughts become more disjointed I hear a slight cough and with a start, I look up on this particular figment of my imagination.
“So you’re…haunting me?” I ask.
He stares at me, tilting his head, his eyes impassive. I swallow and look away. This was no dream. That action was completely Grant’s. He was trying to answer my question and I always felt bare in his blue, searching eyes.
“I…don’t know.” His voice is slightly shaky and I glance at him. This was real. Suddenly, his mature façade had been broken and he looked very lost.
“Grant.” I say softly.
He glances down at me, noticing my change in tone.
“I am so, so sorry.”
A long silence stretches on as I wait for his reaction. Then, slowly, he gives me a watery but lopsided smile. His smile. Involuntarily, a rush of warmth goes to my cheeks and I turn away quickly. Why was this happening again?
I turn to him, sighing. “Let me go change”
He blinks. “Huh?”
I smile at him and speak slowly as if speaking to a child. “I…am going…to change…out… of my… work clothes…okay?”
I got up, twirling in circles as I floated towards my bedroom. His look of utter confusion sent laughs bubbling up my throat like clear bubbles. It had been so long since I had laughed. I knew Grant thought I had gone off the deep end—I was not acting myself.
The Avery he knew would have sat down and made a list of “pros” and “cons” and sorted through the matter in a particular order—like a true lawyer. Once, I even made him a pie chart. I would come up with a theory as to why he was here—um, haunting me—in the first place. I also knew, without a doubt, what my answer would be.
“You are not real” “You are an illusion from overworking myself” “You are dead”
Leaning against the door I slide down until I’m sitting. Languidly, I stare out the window in my bedroom overlooking the beautiful city. Why was I acting so strange? How could I just accept the fact that he was a ghost? I buried my head in my arms and curled up, feeling small tears wet my sleeves.
I knew the answer to that question already.
I didn’t want to know. I wasn’t going to accept that he was dead. My hands tighten to fists.
I never did accept it.
Charlotte called me during work to tell me.
“Hey Char, what’s going on?” I tap in my fourth Splenda and cross my legs. The case was getting heated as it was drawing to a close and I hadn’t had time to eat since last night.
Silence. I take a large bite of my Danish and check my phone screen. I was still connected.
“…Ave, baby, um…” Charlotte says, her voice soft.
I place my Danish down, my stomach twisting with anxiety. Even over the phone I knew something was wrong with my best friend.
“What’s up? Is something wrong? Are you alright? Is Max and Jamie?”
A shaky laugh. “No…we are fine it’s you that I’m…well” A pause and I can hear her shallow breathing. Jaime, her five year old boy, was laughing distantly in the background but Charlotte’s voice was ragged.
Now I was a little scared. “Charlotte May Kennedy, what’s going on?”
Finally, she says it.
“Avery… it’s Grant. Grant is dead.”
There is another long pause as I stare at my Danish.
“…What did you say?”
There is a soft sob, Charlotte was always the tender-hearted one between the two of us, as she says, “Grant Harman, he, he um, he just died Avery.”
Honestly, even now I cannot recall the rest of the conversation we had. The phone call itself was a blurry memory, tucked away in a far corner of my mind, like a fuzzy old TV commercial. There were probably a lot of apologies on Charlotte’s part that I missed. I remember small phrases now, Charlotte’s voice interweaving my distraught thoughts—sharp knives piercing through my veil of purposeful denial.
“…car hit him while he tried to…”
“…the cat was okay but he…”
“…died during surgery in ER”
All I remember now of that entire week was nothing. I closed the phone and finished work. Then I went home. The next couple of days followed a similar pattern; exercise, work, home, occasionally a dinner with some of Darren’s friends, work, home.
I didn’t even shed a tear.
The lamp shade shatters onto the floor, scattering hundreds of caramel-colored ceramic pieces all over the floor of my room. I stare at it, huffing loudly. What did I just do? I stare at my hands, scared. Are these really mine?
I just couldn’t take it any longer. The words Charlotte said to me kept replaying in my head like a scratched CD and I had to smash something to get it out. I stood motionless for a long minute, breathing slowly. Collecting my thoughts, I bent down and began to pick up the pieces.
“I would help if I could”
I turn, startled.
He’s crouching down next to me, smiling sadly. He looked almost alive except for the fact that at the edges of him, there was a slight shimmer, like a ray of light. He wiggled the tips of his fingers and I watched his hand pass through one of the shards lying on the ground.
I let out a small gasp and look at his face again.
He knows. He knew why I threw the lamp on the ground, why I acted like nothing was wrong. He always did.
Slowly, I pick up each piece, savoring every second he was sitting next to me, shimmering like a ray of sunshine in the middle of the night. After I was done I told him I’d finish getting dressed and he just nodded and left.
A couple minutes later I’d found the last of my non-work clothes that fit me and shrugged them on, pulling out my hair from its bun letting it fall freely. I glanced at the mirror, trying to figure out the change since I’d looked in the elevator an hour ago. My eyes…they looked lighter.
I seemed to be asking myself this question a lot lately.
Sighing, I left the bathroom and walked out into the living room where I knew he was waiting. His back was to me and he was gazing out the window. He heard me enter and turned to look. For a second, a strange emotion flashed across his face. Then his usual happy smile came. His entire leaning on one foot posture with his hand digging in his pocket was so heartbreakingly familiar I almost lost it then.
“Let’s go into the city” He says, his back to the window.
I poured myself a glass of water, not at all surprised at this sudden decision; it was so like him. “Why?”
His green eyes cloud over and I knew he was looking at something far away in another world. “I…want to see my city, Avery. I want to see it”
I put my glass on the counter, stroking a finger across its rim, thinking. I knew why he said that; although in our time together we were very different, we both had our strange similarities. Both of us loved this city—none of us could bear to leave it. Darren loved to travel, and he’d always try to coax me away from here on the holidays but I rarely consented; this city was part of my lifeblood, I couldn’t live without it.
I shrugged on a light coat; the weather was already dropping a couple of degrees, and we headed for the elevator. When it opened with a soft chime I saw my neighbor, Mr. Henley standing there. With a smile, the old man walked past me and my eyes widened as he stepped through Grant’s body without blinking. But Grant didn’t even seem to be fazed.
In fact, the entire ride down his face was unreadable as I studied him with furtive glances at his reflection in the elevator wall.
When we got out, I strolled out the front entrance to the street waving at the guard, Mr. Duncan was I left.
“I remember him! He used to give me the gossip about your neighbors.” Grant says. He waves cheerfully at Mr. Duncan as he bends down to pick up his fallen keys. Even though he couldn’t see him I wondered why Grant did that. He leans conspiratorially in my ear,
“I hear that neighbor that we passed by the elevator, Mr. Henley, his daughter ran away to get married to some foreigner and he was really upset about it. He disowned her and everything.” Despite myself I laugh as we enter onto the street.
“I didn’t even know that! And that must have happened a while ago too…” I say, but stop when I realize my implications. But Grant doesn’t seem to react. He is looking at something else now.
“I know where I want to go”
“Really?” I said. “Where?”
He points and I follow his finger. “The Empire State Building?” I raise my eyebrows but he looks at me expectantly.
What a kid.
“Are you sure? It’s so cliché!” I said to him.
He nodded, determined. I tried to reason with him; New York natives usually stayed far away from large tourist attractions, but he was stubborn.
“Call a cab, Avery” He says. And that was that.
When the cab pulled up I slid in; Grant simply floated through the door hovering in the seat next to me. I looked out the window.
When the driver got the location out of me he chuckled. “Pretty tourist-y don’t you think?”
I shot a glare at Grant who was conveniently ignoring me. “Yeah…pretty tourist-y”
Most of the ride was spent in silence and I leaned against the cool glass window, closing my eyes. I wonder what it would be like, to be a ghost. To see the world but they cannot see you. Human's already had issues about their existence--how did Grant feel?
But Grant was strong. He always was.
And I wasn't.
That was probably what drew me to him in the first place, back then.
Then, about ten minutes in the ride, he finally speaks.
“It was here”
I look up. “What?”
The taxi driver looks confused. “Excuse me?”
Grant continues, ignoring the man’s strange stares in my direction as I look at a space of “nothing”.
“Look outside the window, Miss T.S. Elliot” And suddenly, I knew what he was talking about.
With a sudden lurch I lean over him to see out his window.
And there it is.
Ivory Bookshop. The place where we first met.