When I died, I found myself standing in the middle of the sick room staring at my body. It should have been disorienting, but it was not like my death was a shock. The me in the bed looked hollowed out and shrunken, engulfed in layers of blankets. Thankfully, the me looking at the body stood straight and proud, dressed in navy linen slacks and a crisp white blouse. I felt restored and calm.
Wasn’t there supposed to be a loved one beckoning me toward a light? I glanced around, but the room was empty.
And where was Jeffrey? He had promised to be here holding my hand when my time came. I wandered the house until I found him, and the nurse. They were in the kitchen. More specifically, on the kitchen table.
They married six months later.
There are good parts to being dead. All my aches and pains are gone. No more tension headaches. My lumbago is a distant memory. Also, no more calls from people claiming there’s something wrong with my computer. And I will never have to stand in line at the DMV again.
The bad part about being dead is that all I can do is observe. I had to watch as the new Mrs. Mason redecorated my house. She replaced my Hummels with Willow Trees. She turned my library into a yoga studio. She sprayed Round-Up on my prized roses.
Actually, the worst part of being dead is the boredom. The new Mrs. Mason has terrible taste in television, and I can’t change the channel. I’ve tried. No juicy reality shows, or medical dramas. All she watches is HGTV. I can, however, suck the charge out of the batteries in the remote. It was a happy day when I discovered that ability. Jeffrey and his little trollop haven’t had fully functioning cell phones since.
One day while watching Beachfront Bargains, the new Mrs. Mason reached for her afternoon glass of red wine and I imagined it tipping and spilling on her new white rug. Really, who buys a white rug? So impractical. Anyway, the glass fell over and rolled off the table. I don’t know which one of us was more surprised.
While she ran to get a towel and some club soda, I knocked a magazine off an end table. Then I gave their wedding portrait a shove. It swung on its hook but didn’t fall. I gave it a harder shove and found myself standing in the upstairs hallway, feeling hungover. The light streaming through the window was wrong. Jeffrey passed by in his robe, and I could hear the coffee maker gurgling in the kitchen. He was reading the morning news on his tablet. I gave it a light touch and the screen went black. Cursing, he reversed course to go plug it in.
After that, I learned to pace myself. If I was careful I could move a few objects each day without losing time, and there were some activities that required no energy at all. For example, I could touch the back of the new Mrs. Mason’s neck and send her scurrying for a sweater without losing any of my energy.
What I liked best was to hang out in Jeffrey’s workshop with him and watch him build lopsided birdhouses. He mostly went out there to smoke cigars, but I didn’t mind anymore since I couldn’t smell them or breathe the smoke. I do still breathe, though, and my heart still beats. Habit, I guess.
He always played The Eagles or The Beach Boys while he worked, and I would hover in a corner and zone out. It reminded me of all those years of companionable silence, sitting and reading in the evenings, or driving somewhere together. Funny, the things a person misses.
Okay, I confess I sometimes stole his tape measures and dropped them in buckets of paint or hid them behind stacks of wood. He had purchased three new ones since I passed.
Jeffrey was looking for the charging cord for his electric screwdriver, which I had just sapped, when I heard a crash from inside the house. It sounded like a piano had fallen through the floor, but Jeffrey didn’t even flinch. He plugged in the charger then sat back and closed his eyes, his finger tapping his knee in time to the music.
Was it possible he hadn’t heard that? What did that mean? I went into the house to investigate but couldn’t find any source of the sound. The new Mrs. Mason was sprawled on a mat in the yoga studio, reading a magazine. She must not have heard the noise, either. Had I imagined it?
The thought gave me a chill. Did ghosts eventually lose their minds? Would I end up floating through the house, shrieking and babbling, flinching at imaginary noises? Or maybe I would start losing time in larger and larger increments until I simply ceased to exist. I had no idea what would happen in the future. I needed one of those doctor’s office pamphlets: So you’re dead. Now what?
To distract myself, I wandered into the master bedroom. It was no longer the lovely beachy sanctuary Jeffrey and I had both loved. The new Mrs. Mason had painted the walls Grinch green and replaced all the furniture with shiny, black stuff that showed every fingerprint. I sighed and opened her ugly jewelry box.
I had taken an earring from each of her favorite pairs and was finding delightful places to hide them, such as inside Jeffrey’s shoes, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I spun around but no one was there. My heart was racing. I hadn’t felt a physical touch since I died. My shoulder had a weird, electric tingle. I tried to touch the spot but my hand passed through it.
What was going on? Could there be another ghost here? The house was a new build when we moved in, so no one else had died here. I guess it could have been built on top of an old graveyard or something. I missed Google. I needed a ghost message board where I could post some questions. Could another spirit be passing through? Did that happen?
I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. I spun around but there was nothing there. Maybe it was the curtains, moving in a draft.
I hadn’t felt this helpless since I was confined to that bed, withering away. This wasn’t fair. I was supposed to be the one doing the haunting in this house. I wasn’t supposed to be the one haunted.
But really, what was there to be afraid of? I couldn’t feel pain and I was already dead. What could another ghost do to me?
Later that evening, I was watching Jeffrey and his tramp eat a mundane meal and listening to their mundane conversation when the thudding started upstairs. It sounded like someone wearing work boots was running up and down the hall.
Jeffrey continued complaining about the new spreadsheet software at work, while he sawed loose another bite of meat. Really, when would this woman learn to cook a chicken breast properly?
The thudding continued overhead. I wished I could call the ghost police and report an intruder. Since that wasn’t an option, I headed upstairs. Yes, I actually took the stairs. Once I had tried floating up through the ceiling and it gave me a case of vertigo that lasted for two days.
The hallway was deserted and quiet, but there was a glowing mist rolling out from under the door of the sick room. A chill snaked down my spine. I hadn’t been back in that room since I died. Was this some sort of test? Maybe I hadn’t been able to move on because I hadn’t accepted my death yet. Maybe it was time.
I steeled myself and flung open the door. There was no tunnel of light waiting for me. Simply a cold, dusty room. The blanket on the bed rippled and settled into the shape of a body. I crept up on it and whipped back the cover, expecting to see my own face. Instead, I found a millennial with an eyebrow piercing.
“Boo,” she said, in the ironic way of her generation. “Remember me?”
I did not. She looked vaguely familiar. Maybe. She floated up through the blanket to the ceiling and turned a lazy circle. She was, indeed, wearing work boots. Also skin-tight jeans and a camouflage tee stretched tight over an ample bosom.
“I’ll give you a hint,” she said. “No one can see the top of your seven foot tall refrigerator. It doesn’t need to be dusted every week.”
The image snapped into place. The terrible housekeeper I had fired a few years ago.
“Tall men can see up there.”
“You had to drag out a step ladder.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Why are you here? You didn’t die here.”
She sighed and floated down to stand and face me. “Ghosts can attach to objects as well as locations. You ran me out of here so fast I went off and left my grandmother’s bracelet laying on a side table. You didn’t bother to return it.”
I remembered that. I had tossed the trinket in a drawer and not given it another thought.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I lied. “How long have you been here?”
“A few years.”
“Years? You were already here when I died? Why didn’t I see you before?”
“You didn’t bother to look. You floated right past me every day.”
“How come I can see you now?”
“I decided to announce myself. I’m sick of not having anyone to talk to. I guess you’re better than nothing.”
“Gee, thanks. I’m not too thrilled with your company, either.”
What had I done to deserve being stuck with this surly child? She crossed her arms and stared at me.
“How did you die?” I asked.
“None of your business,” she said, with a withering look.
My patience was running out. “You don’t belong here.”
She shrugged. “Not my choice.”
“Well, stay out of my way.”
I stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind me.
Downstairs, Jeffrey was in the living room watching television. A man on the screen stood in front of a billowing flag and promised to shake things up in Washington. Yes, even the dead can’t escape political ads.
I gave the wedding portrait a shove and it fell to the hardwood floor, the glass in the frame shattering. Jeffrey jumped to his feet and stared at it.
“Trina?” he whispered.
I froze. He hadn’t spoken my name in months. He hadn’t even noticed when the new Mrs. Mason moved my urn to a shelf in the laundry room, next to the spare paper towels.
Jeffrey laughed and shook his head, then went to fetch the broom. He didn’t believe in ghosts.
“Do you want to get his attention for real?” the girl asked. I hadn’t noticed she had followed me. She held out her hand, palm up, and a small flame appeared.
“Is that real?” I asked.
The water bill floated up from a side table and over to the flame. It caught fire in midair, ash dropping onto the rug as it burned away to nothing.
Now I was frightened. If this girl caught the house on fire, I would be left haunting a burned out shell. There would be rain and snow, and vermin running around.
She was attached to an object. If I could get the object out of the house, then she would go with it. I could throw it in the garbage and let the trash men carry her away. Or better yet, I could flush it and she could go haunt the sewers. My gaze fell on the drawer with the bracelet in it.
“Don’t even try it,” she said.
I slid the drawer open. She slammed it shut and grabbed my wrist. I felt that electric tingle again, and I could feel energy draining away from me. I summoned what strength I had left and broke free. She shot a blast of hot air at me, which was actually thrilling since I hadn’t felt temperature since I died.
There was a clatter, a crash and a moan behind me.
Her blast had knocked the coat tree with the wobbly leg into Jeffrey’s path as he returned with the broom and dust pan. He had tripped and fallen on top of the curved handle of an umbrella. A pool of blood was forming around him, soaking into the white rug.
Jeffrey’s form rolled over and sat up, dazed. His body remained on the floor.
“Now look what you’ve done!” I shouted. “We’re going to be stuck with this boob for all eternity.”
“Trina?” Jeffrey said, his voice panicky. “Am I dead?”
The newly widowed Mrs. Mason walked into the room, probably to investigate the noise. She shrieked when she saw Jeffrey’s body.
Jeffrey looked so heartbroken that I almost felt sorry for him.
“The joke’s on her,” Jeffrey said glumly, as she took her time finding a phone to call for help. “I never changed the will.”
He nodded, starting to look more cheerful.
When our attorney asked who we wanted to inherit in the event of both of our deaths, neither of us had a clue. I piped up and told him we wanted the house turned into a ferret sanctuary. Jeffrey had stifled a grin and gone along with it, and the attorney added it to the wills. We had always meant to change it when we decided on a more appropriate charity.
“She’ll fight it,” I said.
“She’ll try. Heath’s the best probate attorney in the city.”
The girl was frowning at us.
“What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Ashleigh, I hope you like ferrets.”
She lit up. “I love ferrets!”
I turned back to Jeffrey. He was staring at Ashleigh’s breasts.