You leave while it is still dark. Your lover sleeps on his stomach, the sheet draped only to his waist.
You don’t want to go. You want to slide back into bed and listen to him breathing. And for him to make you coffee later, dark and sweet.
But you’ve never let anyone haunt you. And you’re not about to start now.
Your car takes a few tries to get going, as if it is reluctant to move out of his driveway, as if it wants to stay, to not glide down his street in this blue world that exists just before dawn.
There is light in the sky when you pull off the highway and wind through the suburban streets to your house. A woman is walking down the road, and she is surrounded by her ghosts. You try to count them unobtrusively . . . eleven? Crowding and cluttering behind her. She doesn’t look that much older than you, and how easy is her heart, did it just throw itself at anyone who came along? You wonder if any real people are waiting for her at home, or if their ghosts were the only part she kept.
• • • •
You’ve always been able to see them. Most people can only see their own ghosts; only a rare few can see those that belong to other people.
You’d confronted your mother once, when you were not much more than five. “But you should only love my dad,” you’d declared stridently, flushed and righteous. You knew which ghost was your dad, although he’d died when you were a baby. You’d curl up next to his ghost sometimes and tell him about your day. He never spoke back to you, and his eyes were always on your mother.
“I do, my dear,” your mother answered. And yet there was another ghost in your house, too. A younger man, with hair that fell forward over his forehead. “Once, it was something that was true,” your mother said when you’d huffed and puffed about it. The ghosts lingered, even once you stopped loving them. “I wanted to deny it later. Pretend he never meant anything to me, just a crush, an infatuation, a fling. But here he is, so . . . ” she shrugged.
“Do you haunt him too?” You’d asked. You hadn’t thought of this before, it was a new idea with tricky edges.
Your mother looked very far away and oddly younger. “I should think it likely,” she said, with a very non-mother-like smile that you hadn’t seen before.
• • • •
You are in the middle of making yourself a cup of tea—peppermint, your tea of choice for afternoons, when you look up and see him. Sitting in your window seat, one hand folded under his chin.
Too late. You are too late. Your hands grip the benchtop and you bite down hard on your lip. Too late.
Surely your heart is sinking, but if that is the case why is it hammering so hard in your chest?
You should have left earlier. You knew this; how many times did you ignore the little instinct telling you time to go, time to go? But your railing and recriminations slam into the fact that it is just so damn good to see him.
His ghost follows you around all afternoon. Not intruding, not doing anything much, a quiet, gentle presence. But there. All the time there, as he would be, for the rest of your life. No matter what. You realize you are trembling. Too late.
• • • •
Later, much later, your doorbell rings. Your lover stands there, and you are struck by how real and vital he is compared to his ghost, which is so calm and still and soft around the edges. “Hi,” he says, “I didn’t realize you were gone for a while because . . . ” he pauses, but you already know. Because there you are, behind him, standing in the golden slanted light of late afternoon.
You were surprised, when you first met him, and attracted, both, that he didn’t have any ghosts tagging along, either.
And now here you are, haunting him.
“You never invite me over here,” he says, sounding more uncertain than you’ve ever heard him. But of course, most people cannot see other people’s ghosts, only their own. He doesn’t know that he haunts you.
He doesn’t see what you see. Your ghost, going over to his, taking his hand.
“I will do,” you say. “Come in.”
Spread the word!