by Russell Whitaker July 25, 2010
That the couple in the bed, he balding and bright-looking in a sterile, unassuming way, and she with the blanket taut against her nose, her hands testing its satin seam, were talking about him in his presence as he stood rigidly at the foot of their bed, neither affected his posture nor seemed to alter his mood. The stroboscopic light of the small television nooked within the wardrobe made him seem unsteady before them, shifting like a wave. “When will he go?” She said. “This isn’t right.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “Just let him already. It’s only been a week.”
“I’ve been very compassionate,” she observed, “but I don’t see how this goes on any longer.”
“I know it,” he said. “You’re so very good. A good, good person.” He kissed her temple twice and levered up on his elbows. “Ed,” he said.
The ghost spun and dipped and leaped to the darker corner, its sport coat unbuttoned and spinning behind it, its leather loafers whispering against the carpet. It raised its arms slowly, dipped its shoulders, the wrists suspended above its head, and swept them down quickly, knocking a hairbrush from the vanity to the floor. It stared at the couple from the corner, imperative and unyielding as a salesman.
“I’ve hurt his feelings,” he said to her. “There’ll be no reasoning with him now.”
She turned from him and stuffed the pillow beneath her ear.
“If I turn the TV off, can you sleep?” He said.
“Who does this?” She said. “Think about all your friends and all the people you work with and anyone you’ve known. Who?” She thrust a wet plate into his hands; he worked the towel against it.
“Well,” he said, “Ed, for one.”
She called him out of a meeting in the middle of the day. “It’s happened again,” she said, the pitch of her voice uncoiling across the wire. “He was there as I came out of the shower, right in the bathroom with me.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean any harm.”
“He didn’t have to mean any harm.”
“Did he do anything? Did he see you? Has he left?”
“No. He was just standing there staring off the way he does. I stood behind the curtain until I heard him leave.”
“That’s it then, I guess.”
The door across the hall was unlocked and he let himself in after knocking. The ghost sat at the kitchen table unmoving, a mug of coffee and sandwich half before him and the radio chattering from the counter top. In the light of the room, the ghost was especially unfrightening, wearing khakis and a misbuttoned cardigan. “Ed,” he said, “we’ve been neighbors for a long time. Good neighbors. But, you’ve upset us. Especially today. It was just too much. I’ll need my key back.”
The ghost was hardly moved, but in time, raised an arm and pointed to a single key pegged to the wall near the door.
That night they heard him tapping at their door, caressing it with his fingertips; they supposed his face pressed against it, and later glimpsed him at the bedroom window, sullen and searching, before drawing the blinds. They heard him moan at the insult and pace a perimeter, for several hours, atop the drain tile out back. Then, they imagined, he disappeared.
About the Author:
An Oregon native, Russell Whitaker now resides in Peabody, MA. He shares his life with two cats, Toes and Toes Jr., and is writing something that will change the world of literature FOREVER. After that hell fake his own death and do something else, possibly walking the earth and helping people build wells.
About the Artist:
Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.