When the vines wandering around the wheel wells of my father-in-law’s old Winnebago flower in early summer, Sarah takes pictures, painting the image of an eternal bloom on an Airbnb listing, yellow petals bursting beside the rust-tinged door. To make our mortgage payments, she says. In this rusted city, abandoned when industry dove into the sea, we have no tourist attractions, national parks, or theater districts. Just an old plastics plant, a burned-out furniture shop, a bait and tackle acting as a community center. The only way we get anyone to book is by advertising it’s haunted, which it maybe is — with its faded yellow siding, interior stitched with pale orange fabric, and smells of herbal tea and cranberry-scented candles. The mattress is newish, purchased for him three years ago when we anchored him in the backyard, a safe distance for us to watch his decline.
I’m the one who cleans the Winnebago.
Sarah doesn’t go inside. It reminds her too much of her father, sitting at the small table, swilling tea, working his way through a crossword puzzle.
“I can still hear him asking about a six-letter word for unusual lettuce,” she says.
The original Airbnb listing didn’t mention the ghost, or the lie of the ghost. The ad did mention the functioning shower, the breakfast of organic eggs and toast, the distance to our woodland creek, the species of birds migrating through come fall.
I catch Sarah looking out the back windows of our house at night, or in the early morning, eyes straying towards the Winnebago as if tracking movement, the flutter of a face in a window, hands brushing the lace curtains.
“What are you looking at?” I ask.
Sarah doesn’t manage our online listing. Sarah doesn’t do much for our rental initiative. She does make the breakfast, leaves it on the hood of the mobile home at the hour our guests request.
“Did you see him?” I ask visitors when my wife is absent.
“Nada,” they usually say.
Sometimes it’s, “I felt a coldness settling in when I went to sleep.”
I don’t tell them the heater is spotty, that the windows are no longer as weather tight as they’d once been.
“No old guy sitting at the table doing crosswords?”
“Nope, just our beer bottles from last night.”
Our ratings aren’t high. Reviewers say they didn’t experience the supernatural, as promised. Nowhere in the listing do we guarantee a sighting. Just the possibility. The potential. Would ghosts be as exciting if people saw them all the time? No. Apparitions are rare occurrences. At least that’s what I explain in the comments section.
Our rating dips, but visitors continue to stay over long weekends. The money’s not amazing, but the extra cash helps with bills, with the costs of the new roof we need.
“What keeps them coming?” Sarah asks, eyes out the window, this time tracking the young couple staying in the RV, the way they smile, eating expensive quarts of ice cream from the corner store.
“I don’t know. The novelty. Saying they visited a place no one else ever heard of,” I reply.
“I wish Dad could have been that happy out there.”
“Hey, you know he enjoyed being close to you, just a stone’s throw away,” I say, touching her hand over the counter.
“He didn’t seem to really want to stay.”
Then she looks away from the window and the Winnebago and the young couple who are sparking a campfire in the old tire rim I dug into the ground.
Whenever I clean the mobile home, I leave the Sunday crossword on the table. I always hope there will be a message scrawled in the empty spaces, a few words to bring back to Sarah, some hidden meaning from her father spelled out in quirky puns and obscure facts. But I was the one who wrote the listing, who made up the eye-witness accounts.
Sarah never elaborated on what she watched through the kitchen window.
My mind filled in the gray specter, not hers.
Each day I finish before the next renters pick up the key, leaving the crossword puzzle on the table.
“It’s complimentary,” I tell our guests. “The puzzle calls to him. He was a man of words. Can’t find a better lure.”
“What if he writes something?” they ask.
“Then you bring that paper to me. The message won’t be for you, I promise. There’s someone close to my heart that could really use those last words.”
I promise I’ll take fifteen percent off if they do.
But they don’t.