When I died I was asked if I wanted to come back. There were stipulations of course, where and when I could be seen and by whom. I accepted the deal. I was only allowed to be seen by my children and husband and I could only be seen in the current apartment in which we lived. This would be the arrangement until my last family member was gone, then my fate was to be determined.
At first it was scary for my little children to see me float above their beds at night, checking their breathing and covering their little feet which peeked out from under the covers. More than once my son sat straight up in bed, chest heaving, “You scared me, mom!” His hair plastered to his forehead, held by a cold sweat.
“I’m sorry baby. Get some rest.”
My daughter seemed to like my presence the most, requesting me to sleep next to her, “all night and don’t leave.” This was a request I was more than happy to fulfill since my husband went to bed so early. In the mornings we would sing as we would pick out her clothes and I would help her smooth her curly hair. Sometimes, when in a rush I would help her tie her shoes.
During the day I curled up with my fourteen year old cat. When he first saw me after I came back his black and white fur stood up and he hid in a corner. Once I called his name he never left my side. We spent more time together than we had before and it was a pleasure to lay with him and listen to him purr.
Time would creep by when my children were in school and for awhile I was contemplating homeschooling them because daytime TV was a bore when you couldn’t leave your house to try out all the new trends. Talk show hosts came and went, trendy couches were sat on and tossed, hairstyles were brushed and re-brushed, dreams changed and love left.
“Mom, I really don’t need you to brush my hair. It’s kinda weird.” My daughter looked at her reflection in the mirror. “I’m probably the only kid in America who has a ghost mom.”
“Probably, but I’m here for you. How many other moms can say that?”
“The ones that are alive.” She rolled her eyes and still gave me a hug as she left.
Sometimes at night I could hear my husband talk on the phone about things they had done while I was stuck in the house. They tried new restaurants, went to baseball games, enjoyed the sunsets on the beach, played at the park, saw new releases, and came home talking excitedly.
I understood the need to go places. At first I encouraged them to leave. Before long they were gone every weekend. The more they went the shorter their stories became. Then I was asked to hide when friends came over, then I was asked to hide when another woman came over.
“I’m lonely. You ignore me and I just sit here.”I sat next to my husband on our bed.
“Maybe you need another pet, maybe some more cable channels?” He smoothed the wrinkles on the comforter.
“Maybe I just need you.”
“You can’t expect us to sit around here all day with you. We feel bad making you hide when people come over, plus it’s creepy. It’s been like a prison.”
He seemed almost instantly embarrassed and looked at his shoe.
I heard a door close in one of the kid’s rooms and a distant cough. It was true. They all felt that way. “Oh.” I sat up and disappeared into the walls, although I wasn’t fully gone because I couldn’t be.
I avoided them for weeks. I wouldn’t let them see me, although they knew I was there. They would whisper about me and what to do. I heard them talking about other houses and maybe renting this one out. A couple of times they speculated that maybe I had finally died.
After a month, my husband called out to me, “Honey, come out. This is silly. We need to talk.”
I watched him from our bedroom, with my back crouched over, fiddling with our comforter, following the outlines of the flowers with my fingers.
“Honey, please. I have something important to tell you.” He looked around. He glanced at the ceiling, in the kitchen, my daughter’s room, the bathroom.
“We’re moving. The kids are leaving for college soon, and well, I’m moving in with Brenda.” He paused and took a deep breath.
“We aren’t going to sell this, and we’re going to visit, a lot.”
He wiped the kitchen counter with his hands and took a deep breath.
“I’m keeping the cable and everything on for you. It’ll be like your own place. “
I stared at the comforter instead of protesting.
“Did she hear you? Is she okay with it?” My son asked timidly when he walked in the living room.
“I don’t know. Maybe she isn’t here anymore.” He rubbed his arms up and down while glancing around the room.
On their last day, they looked around quietly, at the pieces of paper balled up on the carpet in the corners, dents in the wall from moving furniture, one curtain on the bedroom window and an empty fridge. All that was left was the TV, bed and comforter.
“Do you think she will need anything? “ My daughter looked almost directly at me.
I whispered to myself, “Just to sleep next to me all night, and don’t leave.”
They took one more sweeping glance and closed the door, then silence. I lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling. I remembered the day my son was born, breach, and early. When I held him in my arms he was crying, so I rubbed noses with him and kissed his forehead; my husband smiling proudly as he cut the umbilical cord.
I thought about when my daughter walked across the stage in a white robe with her cap bobby pinned to her long hair so it would stay straight for her kindergarten graduation. She smiled and waved to me, in the front row, and then winked.
Right after the accident I played hour-long games of Monopoly with my son. We argued over properties and laughed when one of us went bankrupt. Sometimes we stayed up so late he would get a special day off of school to sleep in. We would then play again.
My daughter and I talked fashion and watched romantic movies together, cried when there was a break up and snuggled under the blankets when someone died. We spent hours talking about boys and why her hair wasn’t straight, which bras to buy, how to fix holes in pantyhose and the best lipstick for her skin color.
My husband was distant. He never quite attached to me again. He would watch me play with the children but never joined in. A magazine or book was almost always a barrier between us and he didn’t care to stay up late and reminiscence about our dating years. He got angry when I saw him naked and refused to sleep in the same bed as me.
I wasn’t sure if they were ever going to come back. I tried not to keep track of time because it went by slow enough. I had to content myself with listening through the walls when the power was shut off. Luckily one neighbor was elderly and listened to her TV loudly and I could hear the shows, usually The Price is Right or Good Morning America. When she moved I had to try and listen to the people above me but all I could hear was furniture moving.
It became so quiet that when I heard the door open, I almost screamed.
“So, yeah, this was my old house.” I heard a voice like my son’s.
I jumped up and raced towards him but stopped just as quickly when I heard one I didn’t know.
“Wow. How long has this been sitting here?” A female voice echoed through the apartment.
“Gosh, I don’t know, maybe three or four years.” They started to head towards the bedroom so I hid.
I watched him as he led her on a tour, telling a story at nearly every stop, none of which included me. She held his hand and listened with a smile, flicking her hair occasionally with her other hand. He smiled, proud to show her his old home.
“I think I can sell it for a good price and we can then put down on a house of our own. “ He looked at her, waiting for approval.
He led her to the door and turned around. He walked to a piece of paper on the kitchen counter, it seemed out of place, and opened it. There was a drawing, not by a child, of a family with a person hovering over them. He held it in his hands, close to his chest for a long time.
“I’m going to step outside; it’s a little hot in here.” His female companion opened the door.
“I’ll be right there.”
I began to run towards him, as quickly as I could, hoping for that embrace. Gosh, he was handsome. I couldn’t wait to hear all about his life, all about all of them. As soon as I reached the living room the front door closed. I was too late. The paper was left on the counter, crumbled, the way it had been, left behind. I looked around the apartment as I slowly melted into the walls and hoped to disappear.