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Camilla’s Ghost Story
Words by Bobbi Parry
Image by Christine Stoddard
I saw the ghost on the 26th of December, Boxing Day, and the experience stayed with me through the snowless, hazy week that followed. I stopped thinking about it right around the New Year’s Day blizzard, and I should not have.
Christmas day that year, I crunched to work across dry frozen ground like a reindeer crossing tundra. Dylan spent the day with his family. “You should be glad you missed that mess,” he said while he fried me eggs for dinner after my shift ended. I sat in the living room, using the back of an envelope to work out how much I’d earned from my twelve hours of time and a half.
Even though we weren’t fully moved in, I’d framed the wide doorway to the kitchen with my multicolored twinkler Christmas lights, and stretched another two strings along the ceiling all the way around our box of a living room. These, I informed Dylan, could stay up year round. “Thank god,” he grimaced. “I was worried people would think we had taste.”
They glowed red-blue-green-yellow as Dylan flopped down next to me. I was checking my numbers. “Carry the two.”
I stared at my envelope. There was no two. “Did you tell your family about me yet?”
That brief catch before the grin warmed his face. My punch landed. Neither of us cared, really, but the way I’d found out—the rare off-guard moment at a Home Depot by his parents’ house, his stuttering before our clumsy exit—needled him. “You’re my little secret, Camilla.”
I set about attacking my eggs. “I don’t know why you bother keeping secrets from people you don’t care about.”
He shrugged. “It’s the way I do.” Not an answer, but believable all the same.
I knew the key in the lock was Jakey. Who else would it be on Christmas night? He sank limply into the couch next to Dylan without taking his coat off. “It’s dark in here.” He spoke like he was working his way around marbles. He must be really high. Sure enough: “Carlos and I had edibles this afternoon, and then his parents came over and I couldn’t handle it. So I said I had to come here.” He stared into space. Dylan massaged my feet.
“Did you tell them about her yet?” The weed haze made Jake no less awkward, or forced. He worried about me. He didn’t get how I found the skittishness entertaining, or buy that moving in was a safe way to make up my mind. Slippery Dylan, with his easy smiles and back slapping.
“Of course.” Dylan said. I snatched the pillow from behind my head and whacked him. “Not. Of course not.”
Jake revealed to us before he drifted off to sleep that his apartment was haunted. It’s the ghost of a murder victim, he elaborated over breakfast, and we decided to go see for ourselves. It was a low gray day, with no promise of snow to clear the air. I brought some sage to burn. That’s not exactly supposed to get a ghost out but I figured she would get point.
“He,” Jake corrected me. “He would get the point.”
“Your ghost is a he?”
“Men get murdered as much as women do,” Dylan seconded. He’d put his hand on Jake’s thigh last night, when he’d thought I wasn’t watching. Jake, half conscious, pushed it off.
Jake went to get coffee while Dylan and I let ourselves in to the apartment. In the kitchen, the neon bar light glowed like an evil future sun. I examined my sage. It was fresh, not dried, in one of those flat plastic rectangle boxes you get at the grocery store. Burning it suddenly seemed complicated. Maybe in the sink? “Hey Dylan?” He stood, back to me, facing the wall. “Dylan,” I grabbed his shoulder. “Dylan, where do you think I should burn the sage?”
He didn’t answer. The kitchen was small and stuffy, and lacked a clock. “Dylan. Dylan.” I got quiet when I saw his glassy eyes. The ghost. Was it? A clock with a good second hand, that’s what I needed, to know for sure. It would tick away while he stared his blank searching stare, and I’d use the noise to measure out the shifting energy of the room. A digital clock glowed above the stove, but digital clocks are dumb machines with too big increments; they don’t know anything.
“Dylan.” Maybe I just heard the word in my head. What time had we come in? I had no idea. His hand lifted, just a bit, fingers curled around air. What would a ghost find in him to steal? Nothing, I realized. My heart rose and fell with that word. The same thing the rest of us found. Dylan was a hard shell cocooned around an empty center. He smiled his way through dinner with his family, then smiled his way through dinner with me, and there was no weight inside to throw him in any direction.
You probably think this ghost never existed, but I’m telling you, it did, and Dylan and I couldn’t move until it left. And I didn’t realize until much later how strongly in those few seconds I’d hoped to be given some sort of resolution, or decision, about him. I didn’t get it.
Instead, I took the sage in its little plastic coffin and slapped him in the face. His eyes unfixed from the wall like they’d only focused there in passing. “This is stupid, let’s go,” he said. He is taller than me; his limbs are long and mine are short, so it wasn’t much work for me to slip my hand into his as we went down the stairs. It was new to me then, the passivity, the waiting to see. Things would’ve been better if I hadn’t, but how could I know? But it was a new sensation just like it was a new relationship, and how do you know mistakes are big that early?
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