My morning routine became non-existent after my husband died. I’d only sit there drinking coffee, staring off into space, as Dexter looked on, expecting breakfast and a walk. I did eventually provide both, but not as usual. Time had no meaning.
At some point, I met Ghost. Now, about five years in, Ghost texts me twice every morning, just before daylight, and I move towards meeting her, without even looking at the first one. This one is always the same: I am leaving my house soon.
It’s the second one that’s important, and it includes a weather report, something like this: I left. It’s colder than I thought it would be. You should wear a jacket. It is my cue that I had better be going.
I’ve lived alone with Dexter for six years. Even though I wanted to keep my husband forever, hateful cancer took his voice box, along with a contagious laugh, and left some ominous cells behind. We hadn’t had children yet, so it got awfully quiet before he died.
I remember the day I met Ghost.
Her yell was from behind me and across the street.
“Hey, may I walk with you?” she asked. I didn’t turn in her direction because, well, why would I?
“Hey, you with the black dog!” she yelled, louder. I turned around.
“Why?” I quizzed.
“I am thinking about getting a dog,” she projected, and walked faster to catch me.
“O-kayyyyyyyyuh?” I replied, sort of affirmatively.
I guess we are doing this, I thought, and kept walking. She caught up.
She posed lots of questions that day about dog ownership. I happened to be taking him to the vet later, so I told her about how I’d have to tranquilize him beforehand.
“Tomorrow, you’ll tell me how it went, yeah?” she said.
“Sure,” I responded half-heartedly.
A few weeks later, she told me, “I won’t be getting a dog, but I really want one.”
“Would you like to hold the leash?” I asked.
Her response was a giddy, two-footed jump off the sidewalk, probably as high as her little old apple-shape could muster, so I handed Dexter over to her then and every day thereafter.
She did most of the talking. It was fine with me, good for me even. She filled up our walks with nonsense, about making casseroles, darning socks, creating costumes for grandkids, and doctor visits. In the beginning, I wasn’t really listening fully.
Eventually, she’d pause her talking, in order to inquire, “What are you doing today?”
She was always very interested in my response, adding follow-up questions until she finished with, “We will talk more tomorrow, yeah.”
Even with her enthusiasm, I was almost always late. Because she could see me from a distance, she would sometimes walk towards me, and then we’d walk the rest of the way together. She didn’t get mad until about a year after we had met. I had been very late several days in a row, and still she waited for me.
“What do you do before you leave the house?” she inquired.
“I feed the dog and drink coffee,” I replied.
“Why can’t you feed the dog after our walk?” she asked.
I tell her, “Dogs like routine.”
At the end of the walk, when she asked the usual, I responded, “I am going out to buy a coffee tumbler for walks.” It made her smile.
“And then I’m going to put up Halloween decorations.”
“Will you put up lights, too?” she asked.
“No,” I responded. I didn’t tell her that the lights were already strewn, that I hadn’t taken them down when my love died a month after Halloween and that those lights, in fact, stayed on all the time.
I also didn’t tell her that I hadn’t even noticed this oddity until the first Halloween alone, after I said to a twelvish-year-old vampire. “I don’t have candy.”
“Then why do you have your Halloween lights on all the time?” snarked the fake-fanged kid.
“Because my husband loved Halloween!” I barked back. I slammed the door on this ghoulish face and then quickly, apologetically, taped up a sign: I AM SORRY, NO CANDY TODAY, COME BACK NEXT YEAR.
But I didn’t shut the lights off.
As time went on, walks with Ghost filled some emptiness, and I got talking.
“What is your real name?” I posed.
“Why do they call you Ghost?” I seconded.
“Well, my shoulder-length hair turned whitish-gray overnight, in my late twenties. It also grew stiff, and the bottom flipped up. I think becoming a widow with five children instantly aged me. I braided my hair then and left it that way. Well, at the next gathering, one brother teased me, saying, “Your head looks like a Pac-Man ghost!” And then I was Ghost to everyone.”
This morning, not long after that first text chimed, I was already locking up. I turned to leave, and a woman about my age stood at the bottom step of my porch.
“Hi, Mary,” she said, “I’m one of Ghost’s daughters. When you didn’t answer my text, I drove over to check on you. “
I responded, “I didn’t see the text. Is Ghost alright?”
“No, Mom died yesterday, peacefully, with my dad’s love letters on her lap.”
I collapsed onto the top step and looked at my phone. No weather report. It should have said, I left. It is beautiful.
“How did you know where I live?” I asked.
“I am the daughter who drives Mom to her doctor visits.”
“So, you are Helena,” I interjected.
“Yes, and whenever we’d drive by your house, she’d say, ‘This is where Mary lives. She leaves her Halloween lights on, just like I do with Christmas lights.’”
“Would you like to come in for coffee?” I suggest.
“Well, if it’s okay with you,” she answers, “I’d like to walk and talk.”
“That’s good with me,” I reply, stand up, and join her in grief.