The Ghosts That Haunt Us
The bells chimed as the door opened. I looked up to see a young woman, soaked from the rain outside, her auburn hair clinging to the sides of her pink cheeks as her eyes scanned the room stopping when they fell on me. “Hello, there.” I smiled warmly as I leaned down to grab a towel beneath the counter for the puddle that was forming at the woman’s feet. “Are you really a psychic?” She stared at me, one hand still on the doorknob. “That’s what the sign says,” I laughed walking from behind the counter of the shop towards her, dropping the towel at her feet and using my foot to move it around sopping up the wet. “What can I do for–“ “No games.” She reached out and touched my arm with her cold, wet hand forcing me to look up at her. Her large brown eyes pleaded with me, watery and red from crying. “Please. Just tell me if you are really a psychic. Please.”
I opened my mouth to respond but stopped myself as I heard a second voice. It was so quiet I could barely hear it. Cocking my head to the side, we stood there in silence for a moment while I tried to listen for it again. ~~ Can you hear me? ~~
“Yes.” I replied.
~~ Are you talking to me? Can you actually hear me? ~~
I turned back to the woman and held her gaze as she studied me. “Yes and yes. I am really a psychic.” The woman sighed and closed her eyes. “I guess you would say that one way or the other, wouldn’t you?”
~~ Holy shit. I can’t believe you can hear me! Okay, okay. Think, Sheena. Ummm, tell her- tell her that I’m still here! That I never left. And that I love her. No, wait– tell her that I’m sorry. No! Shit. Where do I even start?! ~~
I looked up at the woman and smiled. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. I would say that regardless. Why don’t you come inside and sit down. I’ll get you a fresh towel.” I touched her shoulder and motioned into the sitting room. “And then I say we start at the beginning. What was your name?” ~~ The beginning. Good idea. I’m Sheena. ~~
The woman opened her eyes and nodded as she smiled weakly at me. “I’m Helen.”
I smiled back. “I’m Claudia. Please, go sit by the fire. I’ll grab a towel. I have some tea brewing, would you like some?” “Sure. Thank you.”
She walked into the sitting room, her heels clicking against the hardwood floor until I heard her ease herself into one of the creaky but plush chairs by the fire. I hurried to the small kitchenette off the main shop floor where the electric kettle was. “Sheena,” I whispered as I pulled down two flowered teacups from the shelf. “Are you there?” ~~ Yes! I’m here. My God, I can’t believe I’m actually talking to someone. This is amazing. ~~
“What are you doing here, Sheena?” I said calmly as I headed back towards the sitting room, carrying the tray with two teacups and the pot full of steaming hot tea. ~~ I miss her. My God, I miss her so much it hurts. ~~
Her voice sounded heavy with emotion and for the first time in my short career, it occurred to me that perhaps the dead could cry like the living. “Well, it’ll be alright. I’ll help you speak to her.” I said, keeping my voice low as I entered the room where Helen sat staring blankly into the fire. ~~ Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. ~~
“Here we are!” I set Helen’s cup of tea in front of her on the round table between the two chairs. Then I sat down in the other chair, pulling the second cup towards me, wrapping my hands around the hot porcelain and taking a slow breath. “Now, what can I do for you?”
Helen looked down at the teacup she cradled in her lap. Her camel trench coat hung open, showing the ivory chiffon dress she was wearing beneath. A dainty gold chain around her neck where a gold ring hung suspended just beneath her collar bone. She brought a hand up and brushed the ring with her fingertips before bringing them up to her mouth where she traced the outline of her trembling bottom lip. “I’m either losing my mind or–” she took a ragged breath before looking up at me. “Or I’m haunted.”
“You don’t strike me as insane.” I smiled. “What makes you think you’re haunted?” “Jesus, it’s going to sound so crazy.” She shook her head at herself, staring down at her tea. “But over the last few months there’s been… strange things happening. Footsteps in the hallway, the smell of perfume in the air, the sensation that someone is standing just behind me…” Her eyes glazed over. “And then there’s the voices.” ~~ I knew she could hear me! ~~
“Voices? What do they say?”
“Sometimes I think maybe my name? But mostly, they’re so low that I can’t tell. It’s like walking into a room where everyone is whispering secrets about you. The moment I try to listen, they go silent.”
“I see.” I leaned back into my chair, steepling my fingers in front of my face while I tried to remember what Aunt Edna had told me about helping the living talk to the dead.
‘Sometimes, people will come in and you’ll be able to sense attachment right away. Never assume though that that’s who they want to speak to. Ghosts will always have something they want to say, but focus on the one with the cash. If they want to speak to Grandma but Uncle Henry won’t shut up, well, it’s your job to give them what they came for. They are your client, not the ghost.’
“Do you have any idea who would be attached to you?” I asked.
“Almost a year ago now, there was a horrible accident and… I lost my partner, my best friend.” Helen choked out. “We’d been having some marital issues– an affair. I was so angry… but now, I just wish I could apologize. I shouldn’t have lost my temper. I said some pretty terrible things and then….. I lost everything.”
~~ Oh, Helen. It’s alright. I’m here. ~~
“And you think your partner is haunting you now?” Helen’s eyes were brimming with tears as she bit her bottom lip and nodded. She looked exhausted and I fought the urge to reach out and touch her, comfort her. I opened my mouth to speak when Helen set her tea on the table, my antique rose china clinking against the tabletop loudly.
“I shouldn’t have told you any of this, right? I mean, I should have made you prove that you were really a psychic. Now you can use everything I just told you to give me some sense of closure, saying you sense someone here and they say they forgive me blah blah blah, then take my money and send me on my way.” I watched as Helen cradled her head in her hands, her shoulders shaking with silent tears.
~~ Oh, Helen! Sweetheart, don’t cry. Do something, would ya, Claudia? ~~
I leaned forward in my chair, reaching my hand across the table as I spoke softly to her. “Helen, I understand your concerns about me not being what I say I am. It’s true, there are more imposters in this field than not. But I do have abilities, and I can tell you right now that you are not crazy. You have a spirit with you. They’re here right now. I can help you talk to them, if you’ll allow me?”
Helen raised her head, her eyes even more red and puffy than they were when she first arrived. “He’s here? Really?”
I paused. “Who is ‘he’?”
Helen sniffled, wiping her nose with the back of her hand. “My husband. Andrew. He’s here, right?”
I straightened up in my chair, pulling my hand back as I searched my memory for Aunt Edna’s advice again. “Well, uh–“
“Andy, I love you. I never stopped.” Helen spoke as she looked up at the ceiling, as if the ghost of her husband was floating just above us. “I’m so sorry, so unbelievably sorry for everything I said. I didn’t mean it. I was so angry. But none of that matters now. I’d been going through so much at work, and my parents. I was cold and distant. It was my fault, Andrew. Do you hear me? I forgive you for the Sheena thing. It was silly and I should’ve listened to you–“ My eyes widened. “Sheena?” Helen looked down at me, tears pouring from her eyes. “That’s who-who Andrew had an affair with. A secretary from my work. I hardly knew her, but her and Andrew got close because of how often he’d have to call me at the office. He was in the car with her when he got in the accident.” Helen’s face screwed up with emotion as she let out another loud sob.
~~ I worked with her for five years. Five years and the only reason she knows my name is because I was the mistress of her lousy husband. Can you believe that? For five years, I got her coffee, ran her copies, took her calls. I was the secretary for the entire office not just Helen. But she was the one I went the extra mile for. She once spilled coffee on her cream silk blouse just before a big presentation and do you know what I did? I took my own shirt off and gave it to her. I wore her coffee stained shirt around all day. I even took it home with me. I wore it to bed most nights, pulling the collar up and breathing in her perfume. ~~
“When I found out about the a-a-affair, do you know what he told me?” Helen looked at me trying to catch her breath between sobs. “He said ‘I got tired of competing with your work for some attention. Finally met a woman who wants to spend time with me, and you know what we do most of the time? We talk about you, Helen! How sick is that?’ “
Helen’s sobs were uncontrollable now as she fell forward crying into her lap. “I didn’t deserve you, Andrew!”
“Helen, please calm down. I’m having a hard time understanding–“ I attempted to regain some control of the situation, but was failing miserably.
~~ Of course all we did was talk about her! That’s the only reason I let that bum have the time of day with me when he started flirting. I’d been in love with Helen for years at that point. I’d stay late when she stayed late, I tried talking with her, even invited her for coffee sometimes. But nothing. When she wasn’t obsessing over an account, she was off vacationing with Andrew. ~~
I could hear her spit out his name like it tasted sour in her mouth.
~~ Everyone in the office knew he cheated on her. Everyone but Helen. God, he didn’t deserve her. She was brilliant. I mean really brilliant. She walked into a room and just shined. I wasn’t the only one in love with her either, by the way. All the men would’ve killed to be with her, and some of the other women too. The ones that weren’t in love with her wanted to be her. ~~
“Sheena, stop for just a second–“ I pinched the bridge of my nose. Between Helen’s wailing and Sheena’s yelling, I could feel a migraine coming on.
“Andrew, I want you to know, I quit my job.” Helen sat up, snot and tears running down her splotchy face. “I also paid to have a memorial bench installed at our favorite park. You know the one we used to take Bowser to when he was a pup? Before I got the promotion at work–“ Her mouth opened as she tilted her head back in another howl of agony.
~~ What I did with Andrew… just so you know, Claudia… was for Helen. Always for Helen. I only slept with him one time, and that’s just cause we’d had a dozen or so dates and he was getting sick of talking about his wife while he was trying to get laid. I basically had to if I wanted to keep getting intel about her. Plus, I had always known it would have to happen. I wanted her to catch him. Then maybe she’d leave him! I sprayed extra perfume on thinking he’d go home smelling like another woman. I left an earring on the floor of his car once. I would call their house and hang up at all hours of the night. I never wanted her to know it was me though. That idiot didn’t delete his texts and boom! She knew about the affair, and I was pegged as a home wrecker. Meanwhile, she’s sitting here thinking she drove him to be a cheating bastard and I’m dead because of the son of a bitch! Where’s the justice, Claudia? ~~
“Enough!” I yelled, slamming my hands on the table rattling the teacups in their saucers.
Helen clutched at her chest, gripping onto the wedding ring dangling from the gold chain around her neck, looking up at me with wide eyes. The only sound was the crackling fire in the fireplace and the heavy rain outside. I let my head drop for a second while I clutched the edge of the table, taking a few calming breaths before I looked back up. “What exactly do you want me to tell her?” I turned my head to the side, knowing Sheena was standing there listening.
“Are you talking to my Andrew?” Helen whispered, scooting to the edge of her chair.
Sheena sighed loudly. I could picture her leaning her elbow on the mantel, eyes closed as she massaged her temple in thought.
~~ She’ll never love me for who I am. Not now, and maybe she never would have. But the reality is, I’m dead. And I don’t totally know how this whole death thing works, but as long as I’m able to, I want to stay with Helen. ~~
“Alright, so–?” I raised my eyebrows.
“Oh, tell him that his mother gave me all his old baseball cards. I sleep with them under my pillow sometimes.” Helen whispered, smiling and staring up at the ceiling.
~~ So, if I’m gonna stick around I need her to not be afraid of me. And I also need her to not be a sniveling mess. Let her believe I’m Andrew. Tell her I regret the affair, and that I’m the one who should be sorry. That she was a wonderful wife and I admired her work ethic. Tell her I was intimidated by her success, but still was crazy in love with her. That I was weak for needing attention and that I’m sorry for not being stronger. That I’m sorry for not being the husband she deserved. ~~
I turned my head to face the fireplace. “You sure?”
~~ Yes, I’m sure. It’s the only way for her to find some damn peace. And she deserves it, Claudia. Spending my afterlife watching her shine, the way she used to, doesn’t seem so bad. Oh! And tell her to go back to work. ~~
I looked down at Helen, still sitting there clutching her dead husband’s wedding ring, cheeks tear stained, and nose red. She looked at me with hope as she waited for me to deliver my message. Sheena was likely right, this was the only way for Helen to feel real peace. But it didn’t seem fair. Sheena was sacrificing a lot, glorifying and pretending to be Helen’s no-good husband, knowing it meant she herself would always be the one blamed for his death and Helen’s heartache. Ultimately, though, it was Sheena’s choice.
“Helen, your husband says he loves you very much. That it was never your fault. He loved how passionate and driven you were at work. He admired you. He regrets his moment of weakness with Sheena and he’s so very very sorry for hurting you. He wishes he could take it all back. But he promises to always be with you. And he wants you to go back to work so he can watch you shine and be happy.” Helen covered her mouth as more tears began to fall. “He… he really said that?” “Yes.” I nodded.
~~Call her ‘pickle berry’. He used to always call her that. Some weird inside joke from their college days or something, I don’t know. ~~
I paused, shooting an incredulous look towards the fireplace, before shaking my head and turning back to Helen. “He says you will forever be his pickle berry.”
Helen’s eyes got wide as her hand fell slowly towards her lap. “My God, he really is here.”