by Dash Owens
To pass the early, empty hours, the ghosts went over to Antonio’s house. Antonio lived in the brownstone he died in 59 years prior. He was exactly what a ghost who lived with his great-grandchildren should be: toothy, broad smile with a poof of inconsistently thick grey hair. He wore the frayed beige apron he died in over a chunky knitted sweater with jeans and red slippers. He had a heart attack midway through a batch of chocolate chip cookies, which meant the great-grandchildren (who were adults) always commented on the persistent aroma of sugar and butter in the kitchen. (“You probably smell like something, too,” Edward told Maeve. “Weird ghost characteristic.) Antonio was different from the other ghosts Maeve had met for one specific reason: he was a poltergeist. Antonio had the ability to enter televisions, phones, and radios around the house — a convenient skill he used to regularly DVR shows for the ghosts to watch at 4 a.m. (He once even claimed to have entered a charging cell phone via electrical socket to send a text but none of the ghosts ever verified it.)
Usually, the ghosts congregated in the basement around a thirty-two inch flat screen tv to watch that week’s episode of “The Other Side with Edgar Stewart.” Stewart sashayed across the stage in midtown Manhattan in front of a live studio audience offering exaggerated nods and hugs to the grieving. His thick Scottish accent delivered powerful connections to lost loved ones, and he smoothed out any wrinkles of skepticism with hopeful ellipses. (“It is…oh dear…your son is afraid to tell you…no, John, you can…yes, I believe you can tell her…give her….yes, just give her a chance…” “I know what he wants to say,” the mother cried out. “He doesn’t have to be afraid. I know about the stolen money.”) In the corner of the stage stood Tiresius — Stewart’s assistant. He wore a simple button-up tucked into grey slacks under a navy jacket. His features were mostly indistinct on television since most of his face was covered with oversized black spectacles.
Downtown Brooklyn’s ghosts gathered to watch the theatrics for one reason: sometimes it was all real. Every once in a while, a true ghost stood on stage alongside Stewart and Tiresius. In between new tapings, the ghosts analyzed the recordings. They hadn’t met any of these beings, even though they seemed to appear 15 stops away uptown. It was during these group unpackings when Maeve started to learn more about what it meant to be a ghost, or at least what the ghosts thought it meant to be a ghost.
“How is it that we can see a ghost on television that no one else can? Only the clerks can see us, and we’re not substantial. I don’t get it.” Maeve asked the question but Belinda, Junie, and Antonio ignored it. At the moment, they were focused on a ghost appearance from two years prior. A man named Clint who almost seemed to have a shine to him much like the light reflecting on a metal car door.
“We moost be brighter frum the stayge lights,” Junie observed.
Edward shrugged at Maeve. “There’s probably an explanation.”
“No no,” said Antonio. “He must still have some business with that lady he’s talking to. His girlfriend from college? That light right there is passion.”
Back at Court Street, Maeve held on to one of Antonio’s words. “What did Antonio mean when he said the ghost must still have some business?”
Belinda, Junie, and Edward immediately began to laugh while Maeve remembered publicly stumbling over the words stick and alarm in first grade.
“Aw shash, we’re be-en mean,” Junie snorted.
“No, sorry,” Edward swallowed, “it’s just…I guess we all thought it was obvious…we’re ghosts.”
Maeve stared incredulously at everyone.
“And what is that supposed to mean to me?”
“Ghosts…ghosts have… you’ve seen ghost movies before, right? Read books about ghosts? Ghosts have unfinished business. But there are different kinds of ghosts and different kinds of unfinished business…” Edward looked at Junie and Belinda with an expression she recognized from her academically fraught childhood: they thought she was stupid; if not stupid, at least slow. Maeve always thought slow was worse than stupid. Edward sighed and went on. “Like…people who die in a rage. We call them “Umbers.” They need to seek revenge before they can pass over to…”
“So Hamlet’s dad?” Maeve interrupted. She was posturing now.
“Right, right right right. Then there are the white ladies, the ones who died with grief. Like jilted lovers grief.”
“Doesn’t that seem a bit sexist?”
“Men can be white ladies too, but there are fewer of them. Not my fault socialization transcends death. And poltergeists like Antonio – they’re connected to a place. Antonio won’t be able to move on until he can leave the house. But most ghosts are the same — they have some kind of unfinished business they must complete before passing over.”
Maeve took a beat.
“So you all have unfinished business?” She stretched those last two words to emphasize her skepticism.
“Well…” Edward raised both his hands in an exaggerated shrug.
“But then what happens when you’re done with your business? You go on to an afterlife? You see God at the heart of a big ass flower?”
Belinda and Junie exchanged a look.
“Junebug, I never get what shez sain.”
“Shash, Bellie.” Junie’s tone changed. Maeve couldn’t help hearing her mother’s voice. “Maeve, sweetheart, we don’ know. I know I need ta talk to my son. I misst his show becuz we died, and…I just know whad I need to do. You will too.”
“I’m realistically optimistic,” offered Edward, his voice light and bouncy. “It’s probably because I never finished my novel, and I really have no intention of doing so.”
Belinda was quiet for a moment, and then she smiled at Maeve as people do when they don’t want someone to think they pity them. “I don’ know any unfinished stuff I need ta do since I never got around ta finisheen much, but least we ain’t alone, eh?”
It never occurred to Maeve before: she wasn’t alone. Maeve couldn’t shake the thought though… These weren’t the people she was supposed to be with. When she accidentally stumbled into death, she threw away everything she had — her friends, family, books, food, experience. She now existed in a world where even her sensations (or lack thereof) were foreign. She was the princess on top of a hundred mattresses discomforted by some far-away knotty sense that nothing was what it should be.