“So, you wish to commune with the dead?”
I watch Andrew nod and can’t resist an eye roll. I’ve watched him try five other mediums with varying degrees of credibility: two with booths in state fairs (extremely unhelpful), one based in the basement of a hippie novelty shop (slightly more believable, but not by much), and two who had ads in the paper, this being one of them. Her face is as wrinkled as a prune, and her fingers are unsettlingly long and bony. She extends them to Andrew, and hesitatingly, he takes her hands.
“I, uh…I have one of her possessions,” he says nervously. The medium shakes her head.
“I do not need a possession. I only need to know the name of the one with whom you wish to speak,” she whispers to him softly, her face glimmering in the candlelight. It beats me why she needs all the lights to be off, or why she commanded that Andrew come during the “twilight hours” or whatever. In my experience, ghosts are available for chatting at any time of day.
Andrew gives her the name. I’m sitting in the chair between them, watching the proceeding silently. Neither one of them ever glances in my direction, which, to be perfectly honest, doesn’t exactly bode well for the séance.
“Can you describe the deceased to me?” the medium asks in a wavering voice, barely above a whisper.
In my opinion, it sounds like she’s fishing for information to lie about, but Andrew obediently begins rattling off traits.
“She was kinda short,” he starts off, and I almost laugh. “Shorter than me, anyway. She had reddish hair, she wore it short, and she had lots of freckles.”
“What was her personality like?” the medium queried, and I frown, standing and wishing I could walk out of the room. She’s clearly a flake, or else she wouldn’t need all of this bullshit information. I turn towards the window and stare at the street, creepily devoid of cars at this time of night.
“She was very…confident,” Andrew says delicately, his voice sounding thicker than it had before and making my chest ache. “She was super dedicated to her career, never wanted kids, was always looking for the next opportunity to grow…she was nomadic, hated being in any one spot for a long time. We moved three times last year. She was stubborn, too; always thought her way was the right way.” I hear him stop and take a shuddering breath. “I’m sure she’s still mad at me….”
That almost breaks me. I don’t want to turn and see him all broken down, especially not in front of a stranger. I’ve already watched him dissolving into misery every night before he goes to sleep, when he thinks nobody can hear him. I don’t know how much more of that I can take.
Suddenly, the room feels much colder, so much so that even I notice it. I shiver and step closer to the door, wishing like hell that I could leave the room. This whole environment reeks of despair.
“Don’t think you can walk away from me, girl,” the medium says in an amused-sounding voice.
I freeze, my brow furrowing. She can’t possibly mean me. No one’s spoken to me since I got here.
“Are you gonna turn around or keep looking at that door?”
I turn slowly and find the medium’s eyes locked steadfast on me. She smiles in a way that could be friendly but that strikes me as smug. Poor Andrew is looking everywhere, his eyes roving the room like mad.
“Can you see her? Is she here?” Dried tears are caked to his cheeks, and I have to look away before it shatters me.
“Short redheaded stubborn woman, right?” the medium asks, her tone implying that she finds all of this amusing.
“Yes, that’s her. And you’d be able to see her too, if she joined the spirit circle.”
I haven’t heard that one yet before. Feeling intrigued (and, despite my better judgement, a little hopeful myself), I walk towards the medium and sit back down where I had been before. Without hesitation, she lets go of one of Andrew’s hands and takes mine. I can’t feel her body heat, but her hand feels solid in mine, like I’m holding a statue’s hand.
Immediately, Andrew’s eyes flick to my face, and his jaw drops. I stare back at him disbelievingly. There’s no way he can see me. I’ve been trying to get his attention for months to no avail. I’d written it off as impossible.
He’s silent for a long time, and I don’t know what to say either. I look at the table, feeling scrutinized and embarrassed. God, and here I’d sat for weeks on end fantasizing about what I’d say to him if I could just talk to him one last time, and now all of those words have left me dry.
“You’re…you’re wearing my jacket,” he manages to squeak out.
I look up, confused and feeling a little like laughing. He and I are both technically wearing the same beat-up suede jacket that Andrew has had since college. He’d retrieved it from the morgue after they found me, along with my keys and purse and other stuff the state didn’t have the right to possess.
“Well of course I am,” I say like it’s obvious, because it was to me. “I’m wearing all the clothes I died in.”
The words seem to hit him physically, and I feel like a jerk. Died in. Because I died. Like a fucking idiot. And he’s still blaming himself for it, no matter how hard I tried to knock over a plate or talk to him through a spirit board or in some spectral way convince him that it was not his fault.
“Wendy, I….” I see him swallow, his Adam’s apple bobbing with the effort to keep it together. Andrew had always been a crybaby, and I’d teased him for it, but now it’s making it very hard for me to keep myself together. “…I’m so sorry.”
“Stop saying you’re sorry,” I practically beg him. “Please, I’ve listened to you say it every night, and it’s driving me crazy.”
“You’ve been here all this time?!”
“Yeah. I’ve been following you around since the crash.”
Ah, dammit. I watch him wince again. Why, oh why did I mention the fucking crash?!
“I didn’t mean to say that. I—”
“No, it’s fine,” he croaks, “you have the right to talk about how you died.” He sighs, his shoulders slumped, though he’s kept his eyes locked on mine as though he’s terrified to look away. “It’s my fault you were out that night anyway.”
“No, it’s not,” I insist. “Stop saying that.”
“But it is! You wouldn’t’ve been mad if I hadn’t—!” Suddenly, his eyes flick over to the medium, who’s been watching the whole proceeding with that same tiny smile this whole time. He doesn’t want to say it all in front of a stranger, and I can’t blame him.
“Look, Drew…,” I say softly, and he looks back to me again. “I was mad at you. I felt…I felt like I wasn’t good enough, or…I dunno, stupid things.”
“You had the right,” he tells me, his voice shaking. “I was a dick, Wendy, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I forgive you.” I try to sound as sincere as I possibly can, so that he can stop torturing himself every night, and so I can stop listening to it. “I mean that, Drew. I forgive you.”
He gulps again, still staring at me, his expression unchanging. I can tell he doesn’t know if I’m serious or not.
“I know she’s been calling you,” I say, even more quietly. “Why haven’t you picked up?”
“Because she ruined our marriage,” he says, louder and more passionately. Apparently he doesn’t care if the medium sees our dirty laundry anymore.
“Did she know you were married?” I ask. I never got the chance to ask while I was alive. I was too busy yelling at him and calling him terrible names to even consider what the Other Woman was like.
“Yeah, she knew,” he says sheepishly, his cheeks reddening and his eyes drifting to the tabletop. “She felt weird about it, but…I dunno, I wasn’t thinking. I was so upset that you were always gone that I….”
My job had demanded that I go to frequent meetings in other states, whereas Drew was a teacher and needed to stay home. I nod along, trying not to let it sting. There’s no reason to hold a grudge now that I’m dead.
“What’s her name?” I ask, fighting to keep my voice even.
“Victoria,” he answers after a moment, still not looking at me. “She’s a guidance counselor.”
When he doesn’t look back up at me, I put my hand on his cheek, not entirely sure that he’ll feel it sitting there but hoping that he does anyway.
To my surprise, he looks up, his eyes wide.
“Is that you?” he asks, and I nod, not yet trusting myself to speak.
He doesn’t feel warm, either; it’s like I’m touching a slab of stone. But I don’t tell him that. I don’t want to ruin this for him any more than I already have.
“Drew,” I say in the firmest voice I can. “I want you to do three things for me.”
“Um, okay,” he says, looking nervous.
“One, I need you to forgive yourself. No more of this staying-up-all-night-and-feeling-like-an-asshole shit.”
“No. If I hadn’t been so immature and walked out on you, I wouldn’t’ve crashed my car.”
He sighs, as if forcing himself to relax. “Okay, fine. What’s the next one?”
Finally, progress. “Two, I want you to call Victoria back.”
“But I don’t—”
“If you don’t want to be with her that’s fine, but you shouldn’t freeze her out of your life just because you feel guilty about what happened to me,” I cut him off, because if I don’t say all of this now I might not work up the nerve to say it later. “Trust me. I’ve had a lot of time to myself to think about this, and I don’t care that you cheated on me. I really don’t. I forgive you.”
He shakes his head, looking away. “All right,” he says, almost bitterly. “Now what’s the last one?”
I gulp hard, feeling my chest tighten. I almost can’t even bring myself to say it.
“I need you to let me go.”
He looks up at me, seeming both confused and sad. “But….”
“For two reasons,” I go on, not wanting to hear what he has to say because it’ll only weaken my resolve. “One, because if you don’t, it’s going to emotionally haunt you for the rest of your life. Two, because I’ll be physically haunting you for the rest of your life.”
“What do you mean?”
I look away, feeling selfish. “I…I don’t have any proof, but…I don’t think I can move on until I’m at peace,” I say in the calmest voice I can manage. “And I can’t be at peace until I know you’re going to be fine without me.”
He shakes his head, scrunching his eyes shut, as though he’s in enormous pain. I resist the urge to apologize or take my words back. I know he needs this. I know I need this.
“But I love you,” he chokes out, still not looking at me. I bite my lower lip to keep myself from crying.
“I love you too,” I whisper. “I love you so much, Drew. Which is why I want to see you happy again.”
He covers his eyes with his remaining hand, massaging his forehead.
“I’m begging you,” I go on. “Please. Stop going to mediums. Stop isolating yourself every night. I can’t move on knowing that you’re going to spend your whole life feeling responsible for something that wasn’t your fault.”
He doesn’t answer, nor does he remove his hand from his face. I’m starting to lose hope.
“I’d listen to her, if I were you,” the medium chimes in, making both of us jump. “Don’t live your life trying to change the past, Andrew.”
He glares at her as if to say stay out of this, to which she merely shrugs and smiles.
“And now that I have your attention,” she continues, “it would be prudent of me to inform you that I can only hold this spirit circle for a few more minutes without losing consciousness.”
“Why didn’t you say something before?” Andrew asks, looking horrified.
“I didn’t want to worry you,” she says placidly, as though it’s obvious.
Andrew looks back at me, wide-eyed. “I don’t want to lose you,” he says thickly, as though the words themselves terrify him.
I shake my head, my heart feeling heavier by the moment. “You aren’t,” I reply, wanting to wipe the tears from his eyes. “I’m always with you. Literally. I can’t leave your side.”
“Really? You follow me around everywhere?”
“I don’t really have any choice,” I say, laughing a little. “It’s like I’m tethered to you.”
He smiles a little, but it seems forced. “You know what I mean,” he says more softly. “I don’t want to lose you. You’re the love of my life. I just can’t…I can’t go on without….”
“Shh! Yes you can!” I assert, my brow furrowing. “You’re barely thirty, Drew! There will be other women. There will be other loves of your life.”
“But I can’t just—”
“Please, Drew.” I didn’t want it to come to this, but… “I lost everything. I won’t get the chance to live the rest of my life. Don’t waste yours on me.”
He opens his mouth to reply, but suddenly the medium lets go of both of our hands with a cry of what sounds like pain, and instantly the room goes back to its normal temperature.
“I’m sorry,” she huffs out, as though she’s been running. “That sapped much of my strength….”
Andrew looks like he might either cry or hit her, but I watch him take a deep breath and say, “It’s okay. Thank you for that…really, I mean that. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, son. You should take her advice, you know,” she adds sagely, color returning to her cheeks. “I’ve watched dozens of men and women over the years waste away at the graves of their loved ones.”
It’s a bit of a graphic description in my opinion. Andrew doesn’t comment on it. “How much do I owe you?”
“Whatever you feel is a fair price.”
Andrew leaves fifty dollars on the table, shakes her hand, and walks out the front door. I follow behind him like a dog on a leash. We both button up our brown suede jackets. I’d grabbed it off the railing on my way out the door to my car, not realizing that it was his. I’d been planning on leaving him that night. I’m glad I didn’t tell him that during the séance.
I miss him. I miss him every single day, even though technically I’m right beside him. But things are nowhere near the same. He’ll grow old and remarry and have kids someday, and I want that for him. It would mean everything to me to see him happy again. But it aches knowing that I won’t have the same.
He gets into his car, and I follow, easing my spectral ass into the passenger seat. He buckles up (smart man; maybe if I had remembered to do that, I’d still be alive right now) and starts the car, filling it up with warm air. I wait for him to pull away from the curb, but he doesn’t.
He stares through the windshield with faraway eyes. I wish I could tell what he’s thinking. I fiddle restlessly in my seat, waiting for him to do something.
“Can you hear me?” he says loudly, still staring ahead.
“…Uh, yeah,” I reply. He doesn’t react to me at all.
“I guess if you can, I can’t hear you,” he decides sadly, looking back down at his hands. “But if you are here, then…I’m doing this for you. Not for me. I just want you to know that.”
Puzzled, I watch him reach into his pocket and take out his phone, raising it up to his ear. After a few moments, I see him smile a little.
“Hey, uh, Victoria?” he says nervously, his free hand twitching nervously in his lap. “Yeah, it’s Andrew, hi…nah, I just got out of a meeting with my, uh, my therapist.” He listens for a moment, and I watch a smile light up his whole face. It’s infectious; I smile back. Even if he won’t admit it, he really does like her.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, it’s just been hard…of course I know that, I just needed…y’know, a bit of time alone.” He swallows and looks back up again, seeming to have made some sort of vow. “But I’d really like to, y’know, get together and talk sometime. Would that be—? Oh, tomorrow? Uh, yeah, I’m free after school. You wanna get coffee?”
My smile widens. Already, I feel lighter—more buoyant, like I could raise up to the roof. I’m not all the way untethered, though, not yet; Andrew still has some growing to do.
Still, I watch him laugh and chat, putting the car in gear and pulling out onto the road. It’s not perfect yet, but it feels pretty good.