cover
art & g.narrative
fiction & poetry
article & interview
cover
art &
g.narrative
fiction & poetry
article & interview
about
archives
current html | pdf
submissions
vol iv, issue 4 < ToC
Ghost House
by
Sara Connell
previous next

Skull onTales Never
DeskTold
Ghost House
by
Sara Connell
previous

Skull on
Desk




next

Tales Never
Told
Ghost House
by
Sara Connell
(previous)
Skull on
Desk


(next)
Tales Never
Told
previous next

Skull on Tales Never
DeskTold
previous

Skull on
Desk




next

Tales Never
Told
(previous)
Skull on
Desk


(next)
Tales Never
Told
Ghost House  by Sara Connell
Ghost House
 by Sara Connell
The thing about it is," John whispered to Caitlin, "your commission would cover the down payment. I could renovate this place and double our investment."

"Absolutely," the realtor said, eavesdropping. She had blonde hair with expensive highlights and wore navy ballet flats with a gold Tory Burch insignia on the toe. "Three bedroom, en-suite master bath with dual sinks, original Tudor design. The ghost is part of the opportunity." The realtor placed a dime on the floor. The coin rolled toward the closet and landed at the south side of the room. Were the warped floors also part of the opportunity?

"The thing about it is," Caitlin wanted to reply, "a ghost house is a terrible idea." John always told people what the thing about it was. She'd thought, while they dated, that his phrase was sweet, part of his unique snowflake, until their engagement party in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where she found all the men in John's family started conversations this way. Now, every time John said it, she saw Steelers jerseys and rusted Chavels up on cinderblocks and heard the slight k on the end of thing--the way John's Polish uncles spoke.

Caitlin walked toward the closet. Slanted floors, heavy oak doors. Stained glass windows. Nothing at all like freshly built single level houses with monochromatic kitchens and gallery white walls she wanted. The realtor tapped the dark brown windowpane with a polished red fingernail. "Whoever takes this place will make a mint."

John announced that this bedroom would be the nursery and the realtor winked. There was a third bedroom too, which John would claim. "Built-ins," he said. He waved his hands in the direction of a floor-to-ceiling wall of walnut, bookcases that would house his collection of die-cut replica cars. Caitlin had lugged boxes of the cars up four flights of stairs when they'd moved into their condo. British racing green Aston Martins with leather belts strapped across their engines; a pair of '65 Mustangs, apple red; a '57 Chevy Bel Air, patent-leather black, with shark fin tips sticking off the back; and John's favorite, a silver and blue '63 Corvette split-window coupe with snowcap-white leather seats that John's father had given him and that had moved with him to every place he'd lived since childhood.

Was the ghost seething inside the closet, waiting to unleash a spray of human entrails? Did real ghosts even speak? When Caitlin tried to imagine the ghost, she could only conjure a white mist or some kind of gassy green animation with a dragon's head, like from a children's cartoon. She held her hand over the knob. "Attic," the realtor said and thumbed the air toward the ceiling. "According to the inspector, she never comes out." Caitlin walked to the window. She. A female ghost. A blue jay the size of Caitlin's palm tapped on the glass pane of the bedroom window. The face was tiny and fierce, framed by a black mane. Caitlin watched its beak peck the glass.

The realtor walked them through the kitchen (brown everywhere, awful), the unfinished basement, a sprawling yard. "This will be Caitlin's studio," John said when they returned again through the front door. The room was wide and deep with a low, beamed ceiling. Long walls with a surface area as big as their current condo.

"Plenty of room for your stone, all your tools," John said, rubbing his palms. "No more hauling marble up and down to a storage area."

She'd have her big studio and John would have the hundred-year-old pipes, old bathrooms, outdated kitchen--all for John to repair, John who'd never fixed so much as a toilet. All this while, if John had his way, they had a baby.

"Edward, Randall, Nythia . . ." John had listed all their friends to her last week. "All pregnant or have toddlers already," he said, as though procreation were a running race and they were behind. "You said you wanted this--big house, the kids."

Had she said it? She'd more not said she didn't want it.

There were no other ghost homes on the market in the neighborhood, the agent said. For weeks, this was all John had talked about. He shoved newspaper articles over Caitlin's coffee cup in the morning. The ghost who saved a two-year-old from drowning in the family's pool in New Jersey. One of the Lauder heiresses moving into a ghost house on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He printed out studies that showed ghosts helped extend the life of the elderly. Free, constant companions for octogenarians, without the mess of pets.

Unless someone in one of the new homes died tragically and quickly, Caitlin and John's would be one of only two ghost houses in the area. The agent left them alone to talk.

"The thing about it is, we'd be fools not to take it," John said.

*     *     *
The ghost did not like Caitlin, she could tell right away. It waited until John left for Home Depot and Caitlin was sitting in front of a four-by-four-foot slab of deep peach Tennessee marble she'd chosen for the Powell commission.

The whole project felt ill-fated. Mr. Lamott, the Powells' manager, insisted on an in-person studio visit with Caitlin in the condo before wiring the deposit. He wore a black suit and a pencil-thin black tie and had tiny teeth. Looked like he wouldn't mind killing a person with a baseball bat. A sound came then, like a body dropping to the floor above Caitlin's head. Caitlin gripped the end of the table and braced herself for the ceiling to crack. The metal shelves along the wall shook just a bit, like a train had rumbled by. The noise came again and then over and over. Thump. Thump. Thump. Caitlin pictured the ghost lifting and smashing something--like a large brown medicine ball with leather sections and white stitching.

She slumped into the purple couch she'd moved over from the condo. Something was wrong with her work anyway. In the condo, with her work tumbling into their living room, her tools in a white bucket near the bookcase, she still felt like a college student, no pressure to create a perfect piece. She was unused to the press releases, commissioned assignments, gallery deadlines. For the past seven years, she'd taught art classes at the community college. Tended bar at the Brasserie two nights a week to make her half of the rent. Watching faces lengthen like Modigliani figures in the gold gilded mirrors, as she skewered olives onto sticks, the espresso machine hissing in the background, emptied her. Left her open to talk to the stone the next day. The reality that her abstract figures of Persephone and Nyx and Asteria were selling now for $5,000 then $10,000 then $25,000 astonished and terrified her.

And now $60,000 for the Powells'.

In the small condo, the steel point, her favorite chisel, had felt like a long, sixth finger. She'd hold the point against the side of a new piece of stone and the stone told her where to hammer and cut. Today, she'd walked around the marble for two hours, the ghost dropping that thing above her head, and stroked her palms over the dusty rock--striations of pink and puce, like sand on the surface of Mars--and no vision had come. Her fingers felt like knobs.

*     *     *
She cooked peas and plain pasta with butter for dinner, like a child. John complained that she wouldn't even sit with him while he ate the filet he'd bought at the organic butcher he'd found on twenty-sixth street. "When you eat meat the fear from the animal at the time it was killed transfers into your body," Caitlin said. She'd told John facts like this so many times. To create her art, she needed to keep her energy light, her vibration high.

At nine she lay alone on the bald mattress, too tired to pull the sheets from the dryer, while John watched TV downstairs. He'd already unpacked his free weights, their kitchen appliances. His model cars were dusted and positioned in order of value on the black shelves in the extra bedroom. When her eyes closed she saw the stacks of boxes lining a wall of her studio, shaming her. Art books, rifflers, rasps, chisels, silicon wedges, anti-vibration gloves, sketch pads, trays of charcoals that had likely broken in transit. She heard a laugh track and then the chimes from the introduction to a crime show. She'd done nothing all day and yet she was exhausted.

All night, there was howling in the attic. Terrible, retching noises, like listening to someone vomit.

"I slept fine," John said the next morning. "I just tune it out."

*     *     *
Caitlin pressed an ice pack to the side of her head and walked across the street to the other house the realtor had said also had a ghost.

"Oh no, our ghost does nothing like that," the neighbor, whose name was Tonya, said when Caitlin told her about the thumping and howling. "We'd never live in a ghostless house again." She poured iced tea from a pitcher with lemons floating in the middle and handed the glass to Caitlin.

Tonya's ghost was respectful of the family--magnanimous, even. He strolled the house at night, cleaned up messes, fluffed their pillows, arranged flowers in a vase if they laid some out on the counter.

"He helped blow out the candles at Amina's birthday party last year."

Caitlin watched Tonya's children climb up the beams of a wooden playhouse in the backyard like cats. "Why do only some ghosts remain in a house?" she asked. "People die at home all the time."

Tonya's eyes brightened. "There's so much to learn when you get a ghost. For instance, if the ghost attaches to a house, the people they left behind can visit one day a year," Tonya said. "Everyone expects visiting day to be Halloween, or November first. But it's May fifteenth."

Twelve people from Tonya's ghost's family had shown up the previous May. "I didn't see anybody visit your ghost, though," Tonya said. "So sad for her."

*     *     *
John came home the next day with flowers wrapped in brown paper and cellophane: pumpkin-orange petals, stamens covered in pollen. "I know how much nature inspires you," he said. Caitlin filled a vase half-heartedly. The ghost would wait for them to go to sleep, then shred them in the garbage disposal. While Caitlin visited Tonya, the ghost had dumped her sketchbook in the bathroom sink and left the water running. Caitlin had blown each page dry with a hair dryer but the pencil had blurred into the paper so far that she could no longer see any individual lines.

Her phone pinged. Mr. Lamott, the Powells' house manager, requesting an update. She began to compose a text and stopped. He'd given her four weeks; only two remained. She turned her phone face down on the glass table John had purchased from a consignment shop. The piece must be at least three feet high, Mr. Lamott had said. To grace the foyer of the Powells' new Greenwich house. Caitlin pushed the marble out of the studio and into the living room on a dolly and tried to recreate the atmosphere of the condo, with its cramped furniture and clean white light spilling in over onto the carpet. The light was yellow and clouded here. The stone refused to speak. She'd forced herself to make at least one cut before John returned, into the left side of the stone, and instantly regretted it. The hole gaped like a pulled tooth.

The ghost moved over the living room ceiling, right where Caitlin sat, and began to drop the medicine ball above her head.

*     *     *
"I can't take it," Caitlin said when John returned from a workshop on plumbing.

He shooed her away with his hands. "The thing about it is," John said. "The house is getting more valuable by the day." He handed her a glossy magazine he'd plucked from the rack at the grocery store. A Cambridge study showed large quantities of dark matter passed through the human body weekly and were now thought to be the cause of seven strains of the most common cancers, as well as dementia and Parkinson's disease. Ghosts, being transparent themselves, and unable to radiate, absorbed 80 percent of the dark matter in a home. Like a cosmic air purifier, they could help humans live an average of ten additional years. A decade more with your loved ones was now a slogan on real estate billboards. Ghost houses were selling before they were on the market, for tens of thousands above the asking price. Longer life and a million dollars if they stayed even one year, John reasoned. Surely replacing a sketchpad and putting up with some noise in exchange for all this prosperity was worth it.

"I'm much more interested in what's going on here than in the ghost anyway," John said, squeezing Caitlin's thigh. He showed her an app he'd downloaded that would chime when she was ovulating.

Caitlin imagined herself wrestling a stroller down the stairs while a ghost flew around and in front of her, blocking her way, flinging cartons of formula onto the floor. Everyone said marriage ruined sex, but she worried deeply that motherhood killed art. All the insatiable giving of oneself, one's time, creativity, the body itself, energy draining out like a loose valve. Caitlin excused herself, walked past the bathroom and into the cold diesel plume of the garage. She reached for a foil packet in the glove compartment of her Buick, swallowed a blue pill, small as a comma, and went and made love with John.

*     *     *
"Maybe we should see an endocrinologist," John said. "We could afford it now. Vijay and Nythia had twins with IVF." His eyes lit like sparklers. Twins would be even better than one child, he said. One pregnancy, two children. If she kept taking commissions, they could afford private school. Such abundance.

That night, the ghost wailed from 5:00 to 8:00 a.m. and Caitlin felt insane from lack of sleep.

"The thing about it is, we can fix this. I'll pick you up some noise-canceling headphones," John said when he left on his errands. Later, he was going to nail up Smartwall in the basement, a kind of plywood over insulation the salesperson at Lowes had told him was easy to install.

Caitlin stared at the marble lump. The piece was now a four-foot-tall slab with stumps for arms and a misshapen head. Mr. Lamott had left two more messages and asked for a photo to demonstrate her progress. Caitlin had let the phone battery leak until the screen went black.

Outside the window, she saw a white van pull up at Tonya's house. A large insect--black, with pincers and beetle eyes--covered the flat-paneled side of the van. The driver wore a grey jumpsuit and carried a canister with a black hose. Caitlin waited until he came back out of Tonya's house before she accosted him.

"Do your chemicals work on non-living things?"

The man spun toward Caitlin's house. "I thought I saw something," he said. "Up there." He pointed to the attic.

Caitlin pulled her shoulders up to her ears. Could the ghost hear her way across the street? She thought she heard something crashing down the stairs. She dropped her voice and whispered urgently, "Can you remove other entities? Poltergeists? Phantasms? You know--" She moved her head back and forth as if shaking snow off her shoulders. "Ghosts?"

The man spit a piece of pink gum into a wrapper. "I get rid of bugs," he said. "I could check your walls for termites."

In Caitlin's absence, to punish her inquiry, the ghost had taken on the kitchen--upturned every cereal box in the pantry onto the floor, making a carpet of oats and flax seed, and unhinged the side kitchen door. The door gap left a hole like a train tunnel, and a flock of squirrels, blue jays, finches, and a robin had entered and shat on and scratched up the new gray slate.

It took Caitlin two hours to clean the mess. She should have left it out for John, but she needed an excuse not to work. Before, she had suffered only from too many ideas; shapes and statues had peeked out behind bushes, in the doorway of the Brasserie, in the air in front of her eyes. She pulled herself into the smallest ball on the floor, tried walking sideways through every doorway, old superstitious behaviors from childhood, and still found only a blank, empty space inside her brain. Cohabitating with the ghost had compromised her.

*     *     *
Caitlin searched online and found an obituary for her house address in the Oban sentinel.

Mary Ann Sinclair, 46. Died from blunt force trauma to the brain.

An intruder had left a size twelve footprint on the hardwood floor of the bedroom before leaping from the room's second-story window. He was never found. Mary Ann's husband, Samuel, and daughter, Anna Lee (11), had been forty-five minutes away, in the next town, at a basketball game.

Caitlin climbed the steps to the attic door. The wood was so old it was almost blue--with lots of white in it--like an illustration of attic stairs in a book instead of real stairs.

She heard nothing behind the thin door.

"Maybe I can help find your family," Caitlin said--loudly enough, she hoped, to be heard through the wood. She told the ghost about May fifteenth. "It's something about the veil between the living and spirit world being thin at that time. I could locate your husband and daughter? Bring them here?"

The attic possessed a stillness so complete that she could hear, in contrast, the sound of a woodpecker in the large oak five feet away from the house. Caitlin pressed her hands against the wood, which was warm. She felt a wave of humidity that reminded her of standing on a dock in Southern Florida, a salty place her parents took her once on a vacation where she could go nowhere without sand blowing into the creases of her elbows and inside her underwear. She stood thinking about that place--the swordfish pulled out of the sea on bloody hooks and then cooked up on coals brushed with rosemary sprigs. The attic door in front of her chest splintered as if a foot had kicked through the planks. She could see no foot, just the effect of a foot: the smell of sawdust, fractured wood. Caitlin ran. Her scream lodged in the muscles of her throat.

*     *     *
"We have to move," Caitlin said.

"I'll fix the attic door," John said. "The thing about it is I just need six more months to flip the house. I supported you all those years, before you sold anything."

Caitlin's longing for that time came like a hunger. Spacious, empty afternoons, the only sounds the grinder and etching hammer cracking against marble. John arriving home from teaching special ed at Woodrow Wilson elementary. His heart soft from the touch of sticky fingers and tiny palms of the kids that no one else wanted to teach.

*     *     *
Phantosmology was a burgeoning field. Duke's Rhine Center had been open for years, but Harvard offered a master's program now, and Amherst, Stanford, and UCLA had followed. Caitlin took her laptop into the bathroom and filled out a form and paid ninety-seven dollars online.

The report from Dr. Moore at Southern Cal arrived in her inbox the following morning.

The only way to remove the ghost is to do a scourge. The spirit disintegrates into sub-matter and is sucked through a tube into a container that would be disposed of via satellite in space. The process is unpleasant. The ghost is pulled apart bit by bit. We believe they feel the kind of pain a living person would feel. We don't know if the disintegration process alters anything at the level of soul. We're not disposing of a body here, we're working at the level beyond somatic. Because of this, we recommend trying every possible way to co-habitate harmoniously.

Caitlin felt a thump of fear behind her kidneys. She had no interest in this type of responsibility. She cracked the knuckles of her left hand. The ghost was already dead and now, if she did this scourge, Caitlin would be an agent of an action worse than killing: interfering with the immortality of a soul.

A loud stomp in the attic. Plaster from the ceiling fell like snow. A chunk of plaster hit the keyboard and sprayed into Caitlin's face. Caitlin's eyes stung. Her lungs filled up with dust. She ran from the room, leaving the computer to be buried in the ash.

*     *     *
"The thing about it is, a scourge will ruin the investment," John said, hurt that she'd ordered the report from Dr. Moore.

"If I don't finish this commission, we won't pay our mortgage."

John sulked and loudly rearranged his tools on his tool belt. Caitlin wondered if he'd looked up Mary Ann's obituary too. Mary Ann had been attractive, before she died. The kind of olive skin and green eyes of both of the women John dated before Caitlin. A woman from Montana had been on TV last week describing an erotic encounter she'd had with the ghost who lived in her house. Maybe John wanted to fuck Mary Ann.

"Even another four months, we'll make six figures on the sale," John said. His phone beeped like a train. "Ovulating!" the message said, in pink letters. When he shook the phone, confetti rained across the screen.

They made love and John's face went all blurry. Caitlin felt she was fucking the termite exterminator, his chemical stained, nuclear hands scratching her skin. She came hard anyway. After, she went to the garage and swallowed her pill.

*     *     *
The Powells' lawyer sent an email the next morning. We expect delivery on time in seven days per the legal agreement you've signed to this effect.

"Four months," John said. "In four months, we can put the house on the market."

He slid a sandwich and an orange into a paper bag before he left for a kitchen and bath seminar. The seminar was at a hotel near the airport, thirty miles away. "I'll be home late."

*     *     *
Caitlin waited until his car turned off of their street. She pulled a pair of gardening gloves over her hands and chose the large sculpting mallet from her workroom. She slung safety goggles over her eyes. She took the point too, her stone finger, hard enough to crack stone.

On the bookshelves in the study, John displayed his cars in order of financial value. The red Corvette. It was worth two thousand on eBay, he'd bragged to a neighbor who he'd brought over to see the cars.

Caitlin laid the tip of the point on the rosy hood of the engine. Holding her breath, she brought the mallet to the back of the stem. The metal crunched nicely; the steel point punctured the hood and stuck like a vampire stake into the carburetor. Caitlin pulled the point out and went to work on the hood. If a miniature person had been driving the car, they would have been impaled. She placed the car on the floor and slammed the mallet across its body. In under sixty seconds, the car lay like a corpse. She took the cars one by one and smashed their chrome wings, flicked off their fenders, and cut the fins from the chassis. She smashed windshields with the toe of her boot. She felt exhilarated and didn't want to stop. Caitlin checked her phone. She had time. She ran to the garage, got the blowtorch, and burned the Chevy until the seats were charred and the air smelled like ash.

She felt the air to see if she could sense Mary Ann in the room.

"Do you like to watch--or do you just like doing the destroying?" Caitlin yelled.

The floor was littered with busted up fenders and hoods and wheels, a miniature apocalypse. She thought about which would be more disturbing for John: leaving the whole office full of metal chips and the carcasses of his cars, or lining them back up on the shelves, mangled and burned?

*     *     *
John made a sound like a dying bird when he saw the cars.

"We have to move," Caitlin said. "She'll destroy every good thing we have."

John held the charred hood of the Corvette to his heart and lay down with his chest pressed into the floorboards. Caitlin opened the windows. She turned a fan against the shreds of metal to see if she could steer the smell back out into the night. She wondered if she'd moved too quickly. Maybe John would have conceded the house if she'd just smashed one car.

John refused to leave the room. Caitlin felt guilty and aroused. Maybe this was what Mary Ann wanted. To teach Caitlin the power of destruction to make her feel alive. Caitlin's fingers buzzed like she'd shocked herself on a light switch. She'd seen something between the spray of metal chips and model paint. Something quick and darting, like the silver flash of the side of a fish. A shape, a series of shapes. The Powell piece. She knew how to finish it.

*     *     *
She walked John to the bedroom, got him some water, propped him up with all the down pillows. She laid a cool washcloth over his forehead and hummed something like a lullaby by Chopin. She stroked his hair until he was asleep.

Once he was out, Caitlin dragged every plug-in light into the studio. Three floor lamps and two halogen spots from the garage. She threw the point and the mallet in a bucket. She dragged the Tennessee marble back into the workroom and pushed it against the wall. Peach, pink, creamy white--the palette was too weak. She needed something different. She walked around the slabs of marble, which stood unmoving, like gravestones. She'd use the largest piece she had, a ten-by-ten-foot slab of jet grey marble, almost black. She'd use only the pneumatics--the big tools.

The compression pen hissed and spat as it blew sections of marble into dust. In twelve hours, the piece was finished. The entire body created out of geometric shapes, rhombuses, circles, ovals, and squares hanging in perfect tension with each other.

*     *     *
The next morning, Caitlin felt the sensation before she was fully awake: a soreness in the breasts, a feeling of the ground shifting under her, as if she were on a ship. The top of her head itched. It took a minute to place the sensation. A child, waking her mother up in the night. Mommy, I have to--

Caitlin threw up clutching the side of the sink.

She watched as John forced himself out of bed and met the Smartwall delivery van still wearing his pajamas. His skin was green in tone, the light dim behind his eyes, as though his father had died all over again.

Caitlin's dizziness broke at ten. Her mouth watered. She ate a sleeve of bacon, beef jerky, the remnants of the lamb chop John had cooked for himself on Saturday. All these years avoiding this food when what she needed was iron, platelets, sinew and bone. Had Mary Ann loved meat? Had she broken and crushed any of her husband's things when she was still alive? Caitlin left the dishes, brown sauce like dried blood on the plate, in the sink. She wiped her mouth, prowled into the workroom, gripped the compression pen, and held the black marble like a lover.

"Pickup any time," she texted Mr. Lamott.

*     *     *
At three o'clock she vomited all the meat back up. She felt too dizzy to drive and walked the ten blocks to the pharmacy. She remembered her high school health teacher, a squat man, a former wrestler, with cauliflower ears and eyes that receded back into the flesh of his cheeks. "The Pill," he'd read to them from a pamphlet. "Only 99 percent effective."

She used the restroom at the gas station next to the drug store. Cold toilet. Grease smears on the mirror. Her urine hot as steam. Two pink lines on a white stick.

*     *     *
The next morning, Caitlin threw a sheet over the Powell piece. She had promised herself to stand guard until Mr. Lamott sent his van for the sculpture at a time to be determined by text. She imagined the ghost caterwauling into the studio, raising the saw above its invisible head, and splitting the piece in two.

Caitlin sat at the table, moving her hands across her belly. She could not stop giggling.

She called Tonya and asked if she wanted to send the girls over--get out and do some errands or something. Inside her living room, Caitlin braided the girls' hair. Amina and Lakisha, they politely told her their names. Gorgeous little girls with hair like spun caramel that stood out from their faces, gold flecks in their irises. She had never really looked at Tonya's children. Were all children so beautiful?

Caitlin found a bin of her old art supplies: broken crayons, markers with dry tips, a tub of clay almost too dry to use. She moistened the clay with drops of water from the faucet and set up objects on the table--showed them how to make the shape without taking their eyes off the scene before them, to mold the clay without looking at their hands. An anatomy doll, a vase of flowers, clementines rolling off the table.

"Magic!" Lakisha squealed.

Caitlin had never thought she wanted this. That she would feel such joy.

*     *     *
When they left, she threw the lights back on in the workroom and pulled the sheet from the Powell piece. How had she not thought of it before? To reduce the body to pure geometric form?

The baby, she decided, was helping her.

Mr. Lamott sent a text message that the men would be there to pick up the sculpture the following afternoon at four. It was only then, with the floor spot glaring down on the oval, serrated head, that Caitlin recognized the quiet running through the house. When was the last time she'd heard a thwack or a thump? Not since they moved in had the ghost allowed such stillness. The absence of sound unnerved her. She'd read dogs could smell when a woman was pregnant. Could ghosts also detect increases in estrogen, progesterone? Caitlin gripped the silver edge of the sculpting stepladder next to her.

She saw herself at the top of the staircase some morning, her belly round as a beach ball; a warm puff of air behind her neck and then her body in flight, down the staircase to the foyer. Blood clotting between her legs, a dark stain the shape of a lake on the floorboards.

The ghost would take it. Her sculpture, her baby, everything that brought her joy. Caitlin tried to pull the mattress off the guest bedroom bed. No stairs until she and John moved out of this house. She stopped yanking at the satin mattress edge. Pregnant women weren't supposed to lift anything heavy--she'd read that somewhere too.

Tonya was happy to refer a handyman. James arrived in work boots and the same tool belt John now hung over his waist every day. James dragged the mattress into the workroom. Caitlin added a pillow and a mohair throw from the living room.

*     *     *
"The ghost will ruin the sculpture," Caitlin told John when he glared at the mattress on the floor. "I have to guard it."

"The thing about it is, you are getting more insane every day," he said.

"We're all crazy," she said. She faked a laugh. As though she'd made a joke. She was no longer sure about either of them. Looking at the Powell commission that morning she had the feeling that the ghost was hovering above her, guiding, assisting.

She'd tell John about the baby--about the real reason she wouldn't go near the stairs--tomorrow--in a few days. After she went to the doctor and took an official test. Just not quite yet.

*     *     *
Caitlin's not sure where she is in space. The air is pink and opal like the inside of a seashell. The last thing she remembers is sandpaper in her hand. One little rough spot to polish down. A whoosh of air, her foot slipping off the corrugated metal.

Her head hurts, her belly too. Her belly! Her hand moves slowly, as if in water, but she feels the round bump. Bigger now! How long was she asleep? But yes, still pregnant. The ghost obviously has done something. Changed frequencies, isn't that what Tonya said they can do? Threw some kind of energetic veil over the house. Caitlin hears nothing. In fact, her ears are plugged. She reaches up but can't find her ears.

Mary Anne! She calls but no sound comes out. It's just a dream, silly.

She can fly in this dream. It's fun. Her pink dress caresses the baby and tickles her armpits. She's so pregnant she feels the baby's head pressing down on her cervix. She sees John moving down there. Walking into her studio. He pulls the curtain back from Hera. That's what Caitlin's named her. Zeus's strong, proud wife. He flicks the tarpaulin back in place. Not impressed, I guess, but he never understood art. For a blink, she can see inside his head--like a movie. He's seeing her on the cover of
Art America. Smiling next to Hera in the Sotheby's catalogue. The images in his brain are gone then, but Caitlin feels a quickening through her ribs. She sees it too. This is all going to happen. She'll have her art and he'll be happy when the next commissions come in, when they renovate the kitchen with smart ovens and granite countertops, put in a pool for the baby next summer. He's bending towards something now. The white bucket, where she keeps her tools for cleaning. He's picking something off the bottom. Paint chips on her large chisel. Candy Apple Red. Racing Green. I didn't mean it, Caitlin tries to shout. The ghost--I wasn't myself. He doesn't even look upset. He's speaking but she can't hear him. She imagines the words. The thing about it is Caitlin, I forgive you. He pulls a screwdriver out of his pocket. He is so nice. He's tightening up the screws on her ladder. She watches the yellow Philip's head spin in his hands like a prism.

*     *     *
It's a different day now, further into Spring. Hydrangea and Azalia bushes hum with bees. A pretty young realtor in a navy shift dress walks a couple up the driveway of a house across the street. "It's an A-frame four-bedroom, four bath, under a million," the pretty agent tells the wife. "Nice, but I wish I could get you that one." She points right up to the window where Caitlin is hovering. "The wife was a sculptor. Her husband found her; she fell off a ladder and cracked her head on the corner of the table. Brain hemorrhage. The Times ran a piece--maybe you saw it." The agent dropped her voice for this part. The graphic details of a ghost house were now often the tipping point to make a sale. The couple moved closer until they were almost touching her bright pink lips. "She was pregnant, you see. He didn't know."

The young couple's eyes widened.

"A three-ghost house." The agent sighed.

(previous)
Skull on
Desk