“For the thousandth time, it’s not funny,” I say to the wisp of
my former wife, whose opacity varies from translucent to so dense
I almost forget she is dead. Again, she dons the black jeans and
white button-down blouse she died in, not the simple navy dress I
selected for her funeral.
“You used to have a sense of humor.”
“I still do.” There wasn’t any point arguing with her prior to
her demise, and even less so now. If I flee to another room, she’ll
walk through the wall to continue the discussion.
She takes the chair opposite me and pulls out a nail file.
Whereas Marley’s ghost rattled chains, my wife constantly files her
nails like a woodworker coarse-sanding a piece of furniture. The
rasping reverberates throughout the house. I imagine the neighbors
complaining, then remember only I can see or hear her.
“Why must you always do that?” My body tenses with irritation.
“For the thousandth time, I’ve told you—they grow much
faster since I died. I’d always heard that your hair and nails continue
to grow, but this is ridiculous,” she says with a devilish grin, more
substantive than the rest of her form. She raises the back of an
open-palm hand to her face, regards her fingernails, and returns to
filing. I consider suggesting the grinding wheel in the garage when
she changes the subject. “Do you get lonely without me?”
I wait a long moment before responding. “Of course, I do.”
“Yeah, sure. You didn’t seem so lonely when you dated that
Gretchen from down the street last month.” She spits out her name
like something vile. “She appeared a bit too eager to date the poor
widower,” she says in a sad, affected, sing-song voice. With her
paused file resembling a violin bow, she delivers a side-eye glance,
then says, “She’s too young for you.”
“Well, it’s over, so it matters little now.”
“Yeah, she wasn’t too impressed with your performance, or
should I say, lack of it.”
“You’d have trouble, too, if your dead spouse was sitting on
the edge of the bed while you were trying to have sex!”
“Trying is the operative word here.” She chuckles. “You
could have closed your eyes.”
“I did, but I still knew you were there. You’re always there—
grinding your nails, stopping only to give biting commentary.” I stand
in frustration at the prospect of no escape. “When will you go?!”
“You know when.” Her presence, starting with her narrowed
eyes, solidifies with the coolness of her tone. After I can no longer
hold her gaze, she smiles and says, “You could make love to me.”
“It won’t work.”
“How do you know?”
“We’ve been over this. When you touch me now, it’s like
when you think there’s a bug on your arm, but when you look,
nothing’s there. Mist feels ten times heavier than your touch.”
“I don’t think you love me anymore.” Her sly grin reappears.
“Not this again.” Exasperated, I head into the kitchen, where
she is already seated at the table.
I brew a small pot of coffee while she grinds away at her
nails and my nerves. Out of necessity, I drink so much more of it
lately. Restful sleep is foreign to me, for she also invades my dreams.
As the coffee maker gurgles, I pull a mug down to the counter, then
grab a second one. “You want a cup?” She scrunches up her face
with a fake smile while shaking her head.
She says, “Why don’t you use the stevia in the little pineappleshaped bowl in the upper cupboard like you used in my last cup of
coffee? You know, the sweetener with something extra, something
undetectable, untraceable in it.”
“I won’t do it,” I say through gritted teeth.
“Oh, it’s not so bad… imagine two large talons clutching
at your heart. Then a vacuum develops throughout your body that
is quickly overtaken by a white-hot pain, which radiates through
every nerve. The last image your mind registers is the slightest curve
growing at the corners of your spouse’s mouth.” Her nonchalance in
describing the smile she mimics makes it even more unsettling.
“I said, I’m not doing it!”
“Not today, but one day you will.”