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I hadn’t finished grieving, hadn’t finished loving, and I couldn’t believe I was actually seeing her. At first, she would appear on street corners, at the corner of my eye, or as I was turning my head I would get a glimpse of her. I thought I was imagining her. I missed her so much, so my brain was producing her out of thin air to make up for lost time, to soothe my soul. The first few times, I would turn my head to see if she was really there, and she wouldn’t be. I would always feel disappointed, but one shouldn’t be disappointed about not being crazy. Then I started looking away from her when I saw her. If she were standing right in front of me, I could have walked right around her without looking at her. I didn’t want to be crazy. I didn’t want to be having a mental breakdown. I’ve gotten very good at ignoring the bad things in my life. I stopped seeing her on the third day. I walked to work that morning and as I was turning the corner to enter the cafe, I narrowly avoided hitting a man in my way. I apologized, and he looked at me oddly. I didn’t think anything of it, but I should have. I’d never seen him there before, and I usually remember my customers. I went into the cafe and he didn’t follow. But while I was working, people would show up in my way. I’d turn from the lunchroom and almost bump into a complete stranger who shouldn’t have been back there. I broke a lamp trying to avoid someone standing in the middle of my path. As I swept up the mess, many of the customers glanced at me every so often, wondering what I’d do next. Then I dropped a stack of dirty dishes because a woman popped up right in front of me and I couldn’t avoid her. I backpedalled, but no use. Everything went flying,
right through her figure. She looked solid enough, but I realized that everything that was happening wasn’t normal. Not at all. Normal doesn’t pop up out of nowhere and stand still as plates with leftover cake or pie fly towards them, and through them. Normal usually screams and jumps aside. The woman smiled at me. It wasn’t a gentle smile. George hauled me into his office as one of our waitresses picked up the mess. I sat down in his chair while he paced around me. “What the hell is wrong with you today, Rose?” he spewed. “I can understand one clumsy mistake with a lamp, but a stack of dishes?” “I know,” I breathed, “I’m sorry.” “I know your grandmother died,” he began, “and you’re upset about that. That’s understandable. But she died three weeks ago. Things should be back to normal. Right? I thought you were back to normal. You were smiling at the customers, more cheerful than after her death, and I thought...” I didn’t say anything. I didn’t look up at him, because looking up at him would mean looking up at the woman with the evil smile and I didn’t want to acknowledge that I could actually see her. “It took weeks to find those dishes,” George continued. “I’m gonna... I’m gonna have to take them out of your pay.” I winced but tried to hide it. “Okay,” I breathed. “They were expensive, Rose,” he continued. “I know,” I muttered, fighting not to look at him. “I’ll—I’ll pay for them.”
Silence. I glanced up at him. I couldn’t help it. The woman was in front of him, still smiling, her eyes blazing with some sort of red light that wasn’t natural. George stepped through her and I was grateful, but no less freaked out. He looked concerned. He opened his mouth, frowning, but then said, “Go home, Rose. Get some rest.” “But—” I started. He cut in. “Go home without pay and I won’t take the money out of your pay for those dishes,” he said. I nodded. It was reasonable, but I didn’t register that. The woman slid through George to stand in front of him again. I nodded again and quickly got out of the room, hoping George wouldn’t see my fear. I didn’t want him to ask questions, and I wanted to get away from that woman as fast as I could. I grabbed my things, suited up for the cold, and headed out the back door without saying bye to anyone in the front. I walked briskly away from the back, through the back alley, past garbage bins and delivery gates, and out to the main street. I kept my gaze averted so that I wouldn’t know if that woman was following me. I had to cross the major intersection in the downtown core. The light was red, so as I waited, I focused on my boots and the dirt covering the snow. Something screeched to my left, and I looked up to see a car skid a little before the driver regained traction. And then I looked up the street in the direction of the cafe, and I saw her. Again. What struck me as odd was the fact that it was a freezing cold day, and the woman was in a tank top and short shorts. She wore sandals on her feet, which seemed to travel well through the snow. When she got closer to me, I noticed she didn’t leave any footprints in the snow behind her, and she didn’t look cold at all. Her skin still held a tan from the summer, and her dark hair was still bleached from the summer sun.
Her eyes were normal until I looked into them directly. They changed to red. Red as blood, and red as death. Her smile grew wider, and her appearance shimmered. Now she had a blackened hole in her temple and blood had streaked half her face. “Like what you see?” she asked, showing a chipped tooth. I belatedly realized that cars were moving. I tore my gaze from her and ran across the street before the caution hand stopped flashing. The woman followed me across, running too, but she wasn’t quick enough. A car turning left passed right through her, the driver completely oblivious that a woman had crossed the street after me. She slowed as she approached me, then looked behind me. Her grin disappeared, she backed away. She stepped back onto the street just as the cars on this side started forward, and with that she disappeared. I stared at the spot she had disappeared. I finally turned around and came face to face with Grandma. I froze. She smiled lovingly and lifted a hand to stroke my head. My heart stuttered as her hand seemed to pass through me. “Grandma?” I whispered. Tears filled her eyes. “I’m sorry, Rose,” she said. “I’m so sorry.” Then she disappeared into thin air. I could hear her voice still, repeating her apology, until it seemed like it too had disappeared. I sat down on a bench in front of the bank until it got too cold for me to sit still. Then I got up and continued on home. To the home Grandma had made for me and my sisters. I checked up and down the street before I went in. There was no sign of the woman or anybody else who looked out of place in my neighbourhood. I locked the door behind me and closed all the curtains of the main floor. I usually balked at using up
electricity. After all, I’m the one that has to pay for it, but today I wasn’t worrying about turning on lights when the light from the windows would do. I was too spooked to do otherwise. The house was too silent. I sat in my bedroom for awhile, thinking about what I’d seen the past few days. I kept thinking about all those ghost stories Mom had told us when we were little and matching them up with the people, ghosts I presumed, I’d seen today. Mom had said that poltergeists always had red eyes, which was one way to pick them out from other ghosts. Had she been telling us those stories to scare us as we wanted? Or had she been using them to warn us? Could she see ghosts? Did that mean that the rest of us could see ghosts? Or was I the only one? Or was this all in my imagination? I’d been stressed for weeks, full of grief for Grandma, thinking about our parents’ deaths. Seeing “ghosts” seemed like an excellent coping mechanism. My counsellor had said that people sometimes see or feel the presence of a loved one after they were gone, and that was normal. I admit, I’d wanted to feel Grandma’s presence. I wanted to hear her coming into the house, back from the library or her social club. I wanted to see her as I was making her favourite foods. Maybe I’d wanted it so much that my brain finally gave it to me. To cope. I cried. When I couldn’t cry anymore, I got up and went to the kitchen to start dinner. The clatter of pans and the smell of vegetables and meat made the house seem less lonely, and it made me feel somewhat better. But every once in awhile, I couldn’t help thinking about that woman with the red eyes and the gunshot wound. She’d been scared off by Grandma, it seemed.
Dinner was almost finished, and I was debating making dessert too to avoid thinking too much, when Emma came home. She didn’t seem surprised to see me home early and she didn’t go downstairs to hide in her bedroom like she usually did. She came up into the kitchen, greeted me, and got a glass of pop from the fridge. I asked her about school and tried to concentrate on her answers. They were partial and evasive. Then I asked where Alex was. “She went to Rachel’s house,” Emma said simply. I sighed. Alex had been coming home late and drunk after spending the night at Rachel’s, so tonight was going to be no different. But I couldn’t get mad at Emma for what her twin was doing. Emma was home, safe and sound, and that mattered. We were by ourselves for most of the night. Liz and Mona worked late and shared a car, so they came in around nine. Emma and I watched a movie and I tried not to wonder if the woman with the red eyes was standing outside our house, or worse, inside our house. When Liz and Mona got home, she distracted me from that temporarily, but when we all went to bed, I almost asked Liz to come and sleep beside me that night. I lay in bed for hours, not being able to sleep. Noises at the window made me jump. Creaks in the floor freaked me out. I checked my clock every so often, but the night wasn’t even half over. When I finally fell asleep, I had a dream. I was sitting in a broken car, looking out over a dark field. Blood was dripping onto the seat beside me and I didn’t want to look over. I could guess what I was going to see and I didn’t want to see it. But my head turned anyways.
Dad was leaning over the steering wheel. His head had smashed against the windshield and his face was turned towards me. His eyes were blank, glassy. Hysteria bubbled up in my throat as I looked into his dead eyes, but I couldn’t scream. I struggled to turn to the back of the car, but I couldn’t move myself more than a few inches. Then I looked down and saw why: half the engine was sitting on me, pressing against my legs and my stomach. It was in my stomach too. I didn’t dare move anymore ‘cause I knew it would hurt. The blood dripping into the seat beside me was mine, not just Dad’s. But I had never been in the car in the first place. I never seen the accident, even though I was looking at the inside of our parents’ mangled car with such clarity. As I thought about that, I realized I could hear someone whispering, and it wasn’t me. And as I realized who it was, the dream changed on me. Now I was in Grandma’s abandoned bedroom. The room was dark, and I walked stiffly to a lamp and turned it on. I went to the filing cabinet and opened a drawer. My fingers moved over the file names of their own accord until they paused and pulled out one file. Gently, I laid the file open on top of the cabinet. Inside, there was a piece of paper and a CD case. I opened the case and looked at the CD. It was old, and the writing read, “To my girls.” I gasped and woke up. It was only two hours since the last time I’d looked at the clock. No one was in my bedroom, prodding me awake, so I didn’t scream in my sleep. I pondered my dream for a moment. Was that file really real? Had I really been looking at the accident through Mom’s eyes and body?
I took a deep breath to steady myself and got out of bed. Grandma’s room was just next door to mine. I went in cautiously, trying to be quiet and hoping that no redeyed ghost would appear in front of me. I turned on the lamp I had in my dream. I went to the filing cabinet and pulled open the drawer I’d seen. I stared blankly at the file folders in the drawer until I touched a file slightly protruding from the rest. I pulled it out. I brought it over to the bed, closer to the lamp. As I sat on the bed, Grandma’s lilac perfume enveloped me. I took a deep breath of it and opened the file. Inside, there was a piece of paper and a CD case. I stared at the case until I forced myself to open it. The CD inside was old, like in my dream, and the writing on it read, “To my girls.” A chill ran down my spine. I touched the CD gently. Then I closed the case and took it downstairs into the den. I turned on the computer and waited for it to boot up. Then I put the CD into the drive. I tensed as an image filled the screen, an image that made tears prick my eyes. Mom.
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