Here you go!
Rudyard's ClaraYou’d think being dead would mean you don’t care about the living. But you’d think wrong. In fact, I’ve seen so much of humanity…well, suffice to say that on occasion it’s hard not to get attached. A beautiful soul really sticks out when you’re dead, it shines, almost. Like a beacon. A very hard to ignore beacon of everything you miss about life.
My beacon likes to hang wallpaper.
“Why do you live alone here?” I asked Clara. She’d bought the house from the bank because they lady before couldn’t pay her bills. I’d never liked that woman; she smelled like old cats, only she had none, and I haven’t had a real nose in 217 years, so my olfactory sense is a little dim; she smelled that bad. Clara was a different story. She smells like the honeysuckle blowing through the window she’d hung the lace curtain upon.
“Because I can afford it,” Clara said to me, pushing her hair back from her face with one hand, other firm against the drooping wallpaper. “Why on earth have a roommate if you don’t need one?” Her tongue poked out the corner of her mouth as the other hand smoothed the droop up the expanse of wall. “There we go.” And she smiled.
“But what about a husband,” I tried again. “Or a beau? Don’t young women get those anymore?” I do pretty well as a modern-world ghost, but sometimes it is hard to understand the social trends nowadays. A woman buying her own home and hanging wallpaper in it herself, for instance. In all my life, I’d never thought I’d see that. But then, my life was a long time ago, and the woman hanging wallpaper asked her resident ghost to help her pick. It was your house before it was mine, she’d said. You may be dead, but you still have a voice. I think I’d loved her for that alone. We’d decided on a deep gray paper with dark blue-black winter trees silhouetted against it.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, tongue tight in the corner of her mouth again. “I’ve too much on my plate right now to worry about something as frivolous as finding a man.” Stepping back from the wall, she put her hands on her hips, cocked her head. “What do you think? Here, no, float back here by me and take a look.” I did.
“It looks nice,” I told her. She shined at me.
The house is lonely when Clara is at work, but she loves what she does so I’ve made myself okay with it. She works for one of those reality shows you see on the television sets, the ones where they go in to some poor or sick person’s house and fix it all up for them for free. So when Clara’s gone, she’s gone for days, sometimes weeks at a time. I’d always preferred the house empty, until Clara. But now…it just seems bare without her here. I followed her once, to a job in Ann Arbor, but leaving my haunting is stressful; disorienting. Life outside here teems too strongly, ripe with anger and lust and selfishness of every kind. There were no shining examples of humanity, other than her, while I was out there, and between that and being invisible, I was exhausted. So now I “putter,” as she calls it, flipping through her interior design magazines, sticking neon posties on the things I like and want for the house. It’s actually nice, having the house look like somewhere I’d want to live. Makes me more comfortable about life. I haven’t rattled a single chain since Clara moved in. Not one. Now that the season is over, she stays home with me almost every day, puttering herself, arguing with me over whether or not we really need that Thomasville bookcase.
The wide bed creaked as she rolled in it, twisting so she could look at my face in the light from the street lamp that shined through the attic window. She’d turned the attic into the master bedroom. I’d been only too happy to get rid of all my chains and moth-eaten sheets. Didn’t need them anymore.
“Rudyard,” she said, her face partially hidden by her fat pillows, “is it lonely—being dead, I mean?”
I floated onto the bed beside her.
“Yes,” I said, knowing my voice is quiet and thick. “But it’s much less so with you here.”
“More lonely than life?” Her face burrowed deeper so that I could no longer see it by the streetlamp light. “Than my life?”
“Are you lonely, Clara? I thought you wanted to live here by yourself.”
“I…I don’t live here by myself. I live here with you.”
“I am not alive, Clara. You know that. You…you should find someone to be with.”
She lifted up to her shoulders, face and hair monochromatic in the light and shadows of the dark.
“You want me to do that?” I cannot read the expression on her face.
“I want you to be happy,” I said. “That is all. Be happy, Clara.”
She lay back down and sighed, deep.
“I’m happy with you.”
And I worry for it.
The pale tea pot is almost blinding in the back garden’s afternoon light as Clara poured herself a cup. I sit across from her at the tea table; it fits perfectly here. She has such an eye for these things. The air is warming—I feel it, but my flesh no longer exists so I don’t have to acknowledge it. But soon it will be summer back here and the garden will burst into flower and weeds. For now, only the honeysuckle and ivy is awake. And Clara. Of course, Clara.
“Yes, Clara?” Her eyes are almost the color of the tea, with the light like it is.
“How…how did you die?”
My eyes drift over to the well. I decide to follow. It’s been empty for centuries. It was empty when I was alive. I hear her quiet steps across the bare dirt.
“Did you drown?” She hovered her face over the rock edge of the well as she looked to the bottom.
“No,” I said, “but I did fall. I broke my back—or perhaps my neck. I don’t remember. Not anymore.”
“Do you want it boarded up? Knocked down?” she asked, face turned now to me.
“No,” I said. “That’s not necessary. It doesn’t bother me.”
She turned back towards its depths, shivering. I wish I could put my arms around her. But that would only make her colder.
“It’s almost like something from a fairy tale,” she mumbled, shivering again. She finished her tea inside.
That night, when I floated into the corner of the attic where Clara has her bed, Clara wasn’t there. I floated to the window by the streetlamp, but she was not out front. Then, through the house. She was not inside.
That left the back garden.
“Clara?” A halo circled the moon. She stood at the well. Her face was hidden from me.
“Clara?” This time my voice is loud. Loud as I used to be when I wore sheets and rattled my chains. Still, she does not respond.
Then I see her feet. She is not standing beside the well. She is floating beside the well.
“Oh my Clara, what have you done?” I float over to her, look to the darkness of the well’s bottom. I do not want to float down there; already I can smell it. The smell of new death, the smell of a soul leaving its body. Finally, she turns her face to me. It is blank.
“Why can’t I remember?” she asks me, eyebrows puckering as she searches my face. “Who are you?” Then, growing frantic, voice still thin like new ghosts, “What’s happened? Who are you? What’s going on?”
“Clara,” I say, voice now soft again, thick again. “Darling, you are dead.”
“Dead?” Her voice tilts the word up at the end. She is so dim now.
“Dead,” I repeat.
She floats down the well, then back up, wavering a moment in front of me.
“It’s almost like a fairy tale,” she says thinly, sadly. “What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t.” I might as well go invisible again, so little she remembers of either of us. “My name is Rudyard.”
“Rud-yard,” she says joltingly, a flash across her transparent, dim face. Then it was gone. “Oh. And what is my name?”
“Clara,” I repeat. “Your name was Clara.”
She was silent for a moment, hanging in the air over the tea table she’d sat at that very afternoon.
“Clara,” she repeats, revolving in the moonlight, her image soaking it up, dimming it. “My name was Clara, and I am dead.”