Ghosts: Number One

I was walking around a department store, browsing about some counter that was displaying jewellery, the shop assistant watching me carefully as if she expected me to slip some trinket into my pocket. I met her stare and smiled, forcing her to look away awkwardly.

That was when Kate tapped me on the shoulder.

It had been along time since we’d seen one another and I was surprised to find myself bumping into her.

“Are you really going to buy any of that?”

She was pointing at the jewellery, and laughing but didn’t wait for an answer.

“Come on, there’s a cafe upstairs, you’re not busy are you?”

“No, not really …”

She was always so casual about these things. Simply took it for granted that I had time on my hands.

Kate was always busy. There was an energy around her, a little buzz, and sometimes I imagined that I could even see it. This sharp, blue, electric glow firing out of her.

The truth was, she was intimidating and it was because of this that I hadn’t seen her in such a long while.

In that time, she’d married, had two kids and held down a great job at an up-market gallery in town.

And it had given her more confidence than ever.

I could see that now as we took the escalator up to the cafe. Something about the way she walked, the way she wrapped her arm under mine, the easy assertiveness of it all.

She found us a table by the window and ordered coffees and cakes. As we sat there, I watched her talk, incapable of saying very much.

I was half-listening to her tell me something about Rob and the kids, when I asked her what he was up to these days.

“Right now I guess he’s at home packing.”

“Yeah? Where’s he off to then?”

“The States. Some conference or other ….”

And as soon as she said it, the thought came into my head.

No, not even a thought. It was like some revelation, some simple statement of fact.

“He’s never coming back.”

I heard it so clearly, and the truth of it was so self-evident, that it took over my whole being.

For a moment, nothing else seemed to exist, save for that thought.

It was as if the volume had suddenly been lowered. I could see Kate talking and smiling, but her voice had faded to a whisper, as if she was leaning into a heavy wind that swallowed and distorted her words.

And as I watched her talk, I caught a glimpse of her. Sitting in the dark at a table in a kitchen, she is surrounded by a heavy, empty silence. Staring into the blackness, she sits very still and stifles a painful wail that is growing inside of her.

She sipped her coffee and raised a forkful of cake to her mouth, her eyes bristling, happy and oblivious.

“So, what’s your news?”

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