The ghost is something the kids can have. It’s preferable to the hamster they have been begging for.
I have grown to expect him, shifting on the hallway carpet or reaching into the attic’s cedar closet. I appreciate that he doesn’t pester, that he prefers to check on my children, making himself visible to sets of eyes younger than five. It was my daughter who saw him first. Her whisper fell in my lap. Who’s that guy? Her chubby finger pointed down the vacant, beige hallway. Confusion puddled in my feet, anchoring me to the floor. I stared intently down the hall, but no eyes stared back. The only hint was the geometric painting on the wall, the one the previous owner had left behind when he moved out.
It was Bruce. It could only be Bruce.
Right before we moved in, I came across his toupee, a gray feathery plop, discarded in a bathroom drawer. It softened me, this ugly rug; reminded me that we can grip our hands around youth and vanity all the way up till age 82. But at the end of the day, we bury our secrets and balding woes in the same room where we pee.
Perhaps he perches in the halls to recall his four children who scampered up the stairs after Shabbat. Perhaps he lingers in the foyer to remember fundraising for the local theatre or doffing a Badger hat with a badger grin. Perhaps he is one of us now: in the pile of our shoes at the door, in the slump of our sofa cushion, or at my shoulder while I chew Saturday’s bagel, always with Nova lox. (Do I love Nova lox? Or is the house feeding me?)
An old house keeps old wounds. But I like to think that his spirit is a glossy honey-yellow, a shimmering wave of trees moving through autumn, the first regular trickle of coffee in the pot at 7am. Reliability is everything to me.
Sure, he likes to hover. But I’ve never known him to haunt. I don’t dread his aimlessness. I don’t fret over the black skeleton key that I found by accident, when wiping down a door’s thick trim. I don’t frighten over the razor blades that suddenly appeared on floors, squarely in the center of clean rooms. Sharp things make me sharper. I don’t fear the staunchness (certain as sunrise) that his wife passed away in my bedroom, wafer thin and sinking.
Perhaps he is content to whisper within my wallpaper and perch silently in my armchair. I notice him, I do not notice him, I forget about everything because soccer is about to start, and cleats are missing. And someone has to bag the snacks.
Eleven months after our escrow, after our mutual handshake (his skin the paper of envelopes), he drifted into death. I learned about it in the checkout line at World Market. I was buying a miniature cheese grater when suddenly everything felt unfair. He had just escaped this enormous house, this treasure chest of decades and dinner parties. He had pivoted. Widowed and determined, he had dared to keep going.
It’s understandable that he now seeks bickering children and tables warm with casseroles. The chaos of my family is constant; we twirl on every squeaky floorboard; we fill the bathtubs to the brim. We paint walls that he used to touch, laugh where he used to laugh.
It’s understandable, why he filled his home’s nooks and surfaces with small, fat televisions. In every room, even in the closet (even in the closet). The wooly screen must have buzzed while he dressed, his 82-year-old arms the only moving limbs in a five-bedroom floor plan. I can understand. I can hope that right now is right for now.
Every time he shows up, he says, I was here, I was here, I was here.
Every time I respond, I know, Bruce, I know.
When we blow out birthday candles, I imagine him huffing and puffing adjacent, clapping when the flame is extinguished.