The Ghost Story
The ghost story goes like this: I’m a ghost and you are too, and we’re stuck in the hallway of an office building. Some of the offices are for tax accountants, and lawyers, and therapists with white noise machines cricketing outside their doors, and one is a dentist, and one is a chiropractor who mixes foul-smelling teas. And all day we watch people in wool pants open their doors to people in jeans. And all night we watch the one tax accountant who works late clicking through her spreadsheets. We are invisible and although we are grateful to not be dead, or to be dead but to still be somewhere and not nowhere, this office park isn’t the most interesting place to be.
You can try to go through the front door. You’ll come right back in through the back door the moment you go through. It’s possible to hover halfway if you focus, your butt and back foot poking in through the front door and your face sticking in through the back door, and you can look at the back of your own spectral head and check your spectral hairdo if you lean forward and look around the elevator banks. If you focus hard you might feel a bit of outdoor air on your belly, you might imagine that you can feel sunlight or wind or snow passing through your middle, but there’s no real leaving, and even this trick gets old before too long. Instead we spend time gossiping about other, better ghosts we’ve heard of and watching what the living people do. They don’t do much. We can try to leave the living people messages about how life is fleeting and the afterlife lasts forever and how they’ll have more than enough time to listen to podcasts and stare out of windows when they’re ghosts like us, but the most we ghosts can do is slow down the WiFi. So we do.
The ghost story goes like this: we’re stuck, and we can’t leave, and we can’t touch anyone or write messages in blood or murder anybody. There’s no crypt or forest or castle. There is only the east stairwell and the west stairwell and the elevators in between. There are suites 1A through 1H, and suites 2A through 2H, and so on. There are windows onto the parking lot and windows onto the street. There’s an atrium on the top floor and a mailroom on the first floor and a janitor’s closet in the basement stacked high with paper towels, and there is nothing else.
The ghost story goes like this: is it Thursday again? Why is the janitor always deep-cleaning the carpets on the third floor? Did you see that Dr. Sampson brought her dog to work today? Did you hear that Dr. Chopra’s new patient needed eight fillings?
The weekends are the worst, friend. There’s nobody to watch, no appointments to spy on. You can try to riffle through the files in Dr. Kaur’s desk, or you could open every one of Mr. Melton’s herb drawers. You can see if the tax accountants are breaking any laws. But you’ll likely end up back here with me, floating in the elevator shaft, waiting for Monday to come back around.
The ghost story goes like this: We build the spaces of our deaths like we build the spaces of our lives, and we build them boring.
The ghost story goes like this: You turn away from the mailroom where Clarke is pushing envelopes through slots. You turn to me and look at my thin ghost body. We float like caspers in the dark. I hadn’t thought of this. I had not considered myself worth haunting.
The ghost story goes like this: One ghost begins to touch another ghost in the black of an elevator shaft. The one ghost holds their ghost breath waiting to see if their companion’s hand will pass straight through their phantasmal form. But the ghost’s hand stops at the edge of the other ghost and strokes their arm, see-through skin on see-through skin. The two ghosts walk, ghost hand in ghost hand, to the therapist’s office with the Rorschach posters and the incense smell and the white noise machine making the room sound like an ocean getaway, like a private beach for two. The ghosts sit together, or rather float in a sitting position, on the corduroy couch and share a ghost kiss. The ghosts feel each other’s ghost hands on their own ghost faces. The ghosts phase out of their ghost clothes, leaving piles of white sheets on the beige carpet. Twin pairs of empty eyeholes stare up at the ceiling. The ghosts begin necking. The ghosts feel like teenagers again, touching and being touched for the first time in ages. The ghosts begin to blush on their ghost faces, white on white, and it’s really cute. Maybe this is the way the ghosts escape to whatever’s next, and maybe it isn’t. Maybe the ghosts are interrupted by the MFT picking up the briefcase she forgot. Maybe the ghosts feel trapped and sad again by Monday morning. Maybe the ghosts complete each other to form a better, stronger ghost with ghost super powers. It doesn’t matter now. For now, the ghosts are good. The ghosts are exploring each other’s ghostliness all over the therapist’s desk. The ghost story goes like this, and it keeps going. The ghost story goes as long as the ghosts want it to, and then it stops.
Wesley O. Cohen is a writer and editor living in Davis, California. Her work has been featured by Joyland Magazine, Entropy, and The East Bay Review, among others. She is a 2017 Writing By Writers fellow, and serves as prose editor of Foglifter Journal. Her work can be found at wesleyocohen.com.
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