Giving up the Ghost

A novel by Mary Logue published in installments each day in the Star Tribune from June 9 to July 28, 2013.
Day 34 of 50 | Published Friday, July 12, 2013
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The story: Wendy was just 25 when she met Richard, a Minneapolis artist, at the New French Café. They fell in love, married, bought a cabin in northern Minnesota where they spent their summers. But when Richard died unexpectedly, Wendy found it difficult to move on. Because she kept seeing Richard’s ghost….
Mary Logue
Mary Logue is the author of more than twenty-five books, including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, mysteries and children’s stories. She has won a Minnesota Book Award, the Charlotte Zolotow Honor Award, and many other honors. She lives with her husband, writer Pete Hautman, in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

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Giving Up the Ghost

Chapter 29 continues

So far: Richard’s sister Susan shows up with cranberries.

• • •

On the morning of the last day of Richard’s life, we went about our daily routines as if all was normal. He got up first as he usually did. When I think back on that day, I can imagine him opening his eyes and then vaulting out of bed. I slept through his awakening that morning, but I had seen it often enough to know that’s probably what he did.

I liked to lounge in bed, but not Richard. He often stood up before he was even awake.

His next action would be to turn on the espresso machine. He did his morning ablutions while it was heating up. Then he made himself his first cup of coffee and went into his studio.

I got up an hour later. Before my eyes were even open, I put water on for tea. With my hot tea, I had some toast and marmalade. I found the latest New Yorker and sat with my feet tucked under me at the dining room table where I could watch the chickadees eat from the feeder. I looked at all the cartoons first, then turned back and read a story about a fat man who tried to swim the English Channel on his back.

Richard came out of his studio, patted my shoulder as he walked by, made another cup of espresso and headed back to his studio. Then he stopped and asked, “Are you going in to town today?”

When I nodded, he said, “Could you pick up a brisket? I ordered a special cut at the grocery store.”

“Sure.”

I read a short story that I didn’t get the point of and didn’t even feel stupid about it. It made me laugh. Then I made up a cartoon line for the last page. I came up with a really good one that I would never send in. Some days I insisted on telling them to Richard, but I think I left him in peace that day.

The birds were scattering seed all over the deck. A squirrel chattered from a tree branch. The lake was bright with early light.

I decided that morning to drive to town, return some library books and pick up a few groceries, plus the brisket. Then I planned on finishing the curtains I was making for the guest bedroom. I got dressed and, as I was leaving, Richard came out of his studio.

“I’m off to town.” I said. “Anything you want at the grocery store besides this big chunk of meat you’ve ordered?”

“I need my iron. How about some juice and oatmeal?”

“Oatmeal? Since when do you eat oatmeal for breakfast? Does this mean we’re getting old?” I said.

“Not you. Just me.”

We waved at each other and I left.

• • •

I missed Richard touching me. I know that sounds sexual, but I don’t mean it that way. Sure, I missed that too, but I really missed the casual ear rubs, head pats, butt swats, and other casual bumpings-up-against-each-other that go on all day long in a couple’s life together.

I was finding out that when you live alone, no one touches you.

• • •

Our group was silent at the table, everyone busy eating the Thanksgiving meal. I was happy with how the turkey had turned out. The mashed potatoes were a little lumpy but the exercise of stirring them had calmed Gary down. Elsie’s wild rice casserole was amazing: the best I had ever tasted.

I blessed Susan for bringing the cranberries, that so-needed spot of red on a very brown plate of food.

Gary inhaled a piece of something and started coughing. Lucinda reached over to give him a good whack, which she seemed to enjoy delivering.

Elsie said, “Don’t choke to death.”

All action ceased at the table. Everyone stopped talking. Gary even stopped coughing.

Lucinda, Gary, and Susan turned to look at me, worried.

Elsie just looked perplexed. “What did I say?”

Susan finally told her, “That’s how Rich died. He choked to death.”

Tomorrow: Chapter 30 begins.

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