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 35 of 50 | Published Saturday, July 13, 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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Mary Logue talks about writing, and 'Giving Up the Ghost'

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Giving Up the Ghost

Chapter 30

So far: Wendy recalls her last morning with Richard.

Maybe one of the reasons I was staying at the cabin was so I didn’t have to explain over and over again how my husband had died.

Richard was an intelligent and good man. He was an artist and a scholar. He had lived a rich and exciting life. I hated that he had died an ignoble death. Death is death no matter what shape it comes in, but there are more heroic ways to go.

And I can’t help but blame myself. If only I had been there at the cabin with him. What had I been thinking going to town?

A million times, I have gone over what I would have done if I’d been there. I imagine hearing him choking, rushing into the office, wrapping my arms around him as tightly as I could, then jamming my fists into his solar plexus, and clearing his throat by my mighty force and love. When he was breathing again, we would have started laughing. A close call, we would have said.

If I had been there, I know I could have saved his life.

• • •

Looking back on what happened after I found Richard, I wish that I would have waited to call for help. But at the time I thought maybe he could be resurrected, pulled back from the dead.

So I dialed 911, then tried to give him mouth-to-mouth, but nothing. He never breathed again. I was sure he had had a heart attack. When I heard the ambulance, I ran to the door to show them where he was. Within minutes of the paramedics arriving, they took Richard away.

He was gone before I had time to say goodbye.

If I had known there was nothing to be done, I would have kept him to myself for a while, holding him tight. I would have kissed him and wept over him. I would have put my hands on his face and memorized it, the simple feel of him under my skin.

But they took him away and I followed. When I got to the hospital, they told me he was DOA. But I knew that he had been DOD — dead on departure from our house. That when I found him it was already too late.

The doctor, who was kind, said, “I’m sorry for your loss,” as if that excused him of something. He told me they needed to do an autopsy because there was no apparent or known cause of death. Of course, I agreed to it. While I hated the thought of his body being cut up, I knew he had already left it far behind. I needed to know the name of what had taken him from me.

The doctor called me the next day. “Your husband died of asphyxiation,” he said gently.

I knew what asphyxiation meant, but I didn’t see how it could have killed Richard. “I don’t understand.”

“Well, he got something caught in his throat and he couldn’t get it out.”

“He choked to death? On what?”

“On a peanut.”

A peanut had killed my husband.

A small, oval-shaped legume grown in the earth had lodged in his throat and stopped the flow of air into his body. Richard loved peanuts. He always bought the large Virginia peanuts and snacked on them in the afternoon.

“How long would that take?” I asked.

“Not long. He would have lost consciousness within a minute or two.”

What had Richard thought as he sat in front of his computer, choking to death? I wondered if he knew he was dying.

After the autopsy, the funeral home fetched him and put him in a closed casket. They strongly suggested to me that I have an open casket service, telling me they could make him look as good as new. But I said no. The peanut was bad enough. A viewing he would have abhorred.

Tomorrow: Chapter 30 continues.

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