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 2 of 50 | Published Monday, June 10, 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 3

So far: After Richard’s ghost appears, memories flood Wendy.

When Gary called, I didn’t tell him about seeing Richard. Gary and I have been friends since right after college. We used to work together at Dayton’s but now he’s a writer and he’s married with a daughter, and Dayton’s is now Macy’s. Once, Gary and I thought we might marry, but only as a last resort. That was before he met Mint and I met Richard.

Gary is a collector. One thing he collects is matchbooks. I help him. Whenever I travel someplace — Oaxaca, Paris, Des Moines — I bring him back a matchbook or two. He also collects pharmaceutical pens, postcards, and salt and pepper shakers. I know a lot of people collect salt and pepper shakers, but Gary likes to make his collecting difficult. He only collects salt and pepper shakers that are animals, one with two regular eyes and one with at least one black eye.

“Is this a sad day?” he asked.

“Not too sad.” I thought about what I said for a moment. “I don’t remember what it’s like to have a regular day, but not as sad as it could be.”

“That might be progress.”

Gary was calling from Minneapolis. He had called me every few days since Richard had died. He was a good friend.

“What’re you going to do today?” he asked.

• • •

What do you do with a ghost who doesn’t want you to see him? I wasn’t sure I wanted to let Richard’s ghost know I had seen him. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see him again. I wasn’t sure.

• • •

I told Gary I was going into the small town near our cabin to have lunch with a friend. That was a lie. I just didn’t want him to worry about me. I liked that he had called me, but I didn’t want him to worry. At least not more than he already did. If he worried too much he might come up and see me and I didn’t want him at the cabin.

I didn’t want anyone at the cabin but Richard. And that was impossible. Unless you believe in ghosts.

• • •

When Richard and I spent time at the cabin I always kept very busy. He would go into his studio to paint while I kept our life going. Besides doing my own work as a seamstress, I shopped for food, made bouquets, got the mail, listened to the gossip and repeated it to him, made the appointments, answered the e-mail, cooked and, in my spare time, embroidered flowers on our pillowcases.

The cabin always needed some attention. It was a constant battle to keep the mice out, the ants from the sugar, and the heat in the four walls. I patched holes and set and emptied traps. Not my favorite tasks, but necessary in the daily life of a small cabin in the North Woods.

Through all this, Richard painted. He would disappear for long hours into his studio. I wasn’t forbidden to go in there. He was actually quite easy about me poking my head in to ask him a question, but I usually resisted. I could tell that he was far away and that he had to travel back a great distance from what he was working on in order to talk to me. I didn’t like to take him out of his work.

Plus, I was busy. I had everything else to do.

• • •

I guess I was what you would call a stay-at-home wife; I ran a sewing business out of the house, making curtains and pillows, embroidering initials on shirts and pajamas, but it was very part-time. Richard was a stay-at-home husband, painting. He needed me. I took care of him. I made sure his life was easy and moved like a well-greased bicycle chain. I knew how things should be and I made sure they were that way.

But now that he was gone, I had nothing to do. I hadn’t done any sewing for anyone since he died. I wasn’t even checking the voice mail for our phone in Minneapolis. For all I knew, work requests were piling up.

My ability to make a moment perfect felt useless.

You can’t make the perfect meal for one person if that person is you. I would bake a potato in the oven, pour myself a glass of wine, whip some chives into the sour cream, turn on a Bach cantata, raise the shades so the wave of light off the lake lapped into the room. I would sit down to this simple meal and eat a bite. The potato tasted mealy. The wine was all I wanted. I’d move to the couch and watch the waves, the Bach cantata flowing over me. Something was always missing.

• • •

I asked Gary how his daughter Bethany was doing. He told me that recently she had looked at all the salt shakers he had collected — she was five — and said, “Someday these will all be mine.”

Bethany’s a nice kid. When she was four she came up to the cabin with Gary. She was very interested in everything. She wanted to see every room. When we were standing together in the kitchen, she looked up at the refrigerator and said, “You have a really nice refrigerator magnet.”

This good show of manners, this gentle compliment told me that the kid would go a long way.

• • •

I wanted to ask Gary about ghosts, but I didn’t want to tip him off. So I figured I better make something up. “When I was in town last week the postmistress said that the secretary to the mayor had seen a ghost in one of the courtrooms.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, that’s what she said.”

“What kind of ghost?”

Gary was going to ask me a whole bunch of questions and all I wanted to know was what he thought about ghosts.

“I guess it was a lawyer and I guess he was just sitting on a bench.”

“Huh.”

“Have you ever seen a ghost?” I asked him.

“Not that I know of.”

“You think there’s a chance you could have seen one and not know it?”

“I did a lot of acid when I was younger. I saw a lot of weird stuff.”

This was the important question. “Do you think there are ghosts?”

He didn’t say anything for a moment and I got scared. What if he saw through my line of questioning? I didn’t want to talk about what I had seen.

Finally he said, “I don’t rule the possibility out.”

I stopped there.

Tomorrow: Chapter 4 begins.

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