So far: Wendy hesitates to tell even a close friend about the ghost.
I still couldn’t bring myself to sleep in our bed. Too much space. Empty space. Some nights I slept in the guest bedroom with the flannel sheets and old quilts.
Often I ended up sleeping in the living room on the couch. I would read until the dark of night fell on my eyelids. Sleep I worshipped, taking me away and making me forget for a while.
• • •
Last night I woke up and wasn’t sure what had aroused me. Then I heard a horrible noise, a terrible screeching. A bunny getting snatched by an owl, a mother missing her child, a ghost haunting the woods.
I sat up and turned on the light next to the couch. The pool of yellow made the shadows more ominous. I listened for the sound. Nothing. I padded into the kitchen and got a drink of water. As I was standing at the sink, looking into the leafed darkness, the shrieking started again.
I walked to the door and turned on the outside light.
The yowling sounded like it was coming from the end of the driveway. I grabbed a jacket and slipped my feet into boots that stood by the door. Crunching down the gravel, I looked around.
When the howl erupted one more time, I almost ran back to the house. But the sound was quite near. I noticed the garbage can was still out by the mailbox and the lid was on the ground. Cautiously, I peered into the can. At the bottom was a very small ball of mangy fur with big eyes. When the furball saw me it opened its tiny mouth and let out a raspy cry.
I reached down into the garbage can. Before I could grab it, the tiny soft-gray kitten latched onto my jacket, then scooted up my arm and ended up in my hair, shrieking.
• • •
Richard and I never had children. He didn’t really want them, but he could have been persuaded. While I had moments of great longing for them, most often I continued to choose the life we were leading. I would have liked children, but I loved the life we had, the two of us working together.
• • •
The reason we didn’t have animals was much simpler. Richard was allergic. If a cat touched him, he broke out in hives. If a dog licked him, he puffed up. If it was spring, he sneezed. In summer, his eyes watered. Fall brought on coughing and sometimes pneumonia. Winter was his favorite season, although the cold could make his asthma act up. He lived with inhalers and pills.
• • •
I didn’t know what to do with the kitten. I felt paralyzed. If I brought it into the house would the ghost be allergic to it?
• • •
The kitten clung to me. It sat on my shoulder and licked my face. Then I lifted it off and held it out to look at it. The kitten had oily gray fur and crooked ears. Its eyes looked too big for its head. Even its purr was over-sized and sounded like an electric shaver gone bad. I knew I couldn’t leave it outside.
• • •
In the house, I poured some milk into a bowl and mixed in a little bread and a bit of tuna. The kitten ate so fast I feared it would choke. In the middle of eating, it looked up at me and chirped. The happiest sound I had heard in quite a while.
• • •
After giving it a bath, which it hissed and scratched through, I noticed it had a small white patch of fur on its back and so I named the kitten Cloud.
The thing about a funeral is it ends.
All your friends and family surround you for a few hours with their sorrow and love. Hymns are sung, shoulders hugged, then they leave and you know that they’ve gone back to their regular lives.
You are left with that big ever-expanding empty hole that gobbles up all matter in its growth.
• • •
At Richard’s funeral in Minneapolis, I bubbled tears. They seeped out of me as if I contained a natural spring. Constantly, quietly crying. But at least no hysteria for me.
Richard’s coffin was closed. He had always said he wanted it that way the few times we talked about our funerals. Since he was older, he was sure he would die before me so he gave me some instructions.
He told me, “Let them remember me laughing, not stuffed into some box.”
Everyone said how sorry they were that he had died, what a surprise, he had seemed so alive. I knew I was not alone in missing him.
Richard had been a good friend to many people. Even those who didn’t like him liked him — rival painters, harsh critics. They all loved to have a beer with Richard. That’s the kind of guy he was.
So many people touched me that day, and I felt so alone.
Tomorrow: Chapter 5 continues.