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 6 of 50 | Published Friday, June 14, 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 7 continues

So far: Memories of courtship bring comfort.

For our first anniversary Richard bought me one dozen roses. For our second, he bought two dozen. And so on.

For our tenth anniversary, which was only a few months ago, I came home, but didn’t find any roses.

Richard was sitting at the kitchen counter, with a bottle of champagne on ice. He poured me a glass, then himself. After we toasted, he gave me a small white box and I opened it to find a gorgeous pair of dangling diamond earrings.

I could hardly ask, “Where are the roses?”

After I drank a couple glasses of the bubbly, I excused myself and went to use the bathroom.

The whole bathtub was filled with roses. I didn’t count them but it looked like 120 long-stemmed to me.

• • •

Cloud often turned upside down and her little pink pads floated over her belly looking like jelly beans. If I reached down to touch her, her claws shot out to ward me off, to hold me.

• • •

Sometimes I tried to remember the bad things about Richard, just to keep him a real person. He could be stubborn and oblivious. He could be clumsy and loud.

And he broke some of my favorite objects. An old green-colored wine glass I bought in Ireland — he snapped the stem right off. A vase my mother gave me — he hip-checked it off a bookcase. Never on purpose. He was more cunning than that. He always said it was an accident, and then he went a step further.

He would claim that it was my fault when he broke something that I loved. He would give me a look and ask, why I had put that cup so close to the edge of the counter? Why hadn’t I told him the bathroom floor was wet? Why had I left the rug rumpled so he tripped over it?

• • •

Richard kept his studio very neat, but crammed full of things. Objects lined every flat surface and he studied them: leaves, shells, branches, pieces of old farm machinery, broken crockery. Once I even found an old perfume bottle of mine that he had dug out of the garbage. There was no particular order to all this stuff. Or if there was, it was not obvious to anyone but him.

His work straddled that fine line between abstract and figurative. When he painted abstractly, you were sure you knew what he was painting: a mountain, a tree with a kite caught in its branches. When he painted figuratively, you would turn your head this way and that, trying to make out an object in the work that you recognized.

Richard had had many hard years, working in his studio every night and painting houses during the day, struggling to support himself. But the year before we met, the stars had shone on him. He had a very successful show at Lucinda Davies’ gallery and collectors had started to buy his work. He was finally able to quit painting houses and concentrate solely on his art.

He said that painting houses had taught him two things: always clean your brushes after you use them, and the right amount of paint defines the stroke. I think it taught him something else — to be thankful that he could spend his days working on what he wanted to without getting a bad sunburn.

When he was hard into a project, I tried not to bother him. I would answer the phone and simply take messages. I rather enjoyed acting as his secretary. Even when I brought him in lunch, he would sometimes forget to eat.

He didn’t like me to see a painting until he felt it was done.

Sometimes he would talk about what he was working on. I remember him saying, “It’s not what I’m painting that’s so important, but how it touches people, the visceral, physical feeling that they get from it.”

I hadn’t seen the last painting he had been working on in his studio. Not when he was alive and not since.

Tomorrow: Chapter 8 begins.

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