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 13 of 50 | Published Friday, June 21, 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 13 continues

So far: Lucinda ramps up pressure for an art show.

“How many new paintings are in the studio?” Lucinda asked.

“In the studio?”

“Or wherever they are? How many new ones do you have there and in town? Do you know?”

“Not right off the top of my head.”

“About?” she persisted.

“A dozen,” I said tentatively.

“A dozen would be good. A dozen would be great. I have about seven here that I’d like to include, depending on the other new work. How is it?”

I didn’t say anything.

“What are his latest pieces like?” she asked. “More abstract landscapes?”

I thought back to the last few paintings of Richard’s I had seen. As the weather had turned, he had come inside to paint. “No, more interiors.”

“Interiors? What do you mean?”

“There are a couple out a window, but you kind of see the window. Then there are some tabletops. As always, it’s a little hard to know what you’re looking at. It was like he was moving into himself. Maybe he knew something.” Richard had always blurred the line between what we see and what we think we see.

“Uh-huh. What was his last painting? Was he finished with it?”

I hated her asking me these questions. I wished that Richard didn’t want this show so much. I’d have hung up on her. “I don’t know.”

Silence. “What do you mean, you don’t know.”

“I haven’t gone in his studio.”

More silence. “Wendy, I’ll come up.”

“No. I mean, not yet. I need a little more time.”

“For what?”

That, I had to give her, was a good question. “To make sure he isn’t coming back.”

There was a long silence. “We’ll talk in a week or so.”

I had scared her. I decided to freak her out completely. “Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you. I’m not sure that I want to sell any of his new work.”

Then I hung up.

• • •

Cloud meowed at the front door. I asked her what she wanted. She looked straight up at me and shrieked her metal-on-metal screech. She knew what she wanted and was determined I would too. When I opened the door, she bolted out. I ran after her, but once she was in the yard, she settled down. I went back in, grabbed a jacket and then sat on the front step to watch her play.

I was surprised how much time I could spend just watching this kitten. She fascinated me. I was doing almost nothing else. I couldn’t read — couldn’t concentrate. Could hardly listen to music. Everything reminded me of something that made me cry.

I couldn’t clean, because there seemed no reason to do that. No one was coming to see me.

So I watched that scrappy cat. She was hunting at the moment. I couldn’t see anything, but she was focused on something. She pounced and a mouse burst out of the leaves.

Cloud ran one way and the mouse ran the other.

• • •

The third time Richard sat in my section at the New French Cafe he was with a woman. By this time I had a crush on him and was disappointed to see him with someone else. They seemed quite intimate — touching, laughing. She was dressed in a tight black suit with a gash of red lipstick and silky short black hair.

Richard was dressed in his usual chinos and flannel shirt with a wool vest over it.

They didn’t seem like a couple. I hate couples that wear identical outfits, but they didn’t even look like they belonged at the same table.

I brought them menus. Richard smiled and made a hand gesture like he wanted me to bring him some water. I pretended I had no idea what he wanted. I felt mad at him. “Excuse me, sir. What?”

“Water, please.”

“Gas or non-gaseous?”

“Just water. Whatever flavor it comes in today.”

“And for the lady?” I asked.

That was the first time I heard Lucinda’s snarly voice. “Bring him his water, then we’ll order.”

Whoa, I thought, and went and brought out the most expensive bottle of water I could find. They both had expensive meals. They ordered a bottle of wine. I brought everything out, dreaming of dropping something on the black suit.

At the end of their meal, as I came to pick up their dishes, Richard lifted up his glass of wine and said to me, “We’re celebrating.”

“Oh,” I said, not at all sure I wanted to hear what they were celebrating: their daughter’s graduation from kindergarten, their fifth wedding anniversary, their engagement, whatever.

Richard took the bottle of wine, poured a small amount in the bottom of Lucinda’s unused water glass and offered it to me. “Drink to me. I just sold a painting to the Minneapolis Institute of Art.”

I drank to that.

Lucinda paid for the meal and left him finishing his coffee.

“Would you go out with me?” he asked when I circled back to check on him.

“You mean like on a date?”

“Yes, exactly like that. A movie, the whole works. Do you like Russian films?”

I said yes although I had never seen one. We agreed on a time, Sunday night, my night off. After he left, I went back to clear off the table and found another ten-dollar tip on top of what Lucinda had left me.

• • •

Before our date, I took the thirty dollars and bought a beautiful cashmere sweater in a second-hand store. I wanted Richard to love the way I felt.

Tomorrow: Chapter 14 begins.

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