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 16 of 50 | Published Monday, June 24, 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 15 continues

So far: A bout of sleeplessness and the ghost reappears.

After Richard and I had been seeing each other for a few months, I decided it was time for him to meet Gary. I invited them both over for dinner — grilled lamb chops and mashed potatoes. I thought maybe we could go out and hear some music.

Gary arrived early. He always did. He would get nervous he was going to be late and come much too early. He brought some Johnny Walker Red and poured himself a drink. He sat up at the counter and told me how to cook. I ignored him. He was on his second Scotch when Richard arrived.

Gary stood up to shake Richard’s hand. He towered over Richard by a good half a foot.

Richard said, “Nice to meet you. Wendy claims you as her best friend.”

“We go way back.” Gary waved the bottle of Scotch and offered Richard a drink, somehow acting as host.

“Not crazy about Scotch,” Richard said. “I brought a nice Syrah. Should I open it, darling?”

He came around and kissed me on the shoulder. He had never before called me darling. He didn’t tend to kiss me when other people were around. I sensed some territorial claiming going on.

Dinner was awkward. Gary would mention a recent book he had liked and Richard wouldn’t have read it or he would say he thought it was mediocre. Richard would bring up a movie and Gary told him he didn’t go to the movies, he just watched TV. I knew this not to be true.

Gary continued to drink his Scotch, not having any of the wine. Unusual for him. Richard bragged about his latest work. Unusual for him. I said little, wondering what I had been thinking bringing these two men together.

Finally Gary asked, “What do you think you’re doing with Wendy?”

I tried to stop him. “Gary.”

Gary turned his head toward me and said, “I just need to know because it involves me too.”

“Do you mean are my intentions honorable?” Richard asked, laughing.

“Well, Wendy’s probably told you, but we have a pact. If neither of us marries by the time we’re forty, we’ve decided we’ll marry each other.”

Richard burst out laughing. He looked at me. “Not really?”

I had to tell the truth. “Yes, we did make that pact. That was before I met you.”

“But,” Gary broke in. “You were seeing that bass player then. Remember?”

Oh, God, the last thing I wanted Gary to do was to start listing my boyfriends. “Yes, and you were seeing that lawyer.”

“Rebecca,” Gary murmured. I had sidetracked him. “The one that knew all the names of all the tall buildings in downtown Minneapolis and was surprised that I didn’t. She was a strange bird.”

When Gary left I was afraid that he shouldn’t be driving but was glad to see him go. “What was all that about?”

“What?” Richard asked innocently.

“That puffing of chests and posturing?”

“Just taking his measure. The usual.”

“The usual male weirdness?”

“Yes, I guess you could call it that.” Richard poured himself a drink from the bottle of Scotch Gary had left behind. “So have you two slept together?”

“Are you kidding? He’s my best friend. Never.”

“I like him better already.”

Chapter 16

Richard had been working the New York Times crossword the day he died. He did the puzzles every day, relishing them as they got harder as the week went on. When we first lived together, he would try to get me to do them with him, but he hogged the pencil and he was better at them than I was. I gave up. He just asked me all the literature and fashion questions.

The paper still sat where he had left it on the coffee table with the pencil that he had been using lying on top, the puzzle half done, the pencil at the ready.

• • •

The downspout on the gutter was plugged up. With all this rain I was worried about the roof leaking.

Every fall, before we’d leave the cabin, Richard would get the ladder out and climb onto the roof and clean out the gutters after the leaves came down. But it had been over a year since they had been emptied out.

This afternoon when it stopped raining I decided to get on top of the roof and clean out the gutters. I could have called someone. We have the names of a couple handymen in the area, but I decided to do it myself.

In the garage I found the ladder hung from two pegs up fairly high. I managed to get one end down. Then the ladder slipped from my hands and crashed to the floor. I picked it up in the middle and hung it over my shoulder. The weight of it crushed my shoulder blade, but I rushed outside with it and leaned it up against the house.

I forced myself to climb the ladder. With each step, I checked to make sure it was steady. When I reached the roofline, I stepped out on the roof. The pitch wasn’t so great that I was afraid of sliding off, but I still went down on my hands and knees. The metal roof could be slippery, especially if it was wet.

Crawling down along the gutter, I pulled sodden leaves out as I went, dumping them onto the ground. The smell of the rotting detritus hit me like an infection. When I looked down into the downspout I found it was all jammed up.

Carefully I reached my hand into it, scraping out the leaves until I could reach no farther. It would have to do. I hoped the next rain would wash out the rest of the leaves. I was not getting on the roof again.

I crawled up to the peak of the roof and looked over to the lake. Shrouded in mist, the blue water seemed like the portal to another world.

As I was inching my way down, my foot slipped on the metal roof and I started to slide. For a long moment, I thought I wouldn’t be able to stop myself and I’d go over the edge. Then I caught my foot in the gutter and I stopped.

Richard flashed through my mind.

If I died in a fall, I thought, would he be there to catch me on the other side?

Tomorrow: Chapter 16 continues.

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