(A novel by Susan Overturf)
I stepped inside my apartment, turned and bolted the door, and walked through the hallway to the kitchen, stepping around items which had not yet been put away. I kept going over Mark’s words in my mind. Maybe I misheard him, I thought. Let’s see: What rhymes with ghost? Most? Host? What else could he have said besides ghost?
‘Let me know when you see her,’ he had said. ‘Her. The little girl. The ghost.‘ I could not for the life of me think of anything else he might have said instead of what I had actually heard. It had been quite distinct: ‘Her. The little girl. The ghost.’
My small kitchen — really only large enough for one person to work in at a time — still needed a lot of organizing. The countertop was cluttered with items that needed to be put away, and I had not yet made the decision where everything would go. Regardless, I found a glass, albeit one more suited for wine, and the fixings for a small Gin Collins, minus the lime slice.
With glass in hand, I stepped out of the kitchen and into the living and dining room area. I stared at it, mentally placing my furniture in the appropriate spaces. There were three large windows facing west, which I knew I would enjoy especially in the winter, so I planned to get my recliner placed near them. Some of my shorter bookcases — perhaps two of them — would probably fit underneath the sills. On the north side was a small gas fireplace; my tired old loveseat would probably sit opposite it on the south wall. The dining room, basically where I stood now, would manage a small table and two chairs. Another window on the north side would be near that table. I still hadn’t quite figured where I would place my TV and my other bookcases — five in all. But, my preliminary assessment of things at that moment convinced me that, eventually, all would fit into a comfortable place. I could already imagine it being quite cozy.
For the moment, however, everything was askew. Boxes, some opened and empty while others still taped closed, were piled helter-skelter and the furniture had been placed in odd positions by the movers. My recliner sat amongst this disarray like an oasis in the middle of the desert. Stepping over a few piles of books (out of boxes but not in bookcases yet), I crossed the room and sat down in my recliner, raising my feet with the foot lever. I noticed the TV remote, picked it up, and snapped on the TV, sitting on a box a few feet away, but I realized immediately that I would not see a thing until the cable was connected, so I quickly clicked it off again.
As I sipped on my Gin Collins, I thought again about Mark’s comments to me just moments before. I realized that this was no less than the third time since yesterday — the first day I was here — that someone had suggested to me that there was something strange about my apartment, never mind the many jokes my friends had made about my apartment having the number thirteen in it.
The first odd remark had occurred during one of my many trips up in the elevator. As I had boarded with a couple of large boxes, a tall, neatly dressed woman came through the lobby and joined me, assisting me by holding the elevator door while I slid the boxes in. As the elevator doors closed and we moved up, she asked what apartment I was moving into.
“Five-one-three,” I had said, already learning to avoid using the word thirteen because it often elicited superstitious and therefore supercilious comments.
The elevator woman had smiled just slightly, raised her eyebrows, and said simply, “Oh. You mean, five-thirteen.” The elevator doors opened at the fourth floor and she said to me as she left, “Well, that’ll be interesting. Maybe we can talk again in a few weeks!” She didn’t actually laugh, but it was something like a snort. I didn’t have a chance to ask her what she meant, as she disappeared almost immediately from my view, just as Mark had done a few moments before. I had thought nothing of it for the remainder of the day, assuming that she was just another superstition junkie.
My glass empty now, I remained seated, staring out the window at the walkers and joggers passing by on Nelson Street. I recalled that my second encounter had been with the building manager when I had run into him in the mid-afternoon yesterday. He had approached me in the lobby as I was going out to the van for more items.
“Afternoon, ma’am,” he had said, in a slow southern drawl, not something I hear often in the middle of Vancouver, or anywhere in British Columbia, for that matter. He was well over six feet, wearing jeans, a cowboy shirt, hat, and boots. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought I was in Texas. “Are you the new tenant for five-thirteen?” he had said, and I had noted that he had not avoided using the number thirteen. We had talked about practicalities: the mail key, how I could contact him, what to do in emergencies. Things like that. Then, as we parted he had said, “Ma’am, if you hear or see anything strange in your apartment, ya’all let me know, won’t you?”
“Strange?” I had asked. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, just anything that bothers you, ma’am.”
I had let the comment go, as I had the woman in the elevator, but now Mark’s comment seemed to seal the possibility that — at the very least — there were rumours about my apartment. A ghost. A child. A little girl.
I sat in my as-yet undecorated living room — no blinds or curtains on the windows — and listened. Outside, birds chirping, cars and trucks roaring by, and people talking as they passed. Inside, only the hum of the fridge. I stood up, returned my now-empty glass to the kitchen and wandered through the apartment, just listening to the sounds around me and mentally arranging each room. I had put my bed together the previous night but I still had empty bureau drawers. The boxes containing the items which would fill the bureau drawers sat nearby. My closet already had many clothes hanging in it. My future den was just an empty desk, a chair, and a card table. The computer and peripherals remained in boxes. The kitchen and bathroom were small but adequate, still waiting to receive items from boxes to fill their cupboards and drawers.
Where would a little ghost be? I asked myself as I strolled through the rooms. This is so silly. What’s the matter with me? I don’t even believe in ghosts. I walked through the apartment again, hearing only the buzz of the fridge and a ventilator fan which apparently pumped air in from the hallway. I don’t think ghosts appear just because you want them to, I thought. In the living room, I sat down again. I picked up the book I was reading — a biography of Charlotte Bronte — and tried to read, but I couldn’t concentrate. Every sound seemed amplified.
Time to give it up for today, I decided. If there is a ghost here, she’ll show herself eventually. Maybe she wants to see how I decorate the apartment first, I half giggled to myself, feeling slightly drunk from the gin and the exhaustion. As I undressed and slipped my nightgown over my head, I kept repeating to myself: I don’t believe in ghosts. I took a few minutes to empty out two boxes of my clothing and put them into my bureau drawers, then I crawled into bed. I turned out the light. I was sure that I would sleep, but nothing happened. I stared into the darkness. I wonder what the little girl’s name is, I thought. It would help to know her name just in case I ever see her.
Disclaimer: Let it be said that these characters are fictional and created from my own imagination. Similarity to persons living or dead is unintentional and coincidental.