(A novel by Susan Overturf)
["I thought of my favorite sentence from John Donne’s sermon, 'Meditation 17': 'Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in all mankind.'"]
My certainty did not last long. As the minutes ticked by, my mind tried to take in what I had just seen. Had I seen a ghost, or just imagined it? I didn’t believe in ghosts, so why on earth would my mind conjure one up? Was it just the power of suggestion? Three people within the first two days of my moving in had warned me I might see something — something odd, if not a ghost. I stood up and walked into the living room. Just like Scrooge checking for his partner Marley’s ghost, I began to check everywhere: under the table, behind the door, in every room in the apartment. I could find nothing, and the hair on the back of my neck relaxed.
I sat down in the living room and reconsidered precisely what had happened, trying to separate imaginary wanderings from hard, cold facts. I felt sure I had seen something. Was it a psychic connection between looking at my own infant and childhood photographs and the knowledge that a little girl had once lived and died here? Did it have any connection to the fact that I was looking at photographs of my father? Did the ghost have unfinished business with her father, too? Or with her mother? I had no answers, only questions. Silly questions, I thought.
I shook my head and rubbed my forehead. I don’t believe in ghosts. Why on earth am I trying to think of connections? Then reality promptly hit me: Whether I believe in ghosts or not, I just saw something. I didn’t imagine that breeze, or the hair that stood up on the back of my neck. I saw what I saw!
I stood up, slipped on my shoes, and grabbed my keys at the doorway. I stepped out into the hall, locked my door, and knocked on Mark’s door. He came almost immediately.
“Dorthea!” he grinned. “How nice to see you!”
“Hi,” I said, somewhat hesitantly. How does one ask about a ghost? I thought. “Have you got a minute to talk?” I asked.
“Sure, hon, come on in.” Mark pulled the door open wide and allowed me to pass. I walked ahead of him down the hallway and into his living room which looked more like a barber shop: a barber’s chair in the middle and seats for waiting customers against the walls. Photographs of both men and women in various hairstyles were mounted on any flat surface available. I wondered where Mark went when he wanted to rest and get away from his work. I also wondered if I’d ever smell permanent solution wafting from his apartment.
“Are you expecting a client?” I asked.
“Not for half an hour. Have a seat.” He pointed to a chair on his right — an old-style kitchen table chair with foam padding which he used for his waiting clients. I walked over and sat down.
“Can I offer you some tea?”
“No, I’m fine.”
Mark walked over to a small desk where he obviously did his bookkeeping and appointments, and sat down. “So, how’s it going? All settled in?”
“There’s something else you want to ask,” he said.
“You’re an observant fellow, aren’t you?” I smiled and winked at him.
“You want to know more about the ghost.”
“I’m sorry I left you hanging. I just figured you’d know, since you‘d rented the apartment. Ten years ago, a little girl died in there,” and he pointed at the wall where my apartment was. “They said she fell and hit her head, but most people were sure something else had happened. The parents moved out shortly after the child died, and every person who has lived in that apartment since has sworn to me that they have seen the little girl’s ghost. That apartment’s had a lot of tenants, believe you me.”
I stared at Mark, feeling concern and apprehension. “Do you believe in ghosts?”
“I do.” He said it without hesitation.
“I don’t know if I do,” I responded.
“Ghosts only come around if there’s a reason. Something is left unfinished and they’re here to clear it up. If that little girl’s ghost is in your apartment, she wants your help. No one that I know of has been willing to help her.”
“Do you really believe that?” I asked. I’m sure my left eyebrow raised as high as it could go. It was something I did automatically which people often commented about.
Mark seemed unperturbed by my obvious doubts. He stood up and straightened his pants legs. “Yes, I do.” He looked straight at me. “I really, really do.” He crossed his arms and looked out the window. “Would you like a glass of water?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Do you think this ghost might want to talk to me?”
Mark ignored my denial of a need for water and, without answering my question, left the room and went into the kitchen; I could hear him pour water into a glass. When he returned he handed me the glass and then said, “To answer your question, yes, I think she might want to talk to you. You’re a teacher and you have a strong feeling about children. Maybe she senses that.”
My belief systems were being tested to their limit. I shook my head. “I don’t know, Mark. I’m not sure what to think.”
“It doesn’t matter what you think, Dorthea.” Mark came over and touched me on the shoulder. It felt reassuring. “If that little girl needs your help, she’ll find you.”
“I think she already has.” It felt strange to tell someone that I thought I’d seen a ghost.
“You’ve seen her then?”
“Yes, a few minutes ago.“
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” Mark said. “I wish I could see her.”
I groaned. “Well, I don’t exactly feel privileged at the moment.”
“But you are, Dorthea. You are.”
“I’m not so sure.” I stood up and thanked Mark for his help. I placed the glass of water, which I had never touched, on the window sill beside the chair. “I suppose you may be right,“ I said, “but I’m not sure what to think. One thing for sure though: I’m going to have to learn more about her.”
Mark walked with me to his door. “Listen, hon, you should go see Miss Hattie. She lives downstairs, in the apartment directly below yours. A bit of a busybody, you know, and she was here when Catherine died.“
“Catherine? That was her name?”
“Yes. Catherine Fuller.”
“How old was she?”
“Six, I think.”
I nodded my head. “Yes, she looked about six.” Mark said nothing. I stepped into the hallway, said good-bye to Mark, and returned to my own apartment.
I thought about my husband, Jake, and wished that I had his calm, conservative counsel at this particular moment. And, if there really are ghosts, I thought, why can’t it be you, Jake, who comes to see me, not a strange little girl?
I made myself some supper, watched some TV, and decided to read. But the little girl — and her ghost — preyed on my mind. I had read a few books about ghosts, and who hasn’t seen the movie, Ghost? But, in truth, I had always believed them to be more urban myth than reality. My curiosity took me to the internet, which I had managed to get hooked up to that afternoon. I found testimonials by people who were one hundred percent certain that they had seen a ghost, and I found web sites where skeptics claimed that ghosts simply did not exist. Whether or not I believed in ghosts, it was a bit disheartening to read that some people believe that ghosts may become earthbound after their death if there is something left undone, or there has been a sudden death or great emotion involved. The death of a child could certainly be disturbing, I thought. I stopped reading the articles on the internet.
When I was keyed up, I always enjoyed reading poetry, and I had many collections from my teaching days. “This is not the night to read a Poe short story,“ I chuckled out loud to myself. I decided on a little bit of Woodsworth, but I had to scan several shelves before I found him. As I read, I reacted to every sound: water running, the fridge going off and on, the dishwasher making funny knocks, sounds from the neighbouring apartments. I told myself I was being ridiculous. I knew that I couldn’t live comfortably in the apartment if I was constantly worrying that Catherine would reappear. Anyway, I thought, she seemed perfectly harmless. Maybe I can figure out a way to communicate with her. In a nanosecond, my mind went back and forth to believing and non-believing.
It had been a long day, and there had been several long days in succession, so I crawled into bed early, hoping that sleep would come quickly. I turned out the light, and stared wide-eyed at the ceiling. A ghost, for heaven sakes, in my apartment, the ghost of a little girl! The hours passed and I laid awake, thinking about the little girl. Who was she? What was she like? Who were her parents? In which room had she died? How had she died? I thought of my favorite sentence from John Donne’s sermon, “Meditation 17“: “Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in all mankind.”
It occurred to me yet again that Catherine and I might have something in common, that Catherine knew this and that was why she was here. Perhaps she was trying to help me as much as I might be able to help her. Maybe, as I looked at old photographs of my family, she knew that we were alike and had had common experiences. Maybe she had unfinished business and maybe she didn’t. Maybe she was here to help me, and not the other way around. Even as I thought about these things, I felt a little foolish. I knew that Jake, Michael and Peter would all tell me I was being silly.
I have to learn more about little Catherine Fuller, I thought. I’m going to call that woman — did Mark say her name was Miss Hattie? — tomorrow morning. I must know more. As I rolled over and finally fell asleep, I could not get over the feeling that someone was watching me.
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.