Possessed

I didn’t mean for it to happen like this. I like to think I’m the kind of mother who knows her boundaries. But as a ghost it’s hard to know if you’re hovering.

I didn’t mean for it to happen like this. I like to think I’m the kind of mother who knows her boundaries. But as a ghost it’s hard to know if you’re hovering.

The orientation, for one, takes some getting used to. Positioning a diffuse emanation where you want in the physical world, staying out of the way of peoples’ synapses and spleen functions. Not scaling way back to Pluto. The fine-tuning is exhausting. It's honestly easier to sleep when you're dead. But for the dissenting—the tortured, the entrepreneurial—we keep an active, for want of a better word, lifestyle.

After I died I went on a kind of wastrel gap year. Saw parts of the world I'd never make it to in a Winnebago. I died with a head of lovely red hair, not a streak of the grey nomad. Sure travelling was beautiful, but mostly lonely and confusing. I returned to the Yardsville cemetery. Only by then I'd detached well and truly from my rapidly decomposing body. I met up with Malcolm and Heather who'd risen around the same time. They were going about the process quite similar to myself—I was free, and full of energy! All three of us, jitterbugs and slimy, maggoty. We came up with a business plan.

Malcolm spearheaded the technological intervention, intersecting a couple of old e-mail addresses and expired business domain names, formulating a community co-operative. We branded the entire operation around invisibility and the illusion of ‘privacy’. Phantom Planners (“Let’s have a P-P-Party!”) employs preternatural intervention to facilitate a safe and temperate environment for children’s birthday parties.

We're the only event planners in Yardsville and business is booming.

Event management is a rough work schedule, but when you’re dead, time is of a different essence. We're in a perpetual state of 'awakened'. Therefore, I spend my personal time following the lackadaisical movements of my twenty-four year old son, Murray.

I left my husband a year prior to the accident after thorough emotional neglect and untold senseless business investments… I left him again when I died, this time with the task of bringing up our son alone.

Murray has the social skills of a taxidermist, his sense of social alienation pre-dated puberty—which itself undoubtedly lagged. He’s a good boy. I've affection rooted in worry, which draws my spirit to watch over him for a few hours every day.

Every so often I insert myself in ways that might defibrillate his ambition; I let him win a couple of online gaming tournaments, freezing the controls of opponents. Lent a helping jolt when he clumsily attempted to jump-start a girl’s car. I'm not proud but I even changed a couple of the results on his liberal arts degree. The boy didn’t bother to notice. Then the other week, I found he's signed up to Tinder. I was flabbergasted. Might've blown a fuse, or a light bulb. Was my son kindling some romantic dream? Was he hunting tail, like other young males I’d had the misfortune of physiologically intercepting?

Joanne was a Latin dance-style teacher whose cyber-lugs, for whatever reason, pricked up over Murray's profile. He'd done a bit of a half-assed job, so I swapped a couple of sentences with her on the sly. Joanne suggested meeting at a pasta place in Newtown. I only hoped he’d remember to turn up, not to mention lucid, showered, equipped for table etiquette and small talk.

Perhaps I’d become too comfortable, too ingratiated, with my GPS-ESP.

Back in the yard Malcolm was insisting we go over the proceedings for John Clutterbuck’s eighth birthday party.

“Return customers are valued assets,” he intoned.

Spectrally I’m a pretty fast mover, so I shook him off saying I’d be back later that evening in time to plan everything for tomorrow. There was no way I was missing this date.

There are moments of retrospect that retrospectively never make much of an impression. You know that you’ll know that you’ll do this again, and so on. One would think that in death, a more cosmic perspective might prompt something like foresight. It’s not true. If you don’t make it in this life, you don’t make it in the next. Mistakes are what make us 'matter'.

Joanne was nice looking—small, and lean, with dark, side-swept hair. Her choice of shade in foundation was less her own fault than the cheap halogens of this Italian joint. It made quite a spectral display of her freckles that seemed to pulse and ebb vertiginously. She twirled her spaghetti in a twist-and-flick dance with her fork, and in similarly circuitous explanations, described her late post as a Zumba instructor. She continued to refer to the recent regrettable crash landing of the eosto-roid-happy party workout as a 'dying art'. Murray, unable to respond mid-mouthful, chopped a few ravioli pockets so they dropped back on the plate with a little wet sigh. I looked on in horror. What might he say to someone so plainly extraterrestrial?

Would he agree? Would he sympathise? At this point, in my emotional distress, I might have synthesised too much of the open bottle of red on the table. I frantically attempted something spectacular to distract from his failings—blow the speakers, break a window—but instead I somehow quite suddenly found my attention caught fully by the steaming plate of ravioli in front of me. The grounding, earthy smell of cheese and tomato and slow-cooked meat and vegetables. I speared a pillow of the stuff and lowered it down my gullet, utterly possessed by the sheer carnal pleasure of consumption. I smacked my lips and looked at Joanne, who was still twirling and flicking, and snapped, “Isn't food supposed to be eaten?”

“Oh Murray, careful,” Joanne puffed, coy and mock hurt. "You sound like my mother."

I could detect Murray, somewhere up in the rafters of the skull I'd entrapped. He manifested tingles around the back of the neck, that threatened with growing intensity to build to an operatic migraine. I was sure I could hear him swearing, my ears were literally burning like I might explode like some over-pumped football. Somewhere amid it all Joanne recommenced iterations of her favourite workout tips. I wrangled some semblance of austerity, and managed to cut her off.

I pleaded sudden sickness.

Joanne eyed me distrustfully. "Well, if you don't like the food-" she began whimpering.

"No. S'not it. Just…need an early bedtime. I guess," I stammered.

She scowled. "It's only 7:30. Who you gotta get home to?"

I looked at her down my—truly just like mine—nose. Pinched my thigh through the pocket of my jeans 'til it hurt. Shot through like a nervy colt through the starting gates.

“I’m really sorry, Joanne, but I just don’t see this working out. My mother, she’s really too possessive.”

Whatever openness remained in her expression firmly dead-bolted shut. Schwump.

“Right. Good luck with that, Murray. Don't call me, ok?” She turned and stared out the window.

I couldn’t fault her.

Finally out into the street, the blood swirling dangerously around the temples drained. His head felt less like a pressure cooker than a familiar weight upon these shoulders. The cool night air was wonderfully crisp. The streets were relatively quiet, just a few cars, and others making their way home from the train station. We walked past Too Thai-t, the last surviving of the Newtown Thai restaurants having outdone every last one on meal proportions...

We walked in relative silence. I felt unaccountably bare. Was mind-share possible or was it more like a telephone conversation, each one hiding their thoughts somewhere down the line?

I continued confidently despite this new horizontal perspective, navigating a drunk spiderweb of back lanes all at odd angles to one another, more likely from his bodily instinct than expert guidance. We came to a door painted garishly green. No. 420. "Oh, Murray."

"Just a joke," He piped up meekly.

Of course I'd been to the house before, but hadn’t had a chance to properly take it in. Everything was brown and purple, and the smell to boot—the whole thing took on the character of a rotten plum inside. No one else was home it seemed, just artefacts of breakfast bowls and longnecks and a couple of crushed butts in an ashtray by the window. A typical share house. I knew the motley crew. We took the stairs to the second level, passing an 'I want to believe' poster and another of Billy Rae and Miley Cyrus hideously defaced. Opened his bedroom door and sat on the edge of the bed. It felt, very suddenly, like I was a parent having gingerly entered the room of their teenager to broach a personal issue.

“You made her pay,” He said, forever droll.

“Your bank balance will thank me later,” I told him.

“Am I hallucinating?” He seemed tentative, but I was well aware of his experience with cannabis and hallucinogens. We both agreed that this was rather different.

“Well, no. That would be altogether too backwards, to consider myself as being all your idea. But, well, yes, it's your mother, Harriet.”

“Har- Mum. How did you…” He paused, "Get in here?"

We leaned back to face the ceiling, where small UV stars blinked in slow motion.

"It's unclear. I think, well, I think I got a little drunk and kind of 'slipped' as it were-" I felt a jolt and realised I'd been sprung.

"Wait, why were you there in the first place? That's…" He was having a hard time handling the adolescent pique. "That's private!"

In the end, we both laughed, bright as a dying flame. Perhaps one brain should only run one consciousness; we were running out of battery. I wriggled us up to the pillow and in one small sigh and burst of a wet saliva bubble, he fell into sleep. I hit the ceiling.

* * *

In the graveyard, Malcolm tittered peevishly while Heather tried to undo all the neg vibes he'd been spreading in my absence. The grey clouds were almost moved over. The trees not quite as overbearing. The caretaker was back to being a timid old man, less of a scythe-toting ancient prune.

It’s a special place. Feels good to be home. The wall on the far east of the park belonged to an old halfway house for juveniles a few years back but I haven’t had a bottle thrown my way in years, nor has my plot been urinated on…

In the early days we'd hosted a couple of Wiccan gatherings too, but this wouldn’t do for the Phantom Planners enterprise. Parents can never be too overly open-minded about their child’s company. And I was rather looking forward to the young Clutterbuck's return.

A warm ripple explodes over me and I glance wildly at the sun still somewhat obscured by the clouds. Not that the sun has affected me in years…

Just over the rise of the east mausoleum I see a familiar shuffler. Murray, standing still with one hand on my stone, is inscrutable.

He pulls his hand back and the electric shivers dance for a moment more.

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