The moment he entered his home, Bob knew the ghost was gone.
Over the past four weeks, the ghost
had always welcomed Bob home, whether in the evening when he came from work or
Saturday afternoons when he returned from his weekly visit to his Mother’s or Sunday
mornings after church. The ghost was a voice Bob had grown accustomed to
hearing and now that it was gone, Bob was saddened and confused.
Bob waited at the door another
moment, hoping the ghost would speak. Perhaps she (the ghost’s voice had a
decidedly feminine character to it) was playing a game. Or busy. Bob had no
previous experiences with ghosts, so maybe today, the third Thursday of the
month, was when they ran their errands. A smile touched his lips as he thought
of the ghost at the spectral grocery store. Maybe the ghost was at the ethereal
DMV. He wondered if theirs was as much a bother as the one he visited annually
to update the tags on his ten-year-old compact sedan.
When it became apparent no greeting
would be forthcoming, Bob removed his shoes, placed them neatly on the little
mat by the door and eased his feet into the slippers just as neatly located
next to the newly-removed loafers. He placed his laptop bag on the small table
in the small foyer near the entrance of his small home. He walked into his
living room, also on the smallish side, and turned on the lamp. The
sparsely-furnished area was instantly illuminated, putting on display an older
recliner, a new couch, a stationary bike he used often (a fact that filled him
with no small amount of pride considering he could still wear the suit he wore
at his high school graduation), a glass-fronted cabinet displaying mementos of
his life (there weren’t many), and a 50-inch high-definition flat-screen plasma
TV mounted on the wall. The latter was a gift to himself. Not a birthday gift
or a Christmas gift; a just-because gift.
He referred to these self-awarded
pleasures as his Stuart Smalley Presents, a reference to the Saturday Night
Live character whose credo of “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone
it, people like me!” never failed to give Bob a chuckle when he thought of it.
While Bob felt, for the most part, he was in fact good enough, he had neither
felt particularly smart at any point in his 30-some odd years on Earth, nor did
he necessarily feel that people liked him. He was not disliked, that he knew of.
In fact, had an independent survey taker decided to take the time to conduct a
poll of the people in Bob’s life (his mother excluded) to suss out for
themselves Bob’s popularity, said pollster would find Bob barely moved the
needle of recognition beyond being the person occupying Workstation 42 at the
call center where he adequately convinced people of their heretofore unknown
need to purchase additional insurance, regardless of their level of financial
protection in the event of a disaster at the time of his call. Bob was simply
Simply “there” was how Bob had come
to think of the ghost. He was startled when she had first spoken to him, one
night little more than a month ago. Since then and until this morning when he
had heard the ghost’s voice the most recent (last?) time, wishing him a good
day at work, he had come to think of the ghost as something slightly
supernatural and odd, but beautiful and unique, like the Northern Lights or
those fish at the bottom of the ocean with the odd stalk on their foreheads
that had the naturally-occurring little light…for the life of him, Bob couldn’t
think of what they were called. It would come to him. Things like this usually
did when he stopped thinking about them. So he made the decision to stop
thinking about what that particular form of aquatic life was called and did.
Bob sat down in his chair and
picked up the remote to his television, but did not turn it on. He sat quietly
staring at it, though, as if it were. He was thinking. He was thinking about
the ghost and why she hadn’t spoken to him. Was she mad at him? That thought
gave him the teensiest bit of discomfort, but had you asked him why, he
wouldn’t have been able to put his finger on it. He didn’t believe so. He and
the ghost had a very cordial relationship with the biggest bone of contention
being what to watch Tuesday evenings.
Perhaps the ghost’s time with Bob
was done and she had been called home, like Dudley in The Bishop’s Wife, one of his favorite movies. He didn’t feel that
was the case. He had no great struggle in life. He had experienced the usual
hardships in life; deaths, separations (most recently in the form of a divorce
from his wife of slightly less than two years), the usual spate of slings and
arrows one faces in the course of a normal existence. Or at least if she had been a part of Bob’s life for a
specific purpose, he was unaware of it. But that didn’t feel right. If the
ghost were a guardian angel, Bob believed that topic would have been broached
So Bob sat, pondering. Unable to
come to a satisfying conclusion, he got up from his chair and walked into his
kitchen, turning the light on as he did. His kitchen, like the rest of his home,
was small, but clean in a manner that states the person in charge of tidying up
was, at least slightly, obsessive compulsive. Everything was in its place,
perfectly aligned. All plates were stacked in perfect order, like
equally-measured porcelain pancakes. In the silverware drawer, the slots
designated for the forks and spoons were filled with an even number of
utensils, piled perfectly atop one another. Had a white-gloved military
inspector entered the kitchen, or any room in the house, Bob would have passed
with flying colors.
He walked with purpose to the
glass-faced cabinet above the sink, opened it, and retrieved a three-quarters
full bottle of Jameson’s. As he did this, he was reminded of Tina, his
newly-divorced wife. Tina was a tiny woman; barely five feet in height and
barely one hundred pounds in weight. With a flawless Irish accent, he would
refer to her as his “wee slip of a lass.” He usually did this as he would fill
a shot glass with the Irish whiskey, hoist it to his lips, pinky finger out,
and consume it in two or three sips. It was what Tina referred to as, in her
not-so-flawless Irish accent, Bob enjoying his “wee sip of a glass.”
As he thought of Tina, Bob had a
slight feeling of discomfort. It wasn’t a terrible feeling or a sense of
something dreadfully wrong, nor was it long lasting in duration. Just an odd
twinge that was completely forgotten as he finished his “wee sip of a glass.”
As a matter of fact, Bob had not thought of Tina much at all since the divorce,
a short, painless process lasting less than a month from the time she announced
she felt it would be best for them to part to the day the couple stood before
the same judge who had married them, decreeing the marriage irreparably damaged
and approved the motion to divorce.
Having finished his whiskey (in
three quick sips), Bob replaced the cap on the bottle, putting it back in its
place. He was washing the shot glass when the ghost spoke.
Although he started, he did not
drop the glass. As he set the shot glass down, he considered not responding, thinking
his silence would relay to her his hurt that she had waited so long to speak to
him. Bob also considered the opposite: asking why she only now spoke and if he
had done something wrong.
He did neither because he sensed a tone. He was familiar with a tone. It was what he had heard from his
mother growing up when she needed to stress to Bob the importance of listening
to grownups. After all, she would say (so often, he thought it of others no
fewer than five times per day, every single day of his adult life), “God gave
us two ears and one mouth because listening is far more important than
talking.” He had heard a tone from
every boss he had ever worked for when they wanted to ensure he would do
exactly what he was told, to the letter. “Wandering off the path” is how many
referred to it. Bob never wandered off the path. The path was well-worn without
a single footprint in the grass on either side.
The ghost had that particular
affectation in her voice, so instead of passive aggression or an inquisitive mea culpa, Bob did what he always did.
He turned to the direction he thought was the voice was originating from,
smiled, and said, “Why, hello there. How was our day today?”
The ghost completely ignored Bob
and, with a tone, said, “You haven’t
He was taken aback. Two things
slammed through Bob’s mind: The ghost had never brought this particular subject
up and she was right. He hadn’t checked today, primarily because her not being
here had confused him and caused him to forget. Bob was good about following
directions but only if his daily patterns were not interrupted. Many people did
not react positively to change, but in Bob’s case, confusion reigned in his
mind when things did not happen exactly the way they were supposed to.
“You weren’t here,” Bob said,
trying to (avoid eye contact) sound nonchalant. “I forgot.”
“Don’t bother,” the ghost said.
“It’s gone. It’s gone and you need to take care of the situation.”
A panic chilled him to the very
core of his soul. It’s gone, Bob thought. But what is it? He could not remember, but he knew it being gone was bad.
Very bad. In fact, it would be the most bad thing to have ever happened in
Bob ran through his small house to
his small bedroom. Entering the room, he saw his bed, still perfectly made from
this morning; the night table with the digital alarm clock; and his reading
glasses atop a book, one of a series of weighty tomes regarding a young
magician and his friends. His oak dresser was across from the bed, a chair next
to it. His closet door was closed tightly as it always was. Bob made these
observations in the span of an eye blink, but knew the ghost was right.
It was gone.
“What are you going to do, Bob?”
said the ghost from behind him. Bob didn’t know. Bob didn’t even know what it was, only that it should be here and it
wasn’t. He was about to respond when he suddenly thought: She asked me what I was going to do. All their conversations
had been from the point of view of we. “How are we doing today” or “What are we
going to watch this evening?” The ghost had asked, rather pointedly, what he was going to do. And it was a valid
question because Bob had no idea what he
was going to do considering he still couldn’t remember what it was or why he should be concerned
about its disappearance.
In the midst of his anxiety, Bob
was reminded of his and Tina’s final conversation. A similar feeling coursed
through him then as now. She was returning home to retrieve the last of her
things. Some clothes, a few movies she was fond of that, a couple small
knick-knacks of personal value to her. Bob was busy baking bread prior to her
arrival. She loved his homemade bread. He wasn’t, surprisingly, cooking her
favorite treat in any effort to win her back. As with everything and everyone
else in his life, when it was gone, it was gone. Jobs, friends, the very few
girlfriends he had had, material things, whatever. When they left his life, he
spared them hardly a second thought. That was another of his mother’s lessons:
“Don’t focus on what you’ve lost. Look forward to what you can gain.” In his
mother’s case, that lesson translated to: “Don’t worry about those things I
told you to leave alone in the first place. Return instead to paying attention
No, he was cooking the bread for
Tina simply because he knew she would like it and would cheer her up. While Bob
really had no emotion about the divorce, the same could not be said for Tina.
She was absolutely elated. She had never truly loved Bob, but had never hated
him and never took advantage of him in any way, either. She had been in a spot
in her life where family and friends had begun to turn up the pressure about
getting married and Bob, whom she had met at a conference at work, seemed as
good a man as any. He was well-mannered, attractive enough, and gave off the
distinct vibe of a man who would not wander off the path.
And he didn’t. Which was good for
Tina because had Bob set his feet upon the virgin foliage lining the path of
his life, he would discover Tina’s girlfriend of eight years and their plan for
Tina to stay married to Bob until gay marriage was legalized in their state,
which it had been two months ago. Had someone actually confronted him and
informed him his wife was a lesbian, Bob couldn’t have been more surprised had
he learned his mother had played shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, was a
three-time All-Star and former league MVP. Their sex life was normal (his and
Tina’s). At least it was what he
considered normal. He had never been comfortable with the act in the first
place, but the fact that Tina allowed him to engage her in coitus from time to time, making the expected movements and moans,
made him think they had at least an average sexual relationship. Tina saw sex
with a man as a physical act used only to get things done. She and her partner
had an understanding. That understanding was, if it took taking the high hard
one to get a promotion or a vacation or, as in this case, the attention away
from them until they could legally live their lives as they saw fit, then that was
no issue whatsoever.
So Tina stuck it out with Bob for a
couple years and actually grew to care for and pity him. True, she never loved
him, but she made sure to never hurt him. She understood the psychic trauma his
mother (vile, vile woman) had
inflicted upon him and while she knew she was not going to deviate from her
plans, she would make his life comfortable as possible. As such, it was with mixed
emotions she watched her governor signing the bill for marriage equality into
law. She loved her girlfriend and knew they would live happily ever after, but
she also knew Bob was going to be hurt.
It was with great surprise,
however, she discovered he didn’t seem to be upset that night she had told him
she didn’t feel the spark was there anymore and that she wanted a divorce. Bob
had smiled a sad little smile and said OK. Mostly because he wasn’t surprised
by the announcement, but also due to the presence of a tone.
She entered the house while Bob was
taking the bread out of the oven. He had already packed her things neatly into
two medium-sized boxes sitting next to the front door. She smelled the fresh
bread and smiled her own sad little smile. Bob may have had the emotional range
of a sack of nickels, but the man could bake his ass off, she thought.
“Ah, my wee slip of a lass,” Bob
said in his perfect Irish brogue as Tina walked into the kitchen.
She smiled as her eyes caught sight
of the shot glass on the counter. “I see you’ve had your wee sip of a glass.”
Their eyes locked briefly, but they looked away just as quickly. Tina turned
around, taking her jacket off and setting it on the kitchen table. “My mom and
dad said to tell you hi and to not be a stra-“
Her words were cut off as Bob put
his hand across her mouth from behind with a strength that astonished her. Or
rather, would have astonished her had she had time to be astonished. She
didn’t. The moment he silenced her, the serrated edge of a bread knife touched
her neck, just below her left ear. It began moving to the right, digging deeper
into her flesh and her throat as it made its journey to her right ear. By the
time the knife arrived near the diamond earring in Tina’s dainty earlobe, the
knife (a gift from her), had cut to her spine, blood erupting from the wound in
seemingly impossible amounts.
He kept his hand on her mouth,
holding her to him as she struggled. He felt her weakening, weakening until she
became a dead weight that he slowly lowered to the floor, now flooded with his
“Bob, we need to take care of
It was the first time he had heard
the ghost. He was surprised, but not startled, just as he was surprised by what
he had done to Tina, but not horrified or panicked. He listened to the ghost
(he thought of it as “she”) and did what she told him. After cleaning the
kitchen and removing every drop of blood, he cleaned Tina as best he could,
wrapped her in two of his bedsheets, and laid her beside his bed. The ghost had
said this was for the best until they could decide how to best dispose of her.
was Tina, Bob realized back in the present moment. He had killed her. He had
killed Tina and had kept her in his (their) bedroom for the last four weeks.
And now she (it) was gone. Bob’s legs gave way and he fell to the floor on his
behind, panic threatening to shut down his mind.
“We’re going to take care of this,
Bob,” the ghost said.
“Really? This is really going to be
OK?” Bob asked, a mixture of stark fear and childish hope in his voice.
“Oh, yes. We’re going to be just
fine,” she said. “There is a box beneath the couch. Get it and open it.”
With no hesitation, Bob leapt to
his feet and ran to the living room. He shoved the couch from the back, looking
down as he pushed. There was a smallish cardboard box there. He leaned down and
picked it up. It was much heavier than he had thought it would be. He hesitated
briefly, then opened it. Inside was a gray .380 pistol. He stared blankly for a
moment and finally asked, “What am I supposed to do with this? Do I shoot
For the first time since he had
known her (it), the ghost laughed. “Oh, no, Silly Bean!” Once again, ice water
filled his veins. Silly Bean had been Tina’s pet name for him. “You need to
take the gun, then look outside.”
He pulled the gun from the box,
setting it in the middle of the couch. His eyes blank, sweat beginning to bead
on his upper lip, he turned around and walked through the foyer to the front
door. He looked outside through the window on the left side of the entrance.
The entire street was filled with police. He saw at least five police cars, all
with their lights flashing, what looked to be dozens of officers, two
ambulances, four news vans with the tall satellite antennas and, of course, the
entire neighborhood, members of which who would later provide the great stereotypical
quote to the assembled media, “He seemed so normal.”
An officer must have noticed the
movement of the curtain because a second or two after Bob looked out the
window, he heard an amplified voice pierce the air.
“PLEASE COME OUTSIDE WITH YOUR
HANDS ON YOUR HEAD! WE DO NOT WANT TO HURT YOU! WE JUST WANT TO TALK!”
“Bob, they’re not going to talk to
you,” the ghost said. “There are twelve snipers on the rooftops across the
street. Why do you think there’s an ambulance and no paddy wagon? You’re going to
the morgue, not the jail.”
“I didn’t want this!” Bob wailed.
“I didn’t want any of this! I just want to lay down, read my book, and go to
sleep. You told me we were going to be fine!”
Again, the ghost laughed with no
trace of malice. “Oh, Silly Bean! That’s a royal ‘we!’ Let me rephrase. I’m going to be OK. You are fucked.”
Hearing this, Bob’s lip quivered
just slightly and the first tears began to appear at the corner of his eyes as
he continued to look in the direction of the voice. “You say you didn’t want
this?” the ghost said. “Then you
shouldn’t have killed me.”
“T-tina?” he whispered hoarsely.
“Yes, Silly Bean, it’s me,” she
said, a smile in her voice. “I have to say, I never thought you had it in you.
But you know what they say, still waters run the deepest.”
Bob looked as though he had aged 30
years in the past five minutes. Tears were falling freely down his pale cheeks,
mixing with the nervous sweat from his brow. “Tina. Oh God, Tina. What do I do?
What do I do?”
“You’re going to walk out the door
and you’re going to take your medicine. You’re going to have a wee sip of a
glass today, Bob!”
Bob looked around, the weight of
the situation finally settling into his brain. He had killed his wife and
either her ghost or his own guilty subconscious was going to make him pay for
it. He began to shiver like a man caught in a blizzard as he went into shock.
He again peered out the window and saw the officers and for the first time, saw
they were not only armed, but standing with their weapons pointed directly at
the front door.
“SIR!” the voice from the bullhorn
screeched. “PLEASE COME OUTSIDE SO WE CAN TALK ABOUT THIS!”
“What should I do?” Bob asked
aloud, but the ghost (Tina) was gone. Truly gone, Bob believed and he was
right. For quite possibly the first time in his life, he was truly alone. No
one to tell him what to do. No one to make his decisions for him. It was just
He placed his left hand on the knob
of the door and turned it. He looked down at his hand and then looked straight
ahead, pulling the door open. As he did, the assembled mob released a
collective gasp. He thought he heard the klak-KLAK! of a pump-action shotgun as
the lights from the media’s cameras blinded him. He stumbled two steps and
The word shook him out of his
stupor and he looked at the .380 in his right hand. He had forgotten he still
had it. As he looked up, he raised the gun, meaning to tell the small army of
policemen this was a mistake. They did not give him the chance.
The first volley of bullets were
close enough he could feel them zipping past his face. As a bullet found and
shattered his left knee and the one that would crash into his brain, killing
him instantly less than a second away, Bob thought, lantern fish.
It was called a lantern fish.