Jonny Glines

Beach Ghost

 

A ghost stood in her living room wearing a yellow bikini and holding a piece of coal. She pressed the coal to the wallpaper and painfully marked another tally. From floor to ceiling the walls were covered with tally lines. She sighed. Each line meant another day without speaking to someone.

The ghost opened her closet, which was full of swimsuits and dresses. Her clothes were like her skin, translucent and glowing. She decided tomorrow she would try the red swimsuit. She would wear it to the beach in hopes of talking to a boy—just as she had done every day for the past one hundred years.

***

On the beach, the ghost sat alone on her pink towel. She could make herself visible or invisible to whomever she pleased. After so many years, the residents of the beach town had become accustomed to seeing the ghost. They would stare. She would smile. They would pass her by. She preferred being invisible to being ignored. So she made herself invisible to everyone. Everyone except the boys.

She watched a couple kiss in the ocean. She dug her skinny legs into the sand. Her skin glowed a little brighter. She wished she could make the happy couple invisible to her, but that’s not how ghosts work. That was the hardest part of being a lonely ghost girl. She had to watch everyone. And always.

She lay back on her towel. Suddenly, a large, loud family approached.

“There! Someone left their towel! Hurry, and get the spot!” shouted the stepfather. The kids rushed over and threw their beach toys on the ghost to save the spot.

The ghost sprang to her feet. In her panic, she made herself visible to everyone.

“God dammit, it’s a ghost,” complained the stepfather. “Hey, if we can’t see you, YOU can’t claim the spot!”

Everyone stared. The bottom of her eyelids filled with ghost tears, which were dark like tar. She quickly went invisible again.

She returned to her house near the pier. Her house was full of wooden furniture and bookshelves that reached the ceiling. She picked up the piece of coal. She walked over to the wallpaper. Then she scribbled across all the walls, scrawling over every tally mark.

She sat on her bed and read her books until morning.

***

The next day marked the first time the ghost didn’t go to the beach. She sat, invisible, in a coffee shop wearing a summer dress and reading the book Black Beauty. This place was a local hangout for established artists who had bought homes in the beach town. It was a welcomed change from the couples at the beach.

At the counter was a stylish man with slicked hair and a chiseled face. He appeared young, which was odd for this place. She made herself visible to him and went back to reading her book. A moment later, he was standing in front of her.

“I didn’t see you sitting there,” he smiled.

The ghost froze with fear. She looked to see if perhaps he was speaking to a real person, but there was no one. In fact, there rest of the room gawked. It looked as if the man was speaking to an empty chair.

She hadn’t spoken in decades. Her lips fought to form words correctly. Her first few words were just verbal mush. Then finally, “…ghost.”

“I can see that,” he said. “Is another ghost sitting in this seat? Or may I join you?”

He spoke overly gleeful, in a way that adults try to humor children.

She tried to match his tone. “Why yes! Yes, you may!” she replied, but her version of gleeful sounded sarcastic.

His name was Glen Miller. Without much prompting, he began to talk, and when he talked, he talked a lot.

He was from New York, and he told her stories about the city.

He was a painter, and he told her stories about his art.

His grandparents were French, and he told her stories about Paris.

He was single and in his late forties, but he didn’t talk much about that.

“Okay, I can’t not ask you this,” he said. “…are you stuck? Like between heaven and hell? Wait, no first…how did you die? How long ago was it?”

The ghost had never talked about herself before. Her stomach sank realizing she didn’t know any of the answers to his questions.

“I don’t know,” she responded. “I don’t remember not being a ghost.”

“….do you go to heaven after this?”

“…I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” he paused. “Wow! I mean, I guess my only frame of reference is from movies. I figured there would be more structure.”

She squirmed in her chair.

“I don’t know where I was before I was a ghost or what happens after. I’m just here.”

He sipped his coffee and smiled.

“We actually have a lot in common.”

***

Glen and the ghost walked to his “artist loft.” He described it as a place where he could work without the distractions of his home.

Glen’s loft was decorated in the way most might expect an artist’s loft to look. It was minimal, modern, and the walls were full of paintings. He poured himself a drink and offered one to her as a joke. She didn’t understand the humor, but she pretended to laugh hysterically to seize the opportunity to share a moment of laughter with someone.

They sat on his leather sofa. Glen asked the ghost about her love life.

“Boys don’t really want a girl they can’t touch,” she said.

“Well, when you’re younger, you place too much importance on the physical aspects of relationships. But those couples are doomed in the long run,” said Glen.

“Is that why you are waiting to get married?” asked the ghost.

Glen inched closer.

“Let’s try this,” he said.

He held out his hand, his palm facing her. She did the same. Glen tried to touch his palm against hers, but it passed straight through her hand like it was water. He tried to hug her, but his arms passed through her torso.

“Hmm,” he paused. “How do you sit on the couch without falling through?”

“I just don’t think about it,” she said. “If I don’t think about it, it works itself out.”

Next they lay on the couch together side by side. After a few moments, Glen began to tell another story. This one was about the time he was married. The ghost’s eyes lit up, and her skin glowed a little brighter.

Glen explained that he and his wife were married for five years. Later she became very ill and passed away. The ghost, unfazed by stories of death, asked question after question.

“And there was kissing?”

“Yes.”

“And there were birthdays?”

“Yes.”

“Also breakfasts?”

“Yes.”

“And picnics?

“Yes.”

“Plus vacations?”

“Yes.”

“And there were children?”

“No.”

Lost in Glen’s marriage stories, the ghost realized her head was rested on his chest.

“Look,” Glen said. They were embracing.

“I guess we figured it out.”

***

The ghost visited Glen four to five times a week. They always went to his artist loft during his work hours. They got better and better with cuddling, which was the ghost’s favorite part.

Glen told stories about his youth, his family, his struggle as an artist. And since the ghost couldn’t remember her life, she mostly asked Glen questions.

“And in the morning you shave?”

“Yes.”

“And you eat food with your friends?”

“Yes.”

“And you have handyman tools?”

“Yes.”

“And I am your girlfriend?”

First nothing. Then…

“Sure.”

One afternoon Glen told stories about camping in Yosemite. In the middle of their conversation, a woman entered his artist loft carrying grocery bags.

“I finished early today and wanted to see if you had lunch already,” the woman said.

Glen sprung up. He tried to push the ghost away, but his arms just flailed through her body.

“Go! You have to go!” Glen whispered in a panic.

The ghost was confused. She quickly made herself invisible as the woman walked over to Glen.

“Who were you talking to?” she asked.

“Just thinking out loud,” Glen fake yawned.

Then Glen kissed his wife. Right in front of the ghost, just a few feet away. From that day on, the ghost stayed invisible.

***

Glen visited her house, but the ghost refused to show herself. He left an apology letter. He told her that they had a great connection, but they could no longer see each other. The first person to recognize her presence, now pretended she didn’t exist.

She stopped visiting the beach. She stopped going to the coffee shop. She stayed invisible always. Years passed like this. She felt like the ghost of a ghost.

One day she went to the bookstore to steal books. One book in particular caught her eye.

My Husband Cheated With a Ghost, by Amy Miller.

In the back of the book there was a picture of the author. It was her, Glen’s wife. The ghost recognized her instantly. She rushed home with the book and read intensely.

In the first few chapters, Amy described her loveless marriage with her “artist crush.” They married at a young age. Glen married Amy for her looks. Amy married Glen for his artist appeal.

The book went on to tell that after five years, Amy and Glen grew apart. Amy described her existence as “terribly lonely.” Glen spent most days in his artist loft. She spent most days alone in her house, reading books to pass the time. In chapter four, Amy said she began to suspect that Glen was cheating. She planned to surprise Glen with lunch at his loft, expecting to catch him in the act. That was when Amy saw her husband with a younger woman, and that young woman, was a ghost.

The ghost’s skin glowed a little brighter. She was enthralled with the book. She felt an odd connection with Amy, the author. She wanted to apologize and thank her for the courage to tell her story. For telling their story.

No one in the beach town had ever acknowledged the ghost’s existence. Now she was in a book. Now she had a story. As she kept reading, the ghost began to cry. But not dark tears like tar, these tears were bright and sparkled down her face.

Then the book took a sudden turn, beginning with this passage:

I was certain of what I saw. I saw my husband with a ghost. Glen of course told me I was crazy. I thought to myself, maybe I was. But we realized that the ghost I saw wasn’t the image of a young girl. It was the image of our failed relationship. We realized that our marriage was dead and we needed to bring it back to life.

In the next several chapters, I am going to show how you, too, can fix your marriage, no matter how dead you think it may be. It worked for Glen and me. It can work for you too.

The ghost frantically flipped through the pages. She raced to the chapters ahead. The book was a self-help book on how to “bring life back into marriages.” Not a tell-all memoir of the relationship between the ghost and Glen. According to the book, their relationship wasn’t even real. The love wasn’t real. Once again, she wasn’t real. She screamed as she ripped the pages.

She looked at the author’s fan mail address on the book’s inside cover. Her eyes turned black. Her skin turned grey. Her jaw dropped to her chest with sharp teeth like the mouth of a shark. She burst through the ceiling.

The ghost flew through the air. She shrieked an awful scream that sounded like rubber tires screeching on pavement. Trees collapsed. The waves crashed. Finally the citizens of the beach town took notice of the ghost. And for the first time ever, they were frightened.

She burst through Glen and Amy’s kitchen wall. Pictures and papers circled in a cyclone around the ghost. Only Amy was home. She fell to her knees on the kitchen floor.

The ghost’s shrieks became louder and louder. A lightning and thunder storm formed in the kitchen. The house began to shake from its foundation. The ghost was ready to crush the house and anyone inside.

The ghost peered at Amy. She was clasping her heart as tears poured down her face. She was trying to tell the ghost something, but the thunder was too loud to hear.

The ghost slowly lowered herself to the floor. She noticed Amy was crying and smiling at once. She had never seen this. It was very confusing.

The ghost looked closer. Amy’s tears were neither tar, nor sparkled. But she could tell by the light in Amy’s eyes that these tears were like her sparkly ones. The storm behind the ghost calmed.

“I knew I saw you! I knew you were real! I knew I saw you!” Amy cried.

The ghost kneeled next to Amy. She was older and very pretty. Both their summer dresses draped across the kitchen tile.

The ghost watched Amy’s eyes marvel and gush at her. Amy touched her hand. She brushed her hair. She cupped her face. Amy touched the ghost over and over without any of the normal ghost touching problems.

“Every night, before I sleep, I see a quick flash of your image from that day” Amy cried. She wrapped her arms around the ghost and pulled in her tightly. “I am so glad to finally see you.”

Sparkly tears rolled off the ghost’s face. Her skin began to glow. Then it glowed even more. Then it glowed more than it had ever glowed before. The ghost burst into light. And then she was gone.

 

——

Jonny Glines writes surrealist stories in Los Angeles. He is a creative director at an ad/tech company in Venice Beach. He is currently working on a collection of short stories. 

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