The ghosts

Sara walked in to see Tom serving noodles, bologna sandwiches and fruit to Hailey and Kyle, who were seated in front of the television. Tom avoided eye contact with Sara as he made his way back into the kitchen, where he began dishing out a bowl of the venison stew he had prepared for himself in the crockpot the day before. Sara didn’t care much for venison.

It was the end of the grading period at Tom’s school. Tom was always insufferable at the end of a grading period, when half of the teachers were inevitably running behind, despite thinly veiled reminders issued daily during afternoon intercom announcements about report cards.

 “How was your day?” Tom asked as he sat at the table and began eating the stew.

“Boring,” Sara said, carving off a slice of the dairy-free carrot cake she had prepared over the weekend with tofu cream cheese icing. It wasn’t as good as real cream cheese, but Hailey was allergic dairy products, so Sara had improvised. Sara thought how it would be a neat experiment to see how many days she could go without eating a hot meal.

 “Mr. Preineke is getting remarried,” Tom said.

“Wow,” said Sara. “That was fast.”

Their neighbor, Mrs. Preineke, had died a year earlier.

“He must be one of those men who needs a woman to validate his existence,” Tom said.

“Not like you?” Sara asked.

“No,” Tom said, dropping his spoon into the bowl with a resounding clink. He got up and carried his dishes to the counter.

In the other room, Hailey and Kyle were fighting over what to watch next on TV. Tonight was a bath night. Sara hated bath nights, but because it was the end of the grading period, and because she had an energy reserve stored up from sitting in meetings all day, not really paying attention to much of what was said, she planned to execute the procedure alone, allowing Tom some much-needed down time.

Kyle was first. Sara filled the tub with water and helped him out of his clothing. “Wait,” Kyle exclaimed before sitting down in the water. “I need my Scooby Doo towel.”

“What?” Sara asked.

“My Scooby Doo towel. I won it at school. When you put it in water it turns into a towel.”

“Where is it?” Sara asked.

“In my backpack,” he said.

“Tom,” Sara yelled down the stairs. “Tom, can you look in Kyle’s backpack for a Scooby Doo towel? … Tom!”

Moments later, she heard footsteps climbing the stairs.

“Yes, dear?”

“Can you go downstairs and look in the front pocket of Kyle’s backpack for the Scooby Doo towel, please?”

“As you wish,” Tom said, turning and descending the stairs.

Moments later, he reappeared with the towel, which Sara unwrapped for Kyle to immerse in the water.

Once Hailey was in the tub, Sara closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall as Hailey prattled on, talking to her ponies and water toys.

“As you wish,” Tom had said. It was a line from “The Princess Bride.”

Sara remembered the night they had watched the movie together on A&E. It was when they were coworkers, before they had really started dating. A bunch of people from the office had gone out together after work and somehow Tom and Sara ended up alone at his apartment watching reruns.

The day after they had watched the movie, Sara was late to a staff meeting. She sat down beside Tom, who was wearing suspenders. He had discreetly reached over and pulled a piece of lint from her black pants, throwing it on the floor.

“Mommy,” Hailey said, “come here. I need to tell you a secret.”

Sara leaned over and Hailey screamed in her ear before bursting into laughter.

She must have learned that from Kyle. It was far too obnoxious for a preschooler to come up with on her own.

Sara thought about “The Princess Bride” and Tom in suspenders pulling lint from her pants. She was still in love with that Tom. It was a bit like being in love with a ghost. But, she thought, as she wiped what she hoped was dirt from a bathroom stool, it was probably better to be in love with a ghost than not to be in love at all.

Sara herself was something of a ghost. Everything she did – what she wore, what she wrote, even what she ate – had more to do with circumstances than her own preferences. Her favorite foods were pizza and cake. More specifically, Sara liked pizza with REAL cheese, not the rubbery vegan cheese she used on the pizzas she made at home for Kyle and Hailey because of Hailey’s allergy.

Wasn’t pizza everyone’s favorite food? It must be, Sara thought, because it was served at every single social gathering for kids. It was too bad that when Hailey ate it, her skin broke out in itchy patches, prompting people to ask Sara what was wrong.

As for cake, Sara alternated between making her own dairy-free cakes and cupcakes and letting Hailey indulge in the colorful confections shared by her classmates and peers on a regular basis. She did not want Hailey to be THAT KID – the one other parents were afraid to invite to parties because of her allergies.

Sara had invited all of Hailey’s classmates and their parents to stop by their house while trick-or-treating on Halloween night for cider punch and dairy-free cake. Filled with empty-nesters eager to hand out candy to cute kids, Sara and Tom’s neighborhood was great for trick-or-treating.

Sara had not considered the long-term ramifications when she planned her wedding on the holiday ten years earlier. When she met Tom, they were both aspiring writers particularly fond of ghost stories. Sara’s favorite was “Wuthering Heights.” The idea that an obsessive love could endure beyond death, that anything could endure, was, Sara thought, the ultimate romance.

They were married in a candlelight ceremony at a little old Presbyterian Church on Sleepy Hollow Road. Sara’s bridesmaids were thrilled that they got to wear black gowns which could be used again for any formal occasion. The entire wedding party had red roses.

At their reception in town at the Hamilton Hotel, bare branches decorated with twinkling lights stood in crystal vases filled with rocks. The wedding cake was red velvet with chocolate ganache.

On their tenth anniversary, Sara made a dairy-free red velvet cake with chocolate icing. On top, she placed two smiling wax ghost figurines purchased from the Dollar Store. The cake was a hit with everyone who visited them on Halloween night, including Mr. Preineke and his fiancée Helen.

She seemed like a nice lady, Sara thought. Helen and Mr. Preineke had met while working together for the EPA. Her husband had died of a heart attack three years ago.

Mr. and Mrs. Preineke had been married for 40 years. Sara wondered how long Mr. Preineke had loved Mrs. Preineke, how long he had loved her ghost, and whether or not he still did.   

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