- Ghost Story
Last year there was a murder in the house on the corner. Nobody seemed to have known the murdered man; he was the sort of whom it is later said in the papers, "He was a quiet man who kept to himself." Death happened to him as it always does: he was alive and then suddenly one day he was dead, but his house still looked the same nonetheless, with the green window boxes and the overbright pink and green trim that all the neighbors had complained about, bitterly, behind his back.
I had seen him once or twice, bag of groceries in hand, letting himself in the side door of the house. I even talked to him once, when we met by accident on the corner. I can't remember anymore what we talked about. It was late autumn, the fallen leaves were at our feet, and he wore a thick balding brown coat. I saw his breath upon the air, because he was still alive then and breathing. I was on my way to mail a letter in the postbox on the corner, and I was surprised by how dark and damp his eyes looked, how dark and fine and wet his lashes. It occurred to me only in passing that he was a living creature, as was I. It can't be said that I knew him; nobody did.
Nor did anybody ever find out who murdered him, or why. For a while there were rumors involving obscure crimes, and then quickly the man himself was forgotten and only the memory of the murder remained. The memory of that murder clung tenaciously to the house on the corner, like a foul smell that can be [End Page 113] eradicated only by application of a strong astringent; and so for a very long time the house stood empty, garish window boxes gone to seed as it patiently awaited the inevitable triumph of equity over tragedy.
I liked it that the house stood empty, because it reminded me of the murdered man, of his dark eyes with the fine dark lashes. So in a way it was not quite true that nobody remembered him: I didn't know him, but I remembered. I thought that there could have been between us a fellow feeling, because I was the sort of woman of whom it could have been said, "She was a quiet woman who kept to herself." Even though this fellow feeling never existed except in potential, I tasted the loss of it every time I came around the corner and saw his house in the sunlight with all of the shades drawn down. Every time I saw the drawn shades I wished I could remember what it was we had talked about that day, when I stood shivering on the corner with the unmailed letter in my hand, but I couldn't remember. Secretly I had hoped that I would one day meet him on the corner again and that again we would talk, and it was difficult for me to relinquish my hope, even though he was dead, as the drawn shades eloquently reminded me.
Sometimes, when the murdered man was still alive, and then too after he was dead, I imagined our next meeting. I imagined the corner, the unmailed letter, the chance encounter, the words exchanged—I was certain words would be exchanged, although I could not imagine what they would be—and then the mutual retreat, and the potential for another, third, encounter. Sometimes I imagined the next would be in winter, the snow falling, the rim of ice upon the lip of the mailbox, the squeak of my boots; or then again that it would be in summer, the sour air sticky with the scent of brine rising up from the port.
At other times, acknowledging the reality of the drawn shades, I wished that I could enter his house. I imagined passing through the twilit rooms behind those darkened windows, touching a sofa, a television, the cold abandoned tangle of the unmade bed, the breakfast table with the oatmeal congealed uneaten in the bowl, the yellow crust...