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Joined: 07 Mar 2004
Posts: 1582
Location: Massachusetts
Kate  Reply with quote  

This is a work in progress. It will probably hit about 10,000 words when it's all done. I'm thinking of submitting it somewhere when it's ready, so let me know what you think...


She said "I remember you. It's your fault that I'm dead."

We'd been through this before. She always forgot. So I sighed and said, "You look pretty damn good for someone who's been in the grave ten years."

She sat up in the narrow little bed and examined her arms in the moonlight. "I suppose I do, don't I? Sad to say I can't say the same for you."

It usually began like this. Every once in a while, Kate would just show up, on vacation from whatever afterlife she'd been enjoying. There was never any rhyme or reason to these appearances, but she'd take a few minutes to recognize me, then stay for an hour or a day or a week, and just as quickly disappear again. Never knew where she had come from or where she'd been since. But she could remember the moment of her death and knew how much time had passed since that day.

She appeared often in the first year, and I suppose if I'd been sober for any of it, I might have had myself committed. Any half-decent head doctor would have chalked her up to delusions brought on by guilt and set me up in a padded room, or put me on a nice little pharmaceutical cocktail schedule. But I was too drunk or too high when she showed up, and in my moments of clarity I realized I didn't want any fucking physician telling me what I already knew. Hell, at least after the initial "It's your fault that I'm dead" she went back to being the sweet, funny, happy Kate I had known.

The first time she showed up when I wasn't higher than a kite, I decided it had to be some sort of acid flashback.

I'd cleaned myself up by that point, after the family and friends staged an intervention. Spent six weeks in rehab, started smoking to at least have some form of addiction, and tried rebuilding my life. I was even seeing a shrink then, but instead of saying "My dead ex-girlfriend keeps visiting me" I rearranged the details a little and made it out to be dreams about her.

But then she walked through the back door one night, off the porch of my little apartment and into the kitchen where I was scrambling eggs for dinner, and plopped herself down into one of the cheap wooden chairs that went with my cheap yard-sale table. She was cool as a cucumber, dressed in the same faded jeans and work boots she’d worn the night she died. Her white tank top was clean again, unlike the last time I saw her alive, when the pristine white had been irrevocably stained with blood and vomit. The scuffed black leather jacket was several sizes too big for her. She had always claimed she’d found it at the Salvation Army store, even though everyone knew it had belonged to her first college boyfriend. His name started with a K – Kyle or Kurt or Kevin – but all we really knew about him was that he’d left one day to pursue a film career in Los Angeles, and never formally broke up with her. She carried the torch with her for the next four years, and all her boyfriends knew they were just filler until the K-man came back on his white horse to claim her and whisk her away to a house somewhere in the Hollywood Hills.

“Got a cigarette?” she asked, eyeing me suspiciously.

I didn’t answer her. Maybe if I ignored her she’d go away. The flashback would end, and I could eat my dinner in peace.

“Hey,” she said. “I asked you a question.”

Or I could skip the eggs and go straight for the vodka. Sure, I was clean and sober. But there had to be something left in my liquor cabinet, right? Surely I hadn’t thrown everything away. And a dead ex showing up was as good an excuse as any for falling off the wagon. I could sober up again after she left, start the twelve steps all over. I turned away from the stove to search for some oblivion, and realized she was staring right at me, her brow furrowed in concentration. Those blue eyes stopped me in my tracks.

“Do I know you from somewhere?” A sheaf of her pale blonde hair fell across her face and she brushed it away absently. That careless little flick of the wrist broke my heart. She had been forever pushing her hair out of her eyes. The style was supposed to fall like that, and she refused to change it.

I hadn’t moved. The wonderful thing about Kate was that she was unaware of people’s reactions to her. She was conscious of her looks, but not in the I’m so hot, everyone wants to fuck me sense. She was pretty but not cute. Her movements were just shy of graceful – if she had reached forty, she might have grown into elegance. Sadly, that never happened.

“Oh…right,” she said, recognition finally dawning. “You killed me. Adam, right?”

“Yeah,” I whispered. “Well, no, not exactly, but - ”

“Your eggs are burning.”

“Wh-? Oh, fuck.” Sure enough, they were smoking. I pulled the pan off the burner and turned off the gas. The stink of burned eggs assaulted me, but I scraped them onto a plate anyway. I had stashed some ketchup packets in the butter tray in the refrigerator. A few of those and a little salt, those eggs would be better than anything IHOP could serve up.

I opened the fridge and rummaged around inside, pretending I couldn’t find what I was looking for. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi – just a flashback, just a flashback. Four Mississippi, five Mississippi, she’ll be gone when I close the door. Six Mississippi, seven – she’s dead! Dead! Mississippi…

I counted and rationalized for a full count of thirty, and when I stood up and turned toward the table, Kate was gone. Good. Good. I could eat my dinner in peace. Looked like I didn’t have to fall off that wagon after all. I put my plate on the table, and just to prove I wasn’t scared, I sat in the same seat the acid-flashback of Kate’s ghost had just vacated.

My hand shook a bit as I opened the first ketchup packet. Some butter must have melted onto it long ago, because just as the foil parted, I lost my grip. Funny how it works – there’s never enough ketchup in those things to cover your food, but when you splatter one all over the table, it makes a spectacular mess. One napkin wasn’t enough to clean it up. My first pass left red streaks across the pale wood, and I stared stupidly at them, remembering.

Kate had left a mark like this on the bathroom door that night. She dropped some acid and had a bad trip. Someone told her to go into the bathroom and splash some water on her face, as if that would help, and they let her go alone. I was too fucked up myself to notice. She was quiet for a little while before she attacked the mirror, screaming, “You can’t have me! I won’t go with you!” at whatever creatures she saw reflecting back at her. The shattered glass cut her hands to ribbons.

That pulled us all out of our stupors, but the worst was far from over. Kate was so new to illegal substances that she had yet to learn moderation. She didn’t know what affected her, and how, and she had no fear of what to mix, and what to do separately. I was the only one at the party who knew that she was so inexperienced. I was supposed to keep her out of trouble.

But I didn’t. And as she sat there, curled into a ball in the corner of the bathroom cradling her lacerated hands and sobbing like a little girl, whatever else she’d ingested or shot up or snorted finally kicked in, and she began to convulse. Everyone else ran. The fuckers. The guests, the dealer, the guy who’d been hitting on her while I wasn’t watching, they all cleared right the fuck out of there.

Someone at least had the decency to toss me the portable phone before they got the hell out of Dodge. A 911 operator was already on the line, calling “Hello? Hello? What is the nature of your emergency? Hello?”.

Finally it was just the two of us in Kate’s little bathroom. Well, the two of us and Sally the 911 operator’s disembodied voice, telling me what to do for Kate until the ambulance arrived.

The tremors stopped before they got there, and she puked all over the place just as the EMTs barged through the door. Good, I thought, maybe that will help. I handed her over to them, and just stood there in the doorway of that tiny little bathroom, watching them work on her, helpless. My high was mostly gone, but oh, how I wanted it back. I wanted to be utterly detached from the moment, so I wouldn’t have to feel this guilt. My fault, my fault. Should have been watching her, my fault. Over and over in my head, a litany of hindsight.

I rode in the ambulance with her, and she went into cardiac arrest two minutes away from the hospital. They performed CPR, got out those paddles, and I felt like I was on some bad television drama. They were still working on her when we pulled outside of the ER, and I couldn’t go any farther with her. An orderly collected me to get Kate’s information, and in a haze, I recited everything I could.

It felt like I waited for hours before they came out with any news. By that time her brother Bill had arrived, the only family member in the state. We’d been acquaintances in high school, friendly when our paths crossed, but never friends. He took one look at me sitting there, covered in his little sister’s blood and vomit, and lunged, screaming “You bastard! You motherfucking bastard! If Katie’s fucking dead, I’ll fucking kill you!”

I didn’t even try to defend myself. The chair I occupied tumbled over backwards; I hit my head on the hard tile floor, and took the beating. Other people pulled him off of me, separated us. The security guards stood between us, talking to him quietly, calmly, and finally he assured them everything was fine, he was cool. He just wanted to see his sister. He was sorry. Bill came over and apologized to me.

“Look, Adam, this is a shock, you know? I know she’s a big girl, I do. I’m just so…” He couldn’t finish, couldn’t stop staring at the bloodstains on my shirt. I must have smelled awful, but he didn’t leave my side after that.

When the doctor came out, I knew. I think Bill did, too, but neither of us spoke, for fear that maybe it was good news, and opening our mouths would turn it bad.

It was bad anyway. The worst.

She’d died a few minutes ago. They’d been able to get her heart beating again, and had pumped her stomach, shot her full of good drugs to try and neutralize the bad, but she’d started seizing again, and this time when her heart stopped, nothing could get it started again. He was sorry. Very, very sorry.

I thought for a moment Bill was going to hit me again, and I might have let him, but he decided against it. Instead, he went in to see his sister’s body, while I sank back down in my plastic waiting room chair and sobbed.

And now here I was, with a ketchup-covered napkin in my hand, staring at my red streaked kitchen table. I grabbed another napkin and cleaned up the rest of the smear. The first napkin I tossed missed the trashcan by a mile. The second bounced off the rim and onto the floor. It apparently wasn’t my night. At least the eggs still tasted good, if a little crunchy here and there. Two forkfuls later, however, came the sound, and the light.

The living room was bathed in a flickering blue light; a faint hissing noise reached my ears. The television. The cable box clicked on, and suddenly the laugh track to a sitcom filled the air. Click, and some TV chef was gleefully sauteeing vegetables. Click, and a game show host announced the grand prize to a squealing woman. Click. Click. Click.

My hands started shaking. I rose slowly, quietly, as if moving too fast would startle whoever was in the other room: I refused to entertain the notion that it might be Kate again. I wielded my fork like a weapon. Maybe I could poke holes in the intruder (because it had to be an intruder) if he rushed me.

I peeked through the doorway, and there she was, her mouth twisted in distaste at the reality show on the screen. She passed her hand over – no, through – the cable box, and the channel changed again. “There’s never anything good on TV anymore,” she said without turning around. “I mean, who watches this shit?”

I ducked back into the kitchen and tried counting again, but she was still there when I looked back.

Hands planted on hips, exasperated. “Adam, at some point, you have to acknowledge me. I asked you for a cigarette and you acted like I was some sort of leper. I figured I’d let you eat your dinner in peace, and now you’re terrified of me. I’m not flailing about, begging you for my golden arm or anything. The least you could do is be civil. And put down that stupid fork.”

Sheepishly, I lowered the utensil. “Sorry.”

She shrugged and passed her hand through the cable box once more, turning it off. The TV hissed static, and she slipped her hand through the control panel. The screen glowed an eerie blue in the dark room, the afterimage of light backlighting my dead ex.

All I could come up with was, “I’ll go get the smokes.”

Kate trailed me into the kitchen, reclaimed her chair. Leaning forward, she inhaled deeply over the cooling eggs. Her grimace said that was a bad idea. “You still haven’t learned how to cook, I see. Burnt eggs are burnt eggs, ketchup or no.”

“Smartass.” I fumbled with the pack of Marlboros and stretched it toward her. “Here you go.”

“Can you light it for me? I can’t work the lighter.” This obviously embarrassed her: she dropped her gaze and began to pick at some imaginary thread on her knee.

I lit it, took a deep drag, and handed it over. She stared at it for a few seconds, then plucked it from my fingers. Inhaled, paused, exhaled smoke and a sigh. “That feels damn nice. It’s been too long.”

“So, what, is this some sort of ghost rule, not being able to light a cigarette?”

She shook her head. “No. But touching things, affecting them physically, is hard for me. I’m not good enough to pick up heavy things, or work lighters yet. I doubt I could strike a match, either. Or turn a doorknob. Luckily, I can just walk through doors.”

“But you can hold small things.”

“Yeah. It’s… It’s a matter of wanting. I concentrate really hard, and focus on my hand holding the cigarette. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s there, otherwise I’d drop it.”

“Well, don’t smoke if I’m not around, okay? The last thing I need is for you to burn this place to the ground.” I meant it as a light little comment, but she threw her head back and laughed as though I’d said the funniest thing she’d ever heard. The cigarette fell from her fingers – fell through her fingers – and I managed to catch it just before it hit the floor, my fingers just above the burning tip.

Kate straightened, a grin playing about her lips. “See? It’s not that easy.” I passed the butt back to her, and our fingers should have touched. I saw them touch. But instead of the cold, smooth flesh I expected I expected to feel, there was nothing; only the barely-there weight of the cigarette one moment, and its absence the next. Kate waggled her eyebrows at me and finished smoking in silence.
Well, I guess you left me with some feathers in my hand.

Post Mon May 24, 2004 10:20 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website AIM Address ICQ Number

Joined: 26 May 2004
Posts: 2
Location: Cary NC
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Hey I realy liked what you've written so far ! Is there more to come soon?
Where are you from in MA im from leominster originally thats in worchester county p.s. I could have read 30 or 40 pages

Post Wed May 26, 2004 3:47 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail AIM Address

Joined: 07 Mar 2004
Posts: 1582
Location: Massachusetts
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Thanks Jeremy! More to come soon, hopefully this weekend (but it will probably be 10 pages long total, in my Word doc, anyway. I don't think it could stretch to 30.) I'm on the south shore of MA, quite a hike from Leominster. Smile
Well, I guess you left me with some feathers in my hand.

Post Thu May 27, 2004 11:03 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website AIM Address ICQ Number
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