24 March 2005

Ghost Story

The ghost showed up the very first night. Levin had gotten a good deal on the house because of her, so he wasn’t surprised. He didn’t usually try to get deals on things; he was Jewish and hated playing into stereotypes. But a house was such a big deal, and this one had been such a good one, that he put that aside and made the offer, even though he was quite sure that the Gentile real estate agent with her plastic bracelets and wood-bead earrings was mentally classifying him.

The ghost was young, or, rather, she was the ghost of a young woman. She sat on one of his cardboard boxes and looked down at Levin, whose mattress lay on the floor. He owned a bed frame, but he’d been too tired to assemble it today.

She didn’t look at all ghostly. She looked like an ordinary young woman of around 28 or 30, pretty but not beautiful. She wore jeans and a white t-shirt, and her hair was done in a contemporary cut. He knew she’d been around a long time, but apparently she’d kept up with fashion.

“Do you know who Justin Timberlake is dating now?” she said.

Levin pushed himself up and sat back against the wall. “No,” he said.

She looked at him a long moment.

“I could go online and find out, but I haven’t unpacked my computer yet,” he said. He wasn’t thinking clearly, his head was woolly. Why on earth would he say that?

She crossed her legs man-style, one ankle on the other knee.

“I heard you drove other people out,” Levin said. “Are you going to do that to me?”

“That depends,” she said.

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t,” Levin said.

She shrugged. “No kidding.”

Levin tucked his sheets around his hips. He slept naked, and hadn’t thought it would bother him to have a ghost see him. But it did.

She dropped her feet to the floor and leaned forward to get a better look at him. “Are you Jewish? You look Jewish.”

The problem with having a ghost, he learned, was not that she was scary. Even if she’d tried to be, he’d already decided not to be scared of her anyway. It was that living with her meant having to live with an incredibly annoying roommate, one who was always around, never had anything to do, and was more intrusive than anyone Levin had ever met. She went through everything he owned while he was away at work, and then peppered him with questions when he got home.

“Why do you have half a bottle of antibiotics?”

“How old were you when you underlined all these passages in Tropic of Cancer?”

“Just how old is this box of condoms anyway?”

“Why on earth would you subscribe to Maxim? There’s not a single article in this thing over 300 words.”

Conversely, she wouldn’t answer a single question about herself. She already knew all that stuff, she said, and it was boring.

“Maybe it’s interesting to me,” he said once. “I’m curious.”

“I don’t have to entertain you,” she said.

And when he asked her how she’d died or why she was still hanging around, she actually got angry, and threatened to wake him up all night every night if he didn’t leave her alone.

In spite of all that—and in spite of the fact that she left the peanut butter lid face down in the kitchen sink, germing it, and answered the phone rudely and took no messages, not even from his mother (who wanted to know who that girl was he was living with, and to whom he now had to lie, because naturally she didn’t believe in ghosts)—he found himself, after about a month, coming to like her. Even more than that, even. He developed a crush on her. He looked at her over the breakfast table and wanted to stroke her shoulder; he woke up in the middle of the night because she was watching him and wanted to pull her down onto his bed.

He didn’t, of course. For one thing he was intimidated, the way he usually was when he was attracted to a woman, especially when she’d given no sign she was even a little attracted to him. For another he thought maybe liking her made him a bad person. She was nothing but annoying, how could he feel this way? Was it that he liked her endless fascination with him? That she waited for him to come home? That this way he didn’t have to risk himself with a living woman?


He went for a walk one weekend in the streamside park near his house and saw couple after couple. He could have his share of love if he wanted it. It was just that it would take work. Handsome or funny or brilliant men had love given to them and could enjoy it the way only a gift can be enjoyed, could spend it madly and use it up. They could afford passion. He knew the value of love when he got any measure of it, and so he was careful with it. When he had it, he hoarded it.

He went home and found his ghost in the kitchen, eating his PowerBars.

“You’re the only one I know who wouldn’t lie to me,” Levin said. “Am I good-looking?”

She played with the aluminum wrapper, rolling it back and forth between her fingers. “You’re neutral,” she said.

“What about my personality?”

“Also neutral.”

Levin pulled out one of his kitchen chairs and sat down, trying to remember why he’d wanted to ask her just exactly those things. It had had to do with the despair he’d felt in the park, and with wanting to know if it was really all hopeless for him so that he could kill himself and haunt this house with her. Neutral was no good, though. There was hope for a neutral man still.

“Would you ever consider—” he said.

She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I can’t feel anything that strong anymore.” She reached over and touched his hair, a friendly desexing gesture. “Maybe before though.”

He was a maybe to every woman. A whole life left of converting maybes. He stood up and grabbed his ghost by the shoulders and kissed her. She shuddered, and then her whole body liquefied and poured into his mouth, and as she passed into him he felt an intense passion, fierce and hot, directed only at her and able to grapple with her for this moment, until the last of her passed his lips and she was gone.

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