The Short Story Experience: MAYBE, A GHOST

I wake up early, in time to watch the first rays of sunlight shyly reach the wall. From the bed, I can see the bright blue sky through the window, almost as if the snowstorm that threatened the city last night was just an illusion. I get up and walk over, curious to assess the damages. My eyes hurt with all the white reflecting the sun — everything is covered. The back garden looks more like a cloud.

I dress up quickly, skipping over coffee, and go straight to the front porch. A shiver runs down my spine, more due to the eeriness of the sight than the cold itself. I don’t feel the cold.

The street looks even more magical than the garden. A thick layer of snow rests upon every surface — cars, roofs, trees. There isn’t even a hint of the wind that raged only a few hours ago. The air is still, like in a photograph, the sharp light against the bluest of skies making everything look like a dream. It’s my favorite kind of day.

I take a tentative step forward, wondering how deep the snow will go, how it will feel beneath my feet, what kind of trail I’ll leave. I lower myself slowly, laughing with the crunchy noise the ice makes. The sound echoes in the dead-silent street. My leg sinks down, snow covering up to half my chin. I take a few more goofy steps and look back — I can see the footprints, the only disturbance on the otherwise perfect scenery.

I keep walking, my heavy breathing creating a dense fog around my mouth. There’s no one around. It’s probably too cold for anyone else to brave this perfect winter morning, but there’s something unsettling in the air. The early hour, the quiet, the light — it feels like a post-apocalyptic dawn. Or what I imagine one would feel like.

I turn left at the end of my street to find some evidence that the snowstorm has really happened. A tall, centenary tree lies defeated across the street. I let my eyes wander from its dry top to its massive roots, and the house it belonged to. The white façade and Victorian windows look familiar, but I can’t quite place them. It’s only when I’m almost there that I remember — Mrs. Jomni! It comes over me in I wave. I remember climbing the tree as a kid, every year a little higher, and her shouting for me to get down before I broke my neck. She seemed like a harsh woman but she always had snacks whenever I and my best friend came over. Mrs. Jomni hasn’t been around for a while and, now, her tree is gone, too.

“Farewell, my friend,” I pat its colossal trunk as I jump it over to the other side.

And then I remember Malia, my once best friend. She lived around here somewhere. I take the right at the end of Mrs. Jomni’s street and walk down two blocks. Again, I remember when I see it.

Malia and I lived so close to each other, yet we only met in senior year. Then, we became inseparable. A night we didn’t sleep in each other’s houses was a rare one that year. Such an intense, yet short-lived friendship.

I remember our parting. It wasn’t dramatic or bitter. It just happened, like everything in life. We graduated. We went on to different colleges. We promised to keep in touch, to keep the friendship alive, to not let distance and time get in our way. We failed. Both distance and time proved to be too much for our relationship to take. By the time I graduated, I didn’t even think about her anymore. I haven’t thought about her for a long time. But now, as I do, a lot more memories come back.

I remember moving out after graduation, although I don’t remember moving back here. I remember living in New York City for a while — I think I worked with fashion. I remember taking pictures of people.

The flashes start to become too confusing, so I resume my walking. I stroll around aimlessly, letting every familiar sight fill me with a different recollection. A friend, a teacher, a dog — I had a dog! What was its name again? I can’t remember. It all seems to have happened so long ago, like it was in a different life, with a different person.

I turn into a street and see a light pink building, which evokes another wave of memories — Patty’s ice cream shop! It had a 1950s vibe, with red vinyl booths and even a jukebox. My parents took us there every weekend when we were kids.

Us! My brother! I immediately start to laugh. Once, when I was about 10, my brother and I had a dessert fight in that place. Mom had been to the bathroom and came back to find us covered in melting vanilla. She was furious.

I try to remember when was the last time I’d been there, but can’t. I can’t even remember the last time I had ice cream. A sudden urge to see if the place still exists takes over me. It had been my favorite place on earth. And it’s been a long time since I’ve been downtown. The last time was… I can’t remember. I can’t remember a lot of things these days.

I quickly situate myself and head to what I hope is the right direction to Patty’s.

“Mom?!” I hear a child’s voice shriek behind me. “There’s something moving in the snow!”

His high, desperate pitch echoes in the silence of the morning and makes me fly around to look at him.

“Don’t be silly,” his mother dismisses him, but he insists, pointing at me.

“Oh, hi!” I wave, taking a few steps towards them.

The mother pushes the boy closer, holding him against her body while her wide eyes survey the snow beneath me.

“I live near here,” I say, not really understanding why they’re startled by my presence. “Just a few blocks down, at—”

“Look!” the boy screams again. “It’s moving!”

“Come on, get inside!” the woman shoves him back into the house.

I frown, appalled by their rudeness, but shake it off and get back on my way. Then I hear the woman’s voice echo from a window.

“Do you see it, too?”

“Yeah, I can see the trail,” a man across the street yells.

“Excuse me?” I turn to him, fighting my way through the snow.

“Do you think it’s an animal or something?” the woman asks.

“Excuse me?!” I turn to her, outraged now.

“Maybe,” the man answers, and then chuckles, “or, maybe, a ghost.”

Photo by Simon Robben from Pexels

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