Each morning, day, and night, it was everything that ever was. When I woke, it was found in the ceiling, walls, and floorboards. Hannah, sleeping beside me, wanted to better decorate the house we just moved into, but couldn’t afford it just yet. I laid there for a few minutes, blinking at the ceiling, savoring the warmth of a night’s sleep tucked deeply under the blankets and against bare skin. If not paint the walls, we should at least invest in wool slippers for our bedsides. Something to motivate me each morning, something to say leaving the mattress isn’t the worst part of my day.
I moved a few strands of hair from Hannah’s face, revealing closed eyes and a parted mouth. She wouldn’t have to get up for another two hours.
Lifting myself up, I walked toward my dresser for the limp robe and tugged it around me. There was condensation on the windows.
The shower was scalding. It filled the bathroom with steam so heavy you couldn’t see the opposing wall. Most of my morning routine was done in there; dressing, shaving, brushing teeth. I had a habit of rushing through these tasks so I could sit on the toilet and contemplate going to work.
Hannah was still asleep when I exited the bathroom, the fog falling out the doorway like an avalanche. I crept toward the closet, bending down for my nice shoes, when something moved through the window. Eyes still waking or not, I casually swiped at the glass nearby, shoes in my other hand, and didn’t see anything until I did.
Just across the cracked residential road was a cemetery, the black gate high as though there was a problem of people breaking in. From a forgotten Victorian era, the tombstones were long past their prime, black filth and years of wind wearing the inscriptions past the point of literacy. The landscape of death and the birthplace of the dull and dreary, bleak skies helped little to preserve whatever joy I had left for the day.
There, movement again. My gaze darted to the source, to the space right between the looming archway. It was a man, appearing like a shadow with an odd outline to him, hands holding onto a hat. The man, the ghost, was entirely yellow, a noble gold in the solemn grey. I waved to him. He waved back. I went downstairs for breakfast.
The toaster only burnt one side of my bread and I had left just an ounce of milk in the gallon from the night before, having thought nothing of it. In the end, I had slightly crisp toast bathed in butter and a cold glass of Hannah’s fruit juice. The cup was added to the growing pile of dishes on the counter, and I knotted the tie laying along my neck with our window’s reflection. It was hard to concentrate when I noticed the ghost still lingering between the cemetery’s entryway. His head wasn’t angled upwards like before. Now it was straight ahead, eyes unmistakably finding me through the window pane.
I waved again once my tie sat snugly under the collar, and the man waved back. Not too long after checking the time, I grabbed my keys, tucked both my wallet and phone in my pants pocket, and headed out the door. The man watched me as I watched him. I swept across my house to the driveway and into my dusty pickup. Even in the rearview mirror, that almost blinding ray of sunlight cast off the ghost like a lighthouse beacon in a storm.
A car drove noisily by, not stopping for the man in the cemetery or even faltering.
I checked my wristwatch and pulled out into the road, stopping as I parked in front of the black archway. The tail end of the pickup was on the road but I didn’t care. Traffic was nonexistent in this part of town.
The vents of heat roared as they warmed up, and I leaned across the passenger seat to swing the door open. The golden ghost stared at me. From this distance I could see the deep, dark yellow outlines of his suit jacket, the sharp lapels, the polished and pressed trouser lines and shiny oxford shoes. Remarkably, I could see the black pupils of his eyes and the traces of a small, hopeful smile about to bloom. I waved for him to come over.
“Where you headed?”
The transparent man stepped beyond the black gate, gold eyes looking back at his home in a sort of awe and longing, before answering me. “Downtown, perhaps?”
The accent was light, but it was Canadian. “Sounds good,” I said, shifting the car into drive. “Me too.”
The man stepped inside the truck and managed to close the door, though I had no idea how. The hat sat on his lap. He was a brightly colored fellow, but I managed to drive without distraction. My thoughts enraptured me more than the man’s sun-like core. I thought it strange of the lack of traffic as we drove into the heart of town. I wracked my brain, trying to verify it was indeed Monday and not a weekend. Hannah and I had gone to see a movie on Saturday, and Sunday was our day to relax and continue unpacking boxes. Yes, it was Mon- My hand slapped the steering wheel. I forgot to kiss her goodbye this morning. I should call her during lunch hour today.
I turned, glancing at my passenger. He immersed himself with every pothole and office window as the truck bustled along, fascinated with anyone walking along the sidewalk or a television through a window’s glass.
“You’ve lived in Oaksdale long?”
The man looked back at me. “Since my mother had gotten sick. I decided it was best to live close to her until she recovered. She never did. Neither did I.”
“Oh. Sorry to hear that.”
“It was a long time ago.”
“Huh. Yeah.” My hands gripped the steering wheel a tad tighter, thinking. “How long?”
Whether it was forty-six years since his mother died, or 1946 when she died, I didn’t ask for clarity. I rubbed at some stubble on my neck, annoyed at myself for missing a spot.
“My mom left me when I was six. Don’t think you ever really get over it. Not completely.”
The ghost nodded, already looking back out the window.
“Much change?” I asked.
“Not completely. Newcomers like to describe the changes. Their details don’t really paint the best picture.” He looked at me and smiled sadly. If he were alive, I thought, he would have blue eyes. Hannah had it in her head that we’d have a green-eyed son, but I always thought they’d be blue. A striking blue to our pitiable grey.
He shrugged and his suit bunched between his shoulders. The sloppy gesture must have been unknown to Armani. “To the cemetery.”
As the minutes passed, so did the cars on narrow roads. The clouds never opened for rain, but the promise for it lingered. I stopped just ten or so minutes short of my commute, pulling into a church’s parking lot just outside of town. I looked over at the hill behind the large building, glossy and marble tombstones greeting me. The grass looked freshly cut, the building washed from a rainstorm I couldn’t recall the town underdoing.
For just a moment, the ghost and I sat in my pickup truck and looked at the cemetery. I thought the one on my street was his home, but now I was second-guessing myself. When the man opened his door and stepped out, I could hear the heels of his shoes meet the pavement. He turned around and looked at me. “Thank you, Mr. Farling.”
“It’s Frank.” He must have known my first name, but I wanted to be polite.
“Thank you for your help, Frank.” He smiled and glanced back at the cemetery, eyes alit with something new. The golden glow around him radiated. “I really appreciate it.”
“You got family here too?” I couldn’t help but ask.
I nodded, feeling sheepish. I shouldn’t pry. When the man closed the passenger door for me, I put the truck in drive and told the man I’d see him around.
“Let’s hope not.” He turned around and walked with a skip in his step.
“Yeah, let’s hope not,” I mumbled to myself. I pulled out of the parking lot and back onto the road. I stopped by the paint store before heading into work. I bought baby-blue paint cans for the bedroom.