They call it a haunting when a spirit attaches to a place and won’t let go. Sometimes, they say, it happens with people, too. Ghosts cling to the living, meddling in those things they’re no longer able to control. Everywhere you go, they follow.
Sylvia was not a superstitious person, but she knew about running away. That there are things you can’t shake no matter where you go. At best she could dress it up. Be intriguing. Wrap herself in an air of mystery, which is really aloofness, and really the best alternative to self-sabotage she’d discovered.
Sylvia had learned these tricks: to smile wryly when asked whether she missed New York. To give well-researched opinions. To return most questions with other, more flattering questions. To drink beer.
She would also learn the arts of Southern insults, and ever after when someone barbed her with a tart remark, Sylvia would smile her thin, wine-colored lips and say “Well, aren’t you sweet.” But that came later, after NPR turned to twangy gospel turned to Evangelical preachers on the car stereo. After Liam stopped calling and the haunting started.
One morning she was riding the Q towards Broadway/31st. It was a Saturday, and she still wore those stiletto boots that always got caught in the subway grate. She leaned against the door as the train lifted upwards from the ground to slip across the river. The jostling never bothered her. The clack-a-clack was a soothing familiarity. She closed her eyes and felt the sunlight grow brighter. Brighter. Blinding.
That was the last thing she remembered about New York, despite the following days of frenzied packing. Was she haunted then? Only a preternatural zeal could launch a person into the wild unknown. Perhaps she’d carried her ghosts from other places, only to concentrate them into the cabin of a ’98 Corolla. Perhaps not, and they were born to the sounds of dying AC and warbled FM radio.
But they were there two thousand miles later when she unpacked into her new loft, in that unknown city, and sat on the floor beside her kitchen sink to cry.
[Continue? Note 2]
The header image is adapted from a photo by Tony Neustaedter.