Her last day as a ghost
Eliza knew that she was disappearing. She only had to look down at her own hands, at her own boots, for confirmation that this was so.
Well, that sucked. 15 years as a human. 5 days as a ghost. And then…POOF.
She tried the corresponding gesture again, with her half-there hands, watching them intently. It was like she was a sketch, at best, and now some distracted god was rubbing her out. She registered the urge to sigh, followed by the disturbing blank of her breathless lungs.
Well, ok then….
No… actually this was good. This was slower than a POOF. She still had time. A smudge of time. She drifted herself over to the fountain, and resolved with all the strength of her remaining cells…
I will suck the marrow out of this day.
She threw her head back and laughed a silent maniacal laugh, like an old-fashioned vampire, in some blurry black and white film. But around her it was technicolour. The tourists in Trafalgar Square merged, in their bright summer clothes – eating crisps, scrolling on their phones, rubbing suntan lotion onto their fleshy arms.
None of which she could do.
She nodded, just to make sure that she could still operate her neck.
What can you do, Eliza? Do it. Do it. She thought.
She bent over the edge of the fountain and considered trailing her fingers through the water. But what if it entered her patchy body, by osmosis, and then leaked out from some other part, like she was crying from her elbow, or her butt cheeks.
No. She would not go out like that.
She scanned the square, oriented what was left of her body, and then floated after a group of young guys. They were all bare-armed and kitted in immaculate trainers that flashed bright white in the sunshine. One was vaping. One had a partly smoked cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. Hmmm. This had potential. She’d never smoked, and she’d never kissed a guy. Maybe she could check off two birds in one ghostly swoop.
She pulled in the shreds of her ghostly force, and using both hands, she plucked the lit cigarette from his mouth, with all the grace of a hungry raccoon. Then she pressed what was left of her face to his, before hightailing it to the other side of the fountain.
She didn’t want to see his face. His reaction. His friends. Their reactions. Her guess was that it wasn’t good. She just wanted to take in this moment… the relaxing splash of the fountain at her back. She waved the cigarette in front of her face, trying to generate a cloud of smoke that she could inhale. Taste at least? Maybe she could taste a linger of the boy too if she really concentrated. Had they even touched tongues?
She closed her eyes and smacked her lips together. Did she still have a tongue? She focused extra hard and strained to stick it out, as far as she could. Then, slowly, she opened her eyes and stared, cross-eyed… at the space where her tongue should be.
In that moment of missing her own tongue, a lady in a bright orange sundress stopped a few metres from Eliza. The lady shifted in place, head tilted to one side. Oh no, she was looking directly at the place where the cigarette stuck out from Eliza’s clenched hands. The cigarette must seem to be dancing mid-air, its lit end like an ashy firefly. The lady’s mouth opened. She dropped her ice cream. She dropped the leash to her little dachshund. Then she clutched her hands to her suntanned chest and screamed.
Eliza whooshed backwards, dropping the cigarette into the fountain in the tug of it. Shoot. That was dirty. She bent over, and scooped with sieves for hands, trying to fish it out, glancing back and forth… from the bobbing cigarette, to the knot of people gathered around the screaming lady, to the little dachshund who was snarfing up the last piece of ice cream cone.
The little dog licked its lips, then eyeballed the fountain and trotted over, leash trailing behind it, and put its paws up on the edge. It panted, tongue dangling out, straining to reach the water. That wasn’t going to work. It was such a little dog. As Eliza drifted closer, the dachshund sprang off its back legs and landed with a splash in the fountain, beside her, like it was tombstoning. It sank straight down, and then scrabbled in place, under the water. The water wasn’t that deep, but deeper than a dachshund and its little legs. It wasn’t swimming. It wasn’t floating. It was just running on the fountain’s floor.
Eliza whirled around, trying to locate the dog’s owner, but she was still surrounded by a huddle of humans. The next nearest clutch were perched on the fountain’s edge, to her right, swapping a selfie stick back and forth. Absorbed. Oblivious.
Still the little dog scrabbled in place.
Eliza launched herself towards it, with all the power of a leaf. She wavered in place. It was hard standing upright in water, with semi-dissolved feet, stuffed into the memory of boots, so she let herself sink down to her knees. She felt herself leaking, like a broken fountain, from her face, from her ribs, but no matter. She reached for the sunk little dachshund, and tried to fasten her ghostly arms around its little body. She heaved until she felt like she was going to fly apart, but no give.
The soggy cigarette bobbed towards her, brushing her mouth. She let go of the dog and pinched the cigarette up, then tried to hurl it in the direction of the selfie people. It did not fly well. She made a leaky scoop of her hands and tried to splash them, but the fountain’s splash camouflaged hers. She threw back her head and screamed with silent frustration.
What can you do Eliza? Do it. Do it.
She sat full down in the water, clocked the distance to the fountain’s sides, and stretched back, like she was doing the backstroke in a pool. When the sky went blurry she knew that she’d managed to sink right down. Then she felt her way, like a starfish, and wriggled herself under the sunk little dog.
If plucking the guy’s cigarette with both hands was the warm-up, then this for sure was the final round. She pulled in every shred of energy, and then sent it back out – sculling, butt shuffling, kicking and crabbing her way over to the side, the little dog wedged on top of her. It was a froth of action, but finally her hand touched the fountain wall, and with one final explosion of Eliza, she launched the dog up, in a full body shot-putt.
“Caaaaandy!” she heard a voice, warbling down through the water.
She saw the blur of arms and hands and a glow of orange, and a blur of brown fur, and then.
Go Candy. Have fun.
Eliza felt herself sinking and drifting, and then a long, deep hug of silence.
A cool, gliding swirl.
A gargle of relaxation.
This was not such a bad way to go.
This week my head was full of ghosts and water.