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  • Writer's pictureNicole Jorge

Writetober prompt #1 - ghosts

Frank had been dead for five years before we moved in. You’d think he would’ve taken that as his cue to move out - to move on - but he seemed to feel differently.

“What is this shit?” he demanded, standing over me as I sweated beneath the sun. He might’ve been some help if he provided shade at least, but he was translucent and ethereal as all the other dead we’d encountered.

“They’re succulents.”

“They’re weeds. What the hell is wrong with real flowers? You too good for ‘em?”

I liked the succulents. Angel liked the succulents. That, I reminded myself, was what mattered. So I ignored Frank as I went about adding the finishing touches to the display, some shards of pottery meant to look like a fairy’s lair. I’d seen it on Tik Tok and liked the effect. I was happy with the fruits of my labor.

“Looks like shit,” Frank said. “Waste of good garden space.”

“It was all gravel when we got here, Frank,” I reminded him.

He made a disgusted sound. “One waste to another. They oughta fine you.”

“Fine us? We don’t even have an HoA,” Angel said, later. “What, does he think there are lawn police?”

“He was the lawn police. Neighbors must’ve hated him,” I replied. It was dark out now. If I looked out through the bay windows I would find the lawn quiet and still. But I knew if I ventured outside for whatever reason, Frank would show up to piss in my Cheerios.

“Maybe if we sage again - ”

“All it did was get him bitching about filthy hippies last time, remember? And I don’t want the neighbors to see,” I sighed. “They already think we’re eccentric.

It wasn’t hard to be eccentric when you were surrounded by white picket fences on all sides. But damn it, Angel and I had worked hard to get here. We’d done the starving artist thing long enough. Like hell was I about to let a dead old jackass like Frank spoil that.

The next day, Frank caught my attention by waving furiously behind the office window as I wrapped up a Zoom class. I spent the last ten minutes pointedly ignoring him as I walked my students through finalizing their sketches, and then I stomped outside barefoot.

“What?” I snapped.

“Look!” he cried, pointing. The cars sat in the driveway. Beyond that, the garage door stood open as Angel worked at a new painting. He’d secured a bucket to the ceiling with a hook and sent it swinging back and forth over his canvas, spilling streams of vibrant paint over a black base. I didn’t get too close, figuring he was filming the process for his Youtube channel.

“He’s painting,” I hissed quietly.

“He’s ruinin’ the garage! Paint everywhere! And it’s pink!

“So what?”

Frank sputtered indignantly. I rolled my eyes. “Frank,” I told him, “this isn’t your house anymore. This is our house. And we’re going to use the space however we want.”

The neighbor kid pedaled by on his bike. He was watching me with a puzzled frown. I smiled and waved, hoping desperately that he wouldn’t tell his parents he’d seen the crazy lady next door talking to herself. Again.

All through our first year at the house, Frank could always find something to gripe at us over. He was somehow more annoying than the poltergeist that had occupied my childhood home, and the vengeful spirit of the organist who’d terrorized the flock back when Angel had been an altar server as a boy.

“At least she knew how to play,” Angel complained. “Frank is just an asshole. I wouldn’t mind if he could throw things at us, if only it would get him to shut up once in a while.”

Spring eased into summer. A sweet gay couple moved in across the street. Frank was in fine form when we hosted them for a BBQ.

“Why don’t you invite them to live in your little fairy house? Bet they love all that pink shit in your garage. Nancy boys...oughta make ‘em take that ridiculous rainbow flag down, at least, gonna lower property values….”

On the fourth of July he shouted and shook his fist after the neighbor kids as they ran up and down the block with their sparklers. He puttered around grumbling darkly when their new puppy took to shitting occasionally on our lawn.

“It’s no big deal,” Angel insisted.

Frank wouldn’t hear it. “When my Hannah was a lil’ thing, she knew the meanin’ of respect. Cleaned up after herself, too. Nothin’ like these rotten, no-good brats.”

It was hard to imagine a miserable dude like Frank having a family, but we knew he’d had a wife, kids, and even grandkids. He didn’t talk about them much except to enumerate the ways in which they were far superior to everyone we knew.

“Good kids - damn good kids,” he said. “None of this spoiled shit, bunch of punks runnin’ around with their fancy toys, disrespectin’ the whole neighborhood - nice and respectful, yessir, nossir, please and thank you.”

“Things are different now, Frank.”

“Things are no good! Fairies, punks, and filthy beatniks - I tell you, this used to be a good neighborhood before the likes of you showed up.”

Autumn turned the streets red and orange and gold with leaves. For a former Florida girl, it was magical. Frank hated the wreath I put up for the season.”

“Tacky as hell - what is that, mesh?”

“They’re all the rage in Louisiana.”

“Then get back to Louisiana.”

Angel and I saved our reputations by being the coolest house on the block for Halloween. Joel, one of the “fairies” across the street, had studied special effects and makeup in college. With his help we put together a neat little haunted house that had all the kids in the neighborhood lining up.

“It’s morbid! It’s disgusting! I’ll have you know, there’s nothin’ entertaining about being dead. It just means watchin’ the world go to pieces around you,” Frank railed.

Angel’s family came out for Thanksgiving, and Frank made sure to let us know how mortified Angel’s parents should be by their daughter’s pink hair. “Guess it runs in the lock her up until she comes to her senses.”

Neither of us was excited about the idea of a Frank Christmas. It was just as well we got an invite to spend the holidays with friends in Vancouver that year. We had a great time, so it figured we found Frank skulking in the driveway when we got back.

“This here’s a family home,” he told us, dourly. “Meant for celebratin’ in.”

“Do you you think he missed us?” Angel asked me, later.

I laughed. “Are you out of your mind? He missed having something to bitch about, probably.”

“If you say so…” Angel replied. But he looked thoughtful as we tucked into bed.

It was New Year’s Eve when the pee strip finally told us what we’d been hoping to hear since Halloween.

“Holy shit. Holy shit!”

“I know!”

Angel picked me up and swung me around like I wasn’t taller and broader than he was. For the first time in my life I felt light as a feather. There were phone calls to be made after that, only immediate family until the first trimester was up.

“Should we tell Frank?”

I looked up from my phone. “Frank? God no. Why, so he can insult our offspring before it’s even born? You know what he’s going to say - shitty brat, beatniks, blah blah blah.”

Angel didn’t look convinced, but he nodded.

For a while after that, life with Frank was business as usual. He sneered as Angel struggled with shoveling the walk after our first snow and gloated when I dug up my succulents to transport them inside for the season.

“Real garden woulda been just fine,” he told me, smugly. “Figures you went and planted those high-maintenance weeds.”

And so it went.

January faded into February. I wasn’t showing much, but it was amazing knowing I had this little thing growing slow and steady inside me. Even though we knew it was a bit early, we started packing up the room we’d been using to store all our junk with the intention of turning it into a nursery. Frank stood over Angel as he hauled things out for pickup, hands on his hips.

“Never figured you for hoarders. What’s all this mess? You finally decide to act like real adults and clean the place up? Ain’t surprise you’d clutter up my nice house with all that trash.”

Angel sighed and said nothing.

It was another couple weeks before Hannah arrived. We didn’t know her, of course, had never met her, as the house had gone through a few owners before it came to us. Angel and I were both home the day the Prius rolled up and parked on the street. The woman who stepped out from behind the wheel had a pretty smile and short-cropped hair. She turned that smile on the woman who emerged from the passenger seat, warm brown eyes and long, sleek dark hair. They were both bundled up for warmth, leaning into each others’ sides as they stood on the street and looked up at the house. Angel saw them first. He was in the garage working on another piece. He wandered down the drive and greeted them with a wave.

“Can I help you?” he called.

Hannah led the way up the drive, the second woman following closely. She gave Angel a big grin. “Howdy!” she greeted. “You the owner?”

“I am.”

“Hannah Baker, nice to meet you.”

Angel still hadn’t made the connection as he shook Hannah’s hand, then her partner’s.

“This is my wife Ji-woo. We’re in town from Boston and I figured we could check the old place out. This used to be my grandparents’ house.”

Frank materialized as if he’d been summoned. “And who the hell is this?” he demanded.

Angel ignored him. “You said your name is Hannah?” he asked, pointedly.

“Sure is,” Hannah replied. “I spent a lot of time here while I was growing up. I’m sorry for just turning up like this, but I’d been wondering how the place was doing. My parents sold it after my grandad passed and I haven’t been by in years.”

Frank stared. Angel glanced at him and back. “Your grandfather owned the house?”

“Him and Grams,” Hannah said. “They actually built the house. We spent every holiday here until after we lost Grams, and it took a lot out of Grandad to have us here without her.”

By this time I’d noticed the little gathering in the driveway and emerged from the front door. “Everything all right?” I asked.

Angel waved me over. “Come on, babe! I want you to meet someone.”

Maybe it was a little risky, but we let Hannah and Ji-woo inside the house. Her eyes lit up as she wandered the kitchen and living area. “I love what you’ve done! It feels so nice and bright. I never imagined what it’d look like know, old people furniture.”

We laughed. I could see Frank through the windows, peering in with the most intense look I’d ever seen on his face. I caught glimpses of him as we gave Hannah and Ji-woo the tour, ending with the garage. Ji-woo circled Angel’s latest work with bright eyes.

“It’s wonderful! You know, I own a gallery in Boston. This would make for a great display.”

Angel and I exchanged looks. “You think so?” Angel asked. “Sales aren’t bad, but I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to show off for the bourgeoisie.”

“Do you have a card?”

Hannah wandered up the drive while Angel and Ji-woo talked logistics. I trailed after her. She stood on the pavement and looked around, radiating happiness.

“I really loved this place, you know?” she told me. “Grams was an angel. And Grandad could be kind of a hardass sometimes, but we always knew he loved us, you know?”

Frank was on the lawn. His face was blank as he watched us.

“That’s great,” I replied. “I’m glad you have so many happy memories here.”

“Pardon me if this seems rude,” Hannah asked, “but do you and your partner have plans know, expand the household?”

Frank had gotten closer without my noticing. He was standing at my back.

“As a matter of fact, we are,” I told Hannah. My hand went instinctively to my stomach. “Within a few months, actually.”

Hannah lit up. “That’s amazing! Congratulations!”

She and Ji-woo didn’t stay much longer. They got back into their car after Angel and Ji-woo had exchanged contact information, promising to be in touch. We waved after them as they drove away. Frank watched from beside us.

“So that was your granddaughter, huh?” Angel asked Frank once the car was out of sight. “You were right. She’s a cool lady.”

Frank said nothing.

A couple days passed. Angel was in town when I carried the last of the junk out onto the driveway, a lightweight box that didn’t give me any trouble. Frank was scowling when he appeared at my side.

“You better not be strainin’ yourself in your condition.”

“It’s nothing, Frank. I’m good,” I assured him. He was unconvinced.

“A mother oughta let the father do the heavy lifting in the relationship. Gotta save your energy, you know,” he started, and stopped. He stared at me. I stared back.

“You coulda said,” he said, finally. “You were expectin’. First I hear of it.”

“Believe it or not, even beatniks eventually settle down,” I teased.

Frank turned to look up at the house with his hands on his hips. I turned with him and followed his gaze instinctively. We stood there quietly for a long moment. It felt like I was waiting for something, but I wasn’t sure what.

“This here’s a family home,” Frank said. “You gotta take care of it. Plant your weeds and paint the garage pink, but you gotta use the place right.”

“Um...sure?” I answered. “I guess ‘right’ is relative, but I think we’ve got the idea.”

Frank nodded. “You might well.”

There was another silence. At last, Frank sighed.

“I’d hoped Hannah would find herself a nice boy. Don’t understand why things gotta be the way they are today, but it seems I have no say in it. She looked happy, at least. Happy is...happy is good. She always was a good girl. And I’m glad I could give her happy memories here. This place is meant for good memories, you understand?”

I nodded. “Sure. Yeah. I get it.”

Frank met my gaze steadily. “I hope you do. I’ll be holdin’ you to it.”

“I’m sure you can’t wait to critique our parenting style.”

Frank looked back up at the house. “Thing about that is, you gotta find your own way. That’s what me and my wife Peg did. It wasn’t always easy, but at least we knew we had a good place for our family. That was half the work. Now you got all this ready for you, and...well, I suppose that’s somethin’.”

I nodded. “Okay. It is, yeah. I appreciate it, you know? The work you put into keeping the house up. I didn’t know you’d built it, Frank. You did a great job.”

Frank’s face twisted oddly. It took me a moment to realize that he was smiling, albeit awkwardly. “That’s all I needed to hear it. Well, little lady. I’ll be leavin’ you to it, then.”

And he was gone.

Gone gone.

It took us a while to realize it. Angel splattered the garage walls purple and green and gold preparing a piece for display in Ji-woo’s gallery, and Frank was nowhere to be seen. We hosted his family again for a week and his sister’s half-green-half-blonde hair went without comment.

“Do you think he’s upset with us?” Angel asked.

“I think,” I started, slowly. “I think maybe he’s finally satisfied.”

We stood on the front porch looking out over the icy lawn. Our breath fogged in the air.

“Well, damn,” Angel said. “He’s really gone?”

“Guess so.”

“Coulda said goodbye.”

“He kind of did, I guess. I just didn’t get it at the time.”

“Huh,” Angel mused aloud. “Well...I can’t say I miss him, exactly...but we will be missing him, won’t we?”

“Who’s going to make fun of my weeds when I replant the garden?” I asked.

“Who’s going to complain about the fairies when we have Joel and Gabe over?”

“Who’s going to shout at the neighbor kids even though they can’t even hear him?”

Angel sighed. “I guess we’ll just have to get by without him. It’s nice that he gave you his blessings, in his own way.”

I rubbed a hand over my swelling stomach. “It is nice. Do you think he’s happy, wherever he is?”

“Can he be happy without something to complain about?”

“He could find something to complain about in heaven.”

Angel grinned. “Then I think he’s doing just fine, baby. I really do.”

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