The Ghost’s Apartment
by Lyndsey Reese
Once a month the ghost in Lindy’s apartment gets her ghost period, and ghost tampons show up bloody in the small trashcan Lindy keeps in the bathroom. The ghost doesn’t bother wrapping them in toilet paper, and when Lindy complains, the ghost says, What, it’s not like they make a mess or anything. Lindy tells her to get her own ghost trashcan, to order it off the ghost internet. She’d do it herself, but the ghost internet is full of dead links and pages that only ghosts can find.
The ghost rolls her eyes, but she picks up Lindy’s laptop and goes to an Amazon page that existed in 2006 and orders a small blue trashcan covered in emoticons—something clearly meant for a college dorm room circa 2003, and like, really tacky, the ghost says, but since Lindy’s being such a C U Next Tuesday, it’ll have to do. Lindy can’t tell if the ghost is ribbing her or if she’s pissed. The ghost does this—expresses affection laced with enough contempt to make Lindy feel like she’s in the seventh grade again, waiting for the bus with her Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper clutched to her chest. Nice trapper, Lindy, ha ha, and where did you get those Sketchers? The lame-o mall?
Tonight Lindy and the ghost are going to have some roommate time, which has the potential to be fun, although it’s not exactly easy to navigate. After living together for just over six months in a fifth floor walk-up in north Brooklyn, they should’ve figured this out already, but no, they haven’t. The ghost can’t watch the TV so they can’t do movie night. She can’t see the screen, which Lindy thinks maybe is something the ghost made up since she’s never heard of ghosts not being able to see the TV. That’s why we turn the TV on and off so much, the ghost said once, because how the fuck do we know if it’s working or not? Well you can see the computer, Lindy said, so how does that make sense? Listen, the ghost said, I’ve got a condition, all right? Lay off.
Lindy would love to go up on the roof and take in the Manhattan skyline tonight, but the ghost isn’t having it. She’s never having it. She hates the roof, says it’s nasty up there, and tells Lindy she’s trying too hard. Trying too hard at what, Lindy wants to know. At everything, the ghost says, at just about everything, Jesus, go get a tattoo and brew some kombucha in the closet if you want to seem interesting.
Hanging out with the ghost is also tricky because they can’t drink or eat the same things. Sometimes the ghost brings home a box of ghost donuts, but turns them opaque so that they look real. When Lindy goes to pick one up, she’s just pawing at the air, and the ghost is like, Oh my god Lindy, you love food so much you’re killing me here. Lindy wants to be the kind of person who takes a joke, so she doesn’t say anything to the ghost about what an asshole she can be. What she wants to say is, Hey, your craigslist ad said you were a benevolent ghost and you were really into knitting and keeping the bathroom tidy, but I’ve yet to see evidence of any of that.
Lindy has living friends too. In too many ways moving to New York has felt like being a freshman in college all over again—forming friendships based on convenience rather than affection, getting too drunk all week and puking in the bathtub, talking to anyone who will listen about the three novelties of this new life (pizza on every corner! cheap-ass brunch in Long Island City! a van that’ll take you to the beach at Fort Tilden for twelve dollars roundtrip!), even as the novelty wears off.
Her closest living friend in the city, Beatrice, is a coworker who extols the health benefits of kale and overuses the phrase at any rate when she’s excited about something, which is always. (Her enthusiasm is so dogged and sincere it hurts.) But tonight she and everyone is busy, and Lindy suspects the ghost’s friends all have other things to do too.
Really, the ghost isn’t awful. When Lindy first moved to the city, she found the first apartment she could, a place cheap but not too cheap. The ghost had the room listed at a steal, so here she is. They don’t get along all the time, but Lindy feels like she gets something out of her relationship with the ghost. Something like friendship. She feels compelled to try and be close to the ghost since they share the same space. Before, when Lindy lived across the country, she had a roommate she liked, who understood her. Tracy, who left notes on the fridge and bought her Fig Newtons when she was at the store because they were Lindy’s favorite snack, and lay on the couch opposite Lindy the weekend her parents visited. The two of them sprawled there drinking wine and crying a little because families were weird and love sometimes felt more like rug burn than anything else, but that was ok because there was wine and there was another person to share it with.
So yeah, it would be nice to be close with the ghost. Sitting on the sofa, Lindy listens to the ghost as she floats from her bedroom back to the living room, looking for something she turned transparent earlier and can’t find. I give up, the ghost says, drifting to the kitchen. Lindy, get your ass in here and make fancy cocktails with me.
Lindy does. But she feels bossed around and obedient, which are her least favorite feelings. What is she, a toddler? A beagle? A really dull person?
I’m not trying to get drunk tonight, the ghost says, it’s throwing off my center lately.
Don’t get drunk, Lindy says. I might though.
The ghost cuts up a ghost-lemon. She has tattoos on her right forearm: a line drawing of the human heart on her inner wrist, the left ventricle colored a vibrant red and a tiny sparrow just below her elbow, which Lindy finds boring. The ghost looks about twenty-two, sports long dark brown hair, and likes to say she’s an artist—small installations. She wears a lot of eye-makeup, and she’s always a little rumpled, like somebody just woke her up. Sometimes Lindy wants to be like, Hey, ghost, when is the last time you washed that shirt? But that’s mean-spirited, and c’mon, she’s dead.
Lindy grabs a beer from the fridge.
That’s not a cocktail, the ghost says, and Lindy rolls her eyes, which feels like an assertion of her independence, so maybe things are looking up. She’s a real person. An individual.
I got a lot done today actually, Lindy, the ghost says. You’d be proud.
Like what? Lindy asks. She’s not sure how she got to be the person in the ghost’s circle taking measure of her productivity like a kindergarten teacher charting progress on the classroom bulletin board, but this happens sometimes with her. She’s a goddamn yardstick, and everybody knows. Oh Lindy, look, I paid my bills on time. Look, I broke up with my borderline-emotionally-abusive boyfriend. Lindy, I finally did last year’s taxes, ha ha, aren’t you proud?
It’s very technical, the ghost says, and I don’t really want to talk about it yet because this project is like at its beginning stages? I’m very superstitious, and I’m afraid talking about it will bring it into some bright-lit area and then I won’t be able to really feel it anymore, with my gut.
Yeah, Lindy says.
Lindy knocks back another third of her beer—she’s on a roll tonight, she really chugged this thing—and she keeps her eyes open, staring at the ceiling, looking for a bit of solidarity from the universe.
What do you think? the ghost says, holding up her cocktail, a sludge that looks like a berry smoothie.
What did you put in there?
The ghost takes a sip. Delicious! Hold on, I’ll be right back, she says. She walks through the kitchen’s wall to go to the bathroom. Doors are for pussies.
Sure, Lindy says to the empty room. She leans against the counter. She hates waiting on people like this, especially the ghost. Lindy has typically been a pushover, someone who stays quiet like a rug, who says things like, Dude, I’m not getting in the middle of it, and who thinks she’s being gracious when she lets people shove past her to get on the train.
Lindy didn’t realize it before, but she’s been looking for an escape from tonight since she walked in the room. This isn’t like hanging out with Tracy in New Mexico. Why did she hope it would be?
Lindy wants to go up on the roof—so she’s going. She grabs an extra beer and sneaks away. She’s being a little awful, she knows. That’s the thing—she’s a secret asshole. And she gets away with a lot.
But she feels almost entitled to rudeness after the way the ghost has treated her over the last half a year. Not that Lindy holds grudges. But that first week in the apartment, the ghost took her to a ghost party where the theme was Invisible!, and Lindy got trapped next to the stereo with the only other living person there, a woman who kept picking her scalp and flicking the pieces behind the couch as they stood together in what looked like an empty apartment and sounded like a club. There was also the time the ghost let a friend crash on their couch for nearly three weeks, and mice and cockroaches kept turning up dismembered in the sink. Then when the ghost dated a demon, Lindy caught him standing in the bathroom after she got out of the shower, asking if he could “get clean” with her and maybe, you know, if she wasn’t opposed to it, make out a little bit, maybe even with tongue? If that was ok. And the ghost got mad at her.
In the hallway, there’s a laminated sign on the ladder that reads: If go up the roof, loose security deposit. Lindy ignores it, climbs up, then remembers why the sign exists; the door opens up right next to the edge and it’s a sharp drop into the alley between buildings. If she were drunk or high or just clumsier than she already is, she’d fall off in no time flat. Maybe this is how the ghost died. It wouldn’t be out of character for her to be so out of her mind on something that she accidentally killed herself being stupid.
The roof is creepy, strewn with old abandoned things: one grey Ked sneaker, a rusted baking pan, a collection of marbles, a used needle, half-crushed cans of Genessee, an indistinguishable lump of cloth that might’ve once been a T-shirt. Lindy sits down on an old milk crate to drink her beer. Her building is close to the East River, so she can see all of Manhattan in its sparkling, nighttime glory. She remembers climbing up here after the hurricane and what a surprise it was to see the lower half of the city dark and empty, like Manhattan was an unfinished painting. She was lonely then. Sitting in the same spot, doing the exact same thing now that she was in late October, she experiences some transference: she is lonely now too.
She was stuck in her neighborhood after the hurricane, just like everyone else. The trains weren’t running. She hadn’t yet made friends that lived nearby. The ghost was gone the entire week, at a friend’s place in Harlem and got stuck up there she said. Everybody was drunk and friendly, even the meanest ghosts she knew, the ghost told Lindy, even the ones that turned themselves into black holes and stood at the foot of your bed with malice, even the ones that went and sat on your chest while you were sleeping and made it impossible to breathe. Lindy figured it was true because everyone she met was drunk and friendly too. They all traded stories of the storm, which didn’t vary much in her neighborhood. We lost cable but not power. We lost power for like, twenty minutes, but no big deal.
Lindy had even gone out one night, gotten drunk out of her mind, and made out with a skinny dude with a bad chin beard outside a bar. But she’d gone home by herself, lonely though she was. What was her problem? Disaster brought people together and she couldn’t let herself be close to anyone, not even a doofy but adorable stranger whose only apparent flaw was liking Pantera too much. She threw up when she got home, and slept curled on the bathmat, her head propped up on a half-empty box of Kleenex. She figured she deserved it.
But now it’s warm in the city. Lindy starts to peel the label off her beer, the condensation slick and unpleasant against her palm. Down on the street, she can hear shrieking and laughter. It sounds like life but she doesn’t know. It could be the dead, or the echoes of the recently undead, or just a kid being an idiot all on her own.
Lindy thinks, I just want life to be so beautiful it hurts. And then, What a fucking thing to think. Downstairs she hears the ghost call her name. She sounds annoyed. Lindy scoots closer to the edge of the roof, leaving her milk crate behind. She gets down on her belly and peers over the edge—there really isn’t a wall or anything that serves as a barrier between the roof and the air, which is cool with Lindy. She’ll just snake-crawl her way over here to see down to the street as the ghost calls her name in the background.
Lindy reaches one hand over the edge of the roof. She dangles her beer bottle, watching the street. It’s empty but for a couple crossing at a crosswalk at the intersection to Lindy’s left. Her block is lined with small trees, and branches obscure the couple’s faces. They’ve stopped in the middle of the street. Lindy thinks they might be kissing, but as she watches them, they disappear, vanishing into the summer air, hollering as they fade.
What is it like to be dead? Lindy wonders, and then she figures it must be like anything else, like going to the grocery store when you don’t want to, or depositing checks into the drive-through ATM when your car is just a tad too far from the machine, or spending an hour or two thinking you might get sick only to feel fine just after you’ve canceled all your plans for the night. If life is like that, then surely death is too.
Lindy? the ghost calls. Lindy what the fuck. Lindy get down here right now. This is not fucking funny. I’ve told you. God damn it Lindy. God fucking damn it.
The ghost’s voice gets louder, takes on an edge, piercing and desperate like Lindy’s never heard from her. She feels guilty but good too like she might mean something to the ghost if her being up on the roof is such a source of anxiety and hysteria.
From the stairwell comes the sound of banging, like a pipe being struck by something heavy and metal. She thinks she can hear her name in there. Lindy. After a pause, Lindy hears their door slam and then open again. Lindy pictures the ghost, her hair floating out behind her in a dark mass as she hurries around. Lindy has seen other ghosts angry, their forms contorting with rage as they transform into dark clouds or cartoonish versions of themselves, their limbs elongated, their teeth pronounced and uneven, their eyes a startling green like rot.
Lindy says nothing. She is cruel. That’s another thing about her, isn’t it? She’s cruel and she doesn’t care. She puts one elbow over the edge. The roof feels smaller somehow and Lindy feels claustrophobic as the banging continues, but it’s contained, further away. The noise has shrunk in on itself. Both her arms dangle at the side of the building now. She can feel gravity pressing on her shoulders, can feel the tug on her torso as both arms swing freely. The beer bottle in her hand feels heavy. She could drop it and it would fall. How simple would that be? To see the bottle move away from her in its last moments as a whole, unfractured thing?
She cranes her neck to look up at the skyline for the last time tonight. As with most things, the buildings were only beautiful if you let them be beautiful—and Lindy wants them to be beautiful. Lindy doesn’t know what to make of any of it, or herself or how she got here, up on a roof in a city she doesn’t know, a city nobody could know. Downstairs the ghost has grown quiet. Or maybe she hasn’t. Maybe she’s louder and Lindy can’t tell. Lindy’s arms hurt now. The roof has begun to feel like a very bad room. She inches her torso further out and tightens the muscles of her stomach, presses down against the rooftop with the toes of both shoes. It’s hard to stay balanced. She thinks she would like to leave, but she is tired. Her body hurts. That is the thing about bodies. A breeze moves across her neck. She opens her fist and something, somewhere, lets out a howl from below.
Lyndsey Reese is an Associate Editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Arizona State University, and writes the series The Best Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week for the Ploughshares blog. She lives and writes in Brooklyn.