She’s going to fall and I can’t do anything about it. The small toy truck on the ground rolls forward and hits the wall.
I still can’t do anything about it.
Fran wavers forever. Forever on the third step, arms wind-milling in slow motion to grab the banister—to fall forward instead of back. She doesn’t catch the banister. And she doesn’t fall forward.
I still can’t do anything about it.
Fran is old, her curly white hair growing out and her cane is abandoned on the other side of the room. Close to me and my truck—it doesn’t do any good.
She gasps in a heap at the base of the stairwell. Something hurt. Maybe everything hurt.
One arm looks wrong but the other fumbles with jerky motions to her chest. The big pendant is around her neck held by a thick black cord. She hates that pendant but her fingers reach for the taunting silver button in the teardrop shaped base. She moves slow. The pendant is near.
Maybe I can do something about this.
I’m over by her. I don’t have to walk, so I don’t care about the clutter littered on the ground or the bag of trash in my way. The pendant is a hair’s breadth away from her hand.
The pendant moves. Ever so slightly. But then it slides and Fran’s pale knobby fingers press the button.
“Hello, this is EveningCareAlarms. Your pendant was activated, is everything alright?”
“Help is on the way.”
I would be “tired” for a while but it was worth it. I’d do anything to help my daughter.
There are downsides to being a ghost. The living don’t usually see you. Your thoughts aren’t really the same. Mostly, you remember the same things over and over.
I miss the smell of burnt toast. I guess I miss too much because people are always checking the kitchen for burning bread. I can’t help that I make them smell it.
I miss the way people say good-bye, even the barely noticed head bob. Some people hate good-byes but they’re important.
But mostly I miss—
The lock turns. The doorknob jiggles. I’d been alone for… I’ll never know… ever since the paramedics broke down the door and carried Fran away. My spirit lifts. It must be her! She’d never leave again—
“Oh—oh—oh…” Carolyn enters with a hand over her mouth. Carolyn is Fran’s daughter. “I was just here.”
Wrong. She hadn’t just been there. It had been… well, I’d never know… but it was when Fran was wearing her thick white sweater whereas now she always wore a blue one. Or was it red?
“We knew she’d need more help, eventually,” Fran’s son, Ike, grabs the bag of trash and carries it out. Maybe it smells.
“I just wish we would have… before, you know?” Carolyn continues when he comes back. She has another trash bag and piles stuff in.
“How were we to know? I’ve got the names of a few homes. We’ll start looking. It is time.”
“Yes, it really is,” Carolyn sighs. “Do you smell something burning? Is it toast?”
Fran is leaving.
Fran is leaving me.
Fran is standing with her cane in the front room and watches the movers with distrustful eyes. She has a pink plaster cast on one arm while black, blue, yellow, and brown splotches dance over her neck and face.
I don’t like the movers either. Carting her things away. Taking her away from me. I’d watched over her… well, I’d watched her at any rate. My daughter, who used to wear pigtails that curled slightly at the bottom and whistled through the gap in her front teeth. My daughter, who always put the toast in and left it on the highest setting.
One of the movers looks like he’s going to pocket a figurine. I force myself as solid as I can in the mirror over the hutch. The man drops the figurine and runs for the door.
“Don’t,” Fran bangs her cane on the ground, “touch that truck. It stays for Little Boy.”
I’m in my corner and watch the mover reset the truck on the ground. Fran thinks I’m a little boy. A psychic told her that once. She never sees me, even when I try.
I push the toy truck around to make her happy.
The truck is still here.
I don’t know how long it’s been when a car pulls up. A young version of Carolyn enters the house. Emily is Carolyn’s daughter. No one looks like my daughter.
Emily faces my truck. Once, she managed to see me and I respect her for that. “Gran’s worried about you. But you’re not a little boy, you’re a man. I think there’s something you should know.”
The curling of the light blond pig-tails in the sun. The smell of burning toast. My daughter is everything. She has left.
“I looked into the history of this house and…”
The red sweater my daughter wore flashes through my thoughts.
“…Fran isn’t your daughter.”
The truck flies across the room and smacks into the far wall. How could she say that?
Emily steps back. “You died from a stroke, leaving your wife and daughter behind.”
I know that.
“Not long after, your wife and daughter moved to be near your wife’s family.”
“A new family moved in. With a girl around your daughter’s age… Fran.”
“You’re daughter’s name was—”
Angelica. My daughter was Angelica… my head spun. I never got to say goodbye.
Emily continued, “You’re daughter passed away last year. You don’t have to stay here for her.”
Curling pigtails. Burning toast.
Angelica left me.
I left Angelica.
I never said goodbye.
Angelica is gone.
The house is far away. The house was never important.