Linda McMullen

Sam’s Ghosts

The ghosts of Sam’s exes come to a banquet at our dining room table every evening. They aren’t dead, properly speaking. Their essences began drifting in through the windows shortly after our marriage; they’d arrive as the day faded and linger into the night. Now, they often have the decency to wait until after our daughter has gone to bed.
I thought Sam had sealed their charms in the shoebox on the closet shelf, but I disturbed them when trying to extract my baseball glove and, Pandora-like, unleashed everything but foreboding. That, I kept for myself. Sam came to inspect the chaos. He stood for a moment, sank to his knees, dissolved amidst ticket stubs and mix tapes and the silken whispers of aged envelopes.
I reached for a stray receipt. “Don’t touch it!” cried Sam. Then, assuming a more normal tone: “I don’t want to trouble you."
That was my line –
When I asked him.
I don’t want to trouble you.
I thought I’d – we’d – be all right. Affection and sunshine and a shared love of Thai takeout could compensate for a lot. I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t know about the shoebox. Its contents remained part of The Unsaid, but I knew about Mirabelle and the trembling hands of young love; about Anastasia and her siren’s song… Now they file in every night with a handful of up-jumped rebound girls, Kim and Sarah and Emily… but even they bow before Rasia.
His one.
He pronounced her name only once. Very drunk. Fragments emerged: a breakup, words twisted and laid bare, calls unanswered across the ocean. He laid his head on my white satin lap, and I stroked his hair. He fell asleep gripping my skirt. The shades started turning up regularly.
I tried to chase them away. I offered Sam exhausting, adventurous day trips. Surprises in chocolate and lace. Gifts – books, cologne, a boys' golf outing. And still they’d appear – usually together, occasionally singly. Always there. They’re back tonight. They manifest promptly when Beethoven thrums through our secondhand stereo: Mirabelle first, then the others.
Except one.
Tonight, I’ve left the fruit bowl out for them so that they can linger over hints of past summers in the grapes, wrap wry smiles around lemon-sharp memories.
I roll toward the living room with the scent of baby powder clinging to my fingers. Sam is playing both sides of an end-stage chess match.
“Sam? I murmur.
He doesn’t stir.
“Sam."
The black queen takes the white.
“Sam!” I cry. He looks up. Behind his eyes, Rasia lifts her chin. Defiant. “I got Iris down, but you could still look in on her."
He comes to the conversation from a great distance. Without a word, he shuffles toward our daughter’s room. I follow. We beam down at her as her fluttering eyelids droop. When Sam meets my gaze, he produces that half-rueful smile that wraps itself around my heart.
Rasia and the others have vanished.
For now.
Maybe that’s enough.

About the Author

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in numerous literary magazines. Find her on Twitter @LindaCMcMullen.