one ghost in particular – by Russell Miller
Kevin didn’t want to return to his studio apartment right away. The day seemed magical and he just wanted to drowse away the morning in a cozy little coffee shop. He didn’t want to think about Kari, but he did.
He thought about the tiny, dark apartment he had barely glimpsed once. She would never let him inside. “It’s too dirty. I need to clean.” she would say. She lived just a block from him. He had imagined they would become lovers, if only for the convenience. She was the same age as Kevin and almost had the same birthday. He met her three years ago. They were both taking a basic computer class they didn’t particularly care about, but which was required for the certificate they were seeking. He thought he recognized her as she sat down next to him. She resembled a woman who had sat next to him in the same exact chair in this same exact room in a class the previous semester. Kevin said something like “it’s deja vu all over again”, and Kari looked puzzled, then smiled her impish smile. He realized this was someone else. The other woman had never been as friendly, or as cute. “I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.” he said. “Don’t be sorry. My name is Kari.” she said. “Hi! My name’s Kevin.”
Kari was a 20 old woman in a 57 year old body. He loved her youthful energy, which made him feel young as well. He remembered how she had ran up behind him and tickled him, as he was walking down Valencia, after class. “I should have kissed her then, and taken her home.” Kevin thought.
They had become friends. She took him out to dinner. They went shopping, and continued to take classes together. Then, suddenly, she stopped responding to his emails and phone calls. No explanation. She simply disappeared. A year ago, he wished her a Merry Christmas and she had responded with “I wish you a Merry Christmas as well.” But when he wrote that he missed her and wanted to see her again, the curtain fell, leaving only darkness. Kevin didn’t like it, but felt he had no choice but to respect her desire to be left alone. He supposed he loved her, but he hadn’t wanted to become involved. Kari had a son who couldn’t care for himself. Sometimes Kari would say he was schizophrenic, other times that he was not. Sometimes Kevin wondered if this son even existed. He had never met him. He couldn’t even remember his name. Kari had told him that her son had been living in their closet, refusing to come out. He visualized a naked, unshaven man, whose fingernails had grown out to become claws, crouching in his own feces. Of course, she never invited Kevin over. Their last conversation had been about her son. He had threatened her. She said she sometimes wished he would just die, out on the street. She was tired of taking care of him, only to be threatened. Kevin didn’t know what to do. All of his suggestions seemed lame. Because her son hadn’t actually harmed her, she couldn’t call the police. Once again, Kevin wondered about Kari’s own mental health. Did she have a son?
He remembered the times they had hugged, the times they had laughed together. “I ought to have done more.” Kevin thought. She was Korean-American and had told Kevin awful stories of how American soldiers had raped girls she had known when she was a little girl in South Korea. She said they never managed to rape her. She was too tough. He wondered if she was telling the truth. He was puzzled. “Why was she attracted to me, a white man, after seeing what these white men did?” She had tried to immerse him in Korean culture, introducing him to her Korean friends, but insisting he was not her boyfriend, only her classmate. Kevin thought that was a bit odd, and a bit of a lie, but never talked to her about it. She would try to get him interested in Korean cuisine as well. He could never get used to it. All of their time together was spent talking about her life, shopping, and eating in fancy restaurants. They never talked about a ‘relationship’ of any kind. She never seemed curious about Kevin’s life.
Kevin’s reverie was interrupted by two Asian girls talking animatedly to each other at a table nearby. One of them had on a backpack with a stuffed monkey toy hanging from it. Kari loved monkeys. She had one once, she said. She gave it a ride on her scooter, and he peed all over her. She laughed so hard over this story, her face filled with joy. At those times, he wanted to take her in his arms and hold her, kiss her. Had he ever told her how he felt? He recalled some times when they had said they loved one another, in those awkward moments when they each had to return to their separate apartments, after walking together. He thought he could recall a time when she kissed his cheek. There were so many times when Kevin could have written a different story, perhaps a happier one, but he was uncertain of what he wanted.
Looking out at the overcast skies, Kevin remembered similar days when he and Kari would share the same umbrella, laughing at the rain as they ran to the nearest bus stop. Kari took care of Kevin, making sure he was fed, and that he had all he needed for his homework. She seemed to enjoy it. As much as she complained about her son, she always bought sushi to take home to him. Her son wouldn’t eat just any sushi, only a particular kind, and she would search for it. Her son, apparently, rarely left their apartment. Kari said he was incapable of holding a job. He couldn’t follow instructions, she said. She would get angry and talk about how crazy her son was, then on other days, she would accuse Kevin of saying her son was crazy. “He’s not crazy!” she would say, glaring at Kevin. “I never said he was!” Kevin protested. Kevin never knew quite what to say to Kari, and so he let her do most of the talking.
According to Kari, she had turned down a marriage proposal from a wealthy Italian businessman just a few weeks before meeting Kevin. This man had brought her a large bouquet of roses to the dinner she had arranged to celebrate his retirement. He got down on one knee and proposed to her. Kari said she was very embarrassed, and had to say no. She valued her independence too much to ever get married, she explained. This man, did she ever say his name?, threw the roses down on the floor, and stormed out of the restaurant. He had sent her a lot of angry emails since then, she said. Given Kari was living in a tiny, dingy, apartment with a schizophrenic son, Kevin thought her turning down a wealthy man’s marriage proposal might have been a foolish move. His money would have solved a lot of problems.
Kevin didn’t understand what Kari saw in him. Maybe he was just good company, at least until he started talking about her son, and his own poverty. These weren’t fun subjects, suitable for a fun day of shopping. Perhaps, Kevin had outlived his usefulness. Or, if his instincts were correct, Kari saw she couldn’t continue her fantasy about having a crazy son who was threatening her life. At some point, Kevin might insist upon talking to her son, which would be hard to do if he didn’t exist. Kevin thought about contacting her again, which led to another curiosity. He remembered how she had suddenly appeared as a facebook friend. He couldn’t recall her being one before, because she had always despised social media. She didn’t want anyone to know anything about her, she said. But one day, there she was. Did she send a friend request? He couldn’t remember. Did he send a friend request and she accepted? He couldn’t recall. All he remembered was that a few days before Christmas, there she was, a faceless shadow, instead of a profile picture. She was nobody, and yet there she was. Perhaps she was reaching out a little. He imagined her looking at his facebook page, reading her poetry, like a ghost he would never see again. It gave him the creeps. He thought again about the son, that might or might not exist.
By now, the sun had come out, and the coffee shop was filled with a refreshing glow. There is nothing quite like sunlight after a rainstorm, he thought. He wondered if there might be a rainbow outside. He thought again of Kari. Is she out in the sunshine, or sitting with her son, in total darkness?
The mentioned authors are responsible for the content and quality of the stories. They also hold the copyright for the stories they submitted.