Sadie won’t sleep upstairs in our bed if I’m not home. She swears there’s a ghost who stands there and watches her.
“Is the ghost there watching when I’m in bed, too?” I ask.
Sadie shakes her head no.
I try to tell Sadie that the only ghosts in this house are those of our own making, and they’re nothing to be afraid of anymore. But she doesn’t believe me, and she won’t listen, adamant the way she gets when she’s convinced she’s right about something and it’s everyone else who doesn’t have a goddamn clue.
“I know what I know,” Sadie says. “And I don’t want to be watched like that.”
So some nights, whenever I’ve been at the office working late, or out for a beer with the boys, I’ll return to find Sadie asleep in the living room—curled up on the loveseat, her grandmother’s crochet blanket strewn across her body, a bare arm, a bare leg, hands to her face. I think of this as her angel’s pose. She’s too contented to disturb, yet I do. I’ll touch her gently down the length of her back, not to startle her, and kiss the nape of her neck beneath her red tresses, and when she starts to stir, I stand her up and escort her, groggy and weak, to bed.
Between the two of us, Sadie and I don’t sleep very well. I typically jolt awake around three, still battling what’s left of that habit, I guess, long since broken though perhaps not quite, of getting up to step out onto the stoop for a smoke and to stare at the stars, flickering pinholes in the tenebrous fabric of the night sky, thinking, about everything and nothing. Only now, after tossing and turning, with the atmosphere of the bedroom heavy and dense, particularly in late August when the Ohio Valley becomes a sauna, the ceiling fan rattling on high, I’ll steal downstairs where it’s slightly more bearable. The cool air from the A/C unit that’s well overdue for a tune-up pools low to the floor near the vents, and I drift off in my chair with the television flickering.
Sometimes, Sadie will wake me with a shriek. The first time she did this, shortly after we were married, that special spring day a lifetime before, the exact date engraved inside my wedding band removing any excuse not to remember, it scared the shit out of me. I grabbed a bent umbrella amongst the collection of bent umbrellas from the brass umbrella stand at the front door next to the coat rack and bounded up the stairs, the one nail on the next to the last stair snagging my sock, as always, my heart beating in my throat, the anxiety of the uncertainty of what the hell I might find. But Sadie was asleep, sound, eyes closed, angel’s pose. When I asked her about it the next morning, at the kitchen table over breakfast, banana pancakes with thick-cut pieces of pink country ham from the farmers market, she claimed to have no idea what I was talking about, no recollection of any such shriek, shrugged it off like it was nothing but apologized anyway and said she hoped she hadn’t also lashed out with her elbows. I shrugged it off too, and I didn’t let on that I was downstairs when it happened.
There’s no ghost in our house that watches Sadie sleep—there can’t be.
On our evening walk through the neighborhood after dinner, the leftover pork roast that Sadie cooks every Sunday in the crockpot, enough to feed us for a week, as we proceed along our regular route, our “constitutional” Sadie calls it, up one street, and down the next, until we wind up where we began, I joke with Sadie that I’m going to haunt our house when I die. After all these years in this modest Cape Cod, and having finally bought it back from the bank despite the blips and hiccups and bumps in the road, more than our share, and all we’ve been through and suffered inside these hard, plaster walls, more than we deserved, a piece of my soul will undoubtedly remain. And I tell her that I’m going to be one son-of-a-bitch of a ghost if my disposition alive is any indication. Sadie doesn’t laugh, and she doesn’t see the humor, not in the least, does not condone making light of that sort of thing, death and dying and what happens next because it’s not our place to say. I promise Sadie all the same that I’ll be the only ghost watching her sleep, that I’ll chase the other ghosts away and she can rest easy knowing it will always be me here with her, no matter when I leave this world.
“Are you just making fun of me?” Sadie asks.
I shake my head no.