“I don’t believe in ghosts; I don’t believe in ghosts.”
Corina was a quivering ball on the hardwood floor, knees tucked under her chin, fingers securely plugged over her ears and eyes shut tightly against the world. Her shaky limbs betrayed the insincerity of her words. The thirty-five-year-old looked much like a young child, frightened of the monster under her bed.
This old mountain cabin had always been her escape. She spent many summers here growing up, and when her father passed away, she had inherited it. He had received it from father. It had been passed down through four generations, and it held so many memories—memories she’d been running from for far too long.
She had avoided the place for the last year, scared of the hurt she knew it would cause. She’d been right to worry.
Heart pounding, she forced her eyes open. The fireplace blurred in the background as her focus sharpened on the tall man across the room. He stood watching her, a playful mirth dancing in his brown eyes.
She shook her head aggressively.
“You are not real,” she whispered in pointed desperation.
He did not answer her, but his smile—that silly and familiar expression she knew so well—tugged at her very soul.
She shook her head again. “No.”
She wasn’t crazy.
Corina had always taken pride in her focus and logic. Graduating at the top of her Harvard Law class required it, making partner at her firm demanded even more; she had always been so adept at separating herself from emotion.
The overwhelming grief that she had endured the last few months had been difficult; there was no separating from that. Sitting on the cold floor beneath her, she knew it was possible that she was having a breakdown. She had completely buried herself in her work; now, for the first time, she wondered if she maybe should have allowed herself the time to grieve, to process, to let go. Perhaps it had made her crazy.
No. You are better than this! Get up!
She squeezed her eyes shut, willing him away with every ounce of her concentration. Warily, she opened them once more.
The glow from the fire was calming. She sighed. She was so foolish. He wasn’t there. Of course he wasn’t there; how could he be?
With a heavy heart, she pushed herself up off of the floor. Her bones ached, and she was desperate for the sorrow to subside. She would give anything to see them again.
As she reached for the throw on the worn leather sofa, she cursed her therapist, who had suggested that a trip up here may do her some good. What did she know? Corina was confident that Dr. Mattingly had never experienced a loss so heinous as to rob part of her soul.
She sat on the over-sized sofa, studying the reflections on the lake. Exhaustion pressing in on her, she succumbed to a troubled sleep.
Her dreams were haunting. He was there; so was their daughter, Grace. They had been here at the cabin together—on vacation from the demands of everyday life. The days were full of joy and laughter. And sweet Grace. Her dreams brought back her lovely baby girl, who would have been toddling and talking by now. In Corina’s dreams, Grace was just as precocious as she herself had been as a child. Mischief of the most delicious brand danced in the young girl’s eyes, and Corina’s heart absorbed every moment of the dream—every moment she would never truly have with her daughter.
In her dreams, the day had been full of water skiing, barbecuing and reading on the hammock between the giant pine trees. After dinner, she read to Grace and tucked her into bed. The girl’s chestnut curls dangled messily over her forehead, and Corina smiled as she poked Grace’s freckled nose with her finger. Grace giggled, a wondrous, bubbly symphony.
With a sleepy smile, Grace’s eyes closed. “’Night, Mama.”
Corina made her way back to the main room, where Mike had just started a fire. Flames crackling against logs and stone, the fire warmed the room with its inviting glow.
He looked up, his smile echoing the love in her heart.
Even as she slept, Corina’s heart ached within. Her husband had always been ruggedly handsome, and from the moment they met, through every step in their relationship, his pull had captivated her.
Corina had never been a romantic. When other little girls dreamed of princes and fairytales, she planned and opened her first business, complete with file folders and calculators. She considered “love at first sight” a phrase for women who sold themselves short. Then Mike came along and turned her world upside down.
“Come and talk with me.” His tone was rich and inviting. It was the very sound of home.
Her hand fell into his, and they snuggled onto the large sofa. Mike covered them both with the blue throw her grandmother had crocheted.
They talked late into the night; conversation flowed as seamlessly as a river passing through the forest, from politics to economics, to their family and her latest cases. Then, as if a switch had flipped, Mike’s face fell, sorrow pooling in his eyes.
Corina tilted her head in concern. “What is it?”
“I miss you.”
She blinked in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“I…” he struggled for words. “I miss this. Us.”
Her mind struggled to waken from this dream-turning-nightmare, while her heart parlayed for more time here with him. She needed more time.
“I’m right here, Mike.”
“I have missed you so much. I couldn’t bring Grace, but I had to see you.”
Her head dizzied with confusion.
“What do you mean?”
He lowered his voice in reason. “Corrie, come now. This is not real, and you know it’s not.”
“Of course it is! Grace is in the next room! I tucked her in—I kissed her goodnight! I don’t understand.”
The battle within her flamed.
Desperate to clear the confusion, she jumped from the sofa, running down the hall and slowly pushing open the door. The room, bathed in vicious moonlight, was dark. Empty. Blanketed in cobwebs.
“No,” she punctuated in a whisper. “No, no, no. This isn’t right.”
“No,” he agreed. “It isn’t. I’m sorry.”
The closeness of his voice startled her, and alarmed, she spun around.
He wasn’t there. The hallway, too, was empty.
Corina’s mind swirled. Something was desperately wrong.
“No!” She stormed through the empty cabin, flinging doors open to desolate, neglected rooms.
A voice broke the sound of her heavy breathing.
Corina’s gaze wildly searched for the owner of that voice. No one was there.
Finally, Corina woke from the nightmare, springing up in bed with a terrified gasp.
“Oh, God,” she sobbed.
“I can come back.” Corina studied the woman in flower print scrubs, struggling to focus her mind.
“What?” Corina responded, confusion regaining its foothold.
“You have a visitor, ma’am, but I will tell him to come back later.”
She stared dumbly, grappling for understanding.
“Mr. McDonald is here,” the woman prompted patiently, her large eyes studying Corina with compassion.
The patient frowned.
Her guest hadn’t waited for the nurse to usher him in, and when Corina saw him, her lungs emptied in one lengthy exhale. There was something so familiar in the depths of his gaze.
“Hi, Corrie. I’m Mike.”
“Mike,” she said in a whisper. “It can’t be you. You’re dead.”
The mischief was gone from his eyes, and in its place was only heartbreak.
“No, sweetheart. I’m not.”
Hope and despair battled together in her perplexed mind.
His gaze softened even more.
“She sends her love. She made the Dean’s List this semester.”
Corina’s sculptured eyebrows knit together. College? That simply wasn’t possible.
Mike sighed, and sat on the corner of her bed, taking her hand.
“I’m Mike,” he said softly once more.
She huffed in frustration. “I know…but…you died. I…I don’t believe in ghosts.” It was a desperate statement, one she struggled to hold onto.
He shook his head with a hard swallow. “I didn’t die, Corrie. You got sick.”
Her eyes searched his. “I—I don’t understand.”
“I know,” he said, and the realization hit her that he had done all of this before. “Dr. Blake says that it’s transference. He says the Alzheimer’s is in such a place that you still recognize what you love, but that you also recognize the loss of what you once knew…me…Grace…our life together.”
Her heart fell into her stomach. “How long?”
“About a year,” he responded gently.
A quiet sob escaped from her throat.
“Not a ghost,” she whispered, tears pooling in her eyes.
Mike shook his head.
“I thought I was going crazy.”
His arms wrapped around her in a comforting embrace. The irony was a bitter, repugnant and devastating cruelty.
“I am. I am losing my mind.”
Story by: Sarah Ivie
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