by Rosie Long Decter
Rosie Long Decter is a writer and musician based in Montreal. Her work has appeared in This Magazine, Maisonneuve, Vallum: Contemporary Poetry, and elsewhere.
Sheila & Jules
I wake up with a Ghost. She’s already awake and mostly still knows me. She hovers and itches and watches me get dressed. We decide to skip breakfast, which means in two hours I’ll buy an over-priced muffin and cover my desk with crumbs. We tie and re-tie my laces and hold the rail as we head down my staircase. Well, as much as she can hold. The snow is big and broad this morning. I lose my footing on the last step and sink in a little. She gives me a look.
I call her Sheila, which she tolerates. She bumps up against my back as I walk, urging me to speed a little, we’re going to be late. The bus is packed and I listen to a podcast about the Army-McCarthy hearings and forget her for a few smooth minutes. When I look up she’s still there, translucent like syrup. Light passes through and people pass through and she rolls her eyes at me for staring, especially since no one else is.
At work we pick articles to read. We land on one about a woman who travels to Latvia to find her birth mother. Sheila sort of bites her lip while reading and I agree with her that the story is affecting but the prose is too detailed. We read another about three women who were catfished by the same charming man. He told each of them that he had gold bars in China, he just needed a loan to fly there and get them. $5000; $10,000; $40,000. Poof, gone like morning. I wonder if I should tell my mother about this sort of thing and Sheila gently shakes her head. I wonder what it would feel like if she put her hand on my shoulder but she doesn’t.
At lunch I watch her not eat. Sheila frowns at the cafeteria lasagna and warm fruit salad that I pick my way through and I tell her she can’t criticize if she’s not even having any, which is a bit of a low blow. I ask what her preferred pop culture representation of ghosts is. “Casper feels a bit sterile, Ghostbusters a bit offensive,” I muse. “What about that Casey Affleck movie? My mom hated it.” Sheila laughs, and it comes out like a little gust of air, blowing past my shoulder.
After lunch we do some work, putting numbers in spaces and arranging letters properly, assessing which shapes in which order will generate the highest return. We write some copy for a French start-up that sells unrippable pantyhose and is trying to break into the Canadian market. Sheila and I had talked about going to France once or twice, in another life, to see her mom. I can’t tell if having company helps the time pass faster or slower, but the time does pass. My coworker tells me about his new cat, who is getting along well with his first cat, but also broke both the salt and pepper shakers last night, so there are still kinks to be worked out. He doesn’t ask about Sheila.
We get into a small fight on the way home, because I want to stop and get takeout and Sheila doesn’t want to wait. “Got places to go?” I ask, which makes her eyes and mouth sink into themselves, and then I feel bad. Because she’s here, obviously. “Sorry,” I say. I want to reach out, but what would I touch, so instead I walk into the subway, assuming she’ll follow.
I swipe my card and head to the platform, walking alongside a mother and three kids. They’re each carrying bags and have just arrived from the train or the airport, maybe. The mother asks the eldest to put away his phone and drags the middle child by his mittens as he tries to run ahead. The youngest trails a few paces behind. Her hair is bunched in two perfect buns on either side of her head and she’s pulling a bright pink suitcase, bedazzled with jewels that spell JULES. She walks in a zig-zag and I slow down to watch her. Jules narrowly avoids walking into another commuter and then pauses, peers ahead at her family. Once she’s sure her mom isn’t looking, she lifts the suitcase from the tiled floor and does a perfect twirl, holding her luggage out at arm’s length in a sparkling blur. I catch her eye and smile, and she smiles back.
“Julia, come on!” her mom calls out, and the girl takes off down the platform. The train takes three minutes to arrive and when it comes I squeeze myself in, pressed against a half dozen bodies, unable to distinguish my own limbs from the fray. I begin to wonder what should I cook for dinner, and what will I read tomorrow, and what would France feel like on bare skin. I stare up at the ceiling, and imagine it spinning.