One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
-Ghosts by Emily Dickinson
She sat on the couch in her mother’s house and her phone began vibrating its ring. They had made a cup of tea, the cure to all remedies. Anxious? Tea. Lonely? Tea. Unrelenting heartache and existential dread, tea it seemed by her mother’s standards, would be all you need to get on track again. She watched the buzzing phone and his photograph as it lit the screen.
‘Put it away,’ her mother warned.
‘I know, but he keeps calling me.’
‘Switch it off. Don’t want him finding out where you are.’
She waited until the music of her ringtone stopped. Then checked the messages.
Rebecca call me.
First name intimidation. The clear calling warning. Usually he sugar-coated it with ‘sweetheart’ and dipped her name in ‘honey’. '
Where the fuck are you, why are you ignoring me?
She could see the ellipses of him typing as a dotted line.
What is this about?
Do you want me to say sorry?
I don’t know what I did.
She could read this as genuine concern or snarky. That was the problem with interpretation and text messages. It could mean: genuine. It could mean: an apology. It could mean: I love you, please come back to me. But with the next he had become bitter.
For fuck sake get back to me.
You need to grow up and wise up.
This is so petty.
Her fingers were trembling, but she did not reply.
That night she lay in her old bed, with the phone by her side occasionally checking and re-checking his social media presence. There was nothing but one cryptic message she knew was left for her.
Come back please
The ones directly messaged to her ran along the same theme but worded it less politely. Each new message made her lurch her stomach as she feared he knew she could hear him as she left each on read.
Seriously I don’t know why the fuck you can’t just pick up the phone and call me
In their relationship he had ways to make her feel so small it was as if she disappeared into the empty spaces between walls. But now she envisaged his apparition, a ghostly spectral figure half there. He was alive, but he still had the ability to haunt her. He could walk through her and in memory she could still feel his presence on her skin. He leant against the door, body bent to block her way.
She read his last text. So why can’t you answer me?
And in her mind, she responded. Don’t you see?
Imagined him replying. No, tell me.
How bad things are? I used to think we were as good as we could be. It was my mistake to stay but I will not let myself write you an apology.
Why now? Why can’t you tell me? he’d ask, slamming his hand against the wall.
You shouldn’t have to hear it she imagined telling him. you should know where it hurts.
Where you turn your knife in, that’s the worst. I’m planning out conversations in my head and sometimes I think about how right you are. And then I wish I was dead.
He would have asked what did I ever do to you?
She would have responded you didn’t see me.
He would have defended himself I didn’t do anything.
She thinks of the words she saw on the website with the hotline number. Shuddered remembering the words of the responder. An abuser hardly ever thinks the victim is abused. I am not the problem, but I can be the solution.
So that is how you see me? She saw his figment against the door.
She turned the knob and she felt a twist as his ghostly fingers held her wrist. You might get rid of me, he said, but there will be others who will hold you there in bed and force you under the covers.
She opened the door in front of her, the gust of wind blowing cold air and the snowfall through, bitter against her skin.
I would rather be with nobody, than have someone invade my body.
With this she shut him out of her mind once again. Lifting the phone. In the light of the screen, his spectre started to speckle into space. Block number. Block messenger. Block profile. She would block every way he could address her. The only left was the physical realm. She would worry about that another day.
She hoped he would get the message she was wordlessly trying to send him.
Fiona Murphy McCormack is from Poyntzpass, Northern Ireland. She has a BA in English and Creative Writing from Glyndwr University and an MA in Creative Writing from Queen's University Belfast. She has previously been published in Past Poets Future Voices, Electric Reads Young Writer's Anthology, Germ Magazine, Fearless Femme, The Elephant Ladder, Crossways Literary Review, Everyday Fiction, Fairlight Books. Her work is upcoming in Litro Magazine, Route 7 Review and Crossing the Tees Anthology.