Memories And Ghosts

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Wolf opened the door and walked into the apartment he was renting in the Richmond District. Not a bad place, but it was tiny. It was much smaller than the place he and Maria had had in the Mission District. It suited him for now, he reflected; he owned hardly anything to put in it. He had a bed in the bedroom, and a blanket and a sheet. He had bought seven changes of clothes, mainly just so he didn't have to do laundry more than once a week.

He'd bought a table and a kitchen chair, and in the living room he had another chair, and a cheap radio and a cheap television. He was two years out of touch with the news; they'd never watched news in the common room in J wing, because it hardly seems relevant when you're in for life. He was forcing himself to watch an hour of news a night, even though he hated it.

It seemed like America had gone stale or spoiled somehow while he'd been locked away; the news was like the news from some horrible dictatorship of the sort that America had opposed once upon a time.

There was a Department of Homeland Defense that sounded like something out of the old Soviet Union, and daily postings of terrorism threat levels with no explanation of who the terrorists were or what they wanted or what they'd threatened. The advertisements seemed more brazenly manipulative than they'd ever been, or maybe that was just because he wasn't used to it anymore.

He remembered that there had once been commercial-free radio on NPR, but when he found NPR again, it sounded almost like the commercial channels. He wasn't sure he wanted to immerse himself in what it sounded like America had become, but he'd need to understand it and work with it if he was to make any sense of what had happened to Maria.

He'd stopped at a thrift store and gotten a plate, a pitcher, three pieces of silverware, a glass, two pans, and an ice tray. It had been enough so far, but his kitchen looked awfully bare. He'd gotten an un-carpeted place, so not owning a vacuum cleaner hadn't been a problem.

The place was actually very easy to keep clean, and seemed spacious despite its size. Wolf sat down to eat at his table, and reflected that maybe this was actually all the stuff he needed. Maybe more stuff wouldn't make things better. There'd be times he'd want it, sure -- different clothes for different places, more kitchen stuff for having people over. Maybe even curtains. But, all of the times when you're not actually using it, more stuff just gets in your way.

Was that some kind of crap thinking, he wondered? Was he just so unused to owning stuff that he didn't want to deal with it yet? Was there anything wrong with just stopping here and not getting more stuff? He decided it didn't matter. As long as he felt this way, he'd just stay with this stuff. When he actually wanted more, he'd get more.

Maria, he knew, would have filled the place with stuff. Kitschy chairs and the pinatas she'd collected and family photos from her folks in Mexico and paintings of big-eyed kittens had been her favorite things. She'd have put up gaily colored curtains and filled the kitchen with bric-a-brac and decorations and wonderful cooking smells. She'd have found a radio station that broadcast news in Spanish and played Mexican pop and mariachi bands.

One of the reasons Wolf hadn't gotten another chair, he realized, was so he wouldn't have to sit across from the empty chair and see Maria not sitting in it. It wasn't working. Everywhere he went, Maria wasn't there. Everyplace he looked, he didn't see her smile. Every time anyone spoke, he didn't hear Maria's voice. There was no one to talk to about it. It was weird how it had hit him like a ton of bricks once he was out of jail, but had been kind of in the background, somehow suspended in time, as long as he'd been in.

So he sat in his tiny apartment, and he shared a meal with Maria's ghost. He was eating some hamburgers instead of the burritos or fajitas she hadn't fixed, and he wasn't discussing with her how America had changed or what the news said. She wasn't nodding and smiling and teasing him for being a stupid gringo who barely spoke any Spanish, and when the meal was over, they wouldn't grin at each other and head for the bedroom before it was time for him to wash the dishes. Life wasn't good.

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