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Karen, The Ghost

By Abe Schwartz

Lire en français (FR)

Donald Trump was supposed to save her from the "Chinese virus". At the hospital, hooked up to a respirator, she thinks of her president as one thinks of Superman. But this time, the kryptonite is far too strong. Karen died. And she won't like what her ghost is about to see.

I felt so angry and annoyed, seeing myself on the hospital bed with the ventilator tube down my throat. In all my years, I’d never seen a more pathetic sight. My pale, bloated 43-year-old carcass was just lying there like a beached whale.

It’s wild how you don’t get to see how you look from someone else’s perspective while you’re living. On camera and in the mirror are something else entirely. It was like seeing a wax figure of me, like I was in Madame Tussauds.

I was about to start crying buckets, then I felt the strangest thing and I barely shed a tear. It was a tiny spark of joy in knowing there’s an afterlife, after all. I always had my doubts, but I kept going to church. I kept on believing and persevering. There I was, dead as a doornail but still here in spirit. Atheists believe it’s all nothingness once you die, but turns out they don’t know shit!

Just then, a bright light appeared out of nowhere, and I felt a warm sensation wash over me. It was like that time I got wasted at the Toby Keith concert before I passed out.

When I regained consciousness, I found myself standing on my front lawn. It was a shock to be back home, and it looked like nothing had changed. I saw my next-door neighbor Dennis taking the trash out in his bathrobe, so I called out to him, “Hey Dennis, long time, no see!”

No response. I knew it would take some time to get used to being a ghost. My CX-30 was still in the driveway and was covered in dust. I was so happy to see my car, I tried to give it a big hug. My arms went right through the driver-side door instead.

I approached the front door of my home, and when I went to twist the knob, my hand went right through that too. “Duh, Karen!”

I braced myself and walked through the door instead. I took a look around the living room and things appeared as I remembered, until I spotted something strange.

On the mantle above the fireplace, I saw a shiny, metal urn beside our framed “Live, Laugh, Love” painting. I approached the urn and what do you know? My name, Karen Marie Spitzer, engraved on the front with 1976–2020. There I was, a pile of dust in a shiny metal jar.

Next to the urn was the photo Eli took of me when we visited St. Augustine two summers ago. I always loved that photo. It was taken at sunset in front of a row of shops with Spanish tile rooftops. He was just like, “Mom, turn around,” and he took such a beautiful picture of me. I never imagined it would be chosen to go side by side with my remains. I got choked up and had to leave the room.

I entered the kitchen, and the first thing that stood out was the tearaway calendar on the counter: It said May 25th, Memorial Day. I was taken into the hospital on April 1st, and almost two months had gone by?! I guess time flies when you’re in a coma.
There were paper plates and plastic utensils on the counter along with two-liter bottles of Coke, bags of chips and desserts from Publix. I figured my family was having some kind of party for Memorial Day, and if I were still alive I would’ve assembled a better spread than this bullshit. I hoped Tad would at least be firing up the grill.

I wondered what they were even keeping around to eat, so I poked my head through the refrigerator door. It was dark in there, but I could make out a box of orange juice, yogurts, butter and a few types of lunch meats.

Suddenly, I heard the front door open, and I pulled myself out of the fridge. I turned around, and in walked my husband Tad! He looked just as I remembered, though he was wearing a black face mask.

“Tad!” I called out. “Baby, I missed you!”

I rushed over and tried to hug him, but of course I went right through him too. He was carrying grocery bags from Winn-Dixie, and my first thought was to help him put away whatever he was bringing in. I noticed there was someone else with him—a woman following him with even more grocery bags.

“Who in the hell is this?” I asked loudly. Did he hire a new maid?

Tad and the woman took their masks off and put away the groceries. He was whistling. She was smiling at him. He asked her to turn on the news, and she turned CNN on the kitchen TV. Tad didn’t have any problem with this woman turning on fake news, but I sure did.

“Excuse me, this is a FOX News household,” I said, though of course no one could hear me.

Tad and the woman were joking with each other in a way that made it seem like she was more than just a maid. All I could do was stand there, frozen in place from feeling angry, sad and confused. To make matters worse, I had to listen to Jake Tapper in my own home talking about police brutality. Uggh!

The woman mentioned that she had to go back to the dealership and straighten up, and that’s when it hit me: I knew who this bitch was. Tad had mentioned Teresa from the Mazda dealership a few times–that she does a good job working the front desk, that she has a young daughter, etc. It always seemed like he might have a thing for her.

I couldn’t tell if the pendant on her necklace was a T for Teresa or a Christ symbol. Either way, it looked tacky. She moved in all close to Tad and whispered in his ear. It was impossible to hear what she was saying, but he seemed to like what he was hearing.

“I can’t. Not yet,” he said.

It made me happy to see him turn down what was probably a sexual advance.

“When you’re ready,” she said, and he nodded.

“Plus, the boys will be back any minute,” he said.

She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, then left through the front door. He stood there for a beat with an obvious boner, making the front of his cargo shorts pop out.

I couldn’t help but shout, “Really, Tad?! I just died!”

He walked over to my urn and touched it. He looked like he was about to cry, and seeing him sad over my ashes made me feel somewhat better.

“Baby, it’s okay,” I said. “I’m here.”

Tad headed off to the bathroom, and I figured I’d follow him. He closed the door, but I walked right through it.

He sat down and started peeing like a girl, with a sad expression on his face.

“Baby,” I said. “I want you to know that I’m here. I’ll always love you.”

Tad then opened up Facebook on his phone and started rubbing his dick. I looked at the screen and saw he was looking at Teresa’s profile photo!

“Oh, hell no!” I backed out through the door as quickly as I entered and felt the rage bubble up inside me. I left quickly through the front door and started crying buckets.

I took a seat on the front lawn beside our garden flamingos from Busch Gardens and let myself mope for a minute. Just then, I saw Austyn’s Mazda 3 pull up to the front of the house. I was so excited, I ran over to the car.

“Boys, I’m here!” It was clear they couldn’t hear me as they got out of the car, but I called out their names anyway.

“Austyn! Eli!”

I loved seeing my boys so much! Austyn looked fit and he had frosted the tips of his hair like a young Mark McGrath from Sugar Ray. He hadn’t worn an earring in a while, but he had a new silver hoop in his left ear. The pandemic had him looking like a little rebel.

Eli put on a few pounds since I last saw him, and his skin was breaking out, especially on his forehead. The last couple months must’ve been so tough on him, with everything shutting down and me dying from Covid. He looked far from ready to hit the football field.

Instead of walking toward the house, Austyn took off in the opposite direction.

“Wait,” Eli said. “Shouldn’t we bring the stuff in?”

“We’ll get it after,” said Austyn. “C’mon.”

Eli headed off in the same direction as his big bro. I wondered where they were going and what was in the car. I didn’t want to see any food or drinks spoil.

“You left your mask,” Eli called out to Austyn as he followed after him.

“Whatever! I’ll get it when we come back.”

My boys were clearly up to something. It seemed like they were headed in the direction of Mulberry Park, just a couple blocks away from the house. I didn’t understand why they were acting shady, but I had to find out. Eli was huffing and puffing in his mask as he struggled to keep up with Austyn. I power walked with them, and it was such a joy to be around my boys again.

While Austyn looked as fit as ever, he seemed angry. Having his senior year of high school come to a sudden stop had to be upsetting. He was telling Eli about how much he liked a new song from someone named Tyler, the Creator. I had no idea who that was. Eli mentioned he liked a new song by Drake. I was familiar with Drake but I didn’t know his music. Austyn told Eli the song was “fucking trash,” and Eli didn’t respond.

“Don’t talk that way to your brother,” I said. “He can like Drake if he wants.”

As we walked, I spotted another ghost approaching from the opposite direction. It was a man about sixty who kept shouting, “Fuck Joe Biden! Fuck Joe Biden!” over and over again. As he passed by, I chanted back in agreement, “Biden’s a creep! Biden’s a creep!” The ghost man smiled back at me, then something weird happened: he slowly vanished into thin air!
I could hardly believe my eyes, but I wanted to stay in the moment with my boys. We arrived at the park, which has a couple swing sets, an old merry go-round and a small baseball field. There was no one else there.

Austyn took a seat on the merry go-round and reached into his pocket. Eli, the jokester, spun the merry go-round, forcing Austyn to hold on to one of the bars and lift up his legs up as it spun around a time or two.

“Quit it,” Austyn said as Eli chuckled. “You can take the mask off. There’s no one else around, plus they’re pointless anyway.”

“That’s not what they say on the news,” Eli said.

“Whatever,” said Austyn. He reached into his pocket and pulled out what appeared to be a pen. He held the pen up to his mouth and sucked on it like a straw.

I was baffled for a second, until I realized what was going on. My baby was vaping! I didn’t like the sight of this one bit.

“Austyn, you put down that vape right now,” I said as he exhaled a large plume of vapor.

I wanted to smack it out his hand, but I knew that would do no good. I’ve taught my babies about the dangers of smoke and nicotine, and here they were in the neighborhood park acting like a couple of dummies.

Austyn handed the vaporizer pen to Eli as he pulled his mask down.

“How high will this get me?”

I realized they weren’t vaping nicotine.

“Don’t be a pussy,” Austyn said. “Hit that shit.”

“You two should not be vaping marijuana! Austyn, you’re about to go to college and Eli, look at you! What happened to getting in football shape?!”

Oh, I wished they could hear me. Eli took a big hit and coughed like he was having an asthma attack.

“You used to have asthma, now you’re doing this to yourself?! Plus, you’re getting heavy! Be smart, son!” Of course, they couldn’t hear me.

“Lightweight, lightweight!” I had never seen this side of Austyn before, and frankly, I found it frightening.

“When did you become such a bad influence?” I wanted to slap him upside the head.
Eli’s cough turned to a giggle, which made Austyn laugh, too. These little shits!

A young Mom, who I didn’t recognize, entered the park with a small child in a stroller. She was followed by an older female ghost, who appeared to be glancing in my direction. I had no idea who she was.

“C’mon, let’s go.” Austyn pocketed the vaporizer, then headed off toward the exit. Eli followed after him, still giggling.

I wanted to follow them, but at that moment I didn’t want to be around them. My sons had become Beavis & Butthead, and my husband had a boner for the front-desk lady at the Mazda dealership where he worked.

I wondered if I might actually have been in hell, but then I saw the child in the stroller’s face. It was a little girl with strawberry blonde hair and freckles. I was brought back, at least temporarily, to when my boys were that age and so innocent.

The child’s mother loaded her into a swing set and pushed her back and forth as the older female ghost watched on. I figured she must be the child’s dead grandmother.

Then, out of nowhere, the grandmother ghost floated up into a bright, white light. I had never seen someone look so pure, so full of joy. Looked like she was being summoned up to Heaven!

“God dammit!” I said loudly. What did she do to get to Heaven so fast? I had no idea how long I’d have to wait before it’d be my turn.

Tad grilled burgers and corn outside for Memorial Day, and his new “friend” Teresa brought her young daughter Sara and homemade guac.

Austyn and Eli played NBA 2K on the Xbox. They were high, but they didn’t smell like marijuana and they both behaved themselves. They seemed to be enjoying each others’ company like when they were little, and that was nice to see. I prayed to Jesus that they don’t turn to hard drugs.

Austyn barely ate and refused to eat cheese or the burger bun. He didn’t drink soda or have any of the cake from Publix. If he wants to eat like a model, that’s on him. Except for when he was dunking on his brother in 2K, he seemed off. I just wanted to give him a big hug.

Eli, on the other hand, didn't stop eating. I counted two burgers, plates full of chips and guac, and two pieces of the cake and ice cream. If he were going hard with his workouts, I wouldn't mind so much, but it didn’t seem like he was getting any exercise.

Tad’s dad Brad came over, and he looked older than ever. People would sometimes say Tad looks like the actor David Spade from the movie Joe Dirt. I always thought Tad was much more handsome and manly, plus he never had a mullet. Tad’s dad Brad, however, looked just like David Spade as an old man. He even had the same whiny voice.

Tad tried to make everyone wear masks inside, which was shocking to see. I got where he was coming from, with me dying and all. He was being thoughtful, but it’s not like a piece of fabric saved me. I wore a mask when I had to, and I still croaked.

Brad put up a fuss over being asked to wear a mask inside. Tad warned him that he was at risk due to his age and bad heart, but he didn’t want to hear it. They reached a compromise with Brad wearing the mask around his chin.

Tad had everyone eat outside on a new outdoor dining table. I wouldn’t have chosen the acacia wood top, but it didn’t look awful. The rules around the virus didn’t make sense to me. You don’t have to wear a mask outside, but inside you do? It’s not like sneezes or saliva magically disappear outside. Does the virus bounce off ceilings and walls inside and come back to hit you? If you’re outside, it just floats away? It’s a virus, not some scared bird.

I didn’t get it, but I understood Tad not wanting more of his loved ones to die. It actually made me love him and miss him even more. I felt especially sad because he was right there, but he couldn’t see me, and I couldn’t touch him or talk to him.

Seeing the way Tad looked at Teresa reminded me of how he used to look at me. It made me so angry and frustrated, I had to go lie down on the bed and get away from everyone. I hated the thought of Tad having sexual feelings for another woman, especially so soon after me dying.

From the bedroom, I heard everyone saying their goodbyes, so I popped my head through the door. There was Brad giving everyone hugs with his mask down around his neck.

Austyn and Eli said they were going for a bike ride, which I imagined meant they were going to get high again. Tad joked that they should stay out for a while and let their Pops have some privacy. Teresa said she had to drop Sara off at her father’s, but she could come back to help clean up. Tad told her not to worry, that he could handle cleaning up on his own.

I liked the sound of that.

After everyone left, I stayed with Tad as he cleaned up and drank a Miller Lite. We hung out in the living room as he watched TV and ate more cake. It felt so familiar, and I was so happy to be back with just him.

Korean baseball was on ESPN, which I found odd. Sure, Korea’s not China and they didn’t create the virus, but it still felt so Asian and unfamiliar. Tad extended his arm along the top of the sofa, and it was my opening to cuddle up beside him.

“I’ll always love you, Tad. I know you don’t know I’m here, but I am.”

He smiled, and I got excited because I thought he could hear me, but I realized he was grinning at the Sonic commercial on TV. It was one of the commercials with the two men in the car who may or may not be lovers.

After about twenty minutes of cuddling, there was a knock at the door, and Tad got up to answer it. I stayed on the couch and could see it was Teresa.

Ahh, Christ.

She returned from dropping off her daughter Sara at her dad’s place, which must be close by. Teresa entered, and things immediately got flirty between her and Tad. She asked how she could help him clean up, but Tad had already cleaned up most of the place. She asked when Austyn and Eli would be getting back, and he told her probably not for a while.

I felt frozen on the couch, but I could tell exactly where this was headed. They locked eyes, began to kiss, and I felt my entire world implode.

Tad grabbed her hand and led her to the bedroom. I heard the door close and lock as they giggled to each other. I tried to remain calm, but instead I shouted:

“What if the boys got back right now? What would you tell them?!”

“I haven’t even been dead two months, you asshole! You couldn’t wait any longer?!”

I approached the bedroom and walked right through the door, still fuming. What did I see? Teresa putting her lips on Tad’s pee-pee atop my bed! I tried to push her off him, but I went right through them instead, falling to the floor.

“Who the hell is this bitch? Is she Mexican? You’re gonna make it with a Mexican bitch on our bed?!”

I remained on the floor in defeat, only to watch them take off the rest of each other’s clothes. Tad reached for a condom in the drawers on the nightstand, then they started to do it slow missionary style. It was like watching a murder take place!

She started calling him Papi, and I knew I had to get out of there as fast as I could. I quickly got up and headed out of the house through the bedroom wall. I kept on going, power walking through the yard and onto the sidewalk. I didn’t know where I was headed, but I never felt worse and I had to get out of there!

I continued power walking all the way to the Publix shopping center, where there’s also a dry cleaner, a UPS store, a smoke shop and Kokono Pan-Asian Cuisine and Sushi bar. I still couldn’t believe Tad would betray me so soon after I died. If I were still alive, I might have reached for the Glock. I wouldn’t have fired, but it would’ve been a great way to break up Tad’s little sex party.

Kokono had an outdoor patio with a bunch of living folks eating and drinking. They had TV’s in the windows with speakers by the tables. It was actually a pretty sweet setup, except all of the TVs had on CNN or MSNBC. They were covering the same story: a Black man died in Minneapolis while a cop was trying to restrain him. There was video footage of the cop kneeling on the criminal, but it looked pretty routine to me. Must’ve been a slow news day.

I heard people talking in what sounded like Chinese from inside. I walked in to see a group of elderly Chinese ghosts seated at the booths that were blocked off for the living.

One of the Chinese ghost men called out to me, “Hey, lady. Ghost lady. Come join us!”

I thought about it for a second, but I didn’t want to sit with these foreigners. Hell, seeing their Chinese faces looking all happy only made me more mad.

“We won’t bite you,” said one of the Chinese ghost ladies. They chuckled. There were two tabby cats in a corner by the booths, a clear health code violation.

“I don’t want to sit with you,” I said. “Any of you. Y’all are the reason I’m dead! Y’all are the reason my family’s moved on without me! I hate all of you! You brought the virus here. Go back to China and eat cats, you devils!”

I started crying again, this time my loudest sobs yet. The Chinese ghosts stared at me, and I realized I may have gone too far.

All at once, the Chinese ghosts burst out laughing at me. They pointed and were practically falling out of their booths. Huh?

“We’re Japanese, not Chinese,” said the man who first started talking.

“You hateful white bitch!” screamed one of the women. “We invited you to come sit with us, and you insult us?!” One of the cats hissed at me.

“This is a sushi bar! How fucking dumb are you?” said another one of the women.

I collected myself, then noticed my hands starting to fade away.

“I didn’t mean all that,” I said as my voice quivered. The rest of my torso began to fade away too.

“I’m just angry.”

“No, you dumb!” yelled one of the women.

Before I could respond, I was gone.

_____________

Karen first appears in the short story April Fool published in June 2020 in the series Stay Away if You Love Me.

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About the author

Abe Schwartz
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Abe Schwartz is an author and director living in Los Angeles.