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The new family has been living in my house now for five months. I like them better than the old family. They don’t snap at each other or argue about money like the old family did. They’re nicer, happier, warmer people. There are three of them: John, Lisa, and Maggie. They have a dog, too—a Border Collie named Tuxedo. I gather from their dinner conversations that John works at a bank. He is gone from six in the morning until six at night almost every day, and when he comes home, he always looks dead tired. He is never unpleasant,though. He always kisses Lisa and asks her how her day was. He picks up Maggie, twirls her around, and tickles her. He’s a good dad.
Lisa stays home with Maggie. She spends most days on the couch in the den, drinking coffee out of a glass mug, watching television, needlepointing pictures of foxes and rabbits in Victorian clothing. She isn’t a hovering mother, but she isn’t inattentive either. A few times a day, she puts down her needlepoint and does a puzzle with Maggie. Or the two of them sit at the dining room table and draw with crayons.
Maggie loves to draw, and she’s quite good for a four year old. She doesn’t just draw stick figures. Her crayon people have discernible features—eyes and noses, mouths and teeth, fingers and toes. They have bodies with proportional legs and arms. Her favorite subjects to draw are her mom and dad. She always draws her mom in a pink dress and her dad in his work clothes—a gray suit and tie. She draws me, too. She draws me in a white dress. With long brown hair and blue eyes. I guess it looks like me. I don’t exactly remember what I look like to be honest. I haven’t seen myself for a long time. I can’t see myself in mirrors anymore. I wish I could.
When John and Lisa ask Maggie who the lady in the white dress is, she says it’s her friend Mary. My name is actually Marianne, but Mary is close enough. I’ve stopped trying to correct her. John and Lisa think I’m Maggie’s imaginary friend. Lisa thinks Maggie invented me because she doesn’t have any friends her own age yet, and she’s lonely. She’s been pushing John particularly hard the past few weeks to enroll Maggie in preschool. She thinks that’s the solution to the problem. John isn’t as concerned about Maggie being lonely. He says Maggie is just creative. He says she would probably invent imaginary friends even if she had a dozen real friends.
Neither John nor Lisa has ever considered the possibility that I might not be imaginary. At least they’ve never admitted to considering it. I can’t blame them. They can’t see me or hear me or sense me in any way. Only Maggie can. Maggie and Tuxedo. When they first moved in, Tuxedo would bark his head off whenever I came around, but he’s gotten used to me. He doesn’t even flinch when he sees me now. He knows I’m not a threat. He knows I mean well.
Maggie has fantastic taste in movies. She likes Meet Me in St. Louis and Easter Parade and The Wizard of Oz just like I did when I was a little girl. She knows all of the words to “Over the Rainbow,” and she can sing it from beginning to end without hitting one bum note. She has beautiful little voice—clear and high and lilting, like a flute. If she doesn’t become an artist when she grows up, I could see her becoming a singer. Maybe she’ll be the next Judy Garland. I think she has the talent. I wanted to be Judy Garland when I was a little girl, but I could never carry a tune. You can’t really teach yourself to be a good singer. You either are or you aren’t.
Friday night is always “date night” for John and Lisa. They go out to dinner or a movie, and Lisa’s mother, Anne, comes over to watch Maggie. Anne is a sweet old lady, but she spoils Maggie like you wouldn’t believe. Each time she comes over, she brings Maggie a new gift—a toy or a dress or a game of some kind. Most of Maggie’s toys and clothes come from Anne. Lisa and John get Maggie toys and clothes, too, but they can’t compete with Anne. Lisa has told Anne on several occasions to stop buying so much stuff for Maggie, but Anne can’t be stopped. “I’m a rich old lady, and she’s my only grandchild,” she always says to Lisa. “Let me have a little fun before I die.”
The way Anne talks, you’d think she was going to die tomorrow. I think she’s probably got at least ten more years in her. She’s pretty spry for a seventy-year-old. She turned seventy just last week. John and Lisa threw a party for her at the house. About twenty people came over—an assortment of aunts, uncles, and cousins. All of them sidled up to Anne at some point in the evening and quietly assured her that she didn’t look anywhere near seventy, which is true. She doesn’t. She still has thick dark hair and a nice slim figure, and her face isn’t nearly as lined or eroded as the faces of some seventy-year-olds you see. I would be eighty this year. I shudder to think about what I would look like. My grandmother looked about a hundred when she was seventy. There are some benefits to dying young. I wish I could have lived a little longer, though. Nineteen is too young.
Sometimes I get mad when I think about all that I missed. I wish I could have gotten married. I wish I could have been a mother. I wish I could have spent more time with my parents. I miss my parents very much. They were both marvelous people. My father was a smiling, affable Irishman who made friends easily and told the most delightful stories about his childhood in Donegal. My mother was a quiet, dark-haired woman from a respectable middle-class Italian family. She loved to read poetry and play the piano. Many a Sunday afternoon I spent lounging on the living room sofa while she played Liszt and Debussy, Chopin and Mozart. She had perfect time and exquisite control over the instrument. She tried to teach me to play, but I didn’t have the patience for it. Like my father, if I wasn’t good at something right away, I gave up. My mother was all patience—patience and kindness.
I don’t know why my parents aren’t here now. I don’t know why it’s just me in this house. I don’t have any unfinished business. I don’t have any interest in haunting anybody or chasing anybody out. If I could get out of here, I would. But every time I move toward the door, it pulls away from me. I can never reach it. I’ve stopped trying. Maybe I’ll be here forever. It’s a sad thought. At least I have Maggie.
I hope Maggie doesn’t stop seeing me, but she probably will. It’s just a matter of time. No teenagers or adults have ever been able to see me. The Thompson’s little boy, Jeremy, stopped seeing me when he was about six. I didn’t mind, though. I didn’t much enjoy talking to him. He was a cruel child—always throwing the cat down the stairs and breaking his mother’s dishes just to rile her up. He’s probably in prison now—if he’s even still alive. I will definitely mind when Maggie stops seeing me. She’s such a sweet girl. She has such a good heart. I’d like to think that if I’d been lucky enough to have a girl of my own, she would have been like Maggie.
Nights are the hardest—when it’s quiet and dark and there’s no conversation or activity to keep my mind off myself, off my situation. I stay in Maggie’s room. She knows I’m there, and she always says, “Goodnight, Mary,” after Lisa turns out the light and leaves. I don’t sleep. I don’t think I can sleep. But I wouldn’t even if I could. I like to keep watch over Maggie. I feel like I’m protecting her. I’m not, of course. If there were any threat—an intruder, a fire—there is nothing I could do to save her. Still, I feel like she’s safer when I’m there, as if my good will, my affection, my love were a sort of shield. I wish I could always be with her, but I know that can’t be. She’ll grow up. She’ll leave home. She’ll meet a man and have kids. She’ll do great things in the world. And that is as it should be. I hope she has a happy, productive life. And I hope she lives a long, long time.
Jack Somers earned his BA from Georgetown University in 2004 and his MAT from Brown University in 2006. For the past nine years, he has taught English at an independent high school in Cleveland. He lives in Cleveland with his wife and two children. Recently, he completed his first novel, Parnell’s Prime.The novel is available now on Amazon.You can learn more about the novel and Jack at http://www.parnellsprime.com