I watched her fall. I felt I owed her that much. I watched all the way from the roof of our nondescript office building where we worked as office mice in adjoining cubicles to the ground floor where she made her own appointment. I watched her splat. It was a grey day and she landed on a businessman’s umbrella and he went splat too. The umbrella was not strong enough to protect him from that kind of weather. She would have thought it was funny and horrible and laughed, and felt guilty, but still laughed, just once, like a slap. I was crying but I laughed, just once, just for her.
I cried. I saw someone look up to see if the rain had started yet and see her coming and begin to scream, but not soon enough. I watched everyone start to scream. I could barely hear the noise over the traffic, but I could hear it. It was like a choir.
She died when she hit the ground, right away, like a plate breaking. She had sat next to me, doing the same work I was doing since I had started doing it; she had been doing it for longer than I had. She was dead on the ground and I was alive and watching from the roof.
I blinked so I could watch from the other side, I felt I owed her that too. I saw a black dark wrong thing and a pale shimmering thing and a grey thing. The black thing shrieked triumphantly and was gone like a shadow going away when the flashlight reaches it. The pale thing was gone like a light going out. I didn’t care about the grey thing, but I watched, because I owed the businessman that much. It wailed and faded like an oil slick under the pressure of heavy rain.
I could not cry anymore. I sent the manager an email from my phone and took the stairs all the way down from the roof to the basement and left from the back entrance the janitors use when they want a smoke break.
I walked home; it was miles and it was raining and I didn’t have an umbrella, but I didn’t want to see anything else. I put on my sunglasses and walked with my eyes closed. I knew the way and I walked so no one would think to bother me, like I was just another piece of nothing in the city. It took longer than I was expecting. It took less time than I had expected. It felt like I had walked from my office building to my apartment, which I had.
I unlocked the one lock you could see from the outside and locked the thirteen locks behind me and turned around to hang up my wet coat. She was sitting on my couch; she had turned on the lamp. The teapot was out on the counter and so was a spoon and the tea leaves it had held before she had lost control of it, but nothing was broken.
I was not surprised to see her and she was not surprised to see me. She had been to my apartment before, so of course she should not be surprised to find me in it. Sometimes they are anyway. Things look different from the other side.
“You should have known,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“That is true,” I said.
“I tried to make you tea anyway, but I could not quite manage it,” she said. “I think it will get easier with time.”
I was crying again. I was almost sobbing, but I held that back somehow. It would have been wrong for the moment. “You—should go home,” I said. “You—it is finally time for—you to go—home. You can go home now.”
She sniffed. She was white and transparent, the way ghosts are, and she had kept the edges of her shape very well, and she was still using the habits of her life. I almost went into hysterical laughter, which would have been at least something different from the sobbing, but instead I just cried. “No,” she said. “I think instead I will stay here, for a while. Until you fix things.”
I sobbed, then, because of what she had said and of what I had to tell her. “I—can’t, I don’t—have that,” I managed, I think at least enough for her to understand. “I can’t do that, I know how it is done but I can’t, it turns to nonsense in my mouth and under my hands.” I was telling her the truth, but she was not interested in that kind of truth.
“I am staying until it is fixed,” she said, and at least it was different than what she had said before.
She went—I don’t know where they go, when they go. They can hear if they are paying attention and see if they want to, but they do not talk about where they are seeing and hearing from. I think the words for it stay where they come from.
I cleaned off the counter, put the tea things away, and cried in bed until I fell asleep before the sun did.
She woke me up before it rose again. I was not sure if she meant to. She was standing very close to the bed, leaning over me; the air that moved through her as she reflexively stirred it with the memory of her lungs was chilled where it landed on my face. I could see my bedroom through her.
“Do as I ask,” she said. “Please. I cannot rest, and I will not be doomed to watching you sleep all the nights until you die. It is not interesting, if you were wondering.” She told me once she had always wondered if it was, if it was someone you loved, if the love made you want to watch them do everything just so you witnessed every minute of their time on the earth.
I remembered that and I nodded. I had agreed as soon as she asked me to do it, but it came as a surprise anyway.
“Good,” she said. She reached for my face and her hand went through me. It was cold, it was so cold I could not think or breathe until she took it back and disappeared. My throat was raw from screaming, which I could not remember doing.
I fell asleep again, crying again or still. The place she had touched on my cheek was red and chapped. It was no more than I deserved. It was probably less.