Kathy’s Dad passed away in his own house, his last rattling breaths aided by the morphine his daughter poured down his ancient mouth. He lived alone in the old place for decades. Germs terrified him. He secured the windows with plastic. The air inside turned stale and rancid. He roamed the neighborhood at night, searching for cans and bottles. He filled the house with old lawnmowers, pieces of scrap metal, newspapers piled to the ceiling. Kathy inherited this rotting, junk filled dwelling. Over the next year, she and her husband Neil renovated. All the plumbing and electric wiring renewed, a new shingle roof, restored walls and floors. The father’s piles of tools and newspapers, old tiles and bottles all recycled, usurped by Kathy’s stuffed toys and hangers full of vintage and antique clothing, her hundreds of art books and coffee table volumes about Hollywood stars, her garbage bags and boxes packed with blankets.
Kathy started to hear the footsteps right after the renovations. A crunching above the freshly painted living room ceiling. Bags of clothes disappeared, only to surface again later in different locations. A cup toppled off the shelf without warning and shattered on the newly surfaced floor.
“It’s my Dad’s ghost, he’s angry I’m here,” she said. “He resents that I’m happy now. I was Catholic, now I’m pantheist.”
She wore black clothes to go with her black hair, silver rings and bracelets, and wide brim hats. “Everything I own makes me who I am,” she said.
Her husband stopped playing his guitar in the living room. “I don’t hear footsteps.”
Just as he finished speaking, a cracking noise came from the kitchen wall.
“I’m calling in a Catholic Priest,” Kathy told him. “To exorcise my Dad from this house.”
Chubby faced Father Carranza arrived in a surplice and purple stole, he said that normally the church didn’t cast out ghosts but he’d seen it practiced in his native country. He sprinkled holy water, said prayers, and made the sign of the cross. After a few minutes of chanting he concluded “The spirit has departed.”
However, two days later Kathy’s red frying pan turned up under the bed, and her vanished copy of Shakespeare’s plays surfaced near the cat litter pans. “Dad’s still here,” she said.
Neil regarded Kathy. She’d been running around renovating for a long time, and now she jogged about carrying a pad of paper and a pencil, checking off the present locations of her many worldly goods. Her face always appeared either pale or flushed. She often dropped things. “Maybe you should try finding a job,” he said. “Something to take your mind off this house.”
“I phoned the witches.” Kathy said. “They’re exorcising Dad on Friday. After they leave, I’ll apply at Amazon call center.”
The three pagan ladies arrived in leotards, capes, and purple matching outfits. The oldest wore a green fedora hat and the others blue caps. “They look like colourful birds,” said Neil, retreating to his music room.
The witches circled round the house chanting and waving scented candles. “We’ve seen a dancing phantom in the garden,” they told Kathy. “She seemed very lonely so we danced with her.”
“How about my Dad?” Kathy leaned forward eagerly. “Did you find him?”
“Our chants invite any foreign influences to leave,” said the witches. “We can’t force anyone, though.”
“That’s no use,” said Kathy, “I want his ass out of here.”
A week later she heard banging on the walls again. She could only find thirty-two bags of clothes instead of thirty-five. The next day her antique Spanish dresses turned up in the closet outside the bathroom instead of the circular hanger in the attic, and her hippie bell bottoms disappeared completely.
“Nothing’s happened to my stuff,” said Neil. “But then, I only have three pairs of pants.”
“My Dad liked you,” said Kathy. “It’s me he’s trying to drive out of the house.” She reached into the cupboard and downed a cupful of vitamins. “He threatened to disinherit me many times. Now that I’m here to stay, he’s furious.”
“When you gave him the morphine, did you overdo it?” asked Neil. “It’s not a problem, I mean, he was in pain, but just asking.”
“There’s that too,” Kathy shook her head.
“He was going to die anyway,” said Neil. “In a couple of hours.”
Kathy called in the ghost hunters. A heavy-set lady arrived, hauling what looked like a large metal drum. A tense, thin man followed hugging an octagonal instrument with many wires waving from the top. The man plugged his machine in and it began to pop. “Have you heard odd barking or anything like that around the fridge?” the heavy lady asked. “Our equipment is picking up some panting, we think it might be from a ghost dog. Did your family have many pets who died?”
“It could be my Dad’s old dog Rags,” she said. “Maybe he’s come back to stay with him.”
“Indeed,” said the lady. “It could well be Rags.”
“This ghost business is making you sick,” Neil said after the hunters left. “We don’t talk or make love because you’re so possessed and occupied. You’re even starting to look like your Dad, pale and haggard, always running around carrying a half full cup of coffee, swallowing all those vitamins.”
“I think he’s trying to take me over,” Kathy said. “I can feel him in our bed at night sometimes.”
“No one’s been kicking me in the back,” said Neil “but you are staying in a lot. That’s what your Dad did.”
“I have to make sure all my stuff is safe,” Kathy started looking through some more bags.
Neil grabbed his guitar and turned back into his bedroom. Over the next two weeks Kathy invited in the Kabbalists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Lutherans and Brendan Thunderchild to exorcise her Dad. Brendan, an indigenous healer who burned sagebrush in the kitchen, said “There could be an angry ancient entity beneath the house from before colonization times.” He blew the sage to the four winds and said “This should pacify it and motivate it to disperse.”
“My Father’s not an ancient entity,” Kathy said. “But he was very angry.”
That night, Kathy heard moving around in the attic. She leaped out of bed and clambered up the ladder. She didn’t see anything moving under the roof area, but spent the rest of the night taking out clothes from over fifty bags lying on the attic floor, and throwing them over circular clothing racks she bought from a warehouse.
“You know,” said Neil. “Your hair is thinning. It’s going grey and patchy, just like your Dad’s.”
Kathy checked the mirror. Yes, heavy eyebrows like her Dad, too, and new lines all around the outside of her eyes and across the top of her nose. She hadn’t been sleeping, staying awake to patrol the house and listen for ghostly footsteps. “He’s making me vanish,” she said. She felt such a heaviness above her all the time now, and an almost constant headache.
“I think your father’s spirit isn’t inside the house,” said Neil. “We’ve had every exorcist and ghostbuster in the city over here, and the problems still continue.”
“I can’t find my Hudson Bay blanket,” Kathy began to cry
“You’ve got way too much stuff,” said Neil. “Just like your Dad. You’ve got five boxes full of soap here. Maybe give some away to a shelter or something.” He kicked at the boxes. “I’m sick of all this crap lying around.” And he strode off to his room which possessed one picture on the wall, and three pairs of socks in the dresser.
That night, Kathy heard laughter rising from the library. It sounded exactly like her Dad did when he cackled over another person’s misfortune. She ran downstairs, searched along the bookcases and around the five and six-foot-high piles of coffee table books. Nobody there. “If Dad’s trying to possess me,” she told Neil. “I’ll show him.”
She checked the five boxes of soap that Neil kicked earlier in the day. All intact. “I wonder how it would be with four boxes,” she thought. She’d worked a couple of years as an administrative assistant in a woman’s shelter. “Maybe my old workplace could use this stuff.”
The next day she loaded one box into the car. Neil drove it down to the shelter. The staff said “Thanks a lot, we could use more clothes.”
Kathy did feel a bit lighter, with the soap gone. She grabbed another boxful and threw it in the van. An hour later, she tossed in a bag of dresses. It wasn’t easy. She felt her Dad’s spirit fighting her all the time. “He doesn’t want to let go,” she said. “I need some more help.” She called up a parapsychologist.
Bouffant haired, bleach toothed Dr. Irving Pondor knocked on the door the next day. He carried a long black pencil between his pale slender fingers.
“What are you a doctor of, exactly?” asked Neil.
“I’m a psychiatrist,” said Dr. Pondor. “In my native Marmastan. Around here, that translates to parapsychologist.” He chuckled, and examined a box full of picture frames. “Hey, I wouldn’t mind taking these,” he intoned in a gentle voice. “Could you spare these frames, Kathy?”
“Well, I’ve had them a long time,” she said.
“You’ve never put any pictures in them,” said Neil.
“I have lots of pictures” said the doctor. “Your frames will never go to waste.”
Kathy finished packing another box of soap for the shelter. “Well, O.K.,” she replied. “Go ahead and take them, if you need to.”
“We’ve got at least five books on Marmastan here, Dr. Pondor,” Neil said.
The doctor took the books. He returned the next day with his pickup truck, and drew circular diagrams over all the doors. “That’s to tell the ghost he’s not welcome.” Then he asked “Do you need those three sets of drawers in the basement? My brother could use them.”
“Maybe,” Kathy said. She had just stuffed fifty stuffed toys into bags, to be delivered to the animal advocate society, along with several boxes of knick-knacks.
“Please,” said Neil. “Take the drawers.”
Dr. Pondor pulled out his felt pen. “I just need to draw one more diagram,” he said. “It’s got to be in the middle of your forehead, Kathy.”
“What’s that for?” asked Kathy.
“It’s purely symbolic,” said Dr. Pondor. “Like all my work. It tells the ghost he’s not welcome in that area.”
He drew what looked like a cartoon face just above her nose. “This’ll come off in a few days.”
Kathy felt the felt pen tracing its lines, she felt the ink absorb into her head. Then she looked at the living room. She could put a chair down there now, and sit in it and read. Room to spare. After the inking, she still heard noises at night, but she stopped writing down what was being moved around.
“It’s like there’s been a fight, and I’ve given in,” she said. “The more I give, the lighter I feel.”
Over the next two weeks Dr. Pondor came over and removed more knick-knacks, including a large stone covered with fossils Kathy stored under the couch. Kathy and Neil packed more and more stuff into boxes. The food bank was particularly happy to receive several hundred cans of soup, although they had to throw half of it away because it expired a few years before.
Kathy found herself with immense energy. “My Dad’s no longer holding me back!” she said. “There’s joy in giving!” She called up the Salvation Army and they rolled in with a big truck. Kathy and Neil filled it with dozens of bags of clothing.
“Geez, we could invite people over!” said Neil. “I can push back my chair in the kitchen and not hit anyone!”
“I don’t think we really need those chairs in the kitchen,” Kathy said. “There’s some poor people who could use them.”
“But I like to sit down,” Neil said.
“It’s much healthier to stand,” Kathy replied. “We only need the table.” She laughed, so did Dr. Pondor. “Do you really need all those wine glasses?” he asked, checking out the top kitchen cupboard.
“We don’t even drink wine much anymore!” Kathy grinned. “Isn’t that right, Neil?”
But Neil didn’t answer, he’d gone back in his room again to play the guitar. He was becoming very good at the instrument.
Kathy felt such a rush of joy as more things went out the door. No ghost business from her Dad, even after the appliance recyclers took the family heritage armoires to fix up for a group home.
The more she gave away, the more she laughed, “You’re not sleeping at all,” said Neil.
“There’s no time to sleep,” she said. “I’ve got so much left to give!”
Dr. Pondor took the refrigerator one morning, when Neil was at work. “Dry food is much better for us,” said Kathy, who was now eating mostly cereal and water. Neil stomped around angrily, but then bought his own mini fridge. He kept it on the old kitchen table right by his bed. He’d moved into his own room after Kathy said she preferred sleeping on the master bedroom floor.
“It feels better not to have that space filling mattress below me,” she said.
Neil looked at her wild red tinged eyes. She dressed differently now, in fewer and fewer clothes. She never slowed down. “I’ve pushed my Dad right out of here,” she laughed.
“I wonder if you need these curtains,” Dr. Pondor asked. “My Uncle’s lacking window covers.”
“You’ve taken enough of her stuff.” Neil told the Doctor. “Thanks for your assistance.”
“Alright,” shrugged Pondor, picking up his pencil. “Remember though, I cured your wife of her hoarding”
“I think you’ve made her into something worse!” Neil turned on his heel and slammed the door in the doctor’s face.
As he turned back, Kathy skipped happily down the stairs, dressed in a bright green bikini. “How do you like my figure?”
She did look good, thought Neil. She’d been moving around so much every fold of fat had disappeared, and her stomach appeared washboard tight.
They made love that night for the first time in many months, and Neil felt better about everything. Afterwards, Kathy pointed at the ceiling. “We should sell this house and give the money to charity.”
Neil looked over at her. “That’s crazy. Where will we live?”
“We can buy a mobile home. Travel round and see the country!” she said.
“I like my work.” said Neil. “I like staying in one place.”
“The house is in my name,” Kathy replied. “Lucky Dad never changed the will.”
“You’ll get rid of me, too, if you do that,” said Neil.
“Maybe it’s better we live apart,” Kathy replied, her eyes wide and awake, even though it was three A. M. “The more space we have between each other, the more joy!”
Over the next few weeks, Kathy contracted with a real estate agent and sold the house. She happily handed Neil enough money to rent an apartment for several years. “It’s the least I can do,” she said. She gave the rest of the house sales money to charities and Dr. Pondor, so he could help his daughter in law newly arrived from Marmastan have a place to stay. On her last day at the house, she handed out hundred-dollar bills. All the former neighbors praised her generosity.
“She looks so thin though,” one or two remarked, as they stuffed money into their dress pockets.
The next time Neil saw Kathy at sundown, again dressed in her green bikini, racing down the street propelling a shopping cart.
“I wish you were still slightly possessed by your Dad’s ghost,” he said. “I’m worried you’ll freeze to death out here.”
“I’ve never felt better!” laughed Kathy. She opened her purse and pulled out three hundred dollars. “Here, buy yourself a new pair of pants.”
“I’m calling the police!” he said. “You need help!”
“They’ve got better things to do,” Kathy answered, “than chase after a generous spirit.”
The last he saw of her she was heading for the sea. “I’m going to sleep down by the waterfront,” she told him. “With just the stars and my soul.”
She jogged down to the edge of the water, abandoned her shopping cart on the promenade and lay on the beach, moving her arms and legs back and forth to make sand angels. She heard the water lapping around her as the tide rose. “It must have been like this when the first creatures came up out of the water and onto land,” she thought to herself. “Now I’ll do the reverse!”
She took all her clothes off and swam out into the darkness. She did the crawl for an hour then realized she was too far out to get back in. She felt lighter and lighter, the more she pushed her arms and legs. “By the time I want to come back, I’ll be so light I’ll fly to shore!” She kept swimming further, towards the other side.
“I’ve left all possessions behind,” she laughed. “I’m empty and weightless as a ghost.”