Please note that this is not edited for grammar.  I’m working on it!  

Chapter One

The air in the room felt frigid, sending an icy chill deep into my bones.  Searching for comfort, I laid on the rented hospice bed, closed my eyes, and snuggled under Ma’s floral print quilt, breathing in her scent, a mixture of Dove soap, Calvin Klein Eternity perfume and stale cigarettes.  The stench of death lingered in the air, trying hard to take over my senses, but I refused to let it in.  Death may have taken my mother, but it’s not taking her smell.  Not yet.

“It was you.  You stole my Hershey bars, Angela.  I knew it, you little thief.”

I opened my eyes and searched the room, but other than me, and my Pit Bull, Grey Hound mix Gracie, it’s empty.  Sensing my ever-so-slight movement, the dog looked up from her spot next to the bed, sniffed the air, and then laid her head back down.  I can see my breath, which wouldn’t be a big deal except it’s May, in Georgia.  I closed my eyes again.

“I know you can hear me, Angela.  Don’t you ignore me.”

“Ma?”

Floating next to the bed, in the same blue nightgown she had on when she died, is my mother, or more likely, some grief-induced image of her.

“Ma,” I said, and then laughed out loud.  “What am I saying? It’s not you.  You’re dead.  This is just my head messing with me.”

The lips of the apparition speak.  “Of course I’m dead, Angela, but I told you if I could, I’d come back.  And I can, so here I am.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head, trying to right my brain, or maybe shake loose the crazy, but it was pointless because when I opened them again, she’s still there.

“Oh good grief, stop it.  It’s not your head messing with you, Angela.  It’s me, your Ma.  Now sit up and listen to me.  This is important.

As children we’re conditioned to respond to our parents when they speak to us.  We forget it as teenagers, but somewhere between 20 and the birth of our first child, we start acknowledging them again, maybe even believing some of what they say.   Apparently it’s no different when you imagine their ghost speaking to you, too.  Crazy, but no different.

“How do you know it was me that ate your Hershey bars?  That was over twenty years ago.”

The apparition smirks.  “I don’t know.  I just do. I know about all of the stuff you did, and your brothers too.  It’s all in here now,” she says smirking, and pointing to her slightly transparent head.

She floats up to the ceiling, spins in a circle, and slowly floats back down.  “And look, I’m floating.   Bet you wish you could do that, don’t you, Angela?  You know, I’d sit in that chair, but I tried that before and fell right through to the damn basement.  And let me tell you, that was not fun.  It was creepy, and it scared the crap outta me.  And the dust between your two floors?  Good Lord, it wasn’t pretty.  I don’t know how, but you need to clean that.”

The apparition pauses, then looks at the bed.  “Ah, Madone, that mattress.  That was the most uncomfortable thing I ever slept on, but don’t get me started on that.  That’s a conversation for another time.”

Another time?

“And anyway,” she continues, “I hated that chair,” she says while pointing to it.  “You should have brought my chair up here instead.  I was dying and you wanted me to sit in that chair?  What with that uncomfortable bed and ugly chair, my back was killing me.”  She smiled at her own joke, but I sat there stunned, watching the apparition’s lips move, my own mouth gaping, as I tried to get my mind and my eyes to agree on what floated in front of me.

“Ah Madone.  Stop looking at me like that, Angela Frances Palanca.  It’s me, okay?”

“My name is Angela Panther, Ma.  Palanca was your maiden name.”  My mother always called me Angela Palanca, and it drove both my father and me batty.  She said I was the closet thing to a true Italian she could create, and felt I deserved the honor of an Italian last name.  She never liked Richter, my maiden name, because she said it was too damned German.

“And that recliner of yours was falling apart.  I was afraid you’d hurt yourself in it.  Besides, it was ugly, and I was sort of embarrassed to put it in the dining room.” I shook my head again.   “And you’re not real, you’re in my head.  I watched them take your body away, and I know for a fact you weren’t breathing, because I checked.”

Realizing that I’m actually having a discussion with someone who cannot possibly be real, I pinched myself, trying to wake up from what is clearly some kind of whacked-out dream.

“Stop that, you know you bruise easily.  You don’t want to look like a battered wife at my funeral, do you?”

Funeral?  I’m not talking about my mother’s funeral with a figment of my imagination.

“They almost dropped you on the driveway, you know.”  I giggled, and then realized what I was doing, and immediately felt guilty – for a second.

Ma scrunched her eyebrows and frowned.  “I know.  I saw that.  You’d think they’d be more careful with my body, what with you standing there and all.  Here you are, my daughter, watching them take away my lifeless, battered body, and I almost go flying off that cart.  I wanted to give them a what for, and believe me, I tried, but I felt strange, all dizzy and lightheaded.  Sort of like that time I had those lemon drop drinks at your brother’s wedding.  You know, the ones in those little glasses?  Ah, That was a fun night. I haven’t danced like that in years.  I could have done without throwing up the next day, though, that’s for sure.”

Lifeless, battered body?  What a dramatic apparition I’ve imagined.

I sat up and rubbed my eyes and considered pinching myself again, but decide the figment is right, I don’t want to be all bruised for the funeral.

Here I sit in the middle of the night, feeling wide-awake, but clearly dreaming.  “This is just a dream,” I said out loud, trying to convince myself this apparition is not real.

“Again with the dreaming.  It’s not a dream, Angela.  You’re awake, and I’m here, in the flesh.” She held her transparent hand up and looked at it.  “Okay, so not exactly in the flesh, but you know what I mean.”

This isn’t my mother, I know this, because my mother died today, in this bed, in a dining room, turned bedroom.  I was there.  I watched it happen.  She had lung cancer, or, as she liked to call it, the big C.   And today, as her body slowly shut down, and her mind floated in and out of consciousness, I talked to her.  I told her everything I lacked the courage to say before.  And I kept talking as I watched her chest rise and fall, slower and slower, until it finally stilled.   And because I still had so much more to say, I kept talking.  I told her how much I loved her, how much she impacted my life.  I told her how much she drove me absolutely crazy, and yet that I couldn’t imagine my life without her.

So this wasn’t Ma, couldn’t possibly be.   “You’re dead.”

The figment of my imagination shook her head and frowned, then moved closer, and looked me straight in the eye.  I could see through her to the candelabra on the wall.  Wow, it looked dusty.  When was it last dusted?

“Of course I’m dead, Angela.  I’m a ghost.”

I shake my head, trying hard not to believe her, but God help me, I do.

My name is Angela Panther and I see dead people.  Well, one dead person, that is, and frankly, one is enough for me.

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