Chapter Three

 “Angela.  Angela Palanca.  Wake up, dear it’s me, your mother.”

As if I wouldn’t recognize her voice. Fighting off the chill, I pull the covers up over my shoulders and remind myself to turn the AC down before bed next time.   “Again with the Angela Frances Palanca.  It’s Panther, Ma.  Panther.  Should I spell it for you?”  I turn my head, hiding under the covers, willing this to be a dream.

“Ah Madone, child, I can spell Panther, I just don’t like it. It’s like Richter, too damned German.  Why didn’t you marry someone with a good Italian name like Angelini or Marconi?  Those I could use, you know?   Now turn over and look at me. I’m real, Angela.”  She nudges my shoulder and I open my eyes to see her crouched down and floating next to my bed.

“Told you so.” She smirks.

I sit up.  “Angela Angelini?  Really, Ma?”

Wait.  She nudged me, and I felt it.

I turn and look at Jake, who’s doing his freight train imitation again.  Clearly he didn’t hear Ma ranting about his name, either because he’s asleep or because I’ve gone insane.  My guess is I’m insane.  I get up, grab my robe, and quietly leave the room.  Gracie gets off her chair in the corner, nose up, and sniffing the air.  Her ears stand up, and she follows me out.  Unbelievable.  Gracie can smell ghosts.  I wonder if she’s smells dead people every time she sniffs the air?  Goodness, I hope not.  If that’s true, I’m sure I’ll never sleep again.

I tiptoe down to the kitchen.  I’m going to see the ghost of my mother at this hour; I’m going to need caffeine.

“Where are you going?”

I turn and give her the evil eye.  “Shh. Come.” I whisper and crook my finger for her to follow.

I turn on the coffeepot but lack the patience to wait for it to finish, so I cheat and pour myself a cup before it’s done.  Thank God for the auto stop feature.  Ma is quietly floating near the kitchen sink, and I motion for her to go down to the basement where no one can hear me.  I don’t want to wake the kids and have them think their mother is loony, not that they don’t already think that anyway.

“Look at you, pointing and motioning, telling me what to do.  I may be dead, Angela, but I’m still your mother.”

There’s something innately wrong with her last sentence, so I do what any crazy person would do; I ignore it.  “Holy mother of God, I’m going insane.  I have to be,” I say as I look at my mother floating around the basement family room.  “You nudged me Ma and I felt it.  I felt it.”

“Ah, you’re not any more crazy than you were before I died,” she quips. Then her mouth takes on the shape of a capital O shape.  “I did nudge you, didn’t I? Well whadda know; I can touch things.”  She looks at the wall, leans her shoulder into it, and disappears.


She laughs her loud, that-is-really-funny laugh, but I can’t see her.


“Whoops,” she says as she reappears, shuddering.  “I guess I can’t touch everything, and I gotta tell ya, that’s okay.”  She shakes and little flickers of light float from her.

It’s disturbing.  My mother sparkles.

“That whole passing through things feels creepy,” she continues.  “When that man at the funeral home walked through me, I thought I might barf.  It made me sick to my stomach.  Huh.  I wonder if I still have a stomach,” she says as she looks at her belly.

In life, my mother was a beautiful, robust woman.  She had curves that she hated, and always wanted to be thinner, smaller, and taller.  I’m not sure if I got my body image issues from her, or if that’s how all women are, but I loved her curves.  She wasn’t fat.  She embodied strength, both mentally and physically.  I admired that and yearned for it for me.  It was heartbreaking to watch cancer rob her body of its stature, in the end leaving her nothing but skin and bones.  She often joked that she’d be skinny for eternity, but I couldn’t quite see the humor in her dying.

Now, as I watch her floating next to me, I see the more voluptuous Ma, only she’s transparent.  The irony of what she looked like when she died and what I see now is not lost on me, but I’m not stupid enough to say that out loud.   It’s not just her shape that’s changed.  Her eyes have regained their bright blue hue, and her nose is no longer red from years of uncontrolled allergies.  Her lips are fuller, like the lips I remember from my childhood, not lips that have been permanently crinkled to inhale the poison of a cigarette.

“Ma, where are your dentures?”

She puts her hand to her mouth and feels around.  “Huh.  Beats the hell out of me.  Maybe ghosts don’t need dentures,” she says as she smacks her lips together, making a funny sound.

I hug myself to ward off another chill. “I still have them.  They’re in the medicine cabinet in the kitchen.”   Tears well up in my eyes and I wipe them away, not wanting to cry about something as simple as her dentures.

“Ah Madone.”  She throws her hands up in the air.  “You kept my dentures?  What, did you think you could use them some day?  Goodness, child.  You have beautiful teeth.  I always loved them.  They were like mine, so big and strong, until I was pregnant with your brother and he sucked the calcium right out of them, that is,” she touched her mouth again and sighed.

“And you wonder why I’ve never really liked him.”

Ma looks serious. “Ang, you gotta let that go and be nicer to your brothers.  Leave the past in the past because pretty soon it’ll be just you three.”

The hairs on my neck stand up.  “What are you saying, Ma?  Are you saying something’s going to happen to Dad?”

She shrugs her shoulders. “I’m not saying anything, Angela.  It’s just the way it is.  No one lives forever; so don’t waste your time on the past.  What’s done is done. You gotta move on.”

“What’s this?  You die and suddenly you’re all patient and forgiving?  That’s a crock, Ma, and you know it.  Patience was never your virtue and forgiveness wasn’t even in your vocabulary, so don’t go acting like you’ve seen the light or something and tell me how I should act now, because you know if you were still alive, you’d be singing a totally different tune.”

She looks at me and we both burst out laughing.

“So you believe me now?  You believe I’m a ghost?”

“You’re not my imagination, are you?”


“But why are you here?  It can’t be this unfinished business.  That doesn’t make sense.  Didn’t you see the light?  You’re supposed to go to the light, Ma.  I mean, there is a light, right?”

My mother throws her arms up in the air, and floats around the room.  “All my life I told you if I could, I’d come back, and you always said, good Ma, come back.  But when I do, you tell me I should have gone to the light.  For the love of God, Angela, make up your mind.”

She’s right.  I did always say that, I just didn’t know it would actually happen.

“Geez, Ma,” I say, throwing my hands up in the air, too.   “Cut me some slack here, will you?  I don’t know what to think.  It’s not like I’ve been seeing ghosts my whole life.  This is new to me, and honestly, you’re freaking me out a little.  I can see through you, and you’ve got these little sparkly things flying off of you.  That’s messed up, Ma.  It’s messed up.”

She frowns, and mumbles something I don’t understand.


“I freak you out, do I?  You want I should disappear and not come back? I can do that, Angela.  Say the word and I’m gone.  Poof.  Out of your life and back into the light forever.”

I rub my temples, feeling a headache starting.  “No, Ma.  That’s not what I’m saying.  I’m just saying you need to give me a little leeway here, so I can wrap my head around this, is all.  You think you can you do that for me, Ma?”

She looks at the ground.  “You should clean this carpet.”


“Oh, fine.  Fine.”

“Thank you.  So about the light; there is a light, right?”

“Yes, Ang, there is a light, and I’ll go back to it.  I just got some stuff to do down here first.”

I don’t know how this afterlife stuff is supposed to work, but I thought that once a person dies and goes to the light, they’re supposed to stay there, not go back and forth.  Maybe Ma didn’t actually see the light, and she’s afraid to tell me.  Maybe she needs me to help her find it.

I’m no ghost whisperer, but I give it my best shot.   I lean forward, putting on my most sincere face.  “Do you see the light?  Go to the light, Ma.  Your family is there, waiting for you.”

“Ah, Madone, knock it off, will you?  I’ll go back when I’m darned good and ready.  Your grandmother, she knows I’m busy taking care of things down here.  She was just dead once too, ya know.”

“You saw Grandma?”

“Of course I saw Grandma.  What do you think happens when you go to the light?  Didn’t you ever listen to that psychic on TV?  The one from that show, what was his name again?”  She pauses, then flicks her hand in the air.  “Pfft.  I can’t remember.  But yes, I saw your grandmother, and your grandfather, and your auntie Rita, too, but I told them I’d be back.  I said to them, I said, I’ve got affare non terminato down there, and here I am.”

“John Edward, Ma.”  I tell her.  “John Edward is the psychic with the TV show.   And what do you mean you’ve got affare non terminato, unfinished business?  We took care of everything before you…you know.”

“I died Angela.  Before I died.  You can say it, you know.  It’s not like it’s gonna change.  I’m deader than a doornail, already a pile of gravel in a fancy little bottle, so you might as well get used to it.”

Get used to it?  It’s been a little over a day.

“What unfinished business, Ma?  Maybe I can help you with it, so you can, you know, get back to the light?”

“Stuff.  I’ve got stuff to do, and…and it’s not your business anyway, so don’t you worry.”  She turns away and looks at the wall. “You really need to paint down here; a nice light grey would be pretty.”

I fall back onto the couch and cover my head with a throw pillow.  Flip me over and put a bun on me because I’m done.  I’m seeing the ghost of my mother and she’s telling me to redecorate.