I DON’T BELIEVE IN GHOSTS AS SUCH
Content Warnings: discussions around death, hauntings.
‘I don’t believe in ghosts, as such.’ A phrase he has repeated to himself so many times but he still believes it completely.
‘Liar.’ Too often has he heard the word in response to the statement he has given. But that doesn’t stop him from repeating it to the figure in the mirror.
‘I don’t believe in ghosts, as such. But I believe in hauntings.’
Finally, Noah turns to the shadowy figure speaking to him. ‘I told you to leave me alone.’
Noah sighs and finishes shaving. The ghost in his life has been with him for a decade. Every moment of his day, he sees the shadowy figure. He’s seen it in so many people, too, over the years. Sees it in smiles, eye colours and shapes, and in freckles. It’s the freckles that always catch him out. They throw him for a complete loop every time. It’s so much like seeing him all over again that it stops his heart for just a second.
Noah presses the lotion into his skin to soothe some of the burn of shaving. The ghost smiles at him. ‘What’s on the agenda today?’
‘Nothing you should concern yourself with.’ Noah avoids looking at the shadow. ‘Don’t you have someone else to haunt?’
‘Perhaps.’ The ghost pauses. ‘But you’re the one that needs me.’
‘Since when has anyone ever needed haunting?’ He hates that his voice rises; his neighbours must think that he is not altogether with it.
‘Needs are more than the physical. I can’t help with anything that makes a difference to your physical wellbeing.’ Noah can feel the eyes of the ghost studying him before it continues. ‘Not that you need much help with that. But I can help with your mental state.’
Noah scoffs. ‘There isn’t much that will help with that these days.’
‘No. But there is something you’ve not let go of yet.’
‘What could that possibly be? The last relationship I had, I let go of because it wasn’t good for me.’
‘And I am so proud of you.’
‘Don’t patronise me.’
‘Right. Sorry.’ The ghost chuckles. ‘But there is one thing that you haven’t let go of.’
Noah doesn’t want to have this conversation. ‘I have to get to work.’
‘Of course. I’ll be around if you want to chat.’
He gets dressed and then heads outside. The air is hazy with heat, and his clothes are already beginning to stick to his back with it. He hates summer with a passion; everything about the season feels like he is being buried in heat. By the time he arrives at work, sweat has stuck the hair to his forehead and he has to go clean up in the bathroom. The ghost is there the entire time and Noah avoids looking at him more than usual, to make sure that he doesn’t draw unnecessary attention to himself.
Another man walks into the bathroom and goes to the sink too. Noah recognises him as Billy from Accounts.
‘Hot one today,’ Billy says.
‘Why does everyone spend so much time discussing the weather? It’s only ever a variation of, like, four things.’ Noah ignores the ghost.
‘Must be up to thirty degrees by now,’ Noah agrees.
‘Well, let’s hope that it holds till the weekend. I think pints in the beer garden are in order.’
‘Yeah.’ Noah knows that it is a tacit invitation, one he will be ignoring.
‘You should really say yes one of these days.’ The ghost never shuts up and Noah just wants five minutes of quiet.
‘Well, I’ll see you, Noah,’ Billy murmurs as he leaves the room. It’s clear he had noticed that Noah was distracted.
‘See you later.’
‘You never use people’s names.’ The ghost isn’t asking a question, but Noah has to respond.
‘Names have too much power.’
The ghost scoffs. ‘I just want you to say my name. Nothing is going to come strike you down if you utter it. I’m not Macbeth.’
A shudder runs down Noah’s spine. He grew up around theatre and it still feels wrong every time he hears the word.
‘You’re too superstitious,’ the ghost says.
‘I’m not. I just don’t want to take any chances.’
‘Yeah, and it stops you from making good choices.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You always say no to anything that isn’t perfectly within your comfort zone. It’s a miracle that you even have a job.’
‘A guy needs to eat.’
‘Yeah, and if you don’t hurry you’re going to be late for your first meeting.’
‘Fuck.’ It’s completely the ghost’s fault that he has been so distracted all morning. He rushes out of the bathroom to his desk, manages to grab his laptop and heads to the conference room.
Luckily, he’s not the last one in, which the ghost helpfully whispers in his ear. He swats at the ghost and his colleague looks around. ‘Just a fly.’
The meeting lasts far too long and is bearable only because the air-con is still on, so he doesn’t get too hot. Like so many meetings that he has to be in, it could have been a longer email with the relevant decisions made. He takes a few notes of the things he has to do, and as soon as it’s done he heads back to his desk.
He is waiting for him there. Noah should have expected that. The ghost follows him everywhere, and by now he should be used to it.
‘The most,’ he murmurs. Noah has to be careful when he’s at work, because it becomes too obvious when he is this close to other people.
The ghost chuckles. ‘Not long now, though. Just a few more hours, then you’re free.’
Noah only hums and puts in his earphones. He wants to drown out the sound of the ghost. Pressing play, the ghost’s voice fills his ears. Noah wishes he was at home so he could scream, because he had forgotten that the last thing he had listened to was him.
Finally, the day is over and Noah heads back home, the ghost a constant presence the entire way.
‘You know, you really should get out and do more.’
‘I walk to work.’
‘Yeah, but the only person you talk to is someone dead. Who, and I quote, you “don’t believe in.”’
Noah doesn’t say anything. He’s still trying to convince himself that he is just hallucinating, that his mind has finally broken.
‘You never even say my name.’
He can feel his cheeks begin to heat. ‘When you name a thing…’
‘It makes it real. But I’m already real.’
‘You’re the one who summoned me.’
‘I don’t know. One day I was somewhere and then I was with you.’
He sighs. This is a conversation they have had over and over again. But Noah doesn’t feel like he is any closer to an answer.
‘I just want it to stop.’
‘I know. But it’s not really me haunting you, is it?’
‘No. It’s not.’
‘Well, do you know what it is?’
‘I don’t want to have this conversation right now. I’m hungry.’
‘Eat, then we can talk.’
Noah nods. He feels anxious because he wants the ghost to be gone, but at the same time he doesn’t think he can face whatever the ghost knows about him; the things he doesn’t want to admit to himself.
After dinner he sits down on his couch with a beer. The ghost sits down next to him.
‘I want you to say my name.’
‘Yes, you can. I think it’ll help.’
There is a cool touch on his cheek. ‘Trust me.’
Noah does trust the ghost. He knows he shouldn’t, but he does.
He inhales deeply. ‘How does this work?’
‘You just say what you have been wanting to say to me all this time.’
Noah chuckles. ‘Does that include before you died?’
‘Of course.’ It’s like cool lips are brushing against his cheek and he can feel a sob at the back of his throat.
‘Tom. I miss you.’
‘I’ve missed you every single day. It’s like my heart is ripped in two and I’ve never been able to mend it in a way that makes sense.’
This time the lips at his cheek feel more solid and Noah turns his head to capture them. Tom’s lips are cool, and Noah sighs into them. Even if this isn’t real, at least this way he got there just once.
‘I loved you. With every fibre of my being. But I hated that I felt like that. I wanted to stop feeling.’
A hand brushes the hair out of his eyes. He doesn’t know how he will cope when he wakes up from this dream. His vision begins to blur with tears that threaten to fall.
‘So I never said anything. Because I would rather have swallowed up my feelings until they burned a hole through me than lose you.’
‘But what would have happened if you’d spoken them aloud?’
‘I don’t know. And now I regret that, because what if you had reciprocated? Even though it never would have made sense to me.’
He can feel Tom’s hands on his face, and Noah searches for his lips again. They meet in another salty kiss.
‘I loved you. And then you died.’
‘And I think I’ve never learned to get over you. I think you’re haunting me because my love for you is still haunting me.’
Tom doesn’t say anything, and for a moment, Noah thinks he is gone, but when he opens his eyes he can see Tom so clearly it’s like he is flesh and blood again.
‘I see you everywhere. In people’s smiles, their eyes and their freckles. Someone I saw smiled in the exact same way you did and every time I saw it, it felt like my heart would fall apart.’
‘But you haven’t. And you won’t.’
‘Noah.’ His name sounded so good in Tom’s voice. ‘You are not broken because you loved someone who died. You just have to give love a chance. Open your heart.’
‘I’m so afraid.’ He is gripping Tom’s wrist and he’s worried he’s going to break something.
‘Love is fucking terrifying. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth taking the risk. You could tell a hundred people you love them and only one might reply. That makes it all worth it.’
‘What if you were my one?’
‘The thing is, there is more than just one person for everyone. And maybe I was one of them, but you never would have found out because you never would have asked.’
He can feel the tears flowing down his cheeks. ‘So how do I stop love haunting me?’
‘You go out and love.’ Tom puts a hand on his chest, right over his pounding heart. ‘I will always be here, but you have to open yourself to others.’
Tom presses one more kiss against his lips.
Noah opens his eyes, and Tom is gone. He takes a shuddering inhale. Strangely, it feels like his chest is lighter. Like he has been carrying around something too heavy to name.
He stands to open a window and inhales deeply again. The sun is setting, and it’s the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. ‘I love you, Tom. I always will,’ he whispers into the air.
The confession feels good, and it doesn’t make his heart clench in the way he thought it would. Noah can still feel the echo of Tom’s hand over his heart, so he presses his own to the exact spot, and for a moment, it’s like he can feel Tom’s skin against his.
Berlin bred, England reared. When she isn't found writing, Leonie can be found crocheting. Spending most of her day administering democracy, she uses her writing to explore the many shapes and forms in which relationships can develop and change.