It was amazing how many kids in Catalpa Valley knew Richard and consequently knew he was a ghost. Richard was stopped five times by kids near the ice cream freezer and about ten times in the candy aisle all the while searching for Violet with mounting desperation. These kids remembered him from all the coaching he’d done over the years. They weren’t nearly as astonished to see him come back as a ghost as he was that they seemed to take talking to a ghost very much in stride. It was as if they did it all the time. Perhaps they did.
“My dad’s a ghost too, Coach Bennett,” Frankie Gleason told him, smiling so he showed his one missing tooth.
Richard smiled down at the seven year old ruffling his hair. He knew Frankie’s dad went off to war and never came back. “Is he?”
“Uh-huh, he comes at night to talk to me,” Frankie told him matter-of-factly. “I don’t miss him so much no more.”
“That’s real good, Frankie,” he said now seeing a virtual swarm of little leaguers who had just spotted him and were coming towards him. Not wanting to take any more time out to chat with these kids and having visions of Violet being accosted by Victor he passed right through the shelf displaying every kind of chocolate bar imaginable and emerged in the cereal aisle accidentally passing through a woman who was reaching up to get a box of cereal. She shivered so violently as Richard went through her that she knocked several boxes off the shelf to rain down on her head.
Forgetting he couldn’t be heard he apologetically muttered, “Real sorry about that, Conny,” before going through the next shelf. The woman looked around expecting to see the person who apologized and frowned confusedly when she saw only her baby sitting peacefully in the cart pointing to the shelf Richard just plowed through.
This aisle was crowded too but still no Violet. It wasn’t until Richard went into the pasta aisle that he caught a glimpse of her coat by the dairy section and he made towards it. What he saw there made his blood boil. At least it felt like it. He didn’t suppose ghosts had any blood, did they?
“Let go of my wife!”he shouted again, his teeth clenched, his fists ready to plow into that pretty-boy face.
“They won’t hear you,”came a soft voice from right beside him.
Richard whirled around and gaped. There before him stood a woman, a very odd woman. The first thing he noticed was her height, or lack of it. She was even shorter than Violet. She had stylishly coiffed jet-black hair with silvery streaks running through it and immaculate makeup as if she were a movie star awaiting a closeup. He estimated her age as sixty-ish but she could also be a whole lot older and just looked darn good, he mused.
Jocelyn’s penchant for expensive designer clothing allowed Richard to recognize the same in this woman. Her pretty sapphire blue cocktail dress certainly didn’t fit into Catalpa Valley’s usual attire of jeans and sweatshirts. She wore no coat, either, and her perfectly matched open-toe high heeled shoes were definitely not appropriate for the freezing, wet, slushy weather outside. Her dainty little feet would be soaked before crossing the parking lot. She also wore the most serene smile he’d ever seen. But the most astonishing thing about this woman was that she could see him.
“You can see me,” he muttered, astounded. “Only little kids can see me... normally.”
Her dark eyes crinkled at the corners as she smiled broadly. She looked as if she had a funny little secret and was dying to divulge it. “Perhaps I’m a kid at heart,” she replied folding her delicate, bejeweled hands in front of her much like an opera singer does before singing an aria.
Richard frowned. She stood as close to Violet and Victor as he did and they didn’t seem to see her either. Putting two and two together and coming up with eight Richard said, “You’re a ghost then.”
She gave him a knowing smile but said no more.
Richard looked back at Violet who was staring up a Victor with a confused yet rapt expression on her face as he spoke to her. Startled to see such a look on her face, he went to her and vehemently whispered, “Don’t listen to him, Babe. He’s no good for you.”
Violet made no indication she heard him. “Violet, get away from this guy,” he whispered, desperate for her to hear him but still nothing. “Violet, please...”
“I did tell you they won’t hear you, didn’t I, Richard?” the woman said, her voice calm and patient.
She smiled again in that annoying, knowing sort of way. “Oh, from here and there,” she answered, carelessly waving her hand about. Seeing the bewildered expression on his face she giggled and added, “My Victor speaks of you often, or rather he listens to your brother-in-law speak of you, quite highly, too.”
“Your Victor?” he repeated frowning again. He glanced from her to Victor and back again. The look on her face, so full of pride and motherly love, spoke volumes, more so than the facial features they shared. “You’re his mother.”
“Yes, I am, Richard. Victor is my boy all right,” she said brightly.
“You’re haunting him,”he said not certain if that would be considered an insult.
“In a manner of speaking I suppose I am. Although I believe I am helping him seek his happiness.” She spoke quietly yet there was a determined glint of steel in her eyes as she continued, “ In truth I’d say it is more like I am guiding him in his quest for an unfulfilled dream.”
Richard gulped. He’d seen that fierce look before on his own protective mother after the death of his only brother and on Violet herself whenever she felt her babies were in danger, whether real or imagined. He knew the ferocity inherent in motherhood and he somehow knew he had a formidable opponent in this tiny, ghostly, little lady.
So much for his plan of haunting Victor right out of town. Can’t very well haunt someone who is already haunted, can you? But still...he had to do something. He cast another glance at Violet and Victor still in conversation and turned his back on them to talk seriously with what he could only imagine being an adversarial spirit.
“Mrs. Romanoff, I....”
“Please, call me Heidi, Richard,” she interrupted pleasantly. “We should be friends and allies. We each want what is best for our loved ones, don’t we?” The look in her eyes dared him to contradict this but he had a go anyway.
“Yes, but what you see as the best for your son isn’t necessarily what is best for my wife,” he said, his mouth set in a grim line.
“You mean widow. Violet is no longer your wife, Richard,” she corrected, her tone gentle but the words still fell like bricks on Richard’s already battered soul.
“She will always be my wife,” he said through clenched teeth.
“You’re wrong. I come to her in dreams. It’s like I’m...”
“Not dead?” she interjected. “I assure you, Richard, you are. They are very much alive and we... well, we don’t so much walk this earth as merely exist like oxygen in the atmosphere. There but invisible, unnoticed and virtually ignore until it’s gone and needed.”
“That’s just it. She needs me just like she needs oxygen,” he insisted, a triumphant gleam, in his eyes.
Her eyes moved from Richard’s livid face to right behind him at Victor, who was now leading Violet away down to the cash registers, then swiftly back to Richard. “If she is anything like me when my beloved Vladimir passed on, then yes, she does need you for now. But Violet knows you are just a dream, Richard, a dream she wants to cling to for as long as she can. She may not know yet that she can’t live in a dream forever. It took me a very long time myself, you see, so I know how she struggles. I do feel for her,” she said her eyes now becoming misty.
Richard opened his mouth but he couldn’t find the words. He felt nothing short of shock that this stranger, this ghost should know how Violet feels, someone she’d never known. Or had she?
“Do you...did you know Violet?” he asked dreading the answer.
She smiled in a wistful sort of manner. “In many ways I do. She and I are very alike. Violet is the daughter I always wanted,” she said with such longing even Richard could feel it.
“She already has a mother,” he said sounding petulant even to his own ears.
“Yes, you are right, of course. Still, you are supposed to be helping her, Richard. I believe you are...in your own way,” she spoke placidly as she turned to leave.
“Helping her with what?” he asked stopping her in the middle of the aisle so a man pushed his shopping cart right through her.
She smiled as she heard the man complain about how cold it was then turned back to Richard saying, “Why, helping her get on with her life, of course. She’s a very young woman still. Although she has kids all grown up and on their own she is but the age most woman start a family nowadays. And have no doubt, Richard, she wants a family. She craves one just as much if not more so than my Victor. Hence why I know they will be perfect for each other.” She turned again to go.
“Hey!”he shouted, just as she stepped into the free-standing display of Easter Egg coloring kits. “You never told me why she couldn’t hear me just now. She always did before... when I whispered, anyway.”
Her elegantly arched eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Surely, I needn’t tell you that.”
Annoyed beyond measure he glared at her and through clenched teeth muttered, “If I knew I wouldn’t ask, would I?”
She chuckled as she approached him. “The living have to actually want to hear the dead, Richard. It truly has nothing to do with volume.” She then patted his cheek affectionately much as a kindergarten teacher would to her adorable yet slightly dim-witted pupil. “You’re new at this but soon you’ll learn. I’m sure.”
He watched her travel upwards this time through the ceiling and gone from sight. He stood there irresolute. Violet had to want to hear him? But didn’t she always want to hear him? Meeting another ghost hadn’t help him at all.