It was approaching one in the morning, and like most nights, lately, Ramona was on the rooftop patio of her two-hundred year old coastal Victorian home, sitting in the oversized Adirondack chair her kids had painted, and drinking white wine from the box sitting on the table next to her. Above her were a smattering of stars between oil stain clouds, and a hangnail moon. In front of her was about half a mile of this nothing Maine town and then the never-ending Atlantic, dark and choppy. And underneath her was three stories of rotting floorboards, water-stained ceilings, hideous faded wallpaper, old wiring, ancient plumbing, a basement that she was sure had a body either buried in the packed dirt or hidden behind the bricked walls…she could go on and on.
This was supposed to be their project house. Her and Lloyd. Celebrate their new found fortune and early retirement by moving up to Maine, buying one of those charming, aging old homes by the water, and building it back up to its glory. A place to spend the back half, to finish raising their kids and eventually keep the grandkids, to give to them someday. Nothing is more foundational for success than a good solid house, and Ramona and Lloyd were going to give their kids the best.
Ramona sniffled and turned away from the ocean to where the box of wine sat. When she turned back, wine glass sloshing, she found a woman.
She was standing at the balcony railing, looking out to sea. Her nightgown was white and shapeless and ran down to her ankles. Blonde hair ran in waves all the way down almost to the bottom of the gown. Ramona couldn’t see her face, but the woman was holding her hands up to her chest, and Ramona was sure she was crying. The woman looked solid enough. The breeze was even making her hair flutter a little bit. But Ramona was sure the woman was a ghost. Furthermore, thanks to nearly finishing the box of wine, Ramona didn’t care.
“Whatever you’re looking for-”
The woman turned and let out a scream. In her fright she tried to jump back, and would have gone right over the railing if Ramona’s mom reflexes hadn’t kicked in. In a heartbeat she was up, wine glass in one hand, the front of the woman’s ridiculous nightgown in the other. At least the gown was well made. It didn’t even tear. Once she had her balance back, the woman’s look of fear turned to embarrassment and anger, and she slapped at Ramona’s hand.
“Ouch. Jesus, lady, I was trying to help.” Although, perhaps ‘lady’ was generous. She looked like she was, at most, twenty-five, and could have still been a teenager. Her features were small, without makeup, and there wasn’t a single line around her mouth or eyes. She’d died young. Tragic, or whatever.
“By frightening me, quite literally nearly to death?” the woman asked, smoothing out her dress.
“Well, I mean, you’re already dead, so that would be pretty neat,” Ramona said, sitting back into her chair. She looked, and was happy to see she hadn’t spilled any of her wine.
“Oh!” the woman said. “If this isn’t quite the turn. Did someone in town put you up to this? Did they send a crazy fellow to invade my house and torment me?”
“First off,” Ramona said before burping, “I’m a woman.”
The woman held her hands on her hips as she looked Ramona up and down.
“But your hair is so short,” she said. “And you’re wearing…what is it that you’re wearing?”
“An oversized Minnie Mouse t-shirt covered in mustard stains and a pair of shorts that say ‘Juicy’ on the bottom. Also covered in mustard stains.”
“Why would your clothes say anything, much less ‘Juicy’?”
“Because ten years ago I thought I was hot shit.”
“I beg your par-”
Ramona sat up in the chair, making the woman wince away from her again.
“I know who you are! Loretta McEnnis, right? Yeah, the realtor told us the whole story when we bought the place. You and your husband Robert-”
“Roger, yeah. You guys built the place. But he was a sea merchant, or something, and he was always gone. And then he died at sea, and then you went missing. People said you probably walked into the ocean. Very tragic. I thought she was making most of it up to get a sale.”
With only the light from the moon, it was hard to tell that Loretta’s face had gone pale. The rapid blinking and the hands placed gently on her cheeks was easier to spot. Ramona cursed herself. Didn’t ghosts sometimes not know they were dead? What a way to find out. Loretta shifted her nightgown to each side and sat down gently in the other chair.
“I’m sorry,” Ramona said. “I thought you knew.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks, but Loretta straightened out her quivering jaw and shook her head.
“He’s been gone for months past when he should have come home to me. The people in town have been trying to tell me, I just…didn’t want to believe it.”
“But you’ll believe a crazy man half drunk on white wine who just appeared on your rooftop porch?”
“God works in mysterious ways,” Loretta said. “Perhaps you were sent to finally make me believe.”
“Listen, honey, I’ve been trying to tell you. I wasn’t sent anywhere. I live here now. You haven’t lived here for, like, two hundred years. You haven’t lived for two hundred years. You died. And you can go now. Go into the light. Be at peace. Be with Roger.”
Loretta’s face grew soft, her eyes taking on a sad look, and she reached out to touch Ramona’s knee.
“Is there a caretaker I can bring you back to? Someone who ensures you don’t hurt yourself?”
“For fuck’s sake,” Ramona muttered, and threw back her glass. She was going to need more wine. Convincing the dead they were dead was harder than she thought.