by Tougyo (闘魚)
All Florence wanted was a sandwich. Groceries in hand, ready to settle in for a long period of boxing up some things and unboxing others, she was ready to begin her efforts with delicious, delicious food. Maybe it was in her head–the kitchen had always been the starting place, the center, it made sense to begin there.
Setting her grocery bags on the kitchen island, she began to put things in their place: cold stuff in the empty refrigerator, dry goods in the less-empty cupboards. It went quickly enough, she supposed, but as soon as she turned her back to get a knife out of the drawer, there were… noises.
Turning around revealed once again full bags of grocery, sitting neatly on the kitchen island.
Florence’s first reaction was that she had gone completely insane. She closed the silverware drawer, and stared at her bags, plastic handles tied together, the canned goods in double bags. She took the milk and eggs and carried them to the fridge, putting them on shelves that were once again completely empty. In the moments it took her to turn around, all the groceries were on the floor.
Then, all the groceries were flying at her head.
It took her less than a second to run out of the kitchen, into the hallway, and up the stairs, where she fled to her childhood room and put a chair in front of the door.
Florence Waters hoped she was going crazy.
It had been three weeks since Beatrice Waters had died. It had also been three weeks since Florence’s mother had died, and she boggled at the difference between the two sentences. They had such different meanings, and there was such a distance to the idea of Beatrice Waters. Beatrice Waters talked to millions of people a week through the magic of PBS. Beatrice Waters turned down Food Network deals because she wanted people without cable to learn how to cook, and besides she’d been at their local PBS affiliate for thirty years. Beatrice Waters’ death was the loss of a great national treasure.
Florence’s mother’s death was quiet, with a small service, mostly family, and a big empty house in an older suburb that no longer smelled like miraculous food at all hours of the day. Florence’s mother’s death meant nobody left to boss her around in the kitchen and nobody to drive across town in a Chrysler at 30 mph to deliver a thermos of soup when Florence was sick.
And now here Florence was, in a big, empty house, thirty and change with the last of her family gone. It was distressing, and she’d been doing fine by sorting through boxes, breaking her lease, packing everything in one feverish week and deciding that the family home was staying in the family. Except now there seemed to be another tenant, invisible and angry and prone to throwing her groceries against the wall.
I am not having a panic attack, Florence thought as she sat in the bedroom, blanket wrapped around her, keeping alert and waiting for things to go flying again.
This is a perfectly reasonable reaction, she continued. She wondered if she could call somebody. Would anyone believe her? Maybe Olivia. Olivia had always bought into that New Age crap, until Florence had snapped at her and thrown her out after being told that her stress generated negative energy fifteen too many times.
No, Florence thought. Aren’t there experts for this? Where do I find a ghost hunter? Is it even a ghost? Is it a manifestation of my negative energy? God, was Olivia right about all that shit?
And finally: Why didn’t this ever happen when Mom was around?
The absurdity of it all was exhausting. Florence leaned against the headboard, still sitting up, and closed her eyes. Questions for the morning, all of them.
Morning came, Florence woke up hoping it was all some horrible nightmare. She decided to test her insanity theory by making eggs, as they’d been one of the few things to make it into the fridge.
Sure enough, the kitchen was still covered in a splattered mess, shattered glass just waiting for an innocent bare foot. Florence tiptoed as she crossed the kitchen threshold. A can of condensed milk rolled through a puddle of vinegar. She ignored it.
The eggs were still in the fridge, at least, sitting neatly in their carton. She removed it, and set it on the counter. The house suddenly felt too quiet for comfort. She pulled a frying pan from the rack.
“Are you here, Mr. Ghost? Mrs. Ghost?” Florence hoped she didn’t sound scared. She wondered if ghosts could sense fear, and rummaged around in the cupboard for an intact bottle of oil, as the butter had joined with the insides of a few oranges on the floor.
“I’m just trying to cook,” she continued. “I’m hungry. That’s all.” She drizzled some vegetable oil into the pan, and set it on the stove, turning on the flame.
It took no time at all for every burner to burst into a tower of exploding natural gas. She attempted to fiddle with the knobs to no avail, and then ran into the hall, making a beeline for the phone.
The fire was gone the second she stepped over the threshold. The eggs were on the counter, still intact. She stared at them, longingly.
“I just want to put the eggs in the fridge, okay? No sense wasting them. I’m coming in.”
She was halfway to the island before all twelve eggs flew at her, bursting nicely across her pajamas.
“Fuck,” Florence murmured to herself, as she ran out of the kitchen yet again, this time for the bathroom.
Then it was time for a shower, a quick trip to McDonald’s for a super classy Egg McMuffin, and a number of decidedly odd phone calls.
“What do you mean you can’t come out for two months?” Florence sighed into the phone. “Can there possibly be that many ghosts in this city?”
“For your information, ma’am,” came the nasal voice from the other end, “We travel all over the state to investigate cases. Tomorrow we’re going to go see a haunted 7-11 in Springfield.”
“I can’t even use my kitchen!” Florence continued, wondering what kind of business these idiots thought they were running.
“With all due respect, Ms. Waters, poltergeists are very rare and usually don’t just show up one day.” His voice dripped with condescension.
“Are… are you saying this is a hoax? You’re ghost hunters for Christ’s sake, what was the last thing you investigated that wasn’t a hoax?!”
In hindsight, Florence mused, she probably deserved to be hung up on.
Olivia had been downright icy, but she had passed along the number for her psychic. She hadn’t said much, besides accusing Florence of the lamest scheme to get back together in the history of the world, which would have been true if the situation weren’t so damn dire and, well, real. Still, Florence called the psychic, who was much more amenable to a home visit than Condescending Ghost Hunters ‘R’ Us.
The first thing Florence noted about the psychic was that she seemed to be nothing more than a half-senile old woman, with additional scarves. Still, she let her in politely, and offered her some coffee from the emergency “kitchen” (coffee machine, hot plate, and microwave, all ideal for the finest of instant foods) she’d set up in the living room.
“This is a lovely home you have, dear,” the psychic began. Florence suddenly realized she didn’t know her name; it was Madame Estelle or something like that.
“It was my mother’s home; she passed away a few weeks ago.” The psychic nodded at that, and patted Florence’s hand in what seemed like a completely calculated gesture.
“Hmmm. And is it your mother’s spirit that is plaguing you?” Oh, the nerve of this woman.
“N-no, I don’t think so… I hope not. She was never an angry woman. Besides, does it matter who the ghost is?” Florence wondered, not for the first time, if she was really of the temperament to deal with these paranormal types.
“Did she have any secrets?” the psychic asked, completely ignoring any of Florence’s input.
“….how would I know?”
“Come, now, let’s ask her together. Give me your hand.” Florence valiantly resisted rolling her eyes, and instead took the old woman’s hand, closing her eyes.
“What was your mother’s name?” the psychic asked, suddenly adopting what Florence supposed was her “wise and mystic” voice, but mostly sounded like she’d swallowed a toad.
“….Beatrice Waters?” Oh no, here came the questions…
“Yes,” Florence answered, never any good at telling a lie. Besides, maybe you couldn’t talk to the dead without their names, or their addresses, or knowledge of their favorite perfume.
“Oh! I did so love her show; could I get her autograph?” The old lady had released Florence’s hand to clasp her own together, in a rather girlish display of excitement.
“….she’s dead,” Florence said, completely without tact, and now looking for an excuse to get this crazy bat out of her home.
“We’ll ask her that, then, as well as about the kitchen issue.”
Oh, screw tact. “…Please leave.”
I should resort to Feng Shui, Florence thought. Or move back to my apartment; I bet they haven’t rented it out yet. Oh! Or I could start sleeping under a counter in the restaurant’s kitchen.
She never really considered leaving, though, as much as she mused on such fanciful solutions. Half the reason she’d decided to move to her mother’s home was that kitchen. It was a wonderful kitchen, a professional kitchen, full of all the pots and pans Florence had dreamed of owning someday. It had never really occurred to her when she was younger and her mother had promised her such things that they would be predicated upon death. It seemed wrong to want them, but they were such nice things, and the kitchen was a nice kitchen, with a six burner stove and miles of counter space, and an immense feeling of home.
She sighed, and poured herself another cup of coffee. She’d need to return to work next week, too, and the idea of going back to a life where she cooked for everybody except herself was downright depressing. Still, Florence thought, a few weeks of living off of take-out and hot plate friendly meals won’t kill me, and I can sort through everything and talk to a realtor and… go back to a sad single life.
The doorbell rang, and jolted her out of her melancholy. She checked her watch: 11:43 pm, too late for any caller, really. She pulled herself away from her spot keeping the coffee pot company and rushed to the door, opening it only a few inches at first.
There was a woman on the porch, a short one, in a long jacket despite the generally decent evening weather. She had short hair and was wearing men’s jeans and a pair of sneakers so old it was a wonder they stayed together.
“Are you Florence Waters?” She also had a tongue piercing. Florence nodded, confused as to why there was a tiny dyke in a ridiculous coat standing on her stoop.
“Can I come in?” More than anything, the woman sounded bored, and her lack of eye contact only helped to cement that impression in Florence’s mind.
“Do you mind if I ask why? Who are you?” Florence considered closing the door, going upstairs, and putting her fingers in her ears until the entire world went away, but the woman answered her immediately, giving her very little time to carry out her plan.
“My name’s Morgan Jennings. I’m here about your ghost.”
“How’d you know about that?”
“Look,” Morgan began, her eyes suddenly looking slightly less drowsy. “It’s late, I drove 200 miles to get here, and I just want to help. I promise I mean you no harm; I’m not armed, and even you could probably take me down; I’m like five feet tall.”
Florence nodded dumbly and finally pulled the door open, gesturing toward the living room.
“Smells like coffee,” Morgan observed. “I hate to intrude, but…”
“I’ll pour you a mug. It’s pretty foul, but it keeps you up, and, well, I didn’t want to mention it but it’s weird of you to care about intruding all of the sudden.”
Morgan just shrugged, and took the coffee once Florence offered it to her. She was still standing, even after Florence had slumped into a chair.
“So… how do you know about my problem?”
“Magic,” Morgan began. Florence could only imagine what kind of confused expression she must have had to provoke the smirk that crawled across Morgan’s face moments afterward. “I mean, it’s complicated, but suffice it to say that I’m a sensitive individual. I can mostly tune out benevolent and neutral forces, but whatever’s in this house really has it out for you, doesn’t it?”
“It did throw eggs at me,” Florence mused, trying not to think about the severe weirdness of the situation. “And it may have tried to set the kitchen on fire, but maybe that was just showiness.”
“Where’s it show up?” Morgan was looking around, and probably wondering why a young-ish person like Florence lived in a house filled with cheesy knick-knacks and the occasional doily.
“Just the kitchen, so far,” she answered. “It seems to not care what I do as long as I’m not in the kitchen. The house is really very quiet, otherwise.” Morgan had started wandering about, shuffling her feet against the carpet, still avoiding eye contact.
“Nobody else around? Husband, kids…?” She trailed off as she started to examine the framed photographs on the mantel, mostly of Florence, a few of her mother and father.
“Ha, no, just little old me since my last girlfriend left.” Florence couldn’t tell if Morgan had any reaction to that bit of news, but then again, Morgan didn’t seem to react to much.
“Do you mind if I say hello to your ghost?”
It was an odd thing to ask permission for, since it wasn’t like Florence had any control whatsoever about the stupid ghost in the kitchen, but she rather appreciated the gesture nonetheless. “Be my guest.”
Morgan immediately turned to the hallway. Florence followed her, mostly out of curiosity, but also out of some hope that she would do something–magic, maybe–that would fix the problem, just like that, and Morgan could drive away back into the night and Florence could pretend that it had all been one particularly weird hallucination brought on by stress and grief.
Florence stumbled as she suddenly bumped into Morgan, who had stopped just at the kitchen entrance. She was checking the frame–it was an old kitchen, with an actual doorway, though Florence’s father had removed the door itself ages ago. Morgan was mumbling under her breath, in something that sounded foreign and old.
“What are you doing?” Florence asked in a whisper. Morgan didn’t answer, but kept on mumbling as she reached into her pocket and pulled out something small and made of silver or steel. She suddenly looked completely different, intense instead of sleepy-eyed, and it was far from a bad thing, Florence mused.
Morgan finally stepped into the kitchen, resulting in… a whole lot of nothing. No flying objects, no magical superflames, no otherworldly portal opening in the floor to swallow them whole. It was a messy kitchen that was starting to get slightly rank from the groceries on the floor.
Morgan wandered about it, seemingly aimlessly, her eyes half closed, still speaking softly in that completely unidentifiable language. Florence found her eyes following her as she walked, watching her touch every surface, gently, sometimes rubbing them, talking to them in her strange tongue. She was really a very attractive woman, Florence mused, and wondered why pretty little dykes hadn’t rung her doorbell more often when she was younger and more desperately seeking that kind of thing.
Morgan finished her circuit of the kitchen, ending with a brief touch and murmur to the wooden door frame she’d started with, finally knocking on it once before turning to Florence.
“What did you just do?” Florence asked, whispering and anxious.
“You don’t have a ghost,” Morgan answered, and Florence swore she heard a note of puzzlement in that otherwise unfazed voice. “I just… don’t feel anything.” She was rubbing the doorframe absent-mindedly now.
“You mean you got rid of it?” She tried to hide the giddy hope in her voice, but her pitch and squeakiness gave her away, she was sure.
“No, I don’t feel anything. I–I usually can; this is very strange. Could you step over here?”
“Well, you said it was safe, right?” Florence joked, as she stepped into the kitchen to join the other woman.
“No,” Morgan said. “I said I didn’t feel anything. Walk around.”
Florence chuckled nervously, and walked toward the center of the kitchen, avoiding the piles of bruised produce. She looked nervously back at Morgan, who actually smiled and gave her a thumbs-up. She chuckled again at that, and continued, toward the stove.
That was when the lights went out.
Florence screamed, and immediately regretted it. It was so incredibly cliché, but dammit there was a ghost and now it was dark and she barely had enough time to be terrified before the lights went back on, revealed a completely clean kitchen, cleaner than Florence had ever seen it, except for the fact that every piece of cutlery in the house was embedded in the far wall, above the kitchen table.
GET OUT, it read. Beneath, carved straight into the drywall, was a smiley face.
The smiley face was a nice touch, Flo thought, just as the knives began to fly toward her head. She felt a sudden impact around her waist, and saw the tiled floor zoom ever closer, and then she didn’t see anything.
Florence awoke to a flood of cold water.
“What was that for?!” she gasped, sitting up and pulling a strand of now-wet hair out of her face.
Morgan shrugged at her. They were sitting just outside the kitchen, which was, once again, a total mess. “It works in the movies?” she said, that suddenly infuriating half grin lighting up her face. “We’re just lucky we aren’t shish kabobs. Or ceviche.”
“I don’t have a ghost, huh?” Florence said sarcastically, rubbing at what she knew would eventually become a nasty bruise on her left arm.
“I was wrong,” Morgan said. “I’m sorry. It’s worrisome.”
“So, wait, what does it mean that you couldn’t feel my ghost? Can you usually? What does that even mean?” Florence considered that it would be just her luck to have her unlikely and unexpected savior be completely incompetent. Just another fine piece of her life these days.
“I’m sensitive, yeah. Most of the crowd that claims that, they’re convinced that there are ghosts and stuff everywhere. There aren’t. People who really aren’t ready to move on, there are fewer of them than you think. Most of the ones who do stay are pretty nice about it; they want to watch over a child or loved one, or they’re too wrapped up in themselves to do anybody else any harm. Egotism is the great protector,” Morgan laughed at that, a girlish giggle that seemed rather unnerving coming from her. It didn’t take long for her to resume her obviously rehearsed speech, though.
“But some of them, yeah, they’re too mean to move on. Those are the ones I can’t ignore. And they’re rare, but not so rare that I’ve had any time to not deal with them.”
“So you just, what, wander around getting rid of ghosts?” The absurdity of it was amusing. It was like a bad horror movie, and, quite frankly, Morgan made the worst badass vigilante ever.
Morgan shrugged. “Sometimes I wash dishes.”
Florence smiled. “Most places won’t let you pull that kind of stunt anymore. Regulations, you know.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“So… you can’t tell my ghost is there?” That was the question, wasn’t it? Apparently this woman had come rushing over because of some malevolent presence, and now there was nothing. It was fishy, and it would be even fishier if there weren’t a freakin’ poltergeist hanging around.
“Oh, once he started acting up, sure. Scared the ever-loving shit out of me, too.” Morgan sure didn’t sound scared, but Florence felt she was sincere. After all, Florence had been scared shitless a couple of times by now. No shame in that. “Sorry I wasn’t more graceful in getting you out of there before the stabby stabby bits.”
“I’m kind of surprised you could move me at all,” Florence joked. “You are only five feet tall.”
“Yeah, well, I lied when I said you could take me, so there.” They sat, for a moment, silent, until a sudden draft made Florence acutely aware of her wet head, and embarrassingly enough, aware that her nipples were probably a tad too perky for her current bra and shirt combo.
“I’m going to find a towel,” she said, and quietly but swiftly stood up to leave just as Morgan asked yet another question.
“Has anyone died here recently?”
“Yes,” Florence answered, bluntly. “My mother. A few weeks ago.”
“Do you think…?” Maybe it was in her head, but for a moment Florence could have sworn that Morgan sounded sorry at even having to mention that. Maybe she had some tact after all.
Morgan turned to look at her, from where she was still sitting on the floor. “I’m just saying, did your mom ever mention any regrets, worries, old grudges…?”
“I’m just saying, my mother was well-adjusted and full of love.” And that was genuinely true. For all their differences–even more importantly, for all their similarities–Florence had gotten along remarkably well with her mother. They were close, they’d talked often, and her mother was the entire reason Florence was a chef. “Isn’t there a way to find out more about this thing, Ms. Sensitive?”
“We could hold a séance.” It seemed like it could be a joke, but Morgan looked dead serious. Florence didn’t want to think about that, not after the batty old psychic and her autograph search.
God, she knew she was going to regret this. “Well… what do I have to do?”
Florence hoped she had enough candles. It had taken some digging, and she’d had to rack her mind to think of where her mother had always produced candles from, when she was redecorating the house for every season change and major holiday. She’d failed, really, but had managed to dig up:
-Two pina colada-scented candles
-Three tapers, two of which had candlesticks that fit them, and the third of which was propped upright in a kitchen glass.
-Fifteen tea lights, most of them never used
-A large ‘5’ candle, clearly intended for a birthday cake.
The candles were arranged in the middle of a large-ish circle in the hallway outside the kitchen. Morgan had actually dumped some sand onto the carpet; it was going to take forever to get it out. Florence had a premonition of finding sand in odd corners years later. Then again, if this worked, maybe she would still be here years later, which was cheering.
Morgan’s arms were covered in shiny bangles, and they jingled merrily as she arranged a number of strange objects around the candles. Florence had tried asking questions, but after a couple of iterations of “it’s complicated” and “It’s to help me focus” she felt very little reason to maintain her curiosity. Instead she sat, quietly, and watched as Morgan chanted a few words here and there, before finally sitting across from her, Indian style.
“Alright, Florence, like we talked. I’ll take your hand; together we’ll channel the thing. If things go wrong, I need you to break the circle or blow out the candles, but only if they go really, really wrong. Got it?”
Florence nodded, and took Morgan’s hands. They were surprisingly calloused, she mused. Maybe it helped her wash dishes. Morgan started half chanting, half singing, again in a tongue that Florence didn’t know or recognize. The lights flickered, and the rack of pots in the kitchen began to get a bit noisy.
Morgan started talking, then, in surprisingly colloquial English. “OK, ghostie, I’m just here to ask you a few questions. One knock for no; two knocks for yes. Do you understand me?”
Florence waited, apprehensively, looking around like a startled rabbit. Nothing; she heard nothing; what if this was all smoke and mirrors, some elaborate trick–
“Good,” Morgan continued, her voice soft. “Do you mind us being here?”
The knocks were louder, this time, seeming to rattle the entire house. Florence wondered how many times Morgan must have done this.
“Do you want to talk to us?” Morgan asked.
“OK, then, mister.” Morgan began chanting again, this time more briefly, and Florence felt her grip tighten. It was too strong for her small frame, unnerving and otherworldly. The grip slackened immediately after the chant was finished, and Florence watched in horror as her eyes rolled up into her head.
“GET OUT,” Morgan rasped, in a voice not her own, crackly and staticky or maybe like talking while you’re inhaling. “GET OUT,” she continued, “YOU STUPID FOOL GET OUT YOU ARE NOT WELCOME.”
The lights began to flicker, and Morgan’s grip started to tighten again, painfully so, and Florence remembered the advice about the circle but she couldn’t move her arms, no matter how hard she tried to pull away.
“YOU ARE NOT…” The ghost never informed her of what she was not, though, because she had freed a foot and kicked a gap into the circle of sand, resulting in a horribly unpleasant sound much like water running through a drain as Morgan fell forward, into the pile of candles.
The ensuing fire was brief and easily doused, and Morgan herself didn’t have a scratch on her, although even if she’d sustained some sort of horrible burn, Florence figured she still probably would have slept through the whole thing.
Florence awakened to the noise of Morgan stomping about in the bathroom. She took that as a cue and headed into the master bath to start readying herself for the shiny new day. She was still wearing last night’s clothing, too exhausted after talking to ghosts and dragging poor Morgan into a bedroom to change into something better suited for sleep. Still, just splashing some water onto her face made her feel worlds better, and stumbled downstairs to see Morgan poking at the coffee machine.
“Are you okay?” Florence asked, gently.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Morgan answered quietly. “Hungry, though. You know where the nearest fast food joint is?”
“Oh, you don’t have to eat that stuff,” Florence said. “The least I can do is buy you a real breakfast…. or lunch, by this hour, I guess. I’d offer to cook, but, well.” She gestured to the rather sad one-power-strip setup she’d pieced together.
“Oh, come on,” Morgan said. “What can’t you cook with a hot plate and a microwave?” She seemed strangely cheerful for having been possessed by a ghost mere hours earlier.
“Well, I could try to throw something together…” This was ridiculous, but Florence had to admit that she missed cooking. Still, it was far from the best of circumstances, but this was half a dare, and Florence was loathe to turn down a dare from somebody who probably already thought her a complete sissy.
“Do it! I mean, you’re a chef, right? I bet it’ll be good.” The sincerity of it all cinched the deal. The least I could do, Florence thought. After all, Morgan had already saved her ass once, and there just wasn’t anything she could do to help. Cooking was helping; she’d learned that lesson early on.
“Fine,” she answered. “But I have to go to the store first. You want to come along?”
“No, I’m going to see if I can think of some sort of solution for your ghost. Only fair; food for dehauntings.” An uneven trade, I know, Florence did not say. Instead she just smiled, and flicked Morgan gently in the arm as she left to go back upstairs and change into real clothes.
“I’d feed you anyway, you know. It’s just being hospitable.”
The drive to the store gave Florence a few precious minutes to consider her options. Really, a hot plate and a coffee machine was not a lot to work with, and she was pretty certain the hot plate was not even hot enough to sear any sort of meat. It could barely boil water. It was every nightmare about electric stoves, only more so, and small enough to fit in a breadbox.
She kept thinking as she ran all over town to her usual haunts–seafood vendor, grocery, bakery. When she returned home, she dropped everything in the entrance way, mostly so the ice around the seafood wouldn’t melt onto the carpet. She then walked into the living room and looked into the kitchen. No Morgan.
“Morgan?” she called, heading up the stairs when she received no answer. No running water from the bathroom, nobody in the guest bedroom, which left the master bedroom.
Florence opened the door to see Morgan sitting cross-legged on her still unmade bed, seemingly meditating, breathing in a slow and shallow rhythm such that she looked perfectly still. Her eyes weren’t closed, merely lidded and heavy, but it was fairly obvious that they weren’t seeing much anything of the paisley comforter or carefully framed Monet prints on the wall. Morgan looked smaller like this, without her massive jacket, all skin and bones and frailty.
That was when Florence noticed that she was floating, a mere centimeter or so above the bedcovers. Suddenly uncomfortable, she backed out of the room, turned around, and headed downstairs to read a nice book until it was time to make lunch, which had suddenly turned into dinner by virtue of it already being four o’clock.
It was a good hour before Morgan came back downstairs, eyes dazed, a grim expression on her face. Florence watched as she turned at the corner of the stairwell and made straight for the sofa, lying down on it, and exhaling a tiny gust of air that somehow seemed to convey unimaginable exhaustion.
“Are you still hungry?” Florence asked, hoping that Morgan hadn’t passed out on the sofa.
“Yeah. Good thing; best to do that kind of stuff while fasting, but now I’m starving.”
“Well, good, because so am I.” Florence closed her book and set it on the end table, resisting the urge to rest an assuring hand on Morgan’s shoulder. She’d covered her eyes with an arm, and while she didn’t seem to be asleep, she also didn’t seem to be up for much of anything.
Florence surveyed her tools: hot plate, coffee machine, and the iron she had located in the hall closet. With a sigh, she resigned herself to the situation at hand, and started to throw green beans into the coffee machine.
She honestly didn’t know if her mother would be proud or aghast, but she’d felt that way about most of her favorite culinary innovations, so maybe it was a good sign. She did wince a little as she lowered the iron onto the foil-wrapped prosciutto. It was a crime to cook this way. A crime.
The final spread consisted of:
A simple salad of mixed baby greens dressed with oil and vinegar
Baguette with (store-bought) pate
Seared sea scallops, topped with a smear of cream sauce and crispy prosciutto
Steamed green beans
Chocolate cake a la microwave, topped with melted chocolate
Florence had even gone through the trouble of plating everything, for the novelty if nothing else. She wished she had a camera, forgetting momentarily her complete inability to photograph her own food. Such feats needed to be recorded, for posterity, or for submission to some sort of ridiculous reality TV show.
“You made this how?” Morgan seemed skeptical as she poked at her scallop with a fork.
“You were here the entire time. You could have watched, you know.” Florence surprised herself with how much her matter-of-fact teasing sounded just like her mother’s, and smiled a bit.
“I was napping, It was incredibly important.” Morgan sounded genuinely indignant, and ate half her scallop in one bite, mouth suddenly too full for her to continue.
“My mom used to wake me up at six in the morning to help with breakfast, you know.” It was true, and she’d done nothing to complain about how most people ate after church. Even with a mouth full of eggs Benedict or French toast, she’d keep complaining, simply because few things are better than sleep when you’re 12 and growing too fast for your body.
“Yeah, and look how you turned out.”
“Thirty, and cooking with an iron,” Florence replied cheerfully. “Could be worse.”
“Yeah, you could be twenty-five and relying on somebody to feed you using an iron.” Morgan popped another bite of scallop into her mouth, and continued, unafraid to speak with a full mouth. “This is amazing, by the way.”
“Don’t let it go to your head. It’s probably the wine speaking.”
Morgan poured pretty freely, Florence noted, and she would have cared more if she didn’t find herself trying to match the younger woman’s pace. The conversation wandered alongside them, and Florence learned that Morgan had driven from coast to coast three times, that she’d been doing this since she was 20, that she wore so many bangles not for the pleasant ringing sound they made but because each was a separate charm, acquired in another place. Florence wanted to ask why, wanted to ask how in the world a 20 year-old girl became some sort of ghost vigilante, but somehow it never came up. Instead she found herself talking about the restaurant, about the head chef, about how guilty she felt for her extensive leave due to grief and funeral stuff. She talked about her time in the kitchen with her mother, and how when she first left home she called every night to chat or find the detail of some family recipe. Morgan listened, and ran a finger around the rim of her glass, as if she were expecting the cheap glass to ring like crystal. And suddenly, the bottle was gone, and Morgan was telling her something new.
“When I was a kid,” Morgan began, “we had shitty reception. Hills, you know, in the way. But we got PBS, and it was basically all I watched. And I remember watching your mom’s show, every Saturday morning, it was the only one I liked, and I remember once begging my mother to cook some dish or another, and it failed spectacularly. I think it was a pastry, and it came out all charred and flat, but we ate it anyway.”
She stared into her glass, clearly trying not to look Florence in the eye.
“I don’t think that’s your mom in the kitchen,” Morgan said, sounding relieved and sad all at once.
At that, Florence couldn’t help herself. She felt it start in her gut, a weird trembling, and then she found herself guffawing, laughing harder than she had in weeks.
“Of course not,” she said, and she ignored the slight slur in her s. “I told you that at the start. She was a great woman.” Florence sighed. “She was a great chef. I miss her, and I wish she was back here, but I know she wouldn’t stick around to throw knives at me.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t think anybody’d want to throw knives at you,” Morgan said, finally looking up from her own wine. “And I think you’re a good chef, so there.”
“Yeah, well, you’re way better than the crazy-ass ghost hunters I called.”
“Pffft, they got nothing on me. I’m experienced.” Florence wondered if the ensuing eyebrow waggle was in her head, but that thought buzzed away quickly, encompassed by the haze of alcohol and good food and yeah, good company. It had been too long since she’d had all three at once, and Florence suspected she would have felt at home even if she weren’t sitting at her mother’s coffee table, surrounded by pictures of family and furniture that hadn’t been replaced since 1989.
Florence stood up, then, intending to fetch more bread from the hall, only to find the task significantly more difficult than she had expected. Once upon a time, half a bottle wouldn’t have done much except bring on a case of the giggles, but now her legs felt all wobbly, those traitors.
“Whoa,” she said, only to find Morgan pulling an arm around her shoulder.
“Had a litle too much, Flo?”
“….nobody’s called me that in years.” Her mother, sometimes, until she turned 14 and decided she hated the nickname after too many references to Aunt Flo from friends at school.
“Yeah, well, just let me help you, okay?”
“Pffft, you’re just as wobbly as I am.”
Somehow, Florence forgot about the bread, and instead found herself leaning against Morgan and stumbling up the stairs. And then they were stumbling into the master bedroom, and Morgan had dumped her on the bed. Morgan was turning to stagger back down the hallway, her silhouette drowning in her men’s clothing, when Florence decided that she was drunk and it was a good time to do a stupid thing.
“Stay?” she said, simply, and to her surprise she really meant it. Her heart seemed to stop for that moment when Morgan stood there, in the light from the hall, before she also turned around.
“You’re drunk,” Morgan said, simply.
“I’ve made drunken advances plenty of times before, and I haven’t regretted it for…” Florence thought a moment. “…seven years.”
“Lucky number, that,” Morgan said simply as she took far too many small little steps back toward the bed. The moment she made it to the side, Florence reached out for an arm and planted a possibly too-messy kiss somewhere between wrist and elbow. It didn’t take much of a tug to get Morgan all the way down, stretch out above her, baggy shirt draping down from her back and providing a convenient amount of space for Florence to spread her hands across Morgan’s stomach, eventually reaching around her and tugging at her shirt.
“You’re impatient,” Morgan said, in a softer tone of voice than Florence was used to hearing from the usually much crankier woman. She didn’t deign to give an answer, though, instead pulling upwards and watching as Morgan acquiesced, revealing small frame and tiny breasts enclosed in a no-nonsense sports bra.
Florence tossed the shirt aside, and ran her hand slowly up and down Morgan’s spine, counting each individual vertebrae and reveling at how distinct they were, how bony. A moment of unease swept across her mind at her own decidedly more portly figure, but it was erased as soon as Morgan lowered her head and kissed her.
It shouldn’t have taken Florence by surprise, but it did, and the feel of flesh and tongue and teeth seemed so foreign that for a moment she forgot to kiss back. It didn’t take long for her mind to come to its sense, though, and she returned as good as she got, fingers still feeling out Morgan’s back, and now a hand moving to her ribs and rubbing against the soft cotton of her bra, lying flat against her breasts, and applying just enough pressure to elicit the smallest of sounds as Morgan broke the kiss and started to neck, moving downward to the collar of Florence’s shirt, stopping there while her fingers fumbled at buttons. But moments later, Florence found her blouse open, and Morgan moving enthusiastically downward, now reaching back to find a bra clasp. Florence sat up, momentarily, just long enough to remove both shirt and bra, pulling Morgan’s bra off while she was at it. Morgan’s mouth went back to work immediately, kissing breasts, finally moving down to suck on a nipple, as Florence gasped and felt her stomach tighten. Morgan only seemed encouraged by such noises, and kept at it, sometimes sucking, sometimes kissing lazily, rubbing the other nipple with a lazy, gentle touch. Florence tried to give back as good as she got, resting on hand on Morgan’s hip, the other wrapped around her waist, pulling her closer until she could slide a leg between Morgan’s thighs, pressing upward just enough to make the tiny woman squirm and press back.
They stayed like that for awhile, Morgan’s slight frame balanced atop Florence, legs interwoven, hips occasionally bucking, with mouths and hands wandering not-so-idly across each other’s torsos, until finally Morgan reached downward, finding the button to Florence’s pants, giving her enough space to wriggle out of them as she removed her own jeans and boxers. Florence looked at the woman kneeling over her, and wondered at how beautiful she was, even with that stupid smirk plastered across her face.
Florence propped herself up on her elbows, grabbed Morgan’s hand, and pulled them both back down, down into the comforter and pillows, rolling until they were each facing the other, and then they were kissing again and pressing their bodies together. Her left arm wrapped around Morgan’s head, Florence reached an arm between them, lower, past soft bush to sticky warmth, finding the spot where the other woman gasped and began to rock back and forth on her hand. Florence moved her fingers deliberately, slowly, and broke off the kiss for a moment to watch the younger woman’s face, until Morgan moved her mouth to the crook of Florence’s neck, breathing and sucking and kissing and moaning. It almost took Florence by surprise when she felt Morgan’s hand moving, to the same spot on Florence’s body, and she gasped as she pulled Morgan closer, speeding up the movements of her own fingers.
“God,” Florence began, as they kept rubbing, driving each other to some peak, moving increasingly erratically, and those were the last words either of them said before they devolved into the babble of moans and gasps, until Florence felt Morgan give a little shudder and a louder moan and stop rocking so urgently. And then she felt her own body tighten, and realized she couldn’t hold back any longer, and it had been so long she felt like she’d been like this forever all twinned with someone else on the bed and together and then she let out a tiny yelp and felt like she could breathe again.
When she opened her eyes, she saw Morgan looking at her, and the sudden wave of shyness was downright ridiculous.
“I hope you don’t think I was just paying you back for the food,” Morgan said, jokingly, as a hand stroked Florence’s back.
“Hope you don’t think I was just paying you back for services rendered.”
“Whatever. I think that should count as a service rendered.”
Florence awoke the next morning with the sickening realization that for all the goodness of last night, there was still something in her mother’s kitchen trying to kill her. She slipped out of bed, noting that Morgan was still asleep, and went to shower. While she was washing her hair, she wondered, idly, what Morgan had been doing meditating on the bed the other day, whether she even had a plan, how she usually took care of these kinds of ghosts. Really, Florence wondered, what does she do?
By the time she had finished her shower and dressed herself, Morgan was gone. She wandered downstairs and found her standing outside of the kitchen, staring into it.
“Any ideas?” Florence asked, nervously, suddenly afraid to bring up the previous night.
“Yes, actually.” Morgan had thrown on a hoodie and some shorts, and was idly playing with the zipper of her sweater. “We need to talk to somebody who’s dealt with this fellow before.”
“Did you have somebody in mind?”
“Yeah. Your mom.”
The candles were the same as at the first séance, but the circle was made of blue sand, and between them they’d placed a few pieces of Beatrice’s jewelry, and an old favorite pan that Morgan had darted into the kitchen to retrieve.
“So,” Florence said, “Because the ghost isn’t my mom, you figure it must have been around before my mom died?”
Morgan shrugged. “You got any better ideas?”
Florence shook her head. “So… my mom’s going to possess you, like last time?”
“No. It’s more complicated than that. When spirits leave this world, they leave. It’s hard to get in touch with them, but it’s not impossible. But you can’t ask her about her death, and you can’t ask her about her after-death experience, okay? It upsets them.” Morgan was all business again, too stern for her age and haircut. “And you need to keep it short. This is an incredibly dangerous procedure, okay? I’m basically creating an open channel; anything can step in. If something happens to me during it, you’d need another psychic or something supernatural to fix it, all right?”
“So wait, how are we going to talk to her?” Florence didn’t want these details; she just wanted this whole thing to be over.
“With this.” Morgan dug around in her pocket, producing an ancient Nokia brick, tossing it into the middle of the circle next to the candles.
Florence didn’t even have a chance to declare how batshit insane this was before Morgan started chanting.
It went much more smoothly than before–no sudden flare-ups of the candles, no mysterious wind, just a woman speaking in a really, really foreign language and another woman looking confused.
Morgan said the bit that Florence recognized as something like “amen” or “the end” or “OK, time for fireworks now” and, sure enough, the phone started ringing.
“Answer it,” Morgan said, and so Florence did.
The words didn’t come through the phone, but instead seemed to boom through the house, vibrating the walls but not anything attached to the walls.
“Florence?” The voice, at least, was recognizable, frighteningly so, and Florence felt her eyes begin to well up.
“Mom? Mom, is that really you?” It was impossible and stupid and pointless, but just the sound of her mother’s voice reduced her to hysterics, as good as that first day when she’d heard the news.
“Well yes, you silly thing. What’re you doing calling so late?” There’d been twenty, fifty phone calls like this, always Florence asking for advice, always her mother berating her and answering her questions.
“I… I just needed to ask a question.” Calm down, Florence told herself. Calm down.
“Is there… a ghost in the kitchen?”
“Oh, Oliver? He’s a sweetie.” Oliver. The ghost’s name was Oliver? And her mother knew? How did I not know, Florence thought. How did I live in a haunted house for nineteen years? But impossible and ridiculous as it was, what reason would her mother have to lie to her now? And she knew it was really her mother, she just knew.
“….You knew? Mom, he’s trying to kill me.” Why hadn’t her mother had knives thrown at her? It was ridiculous.
“I’m sure you’re exaggerating. Or you were rude to him. He was always a little moody, that Oliver. And you know, you always were a little bad at the hospitality thing, Flo. Don’t you remember that thing with Dr. Schafer when you were 17?”
“Yeah, Mom. I was kind of moody back then, too, I guess.” She’d refused to help her mother prepare dinner that night, she remembered, and spent it sulking in her room instead, eating candy bars and reading teen magazines. She’d done that for a number of guests, to protest their presence, or just to get some alone time in a house that was always full of guests.
“Well, you make sure to call again, you hea…”
“Mom? Mom?! Morgan, it’s…” Florence stopped, mid-sentence, as the candles went out and she saw Morgan, lying on the floor, pale as white flour. “…Morgan?”
Florence didn’t even stop to think, but instead rushed to the nearest source of water, which happened to be the kitchen, clutching her mother’s pot. She filled it at the tap and ran back to the hallway, dumping it neatly onto Morgan’s head.
Now completely panicked, Florence felt for a pulse, relief washing over her when she found it, though the coldness of Morgan’s skin was nearly as worrying.
I need a phone, she thought, forgetting Morgan’s warnings about psychics entirely, desperate for somebody who would just help her. She rushed into the living room, which was still covered with the remnants of last night’s dinner, her eyes falling immediately to the phone, fumbling with it as she dialed 911 for the first time in her life.
It took her a full three seconds to realize that the phone was emitting nothing but static.
She ran upstairs, to her bedroom, and found the previous day’s pants, looking for her cell phone. She flipped it open, dialed, and held it to her head, her heart sinking as white noise buzzed into her ears.
This can’t be Mom, she thought to herself, leaving only one culprit. Flo ran back down the stairs, out of breath already, and stormed into the kitchen.
“What do you want from me?” she yelled into nothingness. “Oliver, what do you want, I’ll do anything I’m sorry if I was rude, I’m a complete twat sometimes I just –</i>”
The kitchen went dark, despite the fact that it was afternoon and light should have been streaming in through the windows. When the light returned, everything was in its place, and Morgan was lying on the island.
Also on the island were flour, sugar, milk, eggs, butter, vanilla, maple syrup, and a pan.
“…..You want pancakes?”
“And then you’ll let go of Morgan?”
Florence, somewhat amazed at this sudden blunt honesty, set about mixing together the ingredients, in a daze. It made her nervous cooking in this kitchen again, and she kept expecting the flour to explode (she’d heard it could do that) or the burners to become towering infernos again. But no, it was simply eerily quiet, except for the occasional sound of the wind chimes in the backyard. It took no time at all, really, to make pancakes. They were simple food, and she plated them like any sane person: in a neat stack, topped with a pat of melting butter and a drizzle of syrup.
When the lights went off this time, they came back to reveal an empty pancake plate and a gasping Morgan.
Florence couldn’t help herself. The first thing she did was hug Morgan, whose look of shock never left her face. The second thing she did was thank Oliver, who answered with a friendly clapping of cupboard doors.
When Florence revealed to Morgan that Oliver had resurrected her with the power of pancakes, Morgan had yelled at her.
It was a long lecture of a yell, all about how ghosts had a limited array of corporeal tricks, and that they couldn’t just make food disappear like they’d eaten it, and that Florence would probably find the pancakes under the refrigerator in a few months all moldy and gross. She also yelled for a bit about how ghosts didn’t have resurrection powers and that Florence had talked too damn long to her mother, and didn’t she understand the sort of psychic energy that went into maintaining those kinds of connections. Florence zoned out around the time Morgan started going on about the astral plane and how to really get rid of a ghost. Besides, she had dinner to attend to–a couple of nice omelettes for the ghost hunter and home owner, and a nice stack of pancakes for Oliver. The ghost had, in fact, pulled out a cookbook and dog-eared the pages of recipes he liked, but pancakes were easy and went with the breakfast-for-dinner theme.
“What do you want in your omelette?” Florence asked Morgan, absent-mindedly.
“No mushrooms,” Morgan grumped. “And I should get going, anyway, I can sense–”
“A disturbance in the force?” Florence smirked at how ridiculous this all sounded, but she really couldn’t talk when she was cooking pancakes for a ghost.
“No, a ghost in Washington state.”
Florence made her a plain cheese omelette, which was what she got for being picky, and slid it onto a plate.
“You’re welcome whenever you’re driving through, you know.” Florence had gone back to beating eggs. “You can wash dishes for me.”
“I’ll make a point of swinging by.” There was almost a note of fondness in her voice, although Florence suspected it would turn back to grumpy lecture at the soonest possible moment.
“You better,” Florence said brightly, as she poured her own eggs into the pan with a satisfying sizzle. “You owe me one, anyway.”
I am not a chef. I don’t even play one on TV; mostly I just pretend to know what I’m doing and hope that things work out. I don’t even own a decent knife (although I will steal my roommate’s for serious choppin’).
Florence’s hot plate meal is taken directly from this webpage, as I am not that creative, even if I did used to make ironed quesadillas in college. I suspect anything you actually made using a coffee machine would taste like coffee. That stuff has pretty damn strong essential oils. Please don’t try this at home–but if you do, let me know how it turned out.
Beatrice Waters is meant to be Julia Child, whose PBS programs I grew up watching every Saturday. This has not helped to make me any sort of a cook, but it has helped to make me adore Julia Child. I hope she is not rolling in her grave right now. Beatrice Waters’ surname is an homage to Alice Waters, another chef I greatly admire.