Ghost Stories in Gouache: Cadmium

Ghost Stories in Gouache: Cadmium

Ghost Stories in Gouache is a new series for me. Cadmium is the first. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written.

Suggested Listening: “Perpetual Motion” by Ulrich Schauss and Jonas Munk

Photo: Steve Johnson / Pexels

Disbelief. Disbelief engulfs me as I recognize your profile, a handsome silhouette against a plaster wall painted charcoal. Yours is a profile I could never forget, but your stance hides the pain in your eyes, eyes turned away after you admit what you need. 

“You’re looking for a wife?” I repeat, softly and confused. My utterance is a whisper — not at your admittance, but that you’re standing in this room with me now. 

No. That cannot be true because we’re alone in a room I do not recognize, a room that must be yours in the house that you own. A Victorian fireplace, unlit and cavernous. A bedroom window. A purple velvet drape, one dusty panel pulled aside. 

The sepia shifts to a filtered mustard yellow that is your bulky shirt as the smoky light filters inside. 

It’s really you. My heart leaps before it sinks because here you are, inches away from me in all of your youth and all of your talent and all of your glory. I feel your warmth radiate from beneath a mustard yellow weave. And I remember your comforting embraces I fear in that tender moment I will never feel again. 

The sadness and the regret swells and has since you turned your back and departed that day. Or was that me? The departing words have long since faded and are buried away in memories I can no longer retrieve. 

Still, the letters we exchanged in secret remain tucked away from friends who would become enemies, letters secreted away in a black cotton box without so much as a key, memories I walk past and ruminate on to this evening. 

And we’re alone in a room as though forty years never passed and time as we knew it then has stood still.

“Yeah.” Your eyes hold my misty gaze. “That’s what I said and I am. I suppose.” 

You haven’t aged one day.

I close my eyes and remember the trust, and the trust is what I’ve missed most. Trust has long since vanished from my heart. But there, in that broken cavern is a corner that is safe from damage, a corner saved in secret just for you. This is your own private corner of my mortal heart and my eternal soul. That’s a private world you would never know about that no one really knew existed, you guessed but never said, but for you. 

And this is why you have returned to me in the dead of night while the moon shines bright. And the stars? They’re blinded by the city lights, unable to shine through. 

I remember the trust so vividly, and the warmth of my youth and longing returns. 

“Did you write it down?” you ask, extending a warm and gentle hand, so patient. You reach out. One step. One step closer still.

“Please don’t,” I beg beneath that whisper because I am tired. I am old. 

You won’t like me now, so turn away once more and don’t look at my face. You are young — still the same. I am old. I am broken. I have changed.

But you dismiss my plea and my fear and my shame. Because forty years hasn’t changed for I am hopeful, and that is eternal. The walls I’ve built break away. 

Yours is a gentle touch. A caress. An unexpected kiss I can taste in a dream. 

You are real. And you’re here in this dream with me now as though we were yesterday but today, tender as those cherished nights. But the sadness swells. I shed a tear. Cheek to cheek, I clutch the weave in my hand and cry, vulnerability you cannot see but feel. 

And that is why, I sense, you have returned to me now.

“Did you write it down?” 

You. And only you. Trust. I am, once again, safe in your loving arms.

“Did you write it down?”

Where, I wonder, did we go wrong? What were those young and careless decisions? None. The timing was off. That was all but never enough.

How could come back to me? Tell me the color. Tell me the song. Tell me what it is that you’re dying to say in the darkest hours before sunrise in the dead of night when the moon hides behind the clouds of a looming storm and the stars are blinded by the city light no one really wants or needs. 

You have something to tell me. And that is why you’re here with me now.

“Did you write it down?”

Tell me. I beg you. Tell me you’re not a ghost and that you’re out there — still — and safe and that you’re real. 

I cling to you in a dream because there was always you. And there was more you were reluctant to say. But I’m here. I dare not wake. To wake sends you away. 

“Did you write it down?”

But I must wake. To sleep eternal isn’t right for me now. I must wake and face another day. The warmth of your gossamer embrace sustains me when the trust is gone and weapons are drawn until the storm clouds float away. 

Through my window, I can see the telephone wires in the last rays of sunlight, telephone wires no one ever bothers to see. 

They are the telephone wires that may have carried our voices across a city, telephone wires leading me into town or away.

“Did you write it down?”

“But they don’t want me to,” I complain. 

I’m awake. And in that quiet moment after the last raindrops have fallen I hear you — I hear what you have to say. I reach for a pen and cry myself to sleep, hoping you’ll return again.