We tie hauntings to unfinished business, as if anything in our lives is so pressing that whatever comes next will let us finish it up. The truth is hauntings are real. They are also random, useless, and cruel. Lara Foster is being haunted right now on her way home from work. She knows the ghost. It is her friend Brittany from college. Brittany was hit by a car riding her bike in Denver three years ago. She is now on Lara’s radio, reading a poem.
“I bought a butterfly knife the other day,” it starts, a slight static and pop coming through the speakers. “Named for an animal with no edges.”
Lara is surprised, but she does not recognize this as a haunting. She thinks she must be mishearing, or maybe she just wants to hear Brittany’s voice after a long day and her brain is bending the girl on the radio to sound like her. The denial doesn’t last long as Brittany continues her seemingly unprompted poem.
“My brother has one, he got it from Jordon. All of his friends got it from Jordan or Jordan’s brother. They got them from someplace no one was watching.”
She knows it is Brittany, and Lara begins to have trouble breathing. She reaches to change the station. She is not religious. She has faith that the dead remain dead. This broadcast tests her faith.
“The knife is not to be used unless the unspeakable occurs. Unless someone who he calls shit calls him a shit back.”
Lara doesn’t change the station. If it is Brittany, which it is, why should she try to get rid of her? They lived together for two years in college in the dorms called Fox Hall. Lara passes by the dorms every night coming home from work. They’re about five minutes from where she is now. She had her first drink with Brittany, Southern Comfort out of a coffee cup. They didn’t keep in touch after school. When she heard that she was dead she felt bad. She felt worse that she didn’t feel all that bad. She should have gone to the funeral, but it’s hard to get someone to cover shifts and a plane ticket on such short notice. Death is like that.
“I’ve lived with him long enough to know I shouldn’t pray that he won’t take it out in the parking lot behind the gas station that closed because kids kept hanging around.”
Lara pulled over. She was crying now, crying more than she had when she found out Brittany died. She hadn’t cried at all then. She had told her husband and he had said he was sorry and they sat on the couch for a while before going out for drinks and not talking about it anymore. Lara was now saying she was sorry to the radio. Brittany’s only response was to continue the poem.
“I pray instead that the other boy will back down. That they will both surrender at the same time, walking away to the great relief of everyone there and not there.”
Lara was sorry. Sorry for the last five years when she only thought of Brittany when someone else brought her up. Sorry that she was alive and Brittany was not. Sorry that she got to drive and cry and listen to the radio and Brittany had to do with the unknown that surely didn’t have any of these things. Lara was sorry that this is what happened when you died. You had to stay and haunt the people who were too selfish to say goodbye properly. You had to stay with people who ignored death so completely that they couldn’t feel it when it brushed up against them.
“You just have to get out, get out and stay out, just like they always told you to.”
There was a silence after that line. Lara listened, waiting for a message. Waited to be told that it was alright or horrible. Waited to be told Brittany was in a better place or nowhere. She wanted something, something addressed to her from the other side. She wanted something that would confirm that she was good or bad enough to be addressed by a ghost on her way home from work. Brittany didn’t answer. Instead a man’s voice appeared. Calm, professional, normal, it spoke to her and anyone else who was listening.
“You’re listening to 97.4, Hamilton State College radio. This is Retro Week, celebrating the alumni that made this station great. You just heard a poem by Britney Lima recorded for the Class of 2007s poetry week. We celebrate Brittany, and all the alums of Hamilton State.”