I looked at Jakob.
“Are you coming with me?”
He shook his head. “I don’t want to press my luck. But I’ll see you again.”
“Anytime I want?” I asked.
He pursed his lips in concern. “I’ll let you know first, how about that?”
He sounded uneasy, like there was something he wasn’t telling me, but I was so tired from getting all the other information out of him. There had to be some secrets left and I was OK with that.
I was OK with everything now. I was pregnant after all.
With a small wave, I held my breath as a precaution and stepped through the pressured air until I was engulfed by cold and snow and exhaust and colorful books that lay at my feet.
I turned around to see a car putter past the alley. That was it.
Jakob ended up being right about everything he warned me about. It started with the increased abilities, these changes in myself. Before visiting the Otherside, I was vaguely aware of the world around me. Oh, I paid attention all right, but never enough attention it seemed, for now I was seeing ghosts everywhere. But perhaps it wasn’t a matter of my eyes opening, maybe I was giving off a stronger energy now that I had been to their world and back.
Either way, it didn’t matter. There were ghosts where there weren’t ghosts before. No longer did I contend with random boys in my classroom or drowned girls, but people, all the time, from all walks of life. They never approached me or talked to me, but they watched me. They always watched me.
I don’t have to tell you both how god damn unnerving that is. It was no wonder that my sanity would crumble one day and crumble it did. Another point for Jakob’s perceptiveness.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here, as we all know how that story ends. The visit to the Otherside brought about seeing ghosts but it also brought about a strange…I don’t know the term for it. Kinetic ability? I found that under periods of extreme duress, I was able to manipulate objects by my emotions. One day, after a particularly rough fight with Ludie, I thought about smashing the plates in my kitchen. I was so unbelievably mad. The next thing I knew, the plates in the good China cabinet came crashing down. At first the actions were uncontrollable and random but as the years went on, I began to assert some aspect of power over them. They were still unpredictable when my emotions were high, but when I was calm I could do minor things like move chairs and make books float in the air. It was a rather pointless ability to me, but it was mine now.
Of course, the other things that Jakob was right about were more life-altering. I could handle ghosts and rattling pans, but I couldn’t handle Ludie when he skipped out on our life together.
I know I shouldn’t have been surprised, but there was a part of me that wanted to prove Jakob wrong, and desperately so. I wanted Ludie to love me like I had him, but his heart was no magnet at all. When I told Ludie I was pregnant and that I was going to keep the baby, he withdrew from me. At first he told me that he would be there for me, support me emotionally as he assumed I would still be with Karl and raising it with him. But when I said to Ludie that I was going to admit to our affair and request a divorce from dear Karl, he panicked. Ludie loved me but only in that noncommittal way that suited his lifestyle just fine.
When I was seven months pregnant, Ludie sent a letter to my house. I cried and cried as I read it at the kitchen table, grateful that Karl wasn’t home. Ludie told me he had found work in a popular off-Broadway play in New York and that he was going. In fact, as I read the letter, I realized he was already there. He signed off by saying he’d think of me always and our child, but that he was doing the right thing. He would go and make more money, get famous, and come back for us one day.
I don’t need to tell you that the one day never came.
The only thing that kept me going during this time, this second round of heartbreak, was looking after the baby and waiting for her to be born. I had decided to call her Ingrid, after Karl’s mother. It was the least I could do, considering she wouldn’t ever be his child.
Did Karl ever suspect? I am sure he did. Looking back, he had to have known I was having an affair. Near the end I was quite careless and on the days when I had been with Ludie, I noticed Karl could barely look me in the eyes. And of course when Ingrid was born, that was another sign right there. Ingrid had pale blonde hair and bright blue eyes, just like Ludie. She was a gorgeous, lithe-like creature and grew to have no resemblance to Karl at all.
But Karl, good, sweet Karl, he never said anything to me and he loved Ingrid as if she was his own. When he was around, he would dote on her as often as he could.
However, because there was an extra mouth in the family to feed now and caviar wasn’t what it used to be, especially when a company such as IKEA opened up, Karl had to start another business (marine instruments) and spent the majority of his time working. He felt bad for never being around and told me we could hire a nanny, but I didn’t want to do that. Ingrid was all I had and I wanted to spend every minute with her, doing everything for her that I could.
Oh, I loved that girl so much. She was so beautiful that people would stop on the streets and stare at her. I couldn’t help but marvel at her big sapphire eyes, her perfect nose, heart-shaped face and high cheekbones. Her hair was white blonde and stick straight with just the right amount of thickness and shine. She was stunning, just as her father was, and I dressed her in outfits I created myself, indulging in my wardrobe cravings again.
Ingrid was the belle of the ball and fairly smart too. But there was something about her that was slightly off-putting. I felt just the tiniest bit afraid of her. It was completely irrational, but there were times that Ingrid would look at me, even at four years old, and I felt…judged. It was as if she was looking down at me, at her own mother. At other times, it’s like I wouldn’t even show up on her radar and she was looking through me, as if I were a ghost.
Sometimes I would lie in bed at night and wonder why I never saw any love from her eyes. Ingrid seemed to take interest and delight in other things. She liked fashion and must have gotten that from me. She liked being on her father’s knee and pretending she was riding a pony. She had friends, she giggled over boys and laughed at cartoons. But when it came to me, it was like a switch went off. Smiles disappeared, laughter stopped. Oh, she was a polite girl because I raised her to be and she would talk with me about her day and tell me stories. But she was missing something crucial. She was missing the mother/daughter connection.
Because of this, I often wondered if something had gone wrong with her. I thought about accessing the Thin Veil and seeking out Jakob, asking what he knew. The pregnancy had been fine, Ingrid seemed like a normal girl with everyone except me. Just because I hadn’t experienced the dangers, I never saw any demons or monsters coming for her, did it mean she emerged unscathed? Or was she cursed in some way to never love me?
Perhaps it was none of those things and I was just unlovable. I never did find out. I just had to accept it was the way it was. Some girls never had a close relationship with their mother and that seemed to be the case with Ingrid and I.
As she grew up and became a young lady, I wondered if perhaps did have some things in common.
One day when she was eleven, we were strolling down a busy shopping street and enjoying the sunshine. I spoiled Ingrid rotten and gave her everything she asked for. On this particular day, she wanted to get new headbands because there was some boy in her class she wanted to impress.
I obliged, of course, and as we were coming out of a store, I decided to test something on her.
“Ingrid,” I said and pointed across the street to where an old man was leaning against a shop window. He had blank eyes with no pupils and was absently twirling a pocketwatch. “Do you see that man over there?”
She looked, squinted, then shook her head. “What man?”
My heart sank. “The man twirling the pocketwatch, leaning against the window.”
She gave me a funny look. “Are you drunk mama?”
“Ingrid,” I admonished her. “Of course not.”
“But there’s no one there,” she said smartly. “So you must be drunk or crazy.”
I narrowed my eyes at her and looked back at the man. I was foolish to test my theory. Of course there was someone there, but he was dead. Ingrid couldn’t see him. She wasn’t special like me.
That should have made me feel better, but it only made me feel alone.
“Never mind,” I said to her and pulled her along to keep walking.
“You’re often drunk and crazy,” she said in a sing-songy voice.
I stopped, my breath paused, placed my hands on her slight shoulders and turned her to face me.
“Why do you say that?” I asked uneasily, leaning over a bit so I was more at her level.
She rolled her eyes, a gesture I found infuriating. “Because you are. I hear you all the time, telling people to go away, or acting like things are coming after you. There’s never anything there.”
A flush crept on to my cheeks and I straightened up. “Don’t lie, sweetie.”
“I’m not lying!’” She pouted. “You scare me mama, you always do. You see things that aren’t there. You’re like those people in the crazy places. Perhaps we should lock you up there one day.”
To hear those words coming out of my daughter’s mouth hurt me more than anything in the world. She said them with such venom, such hatred. I wondered what I ever did wrong, why I deserved to be treated like this by someone whom I did nothing but love.
“You will do no such thing, Ingrid,” I whispered, straightening out my dress. “You will love me as I love you.”
“You love me too much,” she replied under her breath. It surprised me. I opened my mouth to say something but her eyes lit up at the sight of another clothing store. “Oooh, I must go in there! I saw a darling dress that Erika was wearing the other day and I need one much better.”
She took off for the store and I was left on the street. It took all of my strength to not collapse into a heap of tears.
As much as it hurt to hear my little darling daughter tell me those things, she was right. I was losing it. The ghosts became more and more frequent and whereas they used to just watch me, now they were stalking me. Talking to me. Touching me.
I tried to ignore them but it often made things worse. There was an old Asian lady with bound feet who would appear in my bathroom while I was in the tub and she would take all my items off the shelves and the medicine cabinet and throw them in the bath with me. I would scream and I’d hear Ingrid telling me to shut up, or Karl would pound on the door and demand to know what was going on.
Sometimes there was a little boy of about five or six who had half his face blown off by a shotgun accident. He would appear before me during my morning coffee, often sitting in the chair across from me and whining about how his brother knew where their father had hidden the gun and that he wanted to play with it.
One time I was felt up by a greasy-haired man in tight pants. He smelt like sewage, had coal black eyes and freezing cold fingers that rammed themselves up my skirt during a ferry voyage to the Åland Islands. It took all my self-control not to scream but even then I could tell the people around me were getting concerned.
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