Death was not quite how I imagined it would be.
As a life-long atheist, I’d pictured instant oblivion – a never-ending sleep with no consciousness of anything on earth or in heaven. Not this.
“Breakfast!” My landlady’s shouts rocket me awake. “Come and get it! And don’t come moanin’ and hauntin’ me with your grumbling belly if you miss out!”
I climb out of bed, in my private room, in this two-storey mint-green house (strange colour choice, I know), full of old world charm and ghosts. Located in a northern suburb of Sydney, Australia, the house looks like any other on the street. Only the uncut grass (ghosts don’t do lawns!), surfeit of spiders’ webs, and strange percussive sounds emanating from the upper rooms at night give any clue that the house is haunted. We never stay too long in one place. Last month, we haunted an abandoned house near Reykjavik, Iceland, with views of blue ice and grey whales.
My room is simple – bed, mirror, sink, old-fashioned trunk and use of a shared bathroom (which cleans itself – a heavenly touch.). It’s for short stays. More permanent residents have bigger spaces, sumptuous sofas, waterfall taps. How do we all fit into an ordinary suburban house? It seems ghosts take up whatever space they need – in some kind of Tardis-like afterlife magic, as far as I can figure.
All the guests here are In-betweeners – souls suspended somewhere between life and the afterlife. In our backyard are two wooden doors – one dark-toned, one light. We’ll all pass through one of these before our journey is done. Which door, and when? That is the question.
But we can’t go through either, until those who love us, still among the living, are prepared to let us go.
“Mornin’ Cassidy!” says the landlady, Maz – short for Marilyn. “A great day to be not-quite-dead, ain’t it.”
The sky is blue. There’s a hint of jasmine on the breeze. Rainbow lorikeets flit around the branches of a tree outside my window. Not so bad.
I arrived in this realm one night after a long week of work when I fell asleep at the wheel of my car and ploughed, head-on, into a truck.
Cassidy Braithwaite. Loving daughter of Charles and Lena Braithwaite. Treasured fiancé to Vaughan Gallagher. Taken too soon, the headstone said.
Time is fuzzy here, but I’d guess that was around six months ago. Since then, I’ve become part of this community of souls, in a halfway house between life and death, awaiting eternal placement through one door or … the other.
“You look a little pale today, Hon.” Maz peers at my face. “You feelin’ okay?”
“Fine!” I say.
“Well, enjoy the day as if it was your last. Because one day…”
We say it together: “… it will be!”
Maz winks and clicks her tongue, tucking a strand of wavy blonde hair beneath her sailor’s cap.
Breakfast is the usual crazy buffet. The rock stars – and there’s a lot of them here – start with vodka and orange, followed by rocky road chocolate smothered with marshmallows and Turkish delight. Elvis breakfasts on lobster thermidor and chips the size of doorstops. David Bowie has cappuccino and Italian donuts.
Movie stars generally eat leaner. Humphrey Bogart has ham and eggs, Lauren Bacall, watercress soup. Many of the starlets I recognise from old films stick with black coffee – more from habit than concern about their weight. Everyone in this place stays looking the way they did at their best during the living years.
Shakespeare nibbles an apple as he works on a new play, his quill tucked behind his ear. He calls Maz over to read lines whenever he wants to hear how they flow.
It’s a lively, loud community with music, monologues and mania. New people come and go all the time. Few politicians or lawyers spend much time here – some people are easier to let go of than others. But famous actors and musicians, still held close in many living hearts, stick around much longer. Some may never leave.
“Saved you a seat!” Franklin Kent, my halfway house friend, sits at the quieter end of the table. A rock star in the 60s, with twilight blue eyes, and dark hair, shiny as a shampoo ad, Franklin had one song that was a very big hit. After that he slipped into obscurity and eventually died, penniless, in a condemned building in his 50s. He played his hit song for me once … Meh! Still, someone obviously liked it enough to keep him here all this time.
“So what shall we do today?” Franky asks. “Feel like spooking a few churches, give the old pastors a thrill? Or shall we visit our enemies, whisper sour nothings in their ears and make them spill their cappuccinos.”
He grins and a dimple appears in his right cheek, giving me a hint of why teenage girls and guys used to weep and faint at his concerts.
“Any of your enemies still above ground must surely be in nursing homes,” I say, “and we ought to leave the poor blighters alone. Anyway, shouldn’t we be thinking of good deeds to raise our profile with”–I point upwards–”and move us closer to the right door.”
“Ah, but which door is the right one?” Franky whispers. “Not sure any of these rock stars will think an eternity of harp music such a great prospect.”
“You two behave now, won’t you?” Maz winks as we depart. “Never know who’s watching!”
“Marilyn dear! I nee-eed you!” Shakespeare trills.
“Coming, Will!” Maz shrugs. “For my sins!” She heads over to confer with the Bard.
As I raise my hand in farewell, Franky grabs my arm and holds it up to the light, his expression grim. He doesn’t need to say it. My arm, my whole body, is more transparent today than it was yesterday. We both know what that means.
My fiancé, Vaughan, is preparing to move on.
“I really thought he loved me,” I shout to Franky as we float above the highrise buildings and stunning harbour of Sydney.
“He did. He does,” Franky insists. “This doesn’t mean he’s forgotten you. You’re still in his heart.”
“It’s that woman he met at the client party. I knew it! Cheating bastard.”
“Shhhh!” Franky points upwards in warning.
“I don’t care who hears!” I shout as I dive head-first between the office buildings and begin swooping in and out of the city traffic. The cool wind feels good on my face. A car’s brakes screech behind me – one of the more ghost-aware drivers has detected my presence. I look back and see Franky shaking his head in disapproval.
“I would never have let him go so quickly,” I yell over the traffic noise.
“And that would be good, how?” Franky demands, catching up. “Do you want to stay in the halfway house forever?”
Franky grips my hand, and leads me through the maze of city streets to a park overlooking Sydney harbour and the Opera House, where he deposits me on the grass.
“It’s all right for you,” I say. “You sing one song in your twenties, and people love you eternally. You get heaps of time to build up your goodwill points.”
“Maybe,” Franky leans back, head on his hands. “But I was a rock star. Lots of drugs, and meaningless sex. I have a lot of catching up to do.”
I huff and lop off the head of a purple agapanthus flower nearby. Because I can. Franky taught me how to ‘contact’ earthly things. And I’m getting quite good at it. Though, strictly speaking, we’re not supposed to touch anything outside the house.
“And the fans don’t ‘love’ me the way Vaughan loves you,” he says. “They don’t know me. If they did know the real me … well, I would have shot through the doorway to the dark place decades ago.”
Unable to stay still, I levitate and drift about, eavesdropping on earthly conversations. A mum playing I Spy with her kid. A man getting heated on a business call. I catch a snippet of romance by the pond.
“I adore you,” a chunky man in his twenties tells a woman, stroking her dark hair. They drift forward to kiss, but I zoom between them, screeching: “He says that now! But as soon as another hot girl or guy comes along, he’ll forget all about you!”
The lovers rear back in confusion. “Your lips are ice cold,” the woman says, touching her mouth.
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake!!” Franky seizes my arm and hauls me into the clouds, so fast I think I might throw up. Given I don’t have any stomach contents, that would be quite an achievement.
“Don’t throw away points like that, Cassidy! You’re acting like a spoilt child!”
I pout and try to pull away, but he keeps hold of me as we float back to the ground, to an empty bus-stop I know well – because it was the one nearest the apartment where I lived with Vaughan.
“Why don’t we go see your fiancé,” Franky says. “Find out what’s happening.”
“But you have to stay calm. Promise?”
Moonlight spills through partly open blinds revealing a modern apartment with a plethora of framed pictures of Vaughan and me. One picture, I note, is slightly askew. I use my ‘contact’ skills to fix it.
“What are you doing?” Franky whispers.
“Just tidying up. Why are we whispering?”
A male voice echoes along the hallway. Like seaweed on a stream, we drift through the air, into Vaughan’s bedroom. He’s on his usual side of the bed, in a circle of lamplight as he talks on the phone.
“All right, just a couple of drinks then… Marble Bar, six o’clock? Okay. I’m looking forward to it, too.”
As he hangs up, he has this self-satisfied look on his face. I catch a glimpse of a woman’s picture on the phone screen. Too smiley. Too pretty. Too alive.
“CHEATER!” I hurl at him.
Vaughan gasps and looks around, holding his breath as his eyeballs swivel in their sockets.
“Did he hear me?” I whisper.
Franky signals that I should follow him out and back to the living room.
“He can sense you,” he says. “When you’ve had a strong connection during life, there is sometimes a lingering intra-dimensional awareness.”
“Did you see his face when he was talking to her?” I study my arm in the darkness. “I feel more like the invisible woman every second.”
“Don’t you want him to move on, Cassidy? Have a life, some happiness, while he’s still among the living?”
“Yes, of course, but…” I sigh as I try to order my thoughts. “I just thought it would last longer … the love we had. I still feel it. Why doesn’t he?”
Franky presses his lips together but stays quiet.
“I guess I’m not ready … to let him go,” I admit.
Franky nods, sadly, before exiting through the brick wall – which still freaks me out. I do the same and we drift through the air, like two clouds, surfing the breeze.
“Hmmm. They’re meeting at the Marble Bar,” I say. “I know where that is.”
Franky’s dark brows form a tight single line. “Not a good idea, Cassie.”
“Neither was driving home when I was so tired after that monster week at work. But I did it anyway. Because I wanted to see Him. Vaughan. The love of my life.”
I died for him. I figure he owes me a smidge more than six months of grieving.
The next night, Franky accompanies me to witness Vaughan’s first date since my death. Despite my strong suggestions that ‘I’ll be fine on my own!’ and attempts to give him the slip on the way there, Franky’s Hell-bent on keeping watch over me.
It’s Friday evening and the Marble Bar is buzzing with city workers celebrating the end of the business week. Men in suits and women in skirts and high heels slurp down alcohol in the dazzling rococo room – all marble and gold, with leadlights in the ceiling. I double take when I get my first glimpse in a mirror behind the bar and see everything in the room perfectly reflected back, except Franky and me.
“Yeah, a bit weird, that,” Franky says, noting my expression. “Not sure I’ll ever get used to it.”
Vaughan’s already perched on a barstool. It was always his habit to arrive early; he never wanted anyone to be uncomfortable, wondering if he’d show.
He’s nervous, slurping his beer and trying to read the news on his phone as his gaze ricochets back to the entry. Looking for Her.
A cluster of backs block his view as she comes in. And, suddenly, she’s right there, in front of him. He gives her a way too big smile – revealing, at least to me, that he’s nervous. His uneasiness doesn’t recede when she sits down.
“Well, this is … awkward,” Franky says, watching the pair make stilted small talk. Vaughan’s hands can’t settle; he’s probably craving a cigarette to make himself appear more at ease, though he gave up smoking years ago.
“I can’t watch this,” Franky says. “I think I’ll give them some space. Over there. Wanna join?”
“No, I’m good.”
Floating through the crowd – and I do mean through the crowd – Franky leans on the bar next to a stunning redhead sitting alone. She’s not young – late 30s or even early 40s is my guess – but she definitely has something. Guts to come on her own, for one. And a style born of confidence. Is that Franky’s type?
He moves behind her and gently blows on her neck. The few strands of hair that have escaped her stylish chignon dance about. Patting them down, the woman glances around suspiciously.
Franky leans on his elbow making gooey eyes at her. “Where have you been all my life? And Death,” he says.
“Wow that line is so old … almost as old as you,” I call out.
Franky scratches his cheek, middle finger up, for my benefit.
“Okay, then,” he begins again. “How about …What’s a nice girl like you doing in a …?” He stops, looks around, frowns. “What am I saying? This is a nice place, you definitely fit in here.”
“But who let you in?” I shout. From this angle, Franky’s eyes are full of reflected light; they seem so alive, it’s hard to believe he’s not.
“I’m glad you came out tonight.” Words from Vaughan’s date – Brittany – call me back to the reason I’m here.
“I’m glad I came, too.” Vaughan replies. Lame, lame. I almost want to coach him to a better response.
“I didn’t think you would.” Brittany sips her Kir Royale, a sparkling red concoction in a champagne glass.
“Well, it’s just a couple of drinks.”
From the tight smile Brittany gives, I see she’s disappointed; she was hoping for more. I smell her perfume – too much – and note her perfect nails, and make-up. I’m betting she’s wearing shapewear to hold her stomach flat, too. She’s gone all out tonight. Like a fisherman who preps his boat and supplies carefully before going after a big catch. She’s a predator, I decide. Not right for him.
Vaughan keeps looking around, brow creased, as if he senses me here.
“Are you expecting someone?” Brittany asks.
“Step back,” Franky shouts. “Give him some room.”
I take a small step away and give my friend my innocent-not innocent smile in response. He shakes his head slowly in warning.
After the first glass, things loosen up between Vaughan and Brittany. They manage to have an animated conversation about holidays. When she says she’d like to go to Croatia, he freezes.
“Have you been there?” she asks.
“Yeah,” he says. With me. “It’s lovely.” We had one of our best holidays there. Brittany waits for him to say more, but the conversation stops cold.
Meanwhile, Franky is reading the phone screen over the redhead’s shoulder, his hand resting on her arm. Almost as if she detects something, she puts her hand over his. The two of them look quite cosy together.
“Back off Romeo!” I call out.
He winks and continues to read. Which I find unaccountably irritating.
My ghostly hackles rise further as Brittany raises the subject of Vaughan “losing someone close.” He stares fixedly into his glass, a muscle twitching along his jawline as he clenches his teeth.
Finally, he says: “I’d rather not talk about it, if that’s okay?”
“Sure, no worries.”
I almost feel sorry for Her. Until I realise that I’ve now been dispensed with as a topic. Forgotten. The mood eases between them, their unspoken agreement that there’ll be no more talk of the dead; it’s time to focus on the living.
“What do you say, we leave them to it?” Franky is back at my shoulder.
I watch Brittany laughing and wonder how many sets of braces it took to get her teeth looking that perfect.
“You thirsty?” I ask Franky. “Because I am.”
Brittany has a fresh glass and I really fancy a taste. (For some reason, we only have beer and whisky at the Halfway House.) I position my face over her glass and look up at Franky, who watches darkly. Then I use all my ghostly focus and contact powers to slurp up a huge sip. I drain a third of the glass in one sip, too fast – some of it goes up my nose. I giggle and wipe it away.
“That’s funny,” Brittany says, looking at her drink. “I could have sworn I had a full glass.”
That makes me laugh even harder. Franky doesn’t seem amused. Not then. Nor when I wave my arm, the way he taught me, and knock her drink all over her.
“What the-?” Brittany looks around for someone to blame, but no one’s there. “I’m not sure how that happened …” she wipes drink from her clothes. “I’ll just … I’ll be back.” She heads to the bathroom.
“What did that achieve?” Franky folds his arms, annoyed.
“It made me feel good.”
“What about Vaughan? Does he feel good?”
My fiancé appears less than relaxed as he takes up his phone and looks at a picture of the two of us together.
“Yes!” I fist-pump the air. “He still wants me!”
He looks at a few more pics, then puts the phone down and glances towards the bathroom.
“Don’t stop! There’s more!” I shout at him. “What about the Croatian pics? Why don’t you check them out?”
I hold my arm up to the light. It’s fainter than before.
“I guess the date’s going better than I thought,” I say. “What do I do?”
“I could boost up his memories of you,” Franky says. “That will give you a little more time to get your head around this.”
“Really?” I nod.
Franky stands in front of Vaughan, closes his eyes, takes a breath and gently exhales. Eventually, he’s expelling grey smoke, which envelops Vaughan completely. When the mist clears, Vaughan rubs his eyes and picks up the phone, scrolling in earnest through pictures of the two of us.
But they don’t make him happy. He seems more disturbed than ever. Breathing heavily, he glances toward the powder room and leaves.
I’m shocked. He’d never leave anyone hanging like that! I’m not sure how I feel about it.
When Brittany returns, she finds his empty seat and a fifty dollar bill on the bar for drinks.
“Fuck!” she says, which makes me smile.
“Our work here is done.”
The next morning, I’m whole again. As solid as the rock stars howling into their mugs and drumming on the breakfast setting.
“Morning honey,” says Maz. “Another beautiful day … to be halfway.”
Hungrier than usual, I order eggs and toast. It’s delicious. Even the usual morning racket today seems amusing when I’m usually tearing my hair out by now.
Franky seems quiet. “Good to have you back,” he whispers.
“Good to be back,” I say. “She wasn’t right for him.”
“Probably not,” Franky agrees. “But I guess we’ll never know now, will we?”
I ask him what he did last night to boost up Vaughan’s memories of me. At first he doesn’t want to tell me, but I keep at him. I’m no quitter.
“I just shared some images of you with him,” he says. “The way your hair looks with a backdrop of stars. How your eyes swirl like the Milky Way when you’re happy. How your laughter sounds like the cascade of coins into a poker machine tray when you’ve had a big win.”
I’m a ghost, but I still feel kind of funny at the moment.
“You know,” he adds, “soppy stuff to stimulate the romantic memories.”
Soppy stuff? I nod.
“Franky, Cassie, want a part in a play?” Maz calls out. Shakespeare is coaching Maz in a monologue from his new work (with a woman in the lead).
“We don’t want to show you up,” Franky says.
“In your dreams,” Maz winks.
“Marilyn, focus,” says Shakespeare. “Now in this scene, the woman is fighting the whole patriarchy. But does she back down? No. She’s prepared to die for the principles she believes in.”
Wow! I have goosebumps… which, for a ghost, is really something!
“You know in the time when I was popular …” Franky begins.
“For five minutes …” I clarify.
“Well, in those five minutes, a famous director asked me to play Romeo in a film.”
“Yeah. But I was such an arrogant pratt, I didn’t even show up for the audition.”
Franky as Romeo? He certainly had the look, or so his fans would say.
“Shall we look in on Vaughan, this evening?” he asks.
As night descends, we return to the flat. Vaughan’s sitting up at the breakfast bar, scrolling through pictures of us. He must have started straight after work because he’s still in his suit, though he’s thrown his tie on the floor. I always hated him doing that.
He looks perturbed as he scrolls, but stops and smiles at an image of us swimming in the clear Adriatic sea. I bet he’s remembering the funny little man who insisted on taking our photo that day. The guy was so old and quirky, it was hard to believe he’d ever seen a mobile phone, much less knew how to use one. But he took heaps of shots and they turned out to be some of the best of the holiday. Vaughan and I both chuckle at the same time.
“I’ll wait outside,” says Franky, “give you two some privacy.”
My fiancé tenses and looks around the room, as if he’s heard something.
“Why did you leave me?” he whispers.
“I didn’t want to,” I said. “I still don’t.”
He gulps down the rest of his wine and refills the glass with the little that’s left in the bottle. “Why?” he says more loudly. Demanding an answer.
For a moment the barrier between our worlds feels gossamer thin. He fixes his intense gaze on me, as if he sees me there.
“There’s no answer! There’s no reason. It just happened,” I say.
“There has to be an answer!” he shouts.
The ting of an incoming phone message breaks the spell. He snaps the phone up. It’s from Brittany.
-Just checking you’re okay?
-Sorry about last night, he types.
-Was it something I said?
-No. I had an emergency.
He flings the phone onto the sofa and gulps down more wine. Then starts to open another bottle.
“Haven’t you had enough?” I say.
He turns to me. “Don’t you start! I’m just getting started!”
There’s no talking to him when he’s like this. His sweet, easy-going nature turns sour and incendiary.
I can’t watch this.
I head back through the wall and find Franky waiting at the edge of the bay. The water is still tonight. And really dark. Is it that dark behind the second door?
“Thought you’d be a while longer” he said.
“I’ll go back when he’s run out of wine.”
Franky raises his eyebrow and nods.
“She texted him,” I say.
“Really? Few choice words, I imagine, for standing her up?”
“No, she seemed quite calm.” Calmer than I would have been.
“We might need to boost up his memories of you again,” says Franky. “But it works best if he’s asleep, so … shall we come back later?”
Will we have to do this every night? I wonder. To stop me winking out like a burnt-out star.
“And in the meantime…!” Franky grins mischievously and shoots off, a silver streak against the liquorice sky. I follow.
He heads towards the city at speed, making his way to the busy bars around Circular Quay.
“What are we–”
Diving down to ground level, he zooms right through a group of drunken men in suits, before flying up again, clutching a wallet.
“You picked someone’s pocket?”
Franky grabs a wad of cash, then drops the wallet. The guys below snatch it up. “Steve, found your wallet!”
“What do you want money for? We can’t spend it!” I say.
“We can’t, but …”
Franky’s off again. I follow him to a city park where a homeless woman is bunking down on a bench, surrounded by plastic bags.
“Hey!” he calls, letting a couple of large notes flutter down like snowflakes, to land at her feet. She picks up the money, looks up and smiles.
“Can she see us?”
He just keeps flying. I try to keep up.
It’s a wild night. We make more ‘magic’ money-drops at several places. When he sees a man sitting alone on a bench, he swoops down and sits beside him. Just sits, sharing the silence. It’s weird, but somehow I can sense the guy’s sadness ebbing. “Is that you, Evelyn?” The man strains to see through the air.
We fly over the city, observing life beneath us. A small girl points upwards. “Look mummy, those people are flying.”
“Kids and dogs can sense things others don’t,” Franky says. “Want an ice cream?”
At a late-night stall, a buyer reaches for a pink cone, but Franky whips it out of his grasp. The man and the seller look up. “Wow! Did you see that! The wind just took it!”
“Must be some strong updraft!”
Franky lets some cash drop. The seller catches it. “The wind taketh and it giveth too!”
I can’t stop laughing. This is the most fun I’ve had since … ever.
“Isn’t haunting meant to be scary?” I splutter.
“Depends on the ghost.”
We fly down to a party on a boat on Sydney Harbour, and bop away to some wild music. As Franky sings along with a song, I wince. “And you used to be a pop star?” I shake my head. “I guess it was the sixties!”
“Come here you!”
He chases me around the deck. I laugh and whoop and somehow manage to knock a pink cocktail off a tray. The waiter looks around, spooked, as he tries to figure out how that happened.
“Oops!” I say.
“Wanna have some real fun?” Franky asks, darting off before I answer. We head out to the Sydney casino, making straight for a busy roulette table.
Franky goes round the table studying each player. “Who do you like?”
“What do you mean? Who do I think will win?”
“No, who do you like?”
I pick a middle-aged guy, down on his luck. He places his last chip on the number 7.
“Watch this,” says Franky. The silver ball rolls around and stops, and Franky quickly snatches it up and moves it to number 7.
“Yes!” The man goes wild as chips pile up in front of him. “Let it ride! I’m feeling lucky tonight!”
We both shake our heads but don’t wait to see what happens.
“Not sure you did that guy a favour,” I say as we fly back over the harbour.
“Vaughan’s probably sleeping now,” Franky says. “We can do the smoke if you like.”
Vaughan? I’d almost forgotten about him.
We fly across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. From up above, the rows of cars resemble a Motherboard, with colourful pieces fitted together on a metal grid. Then we head west.
Passing through the warm brick walls of Vaughan’s flat, we find my fiancé face-down on the floor, whimpering. His glass of red wine has spilt and soaked into the pale carpet. Images of us are playing on a slideshow on his TV screen.
Franky and I sit on the sofa and watch the moments of our lives scroll by. Of Vaughan and me on holidays. At my birthday party with friends. Celebrating after he’d won a big case. On a weekend in the Hunter Valley vineyards where we first said the ‘L’ word to each other.
“You had fun together,” says Franky. “I never had anyone … special … like that. I was too cool for just one person. Had to spread the love.” The words don’t go with his tone of self-loathing.
“Yeah, we were lucky,” I say.
“But at least I never had to say goodbye to anyone I loved.”
I squat down and look at Vaughan, red in the face, teeth wine-stained, murmuring ‘Why?’ over and over.
Concentrating, I manage to gently stroke his hair. It seems to comfort him. “There’s no reason. Just bad luck.”
“Something tells me he won’t need any more reminders of you tonight,” Franky says.
Near Vaughan’s hand on the floor is his mobile phone, and the last text he typed. Still waiting to go.
Franky squats down to read it. “It’s to Brittany.”
-Sorry, can’t meet you. Too soon. Please don’t call again.
My ghost friend’s expression is serious. “Shall I press Send?”
Seeing Vaughan like this makes me feel so ashamed. Of myself. For choosing this for him. For someone I loved. Love. Will always love. But no matter how much I still feel it, and want it to continue, it can’t.
Franky’s distracted by the pictures on the screen. He smiles at a couple of me and Vaughan with his sister’s French bulldog. Then turns his watery eyes to me, more earnest than I’ve seen him: “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
We had fun tonight, Franky and I. It doesn’t mean I love Vaughan any less. It’s just adjusting to a new reality. Moving on. He needs to move on. And so do I.
“Is there any way to undo the smoke thing you did?” I ask. “Reverse it. Make him forget me more quickly?”
“I can dim his memories of you.” Franky grasps my hand. “But I could never make him forget you, Cassie. No matter what else happens, who he’s with, part of you will always be with him. Here.” He touches his chest. “Just as he’ll always be with you.”
I kneel down over the phone and focus my ghostly powers on the keyboard – deleting his message to Brittany and composing a different one.
-Let’s try again. Promise I won’t run away.
Franky is unusually still as he watches me. “Are you sure?”
I nod. Then lean down and whisper in Vaughan’s ear: “Goodbye, my love.” I manage to graze his cheek with my ghost lips.
Then I hit Send.
I’m almost invisible now. More a suggestion of a spook than an actual spectre. I watch Will Shakespeare rehearse the new play with Maz. The two of them get pretty fired up and shout a lot over artistic differences, but it’s worth it for Maz’s performance, which is transcendent. I always knew she had it in her.
Meanwhile, Frank Sinatra is giving my Franky singing lessons —which, in my opinion, he needs. Though, as I watch him sing the Sinatra song I’ve Got You Under My Skin, I feel ghostly tears cooling my cheeks.
“Can we fly around a bit more?” I ask. One last time.
He takes me to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge where we sit on the highest platform and take in the sweep of the sparkling harbour. I inhale the cool air, a potpourri of sea and car fumes in the deep twilight of the evening. Around us, city lights wink on like fairy fires in the tall buildings. We look down at a super long staircase, where a new group of bridge climbers is just getting started.
“And we didn’t have to walk up all those steps to get here,” he says.
“Thank God!” I say with feeling, then slap my hand over my mouth, looking heavenwards. And we giggle like naughty children.
“Did you enjoy the halfway house?” Franky asks.
“Yea-ah. But, you can have too much of a good thing.”
“The morning jazz jams?” he asks.
“Afternoon rock jams?”
“The all-night no-idea-what-I’m-playing jams?”
“And how bad will it be when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards show up?” I ask.
Franky mimes lifting himself up by an invisible noose, tongue out. It makes me smile. He’s learnt a few ghostly tricks in his long stay in between worlds.
“You know, now that I really look at you, I think I remember my Mum had a crush on you when she was young.”
He shrugs. “What’s not to love?”
And then there’s this silence, filled up by a ghostly howl as the wind swirls around us and random voices drift up from the street.
“How long will it be, do you think, before your fans let you go through the door?” I ask.
“My fan,” he corrects me. “Singular. There’s only one left. Betty. She’s 74, lives alone. Has a shrine to my memory. Though it’s really her own memory of happier times she can’t let go of.”
“So why don’t you work the forgetting smoke on her. Then you can move on” – I pause, before adding – “with me.”
I’ll feel a lot braver going through the door, if he’s beside me.
And now I discover that, yes, ghosts can blush.
Franky takes my hand and ghost-kisses it. He’s pretty good at it, so it feels like a normal kiss. “I’d go through any doorway, with you. Dark, light. Whichever one you pass through, is the one for me.”
“So come with me, then.”
He shakes his head sadly: “I can’t take that memory away from Betty. Life’s been no picnic for her. I’m all she has.”
By the time we get back to the house, I’m barely an outline.
And Maz is waiting for me. “It’s time,” she says.
As I head into the garden, I look up at the faces of rock stars, and famous movie stars at the windows, gazing down at me with fear and longing in their eyes. Some of them may never get to this point.
Waiting before the two doors, I take a last glance back at Franky’s window. He waves and winks from above, then opens his window and blows me a kiss. Which I feel.
I touch my cheek. “See you soon,” I whisper.
He might look like the same vain selfish pop star he was back in his time. But he’s long past that.
“Whatever door opens, that’s the one you have to go through,” Maz says.
My mouth is suddenly dry. This is it.
“Don’t worry if the pale door doesn’t open. It’s not the end of the world,” she whispers.
And Marilyn Monroe gives me the incandescent smile which made her so famous, and winks. “Some like it hot.”