Foreseeing & Unseeing
I usually do my grocery shopping on a Tuesday—to avoid the Saturday crowd and the ghosts that cling to weekend routines and recipes for Matzah ball soup. Though, with cucumbers at three dollars a pop, a recession is easily as scary as a scowling, shimmery ghoul floating behind his newlywed fiancé.
The ghost caught my eye as I picked up my shopping cart near the north entrance of my neighbourhood Loblaws. At first, I nearly missed him. My eyes were half-closed, still soaked with sleep and shielded by a pair of my mother’s neglected Chanel sunglasses. Though in my peripheral vision I spotted something too shimmery to be human. He was about 6’4 with cropped hair, fair skin and what looked to be green eyes. His glittery, periwinkle outline danced under the fluorescent lights.
Sometimes I wonder if my abilities have adapted to my laziness. I don’t even have to make eye contact for that silent exchange of history to be passed between us. A rush of images flood into my mind, random and disparate at first. Then come the questions: Did your mother know you were sick? Why did you propose near a woodshed? My senses tell me his name was Max, and the woman he follows is Constantina.
I let the exchange of information play in the background of my mind, and push my cart towards the produce section. As I sort through a mountain of Gala apples, picking the ones with the golden bellies, I watch the ghost linger behind his bride. My senses tell me Max will say something soon. Not out loud of course. I mean, out loud to me, but not out loud to you. You get it. That’s another thing about ghosts:
They don’t always speak aloud, but I always hear them. Be it through our silent exchanges or an icy whisper into my ear.
This is why I prefer shopping on a Tuesday: the living are out making a living and the dead are waiting for them to come home; the malls are empty, the grocery stores are quietly preparing for the weekend rush, and the only things floating in the street are plastic bags and discarded coffee cups. In the right conditions, Serenity will find me. On Tuesday, she is a silence so pure and understanding, so rare and divine. I hit snooze three times and I cherish every minute of her. In the morning she silences the ghosts and gently wakes me with her own song. You’re out of eggs, she sings, the coast is clear.
Though, life happens: Monday to Friday, meetings at work, client engagements, I eat my way through a week’s worth of microwave dinners and find the fridge empty on a Friday. The next day—Saturday—I am awoken by my grandmother’s frosted breath, You need real food, she demands. Knowing her persistence like the back of my hand, I pull on my sweats and say sorry to the songs of Serenity.
Images—once random—pair together and form a sequence. New questions are formed in my mind and I fan them off like flies. Pick your apples and mind your business, I tell myself. Though, my sixth sense can be more persistent than my grandmother. Eyes shielded and still, I watch Max and Constantina in my mind’s eye.
Some of us are haunted more by the present than the past. Some of us live purely in the future. Some of us are privy to planning—every moment meticulously measured, and every minute choreographed and scheduled. Some of us are loyalists, historians, dwellers—those who analyze the days gone, falling down the rabbit hole of alternate endings to stories already told. Some of us linger between now and yesterday, spending our todays and tomorrows pondering the possibility of the impossible—changing what has already happened. Ghosts are like this. Riddled with anxiety, replaying yesterday and refusing tomorrow.
The tragedy of Max’s life flashes before my eyes. I drop a golden Gala and curse under my breath. Life isn’t privy to planning. It doesn’t care about your promises or weekend routines. Things do not go as planned, Max’s wedding for example, and the fact that today is Saturday.
Ghosts are goal-oriented. From what I’ve gathered they are driven by disaster and mishap. I imagine the desire to right wrongs and prevent chaos is incessant, like the eager hand of a know-it-all child when a question is asked.
They don’t want things to go wrong, they tell me. God forbid you to end up like me, they say. Well, you’re dead, I say flatly, and I figure the best survival advice would come from the living.
I can empathize. My sixth sense has a sickening curiosity, and the questions can be maddening. As I made my way through the produce section, I eyed Max and Constantina. There was something about them. Although Constantina remarried three years after Max died, it was as though a bond lingered between them. I mean, naturally. Losing a loved one, a spouse, a soulmate can be earth-shattering. But there was something about the way he lingered behind her as if he were waiting for something. What does he want? Why hasn’t he demanded anything from me yet? What is he planning? I told you, the questions can be maddening.
I push my cart toward the aisle for liquor and sprites. Near the butchers and packaged meats, a twelve-year-old ghost waves me over. She shimmers grey-blue against a background of reflective, red and yellow-white fat. I can only see the top of her; her floating torso wears a plaid blue dress that flares at the waist. My mind tells me she had leukaemia, but died of stomach cancer. Before I turn the corner, I peer at the older brunette woman the girl clings to. My senses tell me this woman is her mother, and without warning, a sequence of images play in my mind. Hospital visits, red eyes in a mirror, a yelling match between her mother and father.
A lump forms in my throat, but I swallow hard and pick up a bottle of Merlot. The twelve-year-old girl, Lucy, is trying to guilt-trip me. These are her images, placed in perfect order to solicit my services. Don’t be fooled; her little slideshow is a coercion tactic.
While the questions form in my mind, I drown them out by reading the label on the closest wine bottle. I fuse Lucy’s sob story with notes of cherry, saffron and tales of the Duckhorn Vineyards. I thank the Universe for long labels and wine snobs, then repeat the words marzipan complexity until the questions fade.
My sixth sense’s questions are quickly replaced by my own. Should I have wine with dinner tonight? Red or white? Pasta or risotto? Have I mentioned that the cirrhosis that killed my father wakes him from the dead anytime I come home smelling of white wine, Charlie shooters and 12 vodka sodas? Last year after Emily’s bachelorette party I found him in my study, arms crossed and seated at my desk.
You shouldn’t drink so much, he said gently.
How the tables have turned, I sang to him, clasping my hands together. Death has made you soft, Daddy. Where’s the man who shared his hangover cures?
His face softened with guilt, He’s dead.
Guilt is a dirty emotion. I round the corner into the aisle of powder detergent and dish soap. I find Constantina scoping out laundry detergents. I can’t tell who sensed whom first, but Max can feel me watching him.
If I wash my darks with my lights, I will definitely find my grandmother brooding near the laundry room window, waiting until the end of the spin cycle before pestering me with correctives.
She’s a Tide girl, I begin. I never would have guessed. I prefer Woolite.
I imagine you do, he replies with a British twang, even black clothing gets dirty.
You’re English. And rude.
You’re a medium.
I could feel his icy glare piercing into me. As he fought for eye contact, I scanned the shelves for dryer sheets. No, I’m definitely a small. What gave me away?
I’m not sure. Could it be the insensitivity or the intrusion? Perhaps both, he says, forcing a smile.
My mind prods and my curiosity flares. You aren’t normally this rude.
I remove my glasses and I meet his eyes long enough to challenge him. There’s something about this one, I tell myself.
Max’s jaw hardens and I suspect that he’s heard me.
My thoughts exactly, he replies.
I can’t always get the voices right; Ghost talk, mind talk, voice talk, it’s not easy.
The fluorescent light glimmers off the confused expression on his face, and I push my cart passed Max and his fiancé. In my mind’s eye, I watch his mouth open to speak, but he stops himself. The long-fought battle with my curiosity wages on and Constantina adds a scrubbing brush to her cart.
I don’t need you to tell me about ghosts or about death or the laws of physics. I don’t need your best medical recommendations. I’m neither in need of “treatment,” nor is it my wonky left eye or divorced parents. I don’t need TLC I have ESP.
Over a glass of red wine, my mother once declared, “if women can see more colours than men, then [I] can see ghosts.” She was seated in my father’s study on the patient’s chair, her elbows pressed against the wood.
Arms crossed, my father leaned against his bookshelf filled with Architectural Digests and New Yorkers. Despite the incredulous look he gave my mother, he let her finish.
“You see ghosts every day!” My mother said wagging her freshly French-tipped finger into the air. “They sit right here,” she said drumming a beat into the oak chair. “And you chat with them for an hour or so. Last week it was the woman who thought she could fly; yesterday it was Terry the hypochondriac and tomorrow it will be Dana, or Sophie or Matthew. Your ghosts are living, hers are dead. You just refuse to believe,” she continued pointing her razor pointer at him, “that your healthy, and mentally stable I might add, daughter is gifted.”
I stood at the entranceway between them, watching the afternoon sunlight splash against their faces. After a while, I began counting the grey glints of dust floating in the air. When I had taken inventory of all 26 specs, I began counting my mother’s goblets of wine and my father’s glasses of scotch.
Like other conversations surrounding my ability, my father scoffed and chalked it up to my not being challenged enough in school. Imaginary friends, he called them, until weeks later when his late-aunt told me to ask him for her car keys.
She’d been whispering to me since the funeral. She hated her coffin, she hated Uncle Lou’s speech, and I was pretty certain she hated me. She just needed someone to talk to. I remember her scowling as we lowered her body into the ground. God, she had so much to say.
When I was seven, Aunt Ellie bent over to whisper her frozen words into my ear. I pulled tightly on the cords of my hoodie, the fleece tightening around my face, but still, her icy words cut through the fabric. Mercury, Sarah Silver, storm drain, Colbert Street, she said.
When Aunt Ellie spoke, she did so in a hurry. It was as if she feared the words would evaporate if she held on to them for too long. But, when she whispered that sequence of words into my ear, each word was long and emphasized. So at dinner one evening, when my second-grade ghost stories were criticized, I asked my father for Aunt Ellie’s car keys. I sang her words in the sequence she whispered them, before asking for more green beans.
After that, my mother and I never saw much of my father. As a matter of fact, I never saw much of Aunt Ellie either. Over glasses of wine years later—when I was in college—I asked my mother about my father and Aunt Ellie’s car keys. She told me—recited rather, in a sort of cinematic way— that while they were dating he promised to take her for a spin in his aunt’s bright red 1972 Mercury Comet. He told her that when he finally got the chance to borrow it, he sprinted over to his aunt’s bungalow, dropping the keys in a storm drain on the corner of Ananda Lane and Colbert Street. It was then that I remembered Aunt Ellie’s icy words and nodded in recollection.
“Then who was Sarah Silver?” I asked.
My mother searched for the answer at the bottom of her wine glass before replying, “the woman he cheated on me with the night he dropped those keys. She calls herself Julia now.”
Without speaking my questions out loud my mother answered them. “I never saw it, Julia did though. It must have been a nice fuckin’ car, literally and figuratively. A nice car for fucking.”
Our eyes locked just above the rim of her wine glass, though she broke eye contact the moment I knew. The realization came slowly but hit me hard. Silver was my stepmother’s maiden name and Julia her first. It was then that I began to wonder if I’d inherited the ghosts from my mother.
There aren’t many ghosts at Starbucks. Strange, isn’t it? In college, I avoided Starbucks, and cafes all together, in fear of the whining dead and their caffeinated loved ones.
Even on the busiest of days, I never find many lingering. Roasted coffee beans, steamed milk and the click-clack of computer work. It’s really soothing sometimes. Though Serenity and Starbucks are distant cousins, and I still avoid cafe like the plague. With all that hot water and passive aggression, sometimes the living are more unbearable than the dead.
I get a drink now and then, maybe a cookie or two. During my visit, I find myself watching the baristas as they listen to distant conversations or dissatisfied customers. Something about their short interactions reminds me of chatting with ghosts. The customer screams—passionate and persistent—You tried to poison me! This is too hot! I said agave! The barista listens—equipped with their corporate-issued empathy, and all the yelling is out of context and in snippets.
Afterwards, the customer leaves with a new coffee and/or a complimentary danish—and the barista returns to quietly cleaning their countertops. I watch them brush off both small and grandiose aggressions—sometimes summarizing a customer’s rage to “sexism in the workplace and need for control and power elsewhere,” or “a caffeine-fuelled superiority complex.” Their words, not mine.
When it’s quiet, I grab a coffee. When it’s busy I take a seat and watch until it quiets down. I wouldn’t dare to line up during the busyness—God forbid someone demands something from me and I mistake them for a ghost. With the glossy lights and steamed milk fog, if I’m not wearing my contact lenses anyone could be a ghost.
I will never find this place peaceful, but the ritual— the routine— of watching chaos can be incredibly therapeutic. This bustling ecology and its demands for “next in line” is what I call an in-between. A place where I am no one, not a medium, not a person, just a “next in line.” I will admit, sometimes my ghosts drive me to become one.
I love when the baristas mess up my name. I eye the scrawl on the side of cappuccino cup—Today, I’m Avutiei. The barista is a petite girl with freckles and glasses. The way she cleans the counter tells me she is meticulous and productive. When I take a sip, I burn my tongue from the surprise of an icy gust. There’s another similarity: if you aren’t cautious you’ll get burned. Frostbite counts.
You have to help me, says the 40-something ghost.
I let the liquid scorch my tongue. No, I don’t.
It’s my son, the ghost insists. See this is what I mean, no regard for my needs. I think he’s making a mistake.
The son he refers to is 6’1 and gorgeous. I notice their similarities immediately—same eyes, same broad shoulders, same age.
I crack my neck while the history is passed between us. I find that his name is Leonard and he died when his son was a child. His son, Alexander, has a sister, Clementine—who is often referred to as Clem. Leonard was a defence attorney with a moderate to the intense cocaine habit.
I think he’s choosing the wrong girl, Leonard insists.
How can you be sure? I ask, sipping my cappuccino. If only he could put that coldness to good use and cool this thing down.
He’s thinking of proposing, but his girlfriend—. She… she—
She’s a gold-digger.
I roll my eyes. What did you expect? From what I can see, your wife wasn’t honest in her intentions either. You raised him to emulate you in every way. My mind’s eye tells me that Leonard wife, Sophie, was cheating on him. But he knows this—the sex she had on the afternoon of his funeral told him everything he needed to know.
So what do you want me to tell him?
Tell him not to propose!
I turn my back on the barista so she doesn’t catch me rolling my eyes. God forbid she interpret the gesture as a response to my misspelt name. Do you even think about the complications of something like that?
His blank stare tells me no.
Some stranger tells you they see dead people before instructing you not to marry your girlfriend. How does that sound, Leonard?
Leonard’s outline trembles creating waves of blue and purple glitter. His anxiety and paranoia isn’t the result of withdrawal symptoms, but a pressing need to prevent disaster.
No deal, Leonard. I can’t help you. I’m sure prenups are a common topic of conversation in Med School. And you should be happy your son is in love with a businesswoman. “Ruthless is synonymous with goal-oriented,” I say, quoting Leonard from a 1982 sexual assault case.
I leave Leonard to wallow in self-pity and regret and push my cart toward the herbal teas. Rows and rows of loose leaf and artisanal teas tower above me. I’ve always been more of a tea drinker. Peppermint, chamomile and ginger: Mother Nature’s Xanax.
While peering at the label for Matcha green tea, I feel a sudden tap on my left shoulder followed by a hollow crash to the floor. At my feet is a red and beige box of spicy chai. Before I can retrieve it, the boxes above me rearrange and fall to my feet. A poltergeist—a ghost is playing tricks on me. Annoyed, I continue searching the rows of tea for my box of Matcha. I gasp when a face appears over the illustration for Tetley Orange Pekoe.
“Don’t you ever do that again!” I scream aloud. Nearby, shoppers and their children stop, stare then push their carts in the other direction. I feel the heat of my embarrassment rising to face. Beads of sweat make my hands and neck sparkle.
I toss the green box into my cart and pull the sleeves of my hoodie over my hot skin. I fix my sunglasses, then hurl my cart down the aisle and toward the checkout line. At the grips of my road rage, I nearly take out Constantina, who is headed toward the frozen section.
“Oh, sorry. After you,” she says. She has crystally blue eyes and creamy blonde hair. Although she is delicate and small, in her eyes I find something intense. Beside her Max stands, nearly a foot taller, glittery and suspicious of me.
“No, you first,” I say, forcing a smile.
I practice the ghost talk in my mind before saying the words to Max. Her eyes are like your skin, I tell him, and turn the corner once my path is cleared.
My chest rises and falls with the intent of swallowing all the oxygen in the store. I repeat today’s mantra and stop to slow my breathing. But the ghost on the box of tea invades my mind.
His name was Jason, he drowned at a house party. Beside his lifeless body, a topless girl cries while two of his friends attempt to shake the water out from his lungs.
In the distance, Lucy is singing, and her cheery soprano splits my skull.
Leonard is doing his laps around the store: stopping in front of his son and pleading for him to call off the engagement.
Constantina’s soft voice invites me back to the living. “This time you go first,” she smiles. I join the queue before her, then begin to unload my cart.
Romaine lettuce. Artichoke hearts. Atlantic salmon. Her former fiancé’s icy stare calls the geese to my skin. I think I understand you a bit better now, Max begins.
That’s what everyone says before they completely misunderstand me, I say, refusing to make eye contact. I’ve already terrified two mothers and a handful of children, that’s enough for today.
What that kid did was terrible, he says quietly, placing a cold hand on my shoulder.
I wiggle under his touch. It’s fine. It happens. Ghosts are assholes. Jason. His name was Jason, I tell myself.
A bottle of red, and white and a mickey of liquor.
I’m not your enemy. I thought I was, but you aren’t interested in prodding and poking at me like most mediums.
I shrug. I just want to fill the fridge.
Washing powder. Chilli flakes. Almond milk.
Why do you hate us so much?
I don’t, I say shaking my head. I just hate what you mean.
And what is that?
That there are always words left unsaid—regret—and lies that need explanation.
Max nodded. And with all that heavy bullshit is a living person who is forced to be your mediator. Your guidance counsellor. Your unpaid intern. I force the air from my lungs and inhale slowly. I just want to fill the fridge.
“Did you forget something? I can grab it for you.” Constantina offers.
Tell her you need garlic, Max insists.
I glance at Max suspiciously, then look down at my groceries. “Yes, I forgot garlic.”
“Powder or cloves?” She asks.
She smiles, “Be right back.”
She’s really sweet, I tell him.
Yes, she is. I was really lucky, says Max.
Why are you here?
He hesitates. They don’t see us when they’re ready. They only see us when they no longer need us. My sixth sense flares; Max is hiding something.
You didn’t answer my question, I say skeptically.
I know, he whispers.
So, she isn’t ready to see you, but you’re here—. Nevermind. I don’t like to pry. It’s none of my business. I have my own baggage and my own ghosts—.
She’ll see me soon.
Why? I ask him.
Her husband is going to die.
My heart stops. What?
Constantina returned with my cloves of garlic. I bit my tongue and forced a smile. As I cashed out I kept eyeing her and imagining her thunderstorm eyes filling with tears—two tragedies at such a young age. What if she never marries again? What if she avoids love at all costs? What is she thinks she’s cursed? My sixth sense was doing a number on me and I promised to drown it in wine once I got home.
It wasn’t until we parted ways that I realized our groceries had mixed. My golden galas were in Constantina’s cart. Although I was itching to be away from her and Max, I refused to line up again. Instead, I parked my cart and jogged over to her. Max eyed me regretfully, stepping in front of Constantina as if to shield her.
“Hey, sorry. I think you have my apples.” I say, through Max.
“Oh! Do I?” We both peered into her cart. Hidden under leaves of kale and spinach were my red and yellow apples.
I hesitated when she handed them to me. Should I tell her? I asked myself. Would I want to know?
Have you ever been accosted by a medium before? I’ve heard mixed reviews. You’re all content and forward-thinking, then some stranger tells you you have no right to be—because your relative is still brooding about leaving the kettle on fifty years ago. I refuse to be that girl. The reporter. The weather woman. And yet, sometimes I can sympathize with those weather women.
Imagine someone whispering numbers into your ear during a math test. Nineteen. Twelve divided by two. Seven. Twenty-five. And their cold breath climbs up your shoulder to your neck, now your ear, and they’re ruthless and persistent and have all the time in the world to annoy and distract you. And your mind races because math isn’t your forte, and the Berry-Essem inequality is a lot different on three cups of coffee and no sleep. I too would explode and tell Ryan his mother is with his grandfather to quiet the voices. I would. I have.
But it is one thing to speak of the past, and it is another to speak of the future. I thanked Constantina and wished her a good day. Max sighed with relief, his periwinkle outline becoming a soft grey. I clutched my apples to my chest—in fear of them spilling out of the thin and foggy plastic—and returned to my cart. Some tales are better left untold and some aren’t mine to tell.
Some ghosts aren’t demanding, or restless or ruthless. Some ghosts don’t need your help or understanding. Sometimes they are the sound of the wind, the white noise that comforts you in hardship—the hurry hum of life that watches you grow. I realized then that we had both defied our natures: I was a weather woman and Max was the wind.
 Albert Einstein said that energy cannot be destroyed it can only change from one form to another.
 This relates to probability theory. You’re going to have to Google this one; footnotes shouldn’t be horrendously long and I can’t do all of the work.
a lyric essay on family and fatherhood; names have been changed for privacy
In mid-June of 2017, my brother becomes a father, and not in the usual biological fashion most men do, but rather in a philosophical way. The air is light, the Sun is high, it is 11am. My brother, Anthony, along with his girlfriend’s two children find a table amongst the empty seats of The Georgian Bay Family Restaurant in Collingwood, Ontario. Two old couples peer at them, possibly noticing the trio and their opposite colours: two white babies, one black man. Anthony is accustomed to this look, the whose-kids-are-those? look. I remember grocery shopping in Shelburne one Friday when Anthony had the kids. He was carrying baby Noah, three, down the aisle of NoFrills, when I stopped a staff member to ask the aisle number for peanut butter. The attendant answered quickly, avoiding eye contact as he continued to stock the shelves with canned corn. It wasn’t until we walked passed him that I noticed his eyes fixed on us. Two black people, one white baby.
Always opting for comfort over couture, Anthony wears his typical uniform, sweatpants and a t-shirt. The children are dressed for eating, clean clothes awaiting disaster. If Astrid were there I imagine she’d wear her dreadlocks half up and half down, the perfect indecisive hairstyle for an Aquarius. I meet her for the first time over the phone. Anthony was venting one night and she took the phone from him and roared a ballad into my ear. She worried Anthony would give me a false first impression, so instead, she painted her own portrait and yelled at me, uninterrupted, for forty-five minutes. After fifteen minutes, I set the phone down and scrolled through Pinterest. That night, I created three new boards. I met her in person one year later. She was an interesting girl, a passionate one, with long brown hair and green eyes. The black sheep of a family of nine children and the only child who wasn’t homeschooled, Astrid was the type to throw her entire heart into an endeavour without considering the consequences. To say my brother fell for her was an understatement.
The dining room is lined with large rectangular windows, allowing the early afternoon sun to spill onto empty tables. Everything is a shade of rich brown, wooden tables, gold glittering light, the scent of eggs, bacon and bread fill the room. My brother, Anthony orders steak and eggs. He remembers his order vividly, yet cannot recall what he orders for the boys. Though, the taste and smell of the meat locks the memory in his muscles. If this were a story of biological fatherhood perhaps this magical moment would be similar to the second a crying child quiets in their father’s arms, simultaneously calm and chaotic.
The waitress is wearing black: black apron, black buttoned shirt, black pants, white notepad. She happens to be the cousin of River’s father, though Anthony doesn’t know that yet, and he forgets her name, because this story is less about the importance of her name, but rather centres her role as a facilitator. She jots down their orders as River, Astrid’s six-year-old takes note of the oddities in the restaurant. Once she finishes her writing she smiles and makes her way to the kitchen. It isn’t until her return, with three cups of iced-water, that she recognizes River. When her surprise settles and pleasantries are exchanged, then finally, she turns to River before asking, “How’s your father?” It is then that River turns to Anthony and says, “He’s right here, ask him.”
Anthony’s heart stops, and the room falls silent. No plates clattering, no chatty patrons. I suppose this was a verbal slap in the face for the cousin of River’s father, who was left speechless. She smiles, though beams of shock broke through the cracks in her face. Suddenly sentimental, Anthony melts into his wooden chair, peering at the boys with new eyes. The cousin turns to place the orders; the long second ends and a new one begins marking a conferring of knighthood: OBE, GBE, DAD.
When a child is born there are 1, 3 and 5 birthdays. A mother is born, a father, a grandmother and so on. New titles are given, new bonds are formed. Blood becomes a defining factor of family. Though, what is blood, but a mineral-rich liquid which forces socialization between two people? Yes, it is thicker than water, yes it is passed down, but bonds are formed in and outside the body; sometimes a moment christens two people as kin. Sometimes your mother, father, grandmother and so on are found later in life. When the food is finished the plates are cleared, and Anthony pays. River says goodbye to his second cousin and Noah clings to Anthony’s chest. The sun finds its peak in the sky at 12-noon as they exit the restaurant. Proud and protective, he places Noah in his car seat and double-checks River’s seat belt. Blood is thicker than water, but love is the ultimate defining factor of family. In the warmth of mid-June, Anthony drives the boys to the restaurant, knighted and new, their father drives them home.