The sun pokes through the trees on the eastern shore, seized in the mirror that is the lake. A breeze flutters the pages of the book in my lap, aggressive only enough to draw attention to itself.
I say good morning to Evy’s Ghost.
All that remains of breakfast is the phantom smell of bacon. The sun now casts a trail of shimmering gold along the water which tapers toward the houses and trees on the eastern shore. I lift a hand to the glare and step onto the deck, the spice of autumnal decay wafting up from the yard below. The wind arrives to shake leaves from the trees at the edge of the water, carrying them spiraling in fading shades of russet and ochre to where they are claimed by the lake. I feel the house settle behind me, a heavy crack that comes mostly from the exposed beams in the sitting room.
I pivot back to the open doorway and raise what’s left of my coffee to Evy’s Ghost.
I should be happy here.
At camp the schedule is different from the harried pace back home. Early hours are the property of solitary fishermen trolling idle waters for the first nibbles of the day. Not much later, before the sun has the chance to claim more than a sliver of blue above the eastern shore, the power sports crowd stakes its claim, and the rest of the day is a snarling symphony of outboard motors and excited voices.
I keep to the porch. All I need is the sight of such things to take my mind off of her, to remove myself completely from the place I live during the week, where she is simultaneously nowhere and everywhere.
I assure myself It’s working.
A pinecone thuds on the empty pages of my open journal. I gaze up into a bristling tangle of evergreen, waiting for more to fall. There will be no writing today. I thank Evy’s Ghost for the gift.
I’ve been aware of my bald spot these last ten years in the same way I’m aware that I have hands and feet. Now I’m aware of the burning sun upon it from its midday roost above, and I spend a few moments hating my father for my genetics.
Pulling on my hat – the new one, not the one she picked – I let my book fall into the valley of my open legs and simply gaze across the water, its waves now shot with glinting sun. They rise in such sharp peaks that God Himself could be tugging at parts of the lake with a string.
I picture Evy splashing at the shore as I swivel around, swinging my feet over the splintered, bowing edge of the dock and dipping my toes in bathwater. That grin of hers gets me every time, how it seems to swallow her entire face.
The wind smashes against me as the sounds of slamming doors come from the house. My gaze runs the length of the dock back to shore and up the lazy, grass-choked incline. There the house seems to be glaring at me, and I promise Evy’s Ghost I won’t think about her again for the rest of the day.
Only a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of Evy. When it’s time for afternoon tea and I reach for the milk jug in the refrigerator, I suddenly see my girl with a sippy cup, trying to coax her favored dollar store baby doll to drink. I feel the smile build itself on my face, and warmth that only love is capable of stirring fans out through my body.
Steam curls languidly from my mug of Earl Grey as I step onto the deck and gaze across the water, still picturing Evy, now with spilled milk everywhere. The dolly will stink in a curdled way that all parents have known since the days of caves and steppes.
I’m startled by the sound of something falling off the upstairs landing and clattering to the floor inside. The sitting room is a cavernous expanse of empty space reaching from the knotted pine hardwood of the first floor to the knotted pine planks of the second floor ceiling. Any unexpected sound in there is enough to remind me that I can actually jump as high as I did as a kid. I’m relieved to see the milk clouded mire of Earl Grey still contained in my mug, and I set it absently down on the tempered glass table.
I step back inside.
The fallen object is the doll from my memory. It’s held in a patch of light on the hardwood, gazing merrily up at me with the perma-grin of an infant sighting its mother. My gaze lifts to the landing above, sharpening on the narrow slits spaced beneath the bannister there, knowing the toy could not have fit through them.
I find clarity in this moment and assure Evy’s ghost for the last time that I will not think about her again today.
Though mine entirely, I’ve done nothing substantive with the day. Such is my time with Evy gone.
The last flares of color in the sky diminished an hour ago. Now the lake is working to flatten itself for tomorrow’s fishermen as the cry of a loon trills across the water. I note that the bird, like me, is alone, and I decide 7:45 isn’t too early for bed. My gaze is drawn to the lake, as it so often is, as I collect the book from which I’ve read two pages today and the journal that I write in every other weekend… when life matters.
Locking up is arbitrary because break-ins don’t happen here, but I visit each door, turning each lock and wondering blandly if this makes Evy’s Ghost feel safer. The steps creak, always reminding me of the time-stretched vocalizations of some crone trapped beneath the stairs, but it’s all in my head. Evy’s Ghost doesn’t speak to me here.
When I reach the landing I pause, turning to glance over the landscape of shadow beneath me. My eyes find the white latticework of Evy’s baby gate leaning against the wall at the bottom step, standing out in the murk.
I wait for Evy’s Ghost to speak, but it is quiet. Perhaps it’s asleep.
I’m awake, held in the powdered gaze of the moon outside the window. The house is still, while outside the branches of a pine scrape the vinyl siding, and a wind like winter’s messenger whistles in the eaves.
At no other time am I more aware of her absence. Beside me her empty crib holds the stuffed animals and random toys I’d used to bribe her to sleep. If I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough, I can almost hear her soft snores, the occasional enunciated coo as she exhales. I’m not sure if it’s Evy’s Ghost or my mind willing her here, but I’ll remain listening until sleep claims me, my heart divided by the artificiality of this half of my life. Without my girl I struggle to define myself, a hard thing for a man almost 40.
The door lock clicks twice in the dark. Click-click.
I assure the ghost that Evy will be back here with us next weekend, when it’s my turn to have her. That will have to be enough for both me and Evy’s Ghost.