“Do you think I’m pretty? Do you think that you could ever love me? Would you ever look upon me as something to be desired? Even someone like me?”
And just like that, Martin started hearing her. It wasn’t right away, but it wasn’t long after moving in either. And it was with such clarity that it was like he could reach out and touch her: the ghost, the girl that was just a voice, the girl that lived in the walls.
It terrified him at first. Because Martin –just like anyone, really– was not accustomed to the unknown or something so…ghostly. Even spiders scared him, a lot. But the girl was not a frightening apparition. She did not seem to mean anybody harm. Even more so, she seemed to take no notice that Martin was even there.
Except who was the girl talking to? It was rather puzzling. That was why Martin started to listen, to really listen. While doing so, he couldn’t help but wonder what she looked like or if the girl was as lovely as she sounded when she laughed.
At first, she was disrupting Martin’s daily routine, and Martin was all about his daily routine. After a short time, however, she became part his daily routine.
After work, as Martin began to spend more time with a chair close to the kitchen wall where he could best hear her, the unseen spirit began taking shape in his mind. He began to picture her face, her oval wandering eyes, her lips lifting into a smile. Some sunny afternoons Martin could even hear her sing.
What is this? Where are you? Martin would wonder. Occasionally, he would even go outside and around the corner to the place alongside the house by the driveway where she should have been –but there were only shrubs, if you could even call them that. Martin did not consider that the voice came from the shrubs. He doubted that shrubs could sing.
This was a strange predicament. Martin was alone and even sometimes lonely. He had always felt as much, especially when in a crowd. It was like he was looking for something that was never there. So, these days even a voice in the wall became good company even if they couldn’t respond when Martin asked questions aloud in the kitchen and felt like the crazy old woman at the grocery store that always counted her pennies and then slipped and started over again when Martin was behind her needing to get to work.
Despite that Martin needed to know what was happening here in his kitchen, it gave him a fresh perspective, a new light. It made things exciting. It made days seem more than just an endless parade of eating frozen dinners in front of the television and trying to avoid the mailman’s incessantly dull conversations about the weather.
“Every time I walk in the sunlight, I am glad to be alive. Just feeling the sun, its glow, its warmth –it’s like unconditional love on my skin and on my soul.” The ghost girl had said out of nowhere one day as Martin was putting the kettle on, and it felt as though she was speaking directly to him as it was a gloriously clear and warm Spring morning filled with birds fresh with song. “Even when it hurts, even when things are so bad that all I want to do is cry, seeing the blue sky and the white glow of our perfect star makes me take a deep breath instead because every day is a blessing.”
“I feel the same way,” Martin returned, but heard nothing more. Still, he smiled and went about his day with renewed vigor. Ah, this voice, this spirit, this girl –whatever she was, it was apparent that she was not malevolent at all but soft like the summer rain that drummed upon the awnings and the dawns that followed when the morning light was just a whisper along the horizon.
But then there was her father:
“Cassandra, why are you so useless? I swear to God, girl…”
He was malevolent.
Now there were more of them in the walls to Martin’s dismay. He could even hear the dog barking and the TV muffled in the background. It was like they were coming alive on the other side of the old plaster.
“Turn up the TV and go get the paper, Cassandra.” And so the television was turned up as requested in Martin’s world as well but faintly –a flicker, a shadow.
Who were they, really? They weren’t neighbours; Martin didn’t have any. He lived in a fully detached house on a barren lot with nothing around but the old railroad station where decommissioned engines and carts, stacks of old rails and railroad ties, and a broad array of other abandoned equipment lay haphazardly around –all cobbled into something reminiscent of a giant child’s forgotten toy set.
It wasn’t a haunting either. According to everything that Martin was ever told, ghosts did not travel in packs. They did not bring their dogs or television sets back with them either. It was rather that the house remembered. The voices, the people, and the time that they had lived here was etched into the walls and the house had decided that it wanted to relive what had happened here. It kept what it had heard and now it was playing it.
It was playing it all back for Martin.
“Cassandra, you’re as worthless as they come. Look at you! Who’s going to love you? Can’t even do the dishes right.”
Worst of all was that this was so familiar to Martin. He thought that he could understand Cassandra. He knew what it was like to feel that you didn’t deserve to exist at all and always be reminded of it. And things got worse over time. Fights became physical. Things would get broken. It would go on for hours, and all Martin could do was listen.
“Cassandra, get me a beer. Then clean up the kitchen and sweep the house.”
“You said I could go outside today. It’s such a nice day.”
“You talking back to me? Come here!”
It soon become apparent that her father was a drunk that liked to berate and beat on Cassandra day and night, and for whatever reason he could find. And Martin couldn’t do anything about it. It just wasn’t possible for him to interfere so there was no way to help her, to save her. Martin was irrevocably destined to helplessly sit there and listen to it play out from some distant memory that the house freely regurgitated like some asshole record player.
But what if it wasn’t? Martin began to ponder things that were in his mind best left to scientists and people on reality television. What if Cassandra lived in the past but also somewhere alongside of him somehow? Somewhere reachable perhaps. The possibilities nagged at Martin because Cassandra was there, wherever and whenever that was. There was nothing tangible, nothing concrete. But sometimes possibilities were enough, and in them he dwelled. Otherwise, what was the point of all this? Was there one?
Days became nights that became days again as weeks led into months and everything had remained as it was. When Martin wasn’t working, he was in the kitchen seated on a chair listening to Cassandra’s sweet, disembodied voice lost somewhere on the other side of the wall -maybe across the whole universe. It could have been another dimension for all he knew. The result was the same: as time dragged on, the hope that he would ever cast eyes upon Cassandra had greatly diminished. Martin felt hopeless in that he couldn’t help himself from falling for someone that was no longer there –just a ghost, an echo; just a breath and a million miles away. Somebody without a face. Somebody without a time.
Still, just to close his eyes and envision her in a summer dress staring out the same window he was as she spoke to no one in particular was something that Martin reveled in, breathed in deeply, obsessed over endlessly. It made everything else seem so distant, just a parade of senseless activities.
“I feel that you are out there, listening,” Cassandra had said. “So, I don’t feel alone, even when I am. Does that make sense? Are you out there, somewhere that I cannot see or touch, but feel?”
Was there a connection somehow, in space and time? It sounded crazy, Martin thought. Maybe it was. But what wasn’t when you really thought about it? Martin pondered what he did every day and how insane that would look to an outsider that did not understand how society worked.
“I can hear you, Cassandra. It’s me, Martin.” Martin sighed, but at least he did not feel so ridiculous anymore. “I know that you’re long gone or somewhere very far away, but I still can’t let go. I won’t. I don’t know how to. I also don’t know what to do or why I’m really here or even why this is really happening, but one thing is certain: I will not give up on you, even if it’s a lost cause. It’s all I have.”
Yet ever-present was her father like the shadow of a hammer upon a nail. And the torture of hearing their daily routine reminded Martin that the universe just was. It did not bend this way or that to follow some fantastical predetermined destiny. Martin was feeding his own delusion like coals into a fire. This was all for naught and he was going to make himself sick or worse from obsessing over what the house was doing.
But then the hammer fell.
It began as all the other fights did: Cassandra’s father yelling, words angry and slurred. He was drunker than usual and punching the walls. Next would be her. The dog was barking. Cassandra was sobbing, begging for him to stop. But he was only gaining momentum. This was the worse that Martin had ever heard him: Cassandra was lazy; Cassandra had let him down; Cassandra wasn’t the daughter he wanted. As furniture was being overturned Martin seethed and gripped his chair white-knuckled wishing for anything just to make it stop. But then it did…
Martin heard a bottle smash followed by a heavy thud, almost loud even through the wall. A body fell…Cassandra’s? His mind struggled at what else it could be. Something was very wrong. Martin had a fairly good idea of exactly what had transpired but still…he might have just knocked her unconscious. Then came a long, drawn-out silence. Not good. Martin could hear weeping, barely audible.
Finally, “Cassandra? CASSANDRA?!” Her father shouted. “Oh no, no…my baby girl…”
When the drunken man started wailing, Martin’s stomach dropped like a lead weight to the bottom of a dark ocean. The man had trapped himself in the cycle of his own violence and now he was sorry, now he was the victim. Martin couldn’t even be angry anymore; his heart knew what had happened before his mind could accept the finality of it. Whatever the case had been the result was the same: Cassandra was gone. For a long time after, Martin sat in the dark kitchen listening to the father’s sobs and the rain falling outside, softly.
And then everything just stopped. There was no father, no television, no dog, and no Cassandra. It was as though it had never happened. Martin was shocked to numbness but eventually the numbness wore off and that’s when things got bad. Martin had never had his heart broken before and would have felt better if it was gone completely. If only he could have felt nothing instead. And so Martin let himself go into that dark place alone until he was fully immersed, finally breaking down beneath the weight of his sadness, but that’s not all he did.
Martin stopped sleeping. And he never left that kitchen chair. He stopped eating and was withering away and didn’t care. His work stopped calling. Envelopes piled up in the mailbox. Food went bad. He was completely lost, barely conscious anymore, slipping away as there was nothing to hold on to. This was the end. Martin’s sorrow had become a creature, had become his best friend. Hello, Old Chapo! And this was the end…the end…the end…
Everything was over. Nothing was ever over.
That voice. Martin had heard it so many times through the walls. But this wasn’t through the walls. Martin lifted his head from the kitchen table, slowly sat up in the chair, turned around and there she was: Cassandra. Standing there. So terribly beautiful. Not a ghost in the wall. She was there. Not a crying, singing, or sobbing invisible entity in the never ether. She was right there in the kitchen staring back at him. There was something in the way that she looked at him. Martin melted. Reality shifted. Something strange and new and everlasting was here. Right there. With her. As alive as the sky. As real as his breath.
“Martin.” She was smiling. Cassandra ran her hand along the wall as she turned around the corner and was gone but for the sound of her feet on the floor echoing down the hall.
Martin had finally cracked. Had to have been. It was just too much for him in the end. No other explanation but…
Martin knew…he knew that this place was special. And that he was special. And that maybe the house had been calling to him all along. And maybe he didn’t have to love her from afar.
Martin scrambled out of his chair, heart beating in his ears. This can’t be real. It can’t be….
Please let this be real…