Jill was walking home with a sausage roll when she found out she was a ghost. Jill was halfway through the sausage roll, noticing for the first time how phallic it seemed, when a car pulled up alongside her. The afternoon wrapped itself around her like a clammy fist. She could hear the squeak of the tyres as it matched her pace. She shifted her backpack on her shoulders, and someone in this coasting Corolla screeched, “You don’t exist!”
The Corolla pulled away, screeching, and Jill was left with a gob of mince-meat falling from her mouth, her backpack lopsided. The word Ghooooooooooooost petered out in the humid afternoon and Jill lobbed the remaining half of her sausage roll at the car, just missing the back window.
Right now, Jill is sitting on the brown corduroy couch in her living room in Coburg, staring at a piece of spaghetti stuck to the wall. Her boyfriend Harry flamboyantly threw it there a few nights ago, because, “It’s the only way to truly tell if the pasta’s cooked.” Jill’s never told him that she doesn’t like her pasta al dente. Jill has also never told him she prefers to eat her pasta smothered in Rosella tomato sauce and tasty cheese. The pasta’s drying out, and she wonders if it will leave a mark on the wallpaper, which already features wine bottles, tomatoes, onions and olives. It’s a beautiful kind of naff.
Keeping all this banal information about the wallpaper and the stuck spaghetti in her head is really helping take Jill’s mind off the task at hand. This doing-while-not-directly-thinking-about-it seems like the best approach to appearing natural as she mimics regular human behaviour. Jill practises hovering just above the couch without actually sitting on it. If she sits directly on the couch, she just slowly sinks through it, which freaks Harry out.
Harry sits next to Jill on the brown couch, and tries to hold her hand. His hand keeps sinking through hers, and eventually he gives up. They watch Netflix and Harry munches caramel popcorn. Jill thinks The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt is a brilliant piece of work. It really resonates with her. They both agree Tina Fey is a genius. Harry says, “We should name our firstborn ‘Fey’. That’s a really good gender-neutral name, hey?” and Jill says, “Ok.” They bring Jill’s doona out onto the couch and cover their legs with it. The doona sinks through Jill’s legs but Harry doesn’t seem to notice or mind. They both quietly imagine that they have a cat, who’d pick its way gingerly across the doona on their laps and settle in between them. Jill is allergic to cats. They’ve talked about whether Jill taking antihistamines for the duration of a cat’s life would be worth it. They reckon it would. Jill wonders if it would be weird now though, if the cat would just curl up in the middle of her and end up with ectoplasm matted all through its fur.
Kimmie Schmidt is making it work in New York City and proving that she really is “unbreakable”, thanks to her relentless optimism. Jill is distracted. The rent’s due in two weeks, and Jill knows her automatic payment is going to bounce. The call centre Jill worked at fired her, because she can’t pick up the phone or wear a headset anymore. She can’t even type in answers from survey respondents. Her fingers float right through the keys. They told her they were sorry, they felt for her, they wished her the best of luck in all her future endeavours, but after all she was a casual and it “just wasn’t practical” to have a ghost in the office.
Jill’s been waiting for some news from Centrelink about whether or not they’re going to grant her claim for ghost status, but she knows how these things go. It’ll take weeks before they give her a solid answer. They’ve given her appointment times and forms to fill out but no one seems to know what to do with her. She doesn’t have a certificate to prove she’s a ghost. Everything is still being assessed. There aren’t even any practical skills that come with being a ghost. The most Jill can do is hover a few centimetres, and she keeps falling through things or accidentally walking through walls to places where she’s not supposed to be. One time, Jill floated in on her housemate Dan in the shower and now when he looks at her, he looks right through her.
Jill usually goes to bars by herself to disappear. To feel the breeze of fading into a crowd fan across her face. She likes the anonymity of sipping a beer in a corner seat, doodling and listening to the buzz of conversation around her. If she’s careful, if she’s good and hunches a bit, checking her watch like her boyfriend might arrive at any moment, sometimes she can avoid them. The men who sit heavily beside her, leaning in with sour breath to ask, “Whatcha doin’ there?” like it’s a favour and they’re saving her from being alone. After the drive-by ghosting, she starts to go more often. To feel all the other people brushing up against her, crushing through her woollen chest in the swell of sweating, swaying torsos. She ducks down to the quiet – to the forest of feet and legs where the sound is muffled as if she’s cocooned in a human doona. She sits and hopes that someone will bump into her, or trip over. Just to remind her she is here.
Ghosts don’t sleep, they wait. While Harry snores, softly cocooned in the doona like a sausage roll, Jill lies just above the covers and closes her eyes. The constant state of awareness that comes with not sleeping subsides and Jill floats on the sound of each exhalation. It feels like swimming, or flying. She hopes it’s not drowning.
In this room in Coburg with cracks in the walls that are beautiful because they let the light in as well as the cold, Jill is staring. She stares at the ceiling of the room she shares with Harry that will probably never be a home for a cat now, at least not while they live here. The sound of cracking wood filters through from the next room. Jill leaves the TV on to fill the house up while everyone else is at work. She watches tons of mixed martial arts. Jill stares at the ceiling and thinks about how she and Harry used to want to paint a constellation there. Once, she bought glow-in-the-dark stars and put them up when Harry wasn’t home. That night when they’d gone to bed, she relished the sound of his breath, punching out of his chest when he rolled over and saw the ceiling all lit up like fireflies. Most of the stars have fallen off now. The stars that are left are dead.
Jill was very worried, even before she found out she was a ghost. She remembers power-crying in the shower for reasons she’s already forgotten. She remembers feeling heavy when she thought about dying, or deadlines. Staring at this ceiling of stuck-up plastic stars that don’t even glow, Jill realises she’s been staring a lot lately. Kind of an inhuman amount. Maybe that’s exactly the point though – maybe exactly the point is that Jill isn’t human any more, she’s a ghost, and maybe that could make her superhuman. Sitting up on the edge of the bed, Jill feels something solid under her hand for the first time in weeks.
In one swift motion, she rips the white top-sheet from the bed, and fingers the 300-thread count IKEA cotton. Cutting through the fabric with the kitchen scissors, her transformation begins. She works quickly, hands darting like sparrows. She knows what she’s doing. Jill dons her new self, and looks in the mirror. She finally sees a bona fide, fully qualified ghost staring back at her through the eyeholes of her sheet. Finally beginning to glow. Jill spends the rest of the afternoon practising her spooky woooOOOoos in the living room and punching the air like a fighter.
Image: Matthias Rhomberg
Izzy is a writer, editor and radio producer from Melbourne. Her work has been published in The Lifted Brow, The Bohemyth, Co:Respond and ATYP’s Out of Place Anthology, and performed in Melbourne, France and the UK. She was recently awarded a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship and is currently working on a series of audio segments for the Community Radio Network and a commission for Melbourne Fringe’s Uncommon Places, ‘How to Behave‘.