Carmella could haunt all right. She demonstrated her ability to do so that same night.
McManus’ studio apartment was completely wrecked upon his return from the bar. Every book, LP, dish and piece of clothing was piled onto his futon in a mound that would take him hours to dismantle.
Once McManus excavated his phone from the mess, he made some calls. Reconnecting with friends and acquaintances he hadn’t spoken to in years, exposing himself to a past he had believed quit and gone, he finally found a friend of Carmella’s who confirmed the story: yes, Carmella, his ex-wife, was dead. She was killed in a car accident two weeks before while driving alone on Highway 1 north of San Francisco. There were two memorial services: one for her family and coworkers in Sacramento and one for her people back in Michigan. After the Michigan memorial, she was interred in a grave at the family’s farm. No one thought to inform McManus, the friend told him, because the family hadn’t wanted to compound an already horrendous situation by involving the embarrassment that was Carmella’s second husband.
At least Carmella’s friend had thought to spare him his feelings.
To his surprise, McManus discovered that the confirmation of his ex-wife’s passing moved him. Although he had doubted the veracity of Carmella’s fate, as told to him by her own ghost, hearing someone else, someone who still walked the earth, someone who wasn’t being haunted by her, report her death either put Carmella’s demise in a different perspective or heightened its potency. Plucked the event outside the frame of his thoughts and plopped it in three glistening dimensions before him where the truth couldn’t be ignored: Someone he had loved, fucked, lived with, married, fought with, divorced, and finally vanquished from his life with a hearty ‘Fuck the fuck off!’ was now dead. Had she not thought to visit him from beyond, he might never have known. McManus blamed her parents for excluding him from the news.
He slid the pile of his belongings onto the floor, breaking a drinking glass and cereal bowl in the process, and then he slumped upon his futon. He found a discarded phone bill and began to write; he evoked everything he could from his time with Carmella. After the divorce, and as reward to himself, he had thrown away all the evidence of their time together; the love notes, the photos, the marriage certificate, even the gold wedding band—which was now rolling at the bottom of the Willamette River—were gone. All that was left behind was a dried, nettled thicket of neglected Carmella-related memories tangled throughout the alcoves of his brain.
He scribbled down what he could recall of their time together and came up with ten memories. Just ten. When he committed them to paper, these ten remembrances were what remained of McManus’ years with Carmella. Sure, he could still recall vague impressions, vibes, smells, colors, and sounds of her but these were too fleeting; no, the authentic memories—the ones to which he had held all these years in spite of himself—were scenes, as if lifted from the films he so loved watching and re-watching, scenes that included context, dialogue, action, sometimes even a soundtrack. Only ten memories had survived the years he had spent away from her. Ten.
If Carmella could be trusted, which was a doubtful proposition even when she had been alive, there had been eleven memories, and he had already lost one to their discussion earlier that night at the bar. That was unfair considering he hadn’t asked or desired or otherwise wanted to ever speak with her again, so taking a possession he cared little about in order for him to do something he didn’t want to do simply reaffirmed his belief in a cosmos conspired to fuck him. And yet one whole memory was seized from his brain by some Contractually Obligated Overseer who had extracted the price and left nothing but a gauzy absence where the memory had been. If he focused, if he really allowed himself to delve into his thoughts of his ex-wife, he could even sense the suture-lines of that missing piece of his past.
Bastards, thought Charles McManus. The goddamned bastards.
Invigorated by righteous fury, and based on Carmella’s ‘clue’ from earlier that night, he attempted to recall which of the ten memories might contain a moment when Carmella had said ‘I love you’ and meant it. Carmella had given him a shitty clue, but even so, only one memory advanced itself as the obvious candidate.