Leave Me Not Alone
I felt her moist breath on my earlobe. That’s how I knew she was there. I felt the rhythm of her breathing steady, strong, and a wet tickle on my neck. I felt the headset snug around my head like a hat too small; that’s how I knew I wasn’t dreaming. I remembered taking off my gold French knot earrings and laying them inside the water stain ring on the cherry wood nightstand. I was going to ruin this heirloom furniture from my husband’s great-grandmother. In fact, right now, my sweating water glass was puddling on the nightstand. I removed the VR headset and went to move the glass back on the coaster, but it wasn’t there. I moved the glass of water to the book I had been reading, the diary of Anais Nin. It was a library book, not a good coaster choice. I tried to use the corner of the sheet to dry the furniture.
When putting away towels in the linen closet, I had found this mint green doily. It was made of delicate lacework on the edges, by someone quite good at knitting. I thought immediately it would be a nice coaster. It was a darling thing. I kept coming across oddities and feminine trinkets that must have belonged to Matt’s great-grandmother. It was kind of the family to sell their share of the home to us when she passed. What with my unemployment, we were lucky to get this house. I’d been unemployed since my last breakdown in the fall. But I was doing better, keeping busy, but not too busy. Navigating mood swings was my daily job. Anyhow, I was charmed by the little coaster and rubbed it against my cheek. I took it as a good sign.
“Mmm, Swiss cheese, and toothpaste,” Matt said, smiling at me.
“I just brushed my teeth, and now I’m eating a sandwich. Want one? Pastrami and Swiss.”
“Oh. Sure. Have you seen my little green coaster?”
“I can’t find it anywhere? And there is a ring in the wood again.”
“On a sandwich?”
“No. On the nightstand. My mother always used it to restore moisture to wood furniture. I guess I wasn’t very good with coasters either.”
“Damn, I liked that little thing.”
“Well, the next time we run errands, we’ll have to pick some coasters up.”
He set his sandwich down on the dresser and crossed the room to where I was making up the bed. He grabbed me from behind by the hips and pulled me in close so I could feel the bulge in his pants. Matt kissed my neck, and my shoulders slowly slipping off my silk robe. I reached back to rub the rise in his pants, but he caught me by the wrist and stopped me. He held my hand behind my back, gentle, but firm. With his other hand, he shimmied my panties down until they fell to my feet, where I stepped out of them. Still holding my wrist, he undid his pants one-handed and let his cock free. Then he released his grip on me, and I turned around and down to my knees. I sucked with long slow strokes. Matt lifted me from my knees and spread me out on the bed. I was aching for his penetration. He suddenly thrust himself into me—urgent, hard, and fast, just like I liked it. But when we made love like that, he never lasted long. Soon, he was spent upon me. And I was still ready to go. When we were younger, he could bounce back for another go, but not anymore. Was it age or only marriage, making him comfortable and lazy? I never said anything.
I went to fetch clean sheets from the linen closet as I changed out the bed for warmer weather. I had the windows open, and a strong breeze lifted the curtains in a dance of billowing white. When I reached for the pillowcases, I saw my little green doily. How did it get in here? I picked it up, it was soft and comforting in my hand. I held it over my heart as if to protect it from becoming lost again. I lay it on my pillow when I rubbed Vaseline into the ring on the nightstand again. I didn’t want to get it sticky and ruin it.
It was in the bath the first time I knew I was not alone. I mean, really knew. Because I saw her reflection in the bathwater, and I wasn’t wearing the VR. She was watching me and smiling. I smiled back. I don’t know why I wasn’t more alarmed, but the house seemed to be building to this point. I wanted to reach out and touch her, but I didn’t want to disrupt her reflection. I sat in the tub long after the water had cooled. Catherine vanished, I drained the tub, then refilled with hot water, hoping to bring her back anew. But she would not be beckoned. It was Catherine. I just knew it. I’d found the old love letters in the linen closet in an old hatbox filled with news clippings. Catherine at first seemed to be the best friend of Matt’s great-grandmother, but it became evident in the later letters that there was more to their relationship and even more left unsaid. But why was Catherine haunting this house, me? Was she looking for Emily?
I didn’t dare breathe a word of Catherine’s visits to Matt. I was supposed to be healing from a mental break, not having another one. This ghost’s reflection continued to show up in the bath, in my morning breakfast spoon. She began to appear in the windows. What did she want? She was always present with a soft smile. Catherine always vanished when I reached out to touch her. I knew it was Catherine for sure; I’d found old photos of her with Matt’s great-grandmother. They looked like the best of friends, but I knew there was more. I missed Catherine when she would stay away. I wanted to touch her. She appeared in the bathwater at night, when I couldn’t sleep. I had been touching myself when she appeared in the water, smiling. I looked into her watery face and continued to masturbate. Her reflection rippled, and there she was surfacing from the water. I could touch her, feel her breasts pressed against mine. Her mouth was on my mouth, wet kisses filled me with flush anticipation. She exchanged our hands to touch each other. I longed to taste her and pulled the drain on the tub. Wet and steamy, we moved from the bath to the rug. I buried my lips between the sweetness of her. When she came, it was in gentle shudders. Then she went down on me. Kissing a watery trail down my breasts to my belly. She was slow and lush in her probing and sucking. With my own climax, I felt her presence all around me. It was better than any VR. I knew it was crazy, but I was falling for a ghost.
The next morning when I washed my face in the basin, I opened my eyes to see Catherine staring back at me. My face was supplanted with her face: her pert little nose, green eyes, and dimpled cheeks. I ran my hand over my face, and I felt her features as they melted into mine. My face was morphing, transitioning between Catherine and me. I was both frightened and elated. In the end, I had my face for the outside world. I could feel it. But in the mirror, I could see the dance of features. I was two women in one. I was haunted, possessed. I was no longer alone.
Leah Holbrook Sackett is an adjunct lecturer in the English department at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, she earned her M.F.A. Her short stories explore journeys toward autonomy and the boundaries placed on the individual by society, family, and self. She has published short stories in several journals including Connotation Press, Blacktop Passages, Halfway Down the Stairs, The Writing Disorder, Crack the Spine, and more. Learn about her published fiction on her website.