The ghost always appeared when Noel was in the shower. A pervert ghost, she thought. How lucky. The ghost itself wasn’t a surprise. The house—a four-story Queen Anne that smelled like the Boer War and had been turned into flats—was full of them. For the most part, they stuck to the usual hijinks and tricks. They appeared when you didn’t expect them, rearranged the furniture, banged on the pipes, messed with the lights. Occasionally, they cried.
Candace, in apartment one, got a kid ghost. Scrappy thing with a bowl cut and a sailor suit. He mostly hung out under her kitchen table, like a dog, and scratched at her feet. Noel once found his tiny navy necktie near the basement washing machine. Candace was relieved when Noel returned it—the ghost, she said, had been looking for it.
A lady ghost lived upstairs with Deb in apartment four. Unlike the others in the house, Deb’s ghost was modern. Sixties era. Big-eyed and barefoot. Janis Joplin hair. Pouty. Noel had only seen her a couple of times: once in the backyard, and a second time near the mail slot. The tenants all agreed the crying they heard was Deb’s ghost, though Noel always wondered if it was in fact just Deb, sobbing over her latest break-up, or the sight of her Roman nose.
Jun lived down the hall from Noel in apartment two. A Masters student, he was into robotics, cycling and potted plants. Cat ghost. Every Monday, Jun left a fresh can of tuna outside his door. Noel noted, it was sometimes empty by the end of the week.
Apartment five was vacant, but there were ghosts there too.
Noel kicked off her running sneakers, chucked her socks in the laundry and stripped out of her gear. 31:13. New personal best. She cranked the tap in the tub, waited for it to get hot, lit a candle, and turned on the shower. She liked the steam. The way it cleaned her pores, rid her body of the city smells that lingered on her skin: pigeon shit, sauerkraut, Saturday night, the dead lilacs and dumpsters.
Just as she went to rinse the shampoo from her hair, there he was. Pervert ghost. Six foot-threeish, hipster beard, fucked up ears—the kind sported by kick boxers and wrestlers. This was the third time this week. Go away, she hollered, elbowing the shower curtain. Do something useful like make me a sandwich. Take out my trash! Fix the little screw that keeps coming off the radiator. Fuck.
Noel finished rinsing, turned off the water, climbed out of the claw-foot tub. Was that an impression on the plush bath mat? Size eleven? Twelve? Her imagination. There was only one print. She smiled. My pervert ghost has a peg leg. A pirate. She towel dried. Went to bed.
A week passed before pervert ghost reappeared. Noel was at Candace’s with the rest of the tenants for their monthly potluck. Jun had brought a seafood casserole and she hoped he’s hadn’t used the hallway tuna. Candace made salad. Deb brought KFC. It was Noel’s turn to bring dessert and she’d stopped at a bakery on the lower eastside to buy a six-pack of fancy donuts. For fun, she bought a sprinkled one for Candace’s ghost.
“Anyone got news?” Deb asked, on her third drumstick.
“My girlfriend’s coming to visit,” Jun replied.
“From China? Ooh,” Candace teased, making a kissy face. “And what about you, Noel? Seeing anyone lately? Any Lumberjacks or Cross-fitters we should know about so we don’t kick ‘em out of the building?”
“Nada,” Noel smirked, licking the icing from a coconut donut. She was still hopeful she and Todd would get back together after his residency. Just wait ‘til he saw her legs.
“By the way,” Deb said. “Landlord was in this morning. He finally fixed the lint trap.”
“It’s about time,” Candace sighed.
Noel hadn’t seen him. Must have come during her run.
Jun said, “I’d given up and was using the campus Laundromat.”
“Alright neighbors.” Noel stood. “Gotta go. I have a massage in…” she paused to check her watch. “Twenty minutes.”
“Have fun!” Deb called.
“Want your donut?” Candace asked, plucking a sprinkle from the top.
“I’m good.” Noel waved, and walked out the door.
After her massage, Noel wanted to take a shower. She hated the feeling of oil along her hairline. But the spa was out of hot water. Something about the construction site next door. Noel wrapped her hair in a bun and walked home.
No ghosts greeted her. Only flyers in the hall and Jun’s bike. She climbed the stairs, opened the door to her apartment, and dumped her purse in the front entry. She found sprinkles in the living room. Maybe pervert ghost and kid ghost have swapped units. Candace has bigger boobs and Noel could use a more youthful vibe. The massage therapist told Noel her skin was starting to sag and sent her home with hyaluronic acid.
Noel tossed her sweater on the radiator. Finally. The Landlord had fixed the loose screw. She grabbed a towel from the linen closet, went to the bathroom and turned on the fan. Fuck a shower, she thought. I’m having a bath.
She filled the tub, added bubble bath and slipped into the water. Within a few minutes, pervert ghost was there, face hovering inches from the shower curtain marred by the steam and the curtain’s Paris motif. Now what? She thought. Do something other than just watch. Like get me a glass of wine! There’s Pinot Grigio in the fridge. Noel laughed, plugged her nose and dunked her head under the water.
When she resurfaced, pervert ghost was gone. She threw on her robe and went to her bedroom. An amputee with cauliflower ears stood in her doorway. A man of size. She could smell him. Cat food, donuts, and sweat. He held up a glass of wine and winked.
Bio: Ali Bryan lives in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, where she explores the what-ifs, the wtfs and the wait-a-minutes of every day.