Off the Shelf
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In Conversation with Ghosts


“We have your wife here at the station, Mr. Finnegan. She’s totally fine, but a bit shaken up.”

John’s hands were shaking as he cradled the yellowing phone receiver. “Jesus, thank you, thank you. God Almighty, I was worried. When did she get there?”

“She’s been here since noon. Quite an assertive little lady. She’s been demanding for bus fare to get home since she got here, but she can’t tell us where she lives. Took a while to get your phone number from her.” The police officer chuckled on the phone. “Are you able to come and get her? Or give us your address and we’ll drive her home.”

“I’ll come get her, Officer, thank you. I’ll be there in twenty minutes, can you tell her that? Twenty minutes. God bless you.”

“We’ll see you soon, Mr. Finnegan.” The officer hung up.

John got out to the car as quickly as his arthritic knees would allow. He was about to pull out of the driveway when he realized he hadn’t called his daughter yet to tell her Jane was safe. He thought about leaving anyways, but knew Maeve would be worried sick. He hobbled back inside to the phone.

“Maeve. They found her. At the police station downtown. She’s alright.”

Maeve let out a long sigh.

“The police station downtown? How on earth did she get there? She doesn’t have any money! She left her shoes at home, for god’s sake.”

“The officer didn’t say. But she’s alright, Maeve. Not even a scratch.”

“Well, thank God. But, Dad, this was the longest she’s been gone for. And we’re lucky it hadn’t snowed yet, can you imagine that? She would have gotten frostbite. It makes me sick to think of her, walking in the cold, confused and alone … ” Maeve trailed off, her voice becoming thick.

“I know, Maeve. I know.” John’s voice dropped as well. These were all thoughts he’d had last night, lying in his bed, wondering where his wife was. She had been missing before, but always for an afternoon here, an evening there. She would walk in the door with a triumphant look on her face, and when he asked her where she had gone, she would say “Can’t I go somewhere on my own?” and flounce away from him. He would chuckle to himself, because he knew she didn’t damn well have any idea where she had gone, and that would be the end of it.

“I think we need to start really considering what Dr. Brennon said, Da. She might not be safe at home anymore. You can’t watch her all hours of the day, no one could. I know it’s not a great time to be thinking about it, with Christmas coming up and all, but I don’t think we have a choice.”

“I … Maybe you’re right. We can talk about it later. I have to go get her now, Maeve. Thank you for looking.”

“Of course. Give our little Houdini a big squeeze for me.”

John hit the 4 p.m. traffic heading downtown and came to a dead stop on the highway. It would be at least half an hour now. He thought about calling the police station but he hated using his cellphone. And, really, was Jane going anywhere?

He thought about what Maeve had said. It was the same thing that Dr. Brennon had said, that his sister had said, that the social worker had said. Jane needed more care. She wasn’t safe. He couldn’t look after her 24/7. He had heard it from so many people, but it never changed his mind.

He wished he could talk to Jane. His Jane, not the paranoid woman who hid wads of cash from him in their sock drawer. His Jane would know what to do.

He pictured her in her dancing clothes, a colorful silk dress with sky-high heels. She would be sitting in their living room, sipping a beer, waiting for him to take her out. He could never take her out enough.

“Finn, you know what’s best. You’re just avoiding it.” He could hear it, her high, sing-song voice saying his nickname. It was the only music he wanted to hear.

“But Jane, how do I send you away?” John could feel the floodgates opening and tears welled in the corners of his eyes.

“And here I thought I’d never see the day you cry over little old me. It’s alright, Finn. Let it out now.” She would hold his hand, and rub his back until he got a hold of himself. Then she would take his chin in her hands and look him squarely in the eyes.

“Finn, you know that’s not me. I’ve been gone for a while. Just look at that woman’s hair! I would never do that to my hair. You better take her to the salon soon, people will start to figure out that I wasn’t a natural blonde.” Jane would laugh, and toss her platinum blonde hair.

“You’re there sometimes, Jane. You still know me, and the kids. We go for walks in the park like we used to, and we go to church every morning. You still love the wisteria in the yard, and movies with Fred Astaire. You still hate football.” John smiled at the thought of his wife ever loving football.

“Yes, and let’s talk about that wisteria. You’ve been hacking it to pieces! You have to be gentle, Finn, gentle. You’ll get there.” She would wink at him, and just like that, it was as if she never left.

“But you’re still there, Jane. I can’t send you away if you’re still there.”

“Finn, it won’t be me at all soon. She won’t know who the kids are, or you. It will be so much harder to get her out then.” She would finish her beer, and put it neatly on a coaster. He thought of the coffee table at home, covered in rings.

“You think that you– she– won’t recognize me? You really think that?” The tears came back, flooding his face. He had clung to this, her recognition of him, like a rock in the turbulent sea.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. But I know she won’t. It’s not her fault. The disease can’t be stopped.”

He slumped over the steering wheel, defeated.

“Oh Finn. You have taken such good care of me. You’re a good man. But you have to let that woman go, because I promise it isn’t me.” She would reach out to him, and put her hand on his knee.

“Of course I have, Jane. You deserve the best. I– maybe I didn’t say this enough when you were really here, but I … I miss you, that’s all.” He stumbled on the words, trying to get them out before the tears choked him up again. Jane would smile knowingly, and take his hand.

“And I have missed you, Finn. I’ve missed you dearly. But I will be so mad at you if you let that crazy woman ruin the rest of your good years with our kids. You have to make this decision now. Find somewhere nice, somewhere with a garden that you can visit often. She will be fine there. She’s going to live longer than all of you, I can promise you that. She’ll live for spite! That’s how you know there’s still some of me in there.” Jane would laugh her signature cackle, the one that showed the silver fillings in the back of her mouth.

“But Jane … what will I do when you’re gone?” John asked, his voice wavering. He was ashamed to even say it aloud but the thought haunted him when he was up late at night, walking through their house alone. There was an easy, clockwork nature to caring for this new Jane; get her meds, take her to church, make sure she’s fed and safe. Repeat. It was only now that he realized how many hours in a day there really were.

“Finn, we have a wonderful family. And wonderful friends. You could go see them, you know. You could go back home, and see your cousins — you haven’t seen them in years. Watch football at the pub every Friday with Andy. Have dinner with Maeve every Sunday. You will be okay, my love. It is okay if you have some fun without me.” She would lean back on the sofa and smile at him again.

He could stare off into space picturing his wife, his Jane, smiling at him in her silk dress until the end of his days. But he had arrived at the police station.

“Hello, I’m here to pick up Mrs. Finnegan?” he said to the receptionist.

“Ahh, yes.” The receptionist stood up and walked towards a separate room. “She’s a little … irritated.”

“Oh yes. I’m sure she’s just tired.” John was sure she was more than irritated, but he thought it was polite of the receptionist not to say so.

Jane was standing up with her arms crossed, pacing back and forth. She looked like a pissed-off little bird. Her eyes narrowed when she saw him.

“About time! You left me here ages ago and I have things to do, sir.” She grabbed her coat and pushed past him. He nodded at the officer in the room, and turned right back around. He walked a pace or two behind her, until she stopped suddenly at the front door of the station.

“This way, Jane. I’m taking you to the car.”

Back at home, when Jane was napping, John called Maeve.

“Maeve, I’ve been thinking. We should try to find a place. I want it to have a garden — a beautiful one.”

Maggie Hulbert Maggie Hulbert (2 Posts)

Writer-in-Training

Queen's University


Maggie Hulbert is a member of the Class of 2020 at Queen's University. She is an active member of the medical humanities community, and spent this past year developing the first Jacalyn Duffin Health and Humanities Conference. Her favorite writers include Danielle Ofri, Roxane Gay and Samantha Irby.