Carmen Lau

"I heard his footsteps on the porch last night. His tread was unmistakable. I could hear the shuffle of his slippers too."

Your mother was the one who cared for Grandpa until he passed, the one who fed him, bathed him with a sponge, changed his catheter, pulled his pants up when they dropped around his shaking legs, paid his hospital bills, paid for the open-heart surgery that was one of the last efforts to preserve him, so it is yet another slight when he appears at your aunt's house instead of yours. Your aunt, who wasn't even blood-related to him, merely his son's wife. Though, your mother muttered, of course he would always prefer his sons.

At the corner of your living room the altar clouds with incense every night. In the morning you check to see if there are bites out of the chicken and rice. Your mother squints and claims there are nibbles on the chicken skin.

"You liked the chicken, didn't you?" she says to the framed black-and-white photograph of Grandpa. He is in his 30s in the photograph. His teeth are intact and he smiles with the confidence of a man with a long life ahead of him. "I knew you would."

The next night your aunt hears him rocking back and forth in the rocking chair.

"It was his favorite place to sit when he visited, you know. He would sit for hours and tell me about his life. He had such an interesting life."

On the short drive back to your house, your mother says, "Interesting life my ass. He sat around the house doing nothing while your grandmother worked herself to the bone. She would work, and then she would come home and do the laundry with her bare hands. She would cook and clean the house and take care of us, while he did nothing. Nothing."

At home, your mother scrubs the floor on her hands and knees, then makes dinner and lights incense and puts a bowl of pears and oranges in front of Grandpa's photo.

"Yum," she says to the photo. "They're ripe and sweet."

Next morning, your mother's chipper voice:

"Oh, did he? Again? He was singing? Yes, that was his favorite song, wasn't it? Well, I'm glad to hear he's enjoying himself over there."

The fruit has clearly not been touched.

You decide you don't believe in ghosts.

That night, in sleep, you struggle through a network of subterranean tunnels. A horrible place with a mineral reek. Finally, you squeeze through into a room filled with clocks. Grandpa is there, the age he was when he passed, breathing raggedly, hunched over his cane.

"I'm stuck," he says. "Help me. I want to get out of here. I can't find any way out of here. Please, help."

You wake. You never tell your mother about this. What could you do, even if it were real? Who would she believe? And who's to say it's not possible that Grandpa is imprisoned in a creepy underground room and, at the exact same time, singing his favorite song on your aunt's porch? It's impossible to tell how ghosts really work.

"There's a bite in one of the pears," your mother says with studied nonchalance the next day. "He must be coming around."

"Great news," you say.

Carmen Lau has stories in or coming from The Collagist, Hayden's Ferry Review, Gigantic and others.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of M.B. Grigby.

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