Second Chance


Mark Rickman

Email: MRICKMANS@aol.com



‘I might as well have kept my mouth shut,’ the almost transparent shade of Mabel Green muttered resentfully. Her husband Sam rustled his morning newspaper in the light breeze, sneezed noisily into a crumpled handkerchief, and ignored her question about his cold. ‘I only asked because you don’t look well.’

   The truth was he hadn’t looked well since she passed over. Guilty conscience, she thought. Not about her death, Heaven knows that was natural enough. No, he had a conscience because instead of holding her hand and helping her through it, he’d turned away and walked out of the side ward.

  His irascibility had increased, she noted wryly. Or would have if he had anyone to be irascible with. Knowing there wasn’t much time left to either of them, she untied the loose knot in her hair, lifted its light mass with both hands, and allowed it to fall back on her bare shoulders. Smiling at Sam’s grimace of distaste, she settled beside him on the bench he and their sons had named in her memory.

   When she was alive, she often shrugged off his complaints about her walking about with no clothes on. It was only in the house, she told him. Her parents were naturists. Tumbling about naked with her siblings was the way she had been brought up. She had a housecoat to slip on for callers and meter readers. Who was going to see her naked apart from her husband? And he never seemed to mind. Not when they were young.

   Now that no one but Sam could see her, she’d extended her range to the small park across the road. He still disliked her wearing nothing but what was the point of a see-through nightie on a see-through ghost? She asked him as much the first time she manifested herself. A question that led to threats of bell, book and candle and every other horrid thing he could think of.

   ‘You’ve got a wicked tongue, Sam Green,’ she complained when he finished bellowing at her. ‘We were married fifty-four years. You ought to be pleased to see me. The boys only visit you once in a blue moon. If it wasn’t for me, you’d have no one to talk to.’

   ‘I’d rather have no one to talk to,’ he snapped. ‘Besides, I’m only seventy-six. How is it going to look if I bring a new wife into the house? She might see you cavorting about with no clothes on.’

   ‘She wouldn’t see me,’ Mabel retorted. ‘No one but you can see me. And it’s not as though she could touch me. Not even you can do that.’ She shed a near invisible tear, wishing he could touch her, hold her in his arms even. She had grown to dislike much about her husband and his bad-tempered outbursts when he’d had a bad day in the shop but she’d always taken comfort in the warmth and nearness of his body at night. She was happy in the early days of their marriage. They loved each other, or so she thought when his desire for sex and her need for affection seemed to be the same thing.

   ‘Why couldn’t you have treated me properly?’ she asked him, wondering where and why it had gone wrong, and was rewarded with another sneeze and an irritated shift further along the bench. ‘I was a person, wasn’t I,’ she persisted. ‘Before I died and became a ghost I was a person. Someone entitled to a little consideration when you came home from work and took your coat off? Someone to have a conversation with when you sat down at the dinner table and picked up your knife and fork? If I asked you to put away your newspaper and talk to me, you looked as though you hated me. What was so important in the newspaper you couldn’t talk to your wife for five minutes? You’re doing it now. I don’t know why you hate me, Sam. You looked as though you loved me when you asked me to marry you.’

   ‘What did I know about love?’ he asked aloud, making a couple passing by look sharply at him. ‘I was twenty years old. What did I know about anything?’

   Mabel laughed softly. ‘Not a lot,’ she conceded. ‘Do you remember how we met?’

   Sam folded his newspaper and turned to look at her. ‘Of course I remember how we met. It was here. It was January. The pond was frozen over. You got in my way while I was trying to win first prize in a nature magazine with a photograph of a duck skidding on the ice. You made me buy you a coffee and a doughnut. Oh yes, and your nose was red.’

   ‘Samuel Green, you are a dirty rotten liar. You cannoned into me, almost broke my ankle, sat me a bench and said the least you could do is buy me a cup of coffee. Only you had no money so not only did I limp to the café and have a red nose, thank you very much for reminding me, I was the one who paid for the coffee and the doughnuts. You didn’t even thank me. No wonder you’ve always taken me for granted.’

   ‘I did not always take you for granted,’ Sam replied, remembering the glow of her upturned face when she looked at him over the steaming cup. He hesitated for a moment. ‘I did love you when I asked you to marry me. I always loved you. I never wanted anyone else, did I? What more do you want from me?’

   ‘You shouldn’t have left me on my own when I was dying, Sam. I wouldn’t have been afraid if you’d held my hand. I needed you.’

   He shifted uncomfortably. ‘Is that what you’ve come back to tell me? To make my life even more of a misery?’

   ‘No, Sam, I came back to ask why you stood up and walked away from the bed.’

   ‘Because I didn’t want you to die. Because I hated what was happening to us. I tried to keep you alive. I couldn’t bear it.’

   ‘You’re my husband.’

   ‘I know I’m your husband.’ Sam tried to put a hand on hers and withdrew it when he felt nothing. ‘I knew one day you’d ask why I didn’t stay. You think I didn’t make excuses while I walked the streets outside? I didn’t stay because the dog hadn’t been fed. I didn’t stay because I had no black shoes for the funeral. I didn’t stay because I’d been offered a lift home. I didn’t stay because I had to get some air.’ He shook his head. ‘The truth is, I didn’t stay because I didn’t want to cry in front of the nurse. I walked away because I was losing you and I was terrified. I came back, didn’t I?’

   ‘Yes,’ Mabel said softly, ‘you came back and sat with me all night until the boys came in the morning. You cried then, Sam. After you came back, you held my hand and kissed my forehead and you cried. What were you wishing for when you kissed me, Sam?’  

   ‘I was wishing it had been me that died. The boys would know how to deal with a grieving mother. They’d put their arms round her and say you’ve got us, Mum. You’ve always got us. What can they say to a grieving father? What could I answer? I wish I’d been a better husband. I wish I’d been a better father? I wish there were such a thing as a second chance.’

   ‘A second chance?’ Mabel asked while she gently closed his eyes and watched him fade to her own near transparency. ‘A second chance is what Heaven is for. Didn’t you know?’

   For a few moments they watched the girl standing at the edge of the small lake, her nose red and her arms wrapped round herself against the bite of the cold January air. An astonished duck spread its wings and frantically tried to regain its footing as it landed and skidded across the ice. On cue, the girl yelped in sudden pain when the boy with a camera cannoned into her and apologized. Mabel and Sam rose to leave when the boy half supported, half carried the girl to the bench.

   While he knelt to fuss over her ankle and say the least he could do was to buy her a cup of coffee, the girl saw the small plaque on the back of the bench. As he began to search his pockets, slap himself on the forehead, and confess to having no money with him, she wondered who Mabel Green who loved this place and invited others to sit and enjoy it with her might have been. It was with the strangest sense of déjà vu she ran her fingers over the sudden warmth of the plaque and heard herself say, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’ll buy the coffee.’ From somewhere came the ghost of a giggle when she added, ‘And something tells me you might be wanting a doughnut, too.’


©2006 Mark Rickman

Mark would love to hear what you think of his writing - email him now