The ghost who lives in my apartment is crying again. I ask her why, but she only shakes her head. “Saudades,” she whispers, brushing me away with hands that slip right through me.
I do not speak Portuguese, but my mother told me once about an old Spanish word for a woman who spends too long looking out windows. I cannot recall the word, but I wonder if they knew what she would look like when they invented it. Did they know that she would sit by the window, her lovely dark hair neatly brushed, a black veil covering her face? Did they know that she would die pining, thousands of miles from home, sitting still at the window as her own death came and went? I wonder if they knew what she was waiting for. I wonder if she does, after all these years.
I sit with her in the mornings. Sometimes I can coax her from the ledge, sometimes not. I pour her a cup of tea to be friendly, and sometimes she tries to be friendly back and wafts a bit of the steam towards her mouth, sucks it in between lips that were once painted scarlet, now charcoal grey. She smiles at me, lowering her eyes. She is an old fashioned woman, and I have only ever made her laugh once, her mouth covered by a gray gloved hand.
I bring the newspaper in for her, turning the pages when she finishes each section. I make sure it is in Portuguese, although sometimes when I speak Spanish to her she nods. She does not speak, although I know she can, for often in the night I hear her humming and wake to find my clothes strung up on a line. I try to tell her that I have a drier, that she does not have to wash out my clothes for me, but she just shakes her head, pressing her hands against her heart, and whispers, “Saudades.”
The Sunday before last I brought her a brigadeiro and a beijinho de coco. I was not sure what either of them was, but I hoped that she would know. She sat for a while looking at them, gently running her fingers around the candies, unable or unwilling to touch them. Her hands shook, a slight smile on her face, her huge dark eyes wide with wonder. I tried to leave them with her, but she took my hand—she touches things better when she forgets she is dead, I have noticed—and pushed them into my hands. She seemed delighted to watch me eat, and I did my best to smile approvingly at her from time to time.
The ghost in my apartment loves television, especially movies. She makes me watch spaghetti Westerns, the old romances my mother used to watch as she folded the laundry. She nearly fell over laughing when we watched I Love Lucy, and spent the next six weeks miming the candy scene. My ghost is easily entertained.
Last weekend I left for a conference and returned to find my ghost sitting by the window for the first time in months. I sat beside her for a long time before she noticed me and laid her head on my shoulder. Her hand rose slowly, pointing across the street, and I followed her gaze to a carriage sitting in the middle of the road. A man watched us from the open window. He had a thin mustache and thick dark hair, like one of the villains in our Westerns. His white shirt was starched under his suit jacket. He offered a hand to her from the carriage, but she very slightly shook her head, lowering her eyes to the table. He inclined his head, and the carriage departed.
Tonight, in the little Portuguese I have picked up from my library books, I ask her what is wrong.
“Saudades,” she replies. This is all she ever says, but this is the first time it has made me angry. I drop my dish too hard in the sink, and I hear her make a low, whimpered sound. I wish she were real. I wish she were real, but tonight it is for all the wrong reasons. I wash my face in the sink with shaking hands. The water is very, very cold.
“I could help you, you know,” I tell her, “if you only told me what was wrong.”
The summer starts to fade. Night comes more quickly, and I sometimes find myself walking back from the university in the dark, the smells of the city leaving me ravenous. Soon I will have to book a plane home. I wonder if any of my friends are still in New York, or if they will be leaving soon, too. I wonder if there will be anyone to pick me up at the airport, or if I will have to take a taxi. I wonder where I will stay, when I do.
I am packing. My ghost sits in the corner of the room, occasionally stands and starts to fold my clothes. She keeps dropping them, and after a while I realize that they are falling through her hands. She takes off her gloves, and that seems to make it a little easier for her. I finish packing around midnight and lie down. My head aches, but I do not move from the bed. She stands in the corner, and I cannot tell if she watches me or the street below. I glance at her, once, and I swear I see her nod.
In the morning the house is empty. I check every room for her, from the kitchen to the laundry. I do not see her until I go outside to look on the balcony. I yell her name—the only word I knew her by—but the carriage dissolves into the crowd.
I drink my tea in silence. I watch the window. Somewhere in the heart of the city, my flight comes and goes. I wait. Mail accumulates on my doorstep, and I begin to dip into my savings for the rent, but I wait. I think about getting a gun and holding it to my head, staring out the window, if that would do any good. The vulgarity is ultimately what excludes the option, but I know that I would do it if I thought it would work, and I know that that should scare me. I go through my missed calls, marking them as read. I save the ones from my family, but I do not listen to them.
One day I see a woman with a black parasol sitting on the street corner. She is well-groomed and wears a long charcoal dress. I watch her as she waits, and as her taxi pulls away, I realize that she has left her purse on the bench. She does not turn her head when I call out to her, but I do not call loudly.
Among the many items in the purse I find a ticket. It is one-way, nonrefundable, and I cannot read it any more than I could understand the ghost, which is probably why I decide to keep it. It is written partially in Portuguese, partially in a script I do not recognize. I keep it in my hand as I watch the window, running my nail up and down the edges, careful not to crease it or spill my coffee. I begin to learn the routines of the men and women on the street, where they stop and who they talk to. I find myself smiling as I see old friends meet, and when they separate I watch the brightly colored cars that come past, taxi after taxi after…
It is not a carriage this time, but I recognize the driver. He extends his hand as slowly as before, a wry smile on his face, and I hold up my ticket. He inclines his head. I grab my coat and my suitcase, still sitting by the door after all this time. I give the apartment one last look, checking to see if I have missed anything. I tuck I Love Lucy into my coat pocket, and find myself wondering if there will be DVD players where I am going. I decide to save the details for later. A cab is waiting for me, after all.
“One-way,” the driver observes as I step into the back seat. “You sure you want to make the trip?”
“A friend of mine left something behind,” I reply. “It would be cruel not to give it back to her.” The cab pulls away from the curb and starts to sink down into the asphalt. I keep my hands in my pockets, one on my ticket, and in the other, the ghost’s silver gloves.