It’s our anniversary tomorrow, I say.
Ollie shrugs, looking out the window to the beach where the guests gobble the dinner buffet and little children prance their mad dances on the sand.
Ollie and I have lived in the honeymoon suite of the Carmel Beach Resort for five years. We’ve waited out five rainy seasons that pummeled the hotel so hard our window quivered. We’ve watched the drizzle send the guests skittering to their rooms to fuck and ogle cable TV. We’ve seen more sun-washed days than either of us care to remember. A stay of our duration should cost £665,000, but we’re dead, so it’s complimentary.
I admit – there’s not much to celebrate. Five years of Ollie sitting on the window seat pulling on that same cigarette. The maids don’t understand why they can’t get the smell out of the room.
For the moment, the honeymoon suite is empty – apart from the standard jumble of rose petals, a bottle of champagne lounging in ice, and chocolate hearts wrapped in foil. The champagne is the cheap stuff but the chocolate is decent.
Ollie adjusts his hideous swimming trunks, and the nylon hula dancers wiggle. I wonder which of my exes are married by now. I’ve had a string of boyfriends and girlfriends who I used to count like rosary beads, because if I got to the point where I couldn’t remember everyone I’d fucked, I’d be a different sort of woman. Ollie came along when I was tired of tallying. He gave good head and better presents. But if someone had told me we’d be stuck in our honeymoon hotel for all eternity, I might not have gotten hitched.
This is your fault you know, I say, I never wanted to get on that fucking boat.
The day I died I had a hangover. All I wanted to do was sit in bed with my laptop and half a pig of room service bacon. But Ollie objected. ‘It’ll be fun. You’ll like it when you’re out there. C’mon Mariko, it’s part of the package.’ We’d chosen this hotel because the deal included flights, room, meals and beach activities. So I pulled on the halter top bikini and braved the beach.
The door bleeps and we look over to see our guest. She has long hair that falls over her eyes and a slight slouch like a teenager. She tips the porter generously but carelessly, not counting the fist of coins.
She’s cute. Ollie says.
I feel a shiver of something – jealousy? But I agree – the thick fringe that comes down to her eyes was made for brushing away. I just nod.
Cuter than the last lot, he says.
They were sweet, I say. The last lot were on their sixtieth wedding anniversary. When the nuzzling, mumbling, tumbling started I hid in the bathroom, humming Itsy Bitsy Spider and counting the tiny turquoise tiles.
The new guest walks to the bamboo-framed mirror that faces the bed. She prods at the bags under her eyes and a pale spot at her hairline. No partner is forthcoming from the hallway. She picks at the gap between her front teeth with a thumbnail and then sucks the thumb.
Late thirties, I’d say, Ollie says from his seat.
I lean against the mirror trying to get a better look. She’s older than she first seemed. There’s a stiffness around the mouth and a tightness at the forehead. Before we died, I’d guess a woman’s age by comparing her face to my own.
She takes a picture of herself with her phone, but deletes it immediately and throws herself down on the bed. The abandoned phone hums. She picks up. ‘Fuck off.’
As she shouts into the phone, she wrinkles and unwrinkles her little nose. She looks like a sad mouse. ‘What do you mean you can’t hear me? Of course you can hear me, you son of a bitch.’ She clutches a pillow to her chest.
Ollie has a far off look, and a smug little smile.
I know what you’re doing, I say. Stop that right now or –
Or you’ll what? he says. Kill me?
As ghosts, Ollie and I have a pretty shit time of it. We can’t fly or throw things, or make people see spiders that aren’t there. I don’t know if cats or dogs can see us; pets aren’t allowed at Carmel Beach. Walking through walls gives me a migraine. Mostly, we hover around the honeymoon suite, which is the closest place to home. The beach and buffet are pointless if you can’t tan or eat. Ollie hates the outside because it reminds him of how we died.
We do have one lame power. We can play what one red-faced guest called jiggery-buggery with electronics. I stroke the phone signal smooth, undoing Ollie’s mischief. Mouse bites her lip so those gappy teeth stick over the edge. I reach out and pet the fringe, and she shivers and bats at me as if at a mosquito.
‘You’re paying for this you bastard. I hope you die,’ Mouse says to the phone. ‘No, I hope I die. Anything so I never have to hear your idiotic voice, ever again.’
Now there’s an idea, says Ollie, Threesome? Of course, we’d have to figure out how to get her. Freak electrical fire?
You’re a sicko, I say. A sicko.
Ollie smiles. You love it.
When we married, I knew in the back of my head that we could get divorced. I wasn’t planning on it, but I knew it was possible. If I got fed up of the Marlboro Lite that danced at the corner of his mouth like a nervous tick, there was always divorce.
She clicks off the call. The phone’s background photo is Mouse and a guy wearing a rugby shirt, beige shorts, and flip-flops. I despise him immediately. He’s not worth it, I say.
I figured out the hard way that Ollie and I were trapped here together. There’s some sort of barrier around the resort. That first month, every time we fought I’d barrel into it. I wasn’t trying to get to heaven, just to Stansted. I wanted to haunt the people I’d known. I wanted to watch my mother fluff all the cushions in the house before her book group. I wanted to visit my sister at uni. I wanted to go to raves and float in the bright throb of the living.
Mouse snuffles, wiping her nose on the back of her hand and up her arm. I sit on the bed next to her. I run a finger down the cheek. I dab the tears that run down the side of her nose and she sniffs harder.
It’ll be all right. You’re better off without him, trust me. Shhh . . . shhh . . . shhh . . . What is the brain if not electricity? I try to smooth out those signals. Shhh . . . Shh . . . Shh . . .
Ollie sits on the other side of the bed and I glare at him to tell him to shove off.
To Mouse I say, Leave while you have the chance.
Ollie runs a finger over her eyelashes. He winces as the thick spikes travel through his skin. She blinks harder. Was I ever ghost-touched? Did the dead run their heatless hands over my back and arms?
This one is mine, I say to Ollie. Leave her alone.
Ollie ignores me.
Do you think he stood her up? At the altar I mean? Or left her afterwards? Or she found out he was having an affair? Ollie seems almost gleeful. Unhappy visitors cheer him up. I think they make him feel less alone. They remind him that you don’t have to be dead to be pathetic.
What insulted Ollie more than the death itself was that we’d always be that couple who died on a banana boat. A punchline.
I don’t remember the speedboat that hit us, only the taste of petrol and pain. When I woke up, if woke up is the right phrase, I was just offshore. Shreds of plastic floated like yellow leaves around me, but my blood had gone away with the fishes. I suppose my body is a pile of ashes at Mum’s now. I don’t think I knew I was dead until I saw Ollie. The ghost of my husband lay translucent on the sand, his shaggy hair plastered to his face as if still wet. It was looking at his death-silvered eyes that I knew my life was done.
I’m serious, leave her alone, I say.
I’m not doing anything.
You’re giving her bad vibes.
Bad vibes? He snorts.
I didn’t used to believe in bad vibes or ghosts, but what did I know? Outside, fireworks flower as they do every night on Carmel Beach. For a moment, every gleaming surface of the room holds the glitter.
In the morning, Mouse wakes up, rolls over, and stares at the empty side of the bed. I stretch out there, so that we’re lying nose to nose. I can feel her breath moving through me. She smells of the hotel shampoo and fabric softener.
Whatsherface and Mari kissing in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, sings Ollie. Oh wait, that would be bigamy.
Shut up, I say. Till death do us part. We’re over.
If I hadn’t missed my bus, I’d never have met Ollie, and I wouldn’t be dead. I was crying at the bus stop. My face all snot and sniffle, not for any good reason – just that I’d reached twenty eight and didn’t have anything that I wanted to hold on to. Ollie was just another commuter. If he’d said anything, I’d have told him to fuck off, but he didn’t. He walked across the street to Sainsbury’s and came back with this box of tissues and a mango smoothie. ‘It’s not drugged. Honest.’ And his smile looked delicious.
Mouse calls room service and orders brown toast and foamy milk. She eats the foam with the teaspoon, her eyes shut with the pleasure of it. I wish I’d known that trick while alive, how to take only the very best bit.
She brushes her teeth and does jumping jacks in front of the bathroom mirror, counting to fifty. Her palms make little paddles like she’s trying to swim on the spot. She calls someone, Hi, it’s – She says her name, but I cover my ears. It’s best not to know the names of your favourite guests. You don’t want to get too attached. Still, it hurts that when I take my hands off my ears, she’s saying she’s leaving.
‘Even if the bastard is paying for it, it’s not worth it.’
You’re pathetic, Ollie says.
I’m not as tragic as you and that woman with the bedazzled toenails. We allow each other this, this looking. After all it’s not like we have much else. I’m not enough of a hypocrite to hate him for wanting to press against warm flesh. Ollie taps the edge of his cigarette, but no ash freefalls.
I sit on the edge of the bed and watch her pack. She steals the sewing kit, and two little bottles of shampoo. She picks up both pairs of slippers with the hotel’s crest embroidered in garish gold.
They aren’t worth it, I say. The soles are made of cardboard.
She puts them back down. For a moment, I imagine that she heard and that we’re leaving together at the end of our first holiday together. She has the sort of face you could feel possessive of. You’d take pleasure in lifting out a strand of hair caught in the lips. It’s easy to imagine showing off her picture and saying, But it doesn’t really capture her. A camera couldn’t catch the private look she’d give you. What if she and I had been together on that yellow rubber lozenge of death?
Then again, maybe anyone becomes unbearable after enough time in the honeymoon suite.
Don’t do it, Ollie says.
Shut up, I say.
You know what’ll happen, he says. Mari, don’t be stupid. His voice is gentle, kind even. He says stupid the way he used to say darling.
But it’s been five years. And I have to try. I just have to. I follow her. Perhaps the hotel shampoo can carry me past the barrier. The resort is large, consisting of a main building, hideaway huts, swimming pools, bars, an office, kitchens, and onsite staff housing, which guests rarely notice because a resort bus takes them out to the road.
Today the bus is crammed with families, babies and the smell of sun cream gone rancid. Mouse perches halfway off her seat. The driver checks, ‘All in?’ She plugs in her headphones. The bus judders, and I hold onto her wrist. I can feel the lull of her pulse. We pass the guard’s gatehouse and the toothache-pink welcome sign. I grip tighter to my girl.
But it happens.
My body slams into the invisible wall. I lose her. The fall is a single rip of pain – I tumble backwards through baby, baby seat, flippers, goggles and truck bed on to the dirt path. I keep my eyes shut until the rumble of the bus is gone and all I can hear is sea and the simper of this summer’s pop hit from the guard-hut. Sun stabs through me, my lonely skin untouchable even to photons. I walk slowly back to our room. I drag myself through each splinter of our door.
I wait for Ollie to tell me he was right. He blows a stream of non-existent smoke.
I have a present for you, he says. He makes room on the window seat, and smushes his face in concentration until the red light of the speakerphone goes on. The numbers dial one by one.
‘Hello?’ says her voice on the other end. ‘Hello? Hello? I can’t hear you? Who is this please? If this is you, you fuckwit, it’s not funny. I have to get on a plane.’
Lucky you, I say. It doesn’t seem fair that she gets to leave.
Happy Anniversary, Ollie says.
Happy Anniversary. I laugh. So does he.
We mime the clinking of champagne.
On the last night of our lives, we lay as close together as people could be. I curled fastened inside his arms. His body was a breath too hot but I didn’t care. Even the discomfort of it was a joy, because it reminded me he was there and holding me. ‘Stay with me,’ I said.
‘Yes’, he said.
I think about asking him if he remembers that. Instead, I say, Give us a drag. And he places the cigarette between my teeth. I can almost taste the shimmer of nicotine.
Maybe, I say, Maybe, we should keep the next one. I lean on his shoulder and don’t fall through.
Okay, he says, and I remember that he always did give the best presents.
Photograph © Shizzi