I have a phantom in the grey kitchen cupboards, the ones I built-in 2011. The hardware consists of brushed nickel handles. The nickel hinges insist on creaking and clicking, not unlike a murder of starving crows.
A lost soul dwells in my free-standing cabinets, cabinets that float sixteen inches above the black marbled countertop.
The Onyx marble was rough cut from the crags of the Apuan Alps. Carrara quarry appears as a medieval castle in the starlight, complete with unseen tower guards. Carrara is in Northern Italy, the same region that birthed Leah, the Dying Slave, and David.
Michelangelo freed his captives, one at a time, using a utilitarian wooden mallet, chisels, and an assortment of hardened steel punches. Tools rumored to have been given to him by God herself. Damn it, if Michelangelo can’t convince you there are ghosts, then I have my work cut out for me.
I hand-crafted the kitchen cabinets using a table saw, a miter box and an electric router, and an assortment of hand tools. Their design includes four etched doors in the upper cabinet, two on each side of the porcelain farmers sink. Each glass door is arched. The glass allows me to choose a variety of exotic spices. Each spice has to yield just the right DNA of flavor for each dish I create.
I must tell you. My reclusive ghost has an aversion to the spice. Yet not once has anyone complained about my gourmet cooking.
She prefers to remain undiscovered. And so, she bivouacs out of sight: behind saucers and cups, doors without glass, in back of the Japanese tea set I purchased in Japan.
This may sound bat-shit crazy, but I honestly believe the ghost intends to remain captive, not unlike the Catalan souls that remain shackled in the marble at the Carrara quarry.
Best I can recall, it started a few years back. The ghost appeared late one night while washing the dishes, glasses, a fork, a spoon, and the butter knife. I’d been crying behind the waterfall, good water pressure, and a Delta faucet, too embarrassed to listen to myself.
Somehow, over the months after, I lost my mind, at least the GPS functionality motherboard. I panicked.
After, I ran all the red lights that stop you from doing stupid shit to yourself. An emotional car crash loomed at every synapse of an intersection. All the streets and highways turned into electro-biological accidents waiting to happen. Absent the steady pulse of headlights. I raced ahead into the abyss.
And to think, she’d always said, “Tanner, you are my rock.”
I guess I’m a rock, a molten lava rock. I possess the same molecules as a man, but not the ones she’d come to know over the years. In case you can’t tell, I’m angry, depressed, and open to all sorts of endings. My rage is liquid fire amber.
“Life isn’t meant to be this way,” I think out loud. Weren’t we special, after all? Doesn’t this crap happen to others, not me?” I was such a fool, not an uncommon disease when you are preoccupied with a fragile ego.
From above the shelf that supports the plates and cups, far away from the faucets’ sound absent white noise, I can hear it. It’s a distinctive sound, a Stradivarius with a rusty bow. It sounds as if a language is being invented, maybe the tuning fork before the new speech.
It’s a female’s voice, the voice that echoes and resonates off the edges of dishes, and the rims of glass, along the cupboards hollow corridors.
Of course, the din is alien, an insanity sonar, if there is such a thing. But at this stage, I become well versed at lying to myself, so it doesn’t matter.
I turn off the noisy faucet. Then all sound disappears. “It’s God damned late!” I shout over my shoulder, surprising even the lazy shadows as they relax in the claustrophobic darkness.
Nothing, not one damned peep, comes out of hiding.
Filling the lake of anxiety, I place the Grey Goose bottle in its nested cubbyhole, just above the stainless steel Samsung refrigerator.
I take a shower, super hot. Steam allows me to disappear again. And after, I hit the sack, afraid I’ll wake.
The following week, I host the neighbors and their eight-year-old daughter for her birthday party, more space in an empty house. I try to be kinder since after.
I act the clown with huffs and puffs, creating lions, tigers, bears, and a lofty, skinny giraffe. Out of breath, I use my imagination to create an 800-pound impish gorilla. It floats above us, quietly and sad. None of the other party balloons can make it smile.
After the neighbors go, and I find myself alone in the kitchen again, I hear it, the vibrations that insist on rising from inside the cupboard.
Today I intend to share her disappearing act. I head to the family room and sit in one of two high-back chairs. Black hours flood out of the TV screen, like the elevator scene in Stephen King’s movie The Shining.
As they do, years wash years, vapors over times horizon. The neighbor girls have grown away from zoological creature balloons. They have alive, breathing dogs and cats.
It’s funny. I especially feel alone among friends, neighbors, and loved ones: a dead father in Omaha, Nebraska, under the snow, a mother in Midtown Manhattan still thinking we were a piss-poor match. She’d said, “You never got married. What in the hell is wrong with you two.” I’d said, “What in the hell is right with you?” We haven’t spoken in months. She’s ghosted me.
Over the last several months, the decibels from inside the cupboard have grown distinct. Vowels are being rehearsed, concatenated subject and verb.
It happens one extraordinary evening. I am seated at the kitchen table, along with a half bottle of vodka.
I listen to the verbal exchange coming from the cupboard. I swear it is self-talk, only in a foreign language. Short of completely losing my mind, I commit to deciphering the repeated whispers, “Kanashimi, Kanashimi.” Later that evening, Google’s Wiki surprised me. Kanashimi means sadness in Japanese.
I conceptualize the beautiful noise as an aspiring melody. The melody is not unlike that of the songbirds, the flits perch on my winter sycamore branches, just outside the kitchen window. I will never forget the melodic lyrics as they were twisted into a strange lingo, “Anata ga jiyūdenai kagiri watashi wa jiyū ni narenai.” I wrote them down.
The next day, I focus on phonetics. And later, I pursue what language is in the song. I discover the roots are Japanese lyrics. I scribble and re-scribble words, words into a sentence of sorts.
Later that night, I discover the meaning. The lyrics are from an ancient Zen song, “I can’t be free unless you are free.”
It’s difficult to admit to myself that the lyrics have meaning, shades of purpose. After all, this crazy shit is coming from my kitchen cabinets. But I am ok how grief makes me feel as if I am losing control. We’d shared this after losing a son.
I’ve been there before, the place where the ending is more honest than the beginning, the place where you tell yourself, “Go ahead, dude, cut that damned monofilament fishing line that keeps you tethered to this miserable, safe, and predictable world.”
I’ve grown to enjoy the melodic voices, extended self-conversations, her beautiful songs. After all, I eat consequences like my favorite peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwiches.
I haven’t shared my secret with anyone, not even my therapist. Well, maybe a little of it, but she was too damned busy looking through me, or out the window, just over my shoulder, way and the hell beyond her anxiety, beyond the parking lot, past the plagues, through the clouds perhaps, those awesome clouds that insist on building all those comfortable, imaginary worlds. The sprite inhabits the kitchen, where it’s warm in the winter.
As I grow comfortable with her vernacular, I began to meditate and practice mindfulness. I do the work of becoming one again, at least in terms of spirit and mind. I’ve turned into a damned good listener, especially when it comes to Japanese verse and song. With all the changes and my becoming, I make sure to enjoy each new day. This lowers my angst. It allows sleep to drag me out into the middle of the night and knock me unconscious.
It’s spring. I noticed she’s less talkative, the ghost.
She’s easily distracted, maybe preoccupied with too much silence, as if it’s contagious and has infected her. I fooled myself into believing she is practicing Zen meditation along with me or simply respecting boundaries, something I’ve studied. This works with the dead, as well as the living.
Like me, she’s made sure to retire earlier each night, and more often than not, we sleep-in later.
I overhear the ghost as she rehearses the word Sayonara. We all know what that means.
I’ll let you in on a little secret, I’ve commenced grieving. It’s something you can learn after all. Now, the grieving is mostly for me, not for the ghost in the cupboard. After all, she’s just a fantasy.
My housekeeper, Sarah, deep cleans twice a year.
It’s one of the true luxuries I enjoy—most things I do for myself, which is part of my problem. Sharing pain and discomfort has nothing in common with weakness. Sharing this is more about letting loved ones get close and get to know you. Humankind is beautifully flawed, something that sticks us together like Gorilla Glue.
This time, Sarah is kind enough to clean the cupboards inside, including the porcelain Japanese Tea Set.
She works on the shelves that I have been neglected for far too long. We laugh at the spilled ginger powder and the scattered granules of Tibetan salt, the powdery Matcha. Sarah chuckles and blames it all on my Zen mouse. When she’s finished, the cupboards shine anew, the dishes too, and the Japanese Tea Set sparkles.
Near the end of the day, over coffee, Sarah discloses how much she loves modern dishes, cups, and bowls, but her favorite is the Japanese Tea Set.
Wearing a childish grin, she admits how she covets the beautiful celery hued, Japanese teapot, the matching cups, and saucers. “Of all your dishware, the tea set stands out,” she says.
I pause and ask, “How would you like to have the Japanese tea set?”
She’s all Cheshire grin, “Thank you so much. I’ll take good care and cherish the set, Tanner. Thank you for being so kind.”
After she’s gone, I reflect.
It has been nearly two years since she and I had enjoyed our Sencha green tea. Now that Sarah has the set, and my grief has brimmed, the ghosting complete.
Before I turn off the light, the one from my favorite reading lamp, I still and recall what she’d said, “I love you. Tanner.” Maybe it was for the last time. Sadly we mostly don’t remember such things. She said, “Be brave, my bad-ass boy. Take the love we grew and find someone new.”
The ceiling is the best place to choke back tears. Just look up for a bit.
Since I’ve become a ninja wizard at speaking Japanese, I have fallen in love with language romance, all languages. I think hard about signing up for beginning French at the community college. The spring semester starts soon.
I remember the flyer saying the class includes a Franco group tour. The college schedules a trip each fall. The journey is part of the course, part of our learning experience.
Dan A. Cardoza’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared, or will appear in After the Pause, Apricity, BlazeVOX, Bull, Cleaver, Entropy, Fri(c)tion, Gravel, Grey Sparrow Journal, In Parentheses, Open Journal of Arts & Letters, New Flash Fiction Review, Poetry Northwest, Running Wild Press Anthology,2021, Spelk, and Your Impossible Voice. He’s been nominated for Best Micro Fiction, Tiny Molecules, 2020 and Best Poetry, Coffin Bell, 2020.