The sound reverberated all around as Philomena slammed her ghostly knee into the coffin’s red-tinged cover. She occupied the space between her old body & the satin lining of it. Her spectral form had been mostly separated upon her death, but for some reason, the translucent wisp that was her new big toe wouldn’t break free from the old one. She’d been forced to watch as the mortician scooped out her insides, all relatively pink and healthy looking save for her wretched heart. Had witnessed as he tugged the dress her husband, Gerald, picked out for the wake over her shoulders, tearing the back and pinning the seams. He was convinced no one would see that part again anyway. She’d laughed at that, and old Stewart had heard her and been momentarily terrified but convinced himself it was the incinerator and got back to work.
She wasn’t so upset about the tear. It hadn’t been her favorite dress, and she couldn’t for the life of her understand why Gerald picked it. It was loose fitting, with a gauche floral pattern and a neckline that plunged a bit low for her tastes. In fact, it had barely left her closet since he’d given it to her on their third anniversary. And now here she was, stuck inside of its itchy fabric for an eternity. Not that she could feel it anymore, no, that had all ended when she’d lost her head. But she could see it, and the way it accentuated all the parts of herself she hated, and that was bad enough.
The first few hours in her new predicament were the worst. It was just so claustrophobic in this tiny box that Gerald bought her. She didn’t blame him, of course not, how could he have known there would be two of her in here? Had he been aware, he surely would have sprung for something much roomier. He was kind like that. Alas, now she felt like she was suffocating, 100% of the time. And, seeing as she didn’t need to eat or sleep anymore, the experience was a bit exhausting. The one small favor she’d been afforded, though, was her lack of a sense of smell. Obviously, she couldn’t imagine how putrid her old body was becoming, but she could see it and hear it. Pockets of flatulence still escaped from her innards for the first few days, and despite Stewart’s best efforts to preserve her, the skin on her cheeks was coming off in sheets.
It didn’t take long before old her fingernails were so long that, had she still been alive, she wouldn’t be able to pick up a pen and write a letter anymore. Wouldn’t be able to type on the keyboard she’d loved oh so much in her lifetime. And her hair, which had always been shorn close back in those days when her mind wasn’t a separate entity of her body, was reaching down to her shoulders. To be honest, she was quite sick of it. She’d avoided mirrors in her waking life, had preferred the simple pleasure of looking at others instead of herself. So why should she be chained to this form she had no love for back then? Who had she pissed off? And that’s why, day in and day out, she kept slapping her knee into the roof of her casket. To no avail.
She wasn’t awarded a reprieve for what felt like a hundred years, though Gerald had held onto her coveted Rolex so she could no longer really tell. It could have been only a few months for all she knew. But after all her time of unsuccessful kicking, thudding, and smacking her incorporeal knee up in an attempt to escape, she heard the unmistakable sound of a Whack. It was a bit distant, a few feet from her, but it was getting closer. She had to stop kicking for a moment to be sure, but when she did, she was positive. Someone, or something, was coming to save her.
After another hour or so, the Whack was closer than ever. In fact, she was certain that she would be able to feel it, had her mind still been in her old body instead of this new one. The Whack became a Crack and finally, a Crumble as the roof of her coffin caved in. The first splinters fell onto her old chest, and she was relieved that it gave her a bit more modesty than Gerald’s shitty dress ever did. The grave robber reached her arms in and rooted around, seemingly even less concerned with her smell than she was, and searched for something. Philomena couldn’t make out her face, but she could tell that something was off about her.
In moments, the grave robber had finally ripped the full top off of her new home and exposed her to the elements. There was no light of day like she’d hoped, but the moonlight was a welcome intermission from the claustrophobic mess she’d been in. The grave robber’s hand passed through her new form, trying to pilfer all she could from her corpse below. She laughed at the absurdity of it. This was, as it was known amongst the locals, the poorest of the three cemeteries in town. She wasn’t sure what the other thought they’d find here. But she tried something, whispering: Check my shoes.
The grave robber looked around, wild eyed. She let out a little yelp, and an unseen partner a way’s away shouted, “What’s wrong, Beula?”
Beula let out a sigh of relief, and yelled back, “Must be the wind in the trees, but I swear if this thing didn’t just speak to me.”
Beula’s partner peaked his head over the uneven cliff of well-manicured grass above them. He was handsome, with a soot covered face and a shock of red hair. He was missing his left incisor, and let out a hearty laugh. “That’d be the day.”
She tried again: I’m telling you, check my shoes.
Instead of reacting this time, Beula’s hands drifted from where they were, trying to wrest Gerald’s cheap engagement ring off Philomena’s finger, and retreated down to her modest black flats. She ripped the left one off, and searched inside of it, to no avail. Obviously, Philomena wasn’t hiding anything in there, but she could feel the happiness as the grave robber got closer to what she wanted. Beula started to busy herself with other parts of Philomena’s body before the ghost whispered: No, it’s the other one.
Beula’s eyebrows shot up to the top of her head. She was now fully aware that someone, somewhere, was speaking to her. She wasn’t sure who, but she obeyed their demands and reached now for the other shoe. When she got it off and looked inside of it, there was still nothing of value, and she started to get angrier than before. Frustrated, she pocketed the few pieces of jewelry that she found and started to climb out until she heard the old voice, one last time: Check my stockings, you dolt.
Beula, furious, tore the sock off of Philomena’s foot and what she saw there made her wretch. The skin had mostly pulled off with it, and there were maggots on her flesh. In a fit of rage, she grabbed Philomena’s slimy toes and tore at them, knowing that she’d find nothing there, but taking solace in the fact that she could do a bit of damage before she left. The biggest one fell off with a loud Snap, and Philomena freed herself from her prison. She let out a breathy sigh of relief and wanted to throw her arms around this interloper. To kiss her on the mouth and thank her for giving Philomena the comfort that Gerald had never been able to.
And then, Beula heard one last sound: Ahh… thank you.
Philomena stretched out her ghost limbs and wondered what to do with her newfound freedom. She considered stopping by her old job, to see if they’d cleaned out her desk and hired someone to replace her. Or by Gerald’s house to see if he’d waited any time at all to take in a new lover. No matter what, she’d do anything to get away from that body. Let Beula take whatever she found and be done with it already. It’d never done her any good while she was alive anyway.
She decided to fly up, as high into the sky as she could. She wanted to see the parts of this town that her old body would never go. To experience places that Gerald could never ever take her. To mingle with the other ghosts she hoped, no prayed, were still left here on Earth with her. And she thanked God, and Beula, and anyone else that was out there to listen, that she’d never have to thud her own phantom knee into that satin prison again.
Bob Raymonda is the founding editor of BreadcrumbsMag.com. He graduated from Purchase College with a focus in creative nonfiction. His other work can be found in Potluck Mag, Visual Verse, & Quail Bell Magazine. Learn more at: www.bobraymonda.co.