I’m a food delivery driver. It seems I have a habit of picking up strays.
MISTER LEMMY’S NAN
I’m a food delivery driver, and I’m calling myself a “Rusher” here so I don’t reveal which service I work for. Oh, and my name’s Marie.
I live and work in a small town with a normal side filled with small weatherboard houses and people who leave their homes to be social or take in the air, and the less-normal side that has the big, older houses and antisocial people. It was in that older part of town that I met my Little Bud.
I should probably live in the old part of town, as I’m pretty asocial myself. I don’t have any family, and I don’t seek out friends. Blame it on a bit of past trauma, maybe, but I like my life to be as uncomplicated as possible. I don’t have money for the old part of town, though, so instead I live in a dull one-bedroom apartment that’s my own safe corner of the world.
Only… Well, it’s been some weeks now since I last saw my Little Bud. And I’ll admit, I miss him.
Anyway, there’s still too few Rushers for a town that’s catching on to the food delivery trend. It was my second order of the day, an early dinner, for a big old house I’d never been to before. The tip didn’t end up turning out that good, but I was right next to the Chinese place they were ordering from, so went to collect the order with only a small degree of grump.
Ever since my Little Bud left, I drive listening to music. I guess it makes the car seem less… lonely. So, singing along in a loud ‘Ho-ho he-ho-he hi-hadee-hadee-ree’ (it’s some weird Viking stuff, I’ve got no idea what they’re saying) I turned onto the correct street and started checking street numbers. The delivery instructions (I read them always now) just said “hand it to me”.
I found the number, and got a pleasant surprise. I call this part of town “antisocial” because what I was looking at was a sight you never see here: three kids, two on scooters and the youngest on a ride-on train toy, were zooting around their driveway and out onto the sidewalk. I turned down my music and, the kids moving aside with their toys, pulled into their driveway.
‘Nice to see you guys playing out here,’ I remarked, getting out of the car with their dinner.
The littlest one just stared up at me, her soft blonde hair in pigtails. The eldest boy looked sheepish, like I was telling him off. The middle one, though, pulled a big shrug of seven-ish-year-old shoulders.
‘Mom’s sageing the house,’ he said. ‘She told us to go play.’
The eldest shot him a look, then said to me, ‘We’re supposed to come in when you get here.’
‘Well I’ve got Chinese for you,’ I said, leading the kiddie troupe to the front door. I was sure it was unlocked, with the kids out here, but I wasn’t just going to barge in. I rang the doorbell.
It took a couple minutes of standing awkwardly with the kids on their doorstep before a flustered-looking woman yanked the door open. Her cheeks were flushed and she was still holding a burning bundle of sage in one hand. In case you didn’t read the first post: I at least try not to judge.
‘You were fast,’ she said to me, eyeing the food bag I was holding. It sounded less like she was impressed with my Rushing promptness, and more like she was irritated I was already there.
‘We try to be!’ I told her, my best customer-service smile in place, and held out her food.
The lady took it, but she was distracted by something behind me.
‘Don’t you dare pet that cat!’ she snapped.
I looked around. The middle child had frozen, halfway towards petting a fluffy grey-and-white cat that was standing, back arched for a scratch, beside the kid. Where the cat came from, I’ve got no idea, but he looked pretty clean and friendly.
The kid slowly retracted his hand.
‘Come in now,’ the woman barked, beckoning her kids with two fingers (the rest were holding the bag, and her other hand was still wafting a bunch of burning sage). ‘Dinner.’
The eldest and youngest dutifully skirted past me and into the house. The woman had left the door open, leading the kids to the kitchen. The middle child gave the cat a last, longing look.
‘Not your cat?’ I asked him.
The boy shrugged again.
‘Mom doesn’t like cats,’ he told me, and followed his siblings into the house. He shut the door at his mother’s yell to do so.
I was left on the doorstep with a fluffy cat who was still just standing there, though it had eased its back to a more neutral stance. Call me a sucker, but watching that cat blink slowly, then lower its butt to the ground and sit, just staring at the door shut in its face, made me think it looked forlorn.
I’m not a cat person. I’ve never had a cat. I don’t know cats beyond what I see on the internet.
But I gave in, stooped, and scratched its fluffy head. From the mom’s reaction, I half expected it to fly, suddenly, into a rage and scratch my arms to ribbons.
It didn’t, but the cat did pull its head back to sniff my fingers first. Satisfied I… didn’t smell evil? it bowed its head for a scratch.
A scratch the cat, from its enthusiastic response, loved. All over its head I scratched, the cat directing the petting by moving its head into my fingers. Then it stood up, arched his back, and I scratched down it.
It got the cat purring in a loud way – like it was begging for more. It started winding back and forth, getting me to restart and restart again my scratching, purring all the while and bonking its head on my leg in what I assumed was an affectionate gesture.
And it got me feeling how skinny the furry thing was. Just looking at it, you’d think the cat was well fed. But under all that fluffy fur the poor thing was just skin and bones.
Telling myself I had work to do, I pulled myself away. But I sat in my car looking back at the cat for a long moment before I cranked the engine over. That cat hat sat back down and was looking at me. Sadly, I thought.
It wasn’t my cat, I told myself. It didn’t have a collar, but it could be a neighbour’s cat. Maybe it was just so friendly it wanted all people to love on it.
So I drove off, and my life continued as normal for a while. Until I had to think about that cat again because I accepted another 6pm dinner delivery at their house. They tipped better this time.
It was raining, so I wasn’t surprised to see the kids weren’t out playing that day. I was surprised, though, to see a beat up old car in the driveway. For houses like these, grand and prestigious, the car looked like an anomaly.
And, rather than surprised, I was just saddened to see the cat still there. It was sitting right on the doorstep, out of the rain. It looked up at me with big innocent eyes as I hurried from my car to the door.
‘This cat…’ I said to the woman when she yanked open the door (no sage this time). ‘Is it yours?’
The woman did look at the cat, but she looked away quickly. Her lips pinched into a disapproving line.
‘No,’ she answered shortly.
I was overstepping my role, I knew that. But the cat had stood up and was looking like it wanted to slip past the woman into the house. She moved a foot to bar it entry.
I was still holding her food. My delivery wasn’t finished until I followed instructions and handed it to her.
‘Is it a neighbour’s?’
If possible, the woman’s lips had thinned even more.
‘No,’ she snapped, holding her hand out for the food. ‘If you must know, it was my mother’s.’
The woman was then distracted by a loud thump from inside the house. It was accompanied by the sound of glass shattering. The woman whirled around.
‘Benny!’ she screeched. ‘What was that?’
There was a beat of silence. Then what sounded like the eldest child called back, ‘I donno mom… We weren’t doing anything!’
The littlest started to cry. I heard a man start to sooth her.
Harried, the woman whipped back to face me.
‘Can I have my food?’ she said coldly.
Hesitantly, I handed it to her. The woman snatched her food and went to shut the door. She paused, glanced at the cat, then glowered at me.
‘Don’t pet it,’ she said, then shut the door.
I was probably going to get a bad review from her. Knowing that, right there on her doorstep I bent down and petted the cat. Once again, the cat seemed to love it. It didn’t even need to sniff to make sure I wasn’t evil this time.
And when I turned to head back to my car, it followed me. The little, skinny, fluffed-up and cold thing trotted after me when I hurried off the step. I slammed my car door shut with it stood outside in the rain, having followed me right to my door.
It’s not yours, I told myself, feeling like a sack of shit. It’s not your cat. You have no reason to care for it.
And what was I going to do anyway? Take the cat in? Give it a nice home? It wasn’t my cat! And I didn’t know how to care for it.
I like to tell myself I have a heart of stone, but it’s not true. By my last job of the day, I was still thinking of that hungry, lonely, sad cat, out there in the chill and rain. A cat who’d followed after me, purring.
And I still felt like a sack of shit.
So I went back. I finished my last order and went back. Parked on the side of the road one house down from the cat’s place at one in the morning, I took a moment to think.
Was I really planning on stealing someone’s cat?
They wouldn’t miss it anyway. Not the mom. The middle child might, but he wasn’t allowed to pet it.
I was pretty sure I wasn’t allowed to have a cat in my apartment.
Fuck it, I thought, and got out of my car. I’d at least go look. If the cat wasn’t there, I’d leave, my decision made for me. If it was…
The cat had packaged itself up neatly on the doorstep, all paws tucked in under it. I saw it by the light from the streetlamps, the porch light was off. And the cat spotted me.
With a heart-wrenching meow, it hopped up and, despite the continued rains, trotted up to me. Down at shin height, it bonked its head against my leg, wound its way around, and bonked me again. Its purr started up, loud in the quiet night.
So I’m a cat-napper. I gave in, hoisted the long and skinny cat up, and hurried back to my car, hoping no one was looking out their windows. That would be an even worse review. Or, potentially, a police matter.
‘I stole a cat,’ I whispered to myself, sitting in the driver’s seat and staring out at the scene of the crime. On the passenger seat beside me, the cat mewed.
It was a good car-mate. I’d half expected it to bound up onto the dashboard and block my view or get itself under the pedals, but it just lay down on the passenger seat and, every time I reached over to pet the damp fur, purred.
Back in my apartment with a fuzzy grey and white cat looking up at me (I’d smuggled it in under my coat), I tried to figure out what to feed it.
‘Lemon and cracked pepper…’ I considered the tin of tuna. It didn’t sound right for a cat. ‘Chilli – nope.’ Big round eyes stared up at me. I stared back. ‘Do you eat stir fry?’
The cat blinked. I took it as a “no”.
In the back of my cupboard, I eventually found a tin of regular tuna in brine and gave the cat half (I needed something to feed it in the morning). The cat ate it all up with gusto, obviously starved. I improvised kitty litter with a cut-up and duct-taped cereal box lined with newspapers and filled with the soil from a pot cactus I’d actually managed to kill by forgetting to water it. Doubting, once again, my ability to care for a cat, I did remember to put out water for it.
‘I’ll get you all the things in the morning,’ I promised the cat, hoping it understood to poop in the box of dirt only. ‘And if you want me to return you to that house… um… scratch at the front door?’
In addition to getting all the things (and after I’d checked my bank balance) I took the cat to the vet.
‘You’re going to make me work harder to pay for this,’ I told it before scooping the cat off the passenger seat and carrying it into the vet’s, ignoring all the frowns from people as I just held it slung over my shoulder in the waiting room. The cat wasn’t complaining.
‘What’s his name?’ the vet asked me.
“His” was a bit of a revelation, me having started thinking the cat was female.
‘Ah…’ I ran through names in my head. ‘Clement,’ I offered.
So now I have a “rescued stray” cat called Clement. He’s about twelve or thirteen, by the vet’s guess, and, though undernourished, otherwise in generally fine fettle.
You can call me out: I’m actually a big softie. “Clement” quickly degraded into “Lemmy”, and I quickly started to enjoy seeing him when I got home from my deliveries. The cat showed me just how love-deprived he’d been: following me around, mewing to me from the kitchen stool as I cooked, snoozing on my lap when I gamed, and curling up against me every night. Though he had a habit of knocking things off the coffee table or my desk when he wanted attention, he was otherwise a model house guest.
And, back then, I could find no reason why the woman had been so anti-him.
I even started to consider taking Lemmy out for my deliveries as a companion, but I didn’t want to get caught out in the neighbourhood I’d napped him from. So I continued with my mad Viking music, and looked forward to going home more than I used to.
I got no more delivery orders from Lemmy’s original home, and for that I was glad. I did get a 1-star review that called me “rude” from the woman, but it said nothing about cat stealing, and in a town with few Rushers, it didn’t really matter.
I was coming out of the bathroom one morning when I heard a thump and a CRASH from my living room-cum-dining room.
‘Lemmy?’ I called, running over in my towel.
The cat was sitting on the coffee table, calm but alert. The TV had toppled right over, off its stand and face-down onto the floor.
‘Aw – Lemmy! What’d you do?’ I complained, losing grip on my towel as I went to haul the TV back up and check for damage. It worked all right, I found, though one corner of the plastic frame had popped out from its backing. I tisked, irritated, and asked the cat not to bounce off the electronics.
He stared back at me. In fairness, he wasn’t known for doing that. Plus, I was telling him off in the buff, so I didn’t feel I had much superiority. Ergo, I let it slide and gave him a pet he appreciated.
The next night, though, I came home to all my herb and spice jars knocked of their shelf and rolling on the floor, oregano everywhere. Lemmy must have had one hell of a party on my spice shelf. This time I did give him a stern talking-to, while he stared back at me, and resolved to buy him some cat toys in the hope they’d help get his energy out.
The older cat, however, turned out to only play for a minute or two before flopping over and starting to groom himself.
‘Well,’ I said, putting the wand-toy aside, ‘I tried to tire you out. Don’t knock things over, mister.’
My attempt seemed to work. I got home that night to the house as I’d left it. Feeling like I was making progress in the cat-owner thing, I went to sleep pleased.
And I woke up, startled, to a loud WHAM followed by a clattering. It sounded like it was coming from my kitchen.
‘Lemmy!’ I groaned, blinking hard to get my eyes to work and pushing up onto an elbow. ‘What’d you do?’
And then I noticed the cat, floppy with sleep, was pinning the blankets down between my legs. He was lying down, but had picked his head up to stare towards my bedroom door.
Icy prickles went down my spine. If the cat hadn’t done it, then…
A moment frozen in horror, then I slid myself out of the bed around Lemmy and tiptoed over to the door. I poked my head out, my heart hammering, looking for some creepy-ass intruder.
The main room was clear, so, darting over to grab up Lemmy’s new scratching post for a weapon, I carried on into the kitchen and, taking a deep breath, peeked into the room.
My toaster was on the floor, but the room was empty, and so was the bathroom. I checked all the cupboards, my front door, and the windows – all clear of intruders or locked. So I went back to the toaster.
Even if Lemmy hadn’t been sleeping on me, there was no way he could have done this. The toaster had been flung so hard across the kitchen it had left a dent in my fridge. Another chill went down my spine.
I tolerate ghosts like I tolerate spiders: I don’t mind so long as they’re not in my home. And a violent ghost, if that was what this was, was a far worse thing to have in my home than a spider. My last ghost hadn’t been violent.
Lemmy had followed me into the kitchen. He’d sat down just outside the door and was staring into the middle of the kitchen, seemingly at nothing.
‘Lemmy?’ I whispered. He glanced at me, though only briefly, returning his eyes to the thin air in the middle of the room. Then his gaze moved, as though tracking something that passed by me and into the main room of my apartment. He shifted around and peered that way.
Goosebumps rose all up my arms and into my hairline.
‘Lemmy…’ I said again, my voice hushed. ‘Can… cats see ghosts?’
The cat glanced at me, blinked, then went back to staring into the main room. I eased out of the kitchen and peered where he was. I don’t think I was expecting to see the ghost. I’d only caught rare glimpses of Little Bud, and only though glass or in the mirror. I was more dreading it’d go and throw something else – I was more than ready to jump right out of my skin if it did.
Nothing there, and though I stood petrified for a long moment, nothing more got thrown. A shudder went down my spine. I looked back to Lemmy. He’d stopped staring at something invisible. Lifting his paw, he started grooming his face.
‘It’s gone then, is it?’ I whispered to him. He didn’t look up, but I took the fact that he flopped over to groom his belly as an indication. My shoulders eased somewhat, then I got a new thought. ‘Lemmy,’ I said, wary, ‘did you bring the ghost here?’
He started grooming his crotch.
Great. Well now I had a cat and a violent ghost, whether Lemmy was the reason for both or not. But, though I tread warily around my house for the rest of the time before I headed out for deliveries, nothing more got thrown. And, for the first time since I got Lemmy, I was less than looking forward to going home.
I got to my door at about 1:30 in the morning. With trepidation, I opened the door and looked in.
Lemmy, as usual, came trotting toward me, meowing a greeting. I gave him a pat and searched the house. Everything was normal until I reached my bedroom:
Every drawer in my dresser had been yanked out. Clothes were tossed all over the place, a scattering of drawers decorating my bed and floor.
‘Oh… shit…’ I uttered, staring at the mess.
Having used up my savings on cat stuff and with no friends to go to, I curled up with Lemmy on the couch that night, a lamp left on. None of that would stop a violent ghost, but my bedroom was too spooky to enter right then. I’d started to take Lemmy as an indication whether a ghost was about or not. If he was snoozing, grooming, or paying attention to anything that wasn’t an invisible house guest, I figured all was currently clear in the apartment. I watched him on tenterhooks for any indication he had something I couldn’t see to watch.
It had taken me ages to fall asleep, and when I did it was more an uneasy drowsing.
I was snapped abruptly awake by the sound of a blind rolling up with a loud whirr and clack! I sat straight up on the couch and stared as, at the next window over, the blind appeared to yank itself, then roll right up to reveal early morning daylight outside. A second later, the last blind followed the other two. And then there was silence.
My heart was thundering. Barely breathing, I looked over at Lemmy. Sat on the floor by the couch, he watched something move over to my bedroom door. And then, from my bedroom, came the sound of my curtains being thrown violently aside, the rings skidding and clattering on their rail.
My eyes pinched shut at the last sound: my bathroom blind being yanked up.
When I opened them, Lemmy was staring at something across the main room. I saw nothing, but something was definitely there.
‘I haven’t done anything to you!’ I shouted at it. Perhaps because it made me feel a little less scared. ‘Don’t take your shit out on me! And it’s your fault I was up late! You’re freaking me out! And now you wake me up early? Asshole! Chill would you?’
I got no response, and for that I was glad. If it had thrown something else, like I’d pissed it off, I might well have shat my pants. But, eventually, Lemmy blinked, turned around, and hopped up onto the couch with me. He settled himself on my lap and started purring.
‘You know, mister,’ I muttered to him, giving him a pet, ‘if you’ve brought some grouchy ghost into my home I’m going reconsider keeping you.’
It was an empty threat, and Lemmy wasn’t concerned. He shut his eyes and purred happily. But I figured I now had a better understanding of why the woman at Lemmy’s old house had relegated the cat to outside.
My fear abated faster by the light of day. I spent ages tidying up my room, and got a load of laundry washed, dried, and into its basket for when I finally got around to folding it.
‘Don’t let grouchy ghost hurt you,’ I warned Lemmy on my way out. ‘Hide somewhere safe if it’s in a throwing mood.’
The cat had followed me to the door. He sat and just watched me as I shut the door. I steeled myself, and went off to earn enough to support the two of us… and hopefully make a bit more in case the ghost busted my fridge or something.
I was glad to see Lemmy was fine when I got home, trotting to the door to greet me as usual. I trod slowly into my apartment, looking around.
The blinds the ghost had so viciously thrown open that morning had been pulled shut. It wasn’t me who’d done that, but it seemed a benevolent action on the part of the ghost, so I carried on, not sure I wanted to see what had happened to my bedroom this time.
Cautiously, I peeked into the room. All my drawers were shut, my bed as I’d left it. But the curtains, like the blinds, were shut, and, on my bed, was my basket of laundry. I’d left that last one balanced on top of the drier.
‘Okay…’ I said, more speaking to myself than anything. Lemmy wasn’t currently looking at a ghost, so I didn’t think it was there right now. ‘Thank you for chilling,’ I began. ‘That was nice. I appreciate it. And… um… thanks for closing all the blinds and curtains. I’m going to take that as a sign of apology for freaking me out.’
Nodding in agreement with my own words, I calmed myself down enough to get ready for bed. A nice ghost wasn’t too bad. It did make me consider becoming a never-nude, though. I simply never wanted to be naked around a ghost, and I don’t think many people would disagree with that stance.
‘Your friend’s a pain,’ I told Lemmy, tucking myself in for sleep. ‘I hope you realise that.’
He closed his eyes, curled in beside me, and rested his fluffy head on a paw.
Once again, I was woken by the sound of blinds being pulled up. Though I sat straight up and my heart ratcheted up to racing, I wasn’t as scared as I had been the previous morning. Maybe part of that was me getting used to it. The other part was that each of the three blinds went up with less snapping force than they had before.
I watched Lemmy, and Lemmy, sitting beside me, watched the ghost as it came into my room, rounded my bed, and pushed, reasonably gently, my curtains open.
‘Good morning,’ I said to it, trying to treat it all as something to be perfectly calm about. I glanced at my bedside clock. 9:30, on the dot. That was better than yesterday. Lemmy was still watching the invisible curtain-opener, so I went on, ‘Thanks for letting me sleep in… I could’ve done with another hour, though. I’m still sleep-deprived and I get home late.’
I didn’t cop a drawer to my face, so I assumed the ghost wasn’t too irritated by that. By Lemmy’s gaze, they moved around the bottom of my bed and, making me scrabble suddenly backwards along the bed, hoisted the laundry basket right up and dumped it where I’d been lying.
Lemmy hopped off the bed and followed the ghost out. I stared at the laundry basket.
‘Uh…’ I called out, scrambling out of bed to follow Lemmy and the ghost. ‘Okay, I’ll fold my laundry. I’d appreciate it if you were less… erm… forward about it, though… ’
Hoping it wouldn’t start throwing things again, I still jumped a bit when the bathroom blind went up.
‘Good,’ I said, my voice a bit jittery. ‘All the blinds are up. I don’t get around to that always.’
The fridge pulled open. Peeking into the kitchen, I watched the orange juice I never drink dump itself on the countertop. The fridge shut.
‘And I’ll drink that,’ I agreed. ‘If it’s not expired…’
Lemmy watched the ghost come out of the kitchen. There was a moment of nothing, then Lemmy turned, trotted to the apartment door, sat, and started scratching it.
I frowned at him. He’d never done that before. And then I remembered asking him to do it if ever he wanted me to return him to his original home.
I shook that thought off. He was just a cat. Cats didn’t follow instructions – I hadn’t once thought Lemmy was even understanding a thing I said to him. He was probably just wanting to go outside. He had lived outside for a while – perhaps he was simply sick of pooping in pellets and wanted a nice hedgerow to crap in. As I hadn’t a garden… I could look into cat leashes.
Anyway, there was no way I was returning him to be hungry and shut outside in the rain again.
‘Come on mister,’ I said, going into the kitchen. ‘I’ll give you breakfast… while I drink my orange juice.’ I said the last part a bit louder, so the ghost would hear.
I came home after my deliveries to all the window shades, once again, pulled down or shut. And the dirty dishes I’d left in the sink had been dumped on my bed.
‘All right,’ I muttered to the empty apartment. ‘I’ll do the dishes.’
The blinds being yanked up woke me again the next morning. I rolled over and looked at my clock. 10:30.
‘Thank you!’ I called to the ghost.
The days settled into a weird new normal. I had to buy a new toaster, but the ghost didn’t break anything more in my house, and for that I was willing to treat it with politeness. Even if the fussy-uninvited-invisible-guest did have a problem with dirty dishes, unfolded laundry, and the hole in my favourite pair of jeans. Over two nights I came home to it dumped on my bed, the hole prominent, until I grumbled and got out needle and thread, just to make the ghost shut up about it.
Weirdly, I did actually start getting used to it, though I got irritated when the ghost tossed out my toothbrush, which had been a bit past its use-by, but it left me without a toothbrush and in need of buying a new one.
‘I know you’re persnickety about household chores,’ I snapped at the apartment, ‘but this is my home, and I don’t appreciate you chucking my toothbrush out.’
I got no response, but the ghost left two dishes in the sink the next day. Feeling we were finding a compromise, I grew just that bit more comfortable in my new weird reality.
Until, while driving and yelling along with a weaving refrain that went like “wen-te-gris-la wen-da-see-agres-teen yen-de-see-agrass-lean…” (again, don’t speak that language) I got a loud and angry ‘Would you shut that racket up!’ from my back seat.
I just about hit a telephone pole. Swerving, tires skidding, I only just missed it, but did make a bouncy detour over the curb and onto the sidewalk. I pulled the parking break, turned off my music, and just sat there to the sound of the engine running, both hands gripping the steering wheel as I stared out at the road accident that could have happened.
Then I turned around, glowered at the empty back seat, and yelled, ‘What the fuck? I could’ve killed myself!’
There was a harrumph from my empty back seat.
‘Oh, you don’t think so?’ I snapped. ‘This car’s old! It doesn’t have all the new safety stuff! I bet it doesn’t even have air bags!’
A sullen silence filled the back of the car.
‘I’m not good with ghosts screaming at me suddenly from my back seat!’ I railed on. ‘I’m just trying to earn a damn living – if you care about that cat you’ll avoid scaring the hell out of me while I’m driving! And I don’t earn enough for car repairs!’
‘His name’s Fluff Master.’
I blinked. The voice was raspy, like that of an old woman. And it was just such a ridiculous statement–
‘What?’ I said, gesticulating like a flustered maniac.
‘His name,’ the old woman wheezed at me, ‘is Fluff Master.’
‘Well that’s a stupid name,’ I retorted. ‘I like Lemmy better.’
There was a long silence before, finally, the ghost gave a conciliatory, ‘I don’t mind Clement.’
‘Good,’ I said, turning back to the wheel. ‘You call him that. I’ll call him Lemmy.’
Though the old woman huffed, she didn’t respond. Glad to find I hadn’t blown a tire, I eased the car back onto the road and set off to complete my current delivery, this time in silence. I was still grumpy about it when I returned to my car to get ready for the next order.
‘Do you enjoy this work?’
I stiffened, though I’d known the ghost was likely still there.
‘It’s simple,’ I said defensively, ‘and I usually get to listen to my music while I do it.’
The old woman let me mark my last delivery as complete, then asked, ‘What was that racket?’
‘Viking rock,’ I answered.
‘Wonderful Scandinavian head-banging music.’
‘I don’t like it.’
An impasse reached, I set off to collect the new order in silence, my mind churning. Old woman ghost… the woman at Lemmy’s old house had said the cat was her mother’s. I put the two together. Getting over my disgruntlement, I broke the silence with a, ‘So what do I call you? I’m assuming you wouldn’t like “fussy and violent ghost”.’
The old woman again took a moment to answer.
‘You can call me “Nan”.’
‘You’re not my grandmother.’
‘No,’ she shot back, ‘but my name is Nancy.’
Oh okay, I thought, nodding.
‘And I’d like it if someone did,’ Nancy said brusquely. I assumed, though, that there was an edge of sadness to it. ‘You must know,’ she went on, ‘I didn’t mean to startle you.’
‘You terrified the shit out of me.’
I’d expected her to call me up on my swearing, like I thought grandmothers did. But she just huffed.
‘And you broke my toaster,’ I added.
I could almost hear the defensive pride in the silence she left. Then she sighed.
‘That was not really me,’ she said.
‘What does that mean?’
‘It was the anger,’ Nancy snapped. ‘It’s infuriating, being banished. It takes time to come back, and when I come back I’m annoyed.’
I remembered the woman and her sage. That explained a bit. Maybe I should try sage?
Nah, I decided. I’d rather have a waspish Nancy to deal with than a toaster-smasher.
‘I will thank you for caring for… Clement,’ Nancy said stiffly. ‘My son-in-law would put food out for him on occasion, but he needs more than that.’
That I could agree with. I returned a curt ‘That’s okay,’ and drove on. I felt less bad about stealing the cat now I had the erstwhile owner’s approval, however weirdly that had been provided.
It was on my next delivery, done in silence, that Nancy spoke up again.
‘Might you drop me off at my house?’
By that, I assumed she meant where her daughter now lived.
‘Do you need me to take you there?’ I asked, unsure. ‘Can’t you just… pop over?’
‘I do not think so,’ Nancy said. ‘I followed Clement.’
Yet Lemmy wasn’t in the car.
‘You haunt your cat?’ I asked.
‘Yes, Marie,’ she said, ‘I do.’
And I assumed she haunted me now too. I detoured, heading into the old house section of town.
‘You want to visit your daughter?’ I asked.
‘I wish to visit my grandchildren,’ she corrected.
‘You know you’re going to freak them out, right?’
‘It is better,’ she shot back, ‘they hear me wish them a good night than they see a mirror fall off the wall all on its own.’
That I could agree with. I stopped a house away from Lemmy’s old home, and received a ‘thank you’ from Nancy. When I asked if she was still in the back of my car, she didn’t respond, so I turned back up my music and carried on.
She was back shoving my curtains open at 11 the next morning.
‘How were the grandkids?’ I asked, flopping back onto my bed, as Lemmy purred.
‘Benny and Sarah will take some time to get used to it,’ Nancy responded, an eerie disembodied voice in my room. ‘But Sam enjoyed me reading him a bedtime story.’
I guessed Sam was the middle kid.
Nancy joined me again that evening for some deliveries before asking to be dropped off at her old house. Then again the night after that, and soon it became a routine. She didn’t bother me while I was gaming or sleeping, though, and after some stilted discussion, she agreed to leave my bedroom as a “me” area where I was responsible for opening my curtains. And, after I spotted a brief appearance in the bathroom mirror of an elderly lady with short-cut white hair, (and after I freaked out about privacy) Nancy also agreed to stay out of the bathroom while I was in there. Though she did tell me my jeans were ratty and I should get new ones.
‘So your daughter’s not so comfortable with having a ghost in the house?’ I said, broaching the subject, after a week of delivering Nancy to her grandkids every night.
There was one of Nancy’s protracted silences. Then she said, ‘My daughter killed me.’
I nearly ran a red. Breaking hard, I said, ‘Oh… Really?’
‘I was palliative care,’ Nancy said. ‘I wanted to see Benny be born. She wanted the house.’
‘Overdosed me on my palliative medications.’
I grimaced at the red light. But ghosts were around because of unfinished business, right?
‘Do you…’ I said slowly, ‘want me to go to the cops with anything?’
‘No,’ Nancy said. ‘I just wish to see my grandchildren.’ She was silent for a moment, then added, ‘My daughter is who she is. But my grandchildren can grow up right.’
The light going green, I took the turn towards Nancy’s old house.
‘It is better they know me like this than wasting away in my bed,’ Nancy said as I pulled up. ‘Thank you.’
And I listened to my music for the rest of the night.
‘What about Queen?’ she asked the next day, as I set off for the first order of the evening. ‘Everybody likes Queen.’
I pulled up at the Indian Restaurant and opened the app on my phone. Finding Queen, I put them on.
‘How’s that Nan?’ I asked.
‘Better,’ she said.
So now I’ve got a cat called Lemmy, and a crotchety Nan who thankfully respects my privacy rules. I still like to think of myself as a loner.