I’m a food delivery driver. My life has gotten, if possible, even weirder.
I’m a food delivery driver, and “Rusher” is the title I use to obscure what service I work for. Oh, and my name’s Marie.
I live in a small town, with a normal side of weatherboard houses, and a weird side with big old houses filled with people who don’t leave them much.
It was in that old weird side of town that I first met my Little Bud.
I like to call myself a loner, but that identity is wearing thin. I now have a crotchety grandmother (not my own grandma) I call Nan (her name is Nancy) as a ghost companion, and a cat I call Lemmy and Nan calls Clement.
Things have gotten to a new weird level of normal in my life. I was thinking I’d gotten used to the weird. Only, it turns out, I’ve only gotten used to my ghost friends.
I have not gotten used to being questioned by the coroner.
‘I think… she’d just decided she was ready,’ I told them, trying not to fidget or look suspicious. ‘She’d been refusing treatment. She just wanted to see her grandson.’
It was true enough, though it was a lie by omission. And, no, funnily enough, I wasn’t talking about Nan.
I have developed a habit of getting involved in the strange. As I’m back posting, you can safely assume I’ve gotten involved in the weird again. And it started, like the others, with a delivery to the old house part of town.
Fair warning: this story’s weird.
Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla blaring out of the car speakers and Nan singing along raucously on the back seat, I pulled over in front of the house. By my guess, this house was actually bigger and older than the others on the street. It wasn’t a place I’d ever delivered to before.
I turned off the engine, but left the music going so Nan wouldn’t freak me – and my customer – out by turning the car back on and shouting out the window at me. The delivery instructions said only “hand it to me”, so, grabbing the bag of food, I got out.
There was an expensive-looking SUV parked in the house’s driveway. Passing it on my way to the imposing front door, I spotted a sticker on the back of it. It read “My grandchildren are still in my daughter’s ovaries.”
I try not to judge. But I did judge that. Then I swallowed my judgement, told myself the sticker had been stuck there by a friendly motherly sort, put on a smile, and rang the doorbell.
Considering the sticker on the back of the car, I was surprised to see the thirty-something woman who answered the door was pregnant. Long straight dark hair, a strikingly defined jawline, and very heavily pregnant. She huffed, holding onto the doorframe as she swung the door open, then pulled a very sweet smile seeing me and the Malaysian take-out I held.
‘Mom!’ she called back into the house. I thought the tone sounded mocking, but maybe that was just my sticker judgement skewing my perception. ‘Dinner’s here! At least I don’t have to cook it this time,’ she added, snarky.
Looking back at me, the sweet smile returned. The woman looked me up and down, and held a hand out for her food.
Behind her, an older woman shuffled into the background. She didn’t look too old, but she did look sick. Her eyes were sunken and purpled and her greyed hair, pulled back in a ponytail, was very thin. Looking like she’d lost a lot of weight in a short time, she walked slowly, leaning on a cane, and her lower legs, visible under her skirt, were heavily bandaged from the ankle of her slippers up to her knees.
The pregnant woman took her food, turned around, and thrust it into the older woman’s hand. I revised my judgement. The sticker had had me picturing an entitled old woman. The to-be grandmother I was watching looked anything but. Her face in lines of misery, she shuffled painfully, trying to hang onto the food bag as her cane clacked on the parquet floor.
The pregnant woman had returned her attention to me. Leaning against the doorframe, she considered me.
‘You’re a pretty girl,’ she said, surprising me. ‘Why don’t you get a real job?’
I bristled, pulled a fake smile, and just said, ‘Enjoy your food!’
Nan had turned the music down when I dumped myself, annoyed, back in the car.
‘I dislike this house,’ Nan commented.
‘Me too,’ I agreed.
Nan made a wheezy-sounding thoughtful noise.
‘Maureen lives here,’ Nan went on. ‘I met her several times. She’s… what did you call that woman who was pitching a fit at the burger joint?’
‘She’s a Karen,’ Nan said contemptuously. ‘Her husband – rest his soul – was some big-shot banker, and she thought she owned the town. I always felt sorry for her daughter.’
‘Well it seems her daughter’s grown up to be a lot like her mother,’ I said, starting the engine.
Nan made a clucking noise I took to be a sound of disappointment, then asked to be dropped off at her old house so she could read her grandchildren a bedtime story.
‘Your daughter found out you’re visiting them yet?’ I asked as I stopped near Nan’s old house.
‘If she has,’ Nan said, ‘she has yet to attempt to sage me out.’
I continued with my orders listening to more modern music.
‘Put on that radio show,’ Nan… well, I’d say she requested it, but Nan doesn’t request. She just… instructs. ‘The one with the poor sap who has to read his father’s perverse fantasies.’
It was a few days since I’d delivered to Maureen’s house. I was reading through my first order of the day, which just so happened to be to that same house.
‘Okay…’ I said slowly, still reading through the delivery instructions. Nan’s demand wasn’t one I was adverse to. Nan may be a grandmother, but she wasn’t what I’d usually expect a grandmother to be. My Dad Wrote a Porno was her favourite podcast, and it was something we could agree on to listen to.
Nan gave me a minute to do it, then humphed when I took a moment longer. I set up the podcast, stuck my phone in its holder, and set off.
Where my instructions for the last time I’d delivered to this house had just said “hand it to me”, today it said that followed by an ominous “Don’t look her in the eye. Don’t touch her.”
Now, good things have happened to me in the past because I haven’t followed instructions. Don’t wave at the kid in the window… Don’t pet the cat… Well I did both, and… ended up with a sweet Little Bud I’m still sad about, a cat, and a grandmother I now have to tote around every evening (who hates it when I leave chores to wait).
But did I really want to end up with another complication in my basket? No, was the answer. Absolutely not.
So, passing the expensive SUV with the curious sticker, I went to Maureen’s front door ready to follow both instructions to the letter.
‘Oh, it’s you again,’ Maureen’s pregnant daughter just about purred when she opened the door. It creeped me out. Who purrs at their delivery driver?
‘Yep,’ I said, keeping my eyes on the doorknocker. From the clacking of a cane, I knew Maureen was shuffling up the hall behind her daughter. ‘There aren’t many Rushers in town.’
‘Oh I know,’ the woman cooed sweetly. My eyes fixed on her belly. She looked ready to pop. ‘You really are a pretty girl,’ she said, holding her hand out for her food. ‘You would look so much better in a nice dress.’
‘Thanks,’ I said curtly, and, even more creeped out, I plopped the delivery bag on the floor, wished them a nice meal, and got out of there. Back in my car I shuddered. We can talk about fetishes and things, and the woman wasn’t unattractive – nor should she be thought so because she was nearly nine months down – but that wasn’t what had the chills running along my spine. There’d been something that was just eeek! about it all. The delivery instructions – which I’d assumed were written by Maureen’s daughter herself, unless Maureen was a great example of her generation’s ability with technology… And that purring way she’d spoken –
It wasn’t sexual, it was just creepy. And it was still stuck in my head, that voice. It sent another shiver down my spine.
And why would Maureen – or her daughter – write instructions like that? I didn’t touch anyone, and didn’t make any eye contact. Not with Maureen or her daughter. And I had no idea which one it was I wasn’t supposed to look at.
‘Bitch,’ Nan remarked behind me. She wasn’t talking about me, as she followed that with, ‘You know Maureen tried to get my daughter kicked off the soccer team?’
I shook myself and put back on the podcast. Slowly, Nan and I crowing with laughter as I drove on into the evening, I started to forget the creepiness of Maureen’s purring daughter.
It came back to me in my dreams, though. I jolted awake from that creepy purring voice telling me how pretty I was before Nan had put up the blinds in the main room of my apartment. Early daylight was seeping in around my curtains. A purr that was far from creepy started up down around my hip. I looked down. Sleepy and floppy, Lemmy had woken with my jolt. He yawned, blinked up at me, then shut his eyes and stretched a luxuriant arm out over my leg.
I only had to wait until that evening to get another order to Maureen’s house. Behind me, Nan tutted when I told her where we were going.
‘You can’t eat take out every day,’ she said disdainfully.
The delivery instructions were the same as yesterday: “Don’t look her in the eye. Don’t touch her.” I still didn’t know which woman was the “her” I wasn’t supposed to look at or touch, but I was going to follow the instructions. I wouldn’t have taken the order at all if it wasn’t the only order available right then and I had two mouths to feed. That, and, as Nan kept telling me, I should probably get a car with air bags.
I sighed. Life had been a lot simpler before I started delivering to the old house part of town.
‘Oh good, it’s you,’ Maureen’s daughter cooed at me when she opened the door. I fought a shudder. The cane on the parquet floor signalled the shuffling arrival of Maureen, as usual.
‘Good evening,’ I said hastily, keeping my eyes on the woman’s hand. She’d gotten a manicure, her fingernails now long red talons. I held out the food bag, making sure my fingers were on the edge of the handle so that taloned hand wouldn’t touch me.
‘Would you like to come in for a moment?’ the woman purred. ‘I think there’re a few fries here for you.’
Nope. Nope-eddy-fucking-nope. I pulled a smile.
‘That’s all right,’ I said politely. ‘I’ve got more deli–‘
‘MAUREEN YOU FUCKING KAREN!’ Nan shouted from the car. ‘MY DAUGHTER WAS A BETTER SOCCER PLAYER THAN YOURS!’
I shut my eyes, hoping only I could hear Nan. No dice, though.
‘Excuse me?’ the taloned woman said, stunned. ‘Who said that?’
Grimacing, I opened my eyes and looked at the woman, ready with an apology.
And then I saw the sickly sweet smile of Maureen’s daughter, her gleaming dark eyes, and felt her taloned fingers wrap around my arm. Then everything went black.
I came to on the parquet floor of the big house’s front hall. I picked my head up, looking around. The door was still open, though the pregnant woman was nowhere in sight. Somewhere down the road, I heard the loud screech of car tires.
‘Oh shit,’ a wispy voice said next to me. ‘It’s not stick, is it? Mom hasn’t driven stick in ages…’
My head spun. I tried to shove myself up onto my elbows and found it a near impossible task. My elbow slipped and I landed back-down on the floor again.
‘Careful,’ the wispy voice said. ‘It’s not easy right after the switch. You should be all right, though. Mom caught you and lowered you down – she doesn’t want anything to happen to the baby.’
I looked down.
‘WHAT THE FUCK?’ I shrieked, trying once again to shove myself up, and realised then my voice wasn’t my own. I realised it as I stared down at a bulging, pregnant belly.
It took me a while, to Maureen’s coaxing words, to calm down just enough to figure out how to haul myself off the floor. Like a child just learning how to walk, I shoved up onto hands and feet, slowly pushed myself up to stand, and waddled after Maureen’s shuffle into the grand kitchen she led me to. She waved me to a chair and I fell into it, landing far harder than I ever used to.
‘Here, tea,’ Maureen said, setting a cup down in front of me. ‘Take a sip and breathe.’
I stared up at her. Tea and breathe? And right then was when the baby inside my belly decided to kick me in one hell of a wallop to my diaphragm. I choked, gasped, inhaled a bunch of spit, then started coughing. Maureen patted me on the back.
‘Mom was sick of being pregnant,’ Maureen was saying, still thumping my back quite unhelpfully. ‘I think she wanted a break.’
I hauled in as big a lungful as I could, feeling like the lungs I had to breathe with were half the size of my usual ones, and exclaimed, again, ‘What the fuck?’
‘I know, I know,’ Maureen said, easing herself creakily into a chair. She propped her stick against the side of the kitchen table. ‘You don’t need to tell me it’s bonkers. That’s my body. Only, of course,’ Maureen prattled on, ‘I haven’t been able to use it for nearly a year now. And my mom’s diabetes meds have run out…’
I stared at her, then squeezed my eyes shut and started slapping my – or whoever’s – face with both hands. It was a nightmare. I just needed to wake up to Lemmy’s purrs and Nan’s opening of blinds.
Hopeful, I dropped my hands, took a breath, and opened my eyes.
Nope. Still pregnant. Still looking back at the face of sick-looking Maureen.
Maureen pulled a small smile.
‘I’m Victoria,’ she told me. ‘I hit some bad luck and had to move back in with my mother. She didn’t like that I didn’t have children yet.’
I blinked harder. Maybe that would sort it.
‘I know,’ Maureen – or Victoria? – hurried on. ‘It’s nuts. I know. Sip your tea.’
I glanced at my teacup. It was milky. I don’t drink tea, but maybe that was the way to break the spell. I took a big gulp, burning my tongue, and grimaced at the sweet watery milk.
‘My mom went to a sperm donor clinic,’ Victoria went on, prattling like I’ve never seen a sick older woman prattle. ‘I’m glad she didn’t pick any… other way to do it. And I think, now, she’s sick of being pregnant. It’s not fun.’
I gulped another mouthful of the tea. Then another. I hate tea.
‘I tried to warn you,’ Victoria went on. ‘Mom decided she liked you – wanted to be you. So I tried to warn you…’
Two more gulps of tea.
‘I think she’ll come back, though,’ Victoria said, giving me a thin smile, ‘after the baby’s born. She said labour with me was like having her insides blown up, so I don’t think she wants to go through that again. But she’ll probably switch back with you after the baby’s born. She does want a grandchild.’
I dumped the teacup back on the table. It wasn’t working to break the spell. I took a breath, and stared at Victoria.
‘Is that supposed to make me feel better?’ I deadpanned.
‘Well,’ said Victoria, shrugging, if I understood correctly, her mother Maureen’s shoulders, ‘it’s better than me. I think mom’s going to let me die in her body. She hasn’t been letting me go for dialysis the past couple times. I feel like shit.’
I blinked, then dropped my head into my hands. There was a lot of belly. It felt like I was squashing a beach ball just to lean forwards.
‘What,’ I repeated for the second time, ‘the fuck?’
Victoria fidgeted. Finding it hard to breathe in this position, I sat back up.
‘Okay,’ I said. Cool, calm – that was how I pretended I’d faced all the other weirdness. ‘So what you’re telling me is that your mother switched bodies with you, got your body pregnant, and has now decided to have a holiday in mine while I give birth?’
Victoria nodded. She really did look sick. Her face was sallow and the purple circles around her eyes were darker than I remembered them.
‘And she’s just going to let you, what, die in her body from kidney failure?’ I went on.
‘I think so,’ said Victoria. Her eyes had grown shiny. I wasn’t up to comforting her right then, so I wasn’t too happy to see tears pool in her eyes. ‘I know it’s crazy,’ she prattled on. ‘I know it’s hard to believe – but, please, you have to help me! I can’t move fast – you’ve got to kill my mother!’
I blinked. I didn’t have to do any such thing. I just had to get my body back.
‘I’ve been thinking about it,’ Victoria hurried on. ‘If you stab yourself – your own body – she’ll jump back in my body, and if you do it right before you go into labour she’ll want to jump back into her own body to escape it!’
This shit was just getting weirder.
‘I’m not stabbing myself.’
‘You’ve g-got to!’ Victoria was properly crying now. ‘You h-have to! We have to st-stop her! I n-need my life back!’
And right then, right there at the table, my stomach revolted. In a silence that served as testimony to the utter insanity of the situation, we cleaned up, me waddling and swearing, having to brace myself on something every time I leant over; Victoria, frail in her mother’s body, with her cellulitis-ridden legs rather uncooperative, attempting to assist as she groaned, her entire body hurting and her nausea having her on the edge of a sympathy puke.
Feeling immensely drained, the food I’d delivered getting cold in its bag by the front door, we lowered ourselves onto a bench on the back deck, away from the smell of vomit and cleaning products.
‘Your mom’s going to wreck my transmission,’ I muttered, staring out at beautiful manicured gardens. I did drive a stick. ‘And she’s going to have a hell of a scare when Nan asks her to listen to the porno podcast,’ I added, finding some joy in that.
‘You live with your grandmother?’ Victoria asked. She’d thankfully stopped crying.
I pulled a face at the pretty garden. What the hell, I thought. This woman’s life was about as weird as mine was.
‘I live with a ghost called Nan,’ I told her. ‘She’s going to want to be dropped off at her grandkids’ place about now.’
There was a silence as Victoria processed that. I dumped my head on the backrest of the bench and sighed.
‘And she knows your mom,’ I added. ‘Nan doesn’t like your mom much. Course, she’s going to think Maureen’s me, and that’ll cause problems.’
‘You mean old Nancy?’ Victoria said, staring at me. ‘Joan’s mom? The girl who played dirty in our soccer team?’
I’d actually never learned the name of Nan’s daughter, but that sounded about right.
‘You live with Nancy’s ghost?’
Yup. I did. I shot Victoria a look.
‘You live as your mother,’ I pointed out. It made Victoria shut up.
‘Oh no…’ I said, getting a worse thought. ‘Lemmy!’
I had to explain that one to Victoria as well. I did it, worried about the poor little cat, as I attempted to shuffle my borrowed body forwards in the seat.
‘Oh…’ uttered Victoria. ‘Mom doesn’t like cats…’
That just made me shuffle harder. I braced myself on the armrest, and huffed myself up onto my feet.
‘Where’re you going?’ Victoria asked.
I’d never sought out having a cat. In fact, I’d never sought out anything. Things just tended to find me. But I loved my old mister. And, there in the too-perfect back garden, I really missed my own life, with my ghost and my cat and my small apartment.
‘To get my cat,’ I answered, making for the deck door. ‘Mind if I use your mother’s car?’
Victoria hustled to follow me. Not, as I checked, because she was against me using her mother’s car.
‘Well I’m not staying here,’ she said.
‘You’re sick,’ I pointed out.
‘And you’re about to deliver on the floor,’ she shot back.
It was a fair point. Together we waddled and shuffled to the door, then into Maureen’s fancy SUV.
‘What’s your plan?’ Victoria asked as I drove to my apartment.
‘To get my cat,’ I answered simply. Victoria sat silently in response. I wondered whether she was still expecting me to stab myself if her mother got to my apartment in my body.
My car hadn’t been returned to my spot in the parking garage under my apartment building. I parked the SUV there instead and found the spare key I left in a lockbox over a shelf filled with random crap. The previous owner of the apartment had put the lockbox there. I’d dutifully filled it with a key, thinking, as I hadn’t anyone to leave a spare key with, it was a good idea to have a backup plan.
That backup plan served me well letting my borrowed body and my odd companion into my apartment. We peered in, nervously looking around for Maureen as me. There was no Lemmy running to greet me, but there wasn’t any Maureen either, so we tumbled in and shut the door.
‘Lemmy!’ I called, making my way to the bedroom. The cat liked to sleep on my bed.
‘Looks like my old apartment,’ the shuffling Victoria remarked. ‘Can mom get in here?’ she asked me.
Sure she could, if she managed to find it. She had my keys, but she’d have to unlock my phone to get my address. I told Victoria so and looked into my bedroom.
The cat emerged slowly from around my bed. For the first time in months, he wanted to sniff me to check I wasn’t evil. Then he stared straight up at me and started purring.
Good enough for me. I hoisted him up, and he, I, and Vic made it at as fast a clip as we could back to the door – me detouring to scoop a bunch of cat food into a bag.
By the time we’d hustled back to the car, and on to Vic’s place, she was beat, whatever energy she’d been running on depleted. I put Lemmy in the house, then went back for Vic and helped her to the ground floor bedroom off the living room. I fetched her some water, then, when she complained of worsening nausea, a bowl.
And then I dumped myself on the couch beside Lemmy. Whether he knew it was me or just loved everyone who smelled all right, I was pleased all the same when he slipped onto what existed of my lap beyond the belly.
Well that was one problem sorted, at least. Lemmy was okay, Nan could fend for herself. Exhausted, I turned my mind to what to do now, and managed to go around in circles a few times before I nodded off between puffy couch cushions.
‘Well you’ve gotten yourself into a right pickle.’
There wasn’t even that moment where you wake up thinking all’s good before you remember. I woke uncomfortable, my back aching, my bladder full to burst, to Nan’s blunt words. I groaned and hurried for the bathroom.
Nan was still there when I dumped myself back on the couch. I shuddered. You never want to use the bathroom in someone else’s body. Not ever.
‘And you didn’t help,’ I grumbled to the elderly ghost. ‘It was you shouting at Maureen that distracted me. She swapped us then.’
Nan made a noise that sounded like ‘Tosh,’ but didn’t try to argue any more than that, so I assumed she did recognise, at least in part, her role in the matter.
‘So you know it’s me, then?’ I said, feeling glum.
‘Well I knew it wasn’t you driving the car,’ Nan said. ‘You haven’t attempted to test the existence of your airbags since the first time I spoke to you.’
‘How’s my car?’
‘Scraped but functional,’ Nan answered promptly. ‘Maureen’s parked it at the Lakeside Hotel. I’m guessing she doesn’t know where your apartment is.’
Nan was sharp. I wasn’t surprised she’d worked it all out. I sighed and rubbed my face.
‘She’s not using my money, is she?’ I said. The Lakeside was expensive.
‘I doubt it,’ said Nan. ‘Otherwise the card would have declined.’
That was true. It would have.
‘I will thank you for not leaving Clement to starve,’ Nan said. I looked over at the cat sitting beside me and gave him a pat. ‘Now,’ Nan went on, ‘what is your plan?’
I didn’t have one. I had a lot of zilch. The whole stabbing thing was sounding more and more plausible as time went on. Nan scoffed at that idea.
‘It’s those video games you play,’ she said, disapproving. ‘You young people are so preoccupied by violence.’
There was so much that was incorrect with that statement, but I didn’t bother. Anyway, I played city builder games.
‘Considering how Maureen reacted when I started booing at her,’ Nan continued, ‘I have a different idea. If you will drop me off at the Lakeside, I wouldn’t mind tormenting the witch.’
It was a mark of how crazy the day had been that that actually made me crack a smile. I had an image in my head of Nan sitting in the back of the car just constantly booing Maureen. I believed it of Nan. And I remembered how freaked out I’d been when Nan had first started tossing things around in my apartment.
I hadn’t slept long. It was only about midnight. That’d be a nasty wake-up call for Maureen.
‘Does she know it’s you?’ I asked.
‘She knows she’s being haunted,’ said Nan, ‘but I don’t believe she’s worked out who I am yet.’
Well, if there was anyone who could torment Maureen into wanting to switch back with me, it was Nan. The elderly grandmother had loads of ideas. Nan spoke avidly of them as Vic shuffled, even slower and more painfully, into the room to join us, only stopping briefly to greet Vic.
‘My my,’ Nan commented, ‘your mother really did go downhill. You look almost as sick as I did by the end. Old age is a bitch. As is cellulitis. I do not miss it.’
And then, as Vic stared, stunned, searching for the source of the voice in the thin air around us, Nan went on, availing us enthusiastically of her plan. She was going to use all the old tropes: breaking mirrors, making ghost noises, slamming doors, and using the cache of gossip she had about Maureen from decades past to put the woman on edge.
‘Do you know how your mother does the switch?’ Nan barked at Vic once she’d finished.
‘I… no,’ Vic answered, uneasy. ‘She wouldn’t tell me. It was… just like something clicked in her and she could suddenly do it.’
‘Hum…’ Nan said thoughtfully. Then she clicked her tongue. ‘Well, come on then. You should probably bring Clement, though Marie. I don’t know how well I follow you when you’re… not you.’
So we all piled into the fancy SUV: me, Vic, Nan, and, getting his fur all over the lush upholstery, Lemmy.
Rather than a food delivery driver, over the next few days I became a full-time ghost delivery driver. And I took Vic to her dialysis appointments and to get new diabetes medications. Despite it, she was still getting sicker. I was also learning why people complained about being pregnant. I swear the baby was overdue, and Tommy – as Vic had named technically her child – wasn’t happy about it.
Every time Nan returned to the big old house we were currently living in, she was flushed with some new success.
‘She did cheat on the school raffle!’ Nan told us gleefully. ‘I knew it! And boy did she hate me whispering it to her! Oh, and she’s bought you a new car, Marie. It has air bags.’
I sat up, pasta dangling from my fork.
‘Ooh,’ I said, pleased. It was nice to get good news when you had a baby you’d never conceived playing piñata with your bladder.
‘She’s left the Star Hotel and gone on to a B and B outside town,’ Nan went on. ‘Up you get – I’d like to get there before she tries to give me the slip again. I don’t want to lose track of her.’
Maureen had been jumping from hotel to hotel, checking in and checking out more and more quickly in a mad dash to try and escape the ghost haunting her. According to Nan, Maureen had wanted to use my body to party up youth. So preoccupied with running and hiding from a ghost, she hadn’t had the chance yet.
‘This really has given you a new lease on life, hasn’t it?’ I remarked to Nan as I scooped up Lemmy and led the troupe to the SUV.
Nan cackled behind me. There was no better way to describe it. It wasn’t her usual laugh, but one calculated to send chills down the spine. And it worked even on me. I shivered, glad she’d never done that when she’d first started haunting me.
We dropped Nan off again and I got a good look at my new car in the B&B parking lot. It was a Jaguar sedan, sleek and, though it wouldn’t be my first choice, it was quite the upgrade. I smiled, then grimaced as Tommy walloped my organs.
‘Is he kicking?’ Vic asked from the passenger seat.
I gave her the confirmation, and then sat there wondering about the absurd turn my life had taken as Vic put her hand on my borrowed belly to feel. That quickly turned into me feeling bad for Vic. Though she’d never chosen to have Tommy, she’d shown me the nursery she’d set up, originally at her mother’s behest. She’d since made it her own and the nursery was spectacular.
And her mother had never let her feel Tommy (who Maureen wanted to call “Precious”) kick. It left me more resolved than ever to sort this whole mess out.
Maureen was running out of options. She hopped two more hotels before, finally, we heard a frantic banging on the door the next morning. Vic and I shared a look over our breakfast.
I led the way to the front door. Sharing another look with Vic and shooting with nervous energy, I pulled open the door.
And looked out at an utterly frazzled version of me dressed in a revealing miniskirt.
‘I know what you did!’ Nan, somewhere on the front step, was croaking at her, her voice quite unearthly. ‘And I’ll never leave you alone – never! Until you undo it!’ And then Nan did that creepy laugh that brought goose bumps to my arms and neck.
Maureen’s eyes were huge. And then they glinted. She grabbed my arm, me staring into my own eyes – looking right then nothing like mine – and the world went black again.
I came to with a headache. Maureen hadn’t tried to catch me this time, and my head had banged the doorframe. I pushed myself up, squinting to see through the throbbing pain in my head.
I didn’t get more than a second to feel the relief of being back in my own body. Nan was still croaking her omens at Maureen.
‘You know – you know what you must do! Do it!’ Nan shouted at the pregnant lady. ‘Do it now!’
Maureen shuddered in her daughter’s body. She cast a look at Vic, scowling and panting.
‘Who are you?’ she cried to the air around her. ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ Her eyes growing wide, as though innocent, she tried for crocodile tears. ‘My name’s Victoria!’ she went on, pleading, her voice gone sweet. ‘I haven’t done anything!’
That got me. There was the entitled bitch.
‘Oh, you’re full of shit,’ I muttered as Vic yelled, furious, stomped forward, and grabbed her mother’s arm.
‘Give me my body back!’ she screamed, her voice cracking.
‘Maureen,’ Nan croaked, upping the otherworldly creepiness another notch. ‘Now!’
Giving up the farce, Maureen scowled.
‘I’ve never done it more than once in one go!’ Maureen shouted back at Nan. ‘It’s tiring! I don’t have the energy to swap again!’
Nan howled at her, like some beast from the deep, and Maureen jumped and shook harder. Vic yanked her arm.
And then Maureen gasped, grabbed for her stolen belly, and groaned, her body tightening in on itself. Her knees shook. We all went silent, still and staring. Tommy had picked quite the time to come.
Maureen’s head came up. She glowered at her daughter. And then her eyes took on that gleaming look.
I jumped to grab Vic’s body as it toppled, and only really succeeded in getting below her and, with an uncomfortable ‘Oof!’ helping to break her fall.
Maureen was panting and bent over, leaning heavily on her stick. Back to take responsibility for her own body. She whined. I avoided making eye contact with her.
Nan, croaking and howling at her, forced Maureen into the bedroom off the living room, where I heard the door slam shut. I was left to look after Vic. My head still throbbing and her waddling between contractions, I helped her into the SUV for the hospital, trusting Nan to keep an eye on Maureen.
And that’s how I got to be the world’s most haphazard birth partner to a woman, finally returned to her own body, I’d only met a week before. I couldn’t leave her there alone though, not after everything we’d been through together. She didn’t have anyone else who properly understood why she looked at her new baby, lying the cot beside the hospital bed, with conflicted brown eyes.
‘You going to keep him?’ I asked quietly.
Vic glanced at me. She bit her lip.
‘It’s later than I’d have liked to… try for adoption,’ she whispered. Her eyes welled up. ‘I don’t even feel I got a chance to bond with him… before. Not properly. But… it’s not like I never wanted kids. I just…’ She shrugged. ‘Was never in the place for it, you know?’
I did. I nodded.
‘But I’ve at least got more of a head start on loving him than anyone who adopts him will,’ Vic finished, and shrugged again, a tear slipping down her cheek.
‘And… your mother?’ I whispered. This part of the conversation wasn’t to be overheard.
Vic sighed and just shook her head.
On the subject of Maureen… When we got back to the house the next day with little Tommy it was to find Nan had imprisoned Maureen in her own bedroom.
‘You can only come out for medical appointments!’ Nan screeched back at Maureen’s complaining from inside. ‘Watch your fingers if you try to open that door again! I will slam it!’
‘Nancy you cow!’ Maureen railed from inside. Then she started coughing.
From that I assumed Nan had finally revealed herself to Maureen.
Despite that being her only avenue for venturing outside the room, Maureen refused her medical appointments. She refused her meds as well, though we left them inside the room with her. I don’t know why she refused. Not seeing a point in living if she was in her own body, was my best guess. We did try, despite it all, to talk her into it, Vic even going so far as to offer to try and forgive her if she’d take her meds, but Maureen wouldn’t.
I stayed on in the house, helping Vic get used to the new baby (despite knowing nothing about babies myself), and so Nan could stick around as Maureen’s jailer. One thing Maureen did want was to meet Tommy, but we were wary of her trying her tricks again with any of us, including Tommy.
By the end of the week, we got Nan’s announcement that Maureen had finally complied with the conditions we had set. With trepidation, we eased the door to Maureen’s room open to see her in a pair of mirrored sunglasses, leather gloves on her hands. She didn’t hold Tommy, but she did take his tiny hand between gloved fingers and gave it a gentle pat.
And, two days later, she overdosed on her pain meds.
‘Don’t you worry about it, love,’ Nan said when I thumped back into my new Jag after the coroner’s court. ‘We all make our own decisions. Maureen made hers.’
I’d had the fleeting thought Nan might have been the one to put those pain killers in Maureen’s mouth. I didn’t really believe it of Nan, though. She’d tormented Maureen while she’d been off in my body, but I didn’t think Nan would kill her. Especially not in the same way Nan herself had been killed.
‘What did you say to her?’ I asked.
‘I didn’t tell her to overdose, if that’s what you’re asking,’ Nan said, a little annoyed. ‘I just talked to her. She wasn’t all bad. Few people are.’
I was silent for a moment, before asking, ‘Will she come back as, you know, a ghost?’
‘I don’t think so,’ said Nan. ‘I think she decided her business was finished.’
Feeling only a little better, I pulled out of the parking lot and headed back into the old house part of town. I’d turned onto the street Little Bud’s house had been on when Nan made a thoughtful noise from the back seat.
‘My grandchildren have a buddy that lives on this street. They tell me he’s like me.’
I just about set the rubber of the tires burning. Screeching to a halt, I swerved to the side of the road and pushed the button for the parking break.
‘Marie!’ Nan complained. ‘You didn’t get a new car just to test the airbags!’
I whipped around and stared at her. I’d pulled up just one house down from where I’d first seen Little Bud.
‘What do you mean?’ I said hurriedly, ignoring Nan’s complaint. ‘”Like you”?’
Nan humphed, but she answered all the same.
‘Well they say they only hear him, never see him. They call him “Buddy” and he only comes out to play when they use the toys someone left on their doorstep a couple months ago. They’re having a time keeping it from my daughter.’
Tingles had gone down my spine and along my arms and legs. They weren’t scared tingles. I’d thought Little Bud’s unfinished business had been to save someone from the harm he and his mother had endured. But, now I thought about it, the only thing Bud had wanted was to play. Maybe – just maybe – it was simply that he’d found someone else to play with.
I stared out the window at Bud’s house. The front garden was clear of the toys Bud would scatter around the grass. Anonymously donated to Nan’s grandchildren, I guessed. But the woman had obviously not looked at her house from this angle. Because in the hedgerow before the house’s fence was a sun-bleached Frisbee.
I got out of the car. It was broad daylight, but I didn’t really care if anyone saw me right now.
‘Bud?’ I said to the air around me. ‘Hey Bud, want to play?’
Then I picked up the Frisbee and, taking aim toward the house’s driveway, sent it spinning. And then I waited for a giggle.
Nothing. Trying not to feel too disappointed, I went over and picked up the Frisbee myself. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I wanted to hang onto it all the same.
‘What was that about?’ Nan asked when I got back into the car, putting the Frisbee on the passenger seat beside me.
‘I had a Little Buddy who lived here,’ I said quietly, taking off the parking break and pulling back onto the road. ‘He’s a good kid.’
‘Oh,’ said Nan. ‘So I’m not your first ghost?’
She wasn’t, and as I reached the corner to turn towards Vic’s house, we both heard it:
A little giggle from the back seat.