A Favor for Martha, fiction by Beth Ghiorso at Spillwords.com
Afsane Bz

A Favor for Martha

A Favor For Martha

written by: Beth Ghiorso


Suzy, I need a favor.
The thought was intrusive, loud, a voice outside my head. It was three in the morning. I couldn’t sleep and had gone upstairs to check on the kids. I turned off the lights. That’s when I felt her presence.
She said, “Did you know that Ed was married before me? I’m his second wife. Was.” The voice was unmistakable. “Doesn’t matter, long time ago. But now that I’m dead, you’re the only Mrs. Sinclair.”
I couldn’t see her, but I knew it was Martha, my mother-in-law. We cremated her two days ago. I sunk on the top step. The last few days had been emotionally heavy.
“Please tell me I’m hallucinating.”
“Nope, it’s me.” I could hear the grin in her voice.
In life Martha was a handful. Apparently, she had more to say.
“Martha, why are you haunting me? Why not Ed? He really misses you.” Well, that was a stretch, but he should be missing her more. “Or Zach? Why not your son? Why me?”
She took a breath, ragged and cigarette damaged.
“Cancer sticks,” Ed the prophet often proclaimed.
“First, Ed doesn’t really miss me, not yet. Now he’s free to eat on the couch, walk around in his underwear, watch trash TV, and leave the bed unmade. Trust me, I visited yesterday, but he didn’t notice.” She sounded bewildered. “Look, honestly? I miss the physical. I was up here trying to hug the kids.”
I shuddered.
“Don’t worry, they didn’t wake up. But, hell, I just go right through them. I hate it. Know what I really miss? Eating. The taste, the texture. Why’d I ever diet? That’s the real reason ghosts go around moaning; they wish they’d eaten more.”
“Martha, why’re you here? Not all dead people come back and do whatever this is.”
“I know, I know. And I’ll go, but I wanted to ask you a favor. Don’t freak out.”
Her words made me uneasy.
“It sounds weird at first, but some of the other, you know, folks around here, told me it could be done, if you, um, cooperate.”
Folks around here? “I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be okay with this.” I started to get up.
“Okay, okay, sit down and listen.”
I stood, but then I felt a wisp of air on my arm.
“Please, I’m not here to bother you. I know I was a pain in the ass when I was alive. But you’re, well, I didn’t say this enough, but you’re nice.”
“You never said that, not once.”
“Yeah, well, I thought it.”
I pressed my hands to my cheeks. I was awake, maybe.
“I can’t ask Zach because that would be too much, just too much.”
I sighed, resigned. “Okay, what do you want?”
“I want to step into your body so I can have cheesecake, maybe one last cig.”
“For fuck’s sake, Martha!”
“Shhh… the kids.” Her voice had dropped to a whisper. “I know, I told you it was a little weird, but you’d be doing me a big, like really big, last favor.”
“Martha, if it’s really you, why would I do that? How do I know it really is you? Maybe I’m losing it; I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep lately…”
“Remember what I said to your brother that very first Thanksgiving? The one your mom invited us to?”
“Yes, a bitter sear on my heart.”
“I told him that marrying his boyfriend was worse than having sex with animals.”
“I remember, Martha.”
“Do you know what I said to Ed when he wanted to go to Italy after the kids moved out?”
“Italy? What could you possibly say about Italy?” I listened for the kids.
“I told him no because there were too many Catholics around, the place was filthy with them.” She snorted. “There’s more; I can go on. I’ve said shit about everybody.”
“No, I got it. Sounds like you; I believe it’s you.” My heart froze a little. “You’re not going to like, do any crazy poltergeist shit if I say no, are you? I mean, we’re your family.”
“Trust me, even if I could, it wouldn’t be you. Ed. Ed would get the slamming cupboards, the flushing toilet. Nah, I can’t do any of that stuff. None of us can. That’s why I’m asking you. I can’t move anything in the physical world, there is no physical me. You can’t even tell who’s white, who’s black, who’s male, who’s female. None of that shows here.”
The irony. Another horrifying thought began to bloom. “You’re not going to want to have sex with Ed?” I felt sick.
Martha started wheezing; she was laughing. “No, honey, that ship sank a few years ago.”
“I still don’t understand why this is so important.”
“Okay, look. Part of being dead is you have to deal with all of your crap. There is no hell or heaven, just you in the abyss, facing your shit. Haven’t you ever been awake at night, revisiting all the things that went wrong? Could go wrong? Things you wish you could take back or erase? It’s like that, except there’s no sunrise, no release from it. Some of us have bigger piles than others. So, I want to go into this reckoning with some light, some little pleasure that I had in life. I’m really just asking for some cheesecake. I know you have some in the fridge.”
She was right. Sabrina, our neighbor, had brought it over after the service. There was one last piece.
“You’ve got a lot to mend. What’ll you say to Zach? What about Ed?”
And what about me and all the crap you put me through about my parenting, about making Zach happy? (“Babe, block her out. That’s why I love you; you’re nothing like my mom.”)
“Tell Zach there’s a letter in my desk. I told Ed. Lazy Ed would’ve found it by now if he’d looked.” She paused and her tone shifted. “And to be honest, I want to hug the kids one last time. Love, honey, I want to feel that love before I go. I wish I had done better. In the end, gravity has its way with us; there’s no escape.”
Tears welled in my eyes. “Oh, fuck it Martha…”


Later, I sat at the kitchen table. Zach’s footfalls sounded on the stairs.
“Suzy, you ok? I couldn’t sleep.” He stood in the doorway. “What the hell’re you doing?”
He frowned at my propped-up hand, cigarette pinched between my thumb and first finger. I looked down, the last of the cheesecake crust scattered on the plate in front of me. I cackled through smoke-tinged phlegm. A whiff of the soft smell of the kids floated off the sleeve of my nightshirt.
“Just sending Martha off in style.”
I coughed harder, set something loose, and took a deep clear breath.

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