Suburban Soliloquy #74



An Invitation to Haunt

There are ghosts. When someone you love dies, they continue to haunt you. Yet I am an Atheist, I do not believe there is a God and I do not believe there is an afterlife, so I am satisfied that the haunting is an illusion.

When news reached me that Mimi had died, I began to see her walking ahead of me in the street, sitting at a table half hidden by a menu, departing from the far end of the museum gallery just as I was entering. In crowds I heard her calling my name. In dreams I was stunned and delighted to find her alive. Astonished, I would admit to her how I thought she was dead and would beg to know what happened, why hadn't I been told she was yet alive? She would say with disturbing nonchalance that it had been a mistake, a simple misunderstanding.

The early visitations were upsetting, but years have passed and the haunting has become more restrained and appreciated, a ghost that haunts with my approval. I don't want to forget her. I see her, a little woman, I doubt she reached five feet. She had an unusually long philtrum. Always wore her hair short, manageable.

The woman had a passion for life and for New York City. After retiring from a career at the Japanese embassy, she didn't want to return home to the much safer Tokyo. She loved New York, the museums, the concert halls, the restaurants, and the city's diversity of people. Even though she had been mugged three times, maybe four, on New York's streets, still she did not want to return to Japan.

Okay, her name wasn't Mimi. That was my nickname for her. She had a proper Japanese name, but one day over lunch we were talking about that thing which we've always wanted to do yet never would. She wanted to sing the role of Mimi from Puccini's La Bohème.

I was introduced to Mimi by my first wife, Matsui-san, who called Mimi her aunt. They were related by marriage. We were a threesome to many events and fine dinners, but after Matsui-san and I separated, my ex-wife returning to Japan, Mimi and I continued to celebrate the city.

We were great walkers and thought nothing of leaving a meal at one fine restaurant to seek a dessert at another forty blocks away. At meals and during walks we'd tell the stories about our lives. We might walk Manhattan until the dawn. I remember one summer night we were passing the Flat Iron Building, heading south on Fifth Avenue with the notion we would take the ferry to Staten Island for breakfast and to attend church. We began singing every Christmas carol we knew. We both loved Christmas carols. We got as far as Battery Park when it began to rain and we gave it up.

Mimi took me to Japan, thinking it would be a good experience for this poet to visit a foreign country. While I was in Japan, my ex-wife, still a dear friend, hosted my stay. We were a threesome again.

In Nara, Japan the temple compounds are crowded with deer. They are sacred, having delivered some religious personage to the city long, long time ago. When my back was turned, one of these ruminants stole the map from my hand. I swiveled around and faced this beast that was calmly staring at me and chewing the map. I grabbed it to yank it back, but the deer grit his teeth and tried to pull away. I pulled. He butted me. I butted him. He slammed his head into me and I put him in a half nelson. I kept him from swallowing and was forcing him to the ground when I realized a crowd of shocked Japanese had formed a circle about the pair of us, bewildered by my behavior. Mimi and Matsui-san advised me to let the creature have our map. I let go. The deer made no move to escape, but continued to chew and stare at me. If his face had had the appropriate muscles, I'm sure I would have seen him smirking.

Mimi confessed that she felt New York City was too difficult and dangerous for the elderly and that one day she would return to Japan. I am glad Ms Keogh, my present wife, entered into my life in time to meet Mimi. The two of them became great friends and our adventures continued for more years. In time, Mimi had moved out of her Astoria apartment and was living with a friend far out on Long Island, too far to make regular trips into Manhattan. She had grown tired. She began to have trouble with her memory and this frightened her. And then the final blow, her friend died suddenly and unexpectedly. She discovered the body.

Ms Keogh, Mimi, and I had one last dinner together at The Terrace, a restaurant on the roof of a building on the Upper West Side (400 West 119th Street). It was where the three of us had our first dinner together, but at this last meal we also had the company of her brother-in-law. He had come to the United States to facilitate her return home. It would be the last time we would see Mimi. That was years ago, however, whenever Ms Keogh and I sit down to a particularly fine meal in a restaurant of unusual quality, we are reminded of Mimi and toast her. There are those among the dead whom we wish to invite to haunt us.

There is a famous painting by van Gogh, "The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night". I tell Ms Keogh that we will go there and sit at one of the sidewalk tables drinking an anonymous red Rhone wine poured from a black bottle with a handwritten label. If we wait long enough, eventually the dead will leisurely stroll by. Perhaps on the first night, but maybe not until the third or fourth, our dead friend will be found among them, casually walking pass on the stones, yet it will be possible to call out to her and have her stop, join us at table, share in the wine, and we will be able to talk again, at least for the remainder of the night.

Bruce Bentzman

This essay is number 74 in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"