I stood in a strategic corner of the Operation Theatre, masking my presence carefully so as not to frighten the patient. He may have been unconscious, but being close to death makes the living more attuned to the presence of any kind of otherworldly activity, which in this case included me, what with me being a ghost.
This made observing many operations a little difficult, but a little extra concentration could usually solve that. My position afforded me a clear view of the surgeons' actions. I watched intently as they finally drained all of the blood that had escaped the organs in the patient's abdomen, and then began the slow, minute process of stitching together the severed walls of the stomach. They were doing a very fine job.
My hands tingled – of course, that was just my imagination, there were no real nerves in them to cause it – but I could not help it. This was one of those times when I wished even more than usual that I could be alive, that I could be made of matter, that I could be one of the green-masked, performing such complex operations, saving lives. Instead, I was left to wish I still had mine,forced to do nothing more than admire the flawless way they finished the most difficult part of their task.
There were definite upsides to being a ghost, few as they were. We could travel anywhere we wanted, see whatever sights we wanted to see, and as in my case, observe and learn whatever interested us. Of course, we had no role to play in any of the above. But that thought belonged in the giant, bleak category of downsides, and it was better not to dwell on those.
I had seen the steps that the surgeons would take next plenty of times however, so I closed my eyes and gave in to the pull that was ever present whenever I left the house I had lost my life in.
When I opened them, I was taken aback for a second. Then I remembered, and felt my lips twitch as I looked around. The room looked so much like something Isabela, my youngest sister, would have wanted had our parents agreed. The flowered walls, the canopied bed, the frilly dressing table, not to mention the addition of a whole bathroom; all of it had transformed the room into a young, princess-like girl's haven. Mr. Ackerman had missed a few details of course, like the old deadbolt on the door, and the similar, original latch on the closet, but apart from that the transformation was complete. I even preferred it this way, as I could barely recognise it as the room that had been the scene of my own murder.
I picked up the book I had borrowed from a shelf downstairs, a Jack London novel, sitting down on the window seat (another great improvement), all the while trying to revise the operation I had observed, memorizing how it was done. Although, as I flipped the pages of the book idly, I found myself wondering instead about the new inhabitant who would be arriving shortly. In the next hour, if I was not mistaken.
I was not too worried about her – it had been a long time, maybe even a century, but I had shared this room with inhabitants, some of them female, when the building was a boarding house. Avoiding materializing in the room while they were changing or had a 'guest' was easy – we could sense these things. They barely ever sensed us, and it was fine. I never chose to stay in the house beyond the requisite one hourevery twelve hours anyway.
No, what I wondered about was the strange, funny mismatch between what I'd heard about this girl and the way this room had been prepared. For the most part, Mr. Ackerman had renovated it himself, with a few of his colleagues, and their conversation was all that I'd heard. But Mrs. Ackerman, his new wife and the girl's mother, I found out, came in now and then too.
Once, just a few days ago actually, she had come in as Mr. Ackerman surveyed the room, put her arms around him from behind and rested her head on his shoulder. It had made me smile, reminding me of own parents and their affection. Then she'd said "I really, really hope she'll like it. I know it's not her style at all, but I just couldn't help myself." Mr. Ackerman had kissed her hand and answered cheerfully, "She will, sweetheart, you'll see. No one can resist the love you've put into this thing. Besides, once she sees the view, she'll never want to leave." Mrs. Ackerman had smiled, "I hope you're right. I just wanted to make a happy, welcoming space for my baby. I guess I'm hoping that will help in her making a new start, and not get into trouble again."
Mr. Ackerman just turned to kiss her reassuringly, and I left, giving them their privacy.
I had wondered what the 'new start' and the 'trouble' comments meant, and was answered when, later the same day, Mr. Ackerman enlisted the help of his three sons – amusing characters, all of them, by the way – to finish up the girl's bathroom. When they had all entered, he had looked outside furtively, shut the door, turned to his sons and said, "Now listen up, kids. I think you might know this already, but your new step-sister has a history of getting into random scrapes with the police or into the hospital –"
"Is she in a gang?" the oldest one had interrupted, although he did not look at all concerned. I found that strange on many levels, not least of which was his unconcern that a gang member might be joining the family. But that might have been just because he was tired.
"No! I doubt any of it is voluntary, she's actually a very sweet girl. Even Helen's not sure where this comes from, but I just want you three looking out for her, okay? Just try to stop her from getting into any difficult situations, you know what I mean? She's a part of this family now, and it's your job to protect her."
Even I was moved by his instructions, and the youngest one nodded enthusiastically. The oldest, though, mumbled "Sure," and the second one merely shrugged and said "She doesn' look like the kind who needs taking care of, though, Dad."
"I know, Brad, but I want you to do it anyway, am I clear?"
This earned him a nod, and they moved to finish the bathroom, while I decided I would do what I could to help. I already liked this family, and because I was tied to this house, I felt it was my responsibility in some way (I am guessing the way the room reminded me of Isabela had a part to play too though).
The girl sounded nothing like Isabela though. It was while I was thinking this that I was startled by voices downstairs. They had arrived.
I listened as the voices and sound of footsteps moved upstairs, onto the landing of this floor. It sounded like Mrs. Ackerman was talking about the beauty of the view and the room and all the work that had gone into it. I wondered how all that would be received by the maybe-gangster-troubled-enough-to-need-looking-out-for young girl. In a minute, they were right outside the door. I straightened and put the book away, under the cushions, swinging the leg I'd put up back to the floor. The doorknob turned.
They entered, first Mr. Ackerman, who held the door open and presented the room with a flourish to Mrs. Ackerman and the girl, who stepped in right after.
I am not sure what I had been expecting. I suppose I had subconsciously expected someone like Isabela, or maybe the polar opposite, someone like the 15-year-old runaways I saw on the streets near stations, no blonde hair like Isabela's, dyed black instead; some rugged girl, maybe with torn, ripped old clothes.
And make no mistake, the clothes very much looked the part. It was just that the girl in them was really beautiful.
It was as I was thinking this that she turned to the window, and I found her eyes – emerald green – looking right into mine. I blinked. Or, I corrected myself, the view behind my head.
Which is why her reaction was so confusing. She took one look at me - I beg your pardon, the view – and her shoulders slumping, she let out a sigh of disappointment and looked like she was trying to keep from shouting something. She spun around to face her mother and new father. I suppose her expression had not changed, because her mother looked disappointed too and sadly said, "Oh Suze, not again."