HE FIRST THING you lose when you die is your motor skills. You become almost weightless and nearly invisible, which is nice, but it’s hell trying to get anywhere.
I spent my first day as a ghost trapped in the video arcade of the North Park Mall. I was stuck between a game called Zombleed, which involved sawing zombies in half with a chainsaw, and another, intended for girls, called Pinky the Unicorn. No matter how I struggled, I couldn’t move out of the space in which I’d found myself.
I was momentarily exhilarated. I drifted like a balloon until I bumped up between a column and a planter close to Mariella’s Pretzel Shack and got stuck again.
The players’ absorption in their respective games kept them from noticing me, but I soon attracted the attention of the two Indian gentlemen who ran the arcade. I saw them discussing something. They were both wearing bright orange vests with name tags. Sanjee pointed in my direction and the other, Muhammad, squinted across the room. Muhammad was just going on shift.
I thought of them as brothers, although I’m not sure whether they actually were. Their rich, black hair was stacked high on their heads and it seemed that they had similar features, but maybe this was just my imagination. They were very calm; I admired that. They came up and looked above and around me, looking for the source of me. They put their hands through me, and then concluded that some sort of magnetism between the two machines was probably responsible for the pillar of bending waves that distorted the air. They moved one game away from the wall.
That was all it took. I sprang loose.
I was momentarily exhilarated. I drifted like a balloon until I bumped up between a column and a planter close to Mariella’s Pretzel Shack and got stuck again. During my confinement at this new location, I observed the business closely. Mariella was a short Italian woman in her late thirties. She kept her long brown hair pinned under a white cap. Mariella struck me as hardworking—maybe too hardworking. She had a sign posted advertising for help.
Mariella looked at me curiously a few times and even walked through me once to see what the deal was. She seemed to think I was a problem with the light, because she directed some of the mall’s physical-plant personnel to the lights above her little shack. The men checked them out and then told her that the lights were working fine; they would not be replaced until they needed replacing.
Mariella studied me, and I studied her. Since I was unsure of my role as a newborn apparition, I hoped maybe I’d learn something from observation. I gathered from the conversations Mariella had with her customers that she was divorced and had a daughter named Rosemary who was in college. Her most frequent customer was this one guy who wore a red jogging suit, though he didn’t appear to be at all athletic.
Jimbo, this man called himself. Jimbo hit on Mariella as if she were the most sought-after princess in the land. Maybe to his eyes Mariella was a princess, or maybe her circumstances had reduced her to being attainable to the likes of Jimbo—at least in his estimation. Who could say? I’d never before observed someone eat his weight in mustard-covered hot pretzels.
One day, despairing of something interesting to talk about, Mariella pointed to me and asked Jimbo what he thought. Did I look odd to him at all? Did the light almost look like a body? Walk through it, she urged; it’s cold. It’s the weirdest thing.
Jimbo couldn’t, or didn’t want to, see me. He walked through me, flapping his long arms and going, “What? What? See? Nothing!” This may have cost him any chance he had with Mariella.
“You ever take a vacation?” Jimbo asked Mariella. “You work too much. You need to go on a vacation. You should come fishing with me sometime.”
“Huh!” Mariella snorted. “You think I can leave this place in the hands of these kids I got working for me? I’d have the health department shut me down in a week! If they showed up for work at all, that is. They’re always quitting on me.”
As I watched Mariella’s activities and the goings-on in the pretzel shack, I continued to struggle to gain mobility. I enjoyed watching things from my little corner, but I had a nagging sense that I had to get somewhere and, not only that, that I had to do something. Wasn’t it the nature of ghosts to be restless? Well, then, I was restless.