When Jen arrived at Mrs. Fitzgerald’s house, 7 AM as usual, to take care of some light housekeeping, and Mrs. Fitzgerald, of course, she was surprised at the strange smell that assaulted her nose. It was the smell of bacon frying. That was strange in and of itself. Mrs. Fitzgerald hadn’t fixed her own meals in 6 years. She was almost bed bound. She used a walker to get to the bathroom. The second thing that was strange was that Mrs. Fitzgerald’s prized philodendron, that she treated like her child, hung brown and lifeless from it’s pot with a long papery cobweb connecting it to the wall. Jen felt sure she’d watered that yesterday with water that was precisely 72° F, just as Mrs. Fitzgerald always insisted, and, as always, it was a beautiful and vibrant green at the time.
When Jen entered the kitchen, where the smell of frying bacon was strongest, she was further surprised to find a handsome, young man dressed in a white suit, complete with a white tie done up in a Windsor knot, standing before the stove wearing Mrs. Fitzgerald’s favorite gingham apron over his clothes.
“Good morning, Jennifer,” the young man said without turning from the stove.
“How did you know my name?” Jen replied warily.
“A friend of mine told it to me,” the man replied, removing the pan from the heat. Turning off the stove, he slid the bacon onto a plate lined with paper towels before turning to place it on a tray sitting on the nearby kitchen table. “I need your help.”
Jen walked to the table to look at the tray. On it was Mrs. Fitzgerald’s favorite breakfast: french toast, the bacon, fresh fruit and freshly squeezed orange juice. That was strange in and of itself since the food supply was running short. Today Mrs. Fitzgerald was supposed to get her Social Security check and Jen had been planning to take her shopping for groceries. The sweet, old lady always seemed to look forward to these outings.
“My help,” she stammered, “I don’t understand and who are you?”
“I’m Jonathan Fitzgerald, Margaret’s husband,” said the man, gesturing to a series of photographs hanging on the kitchen wall.
“But,” Jen blurted, her knees suddenly feeling very watery, “aren’t you supposed to be dead?”
The stranger laughed warmly. “Yes,” he agreed, “as a matter of fact, I am.”
“Then,” Jen asked, sinking into a chair by Mrs. Fitzgerald’s well-scrubbed kitchen table, “how can you be fixing breakfast?”
“I’ve been given certain powers,” the man smiled, seating himself across from her at the table. “Let me come to the point. I assume you’re a friend of hers.”
“Sort of,” Jen replied with a grimace. “I’m her caregiver. Her kids hired me after she fell and broke her hip six months ago.”
The man, Jonathan, nodded, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table.
“She’s also had the flu or something for about a week,” Jen added, a sudden chill forcing her to hug herself. “Her doctor is baffled.”
“I know about all that,” Jonathan replied, still smiling. “So, you’re not her friend, then?”
“Well, kinda,” Jen said, quickly looking away when she realized she was staring. “I like her. She’s cool.”
“Yes, I thought so, too,” Jonathan replied, leaning back in his chair to gaze at a photograph of Mrs. Fitzgerald and her children. “I’ve come to take her home.”
“I’ve done everything I can think of and she just doesn’t seem to believe me,” he added, running a hand through his already messy, brown hair.
“What happened to Mrs. Fitzgerald’s philodendron?” Jen asked abruptly, locking eyes with the young man seated nearby.
The smile that seemed to live on Jonathan’s face seemed to fall right off. “Ah,” he sighed, “that. When I appeared, Margie was watching television. I was trying to get her attention.”
“What did she do?” Jen asked, curious.
Jonathan slumped back into his chair. “She ignored me, turned the television off and went to her room. That’s why I decided to make her favorite breakfast. I’m hoping she’ll unlock the bedroom door and let me in.”
Jen shook her head. “What made you think that killing her favorite plant,” she sighed, “would make her want to come with you?”
“I was just trying to get her attention,” the man said, leaning forward to cover his head with his hands.
“You did that all right,” Jen replied, wondering if this person in the impossibly white suit was legit.
“You don’t believe me,” the man declared, looking up at her.
“Maybe,” Jen offered, “and maybe not. I haven’t met many ghosts who can fix breakfast, you know.”
“What if I could fix the plant?” Jonathan asked, getting up from his chair and moving quickly to the kitchen door. “Would that convince you?”
“Probably,” Jen admitted, after a minute’s thought.
“Okay,” the stranger replied, his smile back on his face again. “Come take a look.”
Jen rose from her chair and moved to the kitchen door. There stood the philodendron, green and vibrant again, just as Jen had left it yesterday. Immediately, Jen’s eyebrows and jaw moved in opposite directions.
“Do you believe me, now?” Jonathan asked, grinning.
Jen started to nod, then stopped, remembering something her mother once told her. “Sure,” she said, extending a hand to the man, “Congratulations, you’ve got me convinced.”
Jonathan’s smile grew, if anything, even calmer. “You know perfectly well, I can’t take that hand. I only had the power to fix the breakfast. Now, will you help me? It’s time for Margaret to come home.”
Jen nodded, thinking for a minute. “I’ll bet I know what’s keeping her here,” she suddenly offered, “Leah is pregnant. She’s due any day now. After all the miscarriages she’s been through, the whole family are waiting for her to give birth. That’s probably it. I mean, you and Mrs. Fitzgerald didn’t have many kids and they didn’t have many either so…”
Jonathan nodded. “She had the same problem when I was alive,” he frowned. “It’s no wonder, then, that she doesn’t want to leave. But she has so many family members waiting for her on the other side, including some of the babies she lost.”
There was silence as they stood there together thinking.
“Maybe you could tell her,” he added, his face brightening as he spoke. “Whether you believe it or not, you are her friend.” He walked quietly into the kitchen, returning with the loaded breakfast tray. “Please,” he pled, handing Jen the tray. “Get her to listen to me. Help me to make her understand.”
Jen felt the weight of the tray resting in her hands, then nodded. Turning, she moved down the hallway to the bedroom door. Balancing the tray on her hip, Jen wasn’t at all surprised to find the door locked.
“Mrs. Fitzgerald,” Jen called, “I have your breakfast.”
“Did that man leave, yet?” she heard the old woman’s weak voice asked from the other side of the door.
“Mrs. Fitzgerald,” Jen replied, ignoring the question, “open the door.”
“Not ’til that man is…,” Mrs. Fitzgerald began, interrupting herself with a vicious coughing fit.
Jen sighed. Setting the tray on the floor, she turned and went to the garage, returning with the spare set of household keys. Each key had a colored plastic sleeve on it so that Jen would know which key was which. Choosing the blue key, Jen inserted it into the keyhole and turned, satisfied by the distinct click the lock made.
“Come on, now, Mrs. Fitzgerald,” Jen said, slipping the keys into her pocket as she picked up the tray again. “It’s time for breakfast. Then you and I need to talk.”
My selections were as follows, in case you hadn’t already guessed. 4,3,4. To know what these mean, click the link at the top of this story.