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Jump to Chapter 1
Jangmi said, very gently, “What matters isn’t her sanity to others, but her well-being.”
I said, “Well, yes, but—”
Jangmi fastened the tie around my neck a little more tightly. “What matters isn’t her sanity to others, but her well-being.”
“I guess, but—”
“Is this really not sinking in?”
Jangmi yanked at the tie. The last time she’d done this was when she’d demanded to know why I’d never bothered to clearly and undeniably tell her that her husband must’ve known about her impending death. I’d fake-choked (hoping that she might forgive me more easily) and said that at that point, already, I’d been in love with her. I couldn’t bring myself to hurt her, clearly and undeniably.
She’d liked that answer. She’d kissed me on the cheek.
Now, Jangmi gazed me right in the eyes. She really wanted her message to reach me. “What matters isn’t her sanity to others, Elmer. It’s her well-being.”
Slowly, I let that sink in. Took a deep breath in. Then out.
“That’s right,” she said. “Everything’s going to be fine.”
I nodded. We gazed at the mirror that we’d installed in our home, the closet. Well, a closet. It was neither Jangmi’s dowry closet nor the brand-new one into which I’d dragged my dying body. The former was probably vacant. The latter was for sure not vacant; the remains of her idiot husband were probably still there in some dimension, though his flesh must have rotten away a long while ago.
For, more than a year had passed. I was dressed in a clean suit, which now, in my ghostly state, was like my uniform. Jangmi wore her magnificent red dress. Only, it was in a very different state from the one I’d seen while I was still a human.
That was the thing with ghostly things. You thought they reeked; that they were uncombed, uncared for, rotten. The truth, however, was that they only seemed so to the human beholder. Once you transferred over to the ghostly realm, you got to see the truth:
Jangmi smelled of flowers in full bloom. Her long hair was elegantly swept in an updo. Her hands, though soft, weren’t so because they were like rotten meat. Our skin felt warm against the other’s. And no grisly long gash with maggots reminded us of the way Jangmi had died. Neither had I sustained any visible injuries.
She was as good as alive, and so was I to her.
No. Let me correct that. We weren’t “as good as” alive, we were alive. Just not in the world where Darla still lived.
Jangmi noticed my slight frown in the reflection. She patted me on the arm.
“We are still with her,” she said.
“We are,” I said.
Today was the last day of school of Darla’s first year back. Contrary to my worries (and the concerns of her foster parents, who thought there was no one else to be concerned about her but them, and therefore did their very best to always be concerned for Darla, which I appreciated), Darla had flourished at school over the last year. My only unease came from her nickname: GG.
At first I’d thought it stood for “good game.” But no. It was short for Ghost Girl.
“Why the heck would they call you that?” I’d cried out when she’d told me this a few months ago, during another one of her visits to her closet world.
That’s right. Jangmi and I lived in Darla’s closet, in her room at her foster parents’ place. We saw this closet as a rented space. Wherever Darla went from here, we planned on following. Hence a closet. Not the.
“Everyone still talks about it,” Darla said, mildly amused. “I mean, people don’t forget the image of a blood-soaked room at a mental hospital that easily. And how they interviewed all those doctors and nurses who cried or were all tense or tried to smile way too much to pretend everything was fine, when in reality, nothing was fine because no one could logically explain what the hell had happened.”
“Language,” Jangmi said.
“Sorry,” Darla said.
“But since when do people care so much?” I said, distressed. “People are supposed to forget. That’s the whole logic behind this closet and all the other places of thoughtlessness. Carelessness. Forgetfulness.”
“Oh, I don’t think you can call what they’re doing ‘caring,’” Darla said. “They’re just, I don’t know. Interested.”
Jangmi shook her head softly. “Such a frivolous word.”
“Agreed,” Darla said.
“You use the word ‘interested’ for the flavor of ice cream you’re thinking of buying at a grocery store.”
The two got along splendidly.
“I think they’re just fascinated,” Darla said. “It’s rare that everyone involved in a matter says something can’t be explained.”
Indeed. For months, the media had covered my disappearance. Also, Doctor Philip Murray’s disappearance. And his blood in the hospital room.
Where had he gone? Was he still alive?
Where was Elmer Warde? Was he still alive?
How come there was a strand of Darla Warde’s hair in the room, when no security camera had captured her going into the building?
To this question from the reporter, Darla had replied, It must’ve gotten on my brother’s clothes or something.
And when they asked, Where do you think your brother is now? and another one of them asked, Do you still think the closet did it? our lawyer said, You don’t have to answer that.
Yes. Our lawyer. The one with the impressive headshake.
Only, he didn’t know that he was our lawyer now. He thought he’d gone from being my lawyer to Darla’s lawyer. He still didn’t believe in the closet story. I’m not even sure he cared to believe or not believe. His recommendation of the insanity defense, in hindsight, had been purely professional; no need to share the client’s beliefs, imaginations, and ailments.
All the money I’d ever saved or gotten from the sale of our house and furniture had gone into the Fund for Taking Care of Darla. He helped with the legal aspect of managing it. I was fond of him. He meant it when he said No. Similarly, I figured, he meant it when he said Yes. It was soothing to know that about someone.
Although Darla hadn’t answered that question because she didn’t have to, many people came to the conclusion for themselves: the closet did do it. It’d taken Elmer Warde. It’d taken Doctor Philip Murray too. Why? Nobody knew. I’d never told people about Jangmi and Murray and the nemesis’s homelife, in connection with the closet. Such matter was private and should stay that way. Maybe that was why nobody had ever believed me when I’d told them that the closet had done it. I’d never given them “the proof” in the “real world.”
Oh well. That was in the past. And I felt extremely vindicated that now, little groups of mystery lovers were forming to crack the secret of the closet. In fact, one such group had received donations (one of which included a one million dollar contribution from an anonymous millionaire) to purchase Jangmi’s closet—my parents’ closet from the flea market—from the auction house. That was the main reason we didn’t think of moving back there. Who knew what those people were doing to the closet?
As to the closet from the hospital room, it had been stuck in the evidence room of the police for the longest time, until someone smuggled it out and sold it on the black market. It was rumored to have sold for a not-too-shabby sum of five hundred thousand dollars.
So, had the purchasers found the idiot husband’s body?
No. They couldn’t have. He’d died in Jangmi’s forgotten-place. The dimension where his remains were located couldn’t be reached by the living. But also, the closet wasn’t ever going to be purely empty of his rotten body.
“But don’t the teachers tell those kids to stop calling you that?” I’d asked Darla when she’d told me about her nickname, GG.
“They don’t because I never asked them to.”
“What do you mean, why not?” Darla had smiled broadly. “It’s friggin amazing!”
Ah, my little baby sister. She’d grown a year older not only to overcome her trauma, but also to use it for stardom. Apparently, kids at school loved her for being Ghost Girl. They wanted to be friends with the scandal, the enigma, the danger.
If only I could feel the same way. But as her big brother who could only wait for her in her closet in his ghostly form, I felt powerless. Silly kids. They had no idea what it was like to be a ghost. They’d never even seen a ghost. Darla Warde was the farthest thing from a ghost! It didn’t matter that Jangmi reminded me “What matters isn’t her sanity to others, but her well-being.” I did care about my baby sister’s sanity to others. I could only hope that the Ghost Girl syndrome was a phase that the kids would eventually outgrow.
“She’ll be here soon,” Jangmi said.
It was time for school to end. We three were going to have a little family meal. Maybe some of the mice might stop by, maybe not. Mice, even as ghosts, had very different priorities from humans. You never knew what enticing whiff might compel them to chase it to the end of the world, instead of celebrating summer break. That time, when they’d united to help me fight against Murray, had been an exception. Even mice knew when something was that important.
Darla was going to wear a pretty summer dress her foster parents had bought for her birthday. And though she couldn’t see how splendidly Jangmi and I actually smelled and looked in our world, we’d spruced up extra-carefully for the occasion.
We’d never told Darla this part of the truth—that we were actually quite presentable, if you crossed over to our realm. Jangmi had explained: The reason I never told you, Elmer, that I don’t actually reek of rotten flesh, was that it wouldn’t have mattered. I agreed. You could tell someone a hundred times that you didn’t actually smell. When that someone couldn’t help but smell you, well, then you did smell, to them. That was their reality.
So we waited. I, Elmer Warde, was called insane no more. Many people believed that the closet had swallowed my baby sister and spat her back out. She continued to corroborate the story when our lawyer wasn’t around. Maybe if people kept calling her Ghost Girl, I might have to convince her to stop. To lie.
But that’d be later. For now, I had “lived” to see my baby sister’s last day of school before the summer break, the first of many last days, hopefully. I was far from alone, far from feeling uncertain about myself. Jangmi hummed an aria in her silvery beautiful voice. Millions did not applaud her, but she, too, wasn’t alone. We had each other. We also had the other seven-year-olds, who’d agreed to move into neighboring closets. A big happy family, close enough, but also with enough privacy. The ideal.
I sang along, though terribly out of tune. We were in love. I, the guy named Elmer who used to feed little cute mice for a living, was to live for an eternity with a beautiful, fiery soprano who also happened to be the woman with whom I’d spent an entire night for the first time.
This wasn’t a sort-of-happy ending. This was a happy ending. I think my lawyer would’ve nodded in solemn agreement. He didn’t need to believe in a magic closet to see that.
© 2022 Ithaka O.
All rights reserved.This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author.
— The End. —