Elizabeth was ready. She had known this day would come ever since her niece’s last phone call. Martha had been scheming about how to get rid of her for years.
“Aunt Elizabeth,” her niece said now in a tone that barely concealed her delight. “I’ll be there in about a half hour. I hope you have your things packed.’’
She had her things packed. She’d had them packed since the day after Martha’s last call. The house had been emptied, the arrangements made. She sat on her window seat waiting for the blue Toyota to pull into the driveway. Her two suitcases sat in the corner as if waiting patiently to be piled into the back of a car and taken away. She checked her purse one last time; yes, the ticket was there. She patted it.
Finally, the Toyota rolled up. Elizabeth watched as Martha stepped out of it and waddled toward the front steps, her beady gray eyes focused on the door. What a shame, that Martha had turned out so much like her mother. Elizabeth’s dear brother Bartholomew would be rolling over in his grave if he could have seen his daughter today.
The doorbell rang, followed by three vicious raps. Elizabeth took her time, making her way slowly across the room. Her footsteps echoed in the empty house.
“Oh, Martha,” she said, opening the door at last. “Do come in and have a cup of tea.”
Martha barreled in impatiently. “We don’t have much time,” she said, glancing at her watch.
“I know, but I would like one more cup of tea in this house,” Elizabeth said, already on her way to the kitchen.
Martha looked around with satisfaction at the empty house. The new sofa will go nicely here, she thought. And I’ll sleep in the back bedroom. It’s the biggest.
Her aunt emerged from the kitchen with two styrofoam cups. She sat down on the window seat and made a gesture for Martha to join her.
“Sugar?” she asked.
“No.” Martha waved the sugar packet away like a bothersome fly. “I had to put an end to it, you know. Ever since you started imagining that you weren’t alone here.”
“I’m not,” Elizabeth replied quietly.
Martha made an impatient noise in her throat. Elizabeth looked out the window at her rose garden as Martha rambled on and on about her aunt’s supposedly fragile mental state. She and Miriam had had tea out there nearly every day for decades. Miriam was the person she’d miss the most. How couldn’t she miss her, after forty years of living on the same street? Elizabeth stared past the roses to the trees and bushes. Soon it would all belong to somebody else, and she—well, she would be far away.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true,” Elizabeth began.
Martha cut her off. “Nonsense,” she snapped drily.
Elizabeth tried again. “Just the other day, I saw a ghostly white face in the window.”
Martha shook her head with irritation.
“And last Wednesday my sewing was lifted from the table and thrown onto the floor.”
Martha rolled her eyes in a most impolite manner. Elizabeth sipped her tea.
“You shouldn’t be here alone at your age,” Martha said. “It will be better for both of us when you’re in the home.” She stood up with her back to her aunt and measured the room with her eyes. Aloud she murmured, “Fifi will love the yard.”
“Oh, I am glad you didn’t bring that dreadful dog,” said Elizabeth. “And I’m not sure she will love it.”
Martha glared at her. “She only bit you because you were bothering her.”
“Just last night,” Elizabeth continued, “I heard noises in the kitchen. It sounded like dishes being broken. But when I got up this morning, nothing was out of place.”
“It was the oddest thing,” Elizabeth was saying when suddenly they both heard a noise. A small, pale-faced girl emerged from the kitchen. She was draped in a long, old-fashioned white dress. Her face was masked under a veil, but her eyes and the dark circles beneath them were clearly visible.
All the color drained from Martha’s face and her eyes grew wide.
“Who—?” she croaked.
The being pointed an accusing finger at her and stared blankly into Martha’s eyes. “Youuuu,” she moaned.
Martha made a muffled squeaking sound and dropped the empty styrofoam cup onto the floor. Then she jumped up and shrieked, waving her hands in the air as she staggered toward the door. She groped blindly for the handle, finally wrenching the door open and running with a wail toward her car. The Toyota backed into the ditch, then proceeded forward before speeding away madly.
Elizabeth smiled as she handed the spirit a handful of bills.
“Thank you, Jennifer,” she said. “You always were a good neighbor.”
“It was nothing,” the girl answered through a mouthful of bubble gum. “Glad to do it.” She looked with satisfaction at the money, then walked out the kitchen door.
Just then a white Jetta pulled up in the driveway. A tall, thin, silver-haired woman stepped out.
“Miriam,” smiled Elizabeth, opening the front door.
Her friend approached with a wide smile on her face and twinkling blue eyes.
“Did it work?” she asked.
“Like a charm,” replied Elizabeth coolly. She cleaned up the tea things and together the two women loaded the suitcases into the trunk of Miriam’s car.
“So, that’s that,” Miriam said, nodding as Elizabeth took one last long look at the house.
“Yes. House sold—the Johnsons will be moving in on Tuesday—condo bought and furnished, plane ticket for…” She took the ticket out of her purse and checked it one last time. “Three-thirty p.m.” She tucked it back into the side pocket of her bag, along with her passport. “Everything will be ready for me when I get there.”
“Well, I guess we’d better head to the airport then,” Miriam said cheerfully. “I hope you love Hawaii.”
“I will,” said Elizabeth, putting on a pair of dark sunglasses. “I will.”