Credit: Rachal Duggan

There had been a change in my life.

I had taken a position in an office in the city, on the eighth floor of a tall building plotted amidst the rise of many other tall buildings. From the outset I must admit that at that time, I felt that something urgent—though I do not know what, or from whom—was trying to be communicated to me. Each day I entered the office, I saw Delores. She arrived before me, and stayed until I left. In that way she became a bookend to my hours allotted to the office: I entered the narrow room; she held me for that time; and I was released.

There are five facts I can offer with certainty about her life: She was an accountant. She believed in ghosts. She had a strange saying: The truth about cats and dogs, it went, is I never had a life. She was a mother to a daughter, and had a grown son who lived at home. She drank, it was clear to me, though it became clear by small degrees.

Time was passing. A month came with two full moons. The same severed bottle remained in the same place in the municipal plaza. Inside our office, Delores’s face swung toward me like a gate.

She’d begun to tell a story.

Her daughter had complained of the presence of a ghost. There was a closet outside of which the girl could feel a difference in the air. Delores divulged—and this would be the sixth fact from her life I know—that Delores had become, when young, estranged from her father. It was in this closet his ashes were kept. It was his spirit, she said, who haunted her daughter.

I have pictured that house many times: white, narrow, several levels. From her bedroom, Delores said, she’d heard her daughter scream—outside the closet, a hand had touched the girl’s shoulder—but when the girl had turned, no one was there.

Was the presence, Delores asked, a man’s or a woman’s? The girl said a woman’s. It was at this point in the story that Delores turned and looked at me. The girl, she said, had given the ghost a name. She’d named it Chardonnay.

Not long after she told this story, Delores left. She’d become, it was explained, unreliable. One morning she stood up from her desk and said, simply, “It is irrelevant that I cannot do this,” choked out a laugh, and left. In hindsight I believe she meant to say “evident,” but her specific phrasing has never left me. It returns, sometimes, before I sleep.

The meaning of this story is not entirely clear to me. Delores, the small room we shared amidst the vast structures, the downcast eyes of the stone saints in the city lot. So much time has passed. So much time has passed, but some days something brings her back—the dark hole, say, of a single window missing on an office building’s face.   v