Chapter 1 ‘Ghost’

Wednesday

She’s new on the streets. Tommy said they’re calling her the crazy lady. But there’s something different about her. I can’t quite figure what. Maybe she ain’t crazy at all. “Anyone say how long she’s been here?” I ask.

“I dunno, Ghost,” Tommy says. “I spotted her about an hour ago. I spoke to old Ned and he said she’s been sitting here all day, yesterday too. He said she won’t talk to no one. I was a bit worried so I thought I’d get you and ask you what we should do.”

I lick my lips. “What we should do is go and have a drink. I just cashed my welfare cheque and I haven’t had a beer in a week. She ain’t none of our business.”

“I s’pose.” He gives me that look of his. The look that says he ain’t gonna let me rest until I do something.

“Really, Tommy?” I say.

“Come on, man. We can’t just leave her there.”

She’s just sitting on the bench staring across Oppenheimer Park. Since the city cleared the tents out of the park last year, Tommy and I have been living down in Crab Park. It’s right on the beach, which is nice now the weather’s warmer, but I kinda miss living in Oppenheimer.

I sigh, go over to the bench, and stand in front of her. She doesn’t move. It’s like she’s staring right through me. She’s wearing an old coat with stains all over it but underneath, from what I can see, her clothes look clean. Not just clean but they look like they’re better quality than you usually see ’round here. Her hands are folded in her lap and I can see a ring on her finger. I ain’t no expert but I’m betting that ring would be worth a few bucks in a pawn shop. I’m surprised no one’s slipped it off her finger yet.

“Excuse me, Ma’am.”

Nothing.

I almost reach out to tap her shoulder but something stops me. Instead, I sit on the bench beside her. “Are you OK?” I ask.

Nothing.

“Excuse me, Ma’am, are you all right?” I say it a bit louder.

Her head turns slowly towards me.

“And you are…?” she says. Her voice reminds me of a school teacher, or more like a principal maybe.

I give her a smile. “They call me Ghost,” I say.

She raises an eyebrow. “Ghost, you say. You look substantial enough to me. What’s your real name.” Yeah, she’s educated for sure.

Not too many people on the streets know my real name, only Tommy and… hmm. Just Tommy; the others are dead now. I don’t like sharing my real name but there’s something about this woman’s tone that says I’d better not argue the point.

I take a look around and make sure no one’s close enough to hear me. “It’s Clarence, Ma’am, Clarence Hobbes.”

“Hobbes.” She gives a little smile. “Are you a philosopher too?”

I don’t know what she means, so I just say. “Are you OK?”

She thinks about this for a long time and I’m just about to ask her again, when she says. “No Clarence, I don’t think I am OK.” She looks a bit worried.

“Maybe me and Tommy can help,” I say. “Can you tell us what the problem is?”

She looks at me. Then up at Tommy. Then she looks around her like she’s trying to work out where she is. She scratches her arm, looks down, frowns and scratches some more. When she finally looks back at me, it’s like she’s seeing me for the first time. The worry has turned into fear. Not just fear, she’s terrified.

The hand with the expensive ring on it shoots out and grabs onto my arm so tight it almost hurts.

“You have to help me, Clarence. I don’t have any idea who I am.”

“What do you mean? Like you’ve lost your memory or something?”

She frowns.

“That happened to my step mom,” Tommy says. “She had a stroke and couldn’t remember stuff. Do you think you might have had a stroke?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t think so,” she says. Her frown deepens. “I can’t remember anything at all.”

There’s definitely something wrong here. I say, “Why don’t I call you an ambulance?”

Her grip on my arm doubles and that does hurt. And the fear’s back on her face. “No! No hospitals. No police. Definitely not.”

“But they can—”

“No! You have to help me, Clarence.”

“But, I don’t know how me and Tommy can—”

Tommy interrupts me with just one word.

“Rocky.”

He’s right on the money.

I look at her. “Maybe we can help you, Ma’am.”