I spent five hours reading through the boxes—seven, in total—of letters by and newspaper articles about Augustine and Peter. The articles gave away the ending: “Stricken by grief, Miss Roberts plunged to her death yesterday evening. Her father claims that the lovers had a pact; should Capt. Abbott be killed in battle, Miss Roberts would join him in death, so that they would not have to bear the burden of being apart.”
But the letters told the story:
It has been three weeks since I heard from you last. Please know that, should this be the end of you, it will be the end of me as well. I will wait for you in my room, wearing your favorite dress. Promise me you won’t forget.
I left the library feeling broken. On my way home I passed the Allen Memorial Cemetery, and three rows back, to the left, was the stone for Capt. Peter Abbott, born 1925, died 1943. Someone had stuck an American flag by the stone.
“You were supposed to show up,” I said to the dirt. “She’s haunting my room, waiting for you, you creep.” The dirt did not talk back.
When I got home that night I cried and cried. Augustine didn’t appear, and stayed away for another six months.
When we were loading our van to move down here, my father asked me to double-check my room, to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I opened drawers, checked the closet, and peeked under the bed. There was a lot of space, but not much else.
“I’m leaving,” I said to the room. I said it again, louder. “I AM LEAVING NOW.”
She appeared by the window, same sad smile, same sad dress.
“Where have you been?” I asked.
“Here,” she said.
“I don’t think your boyfriend is coming,” I said.
“I know,” she said.
“Well then why are you still here? Why don’t you just go?”
“Do you know how Peter died?”
“World War II,” I said, as if that was what was on his death certificate.
“He was shot in the stomach,” she said. “He showed me the scars.”
“The day he died. He came to my window to tell me before anyone else could.” She turned to face the window. “Then he said I had to stay, that it was important that one of us got to live, but I couldn’t bear it. He told me he loved me, then started disappearing in front of me, so I grabbed his arm to pull him into the room and now he’s gone and I’m still here.”
“Did you jump, or did you fall?” I had gone way past the point of determining or observing any boundaries of politeness with Augustine.
“I fell. And on the way down Peter flew next to me and told me he was sorry, and I said the same, and I promised that I’d keep living, for both of us, until I’d lived enough to move on.”
“But you’re not really living,” I said. “I mean, you can’t even eat a Snickers.”
“Yes, but Peter never knew that. All he knew was that I was here and he was there. And as long as I was here, he went on thinking that I was alive.”
“That’s so effing depressing.”
“But it’s not completely untrue,” she said, smiling. “I’ve seen thousands of lives come in and out of this inn over the past however many years. I’ve seen parties and plays and romances and happy children and I’ve even managed to make a very nosy, very vocal friend.”
“Oh gawd. And now I’m leaving, too.”
“We’re both leaving,” she said, looking toward the window. A specter in a navy blue coat appeared beyond the glass, twirling about with an invisible dance partner. Augustine giggled. “I can’t believe you called him a creep,” she said. “At his own grave!”
“I blew your secret! And I insulted your ghost war-hero boyfriend! I am the worst.”
“You didn’t blow anything. You were the only one who wasn’t afraid. You lived, like real people live, and reminded me of how lovely that feels. And now I’m ready to go.”
“Snickers are a very powerful candy,” I said.
“You’re a very strange girl,” she said. “And I’m saying this as someone who is about to go fly off with her ghost boyfriend.”
“I’m going to miss you,” I said.
And then we both left the inn, forever. The end.
(Well I didn’t leave forever, we still go back there in the summer to visit my parents’ friends. But she’s gone. The room is always warm, even in the dead of winter.)
Ugh, I’m so bad at this. I’m so bad at this because this is supposed to be a love letter, and I’ve never even written a love letter before. I’ve tried 38 drafts and all I could come up with was the story of a ghost who couldn’t eat candy bars.
What I am trying to tell you, in my own way, is this: when you said you loved me and I said “OK!” and like, ran to my car, it was not because I do not love you back. I love you too much, I think. That is the problem. I love you so much that I worry that I’ll fall out of a window trying to follow you wherever you go. I love you so much that I’d haunt a crummy inn for 70 years, watching other people live, if you didn’t get the chance to, so that I could tell you decades’ worth of stories whenever we ended up together again. I love you so much that I’d consider giving my Snickers to a ghost, but I’d probably eat them—get real, you know me too well so whatever.
I mean, I love you.
Why do I write about dead people? Sometimes I think they are better at recognizing the value of living. And they are always able to say pretty things about it, because they’re already dead, and therefore can’t die of embarrassment or shame when trying to compose a sonnet. A sonnet! I almost wrote you a sonnet! Ugh, Owen, you are the worst.
And I would haunt the universe for you.