By Aerin Cuff, Virginia State University
Second Place Winner, Fiction, 2022 VSU English Department Writing Contest
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“I haven’t seen you in a while.”
Finley made a humming noise of recognition before adding, “Yeah, four years.”
“Four years,” Arlo’s voice echoed. “Do you still live at Lee Street?”
Finley walked past Arlo entering the old Caro’s Victorian home, her brown eyes surveying the home left to right then left once again. The maroon wallpaper was continuing to decay over the years, revealing the creamy white walls behind it, decaying even more. Everything stood in the same place as the last time she stepped foot in this house. The wooden floor squeaked a little as Finley’s weight held. The dark rug decorated the downstairs entryway, leading to the bookcase at the end of the hall. As the grandfather clock in the corner, struck continuously in the quiet home. She wandered over to the neglected white piano in the entryway, running her fingers over the lid, noting the coat of dust that came back up. Rubbing the dust against the rough denim of her jeans, she looked at Arlo who was still watching her from the front door.
“I see you haven’t changed anything,” Finley noted.
“It’s not like I can go purchase new furniture at the store, can I? Plus, no one is ever here so there's no need to clean.”
“Right,” Finley muttered. Clearing her throat, she asked, “Do you want to talk upstairs? In the bedroom?”
“Yes, that would be good.”
Arlo led the way as Finley followed, still taking in the changes of house. Cobwebs covered every surface high and low. The framed photos and paintings of Arlo and Finley practically lined across the decaying walls. The cracking of the wooden stairs from Finley’s glossy loafers entered her eardrums, sending a nervous chill down her spine. Finley’s gaze returned to Arlo’s back as he continued to walk up the stairs. The beige wool jumper swallowed his torso as his broad shoulder poked out against the fabric. It was the jumper she had given him for his 19th birthday.
Arlo came to a halt when he met the mirror at the top of the steps, taking himself in. His messy, mocha locks began to creep over the collar of his jumper. The dark circles under his hazel eyes contrasted to pale tan skin, his sallow cheeks. He looked extremely tired. His eyes caught Finley’s in the mirror as she stood behind him staring at the somewhat empty glass reflection. She looked the exact opposite of his current state. Her coily hair held back by a headband, her silky top flowing from the unpatched drafts in the house. Her neck was concealed with a pendant Arlo recognized. Jewelry given to her on one of their last nights together. Shaking his head, he continued onward to the bedroom at the end of the hall.
Entering the room, Arlo sunk into the edge of the mattress waiting for Finley to join him. He patted the space next to him, signaling for Finley to sit. Finley’s feet pattered against the carpet as she settled into the soft mattress.
“Why haven’t you visited?” Arlo croaked his eyes glued to the carpet.
Finley sighed softly, responding “I had a lot going on. Time ran away from me.”
Arlo stayed silent.
Finley continued, “I know it’s been a long time and I’m sorry but -”
“Time doesn’t have meaning here,” Arlo interrupted.
“I know.” It was Finley’s turn to glue her eyes to the carpet now.
The silence was deafening. All that could be heard was wind flowing in and out of the room.
“So, why are you here?”
“I needed to see you before I left.”
Arlo jolted his head to face Finley. Shock overtook his face as he exclaimed “Before you left? Where are you going?”
“I’m leaving the country.” Finley looked back at Arlo, whose shocked face had not changed. “I need to leave to move on elsewhere,” she said.
“Move on elsewhere or with someone else? I see that you moved on.” Arlo questioned as he looked down at the crystal binding her ring finger.
Finley furrowed her eyebrows in anger. “That’s not fair and you know it.”
Arlo inhaled deeply, “I know,” he finished, exhaling. “I’m sorry, it’s not your fault we can’t be together anymore. I just miss you so much.”
“I miss you too, Arlo. I wish I could feel you again.” Finley could feel the tears threatening to spill when she placed her shaking hand over Arlo’s. His palms were freezing to the touch. Her warm hand shrizzled against his icy cold ones. Deadly cold hands.
“It was my fault, Arlo. I should've been home quicker. If I was home, I could’ve called the doctor.”
“Finley, it was not your fault,” Arlo demanded. “It was this faulty ticker’s fault.” Arlo patted his chest to emphasize his previously working heart.
“You don’t know what it was like, Arlo. To see you here on the floor helpless and all alone.”
Finley shouted “Arlo, I’m home!” as she walked into the front door placing the grocery bags onto the table. “I brought home tomato soup! The one that you like,” she continued to belt. Noticing the quietness, she began to check the rooms downstairs calling out his name teasing, “Arlo, Arlo, Arlo? Where art thou Arlo?”
Growing worried, she fled upstairs to the bedroom to find Arlo. A earth-shattering sob left her throat as she scampered to Arlo’s still body on the carpet trying to feel a pulse. She pressed her fists against his chest and started to pump as tears poured from her flushing cheeks.
“Breathe, Arlo, Breathe.” His body continued to stay still not responding to the CPR.
She shook his shoulders erratically trying to wake them up from this nightmare begging, “breathe, Arlo! Fucking breathe, fucking breathe! You need to breathe! Wake up, please!”
She sobbed loudly as she held his cold, dead form to her chest as the rain picked up outside. All that could be heard was Finley’s sobs and loud pits of raindrops from miles away.
“I remember pieces of it. It's kinda fuzzy,” Arlo revealed quietly.
“I know.” Finley muttered, “your ghost didn’t appear until after you were buried.”
Arlo shuffled in his place uncomfortably. “You still stayed here, after I was dead. Well, stay with my ghost,” he corrected.
“I didn’t want to let go of you yet.”
“But, you're ready to let go now.”
“I’m ready to continue my life,” Finley asserted. “I want to be able to leave my house and walk past this house without thinking of you bound to this house forever.”
Arlo stayed quiet.
“Sloane and I are leaving tomorrow morning. You were the last person I wanted to see before we left,” Finley weakly smiled tears still threatening to spill. “Also, I wanted to give you this.” She revealed a thick, crisp blush envelope held together by twine and a small daisy offering it to Arlo. “You can open it whenever you're ready, Arlo.”
Hesitantly, Arlo took the envelope into his palms. He whispered, “Thank you, Finley.”
“No thank you, Arlo, for everything.” Finley smiled at Arlo. A sweet smile grew across her face but it was kinda sad to the naked eye. However, Arlo could see right past it as always.
Finley pressed her slightly chapped lips against Arlo’s for one last time as she wrapped her arms around his torso. She could feel his cold light body against hers, it felt like nothing. Just the air that was his ghost. However, Arlo could feel everything. The soft lips of Finley’s touch his cold ones. The heat of her body pulling towards him. The sound of her silk shirt rub against the wool of his jumper as the denim of their jeans slightly touches their knees. Everything.
After some time, Finley let go and got up from the bed, making, her way out of the room. She turned around when she hit the door frame to look back at Arlo who was still sitting on the bed. Twirling the pendant in her hand she affirmed, “Farewell, Arlo. I’ll be back eventually.”
Arlo watched as she walked off the property, looking back at the house one last time before she stepped onto the sidewalk heading south of town. He made his walk back down to the living area with the envelope in hand. He twirled the envelope between his digits, the twine rubbing against his skin as doing so. Growing the courage to look in, he carefully removed the daisy and twine placing it on the dusty coffee table ahead of him. He removed the addressed letter, beginning to unfold its contents as his eyes began to scan across the words.
It’s been four years since we last saw each other, five years since you’ve died. It was really hard to see you go. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for you. I’m sorry I left you alone and I’m sorry we left things on bad terms in the living world.
As you know, I’m leaving the country. I finally was able to save up enough money to go to that art school in France. The one we always talked about going to when we were kids. I’m studying painting like I’ve always wanted to. Do you remember when you stuck your mother’s paintbrush up your nose and it got stuck? You’ve always known how to make anyone laugh in any scenario. Sloane is going too, studying geography. We actually got engaged a few months ago. I know what you're thinking: engaged to Sloane? Really? The same Sloane who tried to impress me at prom by eating several cakes then proceeded to puke all over my gown. Well, our families thought it was best we got together since we’re getting older and you’re gone. Also, mainly because of Sloane’s family inheritance.
It’s kind of weird. I’ve never saw myself with anyone else besides you. It’s been hard to open up again. Sloane knows this too. He’s trying and I think I could actually like Sloane but it’s not the same. Sloane could potentially be a love from this lifetime; however, you were my first love and you’ll always be the love of my life. No, my love for all of eternity.
I don’t want to say goodbye because this is not a goodbye. I will be back one day. I want to spend all of eternity with you, Arlo. This is a farewell for now. I need time to continue with the living. I remember a piece of you every day as I put on the pendant every morning and take it off every night. But, I’ll never be able to forget someone like you. A light, like you, the universe sent into my life. I’ll be forever grateful that I got the chance to know you, Arlo.
You will forever be the light, soul, and harmony of my life. I will forever love and adore you to the moon and back. Until we meet again, farewell Arlo.
The bottom of the letter paper was stuck with a small polaroid. He removed the tape of the polaroid to get a closer look. The polaroid displayed a photo of them. Finley sat on Arlo’s lap as they displayed the new Victorian house Arlo inherited from his late mother. Both of their faces were painted widely with smiles and joy.
Although Arlo is a ghost, he swore he felt his heartbeat once more.
Farewell, for now, Finley. Until we meet again.
About the Author
Aerin Cuff, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a senior psychology major at Virginia State University.