There is a ghost in my phone.
It is the ghost of my sister. Or it is my sister’s ghost. Or it is my sister. I do not believe in ghosts and I don’t know how to talk about them.
Libby died on a Sunday night. I didn’t know anything about it until the police came to my house at about 12.30. I will never forget my walk up the stairs to be told. How I dragged myself up to the terrible details, the steps, the bannister, the two uniformed policemen, tall, dark blue shapes in my kitchen. I was wearing my husband’s dressing gown.
My body left itself. I had to sit, no legs, no breath. I checked the policeman’s face for a lie. I shouted. I loved her hard, never harder, but I could not bring her back.
There have been thirty-four Sunday nights since that first one.
Some Sunday nights I watch the clock, see the minutes tick, and think about when she died. We’re not sure, we think between eight and eight-thirty, we’re not sure why. We like to think it was a heart attack in her sleep. On those clock-watching nights I say, ‘Love you, Libby, bye, love you.’ And some Sunday nights I go to bed early so I can sleep through knowing.
Two months ago, on a Sunday night I called Libby’s partner, Darren – I had an urge to speak to him that I couldn’t put down. Phones and tears don’t mix. We spoke quickly, hung up. I went to sleep.
Wednesday afternoon, three days after that Sunday night, I’m hanging out with my middle son, he has his after school smell; feet, food, grass, exertion. We sit close and scroll through the photos on my phone.
In the camera roll: my youngest, sneaky self-portraits, photos of my bike, two screen shots of a photo of Libby, Parliament House taken on the holidays, the steel spire shining against the bright sky.
Two screen shots of a photo of Libby?
In the photo Libby looks happy, peaceful, an adult with a beer in her hand. She’s in Darren’s jacket on Erin, my other sister’s, couch.
The screen shots were taken on Sunday, 14 October, 8.31pm. That’s about the time I would have been speaking to Darren.
I’m gone, tears. My middle son holds me, reminds me she’s in my heart, he puts his hand there.
‘She’s here, Mummy.’
‘Thank you, beautiful.’ I kiss his smart forehead and stare at the photos.
Screen shots can be taken by accident. I could have done it. But I wasn’t faffing around with my phone, not that Sunday night.
When I learned Libby died I wished like Hell I still believed in Heaven. Heaven’s a nice concept, romantic, life ever after, it’s cool, I’ll see you on the other side. Heaven could be another five minutes.
Thursday, I have lunch with Erin. I haven’t told her about the photos in my phone because I want to show her. I have a cappuccino, she has a cappuccino and a cigarette and I tell her the story. I open my camera roll, a re-enactment of yesterday.
But it’s Canberra and my bike.
No two screen shots of Libby.
There’s no space, no hole where they were. It’s like they were never there. I didn’t untake those screen shots.
I want them back, they made me cry. I want them back, their lack makes me cry. Erin slings an arm around me, its usual position. I cry into her neck. The wind blows chocolate powder off the top of my coffee onto our table, passersby glance at us, look away, they’re probably used to seeing me cry in my sister’s arms. I was Libby’s big sister. Erin is seven years younger than me and has spent months being mine.
I did not delete those screen shots.
Ghosts feel too Hollywood and too Stephen King. Ghosts seem opposite to the religion I grew up with, it was the Holy Spirit, not spirits.
My neighbor didn’t know Libby well, only met her once, an afternoon in my kitchen, but they got along brilliantly, they laughed and joked and charmed each other. It irritated me. Jealousy, I suppose. After all, I saw Libby first.
I told my neighbour about the photos. How they turned up in my phone and when I saw them I cried like a little kid. How my son looked after me. And then, how the photos disappeared.
My neighbour laughed her head off.
‘Oh, Libby’s hilarious! A scallywag!’
The sky was white with cloud, high and fluffy, my son was leaning into me, his head on my chest and a hand in my pocket. I kissed his hair, smiled and cried. When I heard that laughing – open, loud and real – I knew that those screen shots were my five more minutes.