The frail woman pulls her coat shut, bunches her scarf, and shoves her hands deep into fur-lined pockets.
In one of her hands, she imagines three plastic bags.
Estelle knows the bags aren’t real. Just like she knows not to shout her dog’s name aloud in public. She knows he is no more. Tommy had only been a puppy when she lost him. The car hadn’t even bothered to stop. People look at you like you’re crazy when you call your dead dog. She thinks his name as loudly as she can.
She glances at the other walkers in the park today. She is not surprised to see them all wearing shorts and T-shirts again. Crazy kids.
Careful, old girl.
She had nearly walked into a park bench.
Estelle knew her dog was a ghost; she was okay with that. He was still better company than most folks.
She decides she will look for another ten minutes. If she doesn’t find her dog by then, she will try again tomorrow.
Something catches Estelle’s eye.
A kinetic ball of brown fur rushes to her.
Tommy comes running to her, tail wagging, panting like a locomotive. He was always so happy to see her.
She bends down to scoop up the ghost dog. Her knees howl in protest. Estelle looks around, hopeful the park people didn’t notice the crazy woman picking up something invisible and begin fussing over it.
She hated the pity she saw in those eyes.
The spirit dog growls at her scarf, sniffing it and then biting at the material.
What is it, Tommy?
But Tommy will not be pacified. He continues his assault upon the scarf. He gets a solid mouthful of the material, bites down, and begins tugging.
That’s not a toy. That was a gift from mama.
Tommy rears back, his legs pushing against her chest, tugging on the scarf. It comes loose. The puppy she’d bought from a friend of her neighbor Karen leaps to the ground, proud and victorious. The ghost dog escapes with the garment, a faded red thing that her mother gave her one Thanksgiving. Tommy runs across the trail, across the grassy strip, and heads towards the woods.
“Tommy, come back here this instant!”
She looks around, concerned.
Tommy stops and looks back at her.
Is he taunting me?
Estelle watches in amazement as the scarf grows faint. She is disoriented and doesn’t see the couple until it’s too late.
“We will catch the matinee first, then have sushi afterward,” the man says.
“That’s the plan, Stan,” the woman says.
“Look, this is embarrassing for me to point out, seeing how we’ve been married seven years, but the name is Steve. S..T..E..V..E, Steve, okay?”
Estelle walks through the couple. It’s a weird sensation as she passes through their bodies. Not unpleasant, just weird.
“That’s odd,” Steve says.
“Yeah, it got cold for a second, but I heard a cold front was supposed to be moving in today,” Leann says.
Estelle stands in their wake. She looks for Tommy; he’s back at her feet; the red scarf is gone.
A woman who didn’t know that dogs could be lactose intolerant once fed her new puppy ice cream until he got sick and threw up everywhere. She remembers everything all at once. The floodgates open, and it all is visible to her. She remembers the car that killed her dog. She remembers seeing it driving away sideways. The road was suddenly vertical. She remembers Tommy, broken, walking down the vertical wall, whining over her, nuzzling her face, crying.
Estelle stands there basking in the memories as she transitions back into her best self.