Unseen Problems (short fiction)

Gil’s All Fright Diner

Cathy couldn’t get mad at the server for flirting with Earl. He wasn’t the most handsome or charismatic man, but his supernatural vampire magnetism could make up for that with susceptible people. He hadn’t asked for her attention, and Cathy believed that the server would’ve played it cooler if Cathy hadn’t been an invisible disembodied spirit.

“Like a slice of pie, honey?” asked the server to the table, but specifically, aimed at Earl. “On the house.”

“No, thanks.” Earl was trying to discourage her with his indifference, but she wasn’t taking the hint.
Duke sat across the table, quietly eating his eggs, keeping his head down.

“Just whistle if you need anything.” She winked and sashayed her hips as she walked away.

Napoleon growled at her. The restaurant had a No Dogs policy, but that didn’t extend to ghost dogs.

“Ah, I’m sorry, Cathy,” said Earl.

“It’s okay,” she said.

“Cathy . . . ”

“You don’t have to apologize. It’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just the way it is. Pardon me. I have to use the restroom.”

One of the things that sucked about being disembodied. She didn’t eat. She didn’t use the bathroom. She didn’t have any of the dozens of convenient excuses people used for finding private time. She wondered why she bothered offering justification. Mostly a habit from her living days. Earl and Duke were always cool about it.

She went to the bathroom. Cathy stood before the dirty mirror, casting no reflection. When the lighting was just right, when the metaphysics aligned perfectly, she could be seen in mirrors. It didn’t happen a lot. But when it did, it was another precious reminder that she existed, even if that existence was in the realm barely connected with the world of flesh and blood.

The bathroom door opened, and the server stepped inside. She used the mirror to start applying makeup.

“He’s not interested,” said Cathy.

The woman ignored Cathy. The living so often did.

Cathy held her hands out and made spooky noises. Sometimes, it worked. Most times, it didn’t. She was glad it didn’t. This woman wasn’t doing anything wrong.

The server dropped her lipstick in the sink at the sight of the ghost materializing in the mirror. She glanced over her shoulder and jumped at the knowledge that a specter was sharing the room.

“Oh, sorry. My bad.” The apology was useless. The server could see Cathy, not hear her.

“Oh, what the hell?” She jumped in the mirror and shouted “Boo!” A crack ran down the glass, and the light bulb burst. Whimpering, the server fled from the dark bathroom.

It wasn’t mature, but it did feel good.

Cathy rejoined Earl and Duke at the booth. Earl put his arm around her. She loved when he did that. Especially in public. It made him look like a nut, holding onto nothing, but it was an acknowledgement that she was more than just a phantom. She was here. She mattered.

“Everything all right?” he asked.

Their spooked server walked hurriedly out of the restaurant. Cathy smiled, despite herself and leaned into Earl.

“Everything’s just fine.”

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