The Ghost and the Gun
Another story that did not make it into “Sam (a pastoral)”
In my old neck of the woods, everybody has a gun in the house, or mounted on a rack in the cab of a pickup. People hunt for food and for fun and for bragging rights, and they know their way around firearms. They take their kids hunting and teach them good gun-safety habits and how prowl the woods and fields in search of turkey, grouse, bear and deer. It’s a way of life, and a good one.
Most of the time.
In the big national elections last year, the turnout was expected to be high at our polling place. The ladies on the election commission had brought in loads of baked goods to sustain them for fourteen hours of clerical work. The men had knocked the voting booths together and set up the folding tables before the polls opened at 7 A.M., and the real work began Voting registers would be scanned. Addresses and names would be check off, twice. Ballots handed out. The elderly and the disabled would be assisted if necessary. Voters who socialized and chatted would be warned in a firm but friendly way by the good ladies not to say anything political until they were a hundred yards from the ballot boxes.
Voting was going along smoothly enough, until about 3 in the afternoon, when the ghost walked in to cast her ballot. Sally Stoltzer had been dead for a year, and yet here she was, walking up to the precinct table and exercising her right to vote. She looked flour-pale, and barncat thin under her parka and jeans…
Several ladies screamed, knocking over their metal chairs as they scrambled upright. One fainted. Voters peered around the corners of their booths and started shrieking also, their ballots half-completed, never-to-be completed…
“I’m back,” said Sally, in a tiny, tremulous voice. “I’m not dead. Came back to vote. I live with my sister over Richmond way now. Am I still enrolled?”
A deathly silence settled over the assembled citizens as the full meaning of Sally’s apparition sank in. Several more people fainted dead away. More began to weep without restraint. Men included. The strongest among them just stared, their mouths hanging open, faces fading to gray.
A year ago, Sally’s husband Rick had come home from work to find his wife lifeless on the living-room floor. He had flung himself down beside her, shouting her name, rubbing her hands, leaning his ear close to her face hoping to hear some movement of breath, feeling frantically for a pulse in her neck, nestling his head on her breast, listening for
her heart. He had whipped out his phone, calling 911, sobbing and shaking and gasping for air.
“My wife is dead! My wife is dead! She’s not breathing, I can’t feel her heartbeat!” ‘
We’ll be right over,” the dispatcher had yelled back. “You just hold on!”
“She’s dead! I’m going to kill myself!” Rick had said. “Come over and get us!”
The dispatcher had stayed on the line, talking, pleading, reasoning; but Rick had thrown the phone away and run back outside to his truck, gotten his deer rifle, put it in his mouth, reached down and pulled the trigger.
The police and the EMT’s had arrived to find Rick dead in the dooryard, and Sally in a deep coma on the floor. They had rushed the couple to the hospital. Sally survived.
After many weeks in a comatose state, she awoke. Sally had been taken taken to live with her sister while she recovered. Months had passed before anyone dared to tell her that she was a widow, and the news had set her back. Nearly killed her in fact.
It was the knowing that Rick went for the gun that ate at her. If he had swallowed poison or hunted up a rope to hang himself, or set the place on fire, the medics would have had the extra few minutes they needed to save him, and they both would have been voting last November.