Schoonover is the only one who can see Crispin and the dead people. If
she lets herself think about this, it still scares her, even though
Crispin has been following her since she was six. On her worst days,
Lisa calls in sick to the DVDeal, closes the closet door behind her and
sits on her running shoes to get away from him. Mostly she pretends he
isn’t there, although she worries that it isn’t healthy. If he isn’t
real, then she must be as crazy as everyone in town thinks she is.
She’d ask him about it, but he doesn’t talk.
Of course, Crispin isn’t someone you would pick out in a crowd, even if you could
see him. He has grown up with Lisa and now looks to be about her age,
or at least in his late thirties. Eyes gray, a full head of chocolate
brown hair. Just south of six feet tall and plain as white socks.
Except he’s in shape. A runner like her. That’s the one thing that Lisa
knows for sure about Crispin. Today he’s wearing blue microfiber pants
with mesh insets down the sides and a gray Fila long-sleeve tee against
the fall chill. Lisa has already described Crispin’s outfit for her
journal. Since she began keeping a record three years ago, she has
become convinced that he has never worn the same running outfit twice.
Recently she’s been puzzling over this. Maybe some kind of fashion
communication? His Air Pegasus trainers are this year’s model, dazzling
just-out-of-the-box white with black highlights and the red swoosh.
From watching him run, Lisa guesses that he’s a slight underpronator
with high arches.
Lisa wears the Brooks Trance NXTs
that Matt bought her last week. They ease the stress on her flat feet,
although they do nothing at all to help with the stress of deciding
what to do about Matt. She steps off the sidewalk, settles on the grass
in Kearsarge Park and begins her stretches. Hamstring, quads, hip. She
has to be more careful than she was back when she was running cross
country for Coach Ward in high school. She had problems with both of
her Achilles tendons last year. Couldn’t jog for most of April. Crispin
is stretching about a dozen yards away, doing wall pushups against the
Spanish War monument.
Actually, Lisa doesn’t really know what his name is.
six-year-old Lisa came home from the hospital after the car crash that
killed her father, she told her mother about the weird boy in gray
sweats and black Keds nobody else could see. He was following her
around, sometimes even into the bathroom. Annette Schoonover would
smile and pretend to believe in Crispin for her daughter’s sake. He
must be Lisa’s guardian angel, her mother said, sent by God to watch
over her now that Daddy was in heaven. It was the best explanation her
mother could come up with. And it was less bother than therapy,
although Lisa didn’t realize that until years later. To
reassure her daughter, her mother had decided that they should give
Lisa’s guardian angel a name. She thought Crispin was appropriately
holy. The name of a famous saint or maybe one of King Arthur’s knights;
she wasn’t sure. Her mother was often hazy about details after cocktail
Lisa believed that Crispin was an angel
right through fourth grade, even though he didn’t really act the part.
He never once glowed with divine glory like the angels in pictures. He
certainly didn’t have wings. And he would never come into St. Brigit’s.
He’d lurk just outside the double arched doors when Lisa and her mother
went to Mass on Sunday. You’d think a guardian angel would want to get
closer to God. But then what kind of cruel God would curse a little
girl with an angel only she could see? Eventually Lisa came to envy
Crispin out there, drinking in the sweet blue sky while she was trapped
in the flicker of candles and the prayerful gloom and her mother’s
Not long after that she saw her
first dead person. Mrs. Grapelli had lived three houses down from the
Schoonovers on Bank Street.
Lisa tries to run year
round but bad weather sometimes defeats her best intentions. Running in
the rain makes her shoes feel like concrete blocks. She missed this
morning’s workout because of the storm. But skies are clearing now and
she can dodge any leftover puddles. The late afternoon sun rides her
shoulders as she starts along the Squamscott River at an easy
nine-minute-mile pace. The change in weather has brought more than the
usual traffic onto the path that the Conservation Commission paved over
the old railroad right-of-way: Anne What’s-Her-Name in chartreuse and
pink nylon, firm of muscle and purpose, pushing her baby in a stroller;
that pop-eyed man who bought the McCrillises’ overpriced McMansion;
Helen Barone, the girls’ soccer coach at Tuck Academy, who was killed
by a drunk driver over in Barnstead; ancient Hiram Foster in tatty
sweatpants, rerunning the track meets of his youth; some little boys
who are chasing each other just because it’s Tuesday. As she jogs past
a pair of high-school girls in spandex shorts and halter-tops, one of
them staggers and then doubles over as if she’s been punched. Alarmed,
Lisa turns and jogs in place to see if she’s all right. But the girl
isn’t hurt; she’s laughing. “What?” says her companion, giggling. “What?”
But Lisa knows: they’re laughing at her because they’re young and sleek
and oblivious and she’s forty-two and stringy and the town headcase who
sees far too much, including dead people. Of course, Matt would
probably say that she’s just being paranoid. Matt always sounds so
reasonable, even when he’s wrong. For instance, he wants her to move in
with him, even though he refuses to believe in Crispin. But Lisa knows
that Matt cares for her. He’s trying to understand, even though he
probably never will.
Crispin slips past the girls,
although of course they have no way of knowing that. He prefers to stay
behind her, Crispin does. Doesn’t like to catch up.
path ends at the Squamscott Bridge and she pulls up at the light on
Route 23, marking time while she waits for it to change. Her Trances
pad against the sidewalk and she takes stock of herself. Her left calf
is still a little tight but it’s not a problem. Her cheeks are hot and
she can feel blood shouting in her ears. She breathes deeply against
the stretch of her sports bra. She is aroused by today’s run; it’s been
happening a lot lately. Lisa thinks about what it would be like if she
were going home to Matt’s condo instead of her mother’s house. She
imagines him inviting her to his bed. Their bed. No babe, he says, don’t bother with a shower. She breathes. I love the way you smell. He breathes. We’ll take one together. His voice is like a feather tickling her ear. Afterward.
She grins and traces his lips with her forefinger. They kiss, their
breath mingling. The buttons of his shirt yield to her touch and she
slides her hand through the hair on his chest. He eases her nylon
shorts around her hips. They slither down her legs and catch at her
The light changes.
never used to turn her on, but then Matt is new in her life since the
fourth of July. When they started sleeping together, everything
changed. Even Crispin. Whenever Matt enters a room, Crispin leaves.
It’s as if there isn’t room enough in her head for the two of them.
Maybe that’s because Matt is such a big man. Solid as two
refrigerators. He has a scraggly blonde beard and feral hair. Some
people find him scary. But Matt’s hands are soft and his voice wraps
around Lisa like a blanket. He makes her feel safe and sexy. Crispin
has always made Lisa feel exposed; she can’t relax if he’s following
her. Especially if she’s making love. He watched her very first kiss
through the window of Tommy Falucci’s bedroom and has observed all her
desperate couplings in the twenty-some years since.
that the reason why she’s falling in love with Matt—because he chases
Crispin off ? It’s a thought that Lisa tries to block out by counting
steps as she chops Bride’s Hill. She read someplace that when you run,
your feet strike the ground between seventy and a hundred times a
minute, each time with a force three times the weight of your body. Her
legs feel like logs but then she reaches the top of the hill and turns,
running in place as her hometown unfolds beneath her like the map of
her life. She watches Crispin laboring up Bride’s Hill Road, head down,
After Lisa had stopped believing in
angels, she decided that Crispin must be her imaginary friend. That lie
got her well into eighth grade, which is when she first saw the Jimmy
Stewart movie where he’s an alcoholic and his best friend is an
invisible rabbit. Harvey. For a while she liked to pretend that
her life was like that movie, although she knew that was another
delusion, since Jimmy Stewart was always drunk but never fell down or
slurred a single word. Lisa started drinking in high school and went
steady with vodka all through her twenties; she fell down with stunning
regularity. Her mother’s daughter. But Crispin didn’t seem to care
whether she lived or died. Imaginary or not, he was no friend to her.
Actually, Lisa isn’t sure she has ever had a friend, other than Matt. Of course, she knows
a lot of people. Dover is a small town, after all, and she’s lived in
it all her life. But as soon as she steps onto the path of intimacy,
Crispin blocks the way. Lisa imagines that friendship is about trust,
but if she shares her secret, she is always betrayed. It isn’t so much
that people feel sorry for her or that they urge her to get help. She
understands that. Rather it’s that they can’t accept that she has tried
everything—twice—and nothing has worked. Ever. They act as if it’s
somehow her fault that there’s no cure for Crispin. Sometimes, even
Matt. . . .
“Never get there running in place, Schoonover.”
is startled. For a moment she thinks that Crispin has spoken, after a
lifetime of silence. But he’s still in front of her, just now cresting
the hill, a line of dark sweat defining his sternum. She turns and sees
Coach Billy Ward giving her his sly smile. His face looks drawn, even
in the slant light. His legs are pale as eggs and his quadriceps have
wasted, making his knees even knobbier. Otherwise he seems fit enough
for a man who died of a heart attack six years ago. He’s wearing Reebok
Premiers and nylon shorts and the brown and gold wind shirt of the
Memorial High Running Badgers.
“I’ll get there,” Lisa
says. “I just won’t set the record.” Coach is the only dead person who
talks to her. Lisa has never been able to get him to say anything
important, although she’s still trying. “How are you feeling, Coach?”
He shakes his hands loose in front of him as he marks time beside her. “You know.”
Ward was Lisa’s track and cross-country coach and he is one of the only
reasons she survived her senior year. He didn’t care that kids thought
she was weird; all he cared about was that she could run a mile
in 5:11. After she graduated, Lisa used to see him all the time around
town but they rarely met on the run. She liked to work out in the
morning and he preferred afternoons, a habit left over from three
decades of after school practice. She has told him several times that
she’s sorry she missed his funeral. He just shrugs.
“Want company?” he says. “Where you headed?”
“All downhill from here.”
“Always the wiseass.” He takes off down the other side of Bride’s Hill Road.
trot easily, shoulder to shoulder. Coach Ward runs slower than Lisa
would like, but she lets him set the pace. He cuts off onto Aberdeen,
which drops down the steepest part of Oak Hill.
“Race you to the stop sign.” Coach isn’t even breathing hard.
they are galloping, each long stride a rebuke to gravity. The houses
flash by. Lisa glances over at Coach and recognizes the expression of
fierce joy on his face. This is his classic training strategy: speed
play. Interspersed through each practice run must come several bouts of
sprinting. He always made a distinction between running and jogging.
Jogging is a mental activity. You do it because you ought to. Running
is a physical activity. You do it because there is no choice. Ought
doesn’t win races. You win the race because there’s a tiger chasing you
or because you absolutely have to get home in time or maybe just
because it’s a beautiful day and you’re seventeen and life is
impossibly sweet. Coach no longer looks sixty-eight. He is seventeen
all the way to the bottom of the hill.
Lisa can feel
the bulk of the entire planet in her knees as she slows to the stop
sign on Howell. She and Coach arrive at the stop sign together, but he
slaps his open hand to it a beat before she does. “Don’t stop,
Schoonover,” he says, bouncing in place, his feet never leaving the
sidewalk. “Never stop.” They eye each other, breathing hard and
grinning. This is where they must part. She has to get ready for work.
He’s buried in Old St. Mary’s. She has put flowers on his grave several
times since the first time he appeared to her.
pulls up behind them and reaches over Lisa’s shoulder to tap the stop
sign. Coach stares at him with his usual disapproval and Crispin
retreats to a respectful distance.
“You still have the legs, Coach,” says Lisa. “I hope I’m still sprinting like that when I’m your age. How old are you anyway?”
“Seventy-four on November fifteenth.”
“And you were what, sixty-eight, when you died? They still keep track of birthdays in heaven?”
Ward licks his forefinger and draws a check mark in the air. “See you,
Schoonover.” He winks at her and a smile lights his craggy face. “Don’t
forget to stretch.”
“Will do, Coach.” Lisa waves and takes off for home.
has lost six jobs in five years, although a couple of the layoffs
weren’t her fault. Dolly Hitchens had closed Best Kept Secrets when she
got divorced and Carlson’s Hardware burned down. These days Lisa works
at the DVDeal on Grandview at the Dover end of the Squamscott Bridge,
although business is ominously slow. But that’s where she met Matt, who
will sit through just about any movie about sports. When Lisa quoted
Annie’s speech from Bull Durham—his all-time favorite—about the Church of Baseball, Matt asked her out on the spot.
had started at the DVDeal just a week after she had checked herself out
of the Kirkwood Center at Mercy Hospital, where she had spent the best
part of June having her head dry-cleaned. Lisa and reality had briefly
parted company the Thursday before the Memorial Day weekend. She was
working the classified ad desk at the Dover Times-Advocate. She
had planned to head out for lunch, but as she passed the microfilm
room, Crispin stopped, lingering at the door. This was new. Crispin was
a follower; he never took the lead. She backtracked. The windowless
room was empty except for two Canon microfilm readers and a wall filled
with filing cabinets. And then she had the feeling. It was a little
like a chill and a little like being tipsy and a little like déjà vu.
She knew it was exactly the wrong thing to do, but she brushed by
Crispin into the archive, opened the drawer labeled 1960-65 and pulled
the spool that held the Times-Advocate for March 11, 1964. She
scrolled to the front page. At the bottom right, under articles about
Queen Elizabeth’s new baby and Henry Cabot Lodge’s win in the New
Hampshire primary and the debate over choosing the national flower was
the headline: DOVER MAN KILLED IN CRASH. According to the story, Louis
Schoonover, age thirty-four, of 9 Bank Street, had died when his Ford
Galaxie had crossed the median on Route 22 up in Reed City and struck
an oncoming Pontiac Catalina driven by Sophie Krusek, age seventeen, of
Upper Shad Road, Reed City. Both Miss Krusek and her brother, Brice
Krusek, age eight, were pronounced dead at the scene. Mr. Schoonover
succumbed to his injuries later that day. The story went on to say that
Mr. Schoonover’s daughter Lisa, age six, had also been injured in the
accident but was in stable condition and was expected to recover.
Expected to recover. She didn’t look up, but she knew Crispin was watching her.
mother had never said anything about the Kruseks. Annette Schoonover
had told Lisa that her father’s Galaxie had skidded on a patch of ice
and hit a tree. But in that moment, the sickly glow of the reader’s
screen burned away the lie that had poisoned her life. It all made
sense now. Crispin must be one of the dead people, like all the others.
His name must be Brice Krusek. He must have been haunting her all these
years because her father had killed him and his sister. She spun away
from the microfilm reader to find Crispin leaning against the far wall.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” she said. “That’s why we’re here?”
He gazed at her with empty eyes.
“I know your secret now, Brice.”
He wasn’t giving her anything.
“This means you’re free. We can be done.”
He had never given her anything.
“Do you hear me?” Of course he could. She was screaming; everyone in the building could hear her. “It was an accident.”
me alone,” she shrieked. “Leave me.” People began to crowd around her,
but she couldn’t tell which of them were living and which were dead.
she trots toward Howell Junior High, Lisa decides to take the long way
home. For some reason, Crispin closes the gap between them until he is
only a few steps behind. Lisa still thinks of him as Crispin, rather
than Brice. She has accepted that there is no way she can know for sure
that he was the boy in the other car. Lisa skirts the perimeter of the
soccer field and dodges behind the six rows of bleachers that face the
football field and the new track oval. When she rounds the bleachers at
the forty-yard line, she spots her mother doing a slow lap. This is
only the second time Lisa has seen her. The first time she had just
caught a glimpse of her mother from across the Squamscott River.
mother is wearing the faded blue jersey with USA in red letters that
she had worn in the Rome Olympics. She was always so proud to have been
an Olympian, even though she’d finished dead last in her preliminary
heat in the 200 meters. Her favorite story while she was alive was how
in that very same heat, the great Wilma Rudolph kicked her way into the
finals and a world record. “Wilma was running so hard, I was lucky she
didn’t lap me.” She liked to laugh at herself, her mother did,
especially when she was drinking. Her story would always end like this:
“And you know what Wilma’s time was? Twenty-four seconds flat. There’s
a sophomore in high school in Minneapolis who runs a 23.9. Imagine, a
sophomore. So don’t you listen when they say kids these days are no
good.” When Lisa was in college, she’d gone into the stacks at the
library and discovered an old Life magazine with pictures of
Wilma Rudolph winning this race. Lisa’s mother wasn’t in any of them.
It turned out that she had run in a different heat. And it wasn’t a
world record; Rudolph only set an Olympic record. Lisa had never
corrected her mother, even though she sat through the Wilma Rudolph
story many, many more times before her mother died. She could never
bring herself to call her on the lie.
effortlessly around the Poly-Mat track, catches up to her mother and
slows to match her shuffling pace. She does not appear to notice Lisa.
Instead she stares down at the red polyurethane surface of the track as
if searching for a lost dime. Lisa can see grapy veins under her wax
paper skin. Strands of gray hair have flown loose from the bun that is
held in place by her favorite silver hair fork. Her mother ran right up
until the end. She probably would’ve preferred to drop dead on the
track rather than to have wasted to a stick in the hospital.
it’s me.” Lisa doesn’t know how being dead works, but if Billy Ward can
talk to her, then maybe her mother can too. Just then Crispin races
past them, gets a lead of maybe twenty feet and then starts running
backward, facing them.
“Mom,” says Lisa, “you know now.
You must. About Crispin. Everything.” Even though they are moving at a
crawl, Lisa is gasping for breath. “I’m a mess. I try, but he’s always
Her mother is making a small, moist rasping sound as she jogs. He-he-heep. Lisa has a thousand questions but her entire miserable life seems stuck in her throat. “Maa?”
Her mother shakes her head and continues to plod on.
stops then, although this goes against everything her mother taught her
about running. You never stop unless you’re hurt or someone needs your
help. Stopping means that you’re not a serious person, that your will
is weak, your spirit flawed. Lisa expects the certain rebuke, but her
mother has moved on. Annette Schoonover passes Crispin, who now runs in
place, studying Lisa.
Suddenly Lisa is on her knees.
Then on her elbows. Then her forehead is pressing against the nubbly
surface of the track. Sobs bubble out of her. It isn’t fair. Crispin
won’t go away. The DVDeal will close. Matt will leave. She isn’t strong
enough. Nobody can help. She’ll wind up in Kirkwood again. And die in
an asylum, with Crispin watching.
There is a feather
tingle at the small of her back and Lisa jerks upright. Her mother has
slogged an entire circuit around the track and come up behind her.
Padding in place, she offers Lisa a hand. Lisa reaches for it but there
is nothing for her to hold on to. Her mother shakes her head again and
gives her a sad smile.
“Don’t stop,” Annette Schoonover says and then slides around her daughter and begins another slow lap.
hauls herself up, even though it feels as if there is a Saint Bernard
on her shoulders. And suddenly the track seems tilted up at a sharp
angle. Still, she staggers after her mother. She has it in her mind to
catch up to her but on the curve ahead of Lisa, Annette Schoonover is
scattering into the twilight. Her legs are mist and the blue jersey
goes up in smoke and puffs toward the bleachers. The letters U, S, and
A are as faint as Lisa’s memories of her father and the silver hair
fork is the last gleam of the dying day. And then her mother is gone
and Lisa is alone.
watches her come toward him, his expression unreadable as always. As
she passes him, she lashes out at his face, her fingers spread and
curled. It’s a slashing blow that would have raked bloody lines across
his cheek, but there is no more to Crispin than there is to Annette
Schoonover. You can’t touch the dead, Lisa thinks. And they can’t touch
you. She veers off the track and sprints between the bleachers. Crispin
has to hustle to keep up.
Lisa finishes the run
with a last spurt of speed and breaks the imaginary finish line at the
corner of Bank and Coronet. As she bends over to catch her breath, she
catches a glimpse of Mrs. Grapelli on the porch of her house, leaning
back on her wicker rocking chair. Only now the house belongs to the
Silvermans. Mrs. Grapelli, dead for more than three decades, looks like
one of those mummies you see in old issues of National Geographic.
walks down Bank, drinking in her drowsy neighborhood. Her mother’s
house—her house now—is eighth on the left, a light blue Cape with navy
shutters and a center brick chimney. As is her habit, she walks around
the house three times, cooling down. She brushes her hand across the
flat heads of the scarlet sedum and picks a spoon-flowered
chrysanthemum and tucks it behind her ear. She notices that Matt has
mowed the lawn for her.
She climbs the porch steps two
at a time and lets the screen door slam in Crispin’s face. She pauses
in the front hall at the entrance to the living room. The message light
on her answering machine is flashing. She presses play.
sweetie, it’s just me,” says Matt’s voice. Even on the tinny speaker of
the answering machine, he sounds steady. Someone she could lean on. “I
stopped by twice, hoping to catch you, but you were out. Probably
running, since it rained this morning. I mowed your lawn while I was
“Thanks,” Lisa says to the machine.
I’m worried about you. About us. We’ve hardly spoken in the last few
days. Every time I call, I get your machine. I’m thinking maybe you’re
screening my calls.” He laughs nervously.
“I’m sorry, Matt.” She did screen two of his calls yesterday.
when I come into the store, all we talk about are the movies. Have I
done something wrong? I just want us to be together. I know you’re
probably not ready, what with all your . . . ah . . . stuff.”
Stuff. Crispin is standing in the entrance to the living room, watching her. His hands are braced against the doorjambs.
answering machine crackles. It sounds like a cough. Or a sigh. Then
there is a long silence and Lisa thinks maybe the message is over,
except that she doesn’t hear a beep. Finally Matt clears his throat and
says, “I love you, Lisa, but I’m not sure now that you love me. And
that’s important, isn’t it? You have to be ready. So if you want, I can
“No,” she says, glaring into Crispin’s dead
eyes. “Don’t stop.” She gulps air as if she’s running again, only now
it’s like that flying, out-of-control sprint with Coach Ward down Oak
Hill. Because there is a tiger chasing her and she absolutely has to get home. But her mother’s house isn’t where she belongs.
Lisa has no choice. She picks up the phone.