|What Killed Harry?
By Bruce Memblatt
A quote from Hans Christian Andersen, “Every person’s life is a fairy tale written by God’s fingers”, was a quote
Harry loved and for all intents and purposes it was Harry’s favorite. You might say it was how Harry lived his life
like a character in a fairly tale carelessly moving from one adventure to the next, but Harry had one thing in his
life he was certain of, his wife Katherine. Katie he called her, striking and as solid as steel from good, old, Irish
stock, Katie was one the few dependable things in Harry’s life. In fact, Katie was the most reliable of the few
dependable things in Harry’s world.
Up every morning to prepare breakfast and get Harry off and there at night to
get him supper, or if he occasionally needed someone to run defense when his mother
called, Katie was there for the hundred and one million things that made up Harry’s
whimsical world. And not to belittle Harry, he was there for Katie as well. Harry offered
Katie something she couldn’t supply on her own, he provided one ingredient Katie
cherished most. Harry gave Katie’s life the mystery it lacked. Katie depended on Harry to keep her life
interesting. Without Harry Katie believed she would have died from tedium long ago.
Not to say it was a perfect marriage, but it wasn’t bad as marriages go. Harry wasn’t a rich man, but he had a
steady job in the sales department of a local newspaper.
A job Harry secured after many years of hit and misses. If you can think of a job,
Harry had it from flower arranger to dog walker, but it seems Harry finally found his niche at the New York Sun.
And Katie, she worked part time as a cashier in the house wares department of Macys. A job Katie really didn’t
love, but it made her feel productive and feeling useful was something that was essential to Katie’s well being.
On Sundays Katie also volunteered a few hours at a Catholic church just a few blocks away from the small brick
house Harry and Katie owned in Brooklyn.
Something about Harry and Katie’s house; it was about as average as a house
you’d find in Brooklyn could be, save for one slight quirk essential to Harry. A ghost
resided in Harry and Katie’s house. A small child-ghost who must have been about
twelve-years-old when she died and became a ghost. Her name was Meryl. Meryl had
blueberry hair and she stood about four and a half feet tall when she was visible. She
was also moody as a twelve-year-old might be, but Meryl was for the most part playful and lonely.
Meryl was indeed lonely. That’s where Harry came in. Meryl sort of adopted Harry you might say as a surrogate
uncle. She admired Harry because when she first scared him up, Harry didn’t get scared. Harry was even kind of
nonchalant about the idea of ghosts in general. Meryl thought what Harry mostly was—when it came to ghosts—
As for Katie, she had no idea a ghost lived in their house, and if one ever did she’d never believe in it anyway.
Most likely a ghost would be the kind of thing she’d explain away as either the manifestation of an over-active
imagination, or as a sign of mental illness.
Naturally, Harry kept Meryl’s presence secret from Katie. Trying to explain Meryl to Katie wouldn’t do anyone
“Harry, why don’t they call you Harold?”
Harry looked at the child-ghost and smiled as he found her constant curiosity endearing.
“Harold is too formal don’t you think? And doesn’t Harold sound kind of nerdy? ‘Harry, I think, is perfect. Harry’s
a friendly name, ‘good ol’ Harry.”
“I guess, I would have named you Eugene.”
Meryl smiled; she wanted to see what Harry would say next.
”Eugene? Why stop there? Why not Seymour? Or Sheldon?”
Meryl laughed, “Well there’s always Mary Shelly, Shelly can be short for Sheldon no? But his first name “Mary”
has got them all beat.”
Harry grinned, he was impressed that Meryl knew who Shelly was and he was equally impressed with the
quickness of her wit. Harry wondered if ghost children were naturally more informed than regular children.
“I don’t think I’d like to be named Mary.”
“Well time’s up, Harry you know the rules.”
“I wish I could stay longer”
“I wish you could stay in this room longer Harry, but in order for that to be possible you would have to become
a ghost. You know the rules, Harry; the living can only remain in the room for ever so brief periods.”
Harry sighed and looked at Meryl, her pouty mouth and her blueberry hair were pointing upward as if a great
breeze had blown by. Then Meryl was gone and Harry was in his bed next to Katie. Katie, wondering, asked
Harry where he’d been. Harry explained
to Katie that he had been in the bathroom. Katie thought it was an unusually long time even for Harry to spend
in the bathroom and then she closed her tired eyes and drifted off to sleep. Harry starred at the ceiling for a
few moments amused wondering what Katie would say if he told her he hadn’t been in the bathroom, that he
had been visiting a twelve-year-old child-ghost with blueberry hair named Meryl in a” ghost room,” which was a
room located within the confines of their house, but in another dimension. It might be beneath the cellar, or
behind the refrigerator in the kitchen, or even behind the wall their bed rested against. Thinking more about the
possibilities, Harry realized Meryl’s ghost room didn’t have to be behind anything at all it could be in their
bedroom. It could be right in their bed! That very thought filled Harry with awe. A few moments later Harry was
fast asleep with his arms around Katie. A big grin formed on his dozing face.
Meryl spent countless hours in her ghost room, but she didn’t spend all her time there. Some mornings when
Harry left for work, she’d venture out, even though venturing out of her room wasn’t something Meryl relished
doing, and she’d go spy on Katie. Just like the morning when she caught Katie sitting near her kitchen table
crying. Meryl loved to look at Katie. She thought Katie was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. She
loved the way Katie’s jet black hair fell and she adored Katie’s robust, yet direct blue eyes. Meryl was taken
with the way Katie was designed too, so thin and tall, Meryl imagined Katie would make the perfect gothic
ghost. By the same token, looking at Katie was something that made Meryl blue, because it was a sad reminder
that she’d never grow up, that she’d never know how it felt to have full breasts, or a husband or even a little
girl like her.
From time to time Meryl would just know what was on Katie’s mind. This morning she knew without little doubt
that Katie was fretting over Harry. Katie was worried that Harry might have someone else in his life like a
girlfriend. Of course, the last thing Katie would expect to discover was that Harry’s “girlfriend” was actually a
twelve-year-old, blueberry-haired ghost. Almost out of the blue an idea popped into Meryl’s head; like a game
to pass the time.
One thing Meryl had was time to pass. One of the drawbacks of being a ghost was the need to invent endless
ways to fill endless hours. Meryl thought she’d spice up her hours by leaving little hints and clues around the
house to guide Katie into believing for certain that Harry had a beau, just for fun, of course. Meryl thought,
what harm could come of it? And even if some harm did come, wasn’t it her duty as ghost to cause some
mischief for the living? And in truth Meryl was envious of Katie. Katie had Harry
always, and Katie was beautiful. Poor dead Meryl, she’d just always be the same.
“Harry breakfast’s up, your favorite too, pancakes and sausages!”
“I’ll be there in jiff.”
Harry threw on his robe and headed down the long flight of stairs that led to the wood-paneled kitchen which
housed the long, blonde, wooden table in the center that Katie loved so much. Katie picked up the light, oak
table at a flea market. The table reminded her of the country, and though Katie never lived in the country, she
loved the feel of wood and country things.
“That smells so good Katie how did you know I wanted pancakes?”
“A little birdie told me Harry.”
Katie was struggling to be extra considerate to Harry this morning because she intended to interrogate him
about things that were weighing like stones on her mind. In other words the butter was not just greasing the
frying pan this particular morning.
“Harry, sit, eat, relax.”
“Well, you’re in a good mood this morning, Katie. What’s on you’re mind?”
“You know me too well, Harry.”
“Well, we’re kind of married.”
Harry smiled cautiously because Harry knew something interesting was about to pop out of Katie’s mouth.
“Harry did you notice the bed was used in the guest room downstairs? And I swear I thought I heard a woman
giggling last night.”
“Woman have you been at the J&B?”
“Harry you’re not going to laugh your way out of this, I saw what I saw. Were you in the guest room last night?
I seem to recall you spent an awfully long time in the bathroom and frankly Harry you’ve been disappearing for
unusual periods of time lately.”
Katie asked directly, but deep down she knew a direct answer wasn’t going to fall from Harry’s lips.
“Katie if I had another woman do you think I’d be dumb enough to take her here?”
“Maybe if you were some other man, Harry but you, Harry you’re not like anyone
else. Harry your weird,and I love you for it Harry, but sometimes Harry your just odd.
I don’t know if you would Harry, but that bed in the guest room didn’t un-make itself.”
“Maybe it was a ghost?” Harry offered knowing full well it might have really been a small sometimes sweet,
sometimes mischievous ghost.
“Okay Harry, I can’t talk to you today. I’m going to get ready for work. You do
With that Katie quickly walked out of the kitchen. She didn’t storm out of the kitchen. Although, if you asked
Harry that’s what he’d tell you it felt like. Like a cold, winter wind was leaving the room.
Harry walked aimlessly about the living room, his brown hair frazzled and unkempt, trying to find a way to
summon up Meryl. Usually all he had to do was knock on the wall above the fireplace a few times and Meryl
would whisk him off to her room, but that wasn’t happening for Harry this morning.
A few moments later he found himself in Meryl’s room.
“Meryl, I have a question to ask you.”
Meryl realized that Harry seemed more serious than he usually was this morning. She didn’t really like talking to
Harry when he was in a dour mood.
Harry continued, “Have you been playing around in the house, unmaking beds?”
Meryl answered confidently, “Why would I do that Harry? I’m not like a movie ghost I’m just me, Harry.”
Meryl was impressed with how easily the lie fell off her tongue. She had never lied as a ghost before. She
wondered if that was something that came along with being a ghost.
Harry, almost satisfied with her answer replied, “I didn’t think so, Meryl. It’s just Katie…oh, never mind, I have
to get to work. I’ll talk to you later, can you whoosh me out of here?”
“Sure thing, Harry.”
Down at Macy’s that afternoon Katie was on edge. She even found herself arguing very loudly with a customer
over the sale price of a coffee maker. Katie found the volume of her own voice alarming. It was not like her at
all. Katie was the type of person who’d sooner slit her own throat then cause a public scene. Katie was always
calm, collected and direct. She was so overwhelmed with her own behavior that afternoon at Macy’s she
feigned feeling under the weather and left work early.
Alone in their living room, Katie sat on her brown, leather couch and cried. Her
Rosary beads and her cross dangling in her trembling hands as she spoke out loud to the empty living room, in a
bit of a brogue.
“By my sainted mother and father I love you, Harry, but by God I can’t let you do this to me. I’m going to take
care of this in my own way, quietly”
Then she silently walked up the stairs in what could only be described as a ghostly fashion and made her way
into her room. Katie felt a slight sense of relief as she climbed the stairs because not a soul had been home and
not a soul had seen her in her current state, but of course one had.
Meryl was now more curious than ever. What is going to happen in this house next? She wondered. Meryl was
determined to keep a close eye on Katie. Later that evening she watched Katie as she prepared Harry’s dinner.
Everything seemed normal enough, but she noticed Katie had taken a small can from underneath the kitchen
cabinet which contained a white powder, and she lightly spread some of the powder over Harry’s plate. Meryl
was more curious now than she had been before. She was determined to find out what the white powder
consisted of, although, she guessed it wasn’t a vitamin supplement.
“Harry have you ever been to France?” The ghost-child quizzed.
“Once when I was a teenager.”
“I’d love to go to France I wonder if they have ghosts there?”
“Do they ever!” Harry replied. “In fact, there’s a place in France the locals call ‘The Gates of Hell’ because of all
the ghost sightings that occur there. According to legend, the ghosts most often spotted at The Gates of Hell
resemble a demon dog and a little girl who were supposedly sacrificed by devil worshippers.”
“Wow. Imagine that, a little girl ghost! But I think I’ll stay in the states, that sounds a bit heavy for me, Harry.
Those European ghosts are wild!”
Harry laughed, “I’ll bet you’d dazzle dem European ghosts, Meryl.”
Harry was feeling content. He was certain the worries he had with Katie that morning had blown over. Katie
made him a fine roast beef dinner and there wasn’t a mention of un-made beds, or women giggling about the
house. Everything was back to normal, or rather what passed as normal for Harry.
“Hey, Harry you feeling okay?”
“Sure Meryl just a little tired, I think I’ll go now.”
“Sure thing, Harry.”
And with that Meryl whooshed Harry out her room and onto his bed. Over the coming weeks Harry would come
and visit with Meryl, but each visit grew shorter and shorter as the effects of the arsenic Katie was poisoning
Harry with took hold. Meryl didn’t say a word to Harry until the end.
Oh she knew what was happening and she was kind of glad she innocently—it seems—led Katie to believe Harry
had another woman in his life. Meryl had even briefly thought once, or twice of warning Harry about the
arsenic, but then she hesitated and told herself it was too late. Regardless Katie would never believe Harry if he
told her the real truth, that the other woman in Harry’s life was just a kid-ghost playing tricks on her. Katie
knew there were no such things as ghosts, but best of all, now Meryl would have company forever. Meryl and
Harry’s ghost would spend eternity together in Meryl’s room. Harry tried to explain to Meryl before he died that
she turned the one thing in his life that meant the most to him, his Katie against him, and that he’d never
forgive her for that selfish act. But the child-ghost resisted, Meryl knew that was just a thought of the living
and that Harry would come around because Meryl was lonely and she needed company forever.
The day after Harry died Katie discovered her guest room looked like someone had been in it. A week later she
found herself under strict psychiatric observation at Bellevue hospital. No one ever found out what killed Harry.