Ghost Money
by Charles Anders

I never knew why the wedding presents arrived right after the divorce. Maybe Spring cleaning in the in-laws' attic. Maybe the mother in law's idea of closure.

Angie's duvet and African throw rug disappeared under artifacts from a civilization that had never existed. A device to pull the guts from a lemon without disturbing the skin. A truffle shaver. A home brewing kit for alcoholic cider. I held up a twisted implement with a serrated grating to the light.

"I've seen junk. I've seen clutter," I said. "But I've never seen bric-a-brac. This is bric-a-brac."

Since we'd married, I'd come out as a pervert and Angie had found Jesus. Now we sat, newly unrelated, in a gift maze.

Then we spotted the envelopes. Half a dozen of them, card-sized and gilt-edged. I opened one. Inside, a card and a check for $100. "Not bad," I said. "Can we still deposit this after so long?"

"Let me see." Angie's brown eyes narrowed and her mouth opened on one side. "This is from Dr. Engler. He was an old friend of my family. He's dead now." She opened another one. "Loleatta Bradley gave us $50. She's dead too." It turned out all six checks came from corpses.

"Weird," I said. "But I guess it makes sense? They were the oldest people at our wedding. They didn't know what to get us. Obviously, they'd never heard of a mushroom grinder, or whatever this thing is." I gestured at the object in my left hand.

"This isn't funny," Angie said. Angie had a sense of humor, before Jesus sucked her brain out. She crossed herself. "It's like finding skeleton fingers in a bouquet."
Angie leaned over the opened boxes. The crucifix around her elegant neck bumped a shrink-wrapped table lamp. "Do you think you could use any of these things in your S&M?" Angie attempted tolerance. "I mean, this pasta rake looks downright scary."

I laughed. Maybe Angie hadn't totally lost her sense of humor. "Yeah," I said. "I could totally terrorize a helpless submissive with this beef jerky gun." We both laughed.

Angie picked up the defunct checks again. "There’s a lot of money here." She fanned them like playing cards. "It seems a waste to trash them. We could recycle them."

It did seem a waste. The six oldest people at the wedding had wished us well in their doomed fashion.

"Maybe there is something. When I lived in Hong Kong, the people used to burn paper money to give it to the dead. I don’t know if it works for checks." It was my best idea.

We endorsed each check on the back to "CASH" and signed underneath. Then we went out to Angie's concrete porch, facing a tiny wildflower garden. There, we lit a small fire and dropped the checks in one by one. We sat staring at the fire in silence long after all the checks' pictures of mountains and cowboys had darkened and crumbled.

Charles Anders ( has been a psychic receptionist, a monkey frightener and a journalist. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the New York Press, Strange Horizons, Cyber Age Adventures, Scarlet Letters, Space & Time and the forthcoming anthology Pills Thrills Chills & Heartache. His book The Lazy Crossdresser came out in February 2002 from Greenery Press.
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