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Mary pushed her black, dime store bifocals to the back of her nose. And you are all dead. The kids faded inside their seats. Their seven bodies turned translucent. Mary pointed again at her lesson. This was a disturbed group. Recalcitrants, every one of them. The blackboard yawned. Its center opened, bunching Mary's red-chalk lesson along its round edges. The sound was a knife-sharp fan, whipping around and around. The longer you stay, the more you fade, until you don't exist anymore. You have to cross to the other side.

It's the only way out. Laughter burst from the front row. Desks overturned, one after the next. All seven lay in a heap on the creaky wooden floor. Mary kept pointing. She was getting careless, obviously, because her index finger grazed the black deep of the portal, cold as dry ice.

Your mommies and daddies are waiting. Seven ghost children who'd died without grace reappeared. The desks went airborne, chasing each other like a runaway carousel. She imagined the kids inside them, smiling with maniacal glee. The circle slowed. The chairs lined up. They took a running start, then slammed into the blackboard: bang!

Slate and desks rained. The entire attic shook.

Hundred-year-old wood joists groaned. For dinner that Tuesday night, Mary fried a shell steak in A. She had to climb over about three hundred copies of National Geographic just to get to the stove. Her mother Corinne was a hoarder. The kind that pressed aluminum foil flat and remembered that the bit with the red mark once contained red velvet cupcakes while the bit with the black mark on the shiny side came from a bottle of Manischewitz.

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Over the years, she'd jammed their house with so much crap that they each wore their toilet paper on their arms; otherwise they'd never find it when they needed it. Corinne Hogan's crazy had passed for eccentricity until the Dollar Store on 39th Avenue failed. Corrine took it hard. First her husband left her for the floozy across the street, then the family business collapsed. They'd stored the stock in the basement: tea towels, singing mechanical birds, Christmas tree-shaped erasers, Hello Kitty staplers, fluorescent highlighter pens, sparkly party hats.

But slowly, over that dark year in , the crap washed ashore. It climbed the steps, then spread through the hall. Corrine stopped throwing things away, and started tweezing through the curbside rubbish in front of the floozy's house. She collected used hair dryers and discarded photo albums. Tampon boxes and broken lamps. The crap crashed like a wave into the kitchen and dining room and den. The way Mary remembered it, the hoarding started on a single night in She and Corrine were watching local news when the Pope came on and announced that Limbo was closed for business.

From now on, all children went straight to heaven. I'd just transcend straight to heaven. Corrine got up right then and started sorting Dollar Store stock. Pretty soon, the mess spread. By the end of the month, the Hogans were full-on hoarders. The only place the crap didn't cram was Mary's bedroom and the attic, whose steps were too steep for Corrine to summit.

That night of the catechism, Mary went up to the attic to think about sex and heaven and getting out from under her mother's thumb—all the wants in her life that squeezed her heart tight. And then a ghost girl came out from the eaves. She wore tube socks and a halter dress and she'd died in from an asthma attack. The two of them had talked about all kinds of things, like the television show Bewitched and hot Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica. Then the portal opened up. Together, they'd figured out that it was her salvation. The girl had waved on her way through, and in that moment, Mary had wished she could go, too.

From that day forward, the women of 48th Street found their callings: Corrine the hoarder, Mary the teacher. For Mary and her ghosts, the first years were easy, but over time, the outsiders collected. The ones who didn't believe they were dead. The ones who'd been murdered and couldn't rest. The haunters and sociopaths who'd rather fade away—recalcitrants.

She figured there were teachers just like her all over the world, who'd been chosen by God or maybe the Pope to lead the way. It wasn't an easy job, but it was a rewarding one. She'd been content at it until recently, when the eviction notice came. At dinner that night, Corrine smacked her lips while watching the Yankee game on Channel Nine. There was this perfect viewing-tunnel if you sat on the couch, where the books and newspapers and crusty take-out boxes framed the screen.

Still furious over the whole "Afterlife" lesson, the children played tricks. They popped into view like jack-in-the-boxes, then tore out their eyes to frighten her. How much they pay you to throw the damn game? She squashed it under her pink slippers without noticing. An eyeball rolled between Corinne's feet. For that second before his eyes grew back, poor Oscar Knisely's face was just empty sockets.

The court said Friday. It's Tuesday already," Mary said, because it loomed like that giant iceberg ahead of the Titanic. Every second since the court ruling, every moment that kept her from sleep, she wondered: Where would they go? Who would take care of the children?

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I'm staying," Corinne answered. The vein running vertically down her forehead plumped like a worm. Mary looked down at her hands. Homeschooled since she was five, acts hewing to the social fabric were not her strong suit. She knew the Greek Myths and geometry. She didn't know table manners or how to shake hands. The court-appointed lawyer had explained this to the Queens District judge, who had sneered at her the same way Corrine was doing right now, like she'd screwed-up on purpose.

Like she wanted to live in city housing, abandon her ghost children, and hang out in a two-bedroom ghetto with her abusive, hoarder mother for the rest of her life. Corinne flicked her imaginary remote control. And then I'll have to kill them. And don't think I didn't notice the mouse trap your friends put in my bed. After carrying her mother to bed that night, Mary inspected the mess in the dining room. She sorted through the mail from January Most were letters from lawyers.

A few were marked "Final Notice. Before things got dire. Mary hobbled through the cluttered tunnels in the front hall until she found the phone.

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She dialed zero, because it was always easier to have the operator connect her than figure out when to use an area code. The operator didn't answer. Instead, she got an automated message telling her to pay her bill. This had been the social worker's job until the social worker got fired for incompetence. So now they were between social workers. Mary leafed through the rest of the mail, which took up the entire breakfront, and was sorted by date and rubber band color.

They were all marked "Final Notice. Fucking Notice. Why didn't you notice? Up above, something scrambled. It sounded like mice. Mary headed up the stairs. She shoved aside the stacks of neatly folded moth-eaten sweaters that no one had worn in twenty years. Past Styrofoam containers, and Tupperware filled with colored sand. Past the embalmed cat and the conch shells. To the attic. The children had returned the desks to their places again and swept the slate blackboard crumbs from the floor.

Mary smiled in acknowledgment, but elected not to praise them, since they'd made the mess in the first place. Harry Cullen snorted. He came from a farm out east, back when everybody on Long Island raised chickens. I know she's mean, but she can't help it," Mary said. That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," Harry answered. He had a slight British lilt—his family hailed from Quebec by way of London. The girl was still wearing her bloody debutante gown. Mary looked down to hide her smile. Then she noticed something. A quick head count gave her six instead of seven.

Her heart sank. Deep, like it had just hit an iceberg. Like her whole body was sinking to the bottom of the ocean floor. Everybody looked down. Mary's eyes watered. She walked the perimeter of the attic, and, under the shattered blackboard, found his stain. Oscar Knisely had become a shadow. His dark ink bled on her hands.

She knelt down and tried to lift him, but he slipped through her fingers. Tears rolled down both cheeks. Do you understand? Out of at least one thousand kids, she'd prided herself on only losing three. Now four. They stopped being. Like they'd never been born. It was the worst thing she could imagine. Anais Harlow shook her head slowly. She'd be next. Her fingers and nose had already turned shadow.

She'd died at fourteen in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of The managers had locked all the exits to the factory, even the windows. In the afterlife, she was terrified of open doors. That's the perversity of abuse for you. Trying hard not to cry, Mary crouched down. I've been doing this for more than twenty years. This portal suddenly appeared, you understand? And I knew. I just knew. God loves you anyway—you don't need grace.

You're punishing yourself for no good reason," Mary said. She'd meant to be strong—an inspiration. But little Oscar's stain was on her fingers, and suddenly she was bawling. She didn't stop crying. Not when she left the attic. Not after she brushed her teeth and climbed into bed. Not when she looked out over bedroom—the same bedroom she'd had her whole life, decorated with Dollar Store Disney Princesses and white eyelet sheets.

It was the only place she'd ever masturbated, her eyes fixed on Prince Charming. We were worried about that. You were such a brave little man when I took you to Dr. Nordquist to get those three stitches in it. I was the one who almost fainted when they started sticking you with that needle. The nurse even made me leave the room. On the way home, I told you that you could have any treat you wanted, for being so brave. You wanted a cup of coffee, "Like big men drink," you said. My five-year-old little brave man, drinking coffee in the Rainbow Restaurant, just like big men.

It was our secret; lucky Mom never found out, huh? You have grown tall and nice looking. Grandpa always said you were going to be a big man. Guess what I'm proudest of in you? It's your kindness to all things. When we found out that your little dog, Porkchop, was epileptic, you were so happy that you cried.

You had seen Porkchop have fits many times, and we were sure he would die. For three years after that, you faithfully gave Porkchop his pill every day.

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I remember the day you helped me fix my pickup. We sure got greasy -- Mom wouldn't even let us in the house for lunch, but we fooled her. We went to the store and got a pizza, then lipped off to Mom and your two brothers, while eating it, still dirty. Yes, that was fun. We laughed a lot that day. I found out later that you did save a piece of pizza for your little brother; it was our secret too. I've always been proud of you for so many reasons, Kent. Your silent kindness and strength, your loyalty, your soft heart, and secrets you shared with me.

I remember how you used to lay across my lap with your shirt pulled up, exposing your bare back. I would trace my fingers lightly over your skin; it seemed to almost hypnotize you. I had done it many times when you were a baby, to get you to sleep when you weren't feeling good. Guess you just never grew out of liking it. I liked it too. I remember the day I came to tell you that I was going away for a long time -- going to prison. You stood silently, listening with your head bowed and tears in your eyes, asking why.

You hugged me and ran up into the woods, to your secret fort, crying. I cried too that day, Kent. I was ashamed of myself, and of breaking your heart. You did write me and sent the colored pictures you drew in school. I had them on my cell wall for years, and yes, I bragged about them to my friends. I have lain awake many nights wondering who was teaching you to drive, who was your first girlfriend, and how I would tease you about her, as if I were right there with you.

I'm sorry for missing so much of you, Kent. Love, Daddy As I stood looking at my special little boy, in a light gray coffin, I was dressed in bright orange coveralls. Prison guards were beside me. I wanted to reach out and touch him just once more, but the chains on my wrists wouldn't allow it. It took a mortician to cover that cut on Kent's lip and get his hair to lay down. I'm so awfully sorry for missing the last eight years of Kent's life. If only I could have another chance to be the daddy he wanted me to be -- the daddy he deserved.

If I could just tickle Kent's back once more, or share some secret with him, or tease him and hold him for just a few minutes. God, I would gladly die for the chance. A two-hour auto-off feature keeps coffee warm during a long brunch, and turns off automatically to avoid wasting electricity. This coffee maker looks great on a countertop, and is extremely versatile.

In short, if they desperately need a new coffee maker, this model is likely to be a step up from their current model. Want more gift ideas for your favorite coffee lover? You might also want to check out our posts on the best burr coffee grinders and the best Keurig 2.

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This inexpensive bracelet is something nice you can give to a woman who loves to ride her bike all over town. Another cute gift for women who love cycling is this cool bike chain mug. A designer handbag is a dream gift for many women. This gorgeous FRYE bag features leather construction, ample storage for everyday errands, a real fox fur accent, and a magnetic snap closure. This is a simple, structured bag that is perfect for the woman who wants to look professional and polished.

Get it in this gorgeous red at less than half the price of the larger handbag. Made of naturally mildew resistant bamboo, this caddy can be customized to fit most bathtub sizes with pull out trays on each side that can slide in or out, depending on her tub. An easel supports her tablet, while individual dividers make space for all the necessities like candles and bath salts. Her wine glass will stay stable, thanks to a custom glass holder, and this tray even comes with a free bamboo soap holder to match the caddy.

Have you ever wondered whether baths really relieve stress? The verdict is yes, according to the experts at Healthline. Make the bedroom a little more romantic with this cute pillow case. The text is an excerpt from an E. Cummings poem. Multiple text colors are available, and you can see all options via the link below.

This wearable camera is the perfect tool for livestreaming her daily routine to share on Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter. You can capture hours of content, and then distill it down into a fun, first person time lapse video. This is an awesome gift for the gadget-obsessed, social media diva in your life. And you could always split the cost with friends or family to get her a gift that will take her social media game to the next level of influence. This versatile kitchen tool can cook literally any meal up to 70 percent faster than doing it on the stovetop.

Versatility is the key with this awesome pressure cooker, because it can also act as a slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, steamer and sterilizer, plus a whole lot more. You might share this awesome article from the New York Times cooking section on how to use her instant pot. Their food related articles are filled with wise advice and great cooking techniques. This is a lovely hostess gift, housewarming gift, or present for the woman who loves to host dinner parties. Not sold on this style of cheese board?

Browse more cheese board styles here. This cool pendant is handmade, and includes both a handmade Swarovski crystal pearl charm and a fuzzy dandelion seed suspended in glass. The inch chain is made from sterling silver. For any woman who needs a little luck or an excuse to make a wish, this necklace is a lovely gift idea. The same company also makes a beautiful pair of sea glass earrings. This lovely watch set includes two color-coordinated bangles, creating a lovely effect when you stack all three on the same wrist. The watch is water-resistant, and features a mother-of-pearl dial and Swarovski crystals at band and indices.

Want more watch-inspired gift ideas? You might also want to check out our post on the best womens gold watches , or browse a list of our very favorite, top-rated smartwatches. This bouquet is a great gift for any woman in your life. Whether you are looking for a professional gift for an office colleague, or just a gift with a personal touch, these flowers are a wonderful choice. These flowers symbolize youth, wealth, and congratulatory wishes. Some folks identify these blooms as the best option for celebrating a 30th anniversary.

Flowers are a great gift for any occasion, particularly as a thank you gift. If you need more ideas, check out our post on the best thank you gifts to find even more gift ideas for women. Need to stay organized? A jewelry organizer helps her keep her favorite pieces clean, well-ordered, and safe from harm. This two-level jewelry box is perfect for women and grils who own a lot of jewelry already.

It is also available in pink and black. This fancy drinking accessory is a classy way for her to bring her favorite bottle of wine to a party. This clutch is perfectly sized to hold a standard bottle of wine. While guys often seem to get the credit for grilling, ladies like to play pitmaster just as much, and this tabletop gas grill from Cuisinart makes it easy.

Big enough to cook up to eight burgers or steaks, or six to ten chicken breasts, this little cutie features a powerful 5, BTU stainless-steel burner with an even-heating porcelain-enameled grate. Sturdy aluminum legs make set up a snap, and generous carrying handle makes it simple to grab and go.

This nifty gift comes in red, silver or black. Why not help her break it in right with a package of Omaha Steaks? Women tend to have an eye for color, and for the lady who loves to design a room around a key piece of art, this pretty floral print on canvas gives her a great place to start. Red, orange and pink flowers pop against a sepia tone background, and she could pluck each color for a throw, pillows or glass display pieces.

This 30 x 40 inch canvas is hand stretched on a wood frame and comes ready to hang with all the hardware included. Is this not the perfect color option? Check out this gorgeous abstract print on canvas with a silver frame that is virtually a palette of color, or pick a different print that suits her personal style. With six quartz heating elements, this oven directs the heat exactly where it needs to go to give her perfect results every time. This little smart appliance can do so much more. It can toast up to nine slices of bread at once, or cook a 14 pound turkey.

It can even act as a dutch over to slow cook pot roast or pulled pork. One of our favorite gifts for women, this complex kitchen tool is easy to use and has a large, easy to read LCD screen. Is her counter space limited, or is she just cooking for herself? The rubber outsole is non-marking and non-skid, plus these cute kicks are made to wear in the water. Natural diamond and emerald jewelry gifts can break the bank, but you can still get your special woman a high quality piece that looks so real. This beautiful faux diamond and emerald dragonfly brooch would make a lovely accent to a scarf, dress or jacket.

This piece was produced by the Metropolitan Museum in collaboration with the Moscow Kremlin Museums, and it comes with a card that shares the history of the piece. The proceeds from this brooch go to support the Met.

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Want to find more gift ideas for women that have this sort of historic component? The Met has all kinds of things that will please. Sometimes the most coveted gifts are those that are easy to use, simple to pack around, and function like something that should cost a lot more. We think that this two pack of portable camping chairs from Sportneer fit all those criteria and more.

When we first unboxed our sample, we were shocked at how little the chair weighed — just two pounds! And it came in a cute little pouch that belied just how sturdy this chair is. It has a weight capacity of pounds. We were shocked at how stable and solid this chair feels to sit in, and even more surprised by how tiny it folds down — into a This year why not give her a sweet bouquet that never wilts? These pressed flower earrings are made with genuine tiny blossoms preserved forever in resin and set in a 14k gold over sterling silver bezel.

The teardrop earrings hang from a comfy French wire hook. To make this gift extra special, get her the beautiful matching pressed flower pendant as well. This set will brighten up her outfit and her day. Le Crueset is the first name in top quality cookware. If your lady has something like this, consider an adorable Le Crueset honey pot or tea set. Sunny days at the lake or ocean can be even more fun with this beautiful, high quality beach umbrella. This commercial grade umbrella will last for all her summers to come with a solid ash wood pole, and convenient carrying bag.

Gotta love that. These awesome jeans feature smaller rear pockets with zero bling, and they come in a whopping 35 different washes and sizes from 00 to This hat is handmade and has all the details to make her stand out from the crowd, including a bow and two perky feathers.

The design allows her to wear it at multiple angles to create different looks.

Does your special lady hate to sacrifice style when it comes to her shades? Another favorite gift for women, the SPY Spritzer sunglasses in pale pink feature a modified cat eye frame, brown lenses and killer optics. If your gal is a bit of a sporty spice, the SPY Logan Polarized Wrap Sunglasses are ideal for cycling, running and whitewater adventures.

Taking a sauna is such a guilty pleasure, but who has space or the cash to get a real wood sauna for their patio or backyard? At less than 20 pounds, this portable zip-front sauna dome can easily be moved into any room in the house. It uses safe infrared heat to do the work of helping her sweat out all the toxins and stresses of the day as well. It even comes with a portable chair and a warming foot pad.

This solo-sauna heats up to degrees Fahrenheit and has a wired remote control so she can easily adjust it to her preferred comfort level. The AeroGarden hydroponic growing system might make the ideal gift for them. This copper countertop garden can produce up to six plants at a time in water. With an ultra thin grow light hood, she can have fresh herbs or salad greens at hand all year long, no matter what the weather is doing outside.

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The AeroGarden is also good for apartment dwellers who often live in smaller spaces without the space to garden outdoors in the summer. Perfect for a musician, music teacher or any lady who loves music and art, the lovely handmade glass treble clef sculpture is striking in its simplicity and beauty. With swirling stripes of color throughout, it sits on a solid base that makes it easy to set on a table or in a window where the light can shine through.

At more than 14 inches tall, this impressive piece of art is sure to impress her. With 27 built-in stitches, 63 stitch functions, and six quick change sewing feet it can tackle sewing jobs both large and small. For the more experienced sewer, the Brother Computerized Sewing Machine offers almost unlimited possibilities with utility, decorative and heirloom stitches, an automatic needle threader and eight built-in button hole styles.

Sewing gifts are a great gender neutral ideas because, at some point, everyone needs to know how to use a needle and thread. If someone on your gift list is enamored with birds, this solid copper birdbath is one of our fave gift ideas for women.

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Not only is it beautiful to look at, but it will also attract frequent fliers who will entertain and delight as they drink and literally jump in and splash themselves clean. I know, because I have one! It adds a natural element to the garden that heightens the entertainment factor. If you could give the woman in your life the gift of a few hours of relaxation every week, how might you best do that? We think this hanging chaise lounge chair is an ideal way to do just that.

It lets her create a comfy corner of the patio to relax, read, snooze or think. It has a removable padded cushion, headrest and even an umbrella to protect her from getting too much sun. We also think the hanging cocoon is a really interesting idea for cozy quiet time and it fits two people. With eight levels of resistance, she can increase her impact over time, all while working on projects at the office. It has a built-in display monitor that tracks real-time progress, burned calories, RPM, strides, and distance. For even more trackability, the Cubii Fitness Pro syncs with her Fitbit or HealthKit, allowing her to use her smartphone for real-time tracking.

This little silicone brush is small — and we mean really small, like dollar pancake size. But its amazing technology could be the key to a more luminous complexion. And it delivers uses on a single charge, which seems amazing to us. This unique bypass ring features two horizontally set baguette Swarovski zirconia stones, customized to her birth month, or the birthstones of your children.

Mary Gorman-McAdams breaks it down nicely in her blog, thekitchn. Roosters are totally back in vogue, and especially if they have a vintage look about them. This stunning rooster weathervane would be perfect on top of a house or mounted on a tall post in the back yard. This proud cock stands tall at nearly two feet and features a beautifully aged verdigris finish.

The roof mount would need to be purchased separately.