The Banishment of Kate Madigan's Good Advice

Jacob Lindsey was becoming understandably distressed.

Or, at least, he thought it was understandable. His live-in boyfriend, Kyle, thought he was being a flaming idiot.

Jacob didn't think Kyle would be so quick to laugh if he were forced to confront the physical evidence every morning.

Jacob was and advice columnist, syndicated in over one hundred newspapers worldwide. He wrote under the tagline, "Letters to Kate." People sent him letters on wrinkled notebook paper and pretty stationary and poured out their problems in hopes that they'd be answered.

All of the letters were addressed, "Dear Kate." Kate had been Kate Madigan, the famously sensible best friend to millions, and his boss for most of his adult life. When she had written the column, it had been "Kate Madigan's Good Advice."

She'd died, two months before, much the way she'd lived, sensibly, with dignity, surrounded by her friends and family. Everything had changed.

Her real name hadn't been Kate Madigan, anymore than Dear Abby had been born Abigail Van Buren. She'd been Bridget Katherine O'Malley Shaunnessy, and her parents had emigrated from Ireland when she was ten.

They'd been lace curtain Irish, she'd once told him over coffee in her office. Daniel O'Malley had been the most charming officer on the Boston police force, and Katie O'Malley had been a wife and mother who had raised Bridget and her three younger brothers in between worrying about whether her husband would be coming home that night.

It took a peculiar sort of strength to be a police officer's wife. It took a different brand altogether to be an officer's widow.

Bridget O'Malley had married her father's last partner, Stephen Shaunnessy, when she was twenty. They had two sons and a daughter before Stephen was shot down by a petty thief in a dirty Boston alley.

It takes more than strength for a twenty-five year old widow to march into the editor's office at the Boston Globe and demand a position. It takes desperation, pride, and more than a little gall.

Bridget had done just that, however, and become the Globe's first advice columnist, writing under her mother's name.

When Jacob had been twenty-one, he'd laughingly told his then-boyfriend, Michael that he wanted to be Kate Madigan when he grew up.

Now that she was haunting him, he wasn't so sure.

***

It had started the morning after the funeral, with a hangover and a panic- stricken publisher.

He'd stayed with the family until late into the night, and had spent the latter part drinking Jameson's with Aisling Shaunnessy, Bridget's daughter. As a result, he'd woken the next morning feeling like absolute hell. He went to work anyway.

He couldn't see staying home.

The usually affable publisher, Michael Kincaid, who was rumpled, pale, and shaken on that morning, greeted him at the door at 8:45 a.m.

Kate Madigan's last column had run in the papers that morning, which meant there was nothing for the next day.

So Jacob Lindsey did what he'd been doing for the weeks leading up to Bridget's death and plucked two letters from the box and wrote responses to them.

It was a good week before he realized he was still giving the advice that Kate Madigan would have given. And that's when the problems started.

Everyday he would write the column, and then he'd save it, e-mail it, and print it, before going home.

The next day, the file would have disappeared off his computer, the e-mail never received, and the hard copy nothing but confetti in his wastebasket. And Jacob would have to rush a replacement, with two new letters, and his own advice.

It took another week before he concluded that his dead boss, and then only because he heard an echo of her familiar wicked chuckle as he turned out the lights and left the Globe building.

That night, he went home and told Kyle that Kate Madigan was haunting him. His boyfriend laughed and told him that he needed to get out of his office a little bit more.

In the coming weeks Kyle would stop laughing and start recommending psychiatric help.

***

That day began as the rest had. Jacob was exhausted; he and Kyle had fought again the night before, again about his "lingering delusions."

Kyle thought it was some sort of prank. He was a medical researcher, a very logical sort, and the idea of hauntings was beyond him. He saw that there had to be another explanation.

Jacob saw that there was no other explanation. So they fought. It was beginning to be almost every night; Kate Madigan was taking over their lives in a way that would have been impossible when she was still alive.

So nearly every night they argued, and nearly every morning Jacob arrived at work to see a shredded pile of paper.

It was the same on this morning; so he once again sat down to write a new column before the editor got to the office.

Jacob wondered bitterly why he put so much effort each day into writing a Kate Madigan column when, in the end, it always became a Jacob Lindsey column.

There was enough lingering hurt and anger in him on that day to overwhelm his hesitance. So he sat down that afternoon with a cup of tea and answered some letters the way he would, instead of the way Kate Madigan would have.

The next morning, the column was neatly intact on his desk, on his hard drive, and in the editor's e-mail. All lingering traces of Kate Madigan had disappeared.

And for the first time since he had started work at the newspaper straight out of college, he was alone in the office.

At three o'clock that afternoon, Jacob closed the door and went to speak to his editor about changing the tagline. It wasn't Kate's advice anymore. It was his.

And that was just the way she had wanted it.