A Ghost Story
It’s Tuesday. I’m exhausted. I’m in pain because I did something to my back over the weekend while enjoying a mini vacation in North Carolina. But I’m happy. I’m joyful. And I’m able to see the beauty in all the little things around me. Like the heating pad against my back right now. It’s lovely. And warm.
I wrote this on the plane flying over the mid-west, thinking of all the time passed, the family I was coming home to, and the girl I used to be.
The stairs creaked as she shifted her weight from one to another. They lead her to a place she hadn’t seen since childhood. Once her feet landed on the top step, she looked down behind her, imagining the old wood hidden under worn red carpet. She wondered if nails were popped, causing the creaking sounds, or if the wood was rotting in the humid environment of the deep south. In front of her, a hallway turned to the right and to the left. Before ending on the left, the hallway turned again, leading to a dead end without rooms or doorways, simply a hallway which ended. Closing her eyes, she could see a small table and two chairs, all made of a delicate metal, intertwined into elaborate designs. Sitting on the table, a tea set for two began to gather the dust it would carry for all the years to come. Opening her eye again, she noticed the table and tea set had been replaced with boxes filled with someone’s memories from a life passed. The bathroom door to the right of the staircase remained closed. She didn’t want to open it. The bathroom in her mind would remain clean, simple, decorated with handmade towels and rugs from a time when the residents were young and nimble. The bedroom to the right was dimly lit, its light spilled into the hallway. She walked in expecting to see dolls from the 1970s lying around waiting for a young girl to offer them love again. Instead, she found a four post bed turned on its side, the mattress leaning against the far wall, blocking much of the sunlight, and a matching dressing against the opposite wall. The dust she’d imagine piled on cake plates and inside the tea cups stirred from the surface of the dresser as she walked by. The only thing dating the room and the person that once called it her space were old vinyl records stacked in the dust.
Someone’s life was once here, in this space. It was no more. It wasn’t even memories. No dolls were awaiting a hug or a brush going through their hair. No toys were spending their time waiting for the next yard sale in hopes of finding a new owner to entertain. It was a lost and forgotten room. No ghosts showed, no presence felt. If it weren’t for the furniture, it would be simply a room with no history to share. Almost disappointed, she turned and walked down the hall, past the turn that should have dead ended at a tea party. The second bedroom door was closed, unlike the first. Her hands touched the door knob. She noted the long, thin locking mechanism from years past on the knob. It had been updated since the house was built, but hadn’t been updated within the past forty years. The door protested with sound as she turned the knob and stepped inside the room. Dust began to settle again after being stirred from the opening door. She felt the ghosts in this room. Not only from the motion of the dust hitting the air after it had settled years before, but also because of the energy in the room. The mattress was leaning against on the bed, but the bed wasn’t tipped to its side like in the sister room down the hall. The ghosts hadn’t played with the toys left in this room. They were covered in dust; webs connected them to one another, tying them together through time. Mattel’s Dancerina doll was boxed in the same box she arrived to the house in more than forty years ago. She was loved for only about five years, and then loved again, enough to box her up in original packaging and leave her in a room where time stopped in 1977. She knew, after looking around for a moment, time did stop in the little boy’s room in 1977, because the calendar left on the wall read December 1977. Standard Motor Parts was written underneath the picture of the young woman in hot shorts, or Daisy Dukes, and an oxford shirt tied up below her breasts sitting on a bale of hay while her red tractor awaited her in the sun. The woman standing in the room, waving dust from her eyes, wondered what happened in December of that year to make time stop. The boy who lived there so long ago, walked away from something. A timepiece, the calendar, marked the time the room was left, forgotten. His toy cars, model planes, and report card in an envelope addressed to the home, were all left on shelves where it would take years for webs and dust to settle connecting them all together, sealing them into the past, not to be bothered for almost forty years. The decade before the room was left abandoned, the little boy who lived there, played with Tonka trucks from the 1960s. He built model cars. He did homework in his bedroom. He slept in the bed still in place. And then he grew up. And left it all.
Or he died. A young boy, awaiting his final grades, may not have ever seen them. But the envelope still lay waiting his fingers. His name hand written across the brown package envelope, collecting the dust of the years, waited to tell him he would move on to the next grade. He had potential to be someone.
The woman turned her head from the calendar girl and toward the shelves hanging on the wall where cars were waiting for a car wash and a spin in the sun. Most of them had dates painted on them. 1974. 1973. 1976. 1969. 1977, of course. She smiled when she realized the boy had a chance to paint a 1977 model car for his collection before his disappearance, but then she remembered Miss December and knew he’d had much of the year in the room to get many things done. Breaking the web that tied the 1977 car to the 1976 van, she held 1977 in her hands. He painted it purple with black flames and dated it in white. She wanted to pocket the car. But it belonged here. She felt if she took from the room, the energy would go with her. Breaking the energy of the space might be detrimental to the rest of the house. The rooms where the ghosts don’t linger. The parlor where she’d spent her own childhood learning piano, the dining room with the sparkling chandelier where dinners were no longer consumed, and the four bedrooms on the main floor. They would all be safe from the ghosts. As long as she left the car on the shelf to linger, reconnect by dust and webs to 1977, when the room began to die.
When she spoke, her words were soft and quiet.
“I wish you peace.”
The door knob was warm under her touch as she closed the door behind her. When she passed the tea party hallway, the table was set up, shining in the bright sun coming in from above the grand front door. A girl and her ballerina doll, Dancerina, the woman presumed, where sitting in the two chairs. The girl giggled, and pushed a blonde curl from the doll’s eyes. Motion under the table caught the woman’s eye as she walked to the staircase. She caught a glimpse of a boy hiding under the table. A purple car lay beside his leg, inside a small hand. He looked no more than eight years old.
She smiled at each creak as she walked down the stairs. The boy was going into fourth grade. The report card was for the end of his first term in third grade. He never got to finish grade three. He never made it to Christmas of 1977. On December 2nd, the late fall weather in North Carolina felt more like early spring. On a gorgeous 69 degree day, the boy and his dog, a boxer named Simon, played in the front yard. Simon loved to play fetch, and the boy loved running up and down the hill of his parents’ property more than just about anything. Simon loved to run as fast as he could down the hill, and tumble and roll as the ball found his mouth.
That beautiful Friday afternoon, after school, the boy and the dog both rolled down the hill chasing a ball that had beaten their path to the busy road. The logger truck wasn’t speeding. He was heading to Rocky Mount, his last delivery for the week. He was ready to open a Pabst Blue Ribbon and sit on his front porch in the woods all weekend. He didn’t see the boy or the dog.
Everyone in that house essentially stopped their lives that day. The girl was no longer allowed upstairs. Her things were all left behind in her bedroom, but over the years, as she grew older, she’d go back up the creaky stairs to collect something from her bedroom and sneak it through the parlor and into her new main floor bedroom. No one was allowed to enter the boy’s room. No one collected Dancerina from her tomb. The girl had always wanted a bed for her doll, but had never gotten one. Instead of tucking her into her own bed each night, she’d put her doll into her box and let her sleep there. No one was ever certain just how Dancerina found her way from the girl’s room and into her brother’s room. But Dancerina stayed there, left unattended, unloved, almost forgotten, to live with December 1977 calendar girl and all the model cars.
Memories flooded through the woman’s soul. She remembered. She wasn’t ever supposed to forget. But she did. Almost forty years had passed.
She wondered if her Dancerina doll would like a new home. She wondered if Dancerina would remember the five year old she used to be. She didn’t have any memories of her older brother. But the memories suddenly flooding her senses were beautiful. She’d not only let the ghosts out, she’d let them into her mind as well. And they were welcome. She’d been looking for them for years. It was the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen. The face of her brother, still eight years old, looking down at her from nowhere except the past.