Tag: ghosts

1993 calls 2018, and I Answer

I grew up beside a remarkable woman whom I came to regard as another grandmother. It didn’t start out that way; when my family first moved into our first house, Mrs. Michie was just a nosy neighbor. She was the woman who had to use a walker to get around and called me daily to bring her the newspaper from the yard, or called me to bring in her groceries. She went to the grocery store twice a week, but she couldn’t manage to bring them up from her garage. I would go on to work at the same grocery store and would often bag her groceries, drive home on a break, and unload them from her mammoth Buick.

Over the years, we grew close. I stopped resenting having to stop whatever I was doing to help her, and I began looking forward to talking with her. She lived with her mother, whom we called Mrs. Smith, until Mrs. Smith died. The two of them bickered as only a mother and her grown daughter can bicker. I spent hours in their living room, petting their two cats, and listening to them tell stories.

When I met Mrs. Michie, I thought of her as old (the walker did nothing to dissuade me from that). But she was in her mid-fifties. I later learned she had broken her hip shortly after her husband died, and because of her grief, she didn’t recover as she should have. She didn’t exert the effort in rehab that might have resulted in her being able to walk without support. I don’t think she had it in her after her husband died. His death dealt her a blow from which she never fully recovered.

Mrs. Michie had two grown daughters who lived in town, and they helped her out all the time, but they didn’t live next door. Whether it was getting her paper, unpacking her groceries, putting up her Christmas tree, or raking her yard, I was called upon. I still complained from time to time, and occasionally, Mrs. Michie and I argued. We had a real relationship.

I stayed in close contact with my neighbor through college. One day, my dad called me and said Mrs. Michie had died on the operating table in the middle of surgery. I was heartbroken. It was surreal going back home, looking at her house, and realizing she was gone.

I think of her often, and one day the following poem came to me. Wherever she is, I hope she knows I love and miss her.

(quick note: one of Mrs. Michie’s favorite phrases was “pardon my French,” which she offered as cursing. It always made me laugh.)

1993 Calls 2018, and I Answer

“Pardon my French,” says my neighbor’s ghost, “but fuck this.”
Fair enough, I think, looking around her ruined house for her
cats that I’m pretty sure wandered off and died in the woods.
The windows in the kitchen droop like sad mouths, and the TV,
once teeming with Alabama football, is a mute troll in the corner.
Another ghost, my neighbor’s mother, asks for her false teeth,
but I’m not brave enough to venture into the vanishing bathroom.

Instead, I gather them both in the living room and tell them
their children and grandchildren should be here soon and I don’t know
exactly what to do because I’m just the kid next door who can barely
finish his math homework—or at least I was. Now, I’m forty-four
and have kids of my own and a house in another state, and yet I’m
back here in this house that doesn’t exist anymore, trying to help.

“You’ll wait with us, won’t you?” my neighbor asks, offering me
a Coke, and I tell her of course, I’ll wait as long she needs me to.
She and her mother settle on the sofa and train their otherworldly
eyes toward the picture window, waiting for people who may never come.

Of Ghosts

This came to me during a freewriting session some time ago, and I just discovered it again. Spooky.

Somehow, the lights still flicker in that doomed place, though the power was cut decades ago and the rats and roaches are the only tenants—except for the ghosts.

The walls are riddled with them, scattered like bullet holes, but that only makes sense if you know something about ghosts, how they only take corporeal form when a person pokes his curious head around, intent on seeing beyond the ordinary, or when someone strains her ears to hear something from the past. Until then, they blend into the walls, dozing in a kind of sleep, dreaming of vanished life.

I only visited one time, which was enough. A damaged spirit (I suppose all of them are damaged) appeared to my right and begged for help on a frequency that my soul heard, heard and consequently ached to answer. But I could do nothing, and the spirit sank back into the wall.

I could not forget the experience, of course, and so I drive by sometimes and look at the lights in that ruined house, wondering if anyone will hazard those hallways again, and if they have what it takes to make a difference. -Barbara Needly, A Brief History of Ghosts and Haunted Places, 1958

A Couple of Swells (short story)

I suppose one day I could submit stories for publication, but I know nothing about the market…and I have enough to do with submitting poetry. In the meantime, I’m happy to post fiction here.

Since my time to writing is limited (usually forty-five minutes a day), I’m trying to write a complete draft rather than writing for a bit and leaving characters in permanent limbo. This one came rather easily after the first line.

A Couple of Swells

“What the fuck was that?” Judy Garland’s ghost asked, looking up at the ceiling. “What do you have up there, a team of wild horses?”

That time, she appeared as young Judy Garland, right at the start of her career. Sometimes, when she was feeling cranky, she showed up as she was in the 1960s. Still larger than life, still able to command an audience like none other…but tired. Wearing thin at the edges.

I sighed. It was just more ghosts, but I didn’t want to get into with Judy. She was something of a drama queen, which probably doesn’t surprise you. I was just glad that Mickey Rooney’s shade hadn’t shown up because God knows it would have been a bitch-fest broken up by sporadic dance numbers. The whole thing was just plain uncomfortable.

“I asked you a question, Darren,” Judy said in her most imperious tone. She stamped her foot on the ground, which didn’t make a sound. Unlike my guests upstairs, the only noise Judy made was from her voice. The woman could still belt it out, but it was clear to me that night she had no interest in singing. At least, not at that moment.

I could have lied, which I did sometimes, but she often found out the truth, and then she was pissed.”It’s a dinner party.”

“Oh, delightful,” Judy purred. “Shall I go up and entertain?”

“No, I don’t think that’s wise. Just stay down here with me.”

Judy pouted, and it was hard to take her seriously. “And why must you be the only one to enjoy my presence tonight?” she asked.

“Because I know those ghosts up there, and they probably don’t want anything to do with you. They’re more into punk.”

“Oh, they’re ghosts,” she said, drawing out the word as she lowered her head as if ready to weep. “And here I thought you’d actually gotten some friends.”

Judy didn’t like competition, but at least the ghosts stayed upstairs that night. She’d gotten into terrible fights with other ghosts who’d showed up on what she referred to as “her nights.” When that happened, she demanded everyone pay attention to her or get the hell out. She’d look at me, demanding my help, as if I could disperse the other ghosts. I could not more do that than I could summon them. They came and went as they wished.

Judy, on the other hand, could clear a room. There were notable exceptions, of course, including those she didn’t want to leave. Frank Sinatra was always welcome to stay, as was Sammy Davis, Jr. Of Dean Martin, she said, “That man is deplorable, and I’d rather drink a gallon of kerosene and swallow a match than spend a mere moment of my afterlife with him.”

Judy perched herself on my sofa, crossed her legs, and scrutinized me. “Darren, you look horrible,” she pronounced. “Are you getting enough sleep? Eating well?”

“I’m fine, just a little worn-out from the day,” I said, keeping the real reasons to myself. So far, and to my great surprise, I’d been able to keep from Judy the girlfriend I’d had for the last few months, but that secrect wouldn’t be a problem anymore.

“No, there’s more to it than that,” she said. “But if you’re not going to be honest, what can I do?” She snapped her fingers. “I’ll sing to you! That’ll at least make you feel better!”

“Oh, no, Miss Garland,” I tried protesting, “that’s not really necessary to–”

It was too late, as always. Judy blasted into “Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart,” and zing, came the headache. I don’t mean to sound cruel; she still has an incredible voice, but you haven’t been two feet away from her when she’s singing. Her voice is like a physical object in the room, forcing itself on it whether or not you want it. I pulled a happy-ish face. When she finished the song, she slugged me on the shoulder and said, “Still glum, chum?”

“No, I feel better,” I said, convincingly, I hoped. “I always do after you sing.”

We heard another crash upstairs, followed by raucous, drunken laughter. Judy scowled at the ceiling, saying, “Listen, if you want me to man-handle those bastards up there, just give me the word.”

“It’s okay, really. They’ll settle down and be out of here before you know it. How about another song?”

Judy’s face lit up. “Now we’re talking, buster. Which one? I got a million and two, you know.”

See, that’s my real job. I’m here to make sure they’re okay, and even though I had a splitting headache that night and bummed out about Tiffany, I knew Judy showed up because she needed an audience, just as the ghosts upstairs needed to have a crazy dinner party. I offered sanctuary of a sort, and I took my role seriously. Too seriously, probably, because I’m sure that’s why Tiffany ditched me. I never let her come over to my place, and I cancel dates left and right when ghosts showed up, needing something.

“You certainly do, Miss Garland,” I said. “How about ‘By Myself’?”

Judy wrinkled up her nose. “That’s a little blue, don’t you think?”

“Well, maybe, but you sing it so well.”

That was all it took. “Anything for you, darling,” she cooed and began singing softly.

I closed my eyes and leaned back, reminding myself that no one else on Earth was as lucky as me at that moment, having a personal concert given by Miss Judy Garland herself, dead nearly 50 years…but with me at that moment. A little transparent, a little monochrome, but beautiful as could be.