And There Were Ghosts

Patricia asked if I’d ever seen a ghost, I lied. She wondered what they looked like and said they are most likely different from cartoons, because most things are. I agreed.

We spent many lunches together while our mothers sat in another room speaking in low voices. Patricia and I would talk about how adults cry more than kids, even though they are older. They will cry when they think no one is looking, while they are driving, even while pushing a grocery cart past the frozen foods, they will cry so softly you have to really look at them to realize it is more than a sniffle. Adults cry and ghosts cry most of all.

There were boys living on our block, boys my age but not my friends. Even though Patricia was a girl I was closer to her than any of them, none of them had what we had. They would laugh at us when we played croquette near the sidewalk, sometimes riding by on skateboards and once stealing our hoops. However, we perfected the art of replacing things. We fastened twigs together creating tenuous but passable arches to finish the game. Like I said, Patricia and I were different.

Summer was the best because there was no school, no trips to small groceries for bundles of pencils, no interruptions. While her mother cleaned frantically downstairs we’d sit in the “bright room”, bright because of so many uncovered windows, we’d sit and plan things. If there were a fire, right now, if the place filled with smoke and heat scorched our faces what would we do, how to escape? Through the window with knotted sheets we could easily slide down the side of the house to the soft grass. And on to the front yard where we could turn the hose on the fire. Then people would say things like did you hear about those two there, what those two did? They saved the house, all of it, even the frightened cat clinging to the wallpaper. Those two, they are something.

But what about ghosts, the ghosts of that place and other places, the ones with nowhere to go and no way to get there? It was Patricia who suggested we search for them, that we sneak without flashlights and try our best to find them. They will be grateful, more so than neighbor grown-ups or kids on skateboards.

Due to her excitement I could not tell her what I had done, how I found a ghost. Weeks before I had relentlessly searched beneath box mattresses and between couch cushions. Somehow I had woken the ghost in a musky cupboard and before I could trap him in an empty mayonnaise jar, he flew away.

When her mother was taking her nap Patricia would lead hunts. She had charts and maps marking the most likely hiding places. We would start in the backyard. I would climb under the deck and pretend to look, instead I would lament over my misdeed and wipe dust on my face before crawling out. Squinting against the daylight I would confess to finding nothing. She would tell me not to worry, we would find the ghost, we would find him and become famous for finding ghosts. I would give my best smile, and confirm that she was right, just a matter of time before we had jars and jars of ghosts.

I had the worst problem I could have, a ghost no longer hiding but loose and aware that someone was after him. At night, really late at night, I would crawl from bed. To stop from shaking so much I’d carry a pillowcase I’d taken from Patricia’s laundry hamper and I’d pretend to hold her hand. We would conduct our search.

On such a search on a night when the wind made things creak I crouched near the staircase and faced the door at the end of the hallway. I tried to imagine daylight, Patricia and I draped in white sheets, Patricia and I planning quitely over our lunch. However, the night would have no end. I breathed in the scent of the pillowcase, squeezed it tightly and waited for anything.

And There Were Ghosts

xstephens

Salt Lake City, United States

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