Some of the
following is true.
The Ghosts in the
They gather in the
kitchen sometimes; I can feel their cold bellies pressing into
my back as I stir the soup, the risotto, curious as they strain
to look over my shoulder. There are three: short; middling; and
tall; like a vaudeville comedy act. When it's very hot and I have
to use the stove I close my eyes and wish for their
marble-smooth coolness, but they never come then.
I don't think they
were people who lived in this house. Sometimes I don't think
they were people at all. There's not that much personality to
The other place they
gather is the bedroom, right in the middle of the old chest of
drawers that was damaged during the London blitz. One, two,
three. Perhaps that’s where they’re from: England of the 1940s,
killed in the bombing. On rationing, and that’s why they’re so
obsessed with the kitchen; they’re hungry.
Do you have any
ghosts? What do you feed them?
The Ghost on the
He's standing on the
porch, and I'm inside, staring at him through the rippled old
glass of the living room window. His hands are in his pockets,
and he looks out to the street, his back to me. It’s evening,
and I’m stripping thick paint off the redwood built-ins. My
hands are burning from the chemicals; I have to be careful not
to rub my eyes.
Later I hear from my
neighbor that the son of this house married the daughter of her
house when he returned from duty during World War Two. An
airman, he survived overseas service, came home, married the
girl next door and was killed in a training accident a few
months after the wedding.
She also tells me he
made the Adirondack chair that's stored in the garage.
I remember that his
clothing has a look of the 1940s about it, but I don't know if
that's a detail I've added in after hearing about the airman.
I am, by nature, a
liar after all.
The neighbor died
last year; she beat breast cancer twice but the third time got
her. During one of her treatments she lost all her hair. She
came over to try on some suits I was getting rid of: they were
black and plain and sharp and with her shiny clean head and lean
old body and slightly pointed ears she looked like a very
modern, anime vampire. She looked wonderful.
I had a vivid dream
about her about a year later: she’d opened up a bed and
breakfast in the Land of the Dead. I don’t know if that counts
as a ghost.
What ghost have you
made out of whole cloth?
My Uncle's Ghost
On June 17, 1958,
several temporary struts reinforcing the Second Narrows Bridge
in Vancouver, British Columbia failed. A number of workers were killed
when they fell into the water below.
My uncle was one of
My uncle was also
the engineer who had designed the struts, and it was determined
at the time that it was an error in his calculations that caused
At the time of the
accident my grandfather, in his bed in Sydney, woke to see his
son standing at the foot of the bed, reaching out to him.
I don’t know if that
story was true or one of the many, many stories that grew like
wildflowers around the stories of my uncle’s death: how he
walked onto the bridge at the last minute; how he dreamed about
it the night before; how he knew his figures were off and told
his bosses but they ignored him. Each story is a ghost in
He was the only son,
the golden boy. We create ghosts because we’re hungry for them,
not the other way round.
What ghosts have you
spawned on your family, your children, your generations,
children's room and accustomed to dogs, I step over the coiled
figure of a black lab in the center of the room amid a cluster
of paint cans and crumpled newspapers. The roller is on the
wall before I realize I don't have a black lab. I roll on the
thick cottage white and don't turn around because I know what
I'll see. Paint can. Newspaper. Nothing else. The hair on the
back of my neck prickles. I paint.
Much later my
husband has transferred the home movies of the original owners
to video and there he is: a black lab frisking beneath the fig
tree in the back yard. The tree in the shaky black and white
images is a spindly thing; now it's enormous, with a hollow
trunk we're going to have to fill someday—it's eighty years
later, after all. A few years ago my daughters found a family
of possums living in the hollow, babies all pink and fetal, with
hair like bristles poking out of their soft-looking skin, the
mother all curved teeth like a mouthful of splinters. My dogs
would pluck them like ripe avocados, and I pen them up until the
Will you forgive
I get up early in
the morning to see totality, the moon orange as a bruise, and
find my neighbor in his front yard watching it as well. I don't
know these neighbors, in an immense, beaten-up craftsman with
its neatly raked yard, very well; there's a married couple with
assorted adult children that come and go. I don't recognize
this one, but he smiles and nods at me before turning back to
the sky, and I think sometime before we must have met; perhaps I
drove by and waved as he weeded the river-rock constructs in the
companionably as the Earth's shadow passes, and then I hear him
"What?" I say.
"There's a point
when the moon turns into a ball, do you see it? It doesn't look
flat anymore. It’s three-dimensional. And it kind of goes
I squint at the
moon. He’s right; it’s round as a marble.
“You’re right,” I
say, and there’s no response. I turn to look, and he’s gone.
There are no lights on in the neighbor’s house, no sound of a
closing door. The air smells burnt, as if the moon is an ember.
I look for him in
the front yard, but the man lifting river-smooth rocks isn’t
him. I think about asking but the subject never comes up.
Who lives with you,
breathing your exhaled breath, eating the smoke of your
When I shut the door
and glance in the rear view mirror, in that millisecond before
the light goes off, I see someone sitting in the back seat. It’s
a little girl, with two blonde braids, I think.
was killed in a car crash and the metal from that car was
salvaged and melted and used in my Honda Odyssey and somehow
she's bound to the metal or . . .
. . . I parked for a
while at the place she was killed and her spirit just kind of
moved in, or . . .
. . . it's an
illusion made by the shadows cast by seat and belt and headrest,
or . . .
. . . she's one of the
possible ghosts that cluster around our children; every time they
come home safe the wraiths of those potential deaths we fear
every waking minute—the car skidding out of control, the serial
killer lurking around the corner—cluster around them, invisible
but we see them, we crave them, we eat them. A boy is dragged
purple from the bottom of a pool; he gasps, he lives, but that
branch of time where he didn't glows severed, like those Kirlian
photographs of cut leaves—there he died and haunts us. And so,
over and over, until the ghosts that never were multiply between
us, blood of our blood, flesh of our flesh, and we feed . . . .
My mother-in-law sat
in the passenger seat for months after she died. I miss her
very much. Sometimes she comes into the kitchen. They gather in
the kitchen sometimes . . . .
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