Spirits Benevolent & Otherwise
The ceiling fixture was a chandelier of four square glass shades. The switch at the wall was two small round buttons with mother-of-pearl faces. On was the top button. Off the bottom. On. Off.
Wallpaper of gray background with feathers, which were painted on, when she ran her fingertips over the wallpaper she could feel them.
The room was empty, and the house was empty. The late summer afternoon outside was full of falling down though, the cottonwood trees along the creek the only things doing anything except for her, in the house, turning the lights on and off.
There was blood and heartbeat, synapses firing and probably some dark business going on with her reproductive system but other than that nothing. No memory. No anger. She thought.
I could give a shit.
Then there was a little spark of humor that died quickly.
If she took a step there would be no sound.
Her brother said to just wait.
Be a patient.
The day was the color of patience. The sky was white and the grass was brown and, out by the road, heat waves hung in the air as if to catch the falling down of the cottonwoods.
She wore faded blue jeans and a white shirt that was also faded, if you only knew. The seams were thin along the collar and the shoulders and the buttons had yellowed. One button had been replaced and that button was whiter that the rest. That button caught in her peripheral vision. The sleeves and cuffs were so soft they would not stay rolled up but kept falling down, below her fingertips, and she kept patiently folding them up to her elbows. It gave her something to do while she waited. It kept her from flying off.
White fades to soft.
The day was fading to sharp. The sun moved lower in the white sky and there was a shadow now, the sash of the window across the dusty oak floorboards. Black is relative. The shadow was dusty and oak colored.
When the car turned up the road, her body felt it first, like a damp and unwelcome breeze. Gravel popped under the tires, the car going slow, and the flicker of annoyance was there and gone, like noticing that one button is brighter. Black, white, dust, gray lace, pearlescence, these are complex colors, and there - a metaphor she could use to explain to her brother that no, she was not willing to sell her share the house, because of its ghostiness.
The car stopped. The engine quit. A cloud of dust sparkling pink drifted past the window.
He wouldn't get it. He doesn't believe in ghosts. He is on his own in the world of complex colors and money and inheritances with strings attached.
The car door squeaked open and slammed gently shut. Only he can slam a door gently, and only he was afraid of such delicate situations as having to ask would she please stop wearing their father's clothes, and would she please sign this or that, and was she still taking those lovely little orange pills.
No, no and no.
He carries a bottle of dark liquor in one hand.
She can see him. He can't see her. He is the kind of person who watches the ground as he walks, even on a city sidewalk he will watch his steps. When he finally does look up he stumbles, over nothing, and then he looks back with an accusatory glance.
If he believed in ghosts, the ghosts wouldn't let those little bumps lay in wait that way.
Some people make things hard on themselves.
The bourbon will be sweet and expensive. Once he brought her Jack Daniels Black Label and a sweating cold bottle of Coke. He got the furniture that time. Once he brought her Maker's Mark with red sealing wax dripping down the bottle. There went her share of the life insurance. Once he brought a thermos jug of hot bourbon coffee, sweet and lovely and really really foolish of her, caffeine and whisky and sugar and a lot of each. She kissed him on his rough cheek and he left with their great-grandfather's gold pocket watch.
She has since learned about tea, chamomile and mint, or licorice root, or valerian. She holds onto it, the hot cup between her hands like a small personal sun, the scented tea a small personal ghost working its way into the situation. When it grows cool, she sets the cup aside.
When she speaks, it is in clear single syllables with properly defined edges.
When she walks, she watches the world as she passes through, and the ground beneath her feet behaves itself.
He stops at the doorway and looks into the front room off to one side, the dining room off to the other side, then he stands there. The low sun shines through the caramel colored bourbon in the bottle, onto the white paint of the doorframe. He steps in, and the small caramel colored moment of light whispers to the doorsill before vanishing, and he stumbles into the hall.
She waits in the doorway of the sunroom and doesn't breathe, because as long as she doesn't breath she is invisible and even though this trick is only good for about thirty seconds it gets him every time.
When she finally takes that first deep breath, he stumbles again, the malevolent dust on the oak floor maybe, or the shadow left there an hour ago when the sun passed.
He begins to speak, she can tell, because he is moving his lips, and he is probably speaking to her since as far as he knows she is the only one here.
A cricket starts up outside and his moving lips fall into sync with it, so she pays careful attention because the world will tell you what you need to know if you are attentive, watch with your ears, listen with your eyes.
He walks past her, and outside a robin lets loose a brilliant tremolo and then the cricket is silenced. She guesses it has become the robin's dinner. She guesses that, as a metaphor, he wouldn't get it.
They think she is crazy, which may in fact be true, but she is not stupid. She rolls her sleeves up to her elbows. He sets the bourbon on the counter. He eyes the white shirt, glowing now in the twilight, loose and wide like wings.