What the Ghost Said
by Seth Simons
"I’m not here to scare you. Most people think I am but I’m not. There’s rot in the floorboards. I don’t know if you’d noticed. It’s been spreading for years. So has the mildew. In the cellar. It might be toxic but I don’t know. I can’t make out colors anymore. Only shades. Light or dark. So, don’t go in the cellar. I promise I’m not trying to scare you. You might consider re-insulating the attic. Last it was touched up, asbestos was just a word. No one knew better. I sure didn’t. Never knew much. Do you remember—well, you wouldn’t, would you. I had a wife. She left me. I had two sons. They left too. Had a dog, Jackson. Ran out into the street, then ran back. He was the lucky one. So many people have lived here. Like you. And me. They put up pictures of other people, in frames. You can, if you want. I won’t stop you. Can’t, I guess. I built these walls, did you know that? She was hardly more than a girl, then, in a sundress, a ribbon in her hair. Don’t remember the colors anymore. Red, maybe, or blue. I’m sure her teeth were white. I followed her down to the brook. She took off her sandals. She waded into the current. Tip-toed across the stones. A sharp one pricked her toe. Cotton whirled around us like tiny sailing ships. Blood like smoke in the water. I can see everything, now. There are mice between the walls. Cracked shingles. A broken axe-handle beneath a bed of pine needles in the woods of years ago. Spiderwebs in the skylight. Look. My grandchildren running through a herd of running bison. I can see them. They’re yelling at each other. They’re laughing. They’re calling to me. I’m holding them. Infants, now. All of us. Shadows on the wallpaper. Old copper pipes. Wasps’ nests. Bones. Me. Her. Everyone. We are surrounded by stampeding bison. The plains are thunder. This never happened. It always did.”
I poured a glass of milk. Outside, two goldfinches clung to the thistle feeder and pecked at the meat inside. One had already lost his spring coat of yellow. The other was still losing it, patches of brightness hanging off his wings, his belly. Glen was raking leaves in his yard. I could tell by the way the oaks leaned away from him that there was a wind today, low but steady. The kind you barely hear.
My great-grandfather disappeared in 1941, when my grandmother was nineteen. She came home from university to care for her siblings and eventually start her own family. When she died, we found in her bedroom the diaries he kept during WWI. Most entries are something to the effect of, "Raining. Walked. Bed early." A few are something to the effect of, "Raining. Buried so-and-so. Bed early." Toward the end are a slew of pages containing nothing but the names of women. And that's all we have left. No one knows what happened to Harold Kline. No one knows what happened to most people.
Seth Simons is a playwright and poet who divides his time between Philadelphia and Boston, though he someday hopes to divide his time even more, and then eventually not at all. You are welcome follow him online at twitter.com/sasimons, if that's something you're comfortable with; you may also email him at seth.simons at gmail.com.