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Ghost Stories

Joining Us Was

Joining us was a fat older woman who had flown in just for our vigil, never knowing whether she would arrive before or after our friend’s departure, but we quickly assured her that even we who had been gathered for many months now were never sure what was happening in that small bedroom. We had to do a lot of shifting to make room for her large body, which smelt of pepper trees and corn. The little dog made himself even smaller as she carefully stepped over him, after putting her ear to her friend’s door and calling out, “No worries, doll, I made it.” Satisfied with her new position among us, she took out a small embroidery and with her elbows tight to her sides but her needle straight and true, she let out a huge sigh and settled in for the duration.

“Where you think our friend is residing tonight—which world is she in, she’s been so quiet, no messages, no thumps and the TV is almost dumb.” We all turned to the closed door, bounded as ever by that cheeky dog who had never warmed up to us. “Looks to me as if he is guarding the border,” said the fat woman, never missing a stitch.

Ever watchful for a new subject to while away the hours, we turned to her. “And what do you know about borders,” gently questioned her next-seat neighbor. We knew when to be careful with our free-floating inquiries—borders were nothing to fool with, not now, maybe not ever, except—and here the questioner inclined her head in the direction of the now silent bedroom. “Well, circumstance, you know Circumstance, can be anything from a bill collector to a love affair to a government’s certainty to a tank coming through your bedroom window, Circumstance causing all kinds of changes in a person’s life, changes that can just pick you up from all you know and deposit you right smack down in some other god-forsaken place.” Here we kept our mouths shut; we didn’t want her to know that where she was sitting was literally a place that had forsaken god.

The bus driver among us, still dressed in her blues and whites, passed around a bowl of cherries; and Fannie, as the Circumstance lady came to be known, delicately took a handful, putting down on her ample lap her piece of linen with its carefully emerging cross-stitched green and red grevilleas. “Now I have had to learn to live with borders, learn how to twist and turn so one place wouldn’t send me back to another place. I’m so used to it now that I can occupy two places at the same time. But no place—and all its brothers—could keep me from being here. You just keep an eye on me as the night goes by and if you see me fade a little, don’t worry, I’m just stepping over the border to my other place, I got to keep my hand in, you know, got to stay in touch with that other sky, with that other light, got to keep the officials on their toes, trying catch a fat lady slipping through the procedures. You know, when I am there, over the years, I have actually in my own way, walked through a wall and found myself on old Broadway—yep I’m an old song and dance girl—upper Broadway, that is. Borders, particularly borders with histories, are sad miserable misconceptions, not attuned to the Circumstances of Life, if you know what I mean.”

At that point, the soldier who had sat among us for as long as she could rose to leave. “You tell my friend in there to give it a good fight—let me know what happens, will you,” she said to the most patient of us, “You can find me at the nearest border, I’m on twilight patrol—she knew me before I was a soldier, and those kind of buddies are hard to come by, sorry I didn’t get to tell you some of the doings we did in the old Village, me with my rookie ways and shined-to-a-star boots under her day bed that never rose off the floor. I took her home with me one afternoon back to my Bronx, not hers, mine, the Italian Bronx—wanted her to meet my mom and dad and my messed-up brother, see the house I had grown up in. My mother thought I was bringing home my wife. That’s the kind of daughter I was. Well, nice meeting you all—I know what you mean about borders and guns and permissions to cross over—dangerous territory, that. At least I got my education, now I’m a nurse who can carry a gun—that’s the kind of thing that happens at borders. Thanks for the old days,” she nodded to the bedroom and before we could stop her, she bent over to take her leave of the dog. Our warning words died on our lips as that nasty fellow just lifted his small muzzle and gave her a good look—no teeth, no snarl, just a good deep look out of the those black eyes. Sentinel to sentinel.

What I'm Reading...
My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk

My loved book for this day is My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk, who has been charged by the Turkish government with treason for bringing the suffering of the Kurds into public Turkish light.

Ghost Stories: Previous Entries

28 September 2005There She Goes Again
11 September 2005The Question of Wind
30 August 2005The Death of a Ghost
21 August 2005On-Going Reflections about Grassroots Archiving
9 August 2005Dear friends, readers and Web explorers...
16 May 2005Aging in a Time of War

© 2005 Joan Nestle

It has been brought to my attention that because of my long silences, some concerned readers might think that “Ghost Stories” is about my death bed. I have been advised that, given the present climate about the need for clear literary categories, I should make clear I am still upright and making trouble in my own way. The irony of it all is that I have never felt so real as a writer as when I write my ghost stories. If you do read them, please let me know what you think. ~ Joan

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