We all meet on a regular basis now. The manual says not to_ have any interaction with each other, but it seems that is a rule long gone. The manual talks about terrible things that could come from the mingling of spirits. Everyone says that it’s a thing of the past; that spirits are much more congenial and civil now. Can you believe that? Spirits of the dead: civilized and mindful of their manners. It doesn’t say much for the living, does it?
I asked Margot about the rule and why it was okay for us to converse now. She just smiled and said that it beats her. She said that throughout all her time in limbo she had seen the progression from the mean-spirited, hateful ghosts to where we are now. She couldn’t say how or why it happened, she just knows that it did. She’s glad things changed. After so long on this plane with no one to talk to, she really thought seriously about moving on for the first time.
Margot has been dead for fifty-four years. She is an old spirit in a young form. She was born in 1924 and, as she likes to say, changed planes in 1954. An even thirty years spent with the living.
I talk to Margot every Tuesday and Friday, when you have your long days. I leave before dawn and head west, making sure to cross the street to avoid causing a ruckus with the Haberson’s dogs. I continue on for a few blocks until I reach the abandoned house tucked back in the woods off of Klinger Road. Margot is typically lounging in a decrepit rocking chair next to the stained marble pillars on the porch.
I sit next to her in a dining chair and we converse until the first glimmer of gold peaks over the eastern horizon. Then, we head inside to talk some more. Of all the rules from the manual that have proven to be wrong, exposure to the sun is not one that we have the courage enough to test.
Inside, we sit and pretend to sip at lemonade while Margot tells me stories from her life, during and after.
The first memory she has is when she was six years old. She remembers her father, a handsome man who was never without a suit and tie, coming home from his job at a small bank in the city. He always came home looking just as handsome and put-together as when he left, she says, but this day was different. On this day his hair was frazzled and his tie was loose. Margot sat outside the kitchen doorway and listened as he told her mother about a crash at the market. Surely this is why he was so distraught, she thought. He must have been in an accident on his way home after stopping at the market. But, when she looked out of the front window at the Model T in the driveway, there wasn’t a scratch or dent on it. It must have been a small wreck, she thought.
Over the next few months, Margot’s father became increasingly disheveled. He would come home with his shirt untucked and papers jutting out of his briefcase at odd angles. He would go days without shaving and come home from the city earlier and earlier in the day. Eventually, he stopped going to work altogether and spent whole days lying in bed.
Inside of two years, Margot’s family found themselves without a home. They drifted into the city and were one of the first families to take residence in Central Park. They spent a number of years there, struggling to keep themselves fed.
Around 1935, her father was able to get a job with a bank that was reopened thanks to the New Deal policies. The wage wasn’t much, but it was enough to afford them a small apartment on the West side of the city; two rooms with a toilet shared by all of the tenants.
It was sometime before Margot’s life was as comfortable as when she was six. Her father was eventually able to get employed at another bank and the family moved into a new home outside of the city. This is where Margot spent the rest of her days.
On most days, the sun is long set before I can shake the trance of Margot’s stories. I glance at the curtains, the only light penetrating their haze is the faint din of the street lamps through the trees. I look at Margot; she’s as beautiful, I’m sure, as the day she died. She sits in her blue dress, cut just below the knees, and rocks steadily back and forth. I tell her I need to get back to you and she smiles sweetly. I ask her if she could answer one more question before I go. She nods yes and her blonde hair falls over her eyes.
I ask her why she hasn’t moved on. I say that she seems to be at peace with her past and that fifty-four years seems to be a long time to be a spirit. I ask what it is that she’s been holding on to for all of these years.
She says that she’s not holding on to anything. She says she’s content with her existence. Just as the living have seen changes in their cultures and societies, so too has she seen changes in the culture and society of the spirit world, and she’s wholeheartedly enjoyed that.
She tells me that in 1984, a family of three – a mother, father, and a boy of six – came to live in her home. She had never been a mean spirit and welcomed the family into the home. So long as they let her be, she would show the same courtesy to them.
During the family’s first winter in the home, the young boy contracted a strong case of pneumonia. The parents and doctors did all they could, but to no avail. The child died in his bedroom on the second floor on a snowy afternoon. Margot watched the mother burst into hysterics as the boy took in his last breath. The father had to pry her off of the boy’s body and drag her out of the room, all the while resisting the urge to do the same himself.
When Margot turned back to look at the boy’s body, she saw his spirit standing next to the bed. He stood with his eyes wide, terror oozing from his core. The manual says that children are the least likely to have their spirits stay behind and are even less likely to move on if they do. This boy was no exception. Margot guesses that the easiest explanation for this is that children aren’t literate enough to read the manual, and even if they are, she doubts that they can comprehend it.
The boy was quiet for some time as Margot observed from the corner of the room. Margot gathered her courage and, defying what the manual had told, allowed her sympathy to get the better of her. She said hello to the boy. The boy didn’t look at her as he started to cry. Margot felt that she had made a horrible mistake and fled the room as the boy continued his exasperated sobbing.
The boy wailed loudly day and night. The mother told her husband that she could hear her son; that she needed to help him, to hold him and kiss him. She spent days screaming for him and the boy just cried back.
Eventually, the father admitted his wife to a psychiatric hospital and abandoned the house. Margot spent years alone in the house with the weeping child. It was during this time that she gave consideration to moving on. She thought it better to see what is on the other side than to spend eternity with the howling spirit of a child.
One day, on a whim, Margot went up to the child’s room. She had mostly kept downstairs on the far side of the house to stifle the child’s cries. When she reached the doorway, she saw that he still stood in the same spot next to the bed as he did when she first saw him years before. She watched the tears stream down his pale face and listened to his helpless cries.
Margot’s motherly sympathies overcame her and she moved next to the boy and took him in her arms. As she stroked his hair, his sobbing slowly quieted. Eventually, the boy’s whimpers stopped altogether and Margot felt his spirit vanish in her arms. It wasn’t her attempt to speak to the boy that had caused him to weep, Margot says. All he needed was one last show of affection – for someone to show they cared.
Afterward, she stood up and felt the calm of her home for the first time in years. This time she felt a different kind of calm.
She tells me this story with her eyes fixed on the floorboards underneath her feet. After the boy she helped more spirits move on by simply gaining the courage to test the manual. We may be dead, she says, but our souls are still human.
The reason she doesn’t move on, she figures, is that she doesn’t guess that she would gain any peace from it. She says that helping other spirits find their peace is how she finds hers.
As for my question about the manual’s restriction on interaction between spirits. She says that all things change, and just as they change, they seem to always go back the same way they came. Just as her family entered the Depression living comfortably, so too did they end it. Just as the boy of six came into the world loved, so too did he leave it. And, just as we take our first breath out of darkness, so too do we take our last breath back into it.
She looks out the window at the dawning day and tells me to hurry home. I thank her for the company and head back to you. I come out through the tree line and turn of Klinger Road and head east, making sure to stay on the far side of the road to avoid upsetting the Haberson’s dogs. I come into the house before dawn and wait for you to wake.
you to wake.