Thursday, May 27, 2010

Things That Scare Me

This Pillow Book entry is inspired by The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, translated and edited by Ivan Morris. Sei Shōnagon was a courtesan in 10th century Japan who kept a diary of the goings-on at court and concealed it in her wooden pillow. She made lists under various categories of specific, often quirky things.

Things That Scare Me

The idea that someone I love will die –too often, my mind goes to a dark place.  I’ll be driving over a bridge and suddenly a scene flashes:  the car swerving, skidding across the pavement, and hurtling over the edge.  When my husband is away from home and I think he should be back by now, my mind runs through a laundry list of all the horrible things that might have happened:  he was mugged outside the library, he stopped for a soda and got between a thief and his loot, his car broke down on the side of the interstate and an eighteen wheeler splattered him across all eight lanes of I-30.  I think of James, sleeping soundly in his bed at night and am afraid to go in to check on him.  What if he isn’t breathing? What if his little body has turned cold and his alabaster skin to a sickly shade of blue? I always manage to go in, though.  I pick my way through action figures and origami bunnies to the side of his bed, where I lean over and kiss his warm cheek.  Sometimes he mews like a kitten and others he rolls over and swings his arms in my direction. Once, his eyes popped open as if he hadn’t ever been asleep.

Creepy ghost stories – I know there are spirits among us: angels of the Lord and the demons cast from Heaven.  I know there are great battles, like the one described in the book of Daniel, happening in the places between what we see and what we know in our hearts.  I’m just not sure there are ghosts of people who have passed.  For now, I’ll imagine that there are and they’re sharing this earth, sometimes slipping between the veil of real and imagined.


Jacob pushes open the front door and comes barreling into our little apartment. Swinging his backpack around, and tossing it next to the laundry doors, he starts to shed his school uniform as he makes his way to his room.

“Mom, have you been playing with my action figures,” Jacob says as he stomps half-dressed into the living room.
“Oh, sure, you know how much I love to play guys while you’re at school.” I say.
“Mom.” Jacob’s frustration shows throughout his whole body.  He slumps his shoulders and hangs his arms down by his side. “They were all in the center of my room. I was in the middle of a great battle: Hulk and Skaar against Spider Man and all his friends.”
“Well, I didn’t touch them, Jacob. I’ve been working on these notebooks most of the afternoon and Dad’s been working on his research paper for Dr. Sommers.”
“Someone played with them.  They were all lined up ready to fight and now Hulk is all the way across the room.”
“Where is he?”
“I found him on my bed, tangled up in the covers.”
“Maybe it was Sam,” I say.
“Sam, who’s Sam?
“Our ghost, of course.”
“Ghost? Mom, what’re you talking about?”
“Come outside with me and I’ll tell you all about her.”

Jacob hurries to his room to throw on some play clothes, while I step out onto our balcony. I head straight for the blue folding chair: my spot. Jacob comes through the door and pulls it almost closed. The wind is picking up and leaves from the Magnolia tree flutter across the grass, some crashing to the ground and others landing in the pool. Jacob stands right in front of me and leans his back against the black railing.

“Okay, Mom, who’s this Sam?” Jacob says.
“Sam used to live here. She was a little girl about your age. Her name was Samantha, but everyone called her Sam. I’m pretty sure these apartments have been here for about 50 years.”
“Is that how long ago she lived here?”
“No, she lived here about 30 years ago. Right in this apartment and right in your room.”
“Really, Mom? How do you know?”
“I looked it up online,” I say. “When I started to notice some weird things happening around the apartment, I decided to see if anyone had ever died here.”

Jacob fidgeted with one of the Magnolia leaves and climbed up to sit on the thin, metal rail.

“Down,” I say.

He jumps down onto the concrete patio and sits in the other chair. Propping his elbow on the arm of the chair, he leans towards me with wide eyes and a questioning smile.

“Well . . .” Jacob says.
“Well . . . I found an old news story about this little girl named Samantha.  Funny.  Your room used to be filled with My Little Ponies and princess costumes. She had one of those fancy beds with the canopy hanging down around it. Like Sarah Grace had in Kansas City.”
“Oh yeah, that was cool.”
“One morning, her mom and dad went in to wake her up for school, and they found her dead. The canopy was wrapped around her neck. She had gotten tangled up in it in her sleep and been strangled.”
“Really. They had pictures and everything.  Her neck was bent sideways; her head was turned almost all the way around.  It was inhuman.”
“Ewe. Can I see?” Jacob said.
“No. It would be too scary.”
“Come on, Mom. I’m not scared of ghosts.”

I paused for a moment, letting it all sink in. The front door swung slowly open with a creak and Jacob jumped out of his chair. 

“What was that?” he said.
“That was probably Sam. She knows we’re talking about her. All those weird things that keep happening, I’m pretty sure she’s doing them. You know when the porch light flickers. That’s her.  And when the air conditioner starts to come on, but stalls, and then roars back to life. That’s her too.”

I get up and pull the front door all the way closed until it clicks. Jacob looks around the porch as if he’s trying really hard to see something that’s just beyond his field of vision.

“So she’s the one who moved Hulk across the room?”
“I think so. Sometimes I hear a thud in your room when you’re not here. I’ll go in to check it out and one of your toys will be tossed all haphazard against the wall or on your bed or on top of your tent. I don’t think she likes playing with all your boy toys.”
“Maybe I can get her an Elektra figure.” Jacob says.
“Do you think she’d like that?” I say.
“You’re a girl and you’d like one, right?”

Jacob puts his arms on top of the railing and looks out past the pool.  He sees his best friend, Paul, coming out of his apartment.  His eyes light up.

“Mom, can I go play with Paul?”
“Sure, you know the rules.”
“Don’t worry, Mom.”

1 comment:

  1. wow, the things that scare you are bit creepy! but it is powerfully written.


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