Not Your Time
The light must be busted, I thought. My hands reached out into the deep emptiness, floor boards creaking with reluctant steps. Murmuring voices of my elderly parents and ticking clocks echoed from downstairs. The soft-footed soldiers of memory marched through my mind: my childhood bedroom, packing clothing and coffee pots for college, returning at age 40, between marriages, my infant son, now a boisterous eight year old, sleeping on the bed. I only came up here to return a folding table to its place, lean it against a wall, and go back downstairs. Just that. I’d never been afraid here before. That night, the darkness frightened me.
Sally, the life-sized doll my late sister made me when I was five-held court in an old wicker chair in the hall. Even in this pitch, I was aware of her brown eyes staring forward, unblinking into the darkness. She shared her throne with a beaten bunny rabbit, a childhood toy of that same late sister. Its strangely human plastic face perpetually frozen in ecstatic glee.
I could not see my sister, but I could feel and smell her. I inhaled a waft of her Love’s Baby Soft perfume. Her arms wrapped around me. Cool breath fluttered on my cheek, provoking my own breath to rush in and out, my heart to palpitate.
Please. Don’t be afraid. Of me. Of the dark. Follow me.
My shaking limbs and gritted teeth told me to fly down the stairs, run to where my mother was putting pot roast and gravy on a plate, sit down and converse with my parents as though nothing had happened.
But my heart caused me to remain in my sister’s arms. Tears flowed as I hunched into sobs. My sister, whom cancer beat and stole too soon. How I wanted to stay like this, cradled in her restored embrace, forever.
A vibration beckoned from my pocket. The hallway lit up, exposing the long oriental rug, the dolls in the chair. My sister’s encircling arms vanished from my trembling body. The table I intended on returning slid from my hand. As I touched my phone, turned back to the stair, I sensed my dead sister’s hands on my shoulders.
Go. It’s not your time, sister.
In the Attic
The winter earth here, too hard to shovel, sends corpses like mine to be placed in the attic, like all the other unused things. The fly buzzes above me. I can hear it, but cannot move my arms to swat it away. And I can smell the cold space- like apples. Now I too am an old, cold apple. In such a short time, I have turned from being one of the people making footsteps along hardwood downstairs to this frozen, yet still sensing, dead thing. I am stuck here like this, separated from my daughter whose birth put me here.
I would prefer to be burned, tied to a Viking ship and set ablaze, spark to fire. Or, here on this island, I could be a woman on the New England ship, the Palatine, burned on water, screams submerged in the salty, churning sea. Those ghost women are still seen, still heard, hundreds of years later. It seems to me like freedom – to burn, the wind pulling me up into the night sky in smoke and ash.
Stuck here in the attic I hear steady gushing, the tears of my newborn daughter. Her cries should be exhausted by now, but she continues to sob those jagged baby sobs-desperate for food-for me? I listen but feel no rush of milk, no anguish. I am dead, after all, my daughter is someone else’s worry.
In no time, the fly’s buzz, my daughter’s cries fade. I think of the simple doll I sewed, its calico dress and navy button eyes. I can see it on the shelf where I left it. My daughter will someday love that doll her dead mother made. I am certain of this. A soft light fills the attic, cancels out the flat grey. The window feels open. The air seems fresh. My soul rises up, exits the attic room, hovers above this place where I lived, where I died. I cherish it all, then disappear.
Maggie Nerz Iribarne is 53, lives in Syracuse, NY, writes about witches, cleaning ladies, struggling teachers, neighborhood ghosts, and other things. She keeps a portfolio of her published work at https://www.maggienerziribarne.com