The Mythopoeic Society
#13 – Early Summer 1992
My one and only published piece of complete fiction in the 20th century …not only that, but the magazine illustrated it for me!
Marshall looked at me numbly and for the third time in as many minutes remarked on how she’d been dead for fifteen years.
In some households it is not unusual to surprise your mother in the middle of a Mah Jongg game. Marshall did have a point though. It is a bit unsettling to interrupt your mother’s ghost and friends in the middle of sorting out their suits, honors, and flowers. It was also a bit difficult to follow the play on a shimmering card table floating four feet above our living room floor.
The ladies, if I may use that term, had not yet noticed us. We edged quietly into the kitchen and put the groceries down. Marshall pointed out for the fourth time that she’d been dead for fifteen years.
Marshall is my best friend and roommate. We’ve known each other since we were twelve and he stole my idea for a science fair project. I’ve since forgiven him, especially given that the project, as he produced it, came in last place. We’ve been through a lot together and usually I’m the one who gets rattled. Phantasms were apparently outside of his experience. He did seem to be coming a bit unglued.
I opened a couple of sodas and we walked nonchalantly back into the living room. The game was over and our phantom guests were busy packing the tiles into a small case. I recognized one of them as Mrs. Feldman, who had a heart attack last year. She glanced up and waved. Mom turned around with a startled look on her face. The other three ladies faded form sight, to be followed a moment later by the table. Marshall and I sat down on the couch.
Mom floated across the room and perched on the coffee table in front of us, something she never would have allowed me to do in her house. While she wasn’t likely to leave scratches with her shoes, I did wonder momentarily if ghosts actually slime furniture. Ectoplasmic Endust is not one of my stock cleaning solutions. Not that I spend much time cleaning the apartment. Something Mom was sure to notice at any moment.
She looked at us a few seconds and then sighed silently. Drifting up towards the ceiling she began to circle the room, wrinkles of dismay creasing her face. She floated over to the bookshelf and brushed an ethereal rag ineffectively at the layer of dust. She looked over at us and burst into silent tears. I grabbed and old t-shirt and began feverishly dusting the shelves. Mom brightened considerably.
She continued around the room, flopping her cloth at the furniture. I followed, trying desperately to keep up. Marshall remained on the sofa, sipping his soda.
“Grab the vacuum and start on the floors before she does.”
Marshall complied, and for the next hour we dusted, vacuumed, scrubbed, disinfected, and straightened. Mom fluttered happily through the air. Marshall and I quietly strategized…
“Does she talk?”
“I don’t think so.”
“No, you. I’m afraid she might say something that’ll make me feel guilty.”
“We’re cleaning our apartment for the first time in three years and you’re worried she’ll make you feel guilty?”
“What do you think she’s here for?”
“I don’t know. She’ll let us know soon; I’m sure of it.”
“I’ll do the kitchen, you get the bathroom.”
Collapsed on the sofa, we appraised the gleaming apartment.
“Where’d your Mom go?”
“Over there, dancing around the plants.”
“You want to water them, or should I?”
Mom hovered as we tended the small window garden. African violets, pansies, and Marshall’s single marijuana plant. He says it’s on principle, an anti-authoritarian stand from a tenth floor window box. Luckily, Mom appeared to have no idea what it was.
She reached to pat each of us on the head. A slight cool breeze swept through my body; Marshall shuddered. Mom faded slowly from view, smiling as she went. I understand Alice’s objection to the Cheshire Cat’s method of leave taking. There’s something objectionable about a disembodied grin.
We fixed dinner and ate without talking. When I went to my room to get ready for bed there were two quarters on my pillow. My allowance used to be fifty cents. I found Marshall in his room holding two shiny quarters in the palm of his hand.
The apartment stays spotless now, and we have an extra dollar spending money each week. Sometimes I wonder, if I stopped cleaning, would she come back? And if she did; who could take the guilt?