This story is dedicated to a dear blogging friend Kindred Spirit, who made me giggle at mention of my experiences being ordinary. Here’s one for you Bro!
by Samantha Craft (based on real life events; some events altered.)
My dog Justice curled up beneath our coffee table gurgling and gnawing at his backside. I sat cracking open smiling pistachios. A few paces away, Mother faced our antique German cabinet, her look overcome with concern. “You know what?” Mother asked.
My eyes sought out the angles of her body, falling on her slight hips and then her tense shoulders. I responded softly while setting a pistachio between my teeth, “What, Mom?” Mother turned. I met her eyes with a curious stare, recognizing at once the nervous thickness in her thoughts, and then swept a cluster of pistachio shells across the table into a small concise circle. I waited.
Mother faced me with the full of her body, the ends of her tangled hair resting against her bulging collarbone. “I think there is something wrong with the cabinet.”
From the corner of our living room the massive mahogany cabinet stood stoically surrounded by a hodgepodge of second-hand furniture, appearing like a polished soldier amongst a gathering of dusty-faced peasants. The cabinet’s aged glass reflected an opaque wave of Mother, as she made her way to the couch near Justice and me. “There’s something not right about it; that’s all,” she said.
I stretched my legs beneath the coffee table and rubbed my toes through the fibers of the carpet, trying to brush the topic away. Nearby Mother tapped her newly-polished fingernails on the dusty coffee table. Looking down at Justice chewing away at his backside, I remembered the story of how Mother had crashed through the ancient glass front of the cabinet when she was a teenager, after tilting her dining room chair back too far. I preoccupied myself by calculating the age of the present day pane of glass, and then thought about my mother’s father, denture-wearing, fiddle playing Grandpa Willy, wondering what he looked like now, figuring how many hours it would take to drive for a visit.
Lighting up a cigarette, Mother inhaled deeply, and then blew out. “I think the cabinet is possessed,” she offered casually.
I bit down hard on pistachio shell and gave out a nervous little laugh.
Mother grinned. Two fingers embraced her cigarette and pressed against her lips. I thought about Buddy One, my imaginary ghost friend; he hadn’t moved downstairs with us to the bottom duplex. Mother picked up a stack of green-backed tarot cards and set them on a table to her side. “With all your dreams that come true and the noises and voices you hear, even that ghost friend of yours, I can’t help but think something is causing all of this. And when you think about it, that cabinet has faced your bedroom in the last four places we’ve lived.”
I took in a deep breath, grabbed a day old glass of lemonade and drank, taking the bitter with the sweet, not knowing if I should laugh or cry. Scenes from Casper the Friendly Ghost and The Exorcist flashed before me. How I longed for a brother or sister to elbow me in the side and say, “Don’t worry. It’s all pretend.”
Before supper, Mother appeared at my side with her orange-flowered overnight bag and tossed a grocery sack my direction. I peeked inside the bag to find a yellow onion skin stuck to the bottom. “Fill this up,” Mother said. “We’re going.”
The sun was low on the horizon when a woman with wispy-white hair and a whimsical Muumuu opened her front door. Justice lapped at my tennis shoes and cowered behind my knees, while I tugged on his leash, trying to steady his body.
Minutes later Justice and I followed Mother, as she huffed back to the car with sober steps. I knew beyond a doubt that the combination of Mother’s somber face and conspiratorial tone, blended in with the tale of the spirit in the cabinet, had led to our early departure. Her actions were indeed strange, but not without merit. I myself had experienced the dreams which came true; Mother’s theory was as good as the next. Reflecting on my dead bird and hustling down the dirt walkway with Justice, I counted myself lucky to have a parent that cared.
The next path Mother led me up was a granite-crushed walkway. This time Justice remained in the car. After we reached the front door of an expansive ranch-style home and Mother rapped a brass knocker, the door opened to a delicate aroma of roses and a middle-aged man in a paisley tie. The man wiped his hands on the pockets of his denim apron. “How can I help you?” he asked, his dark blue eyes sweeping the neckline of Mother’s low-cut shirt.
Mother straightened her posture and pushed me forward. I flashed a broken-tooth grin, focused downward on my lavender-starred shoelaces and began counting the stars.
“Is Barbara home?” Mother asked.
“Sure, just a sec…. I’ll run and get her for you.”
Mother’s knuckles were whitening as she gripped my hand.
Barbara appeared wearing a dramatic aquamarine scarf and holding a wooden spoon. She looked surprised to see us. “Is everything all right? Did something happen at the office?”
“Oh no, that’s all fine.” Mother paused and gave me the evil-eye. “Keep still.” Shrinking from Mother’s words, I stopped shuffling my feet on the woven doormat, cast my eyes sideways, and clenched my fists.
“Actually, you see, we need a favor. We can’t stay at our house tonight,” Mother said.
“We need a place to stay.”
A frown creased Barbara’s brow. “I don’t understand. Is everything all right? Is there something wrong?”
Mother leaned towards Barbara. “Well, you see. I know this sounds extreme, but I have some evidence that…” Mother stopped to clear her throat. “Actually, you see there is something in our cabinet.”
Barbara stepped onto the porch. “What are you talking about?”
I stepped backwards and hid behind my mother’s back.
Mother put her hands on her hips. “What I’ve been trying to tell you, is there is a spirit in our cabinet. And you see we need a place to stay; but only for tonight, that is—just until the exorcism.” Mother looked down as if she were embarrassed by her own words.
Giving an odd glance and shifting back, Barbara moved through the entryway into her house. She closed the door until only her face showed. “This isn’t a good time. I’ve got dinner on the stove and we’re expecting company. I’m sorry.” With that the door shut completely and a cool wind swept across the porch.
Sometime after sunset, sitting in the backseat of the car, listening to the song Don’t Cry Out Loud, I stroked Justice’s hairy chin and thought by all fairytale accounts Mother should have already made some headway—made a step past someone’s threshold. After all even the Big Bad Wolf blows down two houses before failing and two of the three Billy Goats pass over the bridge without consequence.
After a quick stop at a gas station for cigarettes and nine dimes into the pay telephone later, Mother eyed the rearview mirror as if some entity might be on our tail and weaved ahead through the darkening night at a frightful speed. The car jolted and bounced, climbing over a scattering of rocks, until we landed on a wide gulf where a blur of an ash-colored tomcat disappeared behind the porch swing.
Inside the house, Mother sucked an extended puff from a cigarette. “Every time I try to get my life in order something happens.” Her lower lip jutted upwards and she let out an exaggerated exhale. The smoke reached my eyes, my nostrils, my lungs, and I let out a sequence of coughs. I sneezed into my hands. Justice’s ears perked up from under the coffee table. Mother’s dark-haired friend nodded and the conversation continued, meandering from relationships to work, and back again to the haunted cabinet. I curled on top of a lumpy couch and closed my eyes.
In the late morning mother and I arrived at our duplex and sat on the small patio near the front entry. A priest, donned in a traditional high-white collar and long black robe, emerged from around the corner carrying a weathered briefcase across our dew-wet grass. Looking like she hadn’t slept in days, Mother rose from our front porch and extended her hand. After a few pleasantries, Mother unlocked the front door and led the priest inside our dark living room. After following them inside, I sat in the far corner watching them both: my gaunt mother and the stately-looking priest, with Justice’s breath hot on my face.
The priest, wasting no time, took out a miniature glass bottle from his leather case. He unscrewed the bottle, recited a few biblical verses and sprinkled water on and around the base of the cabinet. After reciting a prayer, he twisted the lid back on, opened his case, placed the bottle inside, snapped the case closed, and looked at the two of us. “I hope that helps,” he said.
Mother reached into her jean pocket, pulled out a folded bill, and handed it to the priest. “Thank you so much, Father. You’ve really helped us. I don’t know what we would have done without you.”
The priest nodded his head and tucked his briefcase under his arm. “You and your daughter are welcome to our church anytime. We are just around the corner.”
I rose up off of the carpet and calmed Justice with a brush to his head, nodding politely at the priest. The priest smiled, waved, and rang out a pleasing God Bless You and then showed himself out the door.
With the priest gone and the evil spirit banished, Mother disappeared into her bedroom, while I remained in the dark staring out at the cabinet.
The story had not ended like I’d expected. No green-faced monster had popped his ferocious spinning head out from the depths of the cabinet. No lightening bolts had appeared. In fact, there wasn’t any evidence of anything out of the ordinary at all. There were no answers or explanations. It was as if I was stuck in the middle of some long storybook, unable to flip back to the beginning and start over and equally incapable of proceeding forward to the end. After all the running away and hype, all the embarrassment and fear, there was nothing to show in the end. Only Mother’s deep snores trumpeting from the backroom and Justice licking up the trickling drops of holy water.