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Growing Old

"They’d grow into old age together, all of them, the dead and the living."
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The girls had been getting along pretty well together in El’s room, El playing teacher, Em playing student (they always played the same roles without variance), but then Em had turned rebellious on her teacher and was threatening to not do her assignment until El shared some of her apple. Now they were fighting.

John and Alice knew this because they were on the first floor of the house, in the family room, directly below the ruckus.

One of the cats, disturbed out of her slumber by the fight, bolted down the back stairs and through the kitchen, shooting past the entrance to the family room in a blur.

Alice said, “Did Em tell you she saw the ghost again?”

John said, “No. The woman?”

“Yes. Walking down the hallway. Wearing a long dress. Em was in bed, and saw her pass by her doorway.”

“She had a bad day at school,” said John. “She told me. I’m sure that was it. Car headlights shone through the window or something, and made shadows. Her everyday middle school anxiety turned ordinary shadows into ghosts. She’ll grow out of it. She’ll be fine.”

“Both girls see ghosts,” said Alice.

“They’ll both grow out of it,” said John.

At that point Em yelled at her sister and jumped out of her desk and onto the floor so heavily the ceiling shook above John and Alice’s heads. They listened to her footsteps as she stomped across the hallway into her own room. The door slammed. Another cat, flushed out of her napping place by the commotion, shot down the front stairs and into the basement.

John added, “You know, if we really were haunted, how would we even hear it? All the satanic rapping and chain rattling that ghosts are supposed to do? We’d just think it was one of the kids. Or the cats.”

Alice laughed.

“You know, that has occurred to me,” said Alice. “Seriously. I’ve actually thought about it. Listening to Em and El talk about ghosts, I’ve thought back to if I’ve ever heard anything. Wondering if maybe the girls were telling the truth, that we really had ghosts. Between the girls, and the cats, the noises outside, and the sounds an old house just makes naturally, there is really no way of knowing.

“Maybe when they grow up and move out,” said John. “Maybe when they go off to college.”

Alice tried to conjure the prospect in her imagination. The girls gone, the cats, if not gone then too mellowed into old age to make make much noise. Alice and John sitting in the family room, in the silence, reading together, or talking, or watching television.

Just Alice and John. And the ghosts, if there were any.

Alice said, “If ghosts really live here, they will have gotten pretty used to us by then. If it takes us ten years living here before we even notice them. Maybe they’ll have gotten tired of trying to scare us, since it never works. Maybe they’ll have given up by then.”

John said, “Maybe we all just live here peacefully together.”

Alice found the image comforted her. Her and her husband, pleasantly sitting side by side, surrounded by apparitions that were as used to Alice and John as Alice and John were use to each other. They’d grow into old age together, all of them, the dead and the living. John and Alice would grow gray and stooped, take to wearing reading glasses, using canes, eventually walkers. The ghosts would stand in the shadows, in the corners of rooms, under beds and behind the drapes, not trying too hard to stay out of sight, no longer interested in scaring anyone. Serene as statues.

Perhaps they’d follow the two living beings in the home from room to room, keeping them company, enjoying their presence. Almost like having kids, except much quieter, of course. Their haunting, far from being frightening, would provide the living with a ghostly audience, interested onlookers as relaxed and convivial as old friends, insuring they would never be truly alone.




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