pWdumaNjA-6CEEBhRoD5euxNETs When All This Actual Life Played Out: Ghost story

19 May 2010

Ghost story


Tucson, Arizona
June 1973

I know. It doesn't look promising for a ghost story does it?

I'm not entirely sure what possessed my mother to plant Italian cypress in the front yard. A demarcation, a boundary? A line in the sand most likely, since she wasn't fond of the man who owned the rental properties next door.

Whatever the case, there they were and when they were small like this, it usually fell to me to water them. Which I did and I made up stories about tiny amphibious worlds in the tree well while I held the hose.

I grew, the trees grew. The trees actually got really tall and they filled out considerably, to the point where my arms might have spanned half a tree had I been inclined to hug it, which I wasn't because they were full of spider mites. Probably other things, too.

They swayed in the breeze, they collected snow. They were great to hide behind when we played hide n' seek.

After a few years, I got too old for hide n' seek.

Tucson was a sleepy place in the 1970s (read "terminally boring"), particularly if you were in high school, and there was little to occupy you. Particularly if you had a busy mind.

I had a busy mind.

It was summer. It was boring. My friends were all out of town, and I'd read too many books, and embroidered too many pillow cases and cleaned too many houses and watered too many neighbors' plants.

Idle hands, and all that.

It's hot in Tucson in the summer, and sometimes the evening brings no relief from the heat. But when the monsoons start, the weather becomes interesting. It can be sickeningly humid. But the storms have their own energy, their own lives. Lightning crackles and flashes over the mountains, and if there's been an afternoon storm, the evening sometimes brings a cool night breeze.

It was such a night, that night. Bored and tired of my family, I wandered out to the front yard, and sat on the tiny square of patio, the stones still hot enough to burn through the seat of my shorts. I looked at the stars visible straight overhead, and the clouds and heat lightning over the Santa Rita Mountains. The breeze kicked up, whispering and murmuring through the trees. The cypress tossed and swayed, bending and bowing like shadowy dancers.

I felt the hair rising on my arms, and it was only partly because of the underlying chill in the breeze.

I hurried back inside the house, which felt stuffy and unpleasant after the freshness of the evening, and grabbed a sheet from the linen closet, and my mother's diaphanous white silk scarf.

Our street was part of a fairly quiet residential neighborhood, but it was bordered on two sides by busy main arteries, so it wasn't unusual for there to be rather more traffic at times as drivers sought to avoid the busier thoroughfares. I was banking on the traffic down the street to be a little heavier on a Friday night.

I dropped the scarf onto the top of my head so it unfurled around my face, obscuring my dark hair. It was sufficiently sheer that I could see plenty, even in the dimness of night. I draped the sheet around me so that it covered the front of me, falling in gentle folds to mid-calf, the edges trailing down my back. I stationed myself in the cypress, roughly in the middle of the four nearest the street.

And I waited.

The breeze fluttered and lifted my cerements as I stood stock still, grinning like an idiot, the grass making my bare feet itch slightly. I could smell ozone from the lightning on the air. Eventually, I heard a car approach, but it passed at speed, either not noticing me or not caring. I readjusted my position amongst the cypress so that I'd be a little more visible from the street, and I recommenced waiting.

Another car approached. Unlike the first, it slowed as it reached the cypress and came to a halt in front of the house next door. I watched the red tail lights, trying not to laugh as I heard the murmur of voices. Slowly the car backed up a bit, and it sat idling, the murmur of voices just audible over the sound of the motor. In a moment of unplanned theatricality, I began to slowly lift my arms, and the breeze caught the folds of sheet, causing it to billow satisfyingly. I heard what sounded like a little shriek from inside the car, and the driver slammed down on the accelerator, burning rubber, screeching the tires.

I was giggling uncontrollably, until I heard what sounded like the same engine nearing. The car was returning, driving slowly up the street, from the direction it had exited.

Now laughing out loud, I hurriedly pulled off my costume rather than risk discovery, and ran hell for leather through the trees to the back door of the house, bursting through the screen door, gasping for breath, running straight on to my room.

And as I ran, I heard my mother mutter in exasperation, "Oh God, what have you done now?"

Tech stuff: Taken with a Kodak Instamatic X-15. This roll of film was almost exclusively photographs of the various yards, and I don't remember why I felt it necessary to document the outside of the house. Still, it serves as illustration of the truest ghost story you might ever read. It was the first and last time I ever did anything quite like this, and I'm not sure what possessed me that night, but it still strikes me as incredibly funny. Oh, to have known what exactly was going on in that car.

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