It’s Monday, so here’s another Chapter of Amazing Grace. That’s at least what I’m tentatively calling it. Hope y’all enjoy it.
It took a week and a half, but I soon found out just how right Sheriff Dunleavy was. I was bringing in tomatoes when I first saw the poor dear, sitting on the steps to my back porch with her head in her hands. Not literally, of course. Even the dead have some sense of propriety.
I walked past her at first, giving her a glance to make sure she was really dead and not just some misguided cheerleader from the high school selling candy for the prom, or magazine subscriptions for the winter formal, or seed packets for the study abroad program. I’ve disappointed so many of those children for so many years, it’s almost like a game now. They come up with new and even more interesting ways to get me to part with my money, and I come up with different ways to say “no.” But no, this wasn’t a living child here to be disappointed by an old woman on a fixed income. This child was dead, all her disappointments were now behind her.
I laid out the tomatoes on top of the washing machine on a dishtowel I’d put down that morning just for that reason, and went into the kitchen. I washed my hands and face, put my gardening gloves on the windowsill over the sink, and went back out to the porch. I sat down in the rocker my nephew Jason and his second wife gave me for Christmas one year and looked at the child sitting on my steps.
“Well, come on,sweetie. Let’s have it. What’s got you coming to see the crazy old woman that talks to dead people? Except you being dead, that is?”
The girl spun around on the step and stared at me, her mouth hanging open. I laughed so hard I almost spilled tea all over myself, but managed to get myself together before I really made a mess. “Oh my good Lord,” I said, “If you could see the look on your face, child! If you was still alive, I’d tell you to close that thing before flies got in it, but I reckon that ain’t much of a problem now, is it?”
“Y-you can see me?” the child asked. “You can hear me?”
“Of course I can see and hear you, sweetheart, ain’t that the whole reason you and your little girlfriends toilet papered my front yard two Halloweens ago?” It wasn’t the first time I’d seen a ghost blush, but it was still a rare enough occurrence to make me grin.
“I’m sorry about that. We didn’t think about…”
“About how hard it would be for an old woman to get all that toilet paper out of the trees and the grass? Of course you didn’t, that’s what being a teenager is all about. And don’t think you invented anything new, honey, I’ve been getting TP’d on Halloween since your mama was a young’un. It’s a lot easier to take care of than you think. You just take a lighter to it, it burns right out before any part of the tree catches, Easy-peasy. Now, what brings you to my front porch looking all distraught? And who are you, firstly? Ever since I quit teaching Sunday School at the A.R.P. Church, I don’t know as many of you young people as I used to.
“We’re Baptists anyway,” the girl said.
“Well, I forgive you,” I replied. The poor child looked terribly confused, which just made me laugh again, which just made her look even more confused. “Anyway, honey, you were going to tell me who you were?” I prodded.
“My name’s Jenny Miller, and I reckon you can see I’m dead.”
“I noticed that first thing. How did you die and how long ago?”
“About three days ago, I guess. Time is strange now, and I don’t have to sleep, so it’s a little odd. But they had my funeral today, and I think it was a Friday when I died, so it feels like about three days.”
“Well, let me go get the paper and we can see if you’re in the obituaries. That can tell us quite a bit.” I went into the house and pulled out the last three days’ worth of The Herald and carried them out to the porch.
I opened the first newspaper, Saturday’s edition with high school football on the front page, and a big picture of a smiling blonde girl on the back page of Section A. I compared the photo with the ghost on my steps, and sure enough, it was a match. “Yes, honey, you died on Friday night after cheering our Bulldogs to a victory over Dorman in overtime. It says here that you fell down the stairs in your house and broke your neck. But I suppose that isn’t what happened, was it?
The pretty blonde ghost looked up at me, her eyes brimming. “No, ma’am. I didn’t fall. I was pushed. Somebody pushed me down the stairs and broke my neck, now I’m stuck here until I get justice!” Her words built and built on each other until she was almost shouting. I felt the power roll off of her, full of anger and pain. I knew if I didn’t find a away to send her to her rest, that she could turn into a powerful poltergeist. This child needed to move on, and fast.
“Okay, sweetie, just calm down,” I said, putting my tea down and using the same tones I used to use to calm spooked horses when I was little. “Now tell me what you remember, and we’ll work from there.”
“I don’t remember anything,” she said, her voice shaky and thready. “That’s the problem. I remember leaving the game with Shelly, and then nothing.”
“How did you get home?” I asked. I knew if I could get her to realize that the memories were there, that it would all would all work out.
“Shelly drove us. She got her license last month, and this was the first game her mom had let her drive to.”
“Alright. Did Shelly come in with you, or did she drop you off in the driveway?”
“Neither one. She just stopped on the street in front of my house, and I got out. I walked up the steps to the front porch, unlocked the front door, turned around to wave goodnight to Shelly, and went inside.”
“Then what?” I kept my voice low, not wanting to break her out of the almost-trance she had slipped into as she walked back through the night in her memory.
“I reached over to turn on the lights, but nothing happened. I remember thinking that was strange, because the porch light was working fine, but then I remembered Daddy had installed one of them fancy battery backups on the porch light so we’d have some kind of light when the power went out. It was dark as could be, but there was a little bit of light coming in the door from the porch light, and that streetlight the power company put up in the front yard shines in through the living room window something fierce, so I could see plenty.”
“What did you see, honey?” I asked.
“Nothing. I mean, nothing unusual. It just looked like my house, you know? Only dark. I went to the kitchen and got a flashlight out of the drawer beside the sink where Mama keeps all the hurricane stuff, and I went to the basement to look at the fuse box.”
“Only you never made it down to the basement,” I added.
“That’s right,” the pretty little ghost agreed. “On account of some sumbitch shoving me down the stairs as soon as I got the door open good. I remember feeling two hands in my back, then I went forward, and I remember a big flash when I hit my head…then…I’m sorry, I don’t remember anything else. I woke up the next morning to the sound of my mama screaming, and I was looking down at my own body, lying there at the bottom of the stairs…” her words trailed off into sobs, and I wanted to put my arm around her and try to give the poor child some comfort, but I knew my arm would just pass right through her. I’d done it before with other spirits, and it never went well. It just made the ghost more upset and left me feeling a little bit embarrassed.
“Okay, sweetheart, it’s okay,” I said in a soothing tone. “Let’s go inside and have a seat while you try to think of anything else you remember from that night. You’re doing real good, better than anybody would expect.” I stood up and she followed me into the house.
She stopped by the washing machine and looked at the tomatoes all spread out waiting to be washed and canned. “Did you just pick these?” she asked. “I love fresh tomatoes!” She reached out for one, but couldn’t touch them. Her tomato days were over, unfortunately. She looked up at me, stricken.
“I’m sorry, honey. You can’t touch things anymore.”
“I know. I just forget sometimes, you know?”
I did know. I’d seen it for years with other ghosts I had known. Sometimes a very powerful spirit can move things around them, but that kind of poltergeist energy is real hard to sustain, and it makes a ghost become thin and wispy, and before long it fades away entirely. I don’t know if the spirit moves on, or just…fades.
That was something I didn’t dwell on too much. It was more for the ladies in my Sunday School class, and I tried not to ask too many heavy theological questions around that bunch. They just let me start coming back to Sunday School about six months ago, so I didn’t want to push my luck. I led the teenager’s ghost into the house to see if we could come up with any other clues about her untimely demise.