by Jean Roberta
I’ve come to realize that I am old enough to be the grandmother of most of my students. (Or to use a word that’s widely understood here in Saskatchewan, their kokum: Cree word for grandmother.)
The generation before mine is mostly gone. If my mother were still alive, she would be 100 years old on October 28, 2018.
I remember reading somewhere that the settler culture of New Zealand is largely British (like the settler culture of other English-speaking countries), but the land itself is profoundly different from Britain: there’s nothing south of it except a huge expanse of ocean, and Antarctica.
I can relate. I’m past 65, but I still go to a university to teach every weekday, as though I were still a generation younger. In reality, there is not much of an older generation left, and not much future career ahead of me. I’m looking at retirement (probably sooner than later), followed by a flow of unscheduled time which will end with the pristine chill of death.
Many of the people who were important to me in the past (including writers and rock stars as well as people I actually knew) have passed on. I feel as if there is an invisible nation beyond the veil, and there are times when I’d like to visit them there.
I haven’t had any uncanny experiences lately, but I don’t doubt the presence of the unseen. For one thing, the animals in my house (three cats, two dogs) sometimes react as though they were seeing, hearing, smelling something that most humans can’t.
I’m still fond of a Young Adult ghost story of mine which was published on-line several years ago in Glitterwolf (LGBT magazine), edited by Matt Cresswell of the UK. I would like the story to appear in public again, but it’s hard to place because so little of my writing is suitable for a YA audience that I have to send it to venues that are new to me, and vice versa. In this case, I assume I am reaching out to people who have never heard of me, and might not approve of me if they did.
The teenage narrator of my story, “A Bridge to the Other Side,” dreams about her late grandmother, and then she discovers that ghosts reach out to her once they know she can see and hear them. It’s no coincidence that one of these unhappy spirits was a girl who committed suicide after being raped in the girls’ lavatory, which she now haunts. Of course, no one believed her when she was alive, just as no one is likely to believe the living girl who wants to comfort her.
And then there are the hungry ghosts of past and present wars!
Here is the opening scene:
The tall woman in the lavender suit looked so alive that at first I didn’t recognize her. She moved with confidence, and didn’t seem to carry any weight on her shoulders. Her hair was ivory-blonde with silver highlights, and it glowed like a halo. “Under your bureau, Ellie,” she told me.
She looked like a high school principal, or a businesswoman. Her bright blue eyes wouldn’t let me look away. Why was she in my bedroom?
She kept looking at me, and pointed to the floor.
Freaky. My Grandma, Mary Ellen Cloud, had come back to earth to tell me to clean up my room – or else what? Reform school?
I was so upset that I fought my way out of sleep, as though coming up for air. As soon as I opened my eyes in my own room, I saw that Grandma Cloud wasn’t there.
Somehow I understood what she had told me in my dream. My lost earring was under my bureau, and if I found it, I could wear it to the school dance.
When Mom had handed me Grandma’s pearl necklace and earrings in their long wooden case, she had said, “Don’t lose these.” And then an earring went missing while I was planning what to wear to the dance with Tommy. I searched my room like a detective investigating a crime scene, with no results. I didn’t see any point in telling my parents, since they would probably take away what was left, and tell me I wasn’t responsible enough to own valuable jewelry.
I jumped out of bed and grabbed a metal clothes hanger from my closet. Then I crouched down on the floor, and used the hanger to sweep the space under my bureau. I could have cried when the earring showed up in a ball of dust, trailing a dirty white gym sock. Grandma knew where it was all along. She was watching over me.
“Thank you,” I whispered. I’m so glad you’re on my side, Grandma, I thought.
She didn’t warn me about the dance, though. Apparently I had to find out some things for myself.
It was the spring of 1965. Big hair, empire waists and Queen Anne heels were in, and I couldn’t imagine how they could ever go out of style. My parents didn’t force me to dress like a square because they thought my interest in sewing was a sign of self-reliance. Even still, my taste made them as uncomfortable as the rock songs I listened to on the radio.
I had sewn myself a dress that was meant to stop traffic. It was a lightning-flash of sapphire-blue satin that showed off the curves of my breasts, then flowed from the high waist, finished with a bow, to the tops of my new black pumps. My hair was a rich brown mass of cotton candy, shellacked with hairspray, and my eyes looked huge and dark against my pale skin and eraser-pink lipstick. Grandma’s pearls were the finishing touch.
My reflection in the mirror reminded me of the latest fashion spread in Teen Queen magazine. I hoped my boyfriend, Tommy Atkins, would be too dazzled by my beauty to notice anyone else, but not too dazzled to see how much more I was than a face and a body.
It was a lot to expect from a Connecticut boy. I wondered if I would have to move to Greenwich Village, New York City, after graduation to find intelligent friends and a man with enough soul to appreciate everything I had inside.
I’m not sure if this story can still be accessed in Glitterwolf (Issue 6, July 26, 2014). If it’s nowhere to be found, and if you would like to read the rest of this story, just send me an email request, and I will send you the story as a Word doc (or copied-and-pasted into an email, if you prefer).