Home > A Head Full of Ghosts(2)

A Head Full of Ghosts(2)
Paul Tremblay

Rachel sits back down on the couch and says, “Merry, I know you don’t know me very well at all, but I promise that you can trust me. I will treat your story with the dignity and care it deserves.”

“Thank you, and I believe you will. I do,” I say and sit on the other end of the couch, which is toadstool soft. I’m thankful for the drop cloth now that I’m sitting. “It’s the story itself I don’t fully trust. It’s certainly not my story. It does not belong to me. And it’s going to be tricky navigating our way through some of the uncharted territories.” I smile, proud of the metaphor.

“Think of me as a fellow explorer, then.” Her smile, so unlike mine, is easy.

I ask, “So, how did you get it?”

“Get what, Merry?”

“The key to the front door. Did you buy the house? Not a terrible idea at all. Sure, giving tours of the infamous Barrett House didn’t quite financially work out for the previous owner, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work out now. It’d be great promotion for the book. You or your agent could start the tours again. You could spice things up with readings and book signings in the dining room. Set up a gift shop in the mud room and sell clever and ghoulish souvenirs along with the books. I could help set up scenes or live action skits in the different rooms upstairs. As—how was it worded in our contract again?—‘creative consultant,’ I could supply props and stage direction. . . .” I lose myself in what was supposed to be a light joke, which goes on way too long. When I finally stop babbling, I hold up my hands and fit Rachel and the couch between the frames of my thumbs and fingers like an imaginary director.

Rachel laughs politely the whole time I’m talking. “Just to be clear, Merry, my dear creative consultant, I did not purchase your house.”

I am aware of how fast I am talking but I can’t seem to slow down. “That’s probably smart. No accounting for the deteriorated physical condition of the place. And what is it they say about buying houses and buying other people’s problems?”

“Per your very reasonable request that no one else accompany us today, I managed to persuade the very kind real estate agent to lend me the key and the time in the house.”

“I’m sure that’s against some sort of housing authority regulations, but your secret is safe with me.”

“Are you good at keeping secrets, Merry?”

“I’m better than some.” I pause, then add, “More often than not, they keep me,” only because it sounds simultaneously mysterious and pithy.

“Is it okay if I start recording now, Merry?”

“What, no notes? I pictured you with a pen at the ready, and a small black notebook that you keep proudly hidden away in a coat pocket. It would be full of color-coded tabs and bookmarks, marking the pages that are research bits, character sketches, and random but poignant observations about love and life.”

“Ha! That’s so not my style.” Rachel visibly relaxes and reaches across and touches my elbow. “If I can share a secret of my own: I can’t read my own scribbles. I think a large part of my motivation for becoming a writer was to stuff it in the faces of all the teachers and kids who made fun of my handwriting.” Her smile is hesitant and real, and it makes me like her a whole lot more. I also like that she doesn’t color her pepper-gray hair, that her posture is correct but not obnoxiously so, that she crosses her left foot over her right, that her ears aren’t too big for her face, and that she hasn’t yet made a remark about what a creepy, empty old house my childhood home has become.

I say, “Ah, revenge! We’ll call your future memoir The Palmer Method Must Die! and you’ll send copies to your confused and long since retired former teachers, each copy illegibly signed in red, of course.”

Rachel opens her jacket and pulls out her smartphone.

I slowly bend to the floor and pick up her blue hat. After politely brushing dust from the brim I place it on top of my head with a flourish. It’s too small.

“Ta-dah!”

“You look better in it than I do.”

“Do you really think so?”

Rachel smiles again. This one I can’t quite read. Her fingers tap and flash across the touch screen of her phone and a bleep fills the empty space of the living room. It’s a terrible sound; cold, final, irrevocable.

She says, “Why don’t you start by telling me about Marjorie and what she was like before everything happened.”

I take her hat off and twirl it around. The centrifugal force of the rotations will either keep the hat on my finger or send it flying across the room. If it flies off, I wonder where in the whole wide house it will land.

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