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A Head Full of Ghosts(5)
Paul Tremblay

Okay, I promise I will generally not footnote all the sources (conflicting or otherwise) of my own story. Here in the pre-beginning, I only wanted to demonstrate how tricky this is and how tricky this could get.

To be honest, and all the external influences aside, there are some parts of this that I remember in great, terrible detail, so much so I fear getting lost in the labyrinth of memory. There are other parts of this that remain as unclear and unknowable as someone else’s mind, and I fear that in my head I’ve likely conflated and compressed timelines and events.

So, anyway, keeping all that in mind, let’s begin again.

What I’m not so delicately saying with this preamble is that I’m trying my best to find a place to start

Although, I guess I already have started, haven’t I?


I HAD A playhouse made out of cardboard in the middle of my bedroom. It was white with black outlines of a slate roof and there were happy flower boxes illustrated below the shuttered windows. A stumpy, brick chimney was on top, way too small for Santa, not that I believed in Santa at that age, but I pretended to for the benefit of others.

I was supposed to color the white cardboard house all in, but I didn’t. I liked that everything on the house was white and that my blue bedroom walls were my bright sky. Instead of decorating the outside, I filled the inside of the house with a nest of blankets and stuffed animals, and covered the interior walls with drawings of me and my family in various scenes and poses, Marjorie often as a warrior princess.

I sat inside my cardboard house, shutters and door shut tight, small fold-up book light in my hand, and a book spread across my lap.

I never cared about the pigs and their silly picnic. I wasn’t interested in the dumb banana mobile, the pickle car, or the hot dog car. Dingo Dog’s reckless driving and Officer Flossy’s endless pursuit annoyed me to no end. I only had eyes for that rascally Goldbug even though I’d long ago found and memorized where he was on every page. He was on the cover, driving a yellow bulldozer, and later in the book he was in the back of goat-Michael-Angelo’s truck and he was in the driver’s seat of a red Volkswagen Beetle that dangled in the air at the end of a tow truck’s chain. Most of the time he was just a pair of yellow eyes peering out at me through a car window. Dad had told me that when I had been very little, I’d work myself into a lather if I couldn’t find Goldbug. I’d believed him without knowing what “a lather” was.

I was eight years old, which was too old to be reading Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go as my parents constantly reminded me. What I was or wasn’t reading was once a big deal and the main source of familial Barrett angst before everything that happened with Marjorie. My parents worried, despite my doctor’s assurances, that my left eye wasn’t getting stronger, wasn’t catching up to her socket sister on the right, and it was why I wasn’t excelling in school and didn’t show much interest in reading books more appropriate for my age. I could and did read just fine, but I was more interested in the stories my sister and I created together. I’d placate Mom and Dad by carrying around various “chapter books,” as my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Hulbig, called them, pretending to be reading beyond my grade level. More times than not my pretend-reads were from this endless series of corny adventure books, each with its simpleminded plot essentially outlined in the title and usually involving a magical beast. Answering Mom’s what’s the book about question wasn’t difficult.

So, I wasn’t actually reading and rereading Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. My quiet and private refinding of Goldbug was a ritual I performed before Marjorie and I would write a new story in the book. We’d added dozens and dozens of stories, one for almost all of the random bit players in Richard Scarry’s world, each story written in the actual pages of the book. I certainly can’t remember all the stories, but there was this one we wrote about the cat driving a car that had gotten stuck in a puddle of molasses. The brown goop leaked out of a truck with its tank conveniently marked MOLASSES in big black letters. On the cat’s face I’d drawn a pair of blocky black-framed glasses that were just like the ones I wore, and I’d drawn those same glasses on all of the other characters for which we’d created stories. In the space around the cat and between the molasses truck, and in my small, careful handwriting (but with terrible spelling), I’d transcribed the following story: “Merry the cat was late for work at the shoe factory when she got trapped in the sticky molasses. She was so mad her hat flew off her head! She was stuck all day and all night. She was stuck there in the middle of the road for days and days until a bunch of friendly ants came and ate all the molasses. Merry the cat cheered and took the ants home with her. She built them a huge ant farm so they would stay. Merry the cat talked to them all the time, gave them all names that began with the letter A, and she always fed them their favorite food. Molasses!”

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