Home > A Head Full of Ghosts(8)

A Head Full of Ghosts(8)
Paul Tremblay

“Cool.” I pretended to breathe some of that ice breath.

“But after all that cold, Boston got one of those weird warm winter days it gets sometimes. Everyone in the North End was saying, ‘My, what a beautiful day,’ and, ‘Isn’t it the most perfect, beautiful day you’ve ever seen?’ It was warm and sunny enough that all kinds of people left their apartments without their coats and hats and gloves, just like little ten-year-old Maria Di Stasio, who was only wearing her favorite sweater, the one with holes in the elbows. She played hopscotch while her brothers were being cruel to her, but it was a regular everyday cruel so she ignored them.

“There was a rumbling sound that everyone in the city heard but didn’t know what it was, and the rivets on the sides of the molasses tank shot out like bullets, and the metal sides peeled away like wrapping paper, and the sticky, sweet molasses poured out everywhere. A giant wave began to sweep through the North End.”

“Whoa.” I giggled nervously. This giant molasses wave was exciting for sure, but there were so many things wrong with this story. Marjorie was using a particular place and time, and using people instead of the goofy-looking animals of the Scarry book, and using people who were not named after me. Plus, the story was too long already and I’d never be able to write this all in the book. Where would I fit it?

“The wave was fifteen feet high and it crushed everyone and everything in its path. The wave bent the steel girders of Atlantic Avenue, tipped railcars, swept buildings off their foundations. Streets were waist deep in molasses, horses and people were stuck, and the more they wriggled and struggled to get free, the more they got stuck.”

“Wait, wait—” I stopped her. What was going on with this story? I was normally allowed some input. I’d voice my displeasure or shake my head and Marjorie would back up and change the story until it was more to my liking. Instead of asking her to start over, I asked, “What about Maria and her brothers?”

Marjorie lowered her voice to a whisper. “When the tank exploded, Maria’s brothers ran for safety and she tried to run too, but she was too slow. The wave’s shadow caught her first, sprinting up the backs of her legs, then up the length of her favorite sweater, and then over her head, blotting out the sun, blacking out the most beautiful day ever seen. Then Maria was caught and crushed in the wave.”

“What? She died? Why are you saying this? That’s a terrible story!” I jumped off the bed, and scampered to pick up the Scarry book off the floor.

“I know.” Marjorie sounded like she was agreeing with me, but her smile was back and so were her wide eyes. She looked proud, like she just told the greatest story ever.

I slunk back to the bed and sat across from Marjorie. “Why would you make up something like that?”

“I didn’t. It’s a real story. It happened. Maria and twenty other people really died in a molasses flood in Boston.”

“That’s not a real story.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it isn’t!”

“Yes, it is.”

We repeated this quid pro quo for another two measures before I relented.

“Fine. Who told you about this?”

“No one.”

“You found it on the Internet, right? Not everything you read on the Internet is true, you know. My teacher says—”

“You can find the molasses flood on the Internet, it’s there, I checked. Most of it is there, anyway, but that’s not where I heard it.”

“Where, then?”

She shrugged, then she giggled, then she stopped, and she shrugged again. “I don’t know. I woke up yesterday and just sort of knew the story, like it was something that’s always been there in my head. Stories are like that sometimes, I think. Even real ones. And I know this one was a horrible, terrible, no good story, but I—I can’t stop thinking about it, you know? I wonder what it was like to be there, what it was like to be Maria, to see and smell and hear and feel what she felt that second right before the wave got her. I’m sorry, I can’t explain it well, but I just wanted to tell you, Merry. I wanted to share it with you. Okay?” Her voice was getting gravelly like it did when she was doing homework and yelling at me to leave her alone. “You okay with this, Miss Merry?”

“I guess.” I didn’t believe her and didn’t know why she was trying so hard to make me believe that she hadn’t first found the story online. I was eight now and not a gullible little baby anymore. When I was really little, she’d tell me that her room rearranged itself at night when she was asleep, and she’d be dead serious when she said it, pretending to be upset and freaked out, and then I’d get upset and freaked out with her, my emotions amping up and in danger of redlining, but she had the knack to stop me the moment before the flood of tears would come and would say, “Okay, jeez, I was only kidding. Chill, Merry-monkey.” I’d hated when she called me “Merry-monkey.”

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