"I heard his footsteps on the porch last night. His tread was
unmistakable. I could hear the shuffle of his slippers too."
Your mother was the one who cared for Grandpa until he passed, the one
who fed him, bathed him with a sponge, changed his catheter, pulled his
pants up when they dropped around his shaking legs, paid his hospital
bills, paid for the open-heart surgery that was one of the last efforts
to preserve him, so it is yet another slight when he appears at your
aunt's house instead of yours. Your aunt, who wasn't even blood-related
to him, merely his son's wife. Though, your mother muttered, of course
he would always prefer his sons.
At the corner of your living room the altar clouds with incense every
night. In the morning you check to see if there are bites out of the
chicken and rice. Your mother squints and claims there are nibbles on
the chicken skin.
"You liked the chicken, didn't you?" she says to the framed
black-and-white photograph of Grandpa. He is in his 30s in the
photograph. His teeth are intact and he smiles with the confidence of a
man with a long life ahead of him. "I knew you would."
The next night your aunt hears him rocking back and forth in the
"It was his favorite place to sit when he visited, you know. He would
sit for hours and tell me about his life. He had such an interesting
On the short drive back to your house, your mother says, "Interesting
life my ass. He sat around the house doing nothing while your
grandmother worked herself to the bone. She would work, and then she
would come home and do the laundry with her bare hands. She would cook
and clean the house and take care of us, while he did nothing. Nothing."
At home, your mother scrubs the floor on her hands and knees, then
makes dinner and lights incense and puts a bowl of pears and oranges in
front of Grandpa's photo.
"Yum," she says to the photo. "They're ripe and sweet."
Next morning, your mother's chipper voice:
"Oh, did he? Again? He was singing? Yes, that was his favorite song,
wasn't it? Well, I'm glad to hear he's enjoying himself over there."
The fruit has clearly not been touched.
You decide you don't believe in ghosts.
That night, in sleep, you struggle through a network of subterranean
tunnels. A horrible place with a mineral reek. Finally, you squeeze
through into a room filled with clocks. Grandpa is there, the age he
was when he passed, breathing raggedly, hunched over his cane.
"I'm stuck," he says. "Help me. I want to get out of here. I can't find
any way out of here. Please, help."
You wake. You never tell your mother about this. What could you do,
even if it were real? Who would she believe? And who's to say it's not
possible that Grandpa is imprisoned in a creepy underground room and,
at the exact same time, singing his favorite song on your aunt's porch?
It's impossible to tell how ghosts really work.
"There's a bite in one of the pears," your mother says with studied
nonchalance the next day. "He must be coming around."
"Great news," you say.
Carmen Lau has stories in or coming from The Collagist, Hayden's Ferry Review, Gigantic and
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of M.B. Grigby.
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