Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ghost Story: Part I

Hello! Sorry I've been silent lately. I've been distracted. I just learned a few days ago that I'm moving to Vermont in five weeks, so it seems I will be spending December packing and writing Christmas cards and saying good-bye to friends and not much else.

To entertain you in the meantime, I thought I'd post the beginning of the ghost story I mentioned a while back. I haven't come up with a name yet. This is still technically a draft, so apologies for typos, less than perfect syntax, etc.

Ghost Story

Jean liked Dr. Taylor's office. It had a nice view of the city, a thick, leather couch, and a large bamboo plant beside the window. She thought she might even be able to open up to this woman if her mother hadn't insisted on coming with her.

"Welcome back," said Dr. Taylor. "Would you like to sit at my desk like last week or would you prefer the couch?"

Jean glanced at her mother. They had never looked much alike, and now that her mother's cheekbones jutted out sharply and her hair had thinned to near baldness the difference was even more pronounced. Jean's face was soft and round like her father's, her hair thick and unruly. Her mother had been watching a lot of TV recently, and her favorite show was Friends. She had called Jean into the family room one day, pointed at the TV, and said, "You need layers like that Rachel girl. They'd make your face look thinner." So Jean had asked her hairstylist to give her layers. They had been very flattering, smooth, and swingy when Jean left the salon, but since then her hair had taken on a life of its own, as if the layers had released something wild and stubborn that had been nesting inside her hair for years, just waiting to get out. She touched a hand to her head self-consciously, patting the hair as if she could cajole it into behaving.

"Jean," said her mother, "stop fiddling with your hair."

Jean dropped her hand by her side and looked at her therapist. Dr. Taylor was older than Jean, possibly in her early fifties. She wore crisp blouses and pointy-toed shoes and her glasses always matched her jewelry. Last week they has been emerald green; today they were dark purple.

"Or we can stand," said Dr. Taylor with a smile, "if that's what you'd prefer."

"Take the couch," said her mother.

"The couch is fine," said Jean.

Dr. Taylor sat down in a leather armchair and read over her notes as Jean and her mother settled themselves on the couch. "So," said Dr. Taylor, "last week we discussed how much you talk to your mother."

"Here we go," said her mother, rolling her eyes.

"That's right," said Jean.

"Last week you said you spoke to her several times a day. Has that decreased at all? Increased?"

"It's about the same."

"And what do you think about that?"

Jean looked over at the bamboo plant. It looked so bare, shoving its way through the soil as though it intended to one day reach the ceiling. "She's my mother. You can't just stop talking to your mother."

"Do you think you'd be abandoning her if you didn't check in with her several times a day?"

"No one else will."

Her mother made a disapproving noise in her throat. "Your father never asks how I'm doing. He's too busy flirting with those hussy widows at Northbridge. Doesn't even come home anymore to visit."

Jean smiled apologetically at Dr. Taylor. "Dad's in a nursing home. Sometimes he forgets things."

"That's right," said her mother, becoming agitated. "He's forgotten all about me, forgotten about forty-eight years of marriage and forty-eight years of me cooking him dinner and washing his underwear."

"Can we talk about something else?" asked Jean.

Dr. Taylor nodded. "Why don't we revisit this next week? Until then I want you to simply be aware of how much you talk to her, how much of your day is spent on that. You don't have to change anything. Okay?"


"Last week you mentioned that you were single."


"How long has it been since you've seen anyone? Since you've gone on a date?"

"My mom has needed homecare for years. I never had time to date. She needed me."

Dr. Taylor nodded. "I see. And what do you think about that?"

"She thinks it's fine," said her mother in a chill voice. It was the voice she used to signal that a conversation was over. "It's what any good daughter would do. I bore her and fed her and raised her. Children need to look after their parents."

When Jean's mother used that voice, it scared her. It sounded like something else was speaking through her mother's throat, something cold and unfeeling. Jean plucked at her sweater.

"Is it difficult to talk about?" asked Dr. Taylor.

Jean nodded.

"All right. That's okay. No one said this was going to be easy. But Jean, you've got to live your own life."

"You have a perfectly good life, Jean," said her mother, tugging at her black pearl necklace the way she always did when she was agitated.

"Just stay open to the possibility of love. Can you do that for me?"

Jean began to roll one sleeve, then the other. "I'll try," she said.

"That's good." Dr. Taylor ran an elegant hand through her hair. Her wrist was heavy with bracelets but her fingers were bare. "That's all any of us can do."

When the hour had finally passed, Jean and her mother stood up to go. As Jean turned to the door, Dr. Taylor put a hand on her shoulder. "Jean, there's something I've been meaning to ask you. I know it's difficult, but it's very important if your therapy is to continue."

"Yes?" asked Jean as she opened the door to let her mother out into the waiting area.

"How long has it been since your mother died?"

Jean gripped the doorknob tightly but didn't turn around. "Two months. It's been two months."

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