Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"The creative adult is the child who has survived."  ~  Ursula Le Guin

There was a deep summer night when my head swam with hauntings. All that lazy Southern day we had played "Tarzan of the Apes," and Superman, and Daniel Boone in the backyard of our newly-bought house, but now it was night. The shadows had deepened, whispering, challenging our courage. So we told ghost stories, laughing at each other's fright while the clouds crept up behind us, looming bigger and blacker over our heads just out of sight.

Then the chorus came. The mother-voices began to call, and we all left at once.

                                                          *   *   *
As I crawled into bed that night of my haunting, I looked up for the thousandth time at the window beside my bed. It was long and tall, and I felt tiny and exposed beneath it. A gust of wind rattled the shade against the glass. Mom shut the window to keep out the rain she knew would come, but a sputter of wind still managed to nudge that shade. So Mom raised it a foot and its movement stopped, but the window's eye was open.

Mom kissed me, said good night, and walked up the two steps to the door. She left the door ajar and the hall light on. And I was asleep.

                                                         *    *   *

I was asleep when I heard the knocking. It was loud and insistent and right above my bed. It knocked on the pane of glass right in the midst of the storm. It knocked three, four times and waited for me. It knocked three, four, five times and watched me. The storm fought and thrashed, and then I froze.

I was awake now, but I still heard the knocking. Surely it was a tree whose branch rapped at my window, but in my mind I searched the backyard and there was no tree so near. It knocked again, but my eyes were sealed. Nothing could have made me open them. Three, four, five times… My brother was only a few leaps away through the door. My voice could carry through that door, through the wall that separated us, but I couldn't call out, because IT was closer to me than anyone else… just on the other side of that thin glass plate. I sank deeper into the mattress, and then it stopped. Only the storm was left, howling loudly, insistently.

                                                        *   *   *

Then it was morning, one of those bright Southern mornings full of birds and katydids and frogs. My window showed a shiny blue sky behind the golden window-shade diffused with sunlight. I ran to Dad and told him of the knocking, and after a while he believed me. We found footprints in the mud right outside my window… big footprints, impatient and deeply embedded.

Much later we found the clue. It was on the back fence next to the two slats that were not nailed down properly. They were the slats that Cheetah could climb through, but Tarzan had to climb over. They were the very slats that our Superman had peeked through to discover the amazing planet, Krypton, the one he had taken Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen to see… the ones where I'd always had to play the part of Lois Lane because I was the only girl in the neighborhood. 

There on the outside of that slat was a mark engraved in that wood, a sign that we thought a child had made. It was a stick-man and a house drawn in simple geometric shapes. But it wasn't a child's drawing meanderings at all. This was a hobo sign-board.

Before we came to live in this house, this stick-man and the house-shape engraved on our back-fence had been a legacy for all the hobos from the railroad tracks down the way. That was their written entitlement to find food at that backdoor for anyone who decided to crawl through those slats. It had entitled all these "kings of the road" to find a hand-out in the midst of the storms, until the day my Dad and I discovered it and painted the fence over. I think my Dad painted it over because that "will" did not entitle them to scare his little girl.

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