As featured in Apparition Literary Magazine, January, 2023
In the spring she calls to me.
“Oh Jackie? Dear Jackie?” she calls.
She doesn’t call me Jackie all the time. But always in the spring.
In the spring she calls. “Oh Jackie? Dear Jackie?”
And immediately I answer back. “Yes, Mommy. I’m here, Mommy.”
She isn’t my mother. But when she calls, I answer. “I’m here, Mommy.”
The house becomes quiet, as it always is now, and I go back to whatever it was I was doing. Cleaning, usually. She seems to like to call when I’m cleaning. This spring, I was dusting the delicate hands of the grandfather clock. The hands and the pendulum, and the inside of the great oak case with the tiny little gears that click and spin and shine when they are polished.
“Oh Jackie? Dear Jackie?” she calls, her voice old and cracked in the empty parlor.
My name isn’t Jackie. I’ve lived in this house alone for many years. I don’t know who Mommy is, or where she is. The first time I heard her call was when I was just twenty-three.
Back then, the house was not empty. Back then there was my wife, and there was my baby, and there was always laughter in the hallways—not quiet, the way it is now. There was laughter, and music, and making love in the parlor as the baby slept upstairs. We had guests who would stay, and guests who would not. The old house loved guests, so we dedicated two rooms for them on the third floor, looking out over the rolling hills. They would come, and they would stay, and we would all laugh while eating savory meats and delicious cheeses, delivered fresh from all over the world.
I never worked in those days, and I never cleaned. We had people for that, and they would arrive at nine every morning, and depart every day at five. I never knew their names.
Except for Chester.
Chester stayed in the servants’ quarters down the hill, and he never left the property. I’m sure Chester knew all the servants’s names, but that wasn’t my concern. My concern was only our guests, and they usually arrived at six-thirty.
Chester never worked after five pm. After all, we weren’t monsters. Not back then.
As Featured in The Chamber Magazine
In the days since I saw the Shade (as I’ve come to call him), I have wondered if perhaps he was the product of my late-night imagination, or a bit of undigested dinner, as Dickens might say. I’ve told no one about him, although I don’t know who I would even consider telling. After all, my best friends all wear Dewey Decimal numbers on their spines, and they are much better at speaking than listening.
But there was something about the way he floated through these aisles that left me thrilled and confused, the way you can sometimes feel if you stand up too quickly and fear you will faint. When I think of him, it feels like that moment when you are still conscious enough to plan how you will fall safely, and yet still feel everything slipping away like leaves on the surface of rushing water.
But these feelings have not stopped me from imagining all sorts of stories for him.
I imagine he was born in this very library a century ago, when someone accidentally pushed a copy of Dante off a shelf as they passed. When the book hit the floor, rather that a startling crack, it landed with a whisper and a bloom. I imagine the Shade unfolding silently into being in the swirling dust. I imagine him silent and confused, as startled by his sudden birth as the books that looked upon him in their mute astonishment.
Or I imagine him birthed more slowly, as a patchwork quilt of every discontented college student and tired professor who has ever wandered here. Made up of a sigh here, a laugh there, his is a life of fatigue and panic and joy, all brought together here in this laboratory of the mind. The library seems to ask that he return something to these volumes that have given so much and asked for so little in return.
In this fancy, the Shade isn’t reading the books he scans so silently; he’s recharging them. Giving them life. Keeping them alive for those decades when not a single warm hand turns their pages.