Drew Hayden Taylor

Drew Hayden Taylor
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Sunday, October 31, 2010

A True Ghost Story for Hallowe'en

Ghost stories abound in Thunder Bay.  This tale was told to me by the owner of the house. He, himself, has never heard the ghost but his guests have mentioned  it to him. Newspaper stories of the time confirm the events.  I have changed only a few details to give the house some anonymity.

THE TAPPING OF HIGH HEELS
by Joan Baril

I buy a pair of black satin high heels at Eaton’s and wear them around the house all day, trying to break them in for Elsie’s wedding. I'm not sure why I put them on in the middle of the night. As usual I can’t sleep. When I swing out of bed, my toes touch the shoes, and so I slide my feet into them and tap my way to the kitchen to put on the kettle.

The familiar nightmare has snapped me awake. Down the hill at the port, a few blocks away, the fog horns bray and the trains beside the lake rattle all night long, their roaring and rumbling reminding me of the crowds in Madison Square Gardens. In my dream, I’m sitting as usual with the other New York Ranger wives. My husband Ron is in the net, as calm and steady as a concrete wall. But, at this point, my dream always takes a strange tack.

Suddenly, I’m sharing the net with my husband, reaching out for a glove save. ''Don't worry,'' I say to Ron as the skates clash before us spraying us with white. The referee blows his whistle as the crowd screams and I scream too. Ron’s down. He’s lying on the bed in that horrible Montreal hotel room and I’m not there beside him. In my high heels, I slide among the rushing players. I feel my screams start in my chest, over and over, soundless screams that say, “Wait, wait for me.”

Then, as always, I wake up. And, as always, I’m lying on the very edge of the bed and of course, Ron is not beside me, has not been for ten years.

Did he wake up before he died? Did he reach out for the phone to call me in Port Arthur? Did he call my name? I tap back and forth from kitchen to living room, walking the nightmare away. The shoes feel more comfortable now; I could wear them forever. They’ll look swell with my black wool dress. Black is the only colour for me but the round orange and red feather nestling up the side of my black felt hat will add a tiny spark of brightness to my outfit..

The tea kettle whistles. I settle into my favourite spot on the couch, set the ashtray on the arm and put the tea cup on the doily on the little table. The oil furnace rumbles to life giving the house a little shake. What would I have done without it? Ron never made much money in the NHL, but there was enough to pay off the mortgage on our bungalow and buy the furnace. I’m not strong enough to shovel coal or carry out ashes but the rumbling monster in the basement needs no work at all which allows me to live on in this house all alone.

The wall clock chimes four. I reach across the table and lift the curtain to see if the milk wagon is in sight. The streetlight makes a ghostly patch across the lawn. Lights shine from the house next door. Are the neighbours up early or finishing another all-night game of bridge?

Some people can play their lives away but not me. I have to sleep a little more before I go to work in the morning. I set the cigarette in the ashtray, stand and walk to the window. I used to get up at six to watch for Ron returning from the hotel where he worked as a night clerk during the summers. I’d see him walking up from the street car stop in the early light, walking his rolling walk. He always encircled me with a bear hug and we’d go to bed at once, his hands and feet cold from the early morning, his body large and warm.

To break in a pair of high heels, just walk them around the house for a day or so. I sit again and swing my feet up on the couch. Perhaps I'll rest here a bit. Strange that the curtains seem to be flickering. So much dust in the air. Shadows waft across the wallpaper. A scraping noise like the sound of snow sliding off the roof. The milkman ? So early?

They say the neighbor saw the flames. He tries to break down the door, or so it says in the newspaper, but I’ve drifted off by then. Luckily, only the front room is damaged.

You’d never know the place now, sixty years later. All the furniture is different, the wallpaper is gone but the basic house is still the same even with the new linoleum and fancy kitchen cupboards. The new owner never hears me although sometimes his guests do. They smell the smoke too. I still tap along in my black satin high heels and I still hear the crackling noise, so like snow sliding from the roof.

Perhaps I'll go into the kitchen and make a cup of tea, have another cigarette. Ron may arrive any minute and he'll see I’m still here and the house is still here too.






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