Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sophia's Carol

“Hello, my name is Sophia Gardeen and I am a nationally recognized medium here to answer all your questions about spirits and ghosts on this Christmas Eve.”  I sat there, looking into my laptop camera hoping someone would ask me a question so I wouldn’t feel so alone. It was December 24th for God’s sake and here I was - once as big as the Long Island Medium, hoping someone was watching my little webshow which to date had gotten a whopping 200 views in since I started doing it three weeks ago.  The chatroom seemed flat until I saw a question from one of my 10 viewers at the time.  
    SkinFlute69 typed in “Merry Christmas - would you suck my—“  
    “Oh my God,” I gasped realizing I had finally hit rock bottom.  Just then an apparition appeared next to me.  He looked like a college professor - his gray hair and goatee were messy. He wore a plaid button down shirt with a pen in his front pocket and khakis.  He still had his glasses on of all things - apparently he didn’t  think his sight would improve in the afterlife. 
     “I’m Bob and I have a real question.  If I were dead, would I know it?  I mean I’m an atheist so this is impossible right?”
     The last thing I wanted to do was to spend Christmas Eve with another ghost - seeing how ghosts had done nothing but ruin my life. 
     “Bob, I’m in the middle of my web show with my audience,” I said gruffly trying to shake him off. 
      “Your audience of 10, nine of which I’m pretty sure are SkinFlute under different screen names,”  he said matter-of-factly. “Look I just walked through a wall - solid matter to get here.  No one can do that and frankly I’m a little freaked out,” he continued.  I looked at him and my lackluster number of viewers. 
     “Okay, you’re right - nobody gives a shit,” I replied as I closed the laptop, ended the web show and walked over to my bar.  I poured another glass of Merlot. “I know this must be very upsetting for you, but how long ago do you think you died?”  This was not new to me.  Newly dead people would frequently seek me out and try to get clarity.  As much as possible - I would try to help them along with the hope that once they got their answers they would go onto their next step, heaven, hell or somewhere in between.  
      “Well, I don’t think I’m dead, I mean if I were dead, it would be black - stillness - nothingness.  But I’m walking and talking.  How is this possible?” 
      “What were you before - I mean what did you do?” I asked hoping each question would bring me closer to a way to get rid of him. 
     “I was-I mean-I am a scientist- I believe in science -” 
      “Okay, if I explain it to you scientifically, will you go away and leave me alone?” I said hoping he’d actually act on it. 
     “Fair enough,” he replied. 
     “Okay, what is the theory of the conservation of energy?” I asked feeling like I could put it in terms he would understand.
      “Energy is neither created or destroyed, it only changes form.” 
      “Correct,” I concurred, “Therefore that energy - that thing that made you Bob - at the point that you died - it manifested into something new - in this case it became a ghost - you are a ghost Bob!”  He thought about it for a few seconds. 
      “I’m sorry - that can’t be right.  I think therefore I am - that’s fact. This is crazy - it must be some sort of dream,” he declared still not grasping the truth. 
      “Look Bob, I know it must be tough to die on Christmas Eve - “
      “I’m an atheist - Christmas Eve means nothing to me.”  
      “Okay, if you go back to your body when it gets discovered, you will see what really happened and you will get some closure.  Now good night and good luck,” I said as I finished off my second bottle of wine and walked upstairs. Bob faded out. 

    I stood in the shower trying to wash away another lousy Christmas Eve.  Ever since Jess and I divorced, the holidays just didn’t mean anything anymore.  I turned to get the shampoo when Bob popped up in a shower cap. 
      “Hey, do you have a second?  I have another question,” he asked as I gasped and dropped the soap. “Here, let me get that.”  He bent over. 
      “GET OUT,” I shouted. Bob tried to say something else but thought better of it and once again faded out. 

      I got out of the shower, got in my robe and sat on my bed with a present that Jess had given me years ago which I had literally never opened - a first edition autographed volume of A Tale of Two Cities - a Charles Dickens’ classic.  He had found it in an antique book store in London on our last trip there when I was part of a clairvoyant panel for the Occult Convention. Those were the days when I could name my price and be flown to Europe first class.  Now, no one would even return my calls.  

      Bob appeared next to me.  “About the shower thing - I’m sorry- I’ve always had a problems with boundaries -“ then noticing the book I was reading - “Awesome novel - I’ve seen the movie they adapted from this book - it was re-titled A Sale of Two Titties. You don’t think of British women as having really big melons but there they were,”  he said casually trying to make conversation.  I just looked at him and sighed. “Hey wouldn’t A Christmas Carol be more appropriate if you’re into Charles Dickens since it’s Christmas Eve?” he asked.
      “I’m really sick of ghosts.  Besides Dickens didn’t know what the hell he was talking about ghost wise,” I replied hoping Bob would get the hint and leave.   

     Just then, the bed began to shake.  The window to my bedroom opened suddenly and let a chill in.  I was used to ghosts getting into my house but they were usually not that dramatic - generally they waited until I was awake at 3:00 am to make their presence known.  
    “What the fu-” Bob shouted looking confused and a little scared.  The books on my shelves started to fly off and swirl like they were caught in some type of vortex. 
     “Whoever you are, stop this at once!” I commanded trying to cover the fact that even I was getting a little freaked.  The swirl of books fell to the ground and there stood a man in Victorian clothing - a long black velvet waist coat, a vest, hair that was thinning on the top but a stock of wavy gray and black hair that curled on the sides of his head.  He had a long beard that was salt and pepper gray and not particularly well groomed.  His steely brown eyes looked at me harshly.  
    “How dare you cast aspersions on my story - you who claims to see the dead?” he bellowed. 
    “Okay, this dream has officially gotten weird which for me is saying a lot,” said Bob as he ducked under the covers. 
     “Well, you’re a ghost and I can see you and Bob- so I’d say I’m pretty solid in the medium department,” I shot back sarcastically.  I was pissed that he would cast aspersions on my abilities. 
      “Well, yes, you are right, you can see me but only because I will it,” Dickens declared arrogantly.
      “Look, I don’t get to talk to famous ghosts very often but you’ve caught me on a really bad night - I have quit being a medium. In fact it’s my Christmas present to me so if you both would get the hell out -“ I said as my anger and frustration started to raise. 
      “Nope, don’t believe in hell either,” said Bob under the covers. 
     “Wait, you have stopped being a medium?” said the ghost of Dickens quizzically. 
     “What do you care - from what I understand, you thought the mediums of the Victorian Era were frauds anyway.  Not a whole lot has changed now. It seems to be my curse. I don’t want to see ghosts but I see them and they always want me to do things for them and never offer to help me. The debunkers think I’m a hack and try to destroy me, the trolls online take constant shots so yeah, I'm out once and for all!” I said thinking this definitive declaration would get them both to leave. 
      "But you are legitimate - you can help mankind-“ Dickens retorted. 
      “F**K Mankind!!,” I exploded because I had enough.  

      I walked out of my room and back to my bar to get another drink.  I could feel the hot salt of tears welling up in my eyes.  Christmas had rarely worked out well for me and tonight was no exception. Maybe if I got drunk enough, I would sleep right through it. I sucked back another glass of wine and closed my eyes on the daybed hoping I was too drunk to see anymore ghosts. 

The buzz of the my iPhone woke my up at 2:00 a.m.  I saw an older woman - maybe

65 standing nearby waiting for me to wake up.  She had the typical white pallor and dark eyes of a ghost with a short cut reminiscent of the 1980’s.  I uttered a “Holy shit, really?!” because I really didn’t want to see more ghosts tonight or frankly ever. 
     “Watch your language please Sophia, I’m actually here to help you,” she said with all the authority of a grandmother.  
     “A ghost who actually wants to help me?  Will wonders never cease?” I said sarcastically. I started to get up and nearly walked into another older women ghost also in her 60’s who looked like she had just walked out of a garden club meeting. 
     “Yes, we definitely want to help!”  I saw Bob and Dickens sitting in the other room looking at my computer. 
     “Dammit Bob, did you call in reinforcements?”  Bob looked up from the laptop. 

“Actually, I don’t know who these women are, but judging from the hair, I’m pretty sure they’re lesbians.”  Charles Dickens laughed as the female ghosts looked disgusted.  I looked at the other older woman who tried to make me feel better. She introduced herself as MeMa and the other woman as Nana. It was interesting because neither woman was related to me. 
    “We know you’re having a bad time, but we want to you see how important your gift is,” she said. 
    “Gift - you think what I have is a gift?  This gift has cost me everything and everyone I’ve ever loved,” I said with tears streaming down my face - I just could not hold it back any more. 
    “There, there,” said Nana.  “Maybe it would help if you could get a glimpse of your past.” 
      “Ah, yes, the ghosts of past - that sounds like a good idea - you good ladies go and we’ll stay here and look into this wonderful future machine,” Dickens chimed in quickly hoping to get rid of us.  

     Out of curiosity I walked over to see what they were looking at and saw that Bob had pulled up
     "You’re using my laptop to go on a porn site?” I reproached. 
     “I thought Chuck might want to see how the modern world is interpreting his work,” Bob reasoned.  “Besides, the actor Charles Dick-in does some nice work in this one.” 
     “C’mon dear, let’s leave these two pervs and explore your past,” said Nana. 
     “Capital idea!” replied Dickens happily. “Off you go!” 
     “Just hold our hands and close your eyes and we’re on our way,” instructed MeMa.

     I had never tried to hold the hand of a ghost.  I’d been touched by them plenty of times - but never tried to actually hold on. I took their hands which were cold but the center was very warm. The room started to spin. I was being pulled through a vortex of light - bright gold, orange, red and blue whizzing by me. I felt like I was out of my body but still very aware of it at the same time. We landed in the living room of the house where I had grown up, the one my mother still owns and lives in.  It was Christmas morning when I was five years old.  My father was there - looking as young and handsome as ever. My mother was smiling and lavishing affection on me - something I scarcely remembered.  

    “Sugar Bear, open this next one - I think that Santa might I have heard your Christmas wish.”  He handed me a large box covered with red and green wrapping paper and a top that you just lifted off.  I took off the top of the box and a little pair of snow white ears slowly raised up out of the box.  Then a pink nose followed by a soft meow.  A white kitten popped out of the box and started to run around the living room in circles then quickly climbed up the Christmas tree.  My five year old self squealed with delight. 
     "How sweet is that?” commented Nana.  Daddy got the kitten out of the tree and handed her to me. 
     “What are you going to name her,” asked Mother. 
     “How about Sassy?” I said as I kissed her head,"because she’s a sassy girl like me.  I will love you forever!” A group “Ahh” came from mother, father, Nana and MeMa.  
     “You see, this is a happy Christmas!” said Nana. 
      “Okay, can we fast forward to Christmas a year later?” I asked.
      “Uh, sure,” said MeMa not knowing what she was walking into. 

     The scene changed to me at six sitting quietly on the couch, my mother drinking wine and Etta my nanny trying to make conversation.  She didn’t usually work on holidays but sensed that we might need her since her sons were spending Christmas with their father. Daddy had divorced Mother a few months earlier and we were waiting for him to arrive. 
     “Where’s Sassy?” MeMa asked and then immediately wished she could take it back. 
    “Sassy died a few months before Christmas.  She got hit by a car when the plumber accidentally let her out.  I prayed to God to let me see her again and he answered my prayers by letting me see her ghost whenever I wanted to.  But then that opened a whole doorway for other ghosts to enter - like ancestors who had to unload a ton of family secrets.  I had embarrassed my mother at the family reunion by spilling the information the ghost of Granddaddy told me. So this Christmas, my Mother was newly divorced and half drunk, my kitten was dead and my Daddy was no longer living with us.  My only saving grace was Etta,” I said sadly.
     “We probably should have researched this a little better,” Nana whispered to MeMa. 
     "I know, right?” she replied.

Etta walked over behind the Christmas tree and handed me a present.
“Here you go
baby girl, something special for my special little sugar lump,” she said sweetly.  I took the package and smiled back.  Etta could always make me feel better and I wished she was my real mother any number of times.  I wanted to her her deep brown skin and dark eyes. She looked a lot like Diane Carroll.  I opened the paper and saw the beautiful face of a Julia doll staring back at me.  I had actually gotten exactly what I wanted - the doll from my favorite TV show which I would watch on VHS. 
     “Thank you Etta, I love her,” I said and for the first time that Christmas I was happy.  
     “Oh Sophia, I’m not sure about that doll -“ Mother started in just as Daddy walked in the house. 
      “Not sure about what?” asked Daddy.  
      “DADDY!!” I said as I ran over and got a hug. 
      “Merry Christmas my little Sugar Bear - what do you have there?” he asked while holding me in his strong arms. 
      “It’s a Julia doll - Etta gave it to me,” I squealed as I realized that maybe this Christmas would not be that terrible after all.  “She sure is pretty Sugar Bear - thank you Etta,” said Daddy smiling broadly at Etta. 
      “Well you can play with her in the house but don’t take her out of the here,” Mother said tersely. 
      “But the Wilson sisters also asked Santa for Julia dolls and -“  
      “Enough about the Wilsons and Julia dolls,” snapped mother who was on her fourth glass of wine. 
      “Maybe I should check on dinner,” said Etta.   

“It’s a little early in the day to be drinking Laura -especially on Christmas in front of Sophia,” Daddy said  as he put the cork back on the wine bottle. 
“Well then, if you are so worried about us - why don’t you move back in and solve everything for everyone?  Or are you too busy seeing that whore?” yelled mother.

I started to back out of the living room and ran into the kitchen right into Etta’s arms.  I did that a lot lately when Mother and Daddy started to fight. 
“For God’s sake Laura, it’s Christmas - get it together for Sophia’s sake,” Daddy shouted back.  

     I held onto Etta and my Julia doll just hoping my parents would go away and I could spend the rest of the day with the one person who really loved me. They continued to have a full fledged shouting match until my father stomped into the kitchen. 

    “Etta, get Sophia in a dress and put on your coat, we’re going to the club for Christmas dinner. Put out a plate for Miss Laura - she will not be joining us.” 
     “But Mr. Cal - I’m not sure they will allow me - “ Etta started. 
      “I was just voted in as the Chairman of the club and I can invite whoever I want and today I want you to join us.  You deserve a nice meal and a bonus.  You’re more family to Sophia than her own mother,” Daddy remarked just as mother walked into the kitchen.
    "You are not taking my daughter to the club without me - what will people think?” 
    “Probably that you’re too drunk to take part in Christmas - now get out of my way.  Sophia is spending the night with me at my place,” Daddy said. 
    “Etta, I have Sophia’s overnight bag in the car - there’s a dress in there you can put her in.”  My six year old self started to cry as my adult self stepped back horror. One again I was being used as a pawn in my parent’s divorce. 

     I stumbled into Nana and MeMa and immediately felt like I was traveling through that vortex again.  This time it was me in my late 20’s, a married woman having my first Christmas Eve with my husband Jess.  Our humble apartment seemed so quaint now. I realized how much I missed those days - just me and him.  No real fame to speak of.  Our little Christmas tree was in the corner and dinner was cooking in the oven. We were expecting company any minute but Jess still tried to heat things up in our little kitchen. 
    “Damn girl, you can cook!” he said pulling my blond hair aside and kissing me on my neck.  I put down my cooking mitts and looked into his brown eyes as I wrapped my arms around his waist.  He was the sexiest man I had ever met and I adored my husband with all my heart - with him I felt completely safe.   
     “We had better stop or your father is going to get an eyeful and would have every reason to kick my ass.” 
      “My dad really likes you and so does Etta,” I replied. 
      “But you’re mother is another story - I don’t know if she’ll ever get over the fact you married a black man.” 
     “Well, when she gets here and sees how happy we are, she’ll change her mind, I just know it,” I said with all the optimism of a native young woman. 

     The doorbell rang and I ran to open it.  There stood Daddy, my strawberry blond step mother Cynthia and my two teenage light blond half sisters Abby and Patricia.       
      “Hello Sugar Bear,” said Daddy.  My father got a tender embrace while Cynthia and the girls got an obligatory air kiss.  I’d never grown very close to them but we were civil at least which was more than I could say about my relationship with my real mother. The doorbell rang again and there was Etta, looking just as beautiful as ever - she never seemed to age.  I reserved my biggest hug for her.  Jess stepped forward and shook my father’s hand and gave out hugs to everyone including my sisters who I think got a secret thrill from it. 
     “Where’s mother?” I asked knowing the answer. 
     “Miss Laura was not feeling well today so she decided to stay home - you can go and visit her tomorrow - I think she’d like that,” said Etta trying to cushion the blow.  I took a deep breath and just let it wash over me.  My mother would never approve of me or my marriage but at least the people who wanted to be here were in my living room and that’s what mattered.  Even Cynthia was making an effort so she got points for that.  

      I put out the onion dip and chips as Daddy and Jess settled into the living room to watch the Hula Bowl - East vs. West.  Abby and Patricia went to sit with the men.  Abby because she had Daddy wrapped around her  little finger and Patricia because she had a thing for Jess. It was actually kind of cute - she followed him around like a puppy.  That left Etta, Cynthia and me in the kitchen of our little apartment as I tried to finish dinner. 
      “So how is married life?” asked Cynthia trying to make conversation.
     “It’s great - best decision I ever made,” I said confidently.  
     “Sophia, do you want me to take out the turkey?” asked Etta who never seemed to take a day off. 
     “No Ma’am I am cooking for you tonight, so sit down and have a glass of wine and relax,” I playfully demanded.  Etta laughed and complied as did Cynthia. 
     “You see - this looks like a good Christmas,” said MeMa hopefully.  

     Just then the phone rang and my younger self answered it. It was the Montel Williams Show.  Sylvia Browne had cancelled at the last minute and they needed a new medium to help with predictions for 1991.  I explained that I spoke to people who had passed and did not predict the future.  The producer liked that idea better and suggested coming to a taping on December 26th.  I would need to take the red eye on Christmas night if I was going to make the taping at 2:00 p.m. in Los Angeles. I asked the producer if I could call her back.  Cynthia and Etta had overheard the conversation and looked a little uncomfortable.  My head was spinning - this could be my big break but why did it need to come on Christmas night?  

     “Hey Jess,” I said sweetly.  
     "Yeah babe,” he answered back.  
     “I need to get something in the bedroom for dinner - could you help me?” Jess looked at me quizzically as we walked into our room.  
     “Sophia, I know you like getting you’re freak on, but we can’t do it with your family out there -“ he started. 
     “No Jess, it’s not that.  I just got a call from The Montel Williams show and they want me to appear on December 26th.” 
     “That’s great Babe - this could be your big break!” he said genuinely happy for me. 
      “Here’s the problem -I’d have to take the 11:00 p.m. flight out of Atlanta - and we were going to do Christmas tomorrow night with your family and I don’t want to cut it short.  I’m not sure what to do.  I mean our first Christmas - I want it to be special and to have time to enjoy it with your family,” I said filled with uncertainty.
      “Look, they are only an hour from here - you can pack after company leaves tonight and we’ll go earlier for brunch - trust me - mealtime is every hour on hour on Christmas at my mother’s house.  We’ll stay there all day and leave around 8:00 p.m. since the airport is about 45 minutes from there. We can do this,” he assured. I looked at him - loving the fact that he supported me. 
      “Just another of the thousands or reasons of why I love you!” I said. 
     “Besides, I can give you a big send-off and we’ll have New Years together.  This is the start of great things for you babe,” and with that he gave me an incredibly passionate kiss.  

     “Okay, so this Christmas was a winner,” said Nana feeling vindicated. 
     “Let’s go to the last Christmas Eve Jess and I spent together,” I replied sadly. We fast forwarded to the house I live in now.  Unlike the little apartment which was brimming with tacky holiday decorations, stuffed Santas and stockings hanging from the fire place, the house did not have any Christmas decorations - not even a Christmas tree. It was cold and dark. Jess had a bag and was leaving. 

     “Jess, I’m sorry, it’s just that Good Morning America is doing a special about ghosts and they want me to be part of it with John Edward. I hate that they always ask on the holidays -“ I said pleadingly.
     “No, Sophia, it’s just that you don’t think enough of us to decline the offer - you never tell them no.  Our relationship is just an afterthought - a place you can come back to when all the stresses of being on the road get to you.  I’m tired of playing second fiddle to your career.  Family is important to me-“
      “It’s important to me too-“ I replied. 
       “I’d never know it - you’ve changed since that first Christmas 12 years ago - even then you had to leave to do Montel.” He finished not in anger but in a sad resignation that I would never change. He kissed me on the top of the head and closed the door leaving me alone on Christmas Eve. 

     Standing there seeing it replayed with the grandmothers I wanted to scream “No, give me another chance - please, I love you, I need you - I was an asshole but I can change, please, don’t go.”  It reminded me of the day Daddy left Mother right after our family reunion.  There I was feeling like that same abandoned little girl except this time my pain was self-inflicted.  I started to cry.  The grandmothers tried to embrace me but I pushed them away just like everyone else in my life. ”I just want to go now please.” 

      We flew back through the vortex and found Bob and Charles Dickens smoking cigars and still looking at the laptop. 
      “Hello Lesbians and Sophia, how did it go?” asked Bob.  
      “We are not lesbians,” said Nana tersely. 
      “Well I experimented in grad school, doesn’t that count?” replied MeMa. 
      “It was the 1960’s dear, we all did,” Nana rejoined.  Dickens’ cigar dropped out of his mouth.
      “Please tell me we are in the 1960’s!” he asked Bob excitedly.  Bob just shook his head sadly. 

     “Can you all please go - I need to be alone,” I said as I got out some Bath and Body Works deodorizer to kill the smell of the ghostly cigars. 
     “I’m sorry the past was not to your liking but perhaps the present will help put things into perspective,” said Dickens hopefully. 
     “In fact I know just the ghost who can help you.” he said looking at Bob.  Bob looked over his shoulder and back at Dickens and the grandmothers quizzically and then realized what they expected him to do.
    “Oh, okay, I’m supposed to be a Christmas Carol Ghost,” Bob said sarcastically in air quotes. “Well, this dream has taken yet another weird turn.” 
     “Please Bob, you’re the one who is best suited for the present seeing how you just died, you’re more current then we are,” replied Nana.
     “Okay, this is still just a dream so I’ll try to satisfy your demand ladies but keep in mind I expect some serious payback,” he said as he winked at Nana. “Now, what am I supposed to do?” Bob asked. 
     “Just take Sophia’s hand and off you go,” said Dickens as he tried to get rid of Bob quickly.  The room started spinning again and the vortex started to pull us through.        “Hey, this is just like a DNA helix,” Bob said just before we disappeared. 
     “So ladies, can I interest you in one of these amazing web places that Bob has shown me.  How about The Old Bi-Curiousity Shop?” Dickens asked hopefully.  

     Bob and I landed in a light blue room full of posters of The Long Island Medium, Ghost Adventures and The Dead Files. It was not a room I recognized but the young girl seemed familiar.  She was on her computer looking at the YouTube video that had pretty much led to my downfall - the one where I was drunk at Clairvoyant Con and beat the crap out of a redneck.  It was right up to the part where a teenage girl asked about being a medium. 

    “Hi, I’m a sensitive and would like to be a medium and want to know what it’s like,” she asked with a look of idol worship on her face.  I stood there with Bob wanting to click off the computer because I knew what came next. 
    “You want to me a medium?” my YouTube self asked half mocking. 
    “Yes, I think I would be good at it and it looks like fun,” she replied with a sweet smile on her face.  I then launched into a half drunken tirade on why she should not do it- the ghosts are assholes, they never leave you alone, I had to get drunk to stop seeing them and let her know that I was half drunk while I was talking to her.  Click here to see the video. Bob looked over at me and seemed disappointed. 
“Wow, some people think I’m a douche - but you - you crushed that poor little girl’s spirit,” he admonished. I looked at her face in her room and on the computer screen and he was right - the poor thing was crestfallen.  She was in her room alone on Christmas Eve.  A comment popped up on YouTube which read:  “The girl is just as stupid as the medium - what losers!”

    “Nickie, c’mon to church you’ll feel better,” said a voice from outside the room. 
    “I don’t feel like it, Mom,” she replied sadly. 
    “That video has been up for three years, replaying it is not going to change anything - now come on, your sisters and grandparents are waiting.” Nickie got her crutches - it was then I noticed that she had a cast on her leg.  Before she left the room, she looked directly our way, smiled then nodded and walked out.  

   “You have got to do something to help her,” said Bob suddenly sounding like a spirit guide.
    “I don’t know what to do - I feel like shit seeing this.  I never meant to hurt her - I was just sad and drunk - Jess had just left me. I snapped and was rude to her - beat up that redneck - then some asshole uploaded this and I was ruined-“ I realized that all the things I was saying were just lousy excuses for hurting an innocent person. I had basically done to her what so many people in my life had done - easily dismissed me for being able to see ghosts.  

     Bob touched my shoulder to help me feel better but it instantly it took us to another Christmas scene in the present. It was Jess in his townhouse which was decked out with a Christmas tree and a fire place with stockings on the mantel.  He had a couple of glasses of egg nog and handed one to a woman whose face I could not see.  It didn’t matter, the idea of Jess with someone else really stung. 
     “Here you go babe,” he said with the same affectionate tone he that was once reserved for me.
     “Do you ever hear from Sophia?” he asked the woman on the couch.  That question shook me up, why would this woman be in touch with me? 
     “No not really.  It’s not like we were ever that close, but once your divorce was final, she closed herself off from everyone including Daddy.”  Just then I recognized the voice - it was Patricia.  

    “Whoa, do you mean to tell me that your ex-husband is dating your half-sister - that is screwed up in a very Southern way,” said Bob incredulously.
     “Thank you for pointing that out Bob - I would have had no idea,” I said sarcastically.
     “You’re welcome - I’m here to help,” then sensing my sarcasm, “Oh, okay - sorry but that is some hard core betrayal. I can see why you drink so much,” he said in an another attempt to comfort me. 
      “At what point am I supposed to feel better about my life and my choices?” I asked.
     “I don’t have a clue, the grandmothers just sent me here to -“ then realizing Dickens’ ploy, “Now, I get it - Dickens wanted a three-way with the lesbians. Well isn’t that cheeky? I have to hand it to that dirty old limey, that was well played.”  This time the vortex started up and we ended up at my mother’s house. 

    My mother was sitting all alone, with a small Christmas tree and a few candles burning.  Etta was trying to get her to eat some breakfast but she wasn’t having any of it.  She still looked somewhat attractive, but the booze was taking it’s toll. Etta no longer worked for her but was now married to my father and a para-legal at his firm. My mother was actually okay with the two of them being married, far more than she was with Cynthia. In her eyes, Cynthia had been a direct rejection but Etta was so different from her that it didn't even sting that much and they remained friends. She would still visit mother to see how she was doing.  Mother’s bright blue eyes which looked at me so affectionately during that Christmas when I was five had dimmed. She had dark circles around her eyes which were bloodshot.  She looked like she had been crying.  I’d never seen my mother quite this vulnerable before. 

    “For God’s sake Etta, I don’t want anything to eat.  It was nice of you to come over but don’t you want to be with Cal and your family?” mother asked. The word family out of Mother’s mouth struck me - I’d never known what that really was.  Etta was the only constant in my life for years and years. She was the one person who genuinely seemed to care for me and how did I repay her?  By barely calling - too self absorbed in my own misery to pick up the phone and say I missed her.  Mother poured another glass of Merlot. 
     “Wow, it’s 8:00 in the morning and your mother sucks it down as fast as you do,” said Bob with his usual tact. That revelation hit me like a bitch slap to the face. Her drinking was out of control - my drinking was out of control. Holy shit, I was turning into my own mother. We were both drunk, bitter and lonely on Christmas. 

     I closed my eyes and suddenly I was back at my house with the Grandmothers and Charles Dickens having some brandy out of some Christmas snifters that I never used.  “Oh, good you’re back - so good to see you ducky!” said a gregarious Dickens. 
      “I had no idea that ghosts could down 20 year old brandy,” I said as I took the glass from his hand, “Please tell me this night is almost over,” I begged.
     “Yeah, it hasn’t gone so well. Sophia got to see her ex-husband getting it on with her younger half-sister. AWKWARD! Then there was the young girl whose spirit she crushed, and then there was her Mom who drinks like a fish,” explained Bob who was getting on my last nerve.       “That’s it, everyone out of here now,” I yelled and this time they were going to listen.

      “I know this night has been difficult,” said Dickens softening his tone. “But you need to see what the future holds for you - “
      “Let me guess - for my own good so I can put it all in perspective.  Well from my perspective - this has been a cluster f**k and I feel worse now than when the evening started - so if you could all just go-“ I said sternly. 
     “No, just give me one more chance,” said Dickens.
     “Here take my hand,” he offered and once again we were flying through time.  

       We landed at a funeral home where people were viewing my mother’s body in a mahogany casket. I saw Abby with her husband along with Patricia and Jess.  They were not really crying - they just seemed to be there out of a sense of duty.  Then Daddy and Etta walked up - they were genuinely shaken up. Etta put a rose on the top of the casket.  Then another woman whose face I could not see approached. She was inconsolable.  Etta and Daddy tried to comfort her but she pushed them away and threw herself across the casket sobbing. 
     “Good God, that woman needs to get it together,” I commented to Dickens. He didn’t say anything, he just pointed back to the scene.  I got a little closer and realized that the hysterical woman was my mother. Shock ran over me - if this was my mother - then who was the person she was mourning for?  I took a good look at the corpse in the casket and realized it was me just a few years from now.  I backed away in shock. 
     “But how - did I?” I asked in a daze.
     “You overdosed and Etta found you, no one could get in touch with you and she went over to your house,” Dickens said sadly, “You went from booze to pills.  You were just a footnote in the tabloids.”  I then saw a white mass raise from the casket - I was watching my own ghost pull out of my body.  

     The scene shifted to an apartment with Nickie the young girl I had humiliated in the YouTube video.  My ghost was trying to talk to her but she pretended not to hear it.  She went to the refrigerator and pulled out a beer and guzzled it down. 
    “I don’t want to talk to you and if I drink enough tonight I won’t see you either,” she said with bitterness in her voice.  My ghost-like self kept trying to get her attention by moving objects and knocking things over in anger.  I could feel my angst raising and felt another celestial bitch slap coming on - the realization that I had now turned Nickie into me.  She was headed down the same sad path and I could do nothing to save her. 
      “Hey, it doesn’t have to be this way! Please don’t give up - please don’t give up - PLEASE!!!” I turned to Dickens, “She doesn’t have to be this way, she can help them - me - the ghosts right? She’s not going to turn her back on them?” 
     “Well she tried once a few years ago to be a medium and then someone told her not to be who she was and she’s never been the same since,” said Dickens sadly.  

     Just then I saw a mass of shadow figures emerged from the darkness and start to attack my ghost. I looked to Nickie to help - to say something to get them to leave but she just sighed and finished her beer.  I could hear the ghostly image of myself start to moan and scream - then all the light vanished from the room including Dickens.  I could feel a bone chilling coldness on my body and my breath leaving my body. The shadow figures felt like they were pulling me apart and sucking the life out of me. I tried to get away but couldn’t.
     “No, not now, I can’t die now, please, please, PLEASE!!” I screamed.

I opened my eyes and tried to catch my breath. I was back in my house covered with
sweat and shivering.  The grandmothers brought me some blankets and tea.         “There, there dear, it’s okay,” they said soothingly.  I didn’t say anything for a long time. I was still processing what I had seen.  Finally after a few sips of tea I said, “I have to make a change - I can’t go on like this.”  I looked around and saw Bob on my laptop in the kitchen. 
    “Don’t worry dear, he’s not looking at anymore porn sites,” said MeMa.
    “If you are really ready to make a change, we might be able to help,” said Nana hopefully.
    “How can you two help?” I asked taking another sip of tea.       “Well we know that you have at best three to six months of money left before you are completely broke-”
    “How the hell do you know that?” I asked.
    “You left your on-line banking window open,” shouted Bob from the kitchen.  "Your user name and password list was on a post-it next to the keyboard.
     “Our grandsons are ghost hunters and they are auditioning for this show on the Supernatural Channel in the next few months-“ 
     “Wait, so this was all a ploy to get me to do a show with a pair of stupid ghost hunters?”
     “No dear, it was not a ploy and they are not stupid,” explained MeMa, ”what you saw was genuine - your past was awful but the future is still an open book - nothing is set in stone yet.  You can change it.”  I sat there pondering what they were saying.  I realized that as much as I didn’t like the idea of working with ghost hunters it was still better then drinking myself into an oblivion. 
     “The American public loves a comeback and our grandsons could sure use the help, what have you got to lose?” asked Nana.  

   “I hate to admit it, but the lesbians are right,” said Bob from the other room handing out another left-handed compliment. 
  “Okay, you’re right, I don’t have anything to lose. I’ll do it.”  I took another sip of tea and realized that the sun was rising. “Wait, what day is it?” I asked in a near panic. 
     “It’s Christmas Day, dear,” said MeMa. 
     “Oh, thank God, I haven’t missed it.  But how do I even begin to make it up to…“ I said as I thought of my parents, Etta, and Nickie.
     “Redemption is just a phone call away,” said Nana as she pointed to my iPhone.  

     I picked up my cell and put it down a six times before I got the courage up to call my father who was usually up early no matter what day it was.
     “Hey Daddy, it’s Sophia.  I was wondering if I could stop over today and wish you and Etta a Merry Christmas,” I said as tears started to roll down my face.
    “Sugar Bear!” he said as his voice cracked.  We talked for over an hour about Etta, her sons, his firm and Abby.  He was very careful not to mention Patricia because he understood the mind field that went from one sister to another and the man they both loved. I told him about the possibility of working on a new show. We decided to meet for dinner since he had breakfast planned with Cynthia and her girls and lunch with Etta and her sons. Even though I was in a forgiving mood, it was going to take me time to work up to seeing Patricia and Jess together.  

      He handed the phone to Etta and we picked up from the last time we’d seen each other. She kept on saying that she had prayed for this day and God had heard her prayers and it was her best Christmas present ever. Then she asked me if I had called Mother. I hesitated - I wanted to but what would I say?
     “Baby girl, you just need to say Merry Christmas and let God take care of the rest.”  

      I sat there for a few minutes wondering what I would really say. I pressed Mother’s home number on my phone and wondered if it would be easier to just leave a message - maybe she wouldn’t recognize the number and pick up.  It rang four times and I got ready to leave a message when I heard her voice say “Sophia?” 
      “Hello mother, Merry Christmas,” I said trying to keep my voice from shaking.  There was silence and I wondered if this was a huge mistake.
     “Mom, are you there?” I asked wondering if she had hung up on me like the last time we talked.
     “No, I’m still here - Merry Christmas.”  This was by far was the most awkward conversation of the day, but I was not going to give up.
     “Hey, if you want I can come over and make french toast like the kind we used to get a Le Pierre remember?”       “Well, Etta is coming over to check on me since Cal is having breakfast with his girls. Maybe the three of us could have breakfast together,” she said quietly.  
     “I’d like that Mom, see you in an hour.”  I put down the phone and my soul felt instantly lighter.  The grandmothers looked pleased.  

     “There you see dear, this is really what we wanted you to do - reconnect with those that

you love,” said Nana sweetly. 
    “Why don’t you make some coffee and get ready to see your Mother,” said MeMa.  As I walked out of the living room, Bob walked over to the grandmothers and put his arms around their shoulders.
     “Hey how about you ladies tell my all about those crazy days experimenting in grad school,” he said hoping to score some holiday action.
    “Nope, not gonna happen,” Nana laughed. 
     “In your dreams Atheist Boy,” retorted MeMa laughing.  The grandmothers faded out leaving Bob alone.
    “Wow, rejected by two women at once, this does feel like college.”

    Just as my coffee was brewing I noticed that Bob had opened my in-box and there was an e-mail saying “Thank you Miss Sophia!!!” from someone I didn’t know but it didn’t seem to be spam.  I opened it and saw Nickie’s smiling face on a webcam. 

“Hello Miss Sophia.  Thank you so much for the $1,000 Amazon gift card for me and
my family. It was not going to be much of a Christmas since my mom got laid off from her job but we’ve had fun today picking out things for the family to enjoy.  Thank you again and December 27th at 5:00 p.m. sounds like a great time to Skype and tell you about me wanting to be a medium. See you then!” The recording stopped but Nickie’s sweet face had a huge smile on it.  I turned to Bob who was trying not to smile. 

   “You sent Nickie a $1,000 gift card from my Amazon account? Are you crazy? How did you get her information to send it?” I asked both pissed that he had spent that much money on a gift card but glad that she was so happy.

   “While you were going on about that whole YouTube video in her room, I looked at her e-mail address on her laptop and got her social media info. You also left your Amazon window open. You’ll be working again soon and we had to make it right for that sweet young girl - it’s Christmas for crying out loud.”  

It’s not often that a spirit surprises me but Bob was not a ghost that I could put in any one category. 
    “For someone who doesn’t believe in Christmas, you have certainly been Santa’s little helper,”  I observed.
    “Look, I maybe an atheist but I do believe in certain aspects of Christmas - the whole peace on earth, goodwill towards man idealism is actually pretty awesome.  It’s just the judgmental Christians that gripe my ass. If they were actually like Jesus: patient, forgiving and kind, then the world would be a better place,” he replied. 

    “Well Bob, you might have just saved the holiday for Nickie’s family,” I said as I poured myself a fresh cup of coffee. 
     “Thanks, but don’t expect me to say ‘God bless us Everyone!’ do you?”
      “I don’t,” I laughed.  

   Dickens, Nana and MeMa were hovering above the kitchen looking down on the little scene. 
     “How did I do ladies?” asked Dickens.
     “Mission accomplished,” said Nana smiling. 
     “So ladies, about those sexy college days?” Dickens asked as he and the giggling grandmothers faded out. 

    “It looks like a pretty Christmas day. I hope I wake up soon,” said Bob still not grasping that he was a ghost. 
    “I know,” I said trying not to upset him,
     “But until you do, Merry Christmas, Bob.” 
     “Merry Christmas, Sophia,” he replied warmly. And for the first time in a very long time - it was. 

For more on Sophia Gardeen and the rest of the Ghost Wanderers cast go to

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Haunted Kindergarten - 1969

I remember how much my black Hushpuppy penny loafers were killing me on my first day of Kindergarten.  I just wanted to wear my jeans and a t-shirt with my old sneakers, but my mother insisted that I wear a dress with ruffles with those new shoes. I was scared because this was the first time I would be around other little kids who were not my cousins.  I also had developed the ability to see dead people during the summer.  I spilled the beans about the family secrets at my mother’s family reunion which went over like gang busters (there is nothing like a six year old telling the family where they had screwed up via the Patriarch Granddaddy who had passed 20 years earlier).  Couple that with the fact that my father had left my mother during the same summer and you had a perfect storm for my first day of school.  

My mother had tried to limit my exposure to outsiders in the last few weeks of summer because she was afraid that I might see another ghost and spill more family secrets.  Besides my mother, I got to spend time with our maid Etta who I adored and the feeling was mutual.  Her children were grown so having a little girl who idolized her probably felt pretty good.  She was not freaked out about the fact that I could see ghosts.  She was originally from New Orleans where tales of ghosts and voodoo were quite common.   On the days when mother was losing patience with me, Etta would say “Miss Laura, I’ll keep an eye on Sophia while you lie down.”  Mother would smile gratefully and go to her room for the rest of the night while Etta and I made cookies and talked before I went to bed.  I looked forward to those times with her because it felt like this is how a mother should be.  I loved her with all my heart.   She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, her dark skin, eyes and hair seemed to exude an exotic beauty I would never have.  

“Child,” she said while brushing my long blond hair one night before bed, “You have the gift - there is no mistake about that, but you have to be careful.  There are people around here that don’t take to others being different.  When you are with the other folks out there, you have to fit in.  You can talk to me about ghosts all you want, but don’t be troubling your mother, father or other people because they won’t understand it and folks just hate what they don’t understand,” she said with the sad resignation of a black woman who had lived in the south all her life.  Even if it was 1969 and TV was becoming integrated, the real South was not going quietly into that good night and I just couldn't understand that.  “Yes, ma’am, but how come being different is so bad?” I asked with such childlike innocence it almost made Etta cry.  “People like what they know, child and they want to destroy what they fear.  Now let’s say our prayers.”   Etta had taught me prayers to keep the bad spirits away and the good ones nearby. When we finished praying I would hug her with all my might.  She would tuck me in, kiss my forehead and waved as she closed the door.  

“That woman is a God send, and I should know,” said Granddaddy- the ghost of my great grandfather.  He would visit me every night carrying the ghost of my baby cat Sassy who had been hit by a car six months before.  “She’s right about folks thinking you are different.  Hell it’s been over a 100 years and you got folks still fighting the Civil War - you think they are going to embrace civil rights?   You need to be careful Sophia.  When you start school, try to fit in and if you see ghosts, try to ignore them.”  “Yes ‘em, Granddaddy - I will,” I said with all the steely determination a pre-Kindergarten child could muster.  

That summer, I asked my mother if I could have a TV in my room and she relented because it meant that I would stay upstairs and out of her way when she had company. Etta and I would watch Bill Cosby in I Spy and Diane Carroll in Julia.  I would see the world through this TV lens of integrated possibilities and it seemed so much more interesting and exciting then the people I saw day to day except for my Etta.  She was the one person in the world who loved me for me and not for the person that my mother wanted me to be.  

So here we were on the first day of school -  my mother and I standing at the gates of Blue Lakes Elementary.  My mother wanted a private school but my father bulked at the price and thought that a newly desegregated public school would do me good.  “Now Sophia, play nice with the other children and don’t do anything strange, I’m begging you – please don’t,” mother said in an uncharacteristically pleading tone. “I know, Etta and Granddaddy told me not to,” I replied. My mother winced when I said Granddaddy since she knew he was one of the ghosts I talked to. 

“Hello, I’m Chrissie Bentley, I’ll be your child’s Kindergarten teacher.   Now who do we have here? “ said Miss Bentley who had just graduated with a Master’s in Early Childhood education from Georgia State.  She was young, pretty and wore a flowery blouse with a short skirt and boots - professional and mod at the same time.  “This is Sophia, and she’s a little shy, so -“ mother replied.  “Well, everyone is shy on the first day, but there are lots of children to play with,” said Miss Bentley.  

“Look those girls might want to be your friend,” mother replied hopefully.  One of the little girls from a group near the playground ran up and introduced herself. “Hey, my name is Betty - want to play?”  I squeezed my mother’s hand tighter not wanting her to leave but she made a point of letting go anyway.  “Now go on Sophia - this is a new start for you- take it.”   Mother said hopefully, and left quickly scarcely looking back. 

Betty took my hand and smiled.  She brought me over to a group of girls playing with dolls.  They had blond hair, frilly dresses and new shoes like mine.  They told me I was pretty and handed me a doll to play with.  I saw two other girls who were black sitting in the corner talking but they didn’t have dolls.  They had big brown eyes with long eyelashes and braids with brightly colored hair ties with large florescent beads on the end. They looked sad so I did what any right thinking six year old would have done, I asked the other girls if they could join us.  “No Sophia, those Negro girls can’t - we don’t have enough dolls,” said Betty with an irritating air of authority.  “They can have my doll,” I said trying to easily solve the problem.  “That ain’t it,” said Sherry - one of the other white girls, “we just don’t want to play with them.”   “Why not?” I asked still not comprehending their narrow way of thinking.  “Because, they are Negros - “ Betty said and shot an exasperated look at me that showed that I lacked the ability to grasp the obvious. I sat quietly and I tried to stay with those white girls.  I tried to blend in.  But I felt sick to my stomach.  It just felt wrong.   

I knew those other girls felt excluded and I knew how that felt.  I saw the ghost of a young black man in uniform sitting next to them, trying to get their attention to let them know he was there.  He looked over at me and we made eye contact.  I looked away, not because I was scared, but because I was not supposed to talk to ghosts.  I had promised mother, Granddaddy and more importantly, I had promised Etta.  I understood now why they were so sad.  This man was their father who was killed in Vietnam.   I just sat there with my eyes closed hoping he would go away, but when I opened them he was next to me speaking to me softly, trying to comfort me.   “Hey there little miss,” he said with a kind voice, “I know you can see me - don’t be scared.  I won’t hurt you.”  “I know you won’t,” I said back.  “I won’t what?” asked Betty thinking I was talking to her.  Thinking fast, I said, “I won’t bother you, I’m going to get another toy,” I walked over to side of the playground where the box ball equipment was.  The young soldier followed me.  

“I’m not supposed to talk to ghosts,” I whispered hoping no one could hear me.  “I know - I tell my daughters to never talk to strangers, but those two are my baby twin girls and I wanted them to have a good first day of school.  It breaks my heart that I can’t be with them in person, but if you could tell them I’m here and I love them, it would mean the world to me,” he said quietly.   “I can try.  I’m sorry you died in Vierrname,” I said.   He tried to smile briefly at my inability to say the right name. “My name is Lieutenant Bobby Wilson and I fought for my country in Laos in Operation Dewey Canyon side by side with white soldiers.  Now my girls, Joy and Grace can go to a public school side by side with white children in Georgia.  This is truly a blessed day.  I can tell you are not like those other girls.  I mean besides being able to see ghosts, you have a gentle heart.  Please be nice to my daughters,” he said.   “I will,” I said my eyes filling with tears because I would tear my heart out of my daddy died.   The soldier bowed his head and faded off. 

“Hey, little girl -don’t you go playing with those tar babies,” I heard an angry booming voice behind me say.   I jumped and saw another ghost, an older white man in overalls and a cap.  He had deep set black eyes and what looked like a permanent scowl on his face and tobacco juice dribbling down his chin.  He was skinny and about six feet tall.  I could tell he was not a nice man.  “I’m Betty’s great grandfather, Ed Whitehead and you best let her be your friend or else,” he said filling me with terror.  “She’s a mean girl,” I said trying to run away.   The ghost flew over my head and got into my face, his dark eyes looking into mine.  “Look girlie, this used to be my farm land and I was fine when it was a school for whites only but now with all these - these -“ he was so mad his mouth started to foam and he spat out more ghostly tobacco juice - “You ain’t never been taught right - now stay with your own kind!!!” he bellowed and faded away.  My heart was beating - I had never encountered a horrible entity like that before.  I was running as fast as I could - my feet blistering in those ill fitting Hushpuppies.  I was looking back when I ran into my teacher, Miss Bentley.  “Sophia, my word, I’ve been all over looking for you.  Please stay with the group,” she said sounding annoyed.  Great, my first 20 minutes of school and I had encountered the mean girls, a gentle soldier ghost and an old racist apparition who threatened harm if I befriended the only two people at school that I could relate to.  I wanted to reach out to those girls but that old man scared the crap out of me.  Maybe once I got home, I could ask Etta and she would know what to do.  

I kept to myself the rest of the day.  The mean girls had decided that I was not of their ilk so they let me be.   Joy and Grace sat together at lunch but were completely alone.  I tried to remain invisible but Miss Bentley wanted all of us to be included in everything.  At the end of the day, it was time for Show and Tell and we were all required to share.   Most of the children seemed to have an excited look on their face except for me and the Wilson girls.   One by one, each child got up with a wonderful tale of what they did for summer vacation - trips to Savannah, St. Simons, Stone Mountain or a day at Six Flags.  Each time another child sat down and it got closer to me, my heart beat harder.  What was I going to say?  My baby kitty Sassy got killed and I began to see ghosts. My mother’s family reunion was fun up until the part where I told the family secrets.  My father left my mother so hell yeah, it had been an awesome summer.   

I looked over at the Wilson girls and knew that even with all the crap that I had endured it was nothing compared to losing a father in a war.  I had to think of something that happened during the summer - something fun.  Finally, it was my turn and I thought of the most fun thing I could think of.  I got up and smiled, “This summer my Etta and me made chocolate chip cookies and we watched I Spy and Julia together,” I said beaming.  “Is Etta your aunt?” asked Teddy, the red headed kid with glasses.   “Etta sounds like a colored name, is she colored?” asked Betty who was getting on my last nerve.  “Etta is my bestest friend,” I said confidently, “and for Christmas I would like a Julia Doll.”  Joy and Grace looked up smiled for the first time that day.  “We do too,” they said together.  The room fell silent and the other six year olds were for at a loss for words.  

“Well,” said Miss Bentley uncomfortably, “that’s very nice Sophia -let’s see if anyone else wants to -“  “Why would you want a Barbie with dark skin? That’s just stupid!” exclaimed Betty throwing back her long blond hair.  Her remark made me mad and those girls needed to be taken down a few notches.  “No you’re stupid, I can play with whatever doll I want to -“ the other kids except for the mean girls started to laugh.  Then the lights started to flicker and I looked to see if Miss Bentley was flashing the fluorescents to get everyone’s attention, but she was sitting with us and no where near the light switch.  I felt a sudden cold shock of air and there was old man Whitehead just looking at me with an image of a flaming cross behind him.  There was a flash of light and then the  windowless room went dark.  The kids started to scream and Miss Bentley tried to reassure us, “Children, it’s fine, just a little problem with the lights.”  She stumbled to her desk and hit the button to the intercom to the office, “Hello, this is Miss Bentley in Kindergarten room A, our lights are out-“ The bell for the end of school rang and the lights went back on.  The kids cheered and the Whitehead ghost was gone.  We gathered up our things walked in single file to the car pick-up lane.  
I knew I had to keep my promise to Lt. Wilson.  When I saw Joy and Grace’s mother, I walked up to her.  “Hello, my name is Sophia and I gotta to tell you and your girls something.”  Mrs. Wilson looked at me quizzically. I’m pretty sure she didn’t expect what I was about to say.  “Joy and Grace’s daddy was here to day and he loves you all very much.  He misses them because he got killed in Vieername in Lousy.  But he was proud to fight with the white soldiers.”  There I had delivered the message and I didn’t care what that old Whitehead ghost thought.  

Mrs. Wilson just looked at me - her face going from confusion, to happiness to sadness in just a few seconds.  “How did you know that?” she stammered.  “You saw our daddy today?  He was here?” asked Joy looking hopeful.  Grace just started to cry and said, “I miss my daddy.”  “Now Sophia, you need to come along baby girl” I heard Etta say just as I turned to see that she was picking me up from school instead of mother.   “I’m sorry if she upset you,” said Etta calmly.  “It’s like you said momma, daddy is an angel looking after us and Sophia saw him!” said Joy excitedly.  I smiled at Etta who was concerned as she and Mrs. Wilson looked around to see if anyone else could hear our conversation.  “It is not natural for that child to know such things,” Mrs. Wilson whispered as she tried to comfort Grace.  “I know, but she has a gift and a good heart that’s probably why your husband reached out to her.  God gives us all gifts in different ways,” said Etta gently.  Mrs. Wilson seemed to feel comforted that Etta felt my skill was God-given and not devil made.  “I know — I know he’s around and I feel better that he’s looking after the girls and me.  It’s just shock to hear -“ her voice trailed off as tears run down her face.  Etta looked around once more and while the other parents were not paying attention to our group- but in another minute or two, that might change.  “We need to go- but it was nice meeting you and your girls, God bless you all.”  Etta and I walked away from the Wilson’s as they tried comprehend what had just happened.  

We got into our white station wagon and Etta buckled me into the back seat.  “Sophia,  you were not supposed to talk to ghosts,” said Etta sounding a little irritated.  “I know ma’am, I tried but they kept talking to me.  Especially that old man Whitehead.  He is a very bad man.”  Etta gasped when I said the name Whitehead.  “You saw that man today?  What did he say?”  “Well, he didn’t want my playing with Joy and Grace and only wanted me to play with Betty - like I got to stick with my own kind.  This was his farm land and he wants whites only.  When I was talking during Show and Tell, he started to make the lights go on and off and I saw him standing next to a burning cross.  What does that mean?”  Etta sat there looking visably shaken.  “It means you are right, he’s a very bad man.  Let’s not tell your mother okay?”  “Okay, can I tell Granddaddy?” I asked.  Etta smiled, “Actually I think Granddaddy might be the perfect person to tell.”  

When I got home, mother was there and told me she got caught up in her charity bazaar meeting.  She asked how the first day of school went and how sweet little Betty was.  I did not want to tell her that little girl was a total racist bitch that I wanted nothing to do with.  I instead said, “It was fun, we had Show and Tell - “ “What did you tell about?” my mother asked apprehensively.   “I told them how much fun I have with Etta,” I replied because it was the truth.  My mother seemed relived and a little hurt at the same time.   Etta made me dinner and we went upstairs afterward.  Mother decided to give me a bath and to talk to me.  “Sophia, it sounds like you had quite a good first day.  I’m glad you feel like you are fitting in.”  “Yes ‘em, momma, I’m trying as hard as I can,” I said sweetly hoping that would keep her from asking me any more questions.   I started to play with my mermaid doll and looked down so our conversation would end.  My mother seemed satisfied with that.  She dried me off and helped me put on my night gown.  “Here you go young lady, now you can watch a little TV before bedtime, okay?”  “Okay, mommy,” I said noticing she was more attentive then usual.  She hugged me and let Etta take over.  

“Mommy was extra nice tonight,” I said.  “That’s right Sophia, your mother loves you very much,” said Etta, “that’s why we can’t trouble her with everything that happened today.”  We sat down to watch Julia in my room“You know, me, Joy and Grace all want a Julia doll for Christmas,” I said happily thinking that Santa would hear me even if Christmas was still over three months away.  “I’ll let Santa know,” Etta said with a smile.  “Now, when you talk to Granddaddy tonight tell him about Mr. Whitehead - I have a feeling he might have known him.  Please ask him to come to school with you tomorrow.  If you need extra help you can say the Lord’s Prayer like I taught you.  That prayer and Granddaddy should keep you safe,” Etta explained as she hugged me good night.   The door closed and just like clock work, Granddaddy appeared.  

“Hey there, little darling, how was the first day of school?” he asked as he put Sassy down on my bed.  “Well, Etta thinks you can help me with an old mean ghost named Mr. Whitehead - “  “Sweet suffering Christ, not Ed Whitehead - I never liked that old bastard,”  Granddaddy exclaimed. “Well, his great granddaughter is a mean girl and he wants me to be her friend and not be friends with the two black girls in my class.  He told me I had to like Betty or else and then he appeared in the classroom with a burning cross behind him,” I was shivering because the image and that man scared me.  “That Goddamned old cracker has the balls to threaten my great granddaughter?” he shouted.  Sassy jumped and got under the covers with me.  “When folks found out that he was a member of the Klan, they stopped getting their produce from him.  Eventually, he couldn’t buy his way out of trouble and the bank took his farm,” Granddaddy recounted angrily.  “Etta thought that you could come to school with me and protect me,” I said hoping he would.  “You are Goddamned right I will- living or dead, some people need to learn their place,” said Granddaddy with a determined tone.  “You sleep tight sugar bear, I’ve got this.”  

The next day, I was ready for school and so was Granddaddy.  He sat next to me in the back seat while Mommy drove us to school.  When she let me off, I tried to leave the car fast but she insisted waving to Betty who just ignored us.  “Why isn’t Betty saying hello?” she asked.  “I don’t know, maybe she’s in a bad mood, it happens,” I said.  “Sophia, why would she be in a bad mood?” mother asked.  “Okay, she was mean to the two Wilson sisters and I stood up for them and now she doesn’t like me but the Wilson sisters do so I have friends, bye-“ I said trying to really get away fast.  “Wait, who are the Wilson sisters?” she asked just as Joy and Grace walked up.  “Hey Sophia, let us know if you see our daddy today.  Grace is not scared anymore,” said Joy smiling.  Grace also smiled and waved.  They walked into school and my mother gave me a very long serious look.  “Those are the Wilson girls?  I read in the paper their father died in the war and he talked to you?”  Mother seemed angry and I couldn’t tell if it was because I talked to a ghost or because the girls were black or because the ghost was black - I have a hard time reading her sometimes.  “Mommy, he talked to me and I tried not to but-“ just then the bell rang and the school day was starting.  “Bye mommy - “ I said as I ran to my classroom happy to have the conversation end. 

I got the room just as the Jeb the janitor was checking the lights.  They were flickering and there was old man Whitehead in the corner just looking at me.  This time I had back-up and I saw my Granddaddy go over to him.  “Goddammit, Ed, you stay away from Sophia and those Wilson girls,” he said with authority.  “Fuck you, Chuck,” he retorted,  “You ain’t one to be putting on righteous aires, you ain’t always been so open to the Coons around here - I remember back in 1912 when we burned down the barn of that nig-“ “Watch it!” shouted Granddaddy.  “He mouthed off to a white woman and we burned down his barn - you ain’t so innocent.” said Mr. Whitehead with an air of superiority.  “I regretted that the minute we set the fire- and I never did anything like that again.  Can you say the same thing?!!” yelled Granddaddy.  “The worse thing was you brought your 12 year old son to witness it.  You just spread hate your entire life, it’s what sustained you when you were alive and it’s all you got now that you’re dead.”  

Mr. Whitehead glared at Granddaddy,  He went over the the Wilson girls and started to knock things off their desks.  Granddaddy tried to stop him but more things kept being knocked over.  Joy, Grace and the rest of the children started to scream.   Miss Bentley and Jeb tried to get the children to calm down but the fear in their voices betrayed their intentions.   The lights began in flicker wildly.  “Everybody get under the desks,” I yelled with a clarity that actually surprised me.  Miss Bentley was in a panic and tried to get to the intercom to work to ask for more help.  The lights went off just as Mr. Whitehead grabbed Grace.  I saw a soldier’s hands punch him hard in the face.  For a second, Lt. Wilson was visible to both his two girls, “Get with Sophia where you will be safe,” he commended them.   The girls got under the desk with me and we all put our arms around each other.  

“How dare you punch me boy - “ spewed that old nasty cracker. “Don’t you know you could get hanged for that?” “I’m not a boy, I’m a man and you have no right to be here - this is not your land anymore,” said Lt. Wilson like a true warrior.  “I fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice in the war so my girls could have a good education and a chance at a decent life.  You are not going to take that from them.” 

“Give it up Ed, you’re time here is gone -” said Granddaddy as he stood shoulder to shoulder with Lt. Wilson as a protective shield between the children and the evil entity.  “I didn’t fight for my country just to have the likes of him run me off my land!!“ shouted Mr. Whitehead whose face was turning blood red while his eyes became nothing but black disks of despair.  “You fought for the wrong cause Ed, you never saw how lost it was,” said Granddaddy sadly.  “How can you say that?  Our fathers were in the confederacy - they fought like brothers-“ he responded.  “The Civil War was a sham, it was all about keeping the status quo for the rich.  Our fathers were pawns for the wealthy landowners who didn’t give a shit who got killed as long as they could keep their plantations - it wasn’t about honor it was just about fucking greed,” exclaimed Granddaddy.  

“I’ll show you!!” bellowed Whitehead as he expanded to the size of the ceiling - his face filling with more blood and his dark eyes pulsing.  Suddenly two red dragons with Klan hoods came out of his eyes and started to lunge at Lt. Wilson and Granddaddy.  It’s fangs got closer and closer but Granddaddy and Lt. Wilson would not move because they were the only thing standing between the dragons and the children.  

“Our father who art in Heaven - Hallowed be thy name,” I started to say aloud because I was scared and maybe like Etta said, this prayer might help.  “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” continued Joy and Grace.  The rest of the children joined in and continued with the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.” All the kids started to hold each others’ hands during the prayer.  Betty who was next to me and the Wilson girls reached over and held their hands.  

When Old Man Whitehead saw that, he looked like he had been shot in the heart.   “NOOO!!” he shouted.  He started to shrink and the dragons shot back into his eyes and dissolved.  “You got one chance at redemption, you gonna take it Ed?” asked Granddaddy as the ceiling started to swirl.  “Hell no, my pappy was right, my Grandpappy was right - I ain’t going against them, we were right - Goddammit, we were right -“ the ceiling started to turn from white to black and these very bad spirits started to circle around Mr. Whitehead.  His human features started to melt off as his body was pulled into the vortex - he was screaming trying to hold on.  I covered my ears since I was the only one who could see or hear it.  He was finally completely consumed as the roof closed.  I looked up and I could see that it was back to the white ceiling tiles with a few pieces of gum and pencils stuck to them.  

“It looks like that old peck of wood is gone for good,” said Granddaddy.  “Thank you for standing with me,” replied Lt. Wilson.  “I have been trying to redeem myself for - for what I did - “ “If you were not forgiven, you would have gone with him - but you got a good heart like Sophia,”  explained Lt. Wilson.  “I realize now that maybe I needed to be here for my girls like this instead of alive to protect them.  Now I can be at peace with what happened.” For the first time, I saw Lt. Robert Wilson smile.  He walked over to his girls, kissed their heads and faded out.   Granddaddy smiled at me and faded out as well.  

The lights came back on and except for all the thrown books - the room seemed to be back to normal.  When the other teachers arrived, they attributed the mess and noise to the black out.   The class got out from under their desks.  Mrs. Bentely smoothed her hair and tried to regain her composure. Unfortunately, she got in a little bit of trouble because the people in the office heard us praying (which apparently you can’t do in public school even if you are under an attack from a demonic entity).  We were all allowed to go to recess while the janitors inspected the lights.  

“I saw my daddy,” said Joy.  “Me too,” said Grace.  “He’s around watching over us.”  “I got my Granddaddy watching over me too,” I said smiling trying to focus on them and the sunlight instead of all things I had just seen and heard.   I would tell Etta everything that night and thank Granddaddy at bedtime.  But for the rest of the day, I didn’t feel like an outsider.  I was just a little girl.  Best of all, me and the Wilson girls had lunch together.

Sophia Gardeen is a nationally recognized Medium who is currently working on the show Ghost Wanderers for the Supernatural Channel.  She also makes one hell of a good butterscotch blond brownie.