This is one of my favorite ghosts stories from my book SCARY MONDAYS. With snow and ice falling here in Oklahoma it seemed appropriate.
Cold slithered under the crack between the back door and floor, snaking its way up the stairs. It wiggled like a side-winder across the landing, through the threshold of Grandma’s bedroom door. There it coiled around Emma’s feet, hissing up her calves. Standing at the window, watching the snow blow in a straight line over the orchard in the distance, Emma drew her arms tight to warm herself. She blew warm breath against the glass, and drew a heart on the fogged pane. In the distance, the peach trees, coated with ice, seemed angry at being left out in the winter storm.
With a bored sigh, she turned, crossed the braided rug to Grandma’s bureau. In the mirror, she watched Grandma’s reflection as she rocked and darned socks. Her dresser was scattered with items Emma had come to associate with old women: a silver plated brush and comb, a carved jewelry box, a paper fan with a balsa wood handle that read “McConnell’s Funeral Home, 1930.” Emma closed her eyes, waved the fan, trying to remember how in the summer the air was so thick, so hot people dreamed of a day like today when the snow fell a half a foot deep. Her Momma said people were never satisfied. When it was hot, they wanted cool. When it was cold, they wanted warm.
Emma sat the fan back in its place, picked up a locket. She opened it and studied the miniature portrait inside. She always wondered about the woman in the picture. She had pretty blue eyes, a peaches and cream complexion, lovely dark hair.
“Who’s this?” Emma finally asked. She’d wanted to know for just about forever.
Grandma glanced up. “That’s my oldest sister, Marylou.”
Frowning, Emma studied her grandmother for a moment, tried to imagine her as young as the woman in the locket. “I didn’t know you had an older sister.”
“Oh, yes, child. I was the youngest of six, all boys except me and Marylou. My Momma used to say a girl in front and a girl in back to keep all the boys in line.”
“What happened to her? You never talk about her?”
Putting her sewing aside, Grandma motioned for Emma to sit in her lap. “She died. And we don’t speak of the dead, child.”
“She was very pretty.” Emma said of the girl in the locket. “What happened to her? Please tell me.”
With a long sigh, Grandma patted Emma’s thigh. “Marylou was in love with a young man, Reginald J.T. Waterbottom.”
“That’s a funny name.” Emma giggled and Grandma pressed her lips together trying not to laugh.
“Yes, it is. But he was very handsome. They elected Mr. Lincoln and the Yankees all came down here. Reggie put on a uniform and went off to be a soldier.” Grandma got a funny, faraway look on her face. “He died, of course. We all knew he would. Not because so many of our brave boys died, but because Marylou said he would. She dreamed of his death, night after night. And when Marylou dreamed about something, we all knew it would come true. One time my daddy lost his pocket watch. Don’t know how a man could lose something as large as a biscuit, but he did. Marylou dreamed he’d find in the chicken coop. ‘Course he scoffed at that. But you know what? He found that watch, right where Marylou said it would be, under Miz Clucky, all warm as she’d been waitin’ for it to hatch.”
“Did Marylou find someone else to love?” It suddenly seemed vital to Emma that Marylou found someone to spend her life with.
“No,” Grandma said with another thick sigh. “She went half mad with grief. She wandered around the house and in the orchard holding hands with thin air. She said Reggie had come back to her and that all she had to do was wait and she’d be with him forever.” Grandma huffed. “She made us set a place for him at the dinner table every night.”
“How did she die?” Emma asked softly.
“The flu. Winter of 1876. I remember because that was the year of the Centennial. But if it hadn’t been the flu, it would’ve been something else. Momma and Daddy always said Marylou wasn’t long for this world. Not after she lost Reggie. ‘Course Emma always said she hadn’t lost him. He was right there with her. Girl was daft.”
Grandma shifted, set Emma on her feet, then went back to darning socks. Emma wandered back over to the window, stared out at the orchard. She thought Marylou’s story was terribly romantic and she couldn’t wait to tell her best friend, Jenny.
Between sheets of blowing snow, Emma caught a movement in the orchard. She leaned forward, hands pressed against the glass. There under green-leafed branches dotted with peach blossoms, a handsome young man uniformed in grey and a woman dressed in pale pink, walked arm in arm. Marylou turned toward the window with eyes that danced, and a smile that promised spring.