Alan’s songs still echo from the basement of the house. Gingerbread, pink, sweating like an old southern Baptist lady in the forever sun. The willows on either side fanning, their shade more illusion than testament.
Gil speaks to me in the quietest tones as I make my way up to the tired porch, painted icing railing flaking under my hand.
This grand old dame’s best days so long past her, her bones a home of bitter chocolate drop memories.
Her shutter lashes no longer batting, sagging from hinges now like tears, now like rust.
This man before me too stuffed with the past, flickering in and out of him like damaged silver film.
“He’s been loud down there now that I have a new man.” Gil, fishlike eyes a suit of fine pressed pastel.
His freckled hand opens on empty air. “I used to not mind but now I want him to find peace.”
How sad, how tired I am of putting ghosts to sleep, throat devouring these words I won’t speak.
Inside tastes of peppermint, Nagel, lavender and electricity. Beyond these angles the stuffing is coming out and the wallpaper a candied peel but there’s sweetness here still. A tin radio, a whisper, a rhythm under my feet where it’s not meant to be. Alan, a photo on the mantel floating,
Grinning, gracious long dark face.
Alan, a song long ago that finished singing.
Oh, how he loved you, Gil.
How he loves you still.
The sound of this love curling here on a cinnamon breeze, immortal and melancholy.
I snatch the notes from the air and swallow them whole, and I sing their special song.
“Smile, though your heart is aching.
Smile, even though it’s breaking.”
The piano in the corner protests on its own.
A music box flung, hands unseen, sails through the air,
“When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by.”
Oh how the house is sweltering, hot syrup and time too sweet to digest.
“If you smile though your fear and sorrow.”
A figure flickering, his delicate fingers splayed over the keys.
“Smile, and maybe tomorrow you’ll see the sun shining through.”
A look of understanding like a skipping record, a broken note suspended in midair.
And then I have him, a trembling clef curled under my tongue.
“Light up your face with gladness, hide every trace of sadness.”
(Souls taste of sweet smoke, in case you didn’t know.)
And here I urge him to linger no more on this lullaby.
And here I unmake him and return him to melody.
The ghost sighs in wonder and fades into silence, his last refrain spent as he joins the eternal choir.
Shannon Wolfe is a long-time San Francisco resident who has contributed work to Forum Magazine, Sandy Magazine, and Scary Monsters.