...The Problem with Ernesto, p. 2

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By the time my agreed-upon lease was up I was profoundly attached to the house, and hoped that Gretchen wouldn t ever come back. I did a ritual to bless the house and cleanse it of unhealthy influences before I left. I dedicated it to the best possible good; whether that good was me or Gretchen I left up to the powers that be. Gretchen called forthwith and said that she d blown her elbows out sculpting, and had no money with which to return to Mexico. So I moved back in, thanking the powers that be for protecting everything but a couple of my CDs from the college students who occupied it in the interim. I had grown so accustomed to the various strangenesses that I didn t even think to mention anything to my friend Molly when she house-sat for me over Thanksgiving.

After I returned Molly approached me hesitantly. know, there s a lot of...energy in your house. I don t know if you ve noticed.

Yes, well, Gretchen is sort of nuts, and people say the house has a juju on it. But I ve been happy there. Molly dropped the subject. Then one day, conversationally, I mentioned the combustion of my altar.

WHAT?!! You didn t tell me about THAT!! she exclaimed. Why didn t you mention it before I STAYED there?

Well, it happened way back in March, and I cleaned everything up and put curtains in the sunroom, I said, perplexed. Why, what?

I don t want to scare you or anything, but I m sure there a ghost, said Molly. Either she is unusually sensitive or the ghost decided to tease her, because the number of manifestations she encountered during a week and a half were legion.

It never did anything while I was alone in the house; I don t think it wanted to scare me, she continued. When Fred was over it knocked repeatedly upon inner walls, and rattled up and down the staircase. When Hector was over it muttered in Molly s ear, tilted lampshades, and turned on the gas.

It smells gas, said Hector, while they were discussing whether or not Molly had just seen the shadow of an invisible man sitting in the armchair. They both looked at the stove, which was turned on high and not lit. Molly swore she hadn t hit the knob while wiping down the counter, but it wasn t possible to be sure. Agitated, she left the room.

Squeak, went something.

Did you do that? said Hector, who knew she hadn t, because he was watching the sewing-machine table base turn by itself.

Stop teasing me, said Molly.

m not teasing, said Hector. He experimented for fifteen minutes with the table, trying to get it to repeat its action in some sort of scientifically explicable way, with no success. After that Molly forbid discussion of ghostly manifestations at all, since she was the one who had to live with it.

One evening a self-proclaimed psychic, Claire, came over. She paused at the entryway.

A very spiritual woman lives here, and she has blessed this house, she declared. Can I have a smoke? Molly sent her upstairs to smoke out the studio window. Fred started talking about the fact that d watched the cat watching something invisible the other day, looking it intently up and down while unaware of Fred.

said Molly, as Claire came back downstairs.

Whoooeeee, lots of spirits in THIS house, she exclaimed, conversationally. When they went back upstairs, the studio window, which everybody had heard Claire close and latch, was standing wide open.

Later, after I got back and debriefed Molly, I invited Claire over to see what she could tell me. I took her into the sunroom.

Yes, it s here, she said after a moment. I can tell by the hairs pricking up on my neck. It s not malicious, it just wants someone to know it s here. I think Sophia is going to see it very soon.

So after that I said good morning and goodnight to the ghost every day. The stairs continued to rattle occasionally, whether or not the cat was running down them, and one of the kitchen chairs creaked comfortably whenever an invisible person sat down in it.

Sophia took care of the cats over Christmas, and I waited for her to mention any eery occurences, but was disappointed.

Then Gretchen emailed me that she and Laurie were coming back at the end of January for a two-month visit, so would I please leave. I emailed back, asking if they d ever noticed any spirits in the house, as well as what day they thought they d be arriving. I didn t get any response. I rented a room for February and decided to go traveling in March.

I spent the month of January waiting for the Gestapo to knock on my door in the dead of night, since Gretchen was well known for showing up unannounced at inconvenient moments. It was hard to paint; I t work well under threat of arrest, as I discovered during my brief career as a graffiti artist. So I cleaned house.

I swept acres of floor twenty times over and polished the furniture with lavender oil. I Cloroxed the bathroom and Drano d the drains. I silicon-sealed the bottom of the toilet, wedging it with broken china so that it wouldn t rock, and changed the lid for one you could sit on without bending it. I carried forty pounds of garbage to the dump. I washed all the sheets and blankets by hand and carried Laurie s bedding up to the roof for an airing. I set up the bedstead so she wouldn t have to sleep on the floor. I mopped. Then I did another blessing, with sage, crystals and candles, to clear the energy.

The week before they were due, I replaced the gas tank, purchased extra drinking water, and packed. I left my lamps, pottery, mirrors, candles and valuable art objects where they were, even the flying pig in Laurie s room. I cleaned out the fridge and stocked it with welcome-home food. I put fresh flowers in the vases. I made extra keys, tallied up the accounts, and left a year s rent in the middle of the kitchen table. Welcome home! I wrote. There s hot water, clean towels, soap in the bathroom, food in the fridge, clean sheets on the beds, etc.

The day they arrived, Laurie found me in the grocery store. We exchanged big hugs and went up to the house while Gretchen fled to the café for an emergency coffee. Laurie said, wow, this looks better than any of the other tenants left it. I love the flying pig.

Monday morning when I showed up at the café, I was greeted by a forest of round-eyed people. Did Gretchen talk to you yet? She s freaking. She says her house is trashed. Gretchen and Laurie were, in fact, sitting at the next table, and did not say good morning. I went over to them and sat down.

How are you doing? All moved in? All comfortable? asked.

Gretchen stared at me, a haggard, tortured stare. I think you must have been living in Mexico too long, your standards of cleanliness have slipped, she said.

What? I said, staring back and trying to remain grounded.

Well, maybe my standards are higher than other people but I couldn t BELIEVE the dirt. All of my tapes were dusty, the furniture hadn t been swept behind, and the mop was filthy, I couldn t get it clean.

m taking this a bit personally, I said, and gave a brief account of furniture polishing, etc. She asked if I would come up that afternoon and help haul out the massive amounts of garbage I had left, to make up for my delinquency. I said maybe, and the subject shifted. Suddenly Gretchen was talking as though we were the best of friends.

ll be making bronze pieces at a foundry in Leon, you can come with me, and we ll take trips to the countryside to get inspiration, ll be great, she prattled. m thinking of staying longer than two months, even though I have a major gallery in Canada, once you cross the border things like that stop mattering.

I was still vibrating from shock. Uh-huh, I stammered, looking for an exit. At that point I didn t even care that I might be evicted from my studio, indefinitely to forever.

Jeez, there s some vibration in that house, I haven been able to sleep for three days, it s like heat or something, she mentioned suddenly.

I was wondering if you ever noticed anything strange, I replied.

Yeah, wow, a couple of times the tape player started playing really loudly all by itself. I thought the boys in the alley had climbed over the wall to the gas tank, broken in through that big metal door, turned it on, then climbed out again real quick. Twice. I hate those boys.

This explanation was, perhaps, slightly more unlikely than that a ghost had done it, given the fact that the wall to the gas tank was twelve feet high and festooned with barbed wire, and the big metal door latched from the inside.

And that chair in the kitchen creaks when nobody s been sitting in it for, like, an hour, and the stairs rattle all the time, and I feel like I have to keep real busy when I m in there, I m not getting any sleep, continued Gretchen.

I started hoping that the ghost would drive her out so that I could have my studio back. No such luck; Gretchen told me I could have the house during their two-week trip to the beach in April, but didn seem interested in where I was staying otherwise and forever.

Sophia suddenly announced that she had been possessed. She said she felt a cold chill and then lost all recollection of her behavior, one day while feeding my cats at Christmas.

It was a horrible experience, she told me calmly, one morning in late February. People say they saw me on the street and said hello, but my face was unrecognizable and I didn t respond to them. I went home and started screaming at my brother in Spanish and hitting him. It stayed for about twenty-four hours. I won t go back in that house.

So why didn t you mention it earlier, Sophia? Never mind, never mind.

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