Writing the ghosts

The other day I was sitting in the hospital waiting room, as one so often does when dealing with a family member’s illness.

While I was there, I drafted half a short story, because I had remembered to bring my journal with me.

The story didn’t come into my mind just then. Instead, it was assembled from various ghosts racketing around my brain: A character from Dog of the Dead. A book of spells I bought in the bookstore. The sadness I feel about my family member’s illness. The regrets of getting older. All the tasks I don’t get done around the house. Failures. Losses of all kinds.

My story bubbled up out of all those things, as stories do. I don’t believe in magic, but I do believe in stories and in the way our brains make magic out of reality.

The beginning of the story was complete by the time we were called for the procedure, and I left it to percolate. The spell was for banishing ghosts from one’s house, specifically a departed mother, but I disposed of the mother’s ghost quite nicely in the book. She caught a plane to the afterlife. (Really.) What other “ghosts” might someone have who didn’t believe in ghosts, though? I thought about it for a couple of days, realized that we all have regrets that haunt us, and then I finished the draft today.

Here’s the story.

I’m not the main character, I don’t think the way she does, and I don’t share her ghosts. But writing stories allows me to put things together and think about them deeply. When I was finished, I read through it a couple of times and noticed things I hadn’t even thought about while I was writing.

6 thoughts on “Writing the ghosts

  1. Calyx says:

    Thank you for that story. I really liked it.

    The part about Noelle resonated deeply. I mentored a boy who was in foster care, starting in about 2002 when he was 10. He eventually ran away to rejoin his bio mother, which turned out to be a terrible mistake. All of her kids had been put in foster care for very solid reasons. Many terrible things happened after that, but we always stayed in touch and there were positive signs too.

    I just learned a few days ago that my boy was murdered. It was a fairly random murder by a homeless man. J made choices that put him in that place, but in a different environment he could have flourished. I was so sad to see the waste, and to know I’ll never hear from him again.

    1. DMT says:

      Oh dear. I’m so sad about that. I taught a child who failed out and was shot later on, and it was truly terrible news, but the child I was thinking of in the story was a boy who stole things from other students and we didn’t catch him at it until it was truly too late to let him stay at the school. He flourished in another school but I never forgot how that felt.

    1. DMT says:

      Thank you!

      It only just occurred to me that when I write a story I can share it here instead of putting it in a binder 🙂

  2. Elizabeth Bales-Stutes says:

    Thank you for this story! I’m glad I didn’t discover it until just now, because I only just finished Dog of the Dead, so I wouldn’t have understood Martha as well. I think regrets are a thing that everyone can understand.

    Suddenly I’m remembering Lisane throwing away her father’s finger bone: “It was the best thing I could have done, and I regretted it immediately.” (Yes, I just reread the first two books after having read The Stick Princess. Out of order, because sometimes that’s how I roll.)

    1. DMT says:

      Oh, what a neat connection you found between the stories! I’m glad you enjoyed it (and I’m charmed that you re-read the other books that go with The Stick Princess!). Regret is so interesting (and sentimentality, and nostalgia, and grief). We so often treat the past as another place entirely when it’s really right here and part of us.

      Though I was a teacher myself and even an English teacher for part of my life, I have done so many of the things Martha regrets not doing, and perhaps the story is a way to consider what my present life would be like if I had taken other paths.

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