Bubba, my cat, wasn’t speaking to me when I got home from Belize. Not to say that he was giving me the silent treatment; as is always the case when I’ve been out of town, he spent a day or two both expressing his joy that I’d returned and his hurt feelings and irritation that I’d been gone for so long.
The same was true when I got back from that second run up north. He was clearly speaking to me, but in his own language. That’s one of those things that made the whole ride bobbing around in the waves of the channel so unnerving. One would think that if I’d developed a sudden telepathy with all manner of biota, the guy I’d been living with for a decade would be one of the first ones to speak up. Nope.
How to get him up north was a quandary. Bubba had always been quite vocal. We’d gone out for test rides in the car two or three times before it became clear that there was no way we were riding together. Road trips are indeed incredible tests of love and patience. I had plenty of the former for him, the latter, not so much. One of us would have been out the window before we hit St. Louis, probably me. Then I discovered that my Uncle Sam would pay for me to fly him. Pay for both of us, or at least let me deduct it. Tax laws just boggle the mind sometimes. We flew.
The airlines required a carrier of specific design and he needed to fly passenger, with me, under the seat in front of me. After acquiring said carrier, I sat down and explained the situation to him, and made my first go at getting him to occupy it.
One might think, as is the case with most cats, that if I simply put it down there and walked away, eventually he’d be willing to get in and at least check it out.
No way. Every time I entered the room where I’d left it he’d be sitting next to it, staring at me. Oh yeah, I was getting the message. Clearly.
Having gotten the message along with a vivid mental image of cat with attitude vocalizing in a manner more obnoxious than any cranky two year old on a cross country flight, I replied as those in our culture often do with cranky children. I dosed him with Xanax.
It was a tiny dose, just enough to make him pliable so that I’d not have to do battle with him to get him into the carrier, certainly not enough to knock him out. I was pretty sure he could kick my ass in battle if he put his mind to it. The dose was probably just enough to get him to let go and be vulnerable and express his fear to me as we trotted through the tunnel of flashing lights and Motown music at the Detroit airport when we changed planes.
He’d been incredibly good through the trip so far, let out just a few little peeps when we got to the airport and a few more when we first boarded the plane.
He’s not a people pussy cat and the whelms of human scent had come over him.The lights and music and bouncing on my hip as I trotted along dragging a bag with his carrier strap slung over my shoulder was too much for him, and he sobbed.
I hate this. I want to go home now. Can we go home now please? I’m sorry, but I want to go home. I won’t get mad when you go away anymore. I want to go home.
If I wasn’t already racing the clock to make our flight I’d have started crying along with him. I’d have sat down with him and tried to explain, just as I had before we left, that we were going to a new home. Instead, I kept trotting and spoke to him, out loud. I figured folks would understand.
“Just a few more hours Bubba, and we’ll get where we’re going”. I was panting. “You’ve been such a good boy and you’ll have a great big space to explore when we get there and I’ll be right there with you.” I didn’t tell him that I’d only be with him over night and then it was back to OKC to get the car. He’d figure it out.
We made it. He settled in, just fine, and was in good spirits when I finally got back a couple of days later.
I think the ghost must have kept him company.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, or maybe behind. It’s hard to say sometimes.
The Acer had so enrapt me on that first meeting that I’d failed to really look at the house on the other side of it. I didn’t notice the turret, or the widow’s walk, or the witch up on the weather vane. Somehow I’d been blind to the whole thing until the day I met the child. The live child, the one who lived in the Castle house. Like Indie, one day she just appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Hello. I’m Alexandra.”
She startled me so that I dropped the loppers I’d been using to prune the Redplum twins. Perhaps that’s because I’d been so intently focused on their instructions as I gave them the trims they’d been longing for for so long.
She was pale and frail and had tangerine hair that hung midway down her back. Her eyes were a shade of green somewhere between the Caribbean Sea and the China jade Buddha lying shipwrecked in its depths. She was young, perhaps nine or ten. Her Happy Kitty t-shirt was eerily identical to the one Indie had worn, even if the black leggings below differed. We were in the land of black leggings now.
“Hi Alexandra, I’m Brooke. I’m pleased to meet you.” I pulled off a glove and held out my hand to her. Instead of taking it in handshake, she pulled it forward and examined my palm.
“Yes, I see. Will you be staying here? The ones before you chose not to stay, they were afraid.” Her demeanor was so seriously old soul and her voice so childlike that the dissonance rattled me a little. But just a little. After all, I’d just been having salon chat with a pair of purple leaf plum trees.
“Well, I’m pretty courageous, and I sure hope to stay. I breathe the air here and it tastes like home.” I grinned at her. “And I love the trees!”
“They love you, too. Let’s see your other hand.”
So I pulled off the glove and showed it to her. What the heck, when in Salem, do as the Wiccans do. If Alexandra was friends with the trees, that was good enough for me.
“Yes, I think maybe you’ll stay. Pierre said you would, he likes you.”
“You’ll see. I have to go now, bye.” She turned and walked back over to the Castle House.
It was several weeks before I met Pierre. In retrospect, I think that it had to be; that’s the way channel surfing seems to work.
There was a cross across the street, back off the corner a bit, mostly hidden in vegetation. I’d seen it from my upstairs window pretty early on, and it definitely caught my attention. Having lived in the desert southwest for a long time where it is customary for people to put markers down at the site where a loved one has passed over to the great beyond, I had a good idea why it was there. That was a death spot, right down near the end of my driveway. It told me to always be vigilant when backing out. So I’d seen it and paid heed.
Early one August morning as I was enjoying the sunrise and doing my stretches, old Sol’s rays caught Pierre’s marker and woke him up.
Are you here to help me get home?
Apparently Pierre hadn’t passed over yet. I headed down and out and across to meet him.
It was a simple wooden cross, clearly home made, and very weathered. It bore only a name, Pierre Lessard. A wave of grief so nearly drown me I found myself momentarily gasping for air.
“I’ll try Pierre. What can I do?”
Tell him it’s okay. I know he didn’t mean it, it was an accident. He was so broken up and they took him away before I could tell him it was okay. I’ve been here a very long time and he hasn’t come back yet. Can you find him for me?
“I’ll try. What’s his name? How do I find him?”
I don’t know. Alexandra said you’d figure it out.
Sol’s warmth dimmed for an instant as he rose into some distant clouds, apparently taking Pierre with him for his daily ride across the sky.
Back upstairs, I got online. It took the combination of search terms that included Pierre’s name and the town and the newspaper and obituaries, but finally, I found what I was looking for. On August 22, 1991, Pierre Lessard had been hit by a car while playing with friends across the street from where I sat that day, August 22, 2013. He’d been 8 years old when he died. The driver, a mere kid of 16 and newly licensed, had not been cited in the accident, he’d only been devastated by it. He’d grown up in the house I currently occupied.
It took me a while to find him. He was sitting on a bench outside the library downtown cuddling a bottle of Boone’s Farm, hammered. I sat down next to him.
“Hey there. Are you Robert?” I smiled at him.
He looked at me, bleary eyed.
“Who’s asking?” He had some bad attitude and stunk of old booze and sick sweat. He’d not aged well and could have passed for a man who’d been around twice as long.
“Pierre.” I figured I might as well get right to the point. I’d known quite a few broken souls in my life, and Robert was clearly pretty nearly all cracked up. Most folks living the hard life of the streets appreciate candor; their bullshit detectors get well honed over the years.
“Get the fuck away from me.” He growled.
“Tell you what, Robert. The ghost of a child is waiting for you across the street from your old house. Maybe he wants to kill you and maybe he wants to forgive you, I don’t know for sure. He seems like a nice enough kid. Right now, he’s sure as hell haunting you, and it’s not doing either one of you any good. All I know for sure is that he wants to see you.”
“Why should I? Who the fuck are you? Leave me alone!” He threw his bottle to the ground, shattering it.
“Well, that was clever. How’s this? You come with me and pay Pierre a visit and I’ll give you a couple of good bottles of wine. Hell, I’ll serve it up with cheese and crackers and fruits and nuts if you want, play some blues for you while you guys work out your issues.”
“I don’t want no food, it’ll ruin my buzz. But I’ll take the wine, what the hell.” He was staring down at the broken glass looking as if he’d only just figured out what he’d done. “I got nothin’ to lose at this point.”
Maybe just your misery, I thought. We cleaned up the glass before heading out.
The tears started flowing well before we got there.
“I haven’t been on this street in over twenty years, makes me sick to even think about it.” He choked the words out. He was gagging a little bit. “He was such a cute kid, all broken up. He came out of nowhere, had a big grin on his face in the rearview when he popped out from behind the trees.” He started shaking.
He wasn’t just sad, he was terrified, I could feel it.
“Dude, there’s nothing to be afraid of, I’m sure of it.” I pulled a box of tissues up from the back seat as we parked in the driveway. His face was down. I reached over and took his hand. “C’mon Robert, let’s go make some peace.”
A gorgeous full moon was just coming up over the horizon, and Luna shone down on the battered old cross just as Sol had earlier that day. Robert dropped to his ass as Pierre started talking. It was obvious he heard it, too.
Oh thank you for coming! I’ve been waiting so long for you! I know you didn’t mean it.
“I’ll go get the wine.” I wanted to give them some privacy.
“No, leave it, I don’t want it. I just want to hang here for a while, I can get back to my spot later on.” His tears were flowing freely. I don’t think he realized that I heard Pierre, too.
When I looked out the window a while later, they were both gone, Robert and the cross he’d been bearing for so long.
Pierre apparently went with them.
Linda Brooke Stabler, Ph.D.