Thommy Lemolo parks her car in Newtown Cemetery’s small lot shortly before 8:00 A.M. on a Tuesday. It’s a fine July morning, not yet sixty degrees, nary a cloud in the deep azure sky. For two weeks the weather had been uncharacteristically stagnant in the Pacific Northwest; jungle muggy, slick and greasy. But yesterday afternoon a series of wild thunderstorms had blown in from the Puget Sound and gave the region the equivalent of an atmospheric enema. Several lightning strikes had been reported in the vicinity of Torqwamni Hill—especially at Newtown Cemetery. One bolt was said to have hit the ancient oak tree inside the cemetery, yet it hadn’t left as much as a scar. Thommy’s “colleagues” at The Torqwamni Sun didn’t believe it; the pushcart bozos (not one checked up on the claim, mind you) believed that the three independent witnesses had been mistaken. Although Thommy had kept her thoughts on the subject to herself, she is confident that an A-bomb could detonate in the oak and not dislodge as much as an acorn.
Thommy pops the trunk and pulls out a canvas tote. She slings the strap over her left shoulder. Then she extracts a four-foot shillelagh and taps it on the ground, thrice for good luck.
When Thommy was sixteen, bone cancer had taken her right leg, just below the knee. In the eleven years since Thommy has easily made the hundreds of adjustments necessary for life with a prosthetic. Her oncologist suggested that she get ahead of, and be plain about, a situation that was as much a disability as having false teeth—yet, perhaps, she should stop short of the behavior of another patient who found it amusing to drop his glass eye in the ice bucket at cocktail parties. Thommy took the advice to heart and refers to her roster of six artificial legs as “Me pegs.” One of which she has customized into a hula girl whose skirt shimmies and sways. Thommy can do anything a biped can do, and she can dance—Yeeaaahh, maan, I can dance. But descending long inclines and steep staircases are vexations she has never gotten past. After a while a sense of vertigo accumulates in her mind and affects her balance. Newtown is seated in the face of a meandering hillside; the grave she has come to visit is waayyy the hell down there; hence the shillelagh.
According to the map of the cemetery that had been dug up (so to speak) by Thommy’s “assistant “(the paper’s mailroom kid, and Thommy’s most ardent admirer, Joey), the grave of Emma Wick lay about two hundred yards downhill from the main gate and about another ninety to the left. Thommy believes that Mrs. Wick hasn’t spent much, if any, time beneath her tombstone since her death in 1943. Oh, what’s left of her hair and bones and burial dress are certainly in her casket—but the essence (or if you must, soul) of the lady has been extremely active for more than seventy years, and she has become famous enough to be known as The Dow Lady. As Thommy enters the main gate and begins her shillelagh-aided descent toward The Dow Lady’s grave, she smiles and extracts a digital recorder from the tote, holds it up for “all” see, turns it on and begins a friendly monologue that she hopes will turn into a conversation.
After establishing her whereabouts and the day and time, Thommy says, “Good morning Mrs. Wick, and I think, possibly, Mr. Coughland, certainly a pretty day. How was the lightning yesterday? I’m certain that it was quite refreshing, as that seems to have been the case in the past. My great-great fraternal grandfather, Martin, was the last live-in caretaker in Newtown Cemetery. He and my great-great grandmother Jeri lived in a house at the foot of the hill until the late 1970s. The house was razed around the time I was born in 1990. Martin and Jeri and several assorted members of the Lemolo side of my family rest in a large plot near the northernmost end of the graveyard. As you may have noticed, once a year I lay a wreath of forget-me-nots at the entrance of the plot. Community flowers must do. You see, a peon photographer-slash-fill writer at a small town, pushcart newspaper ain’t pulling down CNN moolah. Silly me, you already know everything I have just said. And you already know that I’m a photographer. After all the two of you struck a pose for me just a couple of weeks ago. Sad news there, I was so startled by the appearance of two ghosts in my lens that I didn’t snap a pic—I’ve been a busy one-legged woman at a butt-kicking contest punishing myself for that mistake ever since. Perhaps today we can do something to rectify my error.”
About seventy yards down the winding path stands the lightning-proof oak. It’s a grand old tree, full of birds and squirrels and everything that one might expect from such an object. The oak’s age is estimated at two-hundred. Thommy has cause to believe that it is much older than that, much, much older, perhaps timeless. There’s a bench located across the tree’s side of the walkway. Thommy sits down on it and begins to speak to the oak.
“Hello magic tree,” Thommy says. “Do you know that you are the center of a circle that encompasses all Dow Lady sightings since 1943? The reputable sightings not made by drunkards or attention seekers—which I admit cuts down on the test group. Still, the pattern cannot be denied.” Thommy draws a circle in the air with her finger and adds a forceful air dot in the middle. “This circle extends about an eighth of a mile in all directions, and you, my friend, are smack center.” She holds the recorder in the oak’s direction and says, “Would you like to make a comment? I promise that the two or three dozen people who still read the paper will find whatever you have to say very interesting.”
Thommy laughs and places the recorder in her tote. Maaan, I must be getting wonky, talking to a tree…Her thoughts are interrupted by a pop of static electricity and the sudden appearance of Emma Wick beside her on the bench.
“Whoa! —hoop! —hoop! —holy-fucking-moly!” Or, something like that, pours out of Thommy’s mouth as she scrambles to her feet.
Emma has never seen anything as funny—or, so it seems. “Hello, Thommisina,” Emma says, after her laughter subsides. “Strange, you practically ordered me to come out, yet you seem astonished to see me.”
The lady in question is dressed in the attire of the 1890s. She’s wearing a frilly-collared white blouse clasped at the neck by a cameo broach. Her waist-coat and skirts are sky blue, and her long Titian hair is tucked up under a floppy white hat from which an exotic feather of some kind protrudes. She also has a parasol and to the elbow gloves that match her hat. She’s very pretty, but not in a classical way. Maybe Thommy’s age, Mrs. Wick has active russet eyes which vanish in the glow of her wonderful smile, and high cheekbones despite an oval-shaped face. Regardless, Thommy can’t shake the notion that the ghost is only almost there—for there is the slightest degree of separation.
Although Thommy had almost “jumped her hide”—as her father says to describe reactions to sudden surprises—her reporter instincts kick in and she holds the recorder as close as she dares to Emma, for there seems to be the slightest electric hum coming from her form.
“I’m sorry, Thommy,” Emma says, “but that device and the camera in your bag are useless at the moment. My voice and image, though real, are blooming inside your mind.”
Thommy hurriedly digs through her bag for a pad and pen. “How about this?” she asks.
Emma shrugs, “If you wish. But it is unnecessary. Everything I will say to you will be forever in your mind. You will remember everything.” Emma stands and approaches Thommy, who takes an odd solace in the fact that she must be ten inches taller than the ghost. “Come,” Emma says. “Let me escort you to my gravesite—for I know that is on your list. Don’t worry about intruders—Keeper has seen to it that we will not be disturbed.”
“Hold on a minute there, sister,” Thommy says. She pulls her keyring out of her pocket; attached to it is a vial of pepper spray. Although ridiculous, pointing a weapon of some sort at the ghost gives Thommy a sense of confidence. “I’m not letting you do to me what you did to Lewis Coughland just to get a story.”
Emma’s expressive face rapidly conveys high humor and friendliness. “’Sister’?” she laughs, “I haven’t heard it put that way since I was on your side of the grave. And as far as Lewis goes, I did nothing to him other than help him crossover; his death was the result of his own hand. No harm will happen to you, and you may leave at any time. But if you go before our interview is over, I will never address you again.”
“Honest? I walk out of here without having to forward my email through an Ouija Board.”
“Honest,” Emma says. “What’s in the vial?”
Thommy tells her. Emma rolls her eyes and shakes her head. “What’s email?”
Thommy tells her about that too. Unimpressed, Emma beckons to Thommy to follow her down the path.
Once outside the shadow of the tree Emma’s form becomes less substantial. Thommy can see through her, although what lies beyond Emma is distorted by a lensing effect that Thommy makes a mental note of.
“Tell me, Mrs. Wick–,”
“All right, Emma, who or what is ‘Keeper’? And where is Mr. Coughland? Does lightning give you energy? Do you know that everyone calls you the Dow Lady? And…”
“You’re babbling, Thommisina, that isn’t worthy of an admirable lady such as yourself,” Emma says gently. “In time you will learn all; you will remember everything.”
They continue to descend the hill in silence until Emma stops suddenly, which causes Thommy to accidentally pass her shillelagh through the ghost.
“Excuse you,” Emma says laughingly.
“You felt that?”
“Not in the normal sense,” Emma says. Something wistful enters the ghost’s face. She points at three graves near the chain-link fence that marks Newtown’s south border. There is no mistaking which headstones Emma is pointing at; for the final three of the row that ends at the fence are somehow highlighted. They don’t glow, per say, they just seem more there than the others.
Emma vanishes altogether. But her voice lingers in Thommy’s mind. “Touch all three with your walking stick, dear Thommisina, then be on your way. In dreams to come, you will remember everything.”
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