We’ve all seen the movies and read the books. Perhaps we’ve even witnessed an apparition or two ourselves. Regardless of how the story is told, the underlying motivation for hauntings is, more or less, the same: lost souls are stuck in purgatory because their business on Earth is far from resolved. There’s often a lot of flickering lights and whispered words and bumps in the night.
But hauntings don’t have to be scary. In fact, I think we take ghosts a little too seriously. Perhaps they have a little more in common with the living than we’re led to believe, namely embarrassment.
By Tiffany Michelle Brown
There’s a lot of preparation that goes into death—crafting a will, getting your finances and investments in order, signing up for a life insurance policy, specifying to family if you’d rather be buried or cremated—you know, just in case something happens. But no one tells you how imperative it is to hide your overwhelmingly large and kinky collection of sex toys somewhere your mother will never find them.
This should really be the number-one priority of the living, because−surprise!−you can experience deep and maddening embarrassment on the other side.
I watch my mother wander around my bedroom and flinch every time she nears the foot of my California King. Dammit, I think, I should’ve been more proactive. Taken out some sex-surance or something.
Yes. There should be an agent named Bob, who, upon hearing of my demise, rushed over to my sad, small apartment and disposed of the wooden chest that—dear God!—my mother is sitting on now. He’d also wash my sheets, trash my stained, holey underwear, and give all the surfaces a good once-over with a Clorox wipe. I would’ve tipped Bob really well.
My mother is crying and I feel like crap. In this moment, I should mourn with her. I should miss her. We should have a moment like in the movie Ghost—not one involving clay or romance, of course. That was probably a bad example. What I’m saying is, I should make my presence known and let her know I’ll always be with her. That’s what a good daughter would do.
But I’m paralyzed. Because any moment now, she’s going to wonder what’s in that wooden chest she’s sitting on and want to investigate. She’ll think the trunk holds some beautiful memory or artistic secret of her only daughter. Instead of deep and meaningful song lyrics or a collection of first editions by Hemingway, she’ll find the Nuts n’ Bolts 3000. And it will terrify her.
My mother stands, brushes her skirt with her palms, and moves away from the chest and toward my writing desk. I nearly dissipate, I’m so happy, so I have to actively concentrate on staying here, staying in this scene. If I’m not careful, I’ll slip away into the ether. Impermanence is one of the drawbacks of being deceased.
My mother goes through a few drawers, smiles when she finds pictures of me and my brother, and writes down something on a sticky note, which she folds and places in her pocket. She turns and looks about the room, a forlorn but dreamy expression on her face.
And then her eyes start to drop. They zero in on my stupidly out-in-the-open treasure trove of sex masquerading as something mundane. Riddled with anxiety, I desperately wonder if I gained any magical powers when I died. I try to snap my fingers—which I find damn near impossible since I’m vapor. I whisper “Abracadabra,” and it sounds like leaves rustling on the pavement outside. I do a silent tap dance with a raging flourish.
But to no avail. My mother continues to move like the shark from Jaws toward the wooden chest. I can hear the infamous theme song in my head, coupled with her inevitable scream and shrill commentary: Who needs this many sex toys? Why couldn’t you have found a good man instead, Gabby? What exactly is this for? Ooh, maybe I’ll keep that…
She’s fiddling with the silver padlock on the trunk. I guess I got that part right. The chest is very visible, but at least it’s locked. There’s some security, deterrence for people who want to look inside. Perhaps it’s enough. Perhaps she’ll give up and simply send the trunk off to storage.
My mother’s eyebrows twitch. She stands slowly and I can see her brain churning. She turns around, goes to my desk, and wouldn’t you know it, on her first try pulls open the drawer that contains the key to the lock.
Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
Before I know what I’m doing, I float over to the light switch by my dresser and flip it on and off, creating an impromptu disco in my bedroom. Suddenly realizing I can, in fact, make contact with the living world, I bang on the wall as hard as I can with my other hand, creating a persistent and hollow thud, thud, thud.
My mother shrieks. She looks about the room in a panic, and I remember that look from when I was five and wandered away in a department store to hide in a round of women’s skirts. The key slips from her hand and clangs against the desktop. With a shrill scream, my mother runs from the room. A moment later, I hear the door to my apartment slam, and then the key in the lock.
I wait for a few minutes, listening, but she doesn’t come back. I sigh heavily, and it sounds like the wind. I float over to my bed and lie down. It’s strangely comforting somehow, being back in my room, alone.
I come up with a plan. I’ll wait until dark—the witching hour, perhaps—then I’ll carry that damn trunk out of here and have a bonfire somewhere far, far away from my apartment complex. Or maybe I’ll drop toys in random places throughout the city. Maybe I’ll leave the whole shebang on a politician’s doorstep.
I giggle. It sounds like a child’s laugh even though I’m in my twenties. Everything gets warped when you cross over into the afterlife.
And then I stop laughing, because I come to startling realization: Ghosts like me don’t haunt the living because we’re lost souls or need help crossing over or simply want to terrorize people. We do it to keep our secrets—especially the ones that vibrate.