A short story for you. Sal was a real person, but I never met him. The house described is where I lived. My sister and I were scared to go to the cellar, but we did and we never saw Sal there.
The last thing Grace Farrentino and I expected was to meet with a ghost. As it turned out, that is exactly what we did. There remains the question whether Grace chose the ghost or the ghost chose her.
I met Grace in 1947 in kindergarten at Number 3 public school on Cliff St in a little town near the Hudson River. Grace lived around the corner. We would meet at the red fire hydrant and walk together to school. The school was not very far away, maybe only fifty yards, but for little girls it was far enough to warrant company. We played together and share secrets in the moldy depths of the cellars of our multifamily apartment houses where we lived.
On the last day of school before the long hot summer New Jersey summer arrived, we combed the cellar of my grandfather’s house. The air down there smelled of old cooking and wet stone walls. The main area of the cellar was a kitchen. A big round wooden table opposite the furnace, stove was cover with red and white print oil cloth. The white parceling sink and icebox occupied the wall with the high window to the airshaft. One coal bin occupied the wall that faced the street. Another bin occupied the adjacent wall. Part of that bin was for coal. The rest stored my father’s fishing gear… muddy-green bib waders, thin poles, and light reels for the fresh water Ramapo River. Thicker polls and heavier reels were for the ocean.
“Look here.” I opened the doors of the dilapidated cupboard. These were my grandparents things, but they were dead and wouldn’t mind.
“Oh, wow, red carnival glass and rusty flatware. Exciting.” Grace said sourly. She picked up a green pitcher and the bottom fell out onto the wood plank floor.
“No.” We swept up the broken glass.
Beyond the kitchen leading towards the back of the house and the yard were more bins. One held wine barrels. Later my parents stored Christmas decorations there and my father hid his tip money in one of the empty barrels. Another bin held jars of crushed tomatoes my grandparents had bottled. Grace and I counted ninety-seven jars. My father used the last bin as a dark room for developing film. He and his nephew would work together developing family photos.
Grace reached for the slide lock on the dark room door. Our basement dog, Whitie, who was tied by a thick rope to a pipe, opened a sleepy eye, sat on his hind legs at attention, and barked.
I put my hand on top of Grace’s.
Don’t!” I said. My eyes widened. Grace’s lit with fire. I imagined what might be behind the door, or even who might be behind the door. My father had warned me never to open that door.
“He might be there.”
“I should be so lucky,” Grace quibbled with a sly smile and dancing eyes.
“My father gave strict orders,” I added hoping to assert his authority. I could feel my heart pounding from my temples to my toes. “You don’t want to see him. He doesn’t look so good.
“But he IS friendly. The other day you said in class that he IS friendly.” She challenged me to stop her as she slid the lock to the right and released the door a crack. The sound of metal on metal and the mishung wood door scraping along the concrete floor was enough to wake the dead and it did.
A horse thick voice said, “Girls? What are you doing here? Uncle Lee told you to stay away, didn’t he?”
“Grace wanted to meet you,” I boldly offered the reason we were intruding.
“Well, now that you’re here, come in, but don’t touch anything. The developing chemicals are dangerous and will burn your skin,” Sal said and coughed out a thin brown fog.
The light in the room was red. His skin was purple. One eye was just a black hole. His left sleeve was tucked into his belt. The dim light did not hide that his arm was missing altogether.
“Andrea, please close the door,” he quietly asked me.
I touched Grace’s bare arm to pull her out the door. She was cold as a block of ice in the old wooden icebox. She did not move towards me, but she did move that is until she glided further into the darkroom like she was on ice skates.
“Sit down, back there.” He nodded towards the overstuffed down sofa in the back of the room ten feet behind his work station and next to a book cased harboringonly two dusty albums.
Sal continued lifting photos from their baths and hanging them with clothespins on a line above his head. “You can look through those albums.”
Grace and I each hefted an album and sat with them on our laps. The light in the room changed. The air became misty like the air at the ocean. The light darkened and my eyes lids grew heavy. I head someone say, “Go ahead, close your eyes.” A blue mist filled the room as I fell asleep like Dorothy and her friends in the poppy field.
I stirred to the sound of the hourly bells from Holy Family Church. They rang six o’clock and I futtered my eyes open. The blue mist had been replaced by the yellow light from the single bulb above the work station. I was alone in the darkroom. Where was Grace? I looked at my Mickey Mouse watch and held it to my ear. It was still ticking , but Mickey’s hands were set at 4:05. The time we entered the dark room.
New photographs were drying over the work station where Sal had been working. I took a closer look. I saw Sal looking healthy and strong in his dress uniform kneeling in the first row of a group of soldiers in front of Lorraine Cemetery in St. Avold. Grace sat on his knee. I bolted out the door, up the cellar steps, around the corner. I found Grace sitting on her front steps reading a book. She didn’t say anything, just gave me a sly smile letting me know I shouldn’t ask.
“You know,” I ventured to speak, “Sal is dead and buried. Killed April 24, 1945.”
Well now. What do you think of this story? Please feel free to use the contact form here to tell me your thoughts on this story? For example: Would you like to read more about these characters? Did you like or not like them? Is the story confusing? Is the story fun?
Copyright ©2018 Sarina Rose
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