“Maybe this writers’ residency is coming at a good time.” I wiped my tears. “I’ll figure this out when I’m back, promise.” I pointed at the cardboard boxes against Mama’s wall. .
“Clear your head first, sweetheart.” She patted my cheek. “And wash your hair. It’s time.”
A week later, I checked into Clarence House, a little cottage in Martha’s Vineyard. The exterior was blue, like me. The inside smelled of fresh linens with a hint of pond water. I followed the hint to the back porch. A wooden gangway led to a narrow river glimmering in the sun like a showgirl’s dress. I dipped my feet in the river and the memories came rushing back. Bathtub water returning to stillness after the struggle. Her lips turning blue. Before they could stab me any more, I pulled my feet out and ran indoors.
I woke up feeling chilly that night. The windows were open. The wind made ghosts out of curtains. I was sure I had closed them. 2:00 AM shone on the bedside clock when pots and pans started clanging in the kitchen. I put the lights on. They turned off by themselves. I was curious, not scared. I had a few ghosts of my own.
The housekeeper crossed her heart. “They named this house after the little girl, Clara. But two years back someone broke in, took all the money and killed the dad, mom and the girl. Very sad. But their spirits still here.” She shrunk into herself.
The walls whispered and moaned at night. I tried to write during the day, but my brain was blank. What if nothing came out of this? I showed up at my desk every morning and came away every evening, spent, but nothing written.
My head was bent in downward dog when she first appeared. A pale round face, with mouse-brown hair, she must’ve been around eight. I sat bolt upright. She started appearing everywhere from then on, in the mirror, as sudden gusts of cold air, and by my bedside at night.
I was okay until she overturned my writing table. That hit a nerve.
“Clara!” I roared. She went out the back door, defiantly passing through me. I peered out of the window. She was on the gangplanks, her mousy head and red plaid jacket staring back at me. The planks creaked as I walked towards her. Chap Chap Chap. Her feet thrashed in the water.
“Uh…Hi?” How do you start a conversation with a ghost? She kept her head down. “Clara, I know what happened. I’m sorry.” Chap chap chap. “I will leave once my book is done, I promise. Is there anyone else here?”
She shook her head. Her eyes looked as if they were melting. Chap chap chap. The water turned crimson. Deeper and deeper.
Baby feet struggling in a bathtub.
“No! Please! Stop!”
Chubby arms flailing, air bubbles rising up. She was making me watch.
I finally gave in to the wave of grief. “That plot idea, it came when I was bathing my baby.” My voice trembled. “I went to jot it down, just for a few seconds. B..But she had drowned.” My tears could flood the river. I don’t know how long I sat there.
The next morning, my table was back in order. It wasn’t Tuesday, so it wasn’t the housekeeper. I smiled. 2000 words poured out in a fever.
She was at the edge of my bed that night. “Jeez! Clara! You’ve got to stop doing that!” She showed me a photo. It was her with a handsome couple.
She hugged the picture.
“Where are they?”
She let out a deep sad moan.
“I don’t know how your world works, but your life isn’t finite anymore, Clara. Let go of your past, honey. Go outside, look for them.”
The following morning I found my notebook out on the back porch. She bobbed up and down, like an excited kid.
“You want me to write there?” She nodded yes.
“Okay, little ghostie!”
She sat by my side on the gangway. The air was lighter, easier to breathe. My pen blazed across paper. It was astonishing. I loved Clara’s quiet presence, but I also worried she’d take my advice and leave.
And she did. The same abrupt way she’d appeared. As if she knew I was checking out that afternoon. I said a little prayer for her.
“Saudade” was published the following year. The first page read -“To Clara, with love.”