Ahoy mate! I found you! This is sooo cool-- there's something I so totally wanted to send ya, and I was gonna track you down-- I swear, and then I ran into on the net. It nailed me when I found ya. You're gonna freak. It was like twenty years ago! Actually eight, and a few months maybe. But guess what-- I'm at Princeton! I'm a freshman-- freshperson. I remember you saying how they let all the phsycos in-- remember? We were watching David Nassee and Ethan play their challenge match, and I asked you if the people at Princeton were stuck up, and you said no, though some seemed psycho. And you had your bat racket. Anyway, Joyce Carol Oates totally sucks! I have her for creative writing and she's creepy. I can't deal with the people. Your Jolly Roger thingy is so totally awesome! I loved that thing about her-- they just needed a women who could make up for lack of substance with quantity, and she got the part. No one could ever accuse ol' $hapiro of hiring her for her looks. You know now she's writing an opera, which is good, as no one understands the words ever in those things. But anyway-- this thing I want to send you-- I wrote a story about the whole Nantucket ghost thing and how the haunted house burned down. And like when the class discussed it, I about puked. They're all writing this multicultural crap-- I mean there's this guy from exeter who's writing about some Indian tribe-- what the hell does he know 'bout Iriquois? It's demeaning. The way he brown-noses. The moral of the story didn't register on their radar-- not one bit, as it's hip to pass no judgements. Oh! It's a world turned upsidedown, with intellectual inferority and moral indifference running the University. Anyway, I know you'll get a kick out of it. I remember I told you something at the haunted house. You remember what it was? Katie's married, if you haven't heard. Rehab and all that's behind everyone. Some diamond guy from Africa-- she's livin' in France with him, and that's all I know. There's something about growin' up these days-- I mean take all of history-- how many kids are brought up watching other people have sex? I used to read all the stories you sent Katie in college (I don't think she did). You know? I used to write things on 'em-- I'd sneak in her room and take 'em, and she'd never miss 'em. I have 'em. You hold a pretty pen. Last year at Choate we had to write a paper on somebody who influenced us, and I wrote it on the Wrong Reference Frame. I used it as an essay for Princeton. Anyway-- I think you'll like the story-- I just missed Nantucket all so much, and like the magical summers-- we moved the next year, to the Cape. It's in the first person, and even though I totally disguised them, you, the discerning reader, will be able to figure out who it is. Nobody reads at Princeton. They brown nose. Waste of a pretty, pretty campus. Happy Halloween my fellow pirate (and ghost)! Send me your phone #.
P.S. It's so cool you never stopped writing, Drake.
Mrs. Von Baron and Mrs. McCluskey paid me twenty-five bucks an hour to hit tennis balls with them every Thursday morning for an hour straight. They hated running after things, but on that last morning I was making them run all over the place-- I kept having to apologize. They must have thought I was on drugs or something. I didn't do drugs, though-- they're against the law. It was just that I couldn't get the previous night out of my head. If you knew Wilson, Wilson and girls that is, you wouldn't have been able to stop thinking about it either. He'd told me stories-- in detail.
The previous night Wilson had gotten me lost. It was tough to get lost on Nantucket, 'less you strayed off onto the back roads, which we'd done, tryin' to find this one last party. I was doing seventy on some random dirt road-- that was as fast as my '78 Impala would go. I had to wake up early for tomorrow's lessons. I just wanted to do was get home and get some sleep. I'd tried to get him to leave Bruce's party for over an hour-- I finally had to drag him away from Kirsten, or Kristen-- the blond girl he'd been hookin' up with the whole summer. Wilson was trippin' pretty bad on somethin'. He kept rollin' down the window to get sick.
"Take a right up here, buddy. It'll get ya there."
"I've got work tomorrow." I told him, staring straight ahead on down the road.
"It's a left then," he said in the same calm voice.
The gas light blinked on. I hit the steering wheel.
"You'd better take a right up here, then."
I reached for the volume of the radio, and I drowned him out with Greenday or something. There'd been no other cars in sight for like half an hour. The straight, flat road split the corn fields in two. I pressed my foot down on the accelerator-- not that it made much of a difference or anything. Nantucket's actually an O.K. place to grow up, even though most mainlanders will tell you it's bland. Wilson kept singing over and over, "People won't stop screaming, driving me insane, I'm going off the rails of a crazy train," giving it his best Rhandy Rhodes solo. He finally got bored and shut up. But it didn't last too long-- there was something he needed to tell me. He turned the radio off to do it.
"Drake, man, there's something I've got to tell you," he said. "You're going to hate me." I did what you're supposed to do when someone keeps building on a grand opening like that-- nothing. "It's time to let the cat out of the bag. . . I went out with her."
He nailed me-- I'll admit it. The thing was, I totally believed him.
"I went out a couple of times with Katie. . . While you were on vacation. I saw her at a party, and it just kind of happened."
"That's news to me," I said with this straight face. My heart was poundin'.
"Way back in June. It was just a fling though. . .she's all yours. . . she's a hot one. She told me that you guys were seeing other people-- we were both kind of drunk. Did you ever--"
"We were seein' other people."
"Dude, the thing though is," he laughed. "The thing is here-- it's that I knocked her up, man. But like she's loaded. . ."
All of a sudden I recognized where we were, and I slammed on the brakes, throwing us against our seat belts.
"What the ----, man?" We were at the Top O'the World. Katie and I had found this place last summer, I mean stumbled upon it--
We had gotten lost on our way home from the Portage lakes. It was early evening and we were driving down this two lane dusty road when all of a sudden Katie thought she recognized where we were. She grabbed the wheel and made me turn onto this one dirt road leading up a hill. Weeping willow trees grew on both sides. Katie told me that she was sure that she had come here with her father, to the farm house at the top of the hill, to buy a kitten. It 'd been when she was little, and she chosen the kitten with three white paws. Mittens,she d named it. The Willow trees were planted close together and I had to drive slowly through the green tunnel of dangling branches. Beyond the trees was a clearing. A huge old white farm house sat on the very top of a hill, a couple hundred feet in front of us. Gables and pillars and the whole colonial bit. Close by stood the charred skeleton of an old barn leaning away over to one side.
"Oh, I love ghost houses," Katie said in this low voice. For certain things she used this really low voice.
We pulled closer, passing a sign which read, "The MacGregor's, Top O'the World." Someone'd carved a four-leaf clover carved into this one big old Oak tree. A lonely frayed rope hung down from its branches. The over-grown driveway formed a large circle around the house, and we parked behind it, close to the burned-down barn. Most of the house's windows had been boarded up, and I noticed that the few windows that weren't boarded up still had pains of glass in them.
Katie walked up to the house and tried the door. She was wearing a white faded t-shirt and these faded jeans with holes in them-- my old jeans. I whistled at her, as a joke of course, and she turned and smiled at me, "It's locked." It was a really beautiful view from up there, the top of the world. We sat on the MacGregor's front porch for awhile, looking out over the sprawled out fields on one side, and the glistening ocean on the other. I picked out the red and white striped water tower of Hudson in the distance-- twenty miles off The green rolling hills deepened in hue as they receded, before they halted at the azure, and beyond that was the purple mainland of Massachusetts.
Katie kissed my ear . She whispered, "let's make this our secret place."
"I'll never tell anyone."
"Hey man," I said, turning down the music and looking right at Wilson. "You believe in ghosts?"
"Aww man, not now dude. Comin' down hard."
"Did you hear about those Satan Worshippers who were around here last summer?"
"Yup," he said, rolling down the window to get sick. "What's your opinion?"
"You were in Australia when it was in the papers," I said. "Why don't you open the door to do that. . . "
"No way, man."
"But the papers never even knew the full story. Jackie's father told her that the police kept the story quiet because they didn't want to cause any unnecessary panic or anything. Jackie made me promise never to tell anyone, so you've got to promise you won't tell." Jackie's dad was a cop.
He looked at me. "I promise, man."
"Well there's this deserted mansion up on the top of that hill, and there were these kids last summer who were camping out in the barn beside it, and the barn burned down. . . At first the police thought it was just a tragic accident type of thing, but then, before they completed their report, someone found a body of a girl in the house itself. The body and face had been mutilated, and the teeth were all pulled out so there was no way of telling who it was. . ." I could pour it on pretty well when needed. "No-one knew where the kids came from, and there were no missing persons reports filed around here, so the police just kept it quiet. Someone had written all these strange symbols on the walls with her blood. . .pentagrams and stuff."
"The police wouldn't keep that quiet," he said, "Take it easy, bro-- "
He rest his head back and closed his eyes.
"They had to," I told him. "Everyone would've panicked. Makes ya wonder how many other things they keep quiet." The moonlight streamed in through the windshield-- he had a tight grip on the seat-belt. "Let's go check it out." He knew he had to.
We got out and walked up the moon-lit dirt road. Wilson whispered that maybe we should roll up the windows and lock the car. "Nobody's going to hide in the car," I told him, "Unless you do."
It was pitch black under the weeping willows. I was half believing my own story. Wilson told me to wait up from behind as I made my way through the dangling weeping willow branches. I froze, listening to his breathing as he stumbled along.
"Drake?" he asked. "Take it easy, babe-- some jerky at Bruce's was passin' 'round some strange stuff tonight." He'd stopped. I fumbled around for something to throw. I picked up a small rock up and tossed it up the road. It hit a branch, and he took off towards it. I waited 'til he passed by me, and I whispered, "Wilson." He shot up ten feet in the air.
We continued on through the hangin' willow branches, Wilson stickin' to my side. We came to the edge of the clearing. The MacGregor mansion stood against the black sky, illuminated by an almost full moon. Some of the boards had been pried off the windows since I'd been up there with Katie. The house looked out at us through those dark holes, waiting to see what we did. . . We stood there, in perfect silence-- I wondered what time the crickets had gone to sleep. I broke the utter stillness. "Let's go and see if we can get in."
"Dude. Not good." He whispered.
"The front door might be open."
"No flash-light, man."
"We've got the moon," I said, taking a step towards the house. Right then I heard this crazy noise-- I mean I heard something. "Shhh," I said, "listen."
He grabbed my arm.
"Let go fag."
"You're freaking me out man." He read the moon-lit sign, "Top O'the World." The noise! It came again. "Holy -----." It sounded like a kid crying.
"What is it?" Wilson whispered. The noise came again-- closer. My eyes strained in the darkness. My heart beat like a madman. I braced to run the hell out of there.
"It's coming!" Wilson bolted. My feet didn't wait for my eyes to see it, and I was gone. I turned though, just before I dove back into the weeping willows. I glimpsed this small black and white shape bounding 'cross the silvery grass, towards us. I wanted to think it was a cat, but I coudln't. Wilson crashed through the branches ahead of me. Wilson had jumped in the driver's seat, and I reached in my pocket for my keys as I vaulted over the hood of the car, bangin' the hell out of my bad knee. I threw him the keys. He peeled out of there, gravel flyin' and all, and I flipped on the headlights. There was a black cat-- in the middle of the road. Frozen still, its yellow eyes reflecting the headlights. It was too late to brake or anything.
"Whoa," Wilson was breathing hard, "Where'd you find that place?"
"Katie and I used to go up there."
"You had me going," Wilson laughed after a moment's silence, "If there's any life up there, it's not good life."
"I think you got it."
"Yeah, you hit it, dude. I felt, I think."
"Back there, when you flipped on the lights."
"I didn't see a cat."
"It was there. A black one."
Nobody said anything for a bit, and then I remembered something. I'm not sure why. Hey man," I said, looking for the sign to route 8. "Remember that time I gave Katie The Catcher in The Rye? And you said she wouldn't get it?"
"Hey-- I was kiddin' about Katie fag." He laughed. "You should've seen your face though, when I told you. I thought you were about to kick my ass."
"I was, jerky."
"Yeah, chisel-chest." Nobody said too much else the rest of the way home. And I didn't find out 'til later the next day, but Wilson wasn't kidding about Katie. He had been kidding about his kidding.
Anyways, all that stuff was buzzing around in my mind all the way through the lesson. Their hour lesson never lasted more than forty-five minutes, on account of Mrs. Von Baron's asthma or something. We walked over to the bench at the side of the court that had all of their tennis stuff on it-- I smiled and winked at Bootsy who was sitting on my extra racket. She'd just gotten her hair bobbed. She was about the only member with a decent sense of humor-- her and the guy who swept around every morning-- only he wasn't a member.
"I like your new glasses," I told her, "they add to your eruditeness."
She extended her foot so it rested on my shin, "you know I don't have glasses. You're just saying that because of my hair."
"I like your hair too, even though it detracts from your eruditeness."
"What's eruditeness?" she asked.
"When you get it, you'll know," Mrs. McCluskey offered. She poured herself some ice water from the pitcher that I had to fill twenty times a day.
"Bootsy, don't you have swim practice now?"
"It's too cold to swim."
"Too cold?" Mrs. McCluskey smiled, "Drake, do you think it's too cold?"
"Cold water's the only reason I swam all those years."
"I don't want to swim."
"Bootsy," Mrs. McCluskey said really impatiently, "I want you to go and get back in that water this instant."
"That language." Mrs. McCluskey closed her eyes.
"Barbara Streisand!" Bootsy's voice ran the gamut of a couple of octaves. "Right now young lady!" she pointed at the pool, "You're developing an attitude I don't like. I don't like it at all."
"O.K., O.K. Rush said it." Bootsy said, getting up slowly, "you don't have to yell at me. . ." She marched back towards the pool, singing, "All in all, I'm just another brick in the pool."
Mrs. McCluskey let out a deep sigh and smiled at me,
"She used to love swimming, I don't know what's gotten in to her. If it were up to her, she wouldn't do anything."
"Rush is a bad influence," I joked.
"There's just too much trash out there," Mrs. Von Baron shook her head piously. "It's impossible to raise kids anymore in a decent manner."
"Oh, and Drake, perhaps we should warn you," Mrs. McCluskey said quietly, looking at Mrs. Von Baron, " about Mrs. Taylor."
"Oh yes," Mrs. Von Baron said, touching my arm, "Mrs. Taylor is going to try to book all the courts on Tuesday mornings throughout September, and she isn't allowed to do that." She was standing so close to me that she had to look straight up.
"She tried to do it all last year, for her and her friends," added Mrs. McCluskey.
"And it's against the club policy which states that one person can only sign up for one court." You could tell it was pretty important-- just from their expressions..
"And Mrs. Taylor and her friends have their practices just about every other weekday, so it's only fair that others should get to play on Tuesday."
"Those A ladies think they own the courts. And they have a history of being real..."
"Bitches," Mrs. McClusky laughed, covering her mouth, "Oh, I don't believe I said that. Pardon my French." She could be a card.
"But don't let them take advantage of you Drake, we know you're nice, just don't be too nice. Just give them that smile of yours and tell them no."
"Teach them to play the fair way."
"It's a matter of principles," Mrs. Von Baron said, giving me this look, "Sherry, don't you think that he has just the most adorable smile?"
"Definitely, It makes we wish I was a young girl again," she said and they both laughed. "Oh I'm sorry Drake, are we embarrassing you?" and they both laughed. "Oh I'm sorry Drake, are we embarrassing you?"
"Just a tiny bit," I said. They were always kidding me like that. "Would you like me to sign you up for court time for Tuesday?" Smiling and giving courtesy laughs-- it's what survival's all about on this level.
They looked at each-other, "Oh, no, not this Tuesday, we've got to volunteer at the hospital, but somewhere on down the line, we're going to want to play."
They left me to pick up all the balls. All two hundred of them which formed a green carpet on their side of the net. They never volunteered to pick up the balls, but hey, they always paid me for a full hour lesson which never lasted too long. Country Club mothers are an O.K. breed, but I wouldn't want to go camping with them. I grabbed one ball hopper in each hand and started picking the balls up. The wind swirled the grey hard-tru of the courts. I tried not to breathe the stuff, though skin cancer will get me before lung cancer does. I kept singing in my head this one song I had kind of been working on. Wilson and I used to write songs all the time, and we'd played a couple of places, but now it kinda sucked. I mean standin' in a smokey room, tryin' to look like you didn't care. We both played the guitar. I was always thinking up these crazy lyrics, no matter what I was doing-- I just missed flunking out. Princeton's a crazy place, though. I thought that everyone was going to be really smart, but that was the brochures. Everyone was either too busy studying or distributing "save the world" fliers to talk to you. They would if they could put it on their resume. A piece of ice landed a couple of inches away from me. Up in the balcony overlooking the courts was the regular gang of little kids in their swimsuits. I glanced up and they all ducked and disappeared.
"Where'd you learn how to throw, tough-guy?"
His head popped back out of sight and the hyenas started up again. I continued picking up the balls, whistling a loud, corny tune. It was echoed back to me from the balcony.
"Whatya whistlen'?" a kid's voice asked from behind me, scaring the hell out of me. Bootsy was wrapped in her towel from head to toe-- her teeth were chattering.
"Dixie. That was an awfully quick practice. Sprints today?"
"That's not how it goes," she told me.
"How does it go?"
"Can I pick up balls with you? Becket said that you let her."
"Only if you show me how to whistle Dixie."
She made her mouth into an 'o' but all I could hear was the hollow sound of her blowing like a madman. "Wait y'all! I did it just last week." She tried until she was just about blue in the face.
"Hum a few bars," I suggested, before she passed out.
She hummed a few bars of something which almost sounded like Dixie.
"That's it all right, but I don't know how much good Dixie can do for you if you can't whistle it."
"I like humming better," she smiled, "In Church sometimes I hum when everyone's singing, but mom gets mad. She says I do it too loud. You want to hear my favorite?"
"Hum me your favorite Church tune. .. hymn."
"How about Jeremey" she said. She took a deep breath and started humming at the top of her lungs. The grand chorus from the balcony echoed her musical efforts. She stopped and looked up there.
"Who's up there?!"
"Up where?" I said loudly.
"In the balcony! Stand up Jerky boys!" she commanded, and there was utter silence.
"I am standing up."
She scowled at me. "Sometimes you--"
"Them, huh." I raised my voice a notch, "Today I was going to have
"Them, huh." I raised my voice a notch, "Today I was going to have a contest to see who could pick up the most balls. But since you're the only one who showed up, I guess you get the free ice cream sandwich." No-one stood up. Kids know when you're being corny.
Bootsy yelled, "If you don't stand up and show yourself, I'm going to come up there and beat you up. . .and I'll kiss you!" Her ultimatum was followed by the rapid thudding of bare feet on concrete. Then Bootsy started into one of her nutty shows. She began pacing back and forth, swinging her shoulders, her hands guns with the thumbs and index fingers at right angles. "All right pardner." Her towel had become a cape. "This town has no need for a men who are too aferd to show themselves."
"Yellow," I corrected, "too yellow to show themselves." It cracked me up-- she was good too, I mean you could tell she was really very intelligent or smart or whatever--she skipped fourth grade last year. She knew eight times more about acting than all the Princeton drama-flamers combined.
"We need men of character and conviction." she drawled.
"Clint wouldn't threaten to kiss people. 'Cause what if someone took you up on your proposition?"
"I wouldn't kiss any of them," Bootsy said. "Brrrrrrrrr." She was shivering. She wrapped her towel around herself-- her cape I mean. "Except maybe Mikey Robertson."
"Is he number one on the list now?"
"No, he's weird."
"You should see how he stares at me now that he thinks I like him."
"Well hey, that'd freak me." Bootsy's ball hopper was filling up and she had to lift it with both hands.
"I have to give you-- Do you want to take the stupid-idiot test?"
"You're wastin' your time here-- I always ace 'em."
"You're too old to be dumb, probably. . . What color is the sky?"
"Blue," I said, "and that's without looking."
"Umm, what color is my earring?" she asked. She lifted up here bobbed blond hair so I could see it better.
"Silver," she corrected, "be serious Drake-- where do pickles come from?"
"Pickle trees," I said.
"This is stupid-- never mind." She grinned, cocking her head to one side. "And so are you. What kind of drugs do they put in your cheerios?"
"I live in a drug-free school zone." I said, pouring my full ball hopper into the shopping cart. "I get mine from my mom."
"I would eat lunch with you," Bootsy said, tagging along, "but mom is taking me to the orthodontist. I'm gettin' damn railroad tracks in my mouth."
"Watch it tough guy."
"All I said was darn."
"Railroads-- don't knock 'em. My grandfather drove a caboose."
A car honked it's horn. Mrs. McCluskey was sitting at the wheel of her black 911 Porsche. She had the top down. Bootsy covered her mouth with her hand. "Oh no! I forgot to give you something. "Wait mom!" She screamed about seven times louder than she had to. She ran into the women's bathroom. I smiled and shrugged at her mom. Mrs. McCluskey was in a hurry or somethin'-- she kept layin' on the horn. "Drake!" Bootsy returned, holding a white envelope. "Wilson gave me this to give to you while you were out on the court giving lessons. . . it's top secret." She handed it to me and ran off towards the car. "Bye Drake, and don't forget, tomorrow we do lunch!" Top secret had been written on the envelope:
Last chance mission tonight. Midnight. Don't make plans. You have to be the ghost, up at the Top O'the world. I got Chuck and those guys thinking that my great great grandfather hung himself up at the top of the world a hundred years ago tonight, at midnight-- hook, line and sinker. Have to mow all day. Should be back at about seven or eight. Stop by after your last supper with Katie.
With cordial regards to you and the new house,
Wilson (The chiznit)
The temperature dove on that clear August evening. Katie stood with her hands inside the arms of her sweater as I got my jeans jacket out of the trunk for her. Tomorrow I was leaving for college-- yesterday we'd run into each-other jogging and agreed to do something. I thought it would be a good idea to come up to the Top O' the World one last time. I was kidding. Nobody ever wraps up these relationship things these days, 'cause relationships aren't supposed to exist. To go out with someone is to oppress them. They teach it in schools. Anyways, I was freaked out-- sort of. I'd written this poem for her. I wasn't so sure I wanted to give it to her anymore. I had the stupid thing in my pocket.
"It's cold out," Katie said through her teeth.
"Do you want to stay?"
"If you do."
"For awhile, while there's still sun." We walked over to the front porch and sat down. Some of the windows had been smashed and broken glass lay all over the place. I wasn't much in the mood for talking. Neither one of us said anything for a long time.
"You want to go?" I asked.
"If you do. . ."
"Are you mad," she said before I could get up, "at me?"
"No. . ." We just sat there for a long time, not saying anything. The sun was getting low, and I was freezing my ass off.
"What's wrong with you?" The way she asked it bothered me.
"Nothing, I'm just thinking a lot. . ."
"About what? Do you want to talk about it?"
"You're mad at me. . ."
"No I'm not," I said, looking right at her.
"I don't know," she said, looking down, "I think you are. . ."
"I'm not. . . It's just everything." I waved my hands about.
"Oh boy," she rolled her eyes. "You shouldn't let thingseat you up so bad. You shouldn't take things personally."
"No. . . it's not a matter of letting it bother you, it just does."
"Hey OK-- sometimes I get down. But I mean what are we supposed to do? With our life and all? If you ever really stop to think about it, there's no meaning, and everybody just makes up a lie and fools themselves so they can go on. Every time I try to do something-- it seems like there's just this total indifference out there. Indifference to right and wrong."
"You have to do what you like." She was squinting in the sun.
"Yeah, that's Wilson's religion too."
She looked at me. I could tell it had hit home. "Who told you?"
I shrugged. "The cat." A black cat had snuck up behind me and poked it's head out inbetween my arm and body. When it meowed it sounded just like a kid crying. It had white paws and a white nose. Wilson had missed it. Or at least it had a few lives left.
She looked at me, the way they sometimes do, "You don't know how bad I felt about it."
"Probably not as bad as the one whowill never have the chance to cry."
"What'd he tell you?"
"Hey kitty." I scratched the cat behind her ears. "Tell Katie what you told me."
"It's not a perfect world."
"Yeah-- but I don't confuse myself with it."
"Uhhh." She shook her head and laughed. "OK, like you're perfect." Katie reached out for the cat and it hissed, arching its back.
"No, but it's the way I dream. You know? I'm afraid that someday I mightwake up, and find myself accepting all the Barbara Streisand of your drugged out sex-today-abort-tomorrow-for a Porsche-Rolling-Sto--"
She slapped me. "Don't make fun of Evie's religion."
I got up and walked to the car. I looked back when I got there. She was just sitting there on the front porch, looking into the sun. The wind was blowing her hair back, and the soft pink light made her look pretty as hell. Love is about the only four letter word they don't teach in school, for it made little sense to love that which you did not like. I just sat there, watching her watch the sun set. After about half an hour she finally got up and came back to the car. I was always waiting for someone to join me in the old Impala.
"Take me home." I started the car and drove out of there. Dressing up as a ghost tonight seemed like the perfect thing to do. Halfway home I looked over at her, and she had the exact same pout on her face that she had had back at the MacGregor's. The same pout she used in that one perfume ad she'd been in last year-- only here she had no clothes on. I drove her home to her big old house and pulled in the driveway. She got out and slammed the door. I sat there and watched her walk all the way up her driveway. I thought of putting the poem I wrote for her in her mailbox, but I didn't, I wasn't in the mood. I just watched her walk.
I considered going home to get a sheet for my ghost disguise, but my parents would've held one of their grand interrogations. You'd think a year at college for me would've changed them, but no-- every time I left the house, they grilled me about my philosophy on life. Anyways, you don't need a sheet to be a ghost-- that's stereotyping. The DJ on the radio said it was seven twenty, and I headed over to Wilson's.
There were no cars in his driveway. His mom was never home-- she practically lived in Switzerland. She'd won a Gold Medal for downhill in the Olympics, and now she was a big-time ski-instructor. I'm not even sure why she bothered showing up in Nantucket in the first place-- not to raise a family or anything. I walked up to the door, rang the bell, and went on in. There was no sign of the Iroquois Indian butler who took care of the house. Chief. His name was Chief-- at least that's what everyone had always called him. They lived in a huge old house, and he was always popping up all over the place. You'd be in the shower or something, and he'd hand you the soap. I turned on the old MTV, just for a change. I turned it off. Wilson and I hadn't cut our hair for a year. We had a bet. It's a good conversation starter-- long hair I mean.
The back of Wilson's split-level house consisted of huge glass window-walls. It overlooked the golf course of the Nantucket Country Club-- you know, where I worked. In the evening it could be pretty, like it was tonight. There's a large pond just beyond his backyard-- the setting sun reflects off of the sparkling water, through the cat-tails. Rippling waves dance all over everything in the room. I picked up the phone to call Cindy. I dialed her number, but I hung up as soon as it rang. She was my girlfriend from a couple of years ago-- I didn't really feel like talking to her. I could predict exactly what we'd say. If I called her she'd go, "are you psyched to back to school," and I would say that I was, like I had to. We'd talk about the summer for a minute, agree to do e-mail, and say good-bye. It would've been dumb, considering I'd seen her twice over the summer. I held the phone for awhile, trying to think of someone to call. No-one came to mind.
There was a party or something somewhere-- I could hear music and voices-- barely. I got up and walked out the sliding doors, on to the brick patio. It was still warm from the afternoon sun. The crickets grew louder, and I could tell that the voices and music were coming from somewhere on the other side of the golf-course. Not directly west where the sun had just sank, but a bit southwest, behind some small hills about a quarter of a mile off which helped to make the sixteenth hole the hardest. Wilson and I used to go sledding there. His grand-father once told us that he was sure that they were Indian burial mounds. Maybe Chief was hanging around to guard them. I recognized the bass line of John Lennon's "Imagine," and suddenly I was thinking about this one crazy night with Katie out on the fifth green. . . everything reminded me of her. . .I stood on the edge of a fairway for awhile, looking out over the golf-course. I felt the wind shift a bit. The music became louder. I went back in the house, put my old tennis shoes on, and set out across the golf course. It felt ten times better to be outside, moving along under the stars. The air was cool and dew had already formed on the grass-- it wouldn't rain tomorrow. I knew it would be a long time until I would see skies as clear as these. I looked up to see if I could pick out all the summer constellations I used to know. Now that I knew all these names for the stars, the wonder had blunted. I kept on thinking that the little pine trees were people. The Chief. From the top of the first hill, I could see for miles around me because everything else was so flat. Lookout Point is what we used to call it, and if you looked East, you can see the shimmering blue of the open Atlantic way off in the distance. I picked out the lights of a freighter heading South, and breathed in the fresh salt air which you get so used to, as it pervades all. From up here the music and the voices were almost distinct, even though the immense gathering was still a good half mile away. The hostess lived in the old tower house. We always called it the tower house because it has this medieval tower rising above its green copper roofs. The Firestones had it built a long time ago, but the McCluskeys lived there now. Katie, Courtney, and Bootsy McCluskey.
There was a big swimming pool in her back yard, and as I got closer, I became saw that it was her sister's party. Courtney's, I mean. She was a sophomore in high-school. Bootsy's too young to have parties. I walked past a few couples wandering on the golf course and smelled the sweet scent of weed. I hated that stuff, and people on it were no picnic either. By the time I was at the perimeter, I'd recognized three faces. Everyone looked about ten years younger than me-- baggy pants, attempted goatees, everyone smokin' the obligatory cigarette. I was feeling thirsty and I spotted a keg, so I walked on over to it and got myself drink.
The million lights lit the yard bright as day. Some guys were throwing screaming girls into the swimming pool. There were about a thousand different groups standing and sitting all over the yard. A lot of people had a bunch of crap in their face-- rings and stuff. There was this really tan girl wearing a yellow polo shirt and a white mini-skirt looking at me, and I smiled over and she smiled back. Herlegs were dark, and she was wearing a gold bracelet on her ankle. I bought one for my sister last Christmas. Some guy came up and put his arm around her.
I decided to split the scene and head on back to Wilson's-- hang out with Chief. Maybe he could give me a few tips on haunting houses. I felt a tugging at my jacket. It was Bootsy.
She was wearing this huge REM t-shirt which practically went down to her ankles.
"Whoa, am I glad to see a rock 'n' roll rebel I know." I smiled, "What's up?"
"Just the sky," she says, "for the eightieth time." She was holding a book behind her back. Probably one of those corny Judy Blume ones I'd teased her about.
"Getting a head start on your glory teen-age years?"
"I can never sleep when Courtney has her parties. If I close my window, it gets too hot and then I really can't sleep--"
"It's freezing tonight."
"I got you a going away present."
"Whoa-- that was cool of ya-- I'll be back next year ya know."
"Where's your car parked? It's for your car. I have to put it on the mirror."
"It's not here right now, but I'll--"
"What, did you fly here?"
"I walked here."
"From your house?"
"I walked from Wilson's."
"Never mind then," she said really impatiently, kind of rolling her eyes at me, "I'll send it to you or something." I didn't tell her that I didn't take the car to school-- I could picture my dad driving to work with a pair of fuzzy dice. Bootsy put her left foot on mine. "Can I ask you something--"
"You just did--" I said. "Is this another test?"
"I was calling you all night, but your mom kept answering-- I wanted to ask you over the phone."
"You'll get mad at me." She looked at me, like I had done something. "You'll never trust me again."
"Yes I will," I told her, "I'll always trust you." I put out my hand for our secret handshake that she'd taught me.
"Promise you won't get mad at me?"
"Promise, Scouts' honor." I held up my three fingers. "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, court. . ."
"I know, I know." She stood up on her tip-toes and pulled down on my shoulder. She started whispering, "I know what you and Wilson are doing tonight."
"You read my Top-Secret?!" I said really indignantly. I was joking her of course.
"Sorry," she said. "Are you mad at me?"
"I should be," I said, "but it wasn't a top top secret."
"So you're not mad at me?"
"Not really." I said. "Though that's not to say that someday someone might betray you-- and then what could you tell them, knowing what you did to me?"
"Can I go with you? I made a ghost costume and everything."
"No," I laughed, "your mom would kill you-- then you'd be a ghost."
"I won't tell her."
"Then who's going to drive you there?"
"You will," she grabbed my arm with both hands and stood on her tip-toes, "Pleeeease?"
"I'll pick up balls for you all next year."
That's when I recognized Mrs. McCluskey walking towards us. "Bootsy, your mom's on the prowl. Make like a bush or something."
She looked and put her hand over her mouth. "Uh oh, she's looking for me!" she said, ducking behind me, "don't move!" I watched as Mrs. McCluskey navigated through the indifferent partyers-- I wasn't too hot about the idea of Bootsy hiding behind me. At least I wasn't the oldest one here anymore. I ducked my head down and hid behind the brim of my baseball cap.
"Tell me when the coast is clear," Bootsy whispered.
"Sure thing dude."
"I'm not a dude!"
"Dudette," I corrected myself. I looked down as her mother passed by and continued on in the wrong direction. She had her hair tied back-- she looked really young. "All right," I whispered, "the coast is clear, now scram!" I said, giving her a little smack on her behind, "and don't let the golf course get you!"
"Will you pick me up before you go?"
"If it were daytime," I told her, "I'd have no hesitation, it's just that you should really--"
"All right all right all right," she said. You could tell she was pretty annoyed with me. "All I know is that I'd take you." She turned and walked off.
"Write me!" I called after her.
I had absolutely no excuse to hang around anymore now that the most intelligent girl had left the party. I got up and headed out through the crowd-- I saw this girl walking towards me who I recognized from somewhere. She had a white tank top on and long, light-brown hair. Her eyes were darker than her hair.
"What are you doing here?" She smiled.
"I'm the accidental tourist," I told her, but she didn't hear it because of the music, and I repeated it into her ear.
"Oh, are you going to write a good review?" she asked. She'd seen the stupid movie.
"For Boy's Life ."
She gave it her best courtesy laugh and tossed her hair back. When you think of pretty eyes, you think of green or blue, but her eyes were pretty as hell, and they were black.
"Who're you here with?"
"Nobody-- I heard it from across the Golf course, I was at Wilson Richardson's"
"Wil!" she said, like he was her long lost pal, "How's he doing?"
"Same, I guess, what's your name?" I asked. She was wearing a thin golden necklace with a small cross.
"Jenny," she said, "You're Drake, you go to Yale and you just finished your first year."
"No, not jail." I said, wondering where she knew me from. "I go to Prison."
"You're majoring in writing and the first time you ever had sex was at Chuck Allen's house, with Cindy," she giggled, "and you think blow jobs and things are gross."
"Where is he?" I said.
"Who?" She laughed, and I felt his arm around my shoulder.
"Drake man." Wilson was wearing a torn G'n'R t-shirt. My t-shirt. "This is Jenny," Wilson said, putting his other arm around her, "and this, this needs no introduction. . .this is the number one Tough-guy." He was stoned. "Are you in on the mission?"
"Hell yeah." I said.
"What mission?" Jenny asked.
"Uh oh," Wilson said, "A third party heard from." He laughed. "Tell Drake your life's mission."
"You know, about your future plans and all."
"Tell him what you were just telling me, don't be shy dude."
"No," she said, really indignantly, "you're being queer."
Wilson shook his head. "She's going to be a model. She's already been in Seventeen Magazine. Her mom won't let her model until her grades come up, but I'm sure she's smart enough to do both." Jenny shot a confused look at him. "She's sixteen and some day she's going to go be a famous actress. She says that she wants to do it, before she grows old, and get wrinkles. That's a wonderful world out there, full of creative geniuses, she ought to fit right in, you think?"
"Why are you making fun of me?" she kind of tilted her head to one side.
"Do you think there's more to life than just looking good? It depresses me, but I can't kid myself, like Drake does. Did you ever read Neitzschez's the birth of tragedy?"
"Of course, there's a lot more to life, but it's more fun," she smiled. You could tell she was trying to play along. "I would hate being ugly."
"Hey-- answer the question. You read Neitzsche?"
She gave him this look.
"In it Neitzsche said we need more people like you in this world, to make it such a beautiful place. Neitzsche wrote it when he was twenty-five. You read Neitzsche?"
"You know, just because someone is good-looking, that doesn't mean that they're an airhead."
"That's not what he was saying at all. Neitzsche knew that the most beautiful were the smartest-- the Greeks."
"My dad said insecure people are always quoting from books." She smiled.
"Yeah," he smiled, "it's my will to power-- to control your beauty with my Truth. And I'll tell ya-- I know a hell of a lot you'll never see. Do you know what a supra man is?"
"I know everything I need to," she said.
"Then you're not a very curious person."
"I know you want to kiss me."
"Dude, she wants me."
"Get a life," she kind laughed. She took off.
"Thus spake Zaruthstra," Wilson called after her.
I looked at Wilson. "Alright, let's go."
"If she's old enough to want it, she's old enough to have it." He looked at me. "Tell me you didn't want her. Just 'cause you go to Princeton doesn't mean you're exempt. All it means is that you go to Princeton."
It was getting on towards midnight. "I've got to split and go back to your house and get the car. You've got to get Chuck and Kozak and those guys up to the house."
"Don' worry 'bout it." Wilson said. "They're all here. They're getting high out front. They're getting high so they can pretend they got into Princeton. Do you read books there?"
"Enough to know that a little learning's a dangerous thing. So you're going to bring them up there? At twelve?"
"What the hell are you so worried about?" He lit a cigarette. "Don't worry so much." He turned to leave, and then turned back to me, taking a few small backwards steps. "I never did like you." He looked me in the eye.
"So?" I said. "You didn't like your own flesh and blood."
He stopped, took a step back towards me. "My what?"
"You know, tough guy."
He laughed. "That was Katie's gig."
"Yeah, if you don't believe in ghosts, maybe."
I turned and began walkin' away. I turned back. "Didn't Neitzsche say God was dead?"
"Well Nietzschez's dead."
The smart thing to do would have been to just go on home and get some sleep after leaving the McCluskey's. I still had to pack for school. The golf course spooked the hell out of me on the way back-- I kept expecting one of the little pine trees to turn into Chief, and come after me with a tomahawk or something. By the time I got back to the Wilson's, I was all out of breath from running across the golf course. There were no lights on in the house, just flickering shadows from the big-screen T.V. That's how Chief watched his T.V.-- every single night-- he always turned off every light in the house. I didn't waste any time getting the hell out of there.
I put the radio on, not too loud or anything-- I was in a mellow sort of mood, and I headed over to the MacGregor's house. I couldn't get old Katie out of my brain-waves. I shouldn't have said all that stuff. . . About halfway to The Top O' The World I got the wierdest spooked out feeling-- I swear to God I have ESP or a sixth sense or something. Everyone's always telling me I'm psychic. I craned my neck and looked over into the back seat. There she was, lying on the floor, looking up at me.
"How'd ya know?" Bootsy asked, popping her head up, "I didn't make any noise." She was pretty disappointed.
"I just knew," I kind of laughed, only my voice was shaking all over the place. "It kind of made sense."
"Don't take me home!" She climbed over into the front seat. She had a white sheet with her.
"I've got to," I said, driving slowly, looking for a place to make a U-turn.
"Nooo," she said. She wanted to go pretty bad. "It's your last night here."
"I'll be back," I said.
"Yeah-- that's what my dad said."
I looked over at her. She was biting her lip. "Awww man-- it was rough out there for a lot of our parents."
"Yeah, right." She was still biting her lip.
"It's not that long," I told her, "besides, we'll keep in touch. You better e-mail me. This night will seem like yesterday next May."
Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here had come on the radio, and Bootsy started singing along-- she knew all the words. I looked over at her and watched her putting her seat-belt on. She was on the small side, even for a fifth grader, and she took shoulder strap and put it behind her head. She looked really pretty in the green light coming from the from the dashboard, her bobbed hair and all. I looked back at the road. I was about to cry.
"Drake," she whispered, "What's wrong?" I didn't say anything-- I couldn't really talk--and all of a sudden she was sitting right next to me. She had put her hand on my shoulder. "If you want to take me home it's Okay."
"No," I swallowed.
"Drake," she repeated, "Maybe we can both go home-- if you want. Are you mad at Katie?" "No," I laughed. "We're almost there."
"I'm sorry," she said. She still had her hand on my shoulder. "It's rough on you guys too. I would've wanted it too."
"Jesus." I sighed. She knew too.
"Couldn't you have sued Katie to have it?"
"It wasn't mine, dude."
"Whose was it?"
"Awww man, it doesn't matter." I took a deep breath. "It's just that. . ." I said, "but I don't want to say that-- too many people saying how everything's messed up. There's a whole industry devoted to it, and they keep messin' it up more. I mean you're not, and that's enough." I stopped talkin'. "You believe in ghosts?"
"Hell yeah." She nodded right away. "Heck yeah I mean. People have to go somewhere-- it wouldn't make any sense otherwise,"
I turned some stupid grunge band off. My life didn't want a soundtrack. She took her hand off my shoulder and just sat there, looking straight ahead and whispering something. We passed the, "Entering Summit County," sign.
"What're you whispering?" I asked her. "Ya little nut."
"Take the top down and the wind'll tell you." She was cool in that random way.
It was freezing out, but I pulled over and took the top down. And that's how we drove the rest of the way there.
Soon after the passing cornfields turned into trees, we began our ascent out of the Valley. I hung a right onto the dirt road and drove up through the willows, not slowing down or anything. Broken branches covered us when I burst out into the clearing. I slammed on the brakes and skidded-- Bootsy got a kick out of my driving. My brights lit up the MacGregor house. The cloud of dust stirred up by my car slowly drifted across it. I sat there for a good minute-- there was nothing spooky about the old house at all. I parked the car a couple hundred feet away from it, behind some bushes. There was no moon out, and the house was a black silhouette against the starred night. The mainland Cape Cod Light threw its glint periodically 'cross the sky. We got out and walked towards the house, Bootsy a little in front of me.
"It's so quiet," she whispered. The sea breeze which usually prevailed had died.
I hopped up onto the porch and tried the door, but it was locked. I gave it a few good kicks, but it didn't give. I picked it up a board and banged on the door handle for about a half an hour until it finally bent and snapped off. I practically broke every toe in my foot when I gave the door this one big kick; it 'd been nailed shut.
"Maybe we should climb in a window," she suggested.
"They're all nailed shut." I picked up the board to throw it through the window, but I didn't. I didn't feel like being a ghost. Not if it meant breaking the window-- I couldn't help thinking about the awful noise it would make. I put the board down, and turned to Bootsy. She was kneeling, stroking a cat. A black cat with white paws. She looked up at me.
"You want to go home?" I asked.
"Home?" Bootsy said, "You don't want to be a ghost tonight?" She picked up the cat. "This cat looks just like Mittens."
I walked over and stroked the cat behind the ears. "Not really in the mood, dude."
"She must live here," Bootsy said, putting the cat down. "Can I take him?"
"No-- he's got a home." Right then she did the weirdest thing-- she took my hand-- I mean it was cool, but it wasn't exactly something you would expect someone only nine years old to do. We walked back to the car, Bootsy kind of leading the way. She climbed in the car on the driver's side, and sat right in the middle. She turned the radio on and put it on AM. She found that one Smashing Pumpkins song, but then Rush's voice cut across it. "He's funny." She put her head on my shoulder and dozed off. I could tell 'cause she started snoring. She slept the whole way back. Rush was sayin', "We've come to the point where it's considered sophisticated and smart to see nothing but gray areas and nuances. . . Moderates who take pride in their lack of ideological conviction are held up as paragons of wisdom. And anyone who does take a stand, who does dare tell the truth, is vilified, impugned, castigated, and greeted with a cacophony of indignation. My friends, this is a prescription for a new Dark Ages." All of a sudden I was psyched. I was gonna skip class to listen' to him next year. I stopped a couple of houses down the road before hers, down on Perkins, so that her mother wouldn't see me. I got this idea. I nudged Bootsy and reached in my back pocket for the envelope. I looked-- hadn't put Katie's name on it.
"Bootsy, hey kid, we're home." I handed her the poem. "Hey there-- wake up. We're home. Here's something I wrote-- it was a cool summer, dude." I don't think she woke up, not completely anyways. I watched her walk across her lawn and down the side of her house, draggin' her ghost sheet. It was totally quiet.
As soon as I got out of ear-shot of Bootsy's house, I floored it. I turned Rush up as loud as he'd go, and I did Eighty all the way on back to The Top O' The World. About a mile a way I noticed it. There was a dancing glare of yellow, orange and shadows on the hill. The old house had been set on fire.
Drivin' up through the weepin' Willows, I saw the headlights of like five cars comin' on down. Nobody was gonna get by. I stopped and got out. There was Wilson's car. I went for it. I heard Katie. "Drake! Oh my God, Drake! We thought you were in the house!" She was crying. She ran up to hug me.
"I was." I said. I walked by her to where Wilson was getting out of the car. I walked up to him. He was taller than me.
"He's got a gun!" Katie yelled.
I just stood there, starin' in his eyes. People'd gotten out, and they were standin' around. Everyone was perfectly silent, waiting for the first swing to be taken in the dancing shadows. He had his stupid gun tucked in his pants. Then everyone heard it. A kid's crying broke the silence, and the cat stood up on its hind legs in-between us and pawed me, looking up and meowing. "Owe," I said, bending down and picking it up. "Yeah," I said, noddin', "You believe in ghosts?" He looked away. I heard the sirens off in the distance.
"You guys have a story to tell." I picked up the cat, got back in my car, and headed home. Bootsy would be glad to have it.
I caught the eight AM ferry to the Mainland the next day, and I asked my mom to take the cat over to the McCluskey's. I stood at the front of the ferry, not lookin' back, knowin' it'd be a long time before I'd be allowed back to Nantucket. All the cool Romance and all that filled the Nantucket summers gone by had been rendered forever intangible. But that was fine, for I have grown wise enough to believe in ghosts. I traded ephemeral young love's intoxication for the eternal wisdom by which we discern the difference between right and wrong, by which is fostered the moral strength that allows us to keep the promises we make. Ah, the world is not perfect, but the eternal spirit is, and thus the respect for this ghost becomes infinitely more essential as all else fades. Wisdom is the name given to this sentiment. Oh, I'd be back to Nantucket someday. I knew I would-- it was just a matter of earning my fare. For the freedom that comes free to the young must be perpetually earned by the rest. And there's no greater employment than perpetually earned by the rest. And there's no greater employment than to do Right, for the work is its own salary. And only the richest of men ever return.
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