A Picture of a Man in a Top Hat

Laura Ellen Scott


I wonder what the protocol is when you see a ghost in your neighbor's house. In my case, I have observed a stately figure that looks like Eleanor Roosevelt moving behind the dining room window. It proceeds through the house until it reappears at the back window in the bedroom, like a target in a carnival shooting gallery.

My neighbor is a government contractor and he's out of town a lot. His mother used to live with him. For a while I thought perhaps she'd passed away, and that this figure was in fact her ghost. She'd been wheelchair-bound for years, and I was hoping that if indeed spirits can return, hers could stand again. However, I recently learned that she isn't dead, she just moved to a nursing home.

When I first mentioned the ghost to my husband, he was annoyed. He was raised Catholic. It took a whole month before he admitted that he saw it too, only now the spirit in my neighbor's house had taken on the form of frequent dinner guests. Three of them, sitting around the dining table every evening at seven, laughing under an electric chandelier full of cut glass dangles (Swarovski Crystals—correction by Mom). The fixture is an assertive choice for our modest bungalow community, and I don't think the neighbor is ethnic. So you'll laugh when I say it, but the only other place I've seen that kind of lighting in action is Disney's Haunted Mansion. We went back to DW recently (with a kid, with a kid! we're not weird), and for me it had been thirty years. That familiar mildewed smell of the black foyer almost made me cry.

They haven't changed the jokes at the Haunted Mansion. Sometimes my neighbor's shitty chandelier is left lit in the daytime.

Now the ghost at my neighbor's place is a family he hired for general landscaping. White people from the middle of the state if the magnetic sign on their truck is to be believed. The son asked to borrow our wheelbarrow. The mother smokes. She dropped trou and peed in the side yard because she thought no one could see. My husband pounded on the window and she jumped up.

The son stacks wood, loads and unloads the family truck. He said to me as I walked the dog, "Don't look at me, and don't look in the shed." The dog lost it.

My problem first, then yours. What do I do about all these specters? There is so much I don't do as a habit. I don't believe, I don't take action, I don't conclude. I saw your update, and I can't really comment. Are you using those words metaphorically? Some people do, and that's where the confusion starts. Those aren't real words. I'm not really your friend. I'm just one of the people you said could watch.

A friend I haven't seen in years has become, startlingly, a Texas Friend. His advice: "Quote a ghost and close the circle." So here I go. What if you saw this on Facebook: theft-dismemberment-rape. Would you think it was real? Posted five days ago, nothing since. We are all ghosts now. Posted two and a half years ago, nothing since. "You be good." The last words of Alex the parrot. (Google it.)

There's nothing to miss. The mark has been made. Your announcement felt conclusive, satisfying, a shocking resolve. And it means you can't keep hanging around here like a fan fiction version of yourself. Did you ever notice that when an attractive man gets older, he starts to look sandy and less specific? Until finally, there are just two eyes, blinking, waiting to be silted over.

Perhaps the most exciting thing is when the landscaper's son gets up on my neighbor's roof with the leaf blower. He walks the length of the roof blowing off debris from the summer storms, while inside the house the shape of Eleanor Roosevelt manifests once again. On these occasions you can tell that her head is tilted towards the ceiling. As he travels the shingles above, she slides along below, following his path. Imagine that—a ghost looking up and worried shitless.