XXIV. Woman in White

I find it unsettling when I want to know the time and I glance at the microwave clock and it says “End.”

I brought in our weekly town newspaper from the mailbox this morning. It is such a beautiful day after the hurricane, one in a string of such days. This is my favorite time of the year, from mid August to mid November, when the sun is still warm and (cooler in November) and the air crisp, when I can smell the warm leaves baking and drying and see the golds and reds appear. I paused a moment there on our warm, green porch boards at the mailbox. I inhaled deeply and felt the comforting sun limbering my muscles and joints, stiff from a summer spent in air conditioning. Crinkled green and brown leaves littered the ground, flying in on the wild winds of Hurricane Irene to land on our strip of lawn, lush and green from our August registering more rain than any month in recorded history here.

Chattering, chirping blackbirds flocked, blackening the ground in the open lot across the street, hundreds of them, pecking seeds, I guess, or grubs, to fatten up for a white winter. Sparrows called to one another across tops of tall, old trees. A chorus of crickets sang an incessant counterpoint to our tone poem, and our theater was redolent with the aroma of warm pine needles. I wanted to doze to the contretemps zizzing of the locusts.

As I turned to enter our house, shifting the paper from one hand to the other so I could reach to close the door, I created a little draft wafting up to my nose the warm scent of paper and ink.

This scent made me think of my childhood and my father. He always read his newspaper, reading two a day, the morning paper and the evening paper. I remember when our daily newspapers had a flag or two or more printed in the upper right corner of the front page to indicate the edition and whether it was the evening’s final. The time for more than one edition of morning and evening papers ended long ago, around the time television started delivering daily nightly news; the publication of morning and evening papers ceased soon after. Now we’re lucky to have even one daily paper. It is said the print era is at an end.

I wonder how much Emma knows now of these colors, scents and their musical accompaniment. She stopped reading her newspaper and working her crossword five or six years ago. She sensed nothing of Hurricane Irene. She sleeps most of the time, except when she’s eating – and sometimes begins to fall asleep even then. She senses something, though, and that is the good care she is receiving from my Hospice aide and my state Attendant Services aide. The two work in tandem to keep Emma clean, fed and resting comfortably. I can see she is at peace. She is very fortunate to have such good care here in her own home surrounded by all her familiar things and attended by her little poodle, Jetta.

We were uniquely fortunate having missed Irene’s brunt. We had no flooding and the cellar stayed dry. Winds didn’t exceed tropical storm force. A branch fell off my neighbor’s maple tree and landed in their flowerbed. That was all. The only puddling was where my cheesy neighbors on the other side had some dipwad cut the grass in bare feet and then spray weed killer along the chain-link fence, creating a withered brown swath about a foot wide on either side where there’s no grass. We didn’t lose any siding – my concern, since last year in a windstorm siding blew off the house. I called my handyman and he came over right away, from about 10 minutes north of us, in the midst of the high winds and pulled it down – it was hanging by a nail above my upstairs bay windows, threatening to swing and break some historic glass. He came back in a couple of weeks, placed his ladder at about a 30-degree angle against our high-ceilinged Victorian house, climbed up and replaced the siding. Then he came to my front door, white as a sheet, and informed me that he’s afraid of heights.

My Attendant Services aide had a friend drive her here a couple weeks ago when her car wasn’t working. This young girlfriend had kidney stone surgery recently that sent a blood clot to her brain, so then she had to have her hair shaved and a brain operation. After that she had a stroke (after she was at my house) that left her with limited mobility in one leg. While this young woman was here, however, she was sitting in the dining room with the aide and me and she was very antsy. She had to get up and go outside. It was only last evening that our aide asked me if I knew the history of my house. I said, somewhat. She told me that her friend had to get up and leave because she saw in our dining room a woman dressed in a long white gown, “not a nightgown, but a long, white flowing dress”; the woman had dark hair.

I said, “Oh, The Woman in White. Everybody’s seen her.” (Most often walking in the yard between the two historic homes a few houses up, in the next block. And for generations.) It gave me goosebumps. That is absolute confirmation of the existence of The Woman in White. I had seen shadows in the house recently, assumed it was a ghost and let it go on its way. About 25 percent of the population of our historic town are ghosts, it would seem. We all see them, especially the children see them. Most of them are friendly spirits; some, the children, are pranksters. I ask any who live in a historic home around here and each has a ghost story to tell. Probably the same woman and shadow that my next-door neighbor’s grandsons have seen in their bedroom opposite mine. A workman in one, unoccupied, of the aforementioned historic homes up the street would buy a small box of doughnuts each morning, set it on the kitchen stove and go about his work. When he returned to the kitchen, the doughnuts were set out, one on each of the burners of the stove (not lit). It’s somehow comforting to have this woman in white. I’ve only sensed her since Emma’s been sleeping in the hospital bed in the living room.

My friend Jackie said, “Oh, that is so cool. … It is like she is attracted to people not well. A Caregiver.”

This fits because one of the two houses up the street was a former doctor’s office (with a leather floor in the examining room) and the other is said to have served as a Revolutionary War infirmary and later is thought to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Our Woman in White came to the end of her life long ago, yet kept on. It is as if she digitally remastered herself to continue comforting the ill.

–Samantha, September 1, 2011

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