Originally posted 2015-10-09 10:02:32.
The kid was dead, and there wasn’t a damned thing anyone could do about it.
And it drove me crazy.
He sat in a booth in the café part of my bookstore, just watching life go by around him. “Watching life go by,” what a terrible phrase, but oh how it applied. If you knew what to look for, or were sensitive to the right things, he would appear like a faded version of himself, like a television picture with the brightness cranked up too high, and the contrast cranked down too low.
It had only been about eight months since the kid had died right there on my doorstep. The life ripped right out of his body, and enough of his ka, his animating spirit according to the ancient Egyptians, eaten by a power-hungry willworker out to stave off death and get a quick thrill. And what did he do to deserve this?
He had coffee in my café, and talked to me. That was his crime.
I stood at the main desk of my store, right underneath of the air conditioning units that just kept the old brick building cool in the August heat. Cillian, my barista and the creator of the super sweet and diluted “Froofaccinos” that I loved, worked to put together a couple of iced coffees for two local neighborhood girls enjoying the last balmy days of summer vacation here in Pittsburgh. They were just at the tail end of high school, and liked to come peruse my very limited New Age section, looking for the Teen Witch books just chock full of love spells and potions to make themselves more attractive to boys.
I didn’t have the heart to tell them that there was about as much power in those books as a nine volt battery from 1973. Those books, the ones with the real deal in it, were safely locked away as rare books in a case near the register bank.
I looked at Chris, or rather, Chris’s shade, and saw him admiring the two girls. The kid was all of nineteen when he’d been killed, and they were pretty girls. And I got hit with another pang, realizing that the kid would never get to ask one of them out on a date, or get to second base, or even just hold one of their hands while they walked down the street, maybe to the Original Hot Dog Shop on Forbes Avenue. He wouldn’t know the sweet brush of lips on his, or even the ache of saying good night and having to walk away from one of them after a date was over.
And it was all because the kid got a cup of coffee on me.
Chris’s faded denim eyes turned to me, still twinkling. We had talked before, he and I. Well, kind of. He couldn’t make the air vibrate in order to speak. You know, being that he lacked vocal chords or lungs, or even a diaphragm. But we had still communicated. And over the months, I had slowly learned to interpret his expressions. Right now, he was very happy, it seemed. But it rang hollow to me.
Here I was, a willworker, slowly learning how to do all these amazing things, and there wasn’t a single thing I could do for this shade of a college kid. But he stuck around my shop, and never really “haunted” it the way you hear about most ghosts. He mostly just hung out. Like he was still alive. You know, except he couldn’t get a cup of coffee and flirt with other patrons.
I walked over to the table he was at and slid in opposite him. He gave me a wave and I took out a small flip notebook and a ballpoint, knowing that if I sat here murmuring to open air, Cillian would cock an eyebrow and wonder if he needed to call the nice men with the “Look at Me Hugging Myself” jackets. But if I looked like I was taking sporadic notes, that was common.
How are you today, Chris?
We had had enough conversations that he would draw the letters in the air, instead of being restricted to Yes and No questions, making things a lot better for both of us.
Pretty good for a dead guy!
I had to smile at that. I had no idea how he could have such a good disposition about things, given his current state.
Doesn’t it bother you, being dead?
He just shook his head, spreading his arms wide as if to say, “Look at what I have.”
Really?, I wrote.
He nodded, holding up a finger and scrunching up his face in a rictus of thought for a moment.
Dance in the Graveyards, Delta Rae, he spelled out, that infuriatingly beatific smile back on his face.
I turned to Cillian, whom I daily let plug in his smartphone and play the daily music over the speakers once the WDVE Morning Show was over. Hey, I’d been listening to that morning radio show since I was in High School, and preferred my morning ritual. Don’t judge.
“Hey, Cillian, do you have ‘Dance in the Graveyards” by Delta Rae on that thing?”
He nodded with a grin and a “sure, boss,” tapping the screen a few times to cue up some app or program. I didn’t know. I was still getting used to the tablet computer a friend had given me last Christmas. It wasn’t that technology and I didn’t get along. I just was reaching the age where it was starting to annoy me how fast it was advancing.
After a moment, the song came up and I heard the opening lyrics:
When I die, I don’t want to rest in peace
I want to dance in joy,
I want to dance in the graveyards, the graveyards
and while I’m alive,
I don’t want to be alone mourning the ones who came before
I want to dance with them some more,
let’s dance in the graveyards.
It gave me pause, a long pause as I listened to the rest of it, letting it sink in. I didn’t write a thing, and Chris didn’t start finger spelling anything, just smiling as I listened. It was amazingly upbeat in tone and rhythm, not a mournful dirge, but that pace of something that you would expect at a wedding, instead of a funeral.
I never heard the door open, but I did notice the loud thump and slide of a man as he plopped himself onto Chris’s side of the booth. He wasn’t overly tall, but thick as a tree, and the deep mahogany brown that spoke volumes of a mixed African and Caribbean ancestry.
“Hello, you dirty old bokor, you!” His face, craggy with scars from what had to have been a very bad case of untreated teenage acne split into a wide, almost blindingly white grin. Deep brown eyes crinkled at the corners. Samuel Jeauvin, the purveyor of a local store that catered to the small Haitian/Caribbean community here in this area of Pittsburgh, and to the adherents of true Voodoo and Santeria in the city. A few years back we had a small difference of opinion when he tried to run a friend out of business through the traditional Voodoo curses. We cleared things up nicely, and since then had become kind of friends. At least allies.
“You know I’m not a bokor. I don’t follow the left hand path, Samuel.” He hated being called Sam, so I indulged him a bit. Bokor is the term in Voodoo for a practitioner of dark magics, used to harm instead of heal.
He laughed one of those deep, bass, Caribbean laughs that were pretty much stereotypical in every white person’s head. But it was genuine. He turned his head and looked squarely at Chris’s shade, nodding, “And hello to you too, revnan.”
That stopped me cold. He could see Chris, too? I blinked a few times between the few and Chris nodded at me. Samuel turned and looked at me and I whispered, “You can see him?”
“Of course I can, foolish blan! The Baron, he teach me how to look and speak to the dead. Samedi, he patron of the dead, and has wicked humor.”
He just called me the Haitian equivalent of honky. I was too amazed to get snitty. I blinked a few more times, and watched Chris’s mouth move as if speaking. Samuel turned and faced him, nodding a couple of times. Then the houngan turned to me and said, “He say you need to worry less, listen to the song, and learn that sometimes life, and death, go strange ways. But that does not mean you have to hate it.”
Now I really locked up. Not about the message. There was some ridiculous wisdom to it that should have occurred to me, but hadn’t. No, Samuel had heard Chris speak. Actually heard him. I leaned toward Samuel and hissed out a whisper, “You can hear him?”
My walking slab of mahogany friend just split his face into another one of those grins and nodded once, “What I tell you, blan? Samedi, the Baron, he patron of the dead. Many tricks you can learn from him without disturbing the rest of the dead.”
A whole new world opened up before me. I motioned to Cillian, “Get Samuel whatever he wants to drink, Cillian. And run a tab. I’m paying.”
Samuel looked at me, eyebrows raised. I just smiled.
“Samuel, you and me, we’re going to talk about how you can teach me a few of those tricks.”
Chris laughed silently, and I hoped that soon I could hear that laughter.