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Been Thinkin' About...The ghosts on April Hill

The hill in question, in my memory, is distinct. A smooth, sloping thing, rising egg-like from the surrounding meadows and creek beds. The dirt road winds from the hill's southern edge, slowly traversing, serpentine, rising higher and higher until, at the peak, I can see low, rolling valleys in all directions. At the top, a house but not just any house. An old farm house, all peaked gables and lonely windows, clapboard siding, once white now faded to oak gray. There are flourishes of wood at the corner posts of the front porch, a reminder of love and care and craftsmanship, once, long ago. Someone handcrafted this wood, admiring the curlicues, perhaps wondering how long the work would outlive him. And outlive him the work did. His name is long gone, perhaps etched into a moss-grown tombstone somewhere far down near the creek bed, but the work remains.


Inside, burnished oak plank floors still shine in the remaining light. It is a luminous dusk, one of those threshold spaces where past and present meet, coalesce silently. An old wooden screen door with creaky springs, and looking through the tattered screen, beyond into the house, is another world more familiar than my own. The eastern sky is dark, save the moon. The western horizon has gone lemon pale, heightening shadows stark on that oak plank floor worn smooth and glistening from so many feet, so many years. The parlor of sorts, and a fireplace, and through open door into dining room I see table legs, a stark and crafted thing with matching chairs, one chair waiting to be slid back, supper waiting to be served on heirloom silver platter.


My footfalls are silent but I am a familiar intruder in this house, this moment that repeats so many times within the twilight of my consciousness. There are shadows here, patterns, souls in this space, conversations heard now only by the walls. The walls here are not white, but instead rose pink, wallpaper with tiny patterns and the springtime warmth of a little girl, a little girl waiting for her birthday cake, a cake pink with frosting. There the darkened room was lit by a smiling face and a small handful of candles. She is perhaps still alive, that little girl, but only in what remains of her fading memory. She is far from this room, far beyond this twilight space, in a room that is far too bright, far too suffocatingly warm, a room stripped of this enduring soul. Her visitors only see her pills, her sterile blanket, her beeping equipment, a clinical modernity reflected from sightless eyes. Visitors may hold her hand but they cannot see beyond, into her past, into her soul, or into their souls for that matter. They know nothing of this house on the hill.


The breeze is light, airy, carrying the warmth of spring and the chill of winter almost gone. A cottony sound flaps just beyond the dining room, just through another tattered screen door, just down three short, rickety steps. Old and rusted clothesline posts wait, orchard grass rises profusely from the base, now the home of mice, or rat snakes. The thin rope lines are long gone, taken down by the last person to leave the house. Were there memories in their tears as they left that one last time? Or was the task impersonal, the last leaving soulless, just another job to do before moving on? Tonight though, the air is soft with change and there are clothes again on the line, flapping in the cool night hawk twilight. Spring peepers cry from the deep creek bed darkness and theirs is a timeless song. Last light lingers seconds longer than is natural.


For a moment, a young girl in pink again laughs and claps her hands at the future before her. A young woman smiles, rough hands, chore hands, unclasping wooden clothespins from a line of Tuesday washing, the clothes smelling of sunshine and fresh air. A husky boy somewhere between a man and a child rubs his knees thoughtfully and sinks down onto the front porch, worn denim overalls back against clapboard siding as he looks out over the eastern valley, over the winding dirt road, over the creek bed dark but alive with night songs, and he whistles a tune against the dark, against the time, somehow knowing somewhere, somehow, against time and space, I will hear him.


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