When I was growing up, I was convinced there was a ghost named Virgil living our attic. I drew pictures of him. He had straight dark hair and a full beard. Virgil was as real to me and my own brother. We’d hear thumps and bumps from the attic and I’d say, “That’s just old Virgil.” The door to the attic was in my bedroom and sometimes, at night, when I’d hear the floor above me creak, I’d pull it open and creep up the stairs hoping to catch him. I’d leave Virgil little gifts: pennies polished to a shine, rock candy, feathers and pretty stones.
Now here I am all grown up. My first novel, Promise Not To Tell, (coming out in April) is at it’s heart, a ghost story. So I’ve been thinking a lot about Virgil lately, wondering if he was a real ghost. I’m not even sure what a real ghost is. Some days, I think that both the living and the dead can leave little traces of themselves wherever they go, in whoever’s lives they touch. In that way, we’re all both haunting and the haunted. If this is true, then maybe the ghost of my childhood self is back there in that attic in Connecticut, bumping around, calling Virgil’s name and fascinating the child who sleeps in my old bedroom now.
Now I live in a house that’s 130 years old. So when our two and a half year old, Zella, first told us there was an old woman in a purple dress living in our basement, I nodded like it made all the sense in the world. Zella calls her “The Purple Lady.” The Purple Lady has become a regular fixture in our lives. Anytime there is a strange noise in the house, be it the attic, basement or outside, it’s The Purple Lady. Occasionally, she comes up from the basement to stand our porch and peer in at us. Zella tells us these things very matter-of-factly. We wave. We say hello. We make The Purple Lady a cup of tea and invite her to join the party.
Now it’s all well and good to think of The Purple Lady as an innocuous – and most likely imaginary – presence. Yet there’s no denying that it’s more than a little creepy when, in the dim of the evening, Zella sits quietly on the dining room floor, staring at the closed door to the basement for a long moment. And then turns to me and whispers: “Purple Lady comin’ upstairs, Mommy.”
I just hope I’m not there when she reaches the top step, her long Victorian skirts dragging, and slams the door open with one bony, translucent hand.