There was a full house on Mischief Night at The Irish Center in Philadelphia for an evening of original, ghostly tales from five writers who composed them just for the event.
The authors, who came in costume, included Marita Krivda, author of the historical book, “Irish Philadelphia,” who also organized the evening’s entertainment; Marian Makins, PhD, who teaches critical writer at the University of Pennsylvania and is a singer; Thom Nickels, the author of 11 books, the latest of which is the soon-to-be published “Literary Philadelphia;” Gerry Sweeney, and Lori Lander Murphy, a librarian, genealogist, and writer and photographer for www.irishphiladelphia.com.
Lori agreed to share her story of young love and death with us so you can feel like you were part of the evening.
It’s cold. I shouldn’t be out here. I know the rules. But I miss him, and he needs
me. He’s coming home. I could feel him calling my name, the way I’ve always felt him.
His soul has always pulled me. And the soul is the loudest voice there is.
I wrap my arms tightly around myself, and pull the sleeves of my gown down over
my hands. It’s black, my dress. I’ve taken to wearing black all the time now. It comforts
me, enclosing myself in the cloak of darkness. It makes me feel safe. Darkness doesn’t hurt me, not like the light does.
Everybody wants to pull me into the light, and I resent it. I don’t understand why no one else feels how painful the light is. I can’t be the only one who would rather stay in the comfort of the shadows.
I wish he would come. If he would just come, he would wrap me in his own strong arms, and the pain and the coldness would disappear.
I want to sit down and rest against our tree. The tall proud pine that we chose as ours the year before he went away. But walking around keeps my thoughts at bay. Stillness encourages overthinking, which brings more malaise than the light.
I’m not afraid. Everything out here is real. Everything is solid. I can bend down and pick up a pinecone that has fallen from our tree. I can feel the ridges and the spikes that make it special, that tell me I’m where I should be
This is where we made our promises to each other. No matter what happened, no matter what uncertainties he would face when he went off to fight his war, we would always come back to this tree. This was our touchstone, our chaperone, our witness.
Everybody said we were too young, too untried, too raw to for our love to be so serious. They said we didn’t have the strength to love so fully and absolutely. They thought it would end in tears and despair. But they didn’t know; they couldn’t know.
And they didn’t know that we would so soon be separated by a greater force than ourselves. When the call to arms sounded, there was no doubt Patrick would go. No one thought him too young for that.
He knew the risks, and so did I. He had to go. We both accepted that. And all I could do was stay behind and pray for him.
The wind is picking up out of the stillness and the silence, a banshee howling its unholy presence. These sounds around me are real. I hear the fierceness in the wind, the devil himself announcing his impending presence. I try to concentrate instead on the whispers in my head, the memories of the words Patrick said to comfort me before he left. I’ve always been able to hear them.
But tonight, for the first time, the wind is trying to silence Patrick. There’s no comfort here, only something raw and elemental. The night has never treated me so cruelly before. I want to turn and run back to the warmth of my bed, but I won’t. I know I’m going to see him tonight. I’ll face the monsters that surround me, I will battle them and win. I will fight anything that tries to keep me from Patrick.
If my mother knew I was out here, she would flay me, give me a ferocious tongue-lashing and drag me back home. She thought she had tucked me safely away in my resting place, swaddled tightly and placed far from harm’s way. My whole life she’s been consumed with keeping me safe. When Patrick and I first began seeing each other, we carefully kept out of her way. I’ve been her whole world for as long as I can remember, and she didn’t want to share me.
It was more than just wanting to protect me, she wanted to protect herself. She wasn’t worried about my heart breaking, she was worried about her own. Anyone that could take my love away from her was a threat.
And when she discovered us, the rules tightened, like a noose around my neck. It became more difficult to slip away. That was when I learned to avoid the floorboards that creaked, and to tiptoe down the stairs with my shoes off. I got good at slipping out of the house to meet Patrick.
When Patrick joined the army, she thought she had ridden him from my life; I believe she actually prayed for his death. I believe the prayers she said for him asked God to make sure he would never return to me.
And it appeared her prayers were answered. When we got word that he was missing, she couldn’t hide the light in her eyes. Her words of sympathy were empty. She pretended to comfort me, but really she was hoping that “missing” meant “dead.”
She expected me to break down, to wail and rage against the evil fate that was so pitiless as to take him from me. But I didn’t. I simply disappeared into myself, into a world I created for myself. It was a world where Patrick came home, and we married and moved into the little cottage his granny had left him. I decided that if both of us couldn’t be present, then I would have to live the dream myself. And I would live it so well and so fully that he would have no choice but to return and live it with me.
I don’t remember now how long it’s been since I started existing only in that dream. Time has simply evaporated for me. There is no dawn, only endless night. I make sure that it’s always dark, one way or another. In the dark, my dream is so much more vivid.
I know that at first my mother tried to pull me out of it. She tried everything she knew. One day she would yell at me, the next she would plead with me to come back to her. Sometimes she would try to bargain with me, promising me anything my heart desired if I would just leave my dream behind. Then there was the night she snapped.
I thought she was asleep. I made my sojourn to the tree, happy to have freed myself from her pleading. But she was only a few minutes behind me. She saw me gesturing, heard my words and laughter, directed at the Patrick I knew was there. She grabbed at me, shrieking and crying. She yanked me by my hair and dragged me back to our house, some inner force giving her the strength to pull me behind her. All the way through the woods, down the path to our front door, and up the steps to my room.
She pushed me inside and slammed my door shut, with her on the other side. I heard the key turning in the lock, the threat that she’d long held over my head but had never had quite the nerve to follow through on. That was it, she said. I could stay in my room until I was ready to rejoin the human world.
I would never be ready.
Maybe it’s fitting that tonight the earth is so unwelcoming, because tonight is the night I’m going to see Patrick again. How do I know? I know because I know. He called to me today. He said he was coming home, and to meet him at our tree. I can feel his presence so strongly it’s like he never went away.
It’s time. He’s very close now. My patience, my assurance, my dreams have stayed the course. I see a light coming towards me in the darkness. I sink back against the tree, unable to say a word. So I just wait.
There he is. Crying, but looking so strong and so alive. I want to tell him not to cry, that everything is perfect now, but I can’t form the words. He’s right in front of me, but he’s not looking at me; he’s down on his knees in front of a stone that I hadn’t noticed before. He’s sobbing, and saying how sorry he is that he didn’t make it home sooner. He wishes he had been here to stop my mother. If he had only been here, she never would have locked me in my room and let me starve. He’s telling me how much he loves me, only he’s not talking to me. He’s talking to my grave.