In the Spirit of Playmates
by Jack Cooper
This feeling of greatness and joy once bewildered me, for the skies were gray and the air was cool. The dampness and wind did not sour my feelings of happiness and warmth. Though the benches were empty, and the buildings were dark, I did not feel alone or without light. The pavement, where all paths meet was wet and cold, but the abandoned circle held no feelings of gloom. The white-faced clock stood high to the east expressing new hope as time went on. It was dark and rainy with a lazy mist hanging low, but inside I felt the sunshine, warmth, and vibrational energy. This wonderful emotion brightens this circle and its gloomy, dull aura each time.
The possibility of her being a ghost stayed in my mind, however – at the back of my mind. I was not even aware of the presence of the idea, until one day in the circle of the school yard, where all paths meet, it became the cause of a quarrel with her and me. It was the only real quarrel that ever took place between us.
We were beginning to build our imaginary playhouse among the benches where we would live and play as children forever. We sat in the shadows of the clock tower where we had first met and once played when life allowed. Upon our morbid departure I thought all was lost, until we were brought back together to the circle where all paths meet. I was directing the general construction of our imaginary home while she did the pulling together of details - wall colors, decorations, and what the panoramic views from our imaginary windows would display to us as we pretended to gaze out in awe and amazement.
As she worked our house into a home, she was singing to herself from hymns and songs and ballads. Now, as she continued to hum and murmur, under her breath, it occurred to me it was she who had returned!
Suddenly, I said – I blurted out before I could help myself, “What is it like to be a ghost?”
She stopped singing at once, and looked at me slyly over her shoulder, and laughed. But I repeated the question, “What is it like to be a ghost?”
“Like,” she replied? She turned fully to face me and laid a hand upon my knee and looked eagerly into my face. “Ah, you tell me,” she said!
For a moment, I did not understand her. Then I jumped to my feet and shouted, “I’m not a ghost!”
“Don’t be silly, you.” she said. “You forget that I saw you go right through the school yard gate when it was shut!”
“That proves what I say!” I said. “I’m not a ghost, but the school yard gate is, and that was why I could go right through it. The gate is a ghost, and the school yard is a ghost; and so are you, too!”
“Indeed, I am not; you are!”
We were glaring at each other now; she was trembling. “You’re a silly little boy!” she said (and I thought resentfully that she seemed to have been growing up a good deal too much lately). “And you make a silly little ghost! Why do you think you wear those clothes and in that way? Such flowing, black clothes can’t belong to living children I know! Such clothes!”
“These are my sleeping clothes,” I said, indignantly, “my best presentable, sleeping clothes! I lie asleep in them. And this is my sleeping slipper. My other slipper had been left, as usual, to wedge the lid of the sleep box.”
“And you go about so, always in your sleeping clothes?” she said scornfully. “And it is the fashion nowadays, is it, to wear only one slipper? Really, you are silly to give such excuses! You wear strange clothes that no one wears living because you are a ghost! Why I’m the only one in the school yard who sees you! I can see a ghost!”
She would never believe the real explanation of my clothes, and I chose what I thought was a shorter argument: “Do you know that I could put my hand right through you – now – just as if you weren’t there?”
“I could – I could,” I shouted!
She pointed at me - “You’re a ghost!”
In a passion, I hit her a blow upon the outstretched wrist. There was great force of will as well as of muscle behind the blow, and my hand went right through – not quite as through thin air, for I felt a something, and she snatched back her wrist and nursed it in her other hand. She looked as if she might cry, but that could not have been for any pain, for the sensation had not been strong enough. In a wild defense of herself, she still goaded at me: “Your hand didn’t go through my wrist; my wrist went through your hand! You are a ghost with a cruel, ghostly hand!”
“Do you hear me,” I shouted! “You’re a ghost, and I proved it! You’re dead and gone and a ghost!”
There was a quietness then, in which could be heard a mourning dove’s cooing coming from the school buildings beyond the school yard. It was here at the circle where all paths meet, in the school yard, in the shadows of the clock tower. Here we once played, and here, we played again. And then, the sound of her beginning to softly weep. “I’m not dead – oh, please, I’m not dead!” Now that the shouting had stopped, I was not sure of the truth, after all, but only sure that she was crying as I had never seen her cry since she had been a very little girl, wearing mourning black and weeping her way along the path to the circle where all paths meet – weeping for a death which came so early.
I put my arm around her: “All right, then. You’re not a ghost – I take it back – all of it. Only don’t cry!”
I calmed her and she consented at last to dry her tears and go back to decorating our imaginary house, only sniffling occasionally.
I did not reopen a subject that upset her so deeply, although I felt that I owed it to myself to say, sometime later, “Mind you, I’m not a ghost either!” This, by her silence, she seemed to allow. And as our playtime ended, our departure seemed final, as if we were given this one last playtime to come to terms with what life had once allowed and death had now taken.
So, how is it that the sun is shining, and the young are smiling, and the day seems cheerful where all paths meet? When on the inside, the sun doesn’t shine, the smiles are gone and the feeling is not cheer, but empty and gloom. The white-faced clock with its cold black hands stands tall to the heavens, telling its passersby that time moves on quickly. But the passing of each moment is painful and heartbreaking. The benches are filled with the chattering of life’s young, sitting under trees which shade them from the sun. But the shade is a shroud, as one child is missing, no longer to be found in the shadows of the buildings and along the sunny walkways. Many are here, in the circle, where all paths meet, but the one I long for will never visit this place of gathering again.
About the Author
Jack Cooper is author of Sweet & Pure, Warm & Tender, Young & Beautiful and other bio-mythographical pieces of life's painful experiences - intolerance, and injustices, and the resulting tragedies. He has a MA from Union College in Upstate NY where he spends his time renovating properties with the love of his life and their Great Dane, Jack. His past time is writing, renovating, and retiring.