This One Time, 24

This one time I was walking home from work — second shift at the textile mill where my mother had worked until she died and where my husband had been a shift manager until he he got singled out to take the fall for some merchandise theft. I had to work to keep the money coming in to feed the kids. At least we owned the house free and clear. I didn’t really have any love for the mill, as you might imagine, but everyone knew it was awful that my husband was in jail for something he didn’t do, and the foreman offered me the job for the sake of the kids. Besides, the mill was pretty much the only show in town unless you wanted to load and unload at the dock or the railyards.

But the car had stopped working and I couldn’t get another ride on short notice. Not everybody had a telephone. The older boys were probably good for fixing it, but they’d still need daylight to see what was wrong, and then there would be the usual rigamarole for finding parts and trading for them. We had an extra side of venison half the girls wouldn’t eat anyway because of how pretty deer were.

Mama used to work ten-hour shifts, and she’d walk the nearly two hours each way back before it was reasonable to have and keep up an automobile. I figured walking was the easy part of the work anyway. It would be dark, but I knew the road. I used to walk into town and back when I was a kid.

The walk to town hadn’t been work, even though River Road was a bit hilly, but after eight hours of chasing shuttles in the looms with the other girls, the walk back home certainly was work. Shift was over at eleven, so it would probably be one AM or past by the time I made it home.

My oldest boy demanded I take the battery lantern with me, but I wasn’t sure how much juice was left in the battery. I left it stuck in my purse. I still didn’t want to use it, but right about now I was really starting to regret its weight. I was walking along a part of the road with a steep embankment on one side, seeing pretty much by starlight alone.

Mama had worked second shift too, and she made no secret that she carried a brick in her purse just in case someone wanted to interrupt her walk home and help themselves to her pay or her person. The lantern weighed next to nothing, but the battery weighed about as much as a brick. As much as I wanted to leave it behind a tree or something and pick it back up when the car was running, I decided to show some grit and carry it on. My mother had been tinier than me, and after six kids, I had some girth and some muscle underneath it.

I was in the middle of shifting my bag to my other shoulder when I saw Mama.

At first I thought it was just that thing that when your eyes are tired you see faces and shapes and stuff in the twilight. I’m a good Christian woman and didn’t have no truck with ghosts or occult nonsense, now or back then, and ghosts were just something my own brothers and sisters tried to scare me with when I was a child. But as clear as she had been made out of moonlight, there she was, as young as she were about my age, stepping high for her boots to clear the weeds, swinging her bag and waving howdy.

I stumbled a bit, breathing heavy from the shock. I didn’t know whether to freeze where I was or run toward her. But she was waving and smiling. I started forward just as a car crested the hill behind me. When the beams from its headlights came down to where she was, she just vanished. And the car zoomed on past.

I froze and ran it over in my mind. There was something odd about her wave, and that smile seemed like maybe I could see her teeth because she was shouting something. I looked quick over my shoulder and there was a man behind me, a flesh-and-blood man in boots and overalls, reaching for me. I spun around and whipped my shoulder-bag at his head as hard as I could. I felt stitches in the straps give a bit, but they held. And the bag, weighted down with that old lantern battery, clipped into his head with a crack like from a baseball bat down at the stadium.

The man just tipped over and slid headfirst down the embankment. I never saw him again, nor did anyone else I could ask. And to this day I’ve never seen another ghost.


January 24, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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