Sudden Quieting

Tintype courtesy of Carmen Benavides

Tintype courtesy of Carmen Benavides

I was preparing dinner. I felt and looked weighed down, and I wouldn’t have looked more so if I’d been wearing a lead jacket. I had a life-changing decision to make. A third-world problem. My sinuses and temples hurt. The air was fragrant but also thick and greasy.

Just then something changed, like the sudden quieting of a previously rustling forest. The main room of engine house where I live was dim and silent, and I took note of new, crisp, fresh air. I came out of the kitchen and saw Alexandra, who was reading. There are three swings suspended from the living-room ceiling — it’s a long story — and her eyes were fixed on the right swing. It was moving, while the other two were not.

The dogs were asleep. The room steady, all sounds dulled, aside from the creak of this one moving swing. Alexandra said, “A man just walked through the front door, walked over to the swing, and sat down.” The swing was still moving, but I saw nothing, no one.

I have grown up with ghosts. I have lived in a church, a creamery, a general store, a post office, a train station, and now a firehouse — all these buildings, with all those people, all latent with memories. I admit that when I was a child, my flight-or-fight response was triggered when I experienced spirits, but now I find the presence of ghosts comforting. I feel watched, guarded. And when I’m in a building without spirits, the absence is noticeable to me.

Recently, the fire alarms in the engine house were switched out with ones that combined smoke and carbon-monoxide detection. The new alarms went off irregularly at night, often at three in the morning. I have heard stories of the broken doorbell downstairs ringing in the middle of the night–was this a new ghost prank?

Carbon-monoxide poisoning with symptoms such as delirium and hallucinations has been implicated as the cause of apparent haunted houses, especially those with gas lighting. After a PG&E inspection, we discovered the heater was spilling out massive amounts of carbon monoxide.

That night, after returning to the kitchen, I held the counter, looking down. I imagined a hand on the back of my neck, and the weight on my face and shoulders slowly lifted as the lead jacket was removed, my postured was corrected, shoulders were pulled back. I knew what I had to do. I felt lightened, fortified, and I made a decision.