weed & roses

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Weed & Roses

Melanie sat on the floor pawing through yet another moving box. “Why do I have so much crap?” she wondered to herself, carefully blowing dust from an antique wooden box inlaid with cut mirror mosaic.

How strange she felt living in a haunted house.  The first few times she had encountered the ghosts she tried to explain them away; the analytic wheels of her mind searched for a rational explanation: you’re exhausted and imagining things, or you thought you pushed in the chair but forgot, or surely you broke a perfume bottle in the move and you’re just now noticing. But after the third night in a row, when Melanie stumbled from her bed to the bathroom for a midnight pee only to be enfolded in the scent of roses, she knew this was not all in her mind.

Having purchased a recently deceased hoarder’s home, she expected to find some strange things as she culled through the trash and the treasures, but entities from another realm were not it. She had found a painted antique Balinese mask replete with real human hair and bone teeth, and a small glass vile filled with a heavy, silvery metal she later discovered to be Mercury. Then there were the files. Shelves and shelves filled with rows and rows of bulging, tattered Manila paper files. There were seven files labeled “Climate” which included magazine articles, computer printouts, and newspaper clippings for every aspect of home climate control from windows to fireplaces.  Models both present in the home as well as dozens of others researched for consideration.  There were files on health conditions, astrological charts, “Dear Abbey” advice columns, blood work, woodwork, and pets. Files that held the story of Josie and Grace.

Josephine and Graciela Campbell, previous inhabitants of the old house at 613 Camino de la Terra, a mother and daughter who wrote the book on co-dependence, were avid collectors of information. They had once been estranged due to a bohemian Parisian lover Grace acquired while studying Comparative Literature at the Sorbonne. Mother did not approve. Melanie found a file labeled “correspondence” containing documents and letters between mother, daughter, and the family lawyer which included threats of dis-inheritance and financial cajoles to re-calibrate the young lady to her 1950’s American expectations. Grace retaliated with nuptial promises. The affair fizzled quickly though, when the gentleman’s second lover was discovered and then promptly deported back to the Congo.  A child produced from Grace’s coupling was stillborn, a temporary complication, so things returned to normal upon her homecoming to the States.

At what point in their history the two women decided to seek solace in each other’s company exclusively, Melanie was not exactly sure. But as time passed, they appeared to live life more and more through the collection and cataloging of information, as opposed to going out and participating in the world. The last ten years of her life Grace lived alone, isolated, without the companionship of Mother, and took to ordering bizarre collectables from the internet: a set of antique Chinese roof tiles featuring two brocade costumed men riding a rhinoceros and elephant, various pieces of antique metal dental equipment, and a leather-bound ornithological field kit. Melanie even found an original Polaroid camera, unopened, in the leather briefcase it was sold in almost seventy years prior.

Melanie folded up the now empty box and added it to the pile destined for the recycle bin.  She placed the wooden piece in a bookshelf and walked into the kitchen. Sniffing the air and wrinkling her nose, “I hate the stink of Marijuana!” she said aloud to the empty room.  Another spectral scent she encountered on a now regular basis. That one must be Grace, she thought to herself, familiar with the deceased’s youthful bohemian tendencies, and Josie must be the roses. Melanie recalled her late grandmother, and her love for strong floral scents: Gardenia, Lavender, and Roses. Maybe it’s a generational thing she thought to herself.

Melanie walked into the guest bedroom which she was converting into a writing lair: favorite quotes plastered the walls and a cork idea board, full of colorful character images and setting prompts, hung above the desk. The chair was pulled out and ajar again, her writing pad disheveled, pens rolled to the floor. This was the fourth time in a week that her writing space had been violated.

“Stop it!” she yelled. “Fucking ridiculous!” Melanie stomped around the desk, picking up pens and re-ordering her rough draft notes.  She re-pinned three character photographs which had been tossed to the floor.  Nobody shows this bullshit on those Sci-Fi ghost shows she thought to herself.

“I know you guys are here too, and you know what...I don’t care. It’s fine,” Melanie yelled, uprighting the overturned chair and tucking it back into the kneehole of the desk. “But seriously, leave my stuff alone, please!”

Besides the low price, the extra bedroom had been the big selling point for Melanie on the house. For the first time in her life, she had a creative space all her own to write, paint, and pursue her artistic tendencies. The writing room was holy ground.  Exasperated, she plopped down into the chair. She leaned back and took a deep breath, closing her eyes and breathing in to a count of eight, breathing out to a count of six. A smile slowly spread across her face. She fantasized about the day she could write full time, no longer entertaining horny, bored businessmen at the hotel bar where she served “Silver Coin” margaritas like hot cakes at an IHOP.  Checking her watch, she realized she was almost late for work.

That night’s shift seemed to drag on forever; Melanie wanted to be home, unpacking boxes and settling into her new place. “No,” she didn’t know about the Magic Show convention that was in town, “No,” she didn’t care that another TV show was shooting in Albuquerque, and “Hell No,” she didn’t want to grab a drink after her shift and hear about it. As the last customer paid and left, she clocked out, grabbed her purse and dashed for the house.

“I’m home!” she barked enthusiastically as she pushed through the front door, laughing at herself, realizing she was talking to ghosts. It’s kind of like having roommates, she thought, but less annoying. She ran upstairs and checked the writing room: same as she left it. She poured herself a glass of wine, lit a fire, and pulled out her journal to record the thoughts of the day. More quickly than expected, her enthusiasm for unpacking boxes gave way to exhaustion, and she plowed up the stairs and flopped into bed.

The brightness of the sun coupled with the aroma of roses awoke Melanie just after daybreak. Groggily she shuffled downstairs and into the kitchen for her first cup of morning Jo. “Crap,” she grumbled to herself, having forgotten to set the coffee maker the night before. Clumsily she fumbled with the filter and retrieved the coffee from the freezer. She watched the caffeinated elixir drip into the glass carafe like a bear studying honey on the comb. Coffee in hand, she made her way to her writing room for a long, creative session on her day off.

“Goddammit,” she hollered, looking through the doorway at the mess on the floor.  Everything had been pulled down off the walls. Her carefully cut out quotes were torn and strewn about the floor. The idea board, still hanging, was empty except for the stickpins: its contents mixed in with the rubble on the ground. The chair was overturned and pens littered the carpet, her notes spread about like trash. She wanted to cry, but the fury that rose up from her belly blocked the tears. Had Melanie been able to wrap her hands around the inanimate throats of her two ethereal enemies, she would have choked the life out of them.

“I hate you both!” Melanie stormed out of the room and down the hallway. She paced back and forth, an angry lion trying to formulate a plan. She downed her cup of coffee and went to the bathroom, cursing the women as she emptied her bladder. “How do I get revenge on a ghost?” she asked herself then laughed out loud at the lunacy of the thought.  As her anger rolled back slowly like a receding cloud, inspiration struck.  Smiling, she walked towards the object of her destination.

Under the staircase, left of the hall bath, was the first set of built-in shelves, still full of the previous owner’s files. She took a file down from the shelf and perused it, “Document...boring, medical files...boring,” she put the file back and pulled another from the far side of the shelf. She opened it, thumbing through a few old letters, to find a thick group of family photos. She walked back to the writing room. The buzz of the shredder hummed as the first old photo made its way through the razor teeth. Then another.

“Oh look,” Melanie said in mock surprise, “a Christmas photo,” and dropped it into the paper destruction.  “Quit messing with my shit or I’ll shred all of these, every photo in this damn house.”

Pleased with her ingenuity, she watched the shredder consume the last of the black and white family photo featuring an aluminum Christmas tree and an old man in a Rudolph sweater wearing a bow atop his bald head. She picked up the Scotch tape and began repairing her torn quotes. She re-pinned her idea board pictures and re-hung the quotes to the wall. Melanie hammered out a few pages of a short story and the frustration that began the day slowly morphed into a feeling of satisfaction.  She ended the afternoon by unloading eight more moving boxes, so when work called with the opportunity to pick up a shift that evening, she said ‘yes’ already having met the goals of the day.

At a quarter to six, as she grabbed her phone and purse to head out the door to work, the slightest trickle of fear ran up her spine about the possible vengeance her spectral housemates might enact while she was gone. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m really sorry, that was a shit thing to do,” and headed out the door.

Five days passed uneventfully. The following evening, a Tuesday night, Melanie had an awful dream.  The sort of nightmare where one wakes up unsure as to whether waking or dreaming, for the illusion seems so real. She dreamt that an enormous man, burley and criminal, rode his motorcycle down her darkened hallway, threw open her bedroom door, and pinned her to the bed by the wrists, rendering her immovable. She could feel the weight of his bulk and smell the rotten stench of him as he leaned in close to her face; smiling at her with dead eyes, he licked her cheek through cracked bloodied lips. He grinned at her helplessness and laughed as she tried to wriggle free like a trapped fish. He rose up over her several feet then slowly dropped a long trail of spittle into her mouth. Paralyzed, she was unable to close her mouth from the scream that emanated from it, and his grotesque saliva filled her.  She bolted awake, screeching and upright, and ran from the bed.

Melanie sat at her kitchen bench nursing a third bowl of mint chocolate-chip ice cream, wishing she could erase the memory of the monstrous man, as she replayed the dream in her mind’s eye over and over. Never in her life had she dreamt anything so awful, so realistic.  The longer she stewed, the more she convinced herself that the hand of her disembodied roommates was involved, and her fear began to layer with anger.  She watched the sunrise over the horizon of the mountain, and as the day began anew, she grew resilient in her resolve to make this home her own.

Melanie called in sick to work; indeed a terrible bug was circulating, her manager confirmed, wishing her a speedy recovery.  She switched from ice cream to coffee, put on a Pandora rap station, and went to work. Melanie read through file after file on Josie and Grace. Quickly discarding the records on nutrition and household appliances, she searched for more personal information, insights into their dreams, hopes, or regrets. She found Grace’s sketchbook from her days at the Sorbonne, and gleefully decided it would be the first thing in a pile earmarked “Burn.” Melanie learned that mother Josie, at the youthful age of eighteen, had been engaged to an airman who died in WWI. Their winsome letters, under any other circumstance, would have pulled at Melanie’s heartstrings and been put aside as research for a memoir project. They were added to the “Burn” pile as well.

Melanie rifled through folder after folder, sorting them into three piles: trash, shred, and burn. She found a piece of amateur pottery with the initials G.C. carved on the bottom, took it outside and broke it against the adobe wall, kicking the smashed terra cotta pieces into the gravel.  She shredded family photos until the overworked machine gave up and overheated.  Discovering an old, tattered dog collar with the name “Lacie” engraved on the heart shaped tag, she walked it down to the dumpster at the end of the neighborhood and tossed it in.

Feeling empowered after a vengefully productive day, Melanie sat at the kitchen bench enjoying her fourth cup of coffee, and watched the sun drop slowly behind the cityscape. She imagined the look on the women’s faces as she destroyed item after beloved item. She fancied them helpless viewers to her singing along with Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z, dancing from room to room eliminating their personal histories. She considered which cookware would be best for tonight’s burning, and pulled out her large chili-style cast iron pot.  She searched for the packet of 100 tea light candles while imagining a ceremony fit for a Harry Potter story. In the middle of her reverie, she smelled the unmistakable scents that had become so familiar: marijuana and roses.

The smells were stronger than what she had experienced before, and mixed together at the same time and place; that was a first.

“Hello, ladies!” she boasted, spine tall and chest puffed out.

As she felt the presence of the two women there in the room with her, mother and daughter who had come to rely solely on each other, sequestered prisoners living in their house shutting out the rest of the world, Melanie was overcome with sadness.  She began to cry. Her body shook and her eyes filled as remorse overtook her soul like a tidal wave.

“I’m sorry,” she wailed, laying her head onto her folded arms and heaving out tears. Never in her life had she engaged in such a targeted, malicious act. What if they had nothing to do with the dream, she asked herself? What kind of person destroys children’s art and dead dog relics? She cried until there were no more tears then she went into the living room and slept for the rest of the evening on her uncomfortable IKEA sofa.

“That is some crazy shit!” Arlene eyed Melanie from across the bar, waiting to see if there was some kind of punch line to follow. Arlene and Melanie had worked together at Hotel Albuquerque going on three years now, and they were pretty close to best friends.  Arlene knew Melanie was not one to exaggerate.

“I know! I’ve been in that house almost two weeks, and it’s like those bitch ghosts are trying to run me out,” Melanie polished a wine glass so hard it broke into the towel in her hand. “Dammit! I feel like I’m going crazy in that place.”

“Well you can’t let them win,” Arlene declared, crossing her arms. “Why don’t you call a priest up in there, drive those bitches out, and sell their stuff on eBay.”

“What? I’m just supposed to go into a church and ask ‘Who does the exorcisms?’” Melanie looked doubtful.

“We could sage the place. I’d help you.”

“Do you know how to do that?” Melanie liked this idea better.

“Sure. I saged my mom’s rent house after she evicted those ghetto drug dealers. It totally worked…she got a good tenant after that.” Arlene rolled her silverware more quickly. “I’ll be done in five, then I’ll run home and get a sage stick. I can be at your place in half an hour. I want to see the new digs anyway.”

“Awesome,” Melanie smiled, and for the first time all night, she felt relieved.

Forty-five minutes later when Arlene knocked on her door, Melanie jumped at the startle. She felt like she was fifteen again, planning to toilet paper the neighbor’s house while keeping the scheme under wraps from her parents.

“Did you get the sage?” Melanie whispered, ushering Arlene in cautiously.

“Seriously Mel?”  Arlene walked into the living room and set a paper bag on the sofa arm. “This is your house. Why are you whispering?”

“Right. Sorry.” She gave Arlene a quick tour of her new home then they set up in the kitchen with the sage stick, a brownie pan, and a lighter.  Melanie started to have second thoughts, wondering if it was cruel to send the ghosts away, but then she remembered it was them who had made the relationship acrimonious.

“We’re going to start at the front door, work counterclockwise through the whole house back to where we started, then let the remaining part of the stick burn out in the middle of the room,” Arlene spoke with such authority; Melanie was impressed. “Clear your mind and focus on the intent of sending those ghost bitches away. Got it?”

“Got it!” Melanie grabbed ahold of the sage stick and walked towards the front door.

Both girls sniffed the air as the pungent smell of marijuana encircled them. “I would ask you to share the weed, but I’m guessing this is one of your unseen friends?” Arlene said to Melanie, who nodded in response.

“All right Ghosts, you’re days of picking on my friend are over,” Arlene heckled the unseen visitor. “We’re sending you and Mommy Dearest back to the other side, or Heaven, or wherever the hell you’re supposed to be.”

“Which isn’t here in my house!” Melanie added. The women set to work: making sure to smoke up every corner of every room, floor to ceiling, and every closet, cabinet, and nook in the house.  The earthy smell of sage permeated the air and the thick smoke created a “Cheech and Chong” effect throughout the house.  As they rounded the staircase headed back to the front door, three loud knocks sounded from the hall bathroom. They both screamed. Melanie almost dropped the burning stick, and Arlene ran to the bathroom to investigate the noise. “Nothing!” she hollered to Melanie, who had just placed the sage in the brownie pan in the middle of the room to burn out.

“Maybe that was them leaving,” Melanie replied hopefully.

“Good riddance,” Arlene added.

After Arlene had left, Melanie made some herbal mint tea and grabbed her newest Neil Gaiman novel. She checked her writing room on the way to bed. Everything was fine. I hope this sage thing works she thought to herself; she just wanted some peace. Truly, Melanie didn’t mind having ghosts in the house, if they just would have left her stuff alone. It was their fault things had come to this. She had been willing to be friends.

Melanie slept deeply and peacefully, no dreams or smells in the night.  She woke to the brightness of the sun shining in through the crack of her bedroom drape. She shuffled downstairs for her morning coffee, hot and comforting, as she sat at the kitchen bench sipping and thumbing through the novel. After a few minutes, when the caffeine had taken effect and she felt resilient enough to take on the perils of the day, Melanie walked up to her writing room. The room was still, no overturned chair or disheveled papers. It was almost the same as the night before, save for one scrap of paper on the floor. Melanie walked over to it; a piece torn from one of her quotes on the wall, it contained one word written in her own hand, “Goodbye.”


Submitted: January 01, 2018

© Copyright 2021 melissa mccurley. All rights reserved.

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