My daddy was the Keeper first. I inherited this place from him. Not much to it—half a wall that used to fit someplace, on the back edge of our property. Somehow that window never broke. Don’t ask me.
My daddy called it a “way station.” He used to be a trucker, so I misheard at first and thought he meant “weigh station.” A place to take your measure. I suppose that’s true enough. The dead folks who get stuck here? They’re all taking stock.
But man, oh man, they bring a shit ton of hard questions. I mean, they never ask about the weather last Tuesday. They want a clean accounting, right and wrong like flip sides of a shiny penny.
I did try. I told myself, “Sis, these ghosts deserve their peace, even if they smell like cordite and dust spiked with magnolia.” I looked for answers on the wall, words scratched into brick. Strings of letters, numbers. Lovey-dovey phrases. Could be nothing more than folks’ initials. But maybe there was something else. A moral calculus. A righteous etymology.
Don’t look so surprised—I went to college; I read books. People think if you say ain’t that you aren’t going anywhere. At least the dead know better than all that.
They do get mightily impatient. You’d reckon ghosts would learn to wait, but they’re a testy lot. They throw bitterness at me—clumps of gauzy, weightless shit that smells like long-dead fish. Daddy didn’t warn me about that, which got me to thinking there must be another way, something I missed.
Then this boy came along while I was picking wrath out of my hair. Little guy, alone, but he came right up close. Brown corduroys and a T-shirt with a faded orange logo. One shoe missing. Dirty fingers, caked with mud as if he’d clawed his way from death. He stared at that old window, nothing on the other side but barren, vacant light.
Well, Daddy didn’t give me any firm instructions, ‘cepting for the one word: Stay. The window wasn’t latched. I opened it. And that kid floated through, smiling fit to beat the band. Last I saw of him was one rubber-tipped high-top and one bare set of toes. Last I heard, he laughed.
The rest of the dead followed. More come every day. Before they disappear, they drop stale questions at my feet. I sweep them up, make a pile, light a match. I burn the detritus of knowing. Eyes closed, I think about my daddy, out here on his own. I feel the pull of that lone window’s light, its tender provocations. I want to say, “I understand now, daddy. I get it, what you left me. This odd job. I might be the Keeper, but there ain’t nothing to hold onto. All I gotta do is stay.”
There’s a way and weight to that, to bearing witness. Staying. You ain’t got to know it all.