Footnotes to a Ghost Story (Baba Galya, d. 2003)
For Deda Vitya, her husband;
and Papa, her son; and Mama, her daughter-in-law;
and Mark, her grandchild;
and me, her other grandchild
1. “Pear Shaped with Fuzzy Edges […] Collapsing” borrows its title from the Wikipedia page on ball lightning.
a. “The days going by are getting in the way of the new morning I’d found at last. It wasn’t ‘next’ that I was headed toward but ‘bygone’ that I was always chasing after… Will the rain ever stop? I’ve been cold for such a long time. Why does this rain choose me? Can I wrap myself up in it?” —sid (see Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood).
2. “Open the pod-bay doors, Hal.”
b. The faucet in Baba Galya’s bathroom always drips no matter how hard I close it. I punch my arm through an existing hole in the wall. Mama pulling a toy train around on a circular track. Papa’s naked, he shivers, standing up, curling forward, arms wrapped.
3. See the opening lines of every Powerpuff Girls episode: “Sugar, spice, and everything nice. These were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect little girl. But Professor Utonium accidentally added an extra ingredient to the concoction—Chemical X! Thus, the Powerpuff Girls were born. Using their ultra-super powers, Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup have dedicated their lives to fighting crime and the forces. Of. Evil.”
4. Deda Vitya prepares for Hanukkah, lighting candles while watching a rabbi pray in Russian on YouTube. His laptop is hooked up to the kitchen TV. There’s a three-second lag. “It sounds like they’re having a conversation,” Mark says, about the screens.
a. Papa says, “Mama told me you told her or wrote somewhere that you think things would have been different if we hadn’t started doing chess? That I was a taskmaster, never let you do anything for yourself? That nothing mattered except you winning tournaments? That I abused you with chess?” Me: “I don’t really know if that’s true.” Papa: “I don’t know. It just makes me sad. Chess was a way I could spend time with you. And it’s interesting that at the time, when Baba Galya died, I had so much anxiety, it was a coping mechanism for me, though I didn’t realize it, that I needed chess to not have depression, though I was depressed, for years. And I taught you how to play chess, didn’t I, when you were six? But you weren’t very interested in it. And then when you got into it, you were so talented, and Mark started it, and then it was a thing I could do with both of you.”
5. “Do you want to meet a ghost?”
a. Mark: “Deda Vitya just walks in the YMCA pool while I lift barbells. Super slow from one end of the Olympic-length lane to the other, as straight a line as Deda Vitya can wade. His path looks (wobbling between the parallel lane-lines) more like a note, say an Eeeee, vibrating in time. Arms dragging at his sides, his swim-trunks violet.”
6. See neopets.com. Mark and I played it for years.
a. I come up to the living room wearing yesterday’s clothes, holding the sheet around me like Baba Galya’s ghost. My phone loops Porque Te Vas and I see Baba Galya dead slumped over the old piano. A clean, small, circular hole in the square of her back. C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E. I sit at the stool, filling Baba Galya’s space. My breath materializes in front of me. I rub my hands together and the sheet falls off my shoulders. I see them here, the little pieces of paper me and Baba Galya taped to the keys so I would know which notes they were. I play Porque Te Vas on the keys and sing and listen. But the piano is three steps flat. Together the whole thing sounds in tune so for years I didn’t realize it had all been creeping down like mountain dirt while the trees stood upright—cliffs behind Baba Galya’s grave as every December we place on it stones. “Play it faster, it’s too fast.”)
7. I just re-remembered: Mama told me and Mark not to say “cancer” in this house, everyone was keeping it secret from Baba Galya that she was going to die. Deda Vitya says, “Lina told me, after Galya died, that Galya told her she went to the doctor on her own and asked him how much time she had. Galya put cards under her clothes, and later I found them: ‘These are for Lina, these are for…’ So Galya knew, and kept it a secret from all of us…”
a. I remember the spy devices I got from Toys-R-Us. I gave one to Mark. A headband LED eye-piece and wrist-keyboard. My parents said they didn’t want Mark and I communicating secretly in our separate bedrooms. Going to sleep we put them on and communicated. It was very glitchy. If both of us tried to send a message at once then we would both miss each other’s (seeing only our own going through) and sometimes I swore in there uncontrollably and at some point either weeks or days Mark stopped using it and it was almost like we weren’t living in the same universe anymore, we were each holograms to each other, and I would go into bed and put mine on and hope Mark had his on and send messages to him that he never sent back, for a few days or weeks intermittently, until I gave up and forgot all about these. They were in a box in our basement, then Mama sold them on eBay with the rest of our once-treasured toys we or at least I thought I could save our worlds with.
Jacob Oet‘s recent work includes the chapbooks No Mark Spiral (forthcoming, Cutbank Press) and With Porcupine (winner of the 2015 Ruby Irene Prize from Arcadia Press). Their work has appeared in jubilat, Adroit Journal, Poetry Review, Bennington Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among other publications. They are an MFA candidate in Poetry at Syracuse University, where they were awarded the Shirley Jackson Prize in Fiction.