This is a work of fiction, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
TESS ON THE STAIRS
Laramie Sasseville copyright 1989
Originally Published in 'Spinning Free', June/July, 1989 issue
She'd always been there; it was the stillness demanded of her in life. As a wraith Tess had not escaped it. She was an unformed song: all the tones were there, but time was up, and she was left unsung.
There was the rule: Children should be seen and not heard. It was a rule reinforced by blows and scorching looks, and the command, "Go to the window seat on the stairs, sit still and be quiet until you're called."
The words that never reached her mother's ears were so silenced before they met her own; after a while she stopped wondering about these missing sounds and meanings that might have told her who she was.
She didn't remember dying - only being ill, and the doctor - but she was so weak that nothing mattered. Later she'd felt very alone - for the last time Tess heard the long, lonely wail of her child heart, and sentenced herself to the window seat on the stairs until she was called.
Raj wrestled the stereo speakers into their assigned places in the corners off the otherwise empty room.
"Careful! You'll scratch the floor." Magary admired the sheen of the dark, polished boards. The carved mahogany of lintels and beams, and the beautiful old stairway had first attracted her to the place when Mrs. Hanson had showed it to them last month, before the old tenants had pulled out. It was a wonderful place, in great repair for being almost a hundred years old. Margary glanced up the stairs to a drift of pale afternoon light that sat on the window seat at a corner in the stairway; she shivered.
"You know, there's supposed to be a ghost in this house. Mrs. Hanson said that's the only reason the old tenants were willing to move." She edged closer to Raj's comfortable presence. He was mumbling with frustration as he sorted through a tangle of speaker wires.
"No kidding - that's great." He didn't look up.
Peter and Lu pushed through the double set of doors that made a sort of airlock of the entry; their arms were loaded with a crate of records and cardboard boxes of tapes. And cds.
"Ghost?" asked Lu. She set her armload down beside the equipment where Raj had begun to hook up wires, attaching the speakers to a block of heavy-duty dials, knobs and gauges.
"Yeah - ." Margary helped Lu unload, setting boxes of tapes on the bare floorboards, and starting to sort through them. "Mrs. Hanson told me the story when I told her we'd love to have a ghost -."
"Hey, you got that thing ready to go yet?" Pete gave Raj a friendly shove to the shoulder. "We've got to inaugurate this place - How 'bout that concert tape you played last week over at Karl's?"
"Hang on," Raj grunted as he made a few trail tugs to be sure the wires were secure. "Sure, dig it out - we'll use it for the trial run."
"Here it is." Lu pulled out a tape from the heap she was sorting, and handed it across to Raj.
"It was a little girl who died of some influenza epidemic about seventy years ago. People still see her sitting on the window seat every once in a while -."
"Cool." Any further comment on Lu's part was drowned in a wave of sound as Raj upped the volume to test out the speaker connections. Lu sprang up and dove into the music as if it were a sea, and dancing were a way of swimming in it. Margary joined in, grabbing Pete by the hand and pulling him along.
On the window seat, Tess felt something tugging at her… it had been so long she'd almost stopped listening. What was it?
"Come! Hear! Uncle John's band… Come on along or go alone… Come! Hear! Come on along!…" It was calling; it kept calling her to come join in something she'd never quite known… "He's come to take his children home… Come! Hear! Come on along or go alone…" The words were a line hooked to the fish of her soul; she'd heard them as she'd heard nothing else in all this time; it was the call she'd been waiting for. She could come down now.
With a rush she was gone from her place on the stairs, and pulled into a joy of music and movement she'd lost long before she'd known it could be.
"We've been in this house for weeks now, and I still haven't seen any ghost on the stairs," Raj complained.
"Yeah." Pete shrugged it off. Such is life, "But it seems like there's a little extra spirit in the music."