Laurel Dixon

The Ghosts

 

Mrs. Norris paced in front of my bedroom wall. She laid her paws against the plaster. She howled.

“She’s plotting a mob hit against me,” I said.

Laura petted the creamsicle-colored cat. It took a swipe at her. “There’s probably a ghost in the wall.”

We laughed as the cat jumped a full two feet in the air. My brown, sausage-shaped dog lay sleeping next to me. I patted his head. “The dog is not a Ghostbuster.”

 

Two hours later, Laura pressed her fingertips to the wall, like she was feeling for a pulse. “I think the cat is right. There’s something in there.”

I cupped my ear and leaned against the painted gray surface. It smelled like age and the stink of chemicals. Inside, I heard tiny scuffling sounds, punctuated by puffs of air. The cat stared up at me, gloating with her keen yellow eyes.

 

Throaty chirps started to echo from behind the wall. The dog sniffed along the baseboard. A ridge of hair stood up on his spine, his brown eyes sharpening with a primal hunger. He howled. He tried to dig a hole in the dirty beige carpet.

Laura and I studied the wall. The watery winter light formed a rectangle on the blank canvas. I sat my hand square in the center of it.

“I think our ghosts are birds,” Laura said.

 

Laura’s voice singed the receiver of her phone with fury, her hair a wild golden cloud. “Well, when can you get the birds out of the walls?”

 

I turned around at my desk to face Laura. “At least there are two of them in there. At least they have company.”

Laura frowned. “I suppose.”

“We should name them,” I said, “They’re ours now.”

She sighed. “The apartment office won’t call me back, so I guess they are.”

“I’m calling mine ‘Mark Wall-Bird.”

A smile flitted across Laura’s wan face. She’d lost her summer tan. “John Wall-Bird.”

“WALL-E the wall bird.”

She clasped her hands in front of her. “Dear God, make me a wall bird, so I can fly far, far away from here.”

We shared a grin.

 

Pest control came. A somber old man in a tool belt skimmed his gloves across the wall. “You ladies definitely have birds in there.”

Laura rolled her eyes behind his back. Her tone was polite when she spoke. “How do we get them out?”

“I’m going to have to cut into the wall.”

I sighed. The dog sitting at my feet wagged his tail. “Okay.”

“But your apartment complex will have to give me permission.”

I watched a vein in Laura’s forehead threaten to burst. “But the apartment complex told me to call you.”

The man shrugged. “Those are the rules.”

 

The olive oil snapped in the pan as I made us fried eggs. It sizzled, painting my arm with needle-pricks of pain.

“All in all, you’re just a… another bird, in the wall…” I sang under my breath.

Laura rolled her eyes at me. She held out a chipped plate for her eggs. “Don’t quit your day job.”

 

The dog yawned. He curled against Laura on my white comforter, the ghosts in the wall forgotten. Overhead the fan swung in dizzy circles. We watched its furious beating with our lids half-open, hiding our cold hands in our sweater-sleeves. The wall emitted feather-soft thumps and thin cries.

Laura patted the dog’s head, whispering in his ear: “I’ll actually miss you when you move out, Fitzel.”

I avoided her eyes. “He says that he’ll miss you too.”

 

I woke up at midnight. Alone, I slipped out of my silk bedsheets. I pressed my sleep-starved body against the cool expanse of wall, listening. The noises were fainter.

I felt a lurch in my heart, as subtle as a wingbeat.

“We’ll get you out soon,” I whispered to the plaster. “Live. Live. Live.”

 


Laurel Dixon lives in Corvallis, Oregon, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing at Oregon State University. She has been published in The Southampton Review, Pollen, and New Limestone Review, among others. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and recently received second place in the Frank McCourt Memoir Contest.