“Seriously. Now that they took off, you know. That mole. Do you feel like yourself again?”
My father didn’t respond right away. “I do and I don’t,” he said, softly. “The graft they gave me, putting part of my leg on my back. I’m all rearranged.”
“But you’re all right, though, right? That cancer. It’s not coming back. Is it?”
He sat there for a long time, the smoke from his cigarette curling toward the ceiling. He was silent for so long, I wondered if he’d forgotten my question.
“You’ll take care of them,” he said. “When I’m gone?”
“Your sister. Your mother. They’ll need you to be the strong one.”
“Me?” I said. “What are you talking about? You said you were okay now.”
“That’s right,” he said.
“So you don’t need me to be taking care of anyone. They said they got it all.”
“But just in case. It’d be your job. To look out for them, if you had to.” I played a couple of random notes on the keyboard, in the upper octaves.
“You will, won’t you?” said my father. “Tell me you will.”
“Look out for them,” he said, urgently. “Be the man.”
“You said I wouldn’t have to,” I said. He was starting to annoy me now. “You said you’d be fine.”
He took a drag of his cigarette, held the smoke in his lungs for an impossibly long time. “Why don’t you play something?” he said. “How about Schumann’s “Traumerei”? From the Scenes from Childhood?”
“Fine,” I said.
“Only,” he said, “play it in ragtime.”
I gave it to him in ragtime. Like that made any sense. He sat there in his chair, staring into the fireplace, as I played “Traumerei” like a mentally challenged Jelly Roll Morton.
Halfway through the song, I found tears welling up in my eyes. They spilled over my lashes and ran down my face. I hated that he could see them, but I couldn’t wipe the tears off while I was playing.
Slowly he got out of his chair and came over to the piano, sat down next to me on the bench. Then he put his hand on the side of my face.
“Now, now,” he said kindly. “That’s enough of that.”
IN THE FALL of 2006, a woman named Wendy stepped through the front door of the Coffin House and stood in the hallway for a moment. She was wearing a t-shirt that said Bewitched.
I’d assumed, when I set out to investigate the Coffin House’s spirits, that it would be difficult to find a ghostbuster in the Philadelphia area. And yet in no time at all, I’d befriended this Wendy, a large, generous woman who ran a group called Totally Batty. When she wasn’t busting ghosts, Wendy worked in lingerie at a department store. When I’d asked her if she’d be willing to come over and check out the Coffin House, she said sure.