Excerpt: Ghost Story

As a boy, I was scared by both my deep, hidden desire to be a girl and the spooky Main Line mansion I grew up in. Thirty years and a sex-change operation later, I came back ā€” only to discover Iā€™m still being haunted

I didn’t know what to tell her. My sister had declared me dead. On those rare occasions that she came home to visit my mother, books I had written had to be removed from the shelves, photographs of me hidden in drawers. After all these years, I had become a ghost to her. “Tell you what,” I said, unwilling to go into the gory details. “Let’s head upstairs.”

We climbed the creaking stairs and paused at the entrance to the second-floor room my mother now called the “library,” lined wall-to-wall with leather-bound books. Once, it had been my sister’s room, filled with her canopy bed and Jethro Tull albums.

Wendy clutched her heart suddenly. “Whoo,” she said. “Did you feel that? Another cold spot.” She looked toward my mother’s room. “He went in there.”

She opened the door to the bedroom. Our presence felt like an invasion to me. After all, my father had died in this very bed, my mother at his side. He’d been sick a long time.

But here he was again, a soft, curious presence, coming closer. “Is there anybody here?” Wendy asked.

Yes.

“Were you a boy?”

Yes.

“It’s my dad,” I said.

“Are you Jenny’s dad?”

Yes.

I felt my throat close up, and tears rushing to my eyes. And as I felt these things, I thought: Jenny. Remember, this is all total bullshit.

“He’s very warm,” said Wendy.

“Hi Dad,” I said.

“Here,” she said, placing the copper rods in my hands. “Just hold them steady.”

I can’t believe I’m doing this, I thought. This is such crap.

This was not idle conjecture. A few weeks earlier, I had interviewed a well-known paranormal debunker. “Of course dousing rods move,” he’d said wearily. “They move because of the way they’re built. It’s called the ideomotor reaction. It’s physically impossible to keep them steady.”

“What do I do now?” I said to Wendy. The sticks pointed out into the room.

“Talk to him.”

I didn’t know where to begin. “Dad?” I said, standing in the room with Wendy’s divining rods. “It’s me.” Guess you heard about the sex change?

Yes. The rods moved all by themselves, as I held my hands perfectly steady.

The ideomotor reaction, probably.

“Are you okay? Out there? Wherever you are?”

Yes.

We fell into our old awkward silence, me and the old man. It was like one of those Sunday-night phone calls home during college. The blood rushed to my face as I felt his gaze upon me. It was embarrassing, in a way, to meet my father in this manner, after I’d become a woman and he’d morphed into some kind of electromagnetic tumbleweed.

Oh, Jenny, he seemed to suggest. Do you think I wouldn’t know my own child?

The rods in my hands swung outward, one to the right, one to the left. They swiveled all the way around until they were flat against my sides. They stayed like that for a while. Then they swung back straight ahead.

“I thought he might do that,” said Wendy. “We call that the invisible embrace. I see that all the time.”

“Well, okay, Dad,” I said. “Take care of yourself.” The rods quivered back and forth, and my tears rolled down. “Listen, I just wanted to say — I’m sorry. If I wound up  — a disappointment — ”

And then his hand was on my face. I  could feel each long finger, curving against my cheek.

Now, now, he said. That’s enough of that.

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