Alma Paramo by Désirée Zamorano

I will tell you the only ghost story I know.

It’s the only one that has happened to me.

Most stories that I have read happen in the dark, at night, when the poor victim is stumbling along dark, unfamiliar passageways. Mine does not.

It starts on an autumn morning, those mornings here in Pasadena where the day starts cool, and then burns hot. When the leaves in the trees begin to rustle, when the leaves of the liquid amber maples have their first hint of changing color, drying veins, and inkling of their own mortality.

Then, I liked to plant in the cool mornings of the fall. I liked to buy flats of violently colored pansies, snapdragons, violets, and work them gently into the borders of my front yard, hiding the dormant calla lilies, cyclamen, the fading Mexican evening primrose, avoiding the bulbs of narcissus I planted years ago. Vibrant colors to pull the viewer’s eyes away from the lawn of fading St. Augustine grass.

That morning I had my old cloth gloves on, stained with mud, to keep the dirt from shoving its way deep under my nails. I wasn’t wearing my hat, because it felt good to be under the warm sun in the cool air. I squeezed six blazing yellow pansy plants from their container, pried off the dead roots so the younger roots would be able to better absorb the water, the plant food, then I stabbed at the ground with my small trowel.

That was when the bones at the base of my neck grew cold.

My neighborhood is nearly silent in the morning. There was not the sound of a passing car, a jogger, or of a squirrel scuttering around the trunk of an oak. But now the hair on my arms stood straight up, and I turned around.

The sun pierced at my eyes.

Nothing. In the shade the ficus vines clung coolly to the façade of my home; a brittle baby elm leaf fluttered down.

I looked up to the second floor, to my room. I had closed my curtains to pull on these jeans, this sweatshirt, both grey from age and use. Apparently I had left the curtains closed. Normally I prefer the sun streaming in, the view of the trees arching above my room; but I realized now I must have left them closed. Until a curtain moved, and that movement registered with ice at the base of my spine.

Someone was in my house.

A car rushed by, and I spun around to stare at it as it passed. I could have crossed the street, or walked next door, but instead I picked up the shovel I had used to turn the soil and walked towards my front door.

How did he get in? My door was locked; I had to lay the shovel down in order to get my fingers to insert the key properly, then grasp the door latch, pulling upwards and pushing inwards. With the whoosh of the opening door, I bent over, retrieved my shovel, and headed up the stairs.

My stairs.

I paused halfway up, stopping my creaking on the steps, glanced out the picture window, and saw my flats of flowers, the upturned soil, the six splayed yellow pansies, waiting for their place in the soil.

I walked up the stairs. My bedroom door was closed. How odd.

“What do you want?” I shouted, the sound of my own voice, the effort startling me.

Nothing. No response.

Again, I could have walked down the stairs, or picked up the phone, or walked to a neighbor’s home, but instead I clutched the shovel more tightly in my left hand, opened the door with my right, and walked in.

No one. Nothing.

The curtains had been drawn open. Now sun streamed into my room, as I preferred, the liquid amber and the deodar framed my view with their limbs and leaves and needles.

I shook my head. I relaxed my grip on the shovel. “Alma,” I told myself, “you’re deluded.” That was all. Not unreasonable for a woman with too little on her mind, too much time on her hands, and suspicion at her heart. But before I stepped back downstairs to return to my planting, I stepped around my bed and stood at the window to admire my plans.

There, a woman kneeled, and started to plant one of my six yellow pansies. Except the roots of the plants were fat worms, the soil she upturned was strewn with what looked like chicken bones. I pounded on my window and shouted, “Get away!”

She turned, startled. I stepped back with a shock. That woman, that woman who turned, stood, squinted, then gaped upwards at me, was me.

In a moment I heard my key in the door, I heard my feet tread the stairs, then pause. Then her voice, my voice, then the whoosh of the bedroom door—

I remember nothing else. Except that now I am here, dirt crammed into my mouth, my nose, pressing against my open eyes, pressing against me on all sides. I can sense the slow moving tendril of the Chinese deodar as it reaches it towards me; the roots of the oak and the maple have already crossed through me.

Although I am here, I can tell by the crease on your forehead, the look on your face, that I am also, now, within you.
© Copyright 2009 Désirée Zamorano. All rights reserved.

Désirée Zamorano has a far too vivid inner life, which she exorcises via the computer screen. Her writing accomplishments and work in children’s literacy was featured in the Latino literary blog La Bloga. Désirée’s short fiction has appeared online and in print, in the LA Times and literary journals. Her novel “The Amado Women” is currently under consideration at a major house. This is her second story for the Rose City Sisters.