GHOST STORY?

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

The call floated to Annie while she worked in her garden one June day. But what was
it? She was used to people walking the street shouting out the different items they
had for sale. She could buy charcoal, ladders, tables, chairs, umbrellas, potatoes,
flowers, tarps, milk, tamales, even casserole dishes. But this didn’t sound like any of
those. The cry came again, from somewhere along the top of the hill.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Annie stopped her weeding and sat still, trying to calm her heartbeat. The little boy
next door had dashed into his house, screaming for his mother. Apparantly he had never
heard this call before either. Annie understood the boy’s reaction. Usually she could
guess at the words being shouted out, but this was not really a word. It sounded more
like the type of noise a ghost might make. Loud and long on the first syllable, soft
and short for the second, and with a drawn out third syllable that lingered sadly in
the air. It was definitely out of place on a sunny summer afternoon. Annie imagined a
lonely wandering spirit, searching for something lost long ago.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Whoever or whatever was calling was now coming downhill on Annie’s street. She wanted
to see it, but she simply could not make herself get up and go to the gate. She had a
good view of a section of the street through her neighbor’s yard. That would be close
enough, just in case. Laughing nervously at herself, Annie sat quietly in the grass and
waited.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Suddenly there he was: a small old man carrying a rolled up reed mat on his left
shoulder.The heavy mat was about six feet long and would be nearly that wide when flat.
A petate…..pEH tAH tEH, of course. Annie laughed again at her overactive imagination.
Nothing to fear from a petate salesman. She went back to her work, wondering how far
the man had walked that day and if he would be able to sell his petate. They had once
been used in nearly every home as sleeping mats, as protection from the rain when in
the fields, even as roofing material. Smaller ones were good for padding the backs of
mules or donkeys when they were being ridden or were carrying loads. But now the fat
reeds used were quickly disappearing, and so were the craftsmen who knew how to stitch
the reeds together. People these days thought owning a petate was old-fashioned, even
embarrassing. Annie slept on one herself and her back had never felt better, but she
did not know anyone else in the town who had one.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

“It sounded just like that and I was actually spooked until I saw the old man.” Annie
was telling her husband about the afternoon. “Where do you suppose he came from? Do you
think he was able to sell the petate? It wouldn’t hurt for us to get a new one…..I
wish I had thought of that while he was still around! Do you think he’ll ever come back
this way?”
Emiliano never knew for sure how to answer these strings of questions Annie threw at
him, but this time it was easy. “I don’t know, I don’t know, and I don’t know.”
Annie laughed. “I’m sorry. I did it again, didn’t I?”
“Yes. You do have a habit of asking questions that I cannot answer. But I think I can
find out something about him next week. I want to ride the bike out towards San V. That
is where I found the petate we have now. I can ask around, maybe this old man is the
same one I bought from. But tell me again….how did it sound? It might help me track
him down.”
Annie saw the twinkle in Emiliano’s eye. “I don’t think you need to know that to find
the old man, but since I like saying it anyway, here goes:”

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Life being the way it is, Emiliano was not able to ride his bike to San V until nearly
two months later, and he returned with a sad story.
“It turns out that the old man you saw WAS the one who sold me the petate. But they
say he is dead now.”
“Dead? But…but…what happened?”
“I don’t know. There was a man standing in the plaza and I described our friend to
him and said I hoped to buy another petate. But he said that the old man had died and
that there was only one petate maker left in the village. He told me how to find him,
and I went to visit, hoping that maybe the man in the plaza was not thinking of the
same old man. But this other petate maker was younger, and the mat he showed me was not
as carefully made as the one from our man. So I thanked him for his time, said that
I might come back some other day, and I came home. I’m sorry I don’t have better news.”
Annie did not struggle against her tears. In a way she knew it was silly to cry over
an old man she had never met; a man she had seen only that one time and then just for a
moment while he walked down the hill. But she had never forgotten the haunting call
that had made her picture a ghost looking for something lost. The old man had lived
long enough to see his craft unappreciated, his traditions forgotten, his world changed
forever. He had become the sad lonely ghost of Annie’s imagination. So how could Annie
stop herself from crying over all the endings this one man’s passing represented?
Emiliano did not say a word. He simply held her close and let her cry.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Annie was on a ladder pruning the old rose tree when she heard the call. She froze and
and listened intently. Had that really been the petate man? How could that be? Emiliano
had been told a year ago that the old man had died! Could there be another man selling
petates? But if so, he would not have the same tones in his call. Every vendor walking
the streets had a different way to advertise his goods: if six people were selling the
same item, each one would have a slightly different delivery. Annie regularly bought
tamales from a father and son team, and she could always tell which of the two was
coming up the hill because the son only shouted, but the father could have been onstage
singing an aria. Yet this call, faint as it had been, had sounded exactly like the man
who was supposed to be dead.
Annie waited but no other call came. She must have heard some kids playing or a yell
from a party far away, or even Emiliano playing a trick on her. Nope, she told herself
as she started to snip roses again, no way could it have been…..

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Louder!! And closer!! Annie dropped her pruning shears, stumbled down from the ladder
and hurried into the house to find Emiliano with his earphones on, deep in his computer
world and surprised to see her so agitated.
“You didn’t hear it?” Annie could only whisper.
“Hear what?”
“The petate man’s ghost is walking the street!”
“What are you talking about?”
“I heard the call….twice! And the second time it was closer! He’s coming this way!”
Annie turned and was outside before Emiliano could unplug himself from the computer.
When he got out onto the patio, she was standing against the brick wall overlooking the
street, staring downhill, tension showing in every muscle. Emiliano went over to stand
quietly beside her, not sure what to do, but wanting to be nearby.
Five minutes passed with no unusual sounds. Annie relaxed a little, leaning against
Emiliano’s shoulder, thinking once again that she had been mistaken.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Down the hill and to the left, about half a block from the corner where their street
met the main road through town. Annie held her breath. Ghost or man, they would see him
in just a few minutes. She clutched Emiliano’s hand.
“Is this really happening or are we dreaming?”
“This is Mexico, Annie. Anything can happen here.”
Annie was silent, staring down the hill, waiting to see what would turn the corner. If
it had been November, she might have not been bothered by the idea of a ghost. On The
Day Of The Dead, all the ancestors returned to their former homes to pay a friendly
visit. But this was June, a wonderful summer morning, and here she was waiting to see a
ghost! She gripped Emiliano’s hand even harder.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

“Look, look!! There he is! But is he real? Is he a man or a spirit? How can we tell?”
The vision turned up the hill. A small old man dressed in dark work clothes, with a
rolled up petate on his head. He began the long climb, steadying the reed mat with both
hands.
“Do you think he will fade away before he gets up this far?”
“Pay close attention now so you can decide if this is the same man you saw last year.
Then if he does disappear, at least we will know for certain who it was.”
“I only saw him from the back that day. If you want to go tell him to turn around, be
my guest. But I think it would be rude to talk to a ghost that way.”
“But wouldn’t it be just as rude to ask a real man to turn around? Why should you be
more worried about being polite to a spirit?”
“Do you really have to ask such a question? Remember all the ghost stories that you
said your grandfather told you? Of course you have to be extra polite to a ghost or
they will haunt you forever!”
Emiliano could not keep from laughing at the bizarre conversation they were having. At
first Annie looked at him with daggers in her eyes, then she began to giggle. But
before she could say anything else, the call came once again.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

All the dogs in the neighborhood began to bark. The little black dog right next door,
being the closest to the source of the cry, was practically screaming she was so mad.
Or afraid….Annie was not sure which.
He was closer now. They could see his old huaraches, his wrinkled brown face, and gaps
from missing teeth when he suddenly smiled at them both. Emiliano leaned over the wall
with a big smile in return.
“Good afternoon, my friend! Where are you coming from?”
“Oh, I have been to the pueblo of San M….there was a fiesta there today!”
“Good! But you are from San V, aren’t you?”
“Yes, of course. You have been there yourself, you know.”
“Yes, I have. And weren’t you the man who sold me a petate once?”
“Yes, of course!”
Annie couldn’t stand it anymore. Rude or not, she had to know. “But last year they
told my husband that you were dead! You…..you aren’t dead…..are you?”
“Well, no. I am fairly sure that I am not dead. What do you think?” He slid the petate
from his head to the street, stretched his right arm up to offer a handshake and
laughed when Annie took his warm hand with a cry of joy.
“I am now also fairly sure you are not dead. I am so happy to know that! And….and I
would like to buy this petate!”
Emiliano invited the old man (whose name turned out to be Antonio) into the house
for some cool lemonade while Annie got the money for the petate. He told Antonio all
about his visit to San V and the news he had received there.
“Yes, I know the man you are talking about. He is a big liar. But he is dead now.” He
laughed when he saw the surprise on Emiliano’s face. “Of course, I am only joking, my
friend.”
Annie came in then with the money so Emiliano decided not to say anything. But he had
seen a spark in Antonio’s eye that made him wonder what would happen when this tough
old man got back to San V and found the big liar.
They said their good-byes with more handshakes all around; and while watching Antonio
walk lightly back down the street, Annie began to cry.
“Our friend the petate men is alive and well, Annie…..no need for tears.”
“These are happy tears…..because he is alive and well.”
Emiliano did not say another word. He just held Annie close and let her cry.

Copyright Debbie Zapata ~~ July 6,2014

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