The man sits on the porch, rocking. He is old; his hair is grizzled, and his face wrinkled. A young boy clambers onto his lap.
“Grandpa, how did you get that scar?”
The man looks at his wrist. Fainter now than it once was, you can still see the shadow of a hand clasped around it.
“A ghost gave it to me.”
“There’s no such thing as ghosts, Grandpa.”
It was… oh, ’bout round my eleventh birthday when we moved to Tennessee. I remember the day we moved into the new house. It had a nice little wrap-around porch, and when I jumped up the steps they creaked and groaned, as though they had never felt the weight of a boy. I scurried through all the rooms, laughing my fool young head off. A new house was nothing but an adventure. I jumped on every creaky board, tested every rocker–except one. The last one was occupied.
I didn’t know who she was–that woman on the porch. She was just sitting there, rocking, so I went up to her bold as brass and said, “This is my house now. What’re you doing here?” She turned her face towards me, and I shuddered; it was a mighty lonesome face, all full of angry wrinkles. After staring at me for what felt like hours, she finally said, “You can stay for a while, I guess. Don’t you go bothering me, though; I’m waiting for my Luke.”
“Who’s Luke?” I asked, but she just stared through me.
I didn’t like her much. She didn’t bother me none, though, so I let her be. It seemed like she was always there, sitting on the porch, rocking. I couldn’t figure out why she seemed to like our porch so much, but I was young, and old folks were a mystery to me.
My room was right above her spot on the porch. I remember laying there in bed, just listening, and hearing the creak of her rocker all through the night. She never stopped rocking–all night and all day, just rocking, watching the horizon.
She was a sad old lady; never saw her smile, nor laugh, nor even look hopeful. She just–watched. It sort of sucked the joy out of my days, too. I’d go out to kick a ball around, or climb a tree, or what have you, and she’d just sit there, a-rocking. I could feel her eyes, watching me, always watching—and the ball just seemed to deflate, and the tree was too short to get any fun out of climbing it.
I remember the day I figured out that no-one could see her but me. It was harvest-time; the big oak tree outside my window was starting to lose its leaves. Our next door neighbors–we called them ‘next door’ on account of the fact that their house was the closest to ours, just over the hill and not quite to town–had come over with some squash and apples, and the grown-ups were all in the house talking about something or other. Their son, Tom, and I decided to play outside. I remember he had brought his brand-new baseball bat, and we were taking turns pitching and hitting, but I kept getting distracted. The old lady frowned at me a lot that day, see, and I kept looking up at her, just sitting on the porch, rocking and watching. Tom finally gave up on trying to get me to toss the ball back, and said “What’re you watching the porch for, anyways?” Well, I told him ’bout the old lady, and how she never stopped rocking, and I’ll never forget what he said to me. He looked me dead in the eye, all scornful-like, and said, “There ain’t no old lady up there!”
That was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard; not see her? How could he not see her? She was right there—
But then I remembered my parents ignoring her when they were painting the house—and the strange way they smiled when I mentioned her at the table, as if I were a little kid. And it struck me—I was the only one who could see her.
I spent the rest of that day hiding in the hayfield; the warmth and light and golden hay seemed like a rejection of that old lady, who only ever sat, and rocked, and watched. When it finally got dark, I knew I had to go back in; my dad would tan my hide for being out so late as it was. I was powerfully afraid of walking past that old lady to get into the house, though. I approached slowly, cautious.
The rocker was empty.
Somehow, that was more terrifying than anything else that could have happened. I fled, blindly, sprinting for that front door. I couldn’t stop, couldn’t look back, she was back there–
And I slammed the door behind me, all out of breath. I ’bout cried tears of joy when my dad laid into me; he was real; he was alive; he was safe.
But when I got up to my room, I heard her. She was still there; still rocking. I slept not a wink that night. Nor the next. Nor the next after that. The incessant rocking–I knew she was out there, waiting. Watching.