Martha Harper’s Haint

One day I was playing in the cemetery when a car pulled up beside me. A rough looking woman rolled down her window and poked her head out.

“Hey, little girl. Where’s that gravestone with them pictures on it?”

“You’ve passed it already. It’s right behind you.”

She turned the large white steering wheel of her beat up Plymouth Fury and parked, straddling the graveyard’s paved pathway and the grass.

I could just make out my father’s figure on the other side of the cemetery. He pointed to the yet undisturbed ground as he spoke with his gravediggers. Bobby and Luther were late again, a terrible problem because it was imperative that the grave be ready for the next day’s burial. The sun was beginning to set, and all hell would break loose unless the dirt began flying fairly quickly.

While Bobby and Luther worked, I followed the woman to my favourite gravestone. It was the colour of bleached slate, and on the bottom, copper picture frames in the shape of two ovals protruded from the stone. They were made more unusual by heavy protective covers. I squatted down and lifted the latch on the first one, and then the second, to reveal sepia photographs of the dead couple.

Rusting ceramic photograph - Carcassonne Cemetery

The woman sank to the ground beside me and melted into a mound. The crooked hem of her worn, baggy dress settled around her in a puff. Her coat looked to be a man’s duster jacket and she drew its tatty collar closed against the breeze. She stretched her legs out until her scuffed work boots rested near the grave. The boots were a sorry sight; the laces were missing and the tongues extended with a life of their own.

The woman placed her head on my small shoulder and I caught the sweet scent of bourbon. Then she began to cry. Though she was a stranger to me, and I was only about eight years old, I was accustomed to weeping. It was the background music at my house, the funeral home. I sat very still.

“These here people. They haunt me, ya know. ‘Specially that there woman. I seen her in my dreams a few times. She’s the spittin’ image of my dead mamma.”

“Well, these two people… they’ve been dead a long time. Maybe they’re related to you.” I offered.

She laughed, and then cried again. You can’t really talk to woman when she’s on a jag.

“I was pert near a wildcat when my mamma died. Still am. I’m Martha Harper, by the way, only daughter of Laura Sue Harper,” she slurred.

I was going to introduce myself, but she continued, “Don’t grow up to be a wildcat, girl. Don’t go givin’ your mamma heartache. Now, when I really need my mamma, she ain’t here in person. Sometimes her haint sits on the chair in my bedroom. Sounds crazy, don’t it, but I knowed she’s there. Scares me to death. She just sits there and stares at me. What does she want?”

The woman sat up, turned, and looked at me as if she expected an answer.

“Gosh, mam. I don’t know.”

Slowly she made her way up. Dried leaves stuck to her clothes, but she didn’t notice. She patted the gravestone and kissed the woman’s photo before she climbed into the back seat of her car.

“Gonna have a little nap now.” She lay supine and disappeared from view so that only the bottoms of those old boots dangled out the window. She called out from her resting place.

“Nice talkin’ to you, girl. And Happy Halloween.”