The Dead, by Sylvia Plath
Revolving in oval loops of solar speed,
Couched in cauls of clay as in holy robes
Dead men render love and war no heed,
Lulled in the ample womb of the full-tilt globe.
No spiritual Caesars are these dead;
They want no proud paternal kingdom come;
And when at last they blunder into bed
World-wrecked, they seek only oblivion.
Rolled round with goodly loam and cradled deep,
These bone shanks will not wake immaculate
To trumpet-toppling dawn of doomstruck day :
They loll forever in colossal sleep;
Nor can God's stern, shocked angels cry them up
From their fond, final, infamous decay.
The story begins in a small wintry college town in New England. The October chill was setting in, and we were five international students sharing an apartment with a territorial old cat from Sweden, and a young Russian Blue named Billy Bob. We had recently seen Interview with a Vampire, and it had left an indelible impression. J. Ann and I could spook each other just talking about a scene or another But I have to say the elevated awareness of the undead, like that part where Tom Cruise shows Brad Pitt, life on ecstasy inspired more than frightened. So in this backdrop, we decided to summon a ghost. Smita was not into it at all; she'd rather lay on the couch and day dream, but we needed a fourth finger on the Ouija board.
Now all four of us were avowed pro choicers, except Smita to whom politics was of no concern, as she plodded through pre-med and ordered regularly underwear from the Victoria's Secret catalog. But she still had a medical sense of a woman's rights. Andrew was fairly progressive, brought up on the diversity and birth control, an ABCD, to whom I had the traits of his dreaded FOB father. I do not know what exactly he thought I, a college junior, had in common with a 67 year old Bengali man. I mean, I am shia Pakistani woman. I mean that's a lie, I am not Shia. I was nothing like this man who left messages with the words "ulla ka patta" interspersed.
Then J. Ann, who'd had the church knocked out of her only a few semesters ago - but who in the recesses of her heart cradled a cliched guilt. But if called on it, she would deny it to the point of you repenting; so you would not doubt her radicalism. It were as if she was on the verge of killing a white person, and destroying private property. Poor sweet catholic girl. I remember her rolling out of bed on Sunday am, and sprinting across campus to church, in nothing but a t-shirt and an unbuttoned jacket. Never any socks. And here she was denouncing baby fetuses.
And me. Pretty much dedicated to a women's revolution in the third world.
And then it happened. A shift-shift and a nudge-nudge and the glass beneath our fingers was moving. There was a ghost amidst us.
At fist the spirit went nuts. It manically went back and forth on the paper serving as a Ouija. We soothed and calmed it and finally it seemed ready to answer questions. Seething, though. Our first question as to it's sex seemed to agitate it once again. It went back and forth between female and male. And then when we asked if it was a man, it replied no. A woman. No. A child, a child, surely you must be a child?
The spirit got angry again. We looked at each other accusingly. Smita had an innocent expression - and a silly smile. J. Ann and I suspected Andrew but he was vehement that he wasn't doing it; that his smirk was nervousness. He looked just freaked enough for us to let go. I swore, and she swore. We did the inquisitorial, you lift, now you lift. And as each finger lifted, eerily, the glass continued to move.
So we squelched our screams, and decided that this was indeed an angry spirit somehow sent to us, for some reason. How much more astray could we get. We had systematically abandoned the sciences (except Smita), and were content serving pizza and cheap wine that came in liters at an Irish joint and living three to a room to save rent. Billy Bob walked by and planted himself on the couch. Somehow his furry gray presence was reassuring. The old Swedish cat was locked inside one of the bedroom because she hated BB, and pissed in our Swedish roommate's boots as revenge.
The spirit was now moving back and forth at a fast pace between F and U. We gather it was saying fuck you fuck you fuck you. The invective continued for a few seconds. Someone had the courage to ask why. Why are you so angry with us?
It spelled out the following with the urgency of someone who has run out of time.
B-cos, you have a life.
Of course, the punchline is as our intrepid spirit disclosed a moment later that he/she was an aborted fetus.
We were all pretty disturbed that night. Why would we play such a sick prank on each other? Why was our collective conscience messing around? It isn't that we shared any overbearing guilt about abortions. None of us had ever been pregnant. It wasn't that this was a dilemma, for any of us, in any overt way. It wasn't as if we were on some planned parenthood campaign. Then why?
There is no reason. We were young and stupid, and we were just having fun. Or were we?
I recently told this story to my law students, and I recount here just for fun.