Prom Night in Purgatory
Author:Amy Harmon

When consciousness returned, Maggie was in a room she recognized as the room Irene had once decorated as a nursery and then converted into something less painful when the babies never came. She had left it the cheerful yellow that had seemed appropriate for young children but had placed a large bookcase on one wall and had set several plants on the window sills. She had pushed matching chairs against another wall and placed a lamp between them. A fat rug, well made but worn, stretched across the floor from corner to corner. Maggie had often seen Irene in the room reading or working on her needlepoint. She said when Roger was alive it became her private little oasis and he had left her alone there.


Now it was almost unrecognizable. If not for the position of the windows and the size and shape of the room, Maggie might not have known where she was. The warm brown of the wood floors was unchanged beneath the fluffy pink rug that had replaced the heavy oriental in Irene’s reading room. Pink flouncy curtains topped the tall windows. A small white desk sat beneath one, and below the other was a white console proudly displaying a record player with dozens of small round records littering the floor around it. A ruffled pink bed was pushed against the far wall. An assortment of pillows, stuffed animals, and dolls decorated its surface. A little girl, maybe nine or ten, judging from her size, sat on the end of the bed and talked sweetly to a fat bear that she clutched in her hands. Her hair was a soft light brown that just grazed her shoulders, and it was neatly barretted above her small ears. She wore a dress the color of ripe peaches, and her neat white bobby socks and black flats stuck out beneath the skirt that hid her crossed legs.


“Come on, Jamie. You know I need to practice on someone, and if I can’t practice on you, who can I practice on? I know you’ll feel silly – I’ll feel silly too, but if I’m ever gonna marry James Dean I will need to know how to kiss, won’t I?” With this convincing argument, the young girl stuck out her lips and laid a very firm kiss on the bear’s furry snout. Her eyes were pinched closed, and her lips were pushed out comically. She opened them slowly, and a furrow grew between her blue eyes.


“You’re not very good at that, Jamie. You and I will have to practice.”


Maggie giggled a little at the serious admonishment. The little girl’s eyes snapped up and locked on Maggie in horror. Maggie’s giggle died in her head. She hadn’t giggled out loud had she? Could the little girl see her? That was impossible. She wasn’t really here...this was just a dream.


The little girl’s eyes grew wide and fearful. She scooted back on her bed and squeezed her bear close against her skinny chest. She closed her eyes again, but this time, fear was stamped all over her face and her lips weren’t pursed for kissing. Instead, they moved in a rushed whisper.


“Ghosts aren’t real, ghosts aren’t real, ghosts aren’t real.” After several incantations, she opened one eye as if to verify that Maggie still remained. The blue eye immediately squeezed shut again, and the denials of ghostly existence resumed.


“Is she talking about me?” Maggie thought, stupefied by the thought. “Are you talking about me?” Maggie said aloud, although “out loud” felt different in this dream body. It was almost as if she directed the thought out instead of actually creating sound.


The little girl frowned and her eyes popped open. She raised one eyebrow slowly, and Maggie had a rush of recognition. Her mother used to do that…raise that one brow ever so slowly, creating an expression that said “Are you kidding me?”


“Daddy got really mad at me the last time I told him about Grandpa sitting in his chair after the funeral. How was I supposed to know it was a ghost? He looked real to me! Daddy sent me to my room for two whole days after that. I had to eat in here and everything. It was awful! Now whenever I see a ghost I have to pretend that I don’t. It’s very frustrating.” The girl folded her hands in her lap and waited for Maggie to respond. Maggie stared, dumbfounded. This little girl saw ghosts…just like she did. The slim eyebrow rose again, imperiously. Maggie rushed to introduce herself.


“My name is Margaret. But you can call me Maggie. What’s your name?” Maggie thought she might already know, but the answer was too crazy to be true, and she waited breathlessly for a response.


“My name is Elizabeth, but you can call me Lizzie.” The girl parroted her response in the same cadence Maggie had used. Maggie tried to school her expression into calm acceptance.


“Is your older sister named Irene?” Maggie wondered aloud, trying to appear casual. She failed. She could see that the girl thought she was being visited by the angel of death.


Lizzie’s expression immediately grew guarded, and fear tiptoed back across her features. “Why? What do you want with her?”


“Nothing…I don’t want anything.” Maggie shook her head as she spoke, underscoring her words. How could she possibly explain? They stared at each other for several long moments. Lizzie was the first to speak again.


“Most ghosts don’t usually talk to me,” Lizzie said matter-of-factly. “They just walk around doing boring things and pretending I don’t exist. It’s very rude.”


Maggie smiled at that. She would have to agree. “I’m not really a ghost.”


“You certainly are….”