A short story by Nick DiMartino
Nick DiMartino is a Seattle author of three published novels, all ghost stories, and over twenty produced plays. This true story was told to him by a nurse at Swedish Hospital during his overnight stay there following an emergency hernia operation.
"You don’t believe in ghosts, do you?" said the night nurse. "I know that ghosts are real. I know because something happened to me."
"You saw a ghost?"
"No," she said. "I never saw her. But there was a ghost, all right.
"I come from a family of five sisters. When my mother died, my eldest sister took over. She became our little mother, our mamacita. She was a bit of a bully. We four must have been something to handle. But one of my angriest memories is the way she would discipline us.
"She was always after us for something we didn’t clean. Or catching us in the middle of something we shouldn’t do. When she lost her patience with us, she’d start swinging. With the others she’d spank and whack and paddle. But for me it was always one thing."
She made the motion suddenly with her free hand. It was like an ax blow.
"The chop on the back of the neck. Me, she always hit from behind, a chop between the shoulders, all of a sudden, to try to scare me. To try to make me cry.
"You never had any sisters, did you? I can tell. Having sisters changes you forever, even though you grow up and go your separate paths.
"She married first, and went to live in Santa Fe. One of my other sisters bought the house. We all go back every year for the holidays, drag our husbands along. That’s the only time I saw my oldest sister, every Christmas.
"Last year I went to a nursing conference in Santa Fe, and I thought at first I could go visit my sister. Her husband was dead. She lived alone. I’d never been to her apartment. Once I got to the conference, however, I changed my mind. She lived farther away than I thought. I would have to take a bus from the hotel. My schedule was too tight. Besides, she didn’t realize I was in Santa Fe. She would never know.
"I didn’t go visit her.
"A week after the nursing conference I got a phone call that my sister was dying. Of course, I took the first flight out. I got there just as they were pulling the plug. I never got a chance to say goodbye.
"I didn’t cry at the funeral. I couldn’t. I was so wracked with guilt that everything knotted up inside me. Everyone else was sobbing. Me, I was a rock. After the graveside service my second sister took me aside. She is a curandera, someone who studies the old ways of medicine and healing. She could see something was wrong with me.
"Forgive yourself, Lupe,’ she said. She could tell, just by looking at me. ‘You didn’t know it was your last chance to see her. You love her. She knows it.’
"But I couldn’t forgive myself. And I couldn’t cry. I was miserable all day after the funeral. That night I slept upstairs in my old childhood bedroom. I was catching a flight home in the morning.
"It was late, everyone was in bed, the house was silent. I heard something in the hallway outside, on the landing between the bedrooms. I went out, thinking maybe it was one of my sisters, maybe she couldn’t sleep, might need to talk, to cry. No one was there. I stood in the dark hall, trying not to make a sound, holding my breath. I couldn’t see anyone. Then I heard someone come up behind me. Wham! I felt it, hard, no mistake.
"A chop at the back of my neck.
"I almost fell over. I spun around. No one was there. I was alone in the hall. Suddenly the tears came at last. I knew my sister had forgiven me. She had made me cry."