I watched my parents and Rosalyn and Sonny as they brought out the Ouija board from the box they’d brought with them to the cookout. Almost every Saturday evening, Daddy and Sonny would grill hamburgers and hotdogs (the hotdogs were mostly for me because I hated hamburgers), Momma and Rosalyn would set up stuff in Rosalyn’s small, 1960s ranch kitchen, and I would play outside. After dinner, the adults messed with the Ouija board. Tonight was no different. Rosalyn and Sonny got out the card table, and they began to set up for the evening.
Their game was infinitely more interesting than my own toys. The board was shiny and wooden, unlike most games I’d seen in my short life. It didn’t fold at all. All the ABCs were painted on it in lettering that was as beautiful as the Old English lettering my Daddy sometimes painted on posters for church. My favorite things on it though were the sun and the moon, which were painted on each corner. They looked like drawings from my picture books at home.
Momma and Daddy warned me to never touch the board. I always wanted to touch the board, but I knew that they were serious. Ouija was for grown-ups only.
My daddy stood and leaned over the table to begin the game with a prayer and a blessing. Once I asked, “Why do you pray over the board?”
“I do it to make sure the bad spirits can’t come, and if they do try, then we can get rid of them fast,” he said.
“Do they usually come, Daddy?” I continued, feeling a little worried.
“No, Mya. But this tells those spirits that we’re ready for them.”
Ready for what? I didn’t know. Apparently, inviting spirits for this game was a dangerous matter, but one that we didn’t need to worry about. WE had God on our side.
Daddy used his church praying voice as the light gleamed off his balding head. “Father we ask thee to bless this board and pray protect the users tonight.,” he intoned. God must listen to Daddy because he knew how to speak God’s language of thee and thou, just like the people of the Bible I learned about in Sunday school, so I knew we had to be safe.
Momma sat on the opposite side of the board from him with her fingertips already on the plastic. She was the wisest looking person I knew at the time. At age 30, she had silver hair, and it waved in a way my straight blond hair could only dream of doing. Her almost black eyes danced in anticipation as my Daddy prayed. She loved talking to spirits. It always seemed to me that the spirits generally loved talking to her too because whenever they played with the Ouija board, she led the conversations. They would tell her about their past lives, how they died, and sometimes, they’d tell her about her own life or the lives of the other people in the room.
When Daddy sat down, he put his fingertips on the ivory colored plastic pointer. I remembered that my mother called it a planchette. The word was pretty and old-fashioned, and I liked those sorts of words, so it was easy for me to remember. They both closed their eyes. Sonny and Rosalyn closed their eyes too. I didn’t because I wanted to see everything.
“Is anyone there?” asked Momma. After the all- powerful blessing Daddy placed on the board, it seemed like a tiny question.
The planchette glided silently across the board of letters and numbers to the bottom left corner of the board where the word YES was painted.
Momma grinned and said, “Here we go.”
“Who are you?”
As we all watched, the planchette moved to different letters. Rosalynn, wrote down the letters as they were pointed out. She was a small, wiry woman who seemed amazed and amused by this activity all at the same time.
“He says he’s Robert E. Lee, Yvonne,” she said when there were no more letters.
Sonny, Rosalynn’s husband, ambled into the room from the kitchen with a beer in his hand. He laughed as sat his large frame into his black recliner. “This one’s a liar, Yvonne.”
Momma looked sharply at Sonny. She said simply, “Don’t say that, Sonny. Let’s just see what he has to say.”
The planchette began to move again, quickly.
Rosalynn scribbled frantically to try and keep up. She stared, and then started laughing. “Aw Sonny, you’ve made him mad. He says to tell you you’re an jackass.”
Sonny laughed with her. Daddy arched his eyebrow, as he laughed too and said, “Well that sort of proves he ain’t Robert E. Lee. The man didn’t cuss.”
Sonny said, “That you know of, Don.”
He and Daddy both laughed.
Momma asked, “What year were you born, General?” I suppose she figured that if the spirit knew this, it might verify his honesty. I climbed up off the floor and onto a chair so I could see what was being spelled out. I’d just learned to spell and this was a chance for a practical use of that skill.
The pointer picked out, 1-8-7-0.
Daddy looked at Momma and said, “He got his numbers turned around, Yvonne.”
I could tell Momma was getting a little tense.
“Maybe we should stop,” said Rosalyn, sensing Momma’s tension too.
“Daddy, is this a bad spirit?” I asked.
“No. He’s probably just playing around,” he said, calmly.
Momma closed her eyes, and asked, “Spirit. We doubt that you are Robert E. Lee. Who are you really?”
The letters under the planchette spelled out, “No one.”
Rosalynn looked at my mother. “Looks like this one likes games.”
“Alright ‘No One’, where are you from?”
“N-O-W-H-E—He says no where,” Rosalynn looked up at everyone else. “I don’t like this one.”
“Stop playing games, spirit. Tell us where you’re from,” Momma asked in her most angry tone. I wondered if the spirit trembled the way I did when she used that on me.
The planchette stopped moving for a few minutes. All the adults leaned close to the board and stared for a while.
“Maybe he’s gone,” whispered Daddy.
The pointer yanked their hands across the board in a frenzied sort of way, making it hard for me to follow the spelling at first.
“What does it say, Roz?” asked Sonny, shifting forward in his recliner and sipping nervously from the beer.
“F-R-O-M,” Rosalynn spelled out loud. By now Sonny had gotten up was kneeling next to me to see the board. The planchette stopped and there was a long pause, as if the spirit was working for a bit of drama. Then the pointer jerked Momma and Daddy’s hands from the center of the board, to the far left. Before they could remove their hands, it accelerated to the right, and then flew off the board toward Sonny and me.
Sonny ducked, and I jumped back. How had that happened?!
Momma grabbed the planchette from mid-air, and flipped it upside down on the board. Daddy slammed his hands on each side of the planchette. I jumped again.
“I command thee in the name of Christ to depart from this home!” he said loudly.
All four of the adults stared for a moment. Rosalynn looked pale. Daddy began to look around like he expected to see something lurking in the corners of the room.
Sonny whispered, “Is it gone?”
Momma sat there for a moment, as though she were sensing what was in the air. “Yes. Don, we need to re-bless the board right now,” she said quietly.
Daddy said a prayer that would have made the old preachers at church proud. He made it clear that evil spirits would face God’s Holy Wrath if they even thought about coming for a visit. While he did that, I moved to the sliding glass door behind Momma. The lightning bugs were lighting the air like magic, and there was a man standing in the back yard.
He was tall, but small-boned. He wore a long brown coat and a hat like the leprechaun on the bulletin board at school I’d seen at St. Patrick’s Day. As the lightning bugs blinked on and off, he looked directly at me, cigarette in hand, and winked at me.
Who was this man and why was he in the back yard?
“Momma, momma?” I said, going to her side.
Daddy said, “Your momma is busy right now, Mya. go play.”
I went back to the glass door, and saw the man leaning against a pine tree, gazing at the ground. Then he looked up and waved as if he were shy, but wanted to be friendly anyway. I couldn’t help but smile and raise my hand in return.
“Dad, don’t you see him out there? He just waved at me,” I said, pointing out the glass door.
“Who are you talking about?” He moved to the glass and peered out, watchfully, and replied, “Sweetie, I don’t see anything.”
“I swear he’s right there!”
“Don, maybe it’s an imaginary friend?” Rosalyn suggested.
“No! He’s right there, really!” I said. Adults were so dumb sometimes.
They all gazed blankly at the door for a moment, even Momma.
The man was still there, walking back and forth, swinging his coattails, still smiling. I looked back at them. Why couldn’t they see him? I wanted to say something again, but knew Daddy would grow impatient as he did whenever I insisted that I saw or knew something he did not. I moved away from the doors, and went to Sonny, who was again seated in his black vinyl recliner. Sonny was my friend. Maybe he would look again and take me seriously.
“Sonny, there really is a man in the backyard. I saw him,” she said.
He glanced at my parents, took another swig of beer, and got up. Sliding the glass door to the side, he stared all around carefully, and walked across the concrete porch looking for anything. Sonny walked right close to the man three or four times, never seeing him. Then he stepped back and slid the door back in place. “Well, honey, I guess he saw me comin’ and ran off ‘cause I didn’t see nothin’,” he said, leaning to my level, “Why don’t we go to the kitchen and get you an ice cream sandwich.” Not being one to turn away perfectly good ice cream, I followed, concluding that adults must be blind and stupid.
When I returned with my ice cream sandwich, the long, tall man was still there. Despite the growing twilight, it seemed that I could see him more sharply than the first time. He moved closer to the door, and he grinned a funny, playful grin, and made a face. I giggled.
He was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen up close. He wore boots that came above his knees, just like Errol Flynn in Robin Hood. His skin was pale and smooth. I couldn’t help but wave at him, and stare. He moved closer to the iron-railed porch, and signaled that I should come outside.
Part of me really wanted to go out and play with this beautiful man, but I was also frightened and didn’t really know why. At first I shook my head, and covered my face. Maybe he would go away. After a few minutes, I peeked through my fingers, and my new friend was still there, lighting another cigarette. I couldn’t help but smile, and wiggle my finger to invite him to the door. If he came to the door, I could prove to the adults that I wasn’t pretending or being silly. Maybe he could have an ice cream sandwich too.
He came to the first step, he stopped short. Then he shook his head, moving his finger from side to side in warning. I put my hands on my hips, and cocked my head in question. He did it again and pointed at himself. Why couldn’t he come inside, I wondered. Maybe he was just shy. I remembered Carol McDonald at school. On first day, she’d been so shy, she’d cried outside Mrs. Perry’s room for an hour, refusing to come in.
His murky grey eyes gleamed as he indicated that I should come outside and play. He must be continuing the game. Sliding the glass door open, I leaned toward him. He looked a bit excited, like he was anticipating my first step. Then I stuck out my tongue.
The man smiled at her from the steps, but there was a brief moment where he looked frustrated and hungry. Dark emotion washed over his face, and then it was gone. I stepped back. Then he put up both hands in the universal symbol for “What now?” and I could sense his playfulness was back.
A subtle breeze blew through the room, shuffling the paper Rosalynn was writing on as Momma continued to talk to friendly spirits. It was cooler than I expected. Instead of the humid air of a Georgia evening in July, the breeze contained a breath of November. Dad spoke up.
“Mya, stay in or go out. Don’t just stand there with the door open. You’ll let all the flies out,” he said. Sonny laughed at that.
I looked back at them. They all had someone to play with, but I was alone in the house. I looked back at this man, and he winked and reached out to take my hand.
“I’m going out, Daddy,” I said slipping through the door.
The lightning bugs were already dancing in the cool, silver tinted summer night. Perhaps he could teach me to dance under their light. Stepping on the porch, I took my friend’s hand.