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An Excerpt from Kerouac's Ghost


Someone was sitting on the Louis XVI chair in the corner of the bedroom, except that someone could not actually be sitting there because it was three in the morning, because the professor lived alone, and because there would be no reason for anyone to come into the bedroom at three in the morning and sit on the Louis XVI chair. Cornish squinted at the clock-radio and made out the fuzzy blue 3:01, then looked back at the chair and thought the two pairs of slacks, the three dress shirts, the sweater, and the corduroy jacket were doing an impressive job passing themselves off as a person with nothing better to do than stare at a white-haired English professor in the middle of the night. He also noted that it might be time to do some laundry.

   Cornish reached out for the black-and-white cat named Other. “Do you see that?” Other purred and stretched. Animals were supposed to have this ability to sense a supernatural presence, and Cornish thought that would come in handy if there were such a thing as supernatural presences. He looked at the chair and blinked his eyes into focus. Now his clothes—lit by streetlight, some draped over the arm and some draped over the back—looked even more like a person, to the extent that they were shaped like a woman sitting primly on the edge of the chair. The clothes were wearing clothes, a dress with multi-colored stripes, something an old lady might wear back when Cornish was young. The woman had a broad face and permed dark hair, and she didn’t take her eyes off the professor.

   Pareidolia, thought Cornish. My mind is filling in the blanks and coming up with this frumpy woman. She looked familiar, or maybe all piles of dirty laundry looked like her.

   He stroked between Other’s ears and lay back down.

   “Vous ne savez pas,” said the woman.

   Cornish felt his blood go icy and his arm hair stand up. He reached for his glasses but knocked them off the nightstand. The clothes were now pretending to be a frumpy woman who spoke French. “Vous ne savez pas,” she said again. Ah, thought Cornish, this is a dream, not an optical illusion. The woman began to fade away and when he couldn’t see her face any more he decided he was awake. He approached the chair carefully and rearranged the clothes so that the light-colored shirts were on the bottom and thus wouldn’t look like a Frenchwoman’s face. He went to the bathroom because it had been a whole three hours since the last trip. “Voony savvy pa,” he said when he returned to bed. “Voony savvy pa.” Other jumped off the bed and curled up in the Louis XIV chair. “You’re on your own if she comes back,” said Cornish. He pulled the blankets up to his neck and hoped there would be no more weird dreams, but the fear-adrenaline was still rushing through his veins and wasn’t going to let him go right back to sleep. He told his subconscious to conjure up Brigitte Bardot or Genevieve Bujold or Isabelle Adjani next time or even someone who didn’t speak French. Make it good if you’re going to make it that real.

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