My daughter Jane was sitting in the car and staring out the window. Grocery shopping is twice as much work with two children along so I go when my daughter Jill is in school. "What's the matter sweetie?"
"There's a noise in the back of the car.”
“It’s probably something someone left in the trunk, I wouldn’t worry about it honey.”
“I keep hearing it.”
“When we get home I’ll check the trunk. Maybe some of the groceries fell out.”
“Mama?" I glanced back to make sure she was okay. She reached for me so I leaned back to grab her hand. "Mama, I love you."
“Mama loves you too Miss Jane-Elaine, very, very much. Mama and Daddy both love you." I held her hand for a minute before squeezing it tightly. Jane watched the scenery go by as I drove. “My head is telling me it’s time to go pick Jill up.” I looked at the clock, six more minutes before school was done for the day. “Your head is right sweetie pea. I guess the groceries will have to wait.”
Jane and I waited patiently in the parking lot. I turned the radio up when Jane told me she liked the song we were listening to. Minutes later Jill came running over with her backpack. “Hey Mom, can I play on the playground with my friends?”
“Not today honey. I have groceries in the car.”
“Sorry honey, the frozen things won’t last long in this weather.”
“But all my friends are going to the playground. It’s not fair.”
“I’m sorry honey. Life isn’t fair. Did you want to stop whining and get a ride home or were you going to keep whining and walk?” I watched Jill throw her backpack in the car. In my review mirror I saw her stick her tongue out at me. “Just remember sassy girls don’t get to go swimming either. I’ll take Jane and you can stay at home with Dad.”
I pulled out of the parking lot and merged into oncoming traffic. Home was three short minutes away when I heard Jill's voice. “What’s that noise in the trunk?”
“Are you sure you really want to know?”
“Just tell me.”
“It’s one of your other siblings. She didn’t do her homework and she kept whining so we put her in the trunk. I hope that doesn’t happen to any of the children your father and I have now.”
In the back seat of the car Jill rolled her eyes. Jane smiled and shook her head at me. “You’re kidding us.”
“You’re right sweetie. Who wants to help carry in the groceries?”
Jill complained that she had her backpack. Jane carried in the bag with the apples, proud that she had helped pick them out. I set the groceries on the counter and started putting a snack together. After snacks and homework I took the girls swimming. They complained about the noise in the trunk again. I meant to check it when we got home but the girls were so crabby I got them ready for bed instead.
Bedtime was the usual routine of prayers, pajamas and teeth brushing. The tears didn’t start until I told the girls that Daddy wasn’t going to be home to tuck them in. “Look, I know you girls miss Daddy but he has to work. He’ll be home in the morning, you can see him then.” Neither of my children were comforted by this announcement. If anything they started crying harder. I went and sat on my oldest daughter’s bed. “Mommy needs you girls to stop crying. It’s not going to change anything and it’s just upsetting everyone.”
Brilliant tear-stained eyes focused in on me. “What if Daddy doesn’t come home?”
“He’ll come home sweetie. Unless something happens Daddy will come home after you’re asleep. Has he ever not come home before?”
“What if that thing in your trunk gets him?”
Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. It had not been a good idea to joke about things in the trunk. “That was just a joke honey. You know I was kidding about that.”
“What if your trunk is haunted?”
“Then I’ll start charging for lodging. No one rides for free in this economy.”
“I’m going to tell everyone that your trunk is haunted.”
“You better be careful about that, you don't want to scare anyone. And you girls should stay away from mommy’s trunk. Bad things can happen to little girls who play in and around the trunk and I’m not kidding about that either. Small children can easily get stuck in the trunk so I better not catch either of you playing around in there.”
“What about the package from Grandma?”
I looked over at my youngest daughter in surprise. I had completely forgotten the package my mother-in-law had sent. Obviously that was the thing rolling around in the trunk and scaring the kids. I made a mental note to go out to my car as soon as I was sure the kids were asleep. “I forgot about that Janie. I’ll run out and get it after you girls are asleep. Now you girls get a good night’s sleep. Daddy and I will both see you in the morning. Don’t forget we love you.”
“Mommy?” It was my oldest daughter Jill. She was hunched over, the covers had been pulled up to her chin and she was shivering as she yawned. “What’s up sweetie?”
“Are there any such thing as ghosts?”
“We have some books about ghosts and Halloween. Tomorrow after school remind me that we should go through our books and see if there’s any good ones in there. Good night sweetie pie.”
“Mommy, can I sleep in your bed?”
My daughter Jill only calls me Mommy when the circumstances are extreme or she wants something. “Not tonight honey. I’m going to go to bed as soon as I finish the laundry. Good night girls. I love you both. No fooling around now either.”
“Please can we sleep in your bed tonight? I promise we’ll go right to sleep.”
“I already said no. Please don’t ask me again okay?”
“If we can’t sleep in your bed can you go get the package from Grandma?”
“I’ll call Daddy and ask him to get it when he comes home from work. You can see what she sent first thing tomorrow morning.”
“What if he forgets?”
“You can remind him.” I knew they wouldn’t forget. It’d be the first thing I heard about the next morning.
“Don’t go outside. The thing in the trunk might get you.”
I thought that at least then I wouldn’t have to worry about the laundry but I kept my voice calm as I spoke to the girls. “There’s nothing in the trunk besides your package from Grandma. I’d be more worried about cavities and tooth decay than I would be about ghosts in a haunted trunk. Good night girls. See you in the morning. Love you both.” I pulled the door shut and went down in the basement to put the towels in the dryer. I came back upstairs thinking that it was unlikely my husband would remember to pull the present out of the trunk. I slipped my shoes back on and grabbed my car keys. Hopefully the girls wouldn’t hear the front door opening.
It was a lot darker out than I thought it would be. Wind whipped my hair around obscuring my vision. It was hard to tell if the trunk was open or not. I reached into the trunk to grab the package from my mother-in-law. It wasn’t where I thought it would be. My hand encountered the plastic packet of jumper cables. The emergency blanket was still in place. I moved the first aid kit off to the side. Emergency snacks were in a bag behind that. Where was that crazy present?
In the darkness I heard a little girl crying. Before I could turn and tell my daughters to go back to bed I realized that the noise was coming from inside my car. A soft white glow bathed the interior of my trunk. The little ghost girl must have been about six or seven when she died. She was holding the package from my mother-in-law and crying pitifully. I watched a swirl of leaves fall around us. It did not escape my notice that this wraith-like creature bore a startling resemblance to my own two platinum blonde children.
A branch snapped, startling us both. The keening noises stopped. A car drove by, the sharp glare of headlights momentarily blinded me. When I looked again the ghost was gone. I left the girls’ package in the car and went back into the house. The trunk was open but I wasn’t going to go back out and shut it. If you’re ever in my bedroom you’ll see that I have a spray of lily of the valley sitting on top of my dresser. The bell-shaped flowers are brittle, the scent is gone but right before I go to bed at night I think about Lily, the little ghost girl who spends her days watching over my children and her nights sleeping beneath the soft cotton quilt in my haunted trunk.