Please welcome Anthony Diesso, author of The Haunted Spring. (AKA our old friend and blog-hacker Feebil E Willie.)
As my novel, The Haunted Spring, is just now floating in on the e-book ether, like a huge conversation bubble let loose from the cartoon head that made it, I thought I might say a few things about it in way of an introduction.
It’s a pretty straightforward story, actually: a young man, a young woman, love, new life, then loss, and finally life again. There’s also a ghost. But as for what “type” of story it is, I wish I could tell you. Maybe I should have asked someone while writing it, but it’s probably too late now. The whole dilemma might have also made for a good contest, a sort of sideshow, “Guess what the thing is” type of promotion, but I didn’t rent out the booth in time.The Haunted Spring could be, in one way or another, a serious comedy, a slice of life in which impossible things happen, or, perhaps most accurately, a ghost story that wants to be about something else.
It may also have the soul of a toddler, carefully building things up for the sheer joy of knocking them down. Ruins and people are an endless curiosity (to me at least), which could mean that ruins of people pretty much top the list. In describing the relationship of Jay and Anna, I went through a lot of trouble to walk through the door (so to speak), carefully spread my blanket of objects, stomp and break each one, heap them all together, then back out the way I came. I don’t think I have a mean streak: I’m sort of fond of my imaginary friends. But I guess I thought it was my job to set them down with a degree ofsadistic compassion, to sympathize with them as I put them through so much hell and trouble.Much of the story is based upon my wife’s and my experience in an NICU ward after our son was born about three months premature. The book scarcely does justice to the parents I met there and what they endured: in many cases, months of agonizing hope, the daily watch, the updates by doctors and nurses, their pinning everything to words similar to those told me by the doctor on the night my son was born: “He’s stable, and we expect him to survive.” My boy is four now, and so spunky that it’s sometimes easy to forget how he fought his way into the world and how he fought to stay there. But opening an old box and picking up an extra pair of diapers we had but never used, seeing how they fit snugly around three of my fingers, reminds me of where my son was, where my wife and I were, and where so many fine people–parents, doctors, nurses–were fighting and are still fighting.The ending of The Haunted Spring is, I think, a happy one, although one involving sacrifice. I hope the reader doesn’t consider reaching the book’s conclusion a sacrifice as well. I put in as much wit and mystery and humor as I could. It’s devoid of social “insights”, and there doesn’t seem to be a lesson in it, either: I did my very best to keep one out. I’m not didactic by nature (and if I had the chance, why, I’d sit you down and prove it), and I never learn from my mistakes: at best, I simply learn new and curious ways to repeat them.
Anyway, Death Valley Scotty, a man whom I’ve never met, and about whom I know very little (which is to say, someone I can put my absolute faith in), once said, “Don’t complain; don’t explain”. He’s dead now, but not from that philosophy; and to keep from pushing my book so hard that I send it over a cliff, I think I’d better respect his sound advice and break off here. By the way, I’ve dedicated The Haunted Spring to my wife, who certainly deserves it. If it wasn’t for her endless…wait, that last sentence doesn’t sound quite right. But rather than explain, I guess now’s a pretty good place to sneak out.
We sat down, poked through the menu, and when the waiter arrived, we ordered an Aztec tortilla soup. I ate having only a vague idea of how it tasted: warm and salty. Anna must have noticed my distraction, as I rolled the paper wrapping off a straw around my thumb and index finger.
“Well, how do you like your mummy?” she asked, referring to the crisp, tortilla strips that floated in the broth,
I looked down, snorted as I laughed. “Fine. The wrappings are done just right.”
“I wasn’t sure. You seemed to be lost in deep reflection.”
“Uh-huh. I’m staring at my face in the soup.”
“Oh. Anything interesting?”
“I have wobbly skin, and my complexion is awful.”
“Hmm…I suppose you never can tell what people are thinking when they’re quiet.”
“Actually, I was quiet but not all that thoughtful. It’s just a habit. Sit still and don’t think of anything. People will read thoughts into your face, and they think you’re profound.”
“That’s quite a system, Jay.”
“It’s worked pretty well. I’ve got a steady job, and friends, and not too many enemies, and parents who still love me, and aunts and uncles who send cards on Christmas.” I smiled widely, without showing teeth. That was the first time she’d said my name, and the intimacy of it lingered in my thoughts.
The hours blurred by. Daylight from the window peripherally thinned as I focused on the woman in front of me: her shy though earnest glances, the way something I said could touch her face, its candle-lit and lustrous, although delicately shaded moods. And without sounding like a prospective employer—or a nag—I was also able to piece together a bit of her personal history. It did become, for some unreasonable reason, sort of a mission, rather than a simple curiosity. I don’t know why it’s like that. How many men admire a woman for her mystery while trying to pluck out all her secrets? I suppose there’s almost something religious about it.
Gradually the peculiar knick-knacks on the walls, the slits of twilight through the window blinds began to seep into our talk. We never mentioned them directly, but they quieted our speech, and shadowed innocuous topics like our childhoods and older family members.
“Oh, by the way,” I asked, “what was the story that you mentioned on our walk?”
“That’s right,” she muttered after a pause, rubbing her first and middle fingers against an eyebrow. “I, uh… at the age of eight, I lost my grandmother. She was older… you know. We’d spent a lot of time together during her final illness. She had to stay indoors, because of the late summer chill, so I’d go outside, collect garden flowers in my skirt and bring them in to her. I’d lay them on her lap, upon the blanket, and her eyes would grow this wide. Then she’d reach out a shaky arm to touch my shoulder. She’d try to lean forward, out of the chair, but I’d step nearer, and she’d plant a wobbly kiss—mwah! Then I’d step back, and she’d just look at me and give me this sort of puckered smile, without any teeth.
“She died quietly during the night, in bed, and, in the morning, before she was removed, my mother brought me in to say goodbye and to touch her hand. I was taught the soul stays until the body’s placed into the ground, so I began to look about, in the room, the yard, before the slowly bleeding autumn trees. I kept wiping my eyes and looking very hard, but still I couldn’t find it.
“That night I dreamt. My grandmother came to me in my bedroom, distressed over a bruise on her forehead. And pointing with twitchy fingers to the wound, she cried, ‘Anna, look! You see? My head—there’s blood.’
“And I reminded her, “But…but Grandma, you’re dead.”
“’Dead?’ she asked.”
I lowered eyes away from Anna. And for a moment I stalled, hoping to come up with a reply better than “Oh, how sad—,” or “Isn’t life strange—,” or “We shouldn’t dwell on such events—.” The silence grew worse, so that I finally blurted out, “Would you like a drink?”
“No, thank you. But don’t let me stop you.” She was about to add something; yet with her lips just parted, having breathed out a starting vowel, she stopped, and released her thought as a gentle exhalation.
Walking back to the apartments, in that dusk of broadening dark and sour light, we spoke less frequently. There was a quiet that had settled over both of us, over the fronts of houses, doors and windows painted with the hour. The road and sidewalk glowed rosily, with a trim of rusty shadow, and above, the clouded twilight, like a basket of ripened peaches, shone all puffs of swollen orange, red and blue. I was going to comment on it, but I looked at Anna looking at me and smiling rosily. And working up my nerve to not say anything, I simply nodded and smiled back.