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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

The Famous Ghost Monologues, No. 2: Vincent Joseph Bruck

Submitted by on April 28, 2003 – 8:26 AMOne Comment

I don't know what name you'd use for me. The ghost-hunters dress up the terms, to try to sound professional, and I believe their name for me is "repeating"…"repeating"…you know, I don't remember the second part. It's a word like "phantasm," I believe, but more official-sounding. And longer than I'm remembering, too, probably. Ah! "Non-coalescing repeater." Yes indeed. Very authoritative. [chuckles] Come to think of it, if I recall, Mary Charles thought I ought to put it on a business card — "V.R. Bruck. Non-coalescing repeater since 1991." Typical of ghost-hunters, using a phrase like that to make us sound like viruses. Never run out of ways to miss the point, those people.

Not that I can think of a name I'd prefer, though, to tell you the truth. "Unseen perambulator" would come closer to the truth, but a name like that requires a cape, I'd imagine, or some sort of melodramatic poltergeist whatnot…no, thank you. It's not my field, that kind of thing, and I hardly need a scientific term for myself now.

I had a name as a living man, in the town where I spent most of my adult life — "Mr. Bruck, the Latin teacher" for many years, of course, to my students and their parents, but then, after the stroke, the entire town began to call me "The Walker." Children would say it in my hearing. "There goes The Walker." "Look, it's The Walker." They thought I couldn't hear them, that I walked along all the streets of the town like a robot, insensate, which I imagine they'd heard from their parents, who had heard it from who knows where, but I could hear them just fine. I even knew their names sometimes, the ones that looked like their older brothers or sisters from my classes at the high school, from when I'd been teaching. I had opinions, too, I assure you, on the weather and town politics, and more particularly on the attire of some of the young ladies, but the stroke had left me unable to speak at all. I could think quite clearly, still, and write and remember, but I couldn't say things out loud anymore, and because I never spoke, I think it got around town that I was, as we used to say in the old days, "not right." Like the Williamson boy. "Boy," will you listen to me — he's probably fifty years old now himself, that one. Or perhaps it was because he walked a lot too that they thought I'd gone soft? Because I saw the Williamson boy nearly every day that I walked down by the Y, always hurrying down the sidewalk bent forward like he was going into a strong wind. He walked so oddly.

In any case, after a few years, it came to be conventional wisdom around town — "for what it's worth in a town like that," of course, and so on — that I was "not right," because I didn't speak, and my face did pull down on one side, just barely, but enough. None of them spoke to me, either, just referred to me in my own presence, like a dog or a little child. And after a few years, I stopped wanting to correct them anymore. As I used to tell my Vergil classes, it isn't up to the man to write his own story. I walked because I had to. The stroke had left me terribly restless, unable to sit still at all, unable to sleep like I used to unless I walked all day and wore myself out first. So that's what I did.

You know, now that I'm remembering it, there was one little girl who would greet me. I had people I came to think of as my "regulars," the ones I saw every day, like Willie Williamson, and Fernando, the maintenance man at Brighton Elementary, and the man who owned the Beechwood Lounge…Jesse Howe. He lived on our block and walked into town each day to work. I didn't see this little girl as often, but often enough to recognize her when I did see her. She was usually on her own, and she rode, I'm remembering, a blue bicycle, and every time we passed one another, she would get down from her bicycle and pull it onto the grassy strip beside the sidewalk to let me go by, and she would meet my eye and say "hello." She made quite a gesture of it, this little girl, more than was called for, but whenever I saw her, I always looked forward to the ceremony of passing her on the sidewalk like a king and nodding back to her when she said hello.

I wrote out a note to my wife about the little girl at one time, and my wife…Viv would get so angry sometimes at the way people behaved, the things they said about me, she used to stomp around in the kitchen, fuming, so I didn't always like to write out my day for her, because I thought she'd had enough trouble with me, in the end, and best not to upset her. But that little girl, I thought maybe Viv would like to hear about her, the way she met my eye and we saluted each other. Viv got angry, though, and she told me, "That childpities you," and she went to the kitchen and banged the pots around. I wrote out another note and carried it in to her: "When I was a teacher, all the children pitied me." I was trying to joke with her, but in fact it was the truth — they pitied me, the students. Because I taught Latin, it was a respectful sort of pity; it acknowledged that I had chosen to carry on the fight in spite of the fact that the French department would inevitably destroy me. "Three kids in the AP class this year — when is Bruck going to give it up?" But I'd learned to live with it, that sad esteem, because Latin was worth being underestimated for, or so I'd told myself. And that's just the job. Teaching math, you have an outside chance of being feared. Language arts, or whatever they've started calling it…it's pity. If you're lucky.

I handed the note to Viv, and I went back out to the writing table to write out another, just a little note about the resodding project on Oakland Avenue which had become a running joke between us, but before I had a chance to sit down, Viv came out from the kitchen and thwap! Slapped the note flat onto my chest, and she said, "Those children, they loved you." And she went upstairs and ran a bath, which meant crying of the type that didn't bear disturbing.

The little girl did feel sorry for me. She had a thin face that made her easy to read. But every time she pulled her bicycle off the sidewalk…it showed a respect, although I had done nothing to earn it, except to seem tragic to her, I suppose. She did seem like the kind of little girl who reads a lot and gets dissatisfied with the ordinary world as a result. One of my sons was like that — probably still is, I'd guess, and frankly when I had the stroke and didn't end up dying, I think he was disappointed by the wasted potential. I nearly felt like apologizing to him afterwards, in the hospital — I could tell he resented the flawed plotting. Poor Clay. It's not easy to live like that, and I tried to tell him so once. He was about sixteen, and he announced at dinner one night that he thought Ovid was "flaky." "Clay," I told him, "if you're saying that Ovid is flaky because your father is a Latin teacher and it's your way of rebelling, all right. But if you really believe that Ovid is flaky, I must warn you that I think you'll have a rough time of it in this world." He didn't know what I was talking about, which confirmed my worst fears for him and the way he looked at the world. Viv tried to explain that I'd meant life isn't like it is in books, and Clay said that of course it was, and although I admired the sentiment, it seemed at the time that Clay always chose the wrong part of the book. The table of contents, say, or a description of a battle that doesn't tell you all that much. Clay had Ovid pegged, though, I can admit after all these years. Ovid is a flighty sort. Didn't follow an outline, I don't imagine.

I wonder what's become of Clay, sometimes. He visits the headstone now and then, alone, which I wonder about, but he doesn't speak to me when he comes. He stands for a few minutes and looks…[waves a hand]…beleaguered. Then he leaves. He doesn't live around here, but then, neither did I. I was buried with my wife's people, which is just fine with me. I walked the same streets for eleven years and honestly, I welcomed the change. It's a larger town, laid out in an orderly fashion, and I enjoy walking around at night, past the windows of the houses, and watching people about their business. I couldn't do that as a living man; I wanted to, because the walking got tiresome most days, but I was always afraid that if I stopped to stare at anything, they'd send the police around and I'd wind up in a convalescent home, so I just kept walking, and whatever I saw, I saw, and if I had to walk past it, so be it. Now, I can walk as I like and look at what I like. At first, I thought I wouldn't want to walk anymore, after all the pairs of shoes I wore down, all the days I walked through to the end of, rain or shine, like a postman. But when I had the choice not to, I wanted to walk anyway — invisibly, like I'd gotten used to doing.

So, every night, I put on that last windbreaker Viv got for me and I go out on one of my routes. I don't come across many people with the hours I keep, and I walk along the streets and fancy myself a literary hero for a few hours, I suppose, alone under the trees. And then I come back here. If I come in when Stevie is on her way out, I walk with her awhile as she's going up to Hilltop Road. Stevie's not much for chitchat, but she's tall for a woman and she takes a long stride — I like to keep a certain pace — and silent company is still company. When we get to the intersection of Hilltop and Highland, she turns up the hill towards the town center, and I go back down the hill to the cemetery gates. I can see most of the cemetery laid out to the left as I walk down to the main entrance, and on humid nights in August, I'll see the ghost-hunters out there too. They traipse around in the fog with their sophisticated tape recorders and cameras, but I've had them walk right through me and never break stride — not so much as a shiver. They're talking to each other about ectoplasm and fiddling with their equipment, and then they wonder why nothing ever "shows up," but we've shown up. That's all we do, I assure you. On a windy night, take a moment to look at the ground. Look at the leaves blowing right to left. Then look for the leaves that aren't moving. That's us, just standing there.

My name is Vincent Bruck. I died of a cerebral aneurysm December 7, 1991.

April 28, 2003

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  • Heather says:

    I had forgotten how beautiful and sad these are. I wish you had made them into a book that I could keep on a shelf with all my other favorites.

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