But I still didn’t sleep very well. Even though I knew I was safe in my bed, in my room, in our house, someone forgot to tell the part of my brain that decides what I dream about, because it was nightmares all night long. I saw lots of Dead Eyes and lots of red eyes and lots and lots of dead spider ghosts. The Duchess turned into a general and the other ghosts were her army. But there weren’t only the ones I saw in the house. There were millions and millions. The Duchess stood up on her tree and screamed at them all. “Drive them out! Drive them out!” Her armies marched out of the house and into the street, and then the street turned into a city, and the city turned into the whole world, and it was all covered in Dead Eye ghosts, all the ghosts of all the people who’d ever died, so many ghosts that you couldn’t see the oceans and the continents underneath them all.
Worst of all were the old man and the old woman. As the ghosts marched past them, swallowing up the whole world, they just sat in their chairs, reading their magazines and not looking up. “They’re just looking for attention,” muttered the old man.
The old woman nodded her head and turned the page. “Don’t give them the satisfaction.”
It’s not like I had never heard those words before. Adults said it about me all the time. When I was little, and I didn’t realize that only I could see the ghosts, the specialist said She’s Just Looking For Attention. When I tried to explain to the teacher about the ghosts, and she thought maybe I was Mentally Unbalanced, which means crazy, the specialist said they shouldn’t worry because it was Just A Cry For Attention and if they ignored it I would stop Acting Out. And that was before I figured out that sometimes you shouldn’t tell people everything, and I tried to explain to the specialist who I was talking to, but he kept shaking his head and saying I couldn’t expect people to take me seriously if I was always Making Up Stories, and that this was not the way to get attention. And all that made me very confused for a long time, because all I really wanted was for them to leave me alone. Explaining was the only way I could think of to get them to understand, but that didn’t work. I still hadn’t figured out that the world I lived in was not the same place as the world they lived in.
But the words stuck in my head anyway. The old man and the old woman, they’d said the Duchess Just wanted attention. People use that word when they’re talking about something that doesn’t matter. Like, don’t cry, it’s Just a little scratch. Don’t run away, the doctor Just wants to look in your ears. Don’t be afraid, it was Just a dream. Just, Just, Just. She Just wants attention. So that has to mean that attention isn’t important. But at school, all the teacher ever says is, Pay Attention, Pay Close Attention, I Can Tell You’re Not Paying Attention. How come the kids have to pay attention to the adults, but the adults don’t have to pay attention to the kids?
So all the next day I thought about the Duchess, and I worried that maybe I was right in the first place and she really did need help. But I was still too afraid to go back to that house.
Every once in a while Granpy and me have to go clothes shopping. Both of us hate it. Too much noise, too many people, too much pushing and shoving and moving and rushing. We tried buying clothes online once, but it didn’t go very well. I have to try stuff on before I wear it. Sometimes a shirt can look perfect, but when you put it on, there’s a tag that scratches the back of your neck. Or you find a nice pair of shoes and you put them on and they squeeze your toes or there’s a scratchy piece on the side. Once we tried to buy socks online and it was a Disaster. Granpy said You’d Think that socks would be the same everywhere, but they weren’t. The seam on the top that goes over your toes was too wide, and it pressed into the side of my foot when I put my shoes on, and it Drove Me Crazy all day. So finally we gave up, and we decided to Give In and go to the mall every once in a while, when my clothes got too many holes or I Grew Out of them.
It was wintertime and my jacket was too small. We didn’t want to go on the weekend because there were always too many people on the weekend, so Granpy decided we should Play Hooky, which is like playing secret agent against the school.. He called the office and told them I wasn’t coming, and we got in the car and drove Downtown. We went into the parking lot and got a spot near the sidewalk so I didn’t have to be too scared of cars hitting me. Granpy went to the little house by the entrance to get a ticket for our spot. You have to bring the ticket back so they know how long your car has been there, otherwise you have to pay a lot of extra money. Once I asked Granpy why they didn’t just remember what time everyone got there, and he said that Not Everyone Has Got A Brain Like Mine.
While he was getting the ticket, I stood on the sidewalk, which is the safest place to be when there’s lots of cars around. There were a lot of people walking by, going shopping or going back to their cars. And sitting there on the sidewalk near me was a ghost.
I knew he was a ghost because none of the people walking by looked at him or noticed him, even though he was trying to talk to some of them. He was old and wearing lots of clothes. He was talking a lot, but I couldn’t understand almost anything. I guessed that it was probably another accent. I wondered why he was there. Ghosts usually go to places they liked when they were alive, or places they always wanted to visit. Why was this ghost here on the sidewalk, trying to talk to everyone who walked past?
It looked like another chance to try to work on my Unfinished Business list. Maybe all this ghost needed was for someone to listen to him. Maybe he had a message for someone who was still alive, or he wanted to confess a terrible crime, or he knew where some buried treasure was hidden. I decided to go listen. Nothing really bad could happen there, with all those alive people nearby, and with Granpy right over in the parking lot just getting the ticket for our car. So I walked straight up to the man and smiled at him.
He looked right at me. He stopped talking and smiled a great big smile. He was missing a few teeth, so his smile looked kind of like a baby’s smile, if a baby could have a great big gray beard. He waved at me, and I saw that there were lots of holes in his gloves.
I didn’t get a chance to hear what he had to say, because Granpy came up behind me and tapped my shoulder and said Let’s Go, Princess.
On the way into the mall he said that I probably shouldn’t talk to that man, because he was probably Mentally Ill and he might be dangerous. It was the first time Granpy had ever been able to see any of the ghosts.