Me and Granpy were not used to people visiting our house. I’d never had any friends before, and he was always working. I got some Surprises when Jose came home with me after school, because I didn’t know yet that people act different when someone new is around.
The first surprise was the smell. When we opened the front door, I didn’t smell home. Home smelled like Granpy’s Building Blocks Of Life and cold coffee and laundry detergent and Simon’s fur and old books and Granpy’s hair. But when I got home with Jose, it smelled like lemons. Not real lemons, but the chemicals they make that smell sort of like lemons, the ones that they use to make candy and cleaners for wooden furniture. I don’t like that smell, and I didn’t know why our house smelled like that. There wasn’t even any wooden furniture inside.
The second surprise was the floor. Me and Granpy have a System. If something can get rotten and smell bad, like old food, we make sure it gets cleaned up or washed or thrown in the trash. But if something can’t get rotten or smell bad, like papers or books or clothes or pictures, then we don’t have to do anything with it. It’s a good System, because it means I can read a book and take a break and leave it open on the table and when I come back to read it will be Right Where I Left It. It means we can keep all our pictures in one place even if there isn’t enough space on the wall to hang them on or frames or boxes to put them in. It means Granpy can keep everything he needs for his work all together and not have to Go Hunting for something that he put away before. It means we don’t have to vacuum the carpet in the living room because we can’t see enough of it for it to matter.
With the fake lemon smell in my nose, I looked in the door, and the floor was totally clean. No papers, no clothes, just an empty carpet with lines on it from a vacuum. I realized that we were in the wrong house. My heart felt like it was falling down into my feet and my stomach was turning upside-down. I got that feeling in my head like there were bees buzzing around in there. It’s like that feeling when you sit on your foot for too long and it falls asleep and then it starts waking up and you get Pins And Needles and it doesn’t exactly hurt, but it’s still a terrible feeling. I knew that something was Very Wrong, but I couldn’t understand what happened. How did we go in the wrong house?
I froze again. My brain was trying to figure out what was happening, but the bees were buzzing so loudly that I couldn’t hear my thoughts. I had never ever gone into the wrong house before. I know exactly how far to walk down the sidewalk. I know exactly what my front yard looks like. I always look at the mailbox when I walk past it (it’s black plastic with ridges in it) and read our house number off the side. It takes me ten steps to go from the mailbox to the door. I always stay all the way on the left side of the steps when I go up them to the front door, so I don’t step on the squeaky board in the middle. Then I open the outside door, which is one of the light metal screen doors that makes a thwack when you close it, and then I open the inside door, which is a heavy wooden one that makes a thump when you close it, and the stairs are right in front of me.
Even though Jose was with me, I had still done all those things. That meant that this had to be my house. But it was wrong. It was all wrong.
Granpy’s head appeared in front of me and scared me Half To Death. His eyes were big Os behind his glasses (which made them look even bigger than they were) and he had a great big smile on his face and he said Hi there, kids! and he reached out and held Jose’s hand with his hand and they moved their hands up and down, which is called Shaking Hands and is a very strange way to say hello to someone, even stranger than when dogs sniff each others butts, because when dogs do that they can learn a lot of things about each other from the smell, but when humans Shake Hands they don’t learn anything at all, they just share all their germs. Then Granpy put his hands down in front of him and started moving his fingers all around each other, which is something people do when they are nervous, and said we should come inside. And that was the strangest thing of all, because it was my house. So I stepped inside, and Jose stepped in behind me, and Granpy closed the door, and then I looked at Granpy and said Granpy, why are you acting so weird?
And he laughed and said he didn’t know what I was talking about. I looked around the living room and the bees kept buzzing in my head. I didn’t know where all of my stuff was. “Where’s all my stuff?” is what I finally asked Granpy.
And he said, “Don’t worry, Princess, I just put it all in your room. I wanted to Tidy The Place Up before your friend came over.” So I ran straight up to my room, and there was all my stuff on the floor in a big pile, and I felt a little better because at least I knew where it was. But when he was moving everything he closed two of the books I was reading, which made the bees buzz just a little bit louder.
Granmy was up there, too. She was sitting on my bed with Simon, who was sleeping, and she said I should really clean up my room. Granmy always liked to have everything clean. She was always Rolling Her Eyes and Grumbling about the clutter that me and Granpy made. She called it a Mess, but Granpy always liked the word Clutter a lot better.
I was a little bit afraid to go back downstairs, because the house was all different and I was feeling uncomfortable, but I knew that Jose was waiting for me and I knew that it was rude to walk away from someone like I did, and it’s important to be polite. So I turned to go back downstairs, and I saw the little boy right outside my bedroom door, trying to sneak away with one of my books, and I got Mad. It was already bad that all my stuff got moved around, but now the little boy was trying to hide something so I would lose it. So I said Hey, you, stop right there! And the boy turned around and saw me looking at him and his eyes turned into big Os again and he dropped the book and ran down the stairs and I ran after him and I almost ran right into Granpy and Jose, who were standing at the bottom of the steps, and there eyes were big Os, too.
Granpy asked, Who were you talking to? and I looked around and I didn’t see the little boy anywhere, which means he Got Away. Then I realized what Granpy had just asked me and I didn’t know how to answer him. So instead, I said, “What did you do to our house?”
Then Granpy closed his eyes and nodded his head slowly and said, “Oh, Princess, I’m sorry. I just wanted our guest to feel comfortable in a nice clean house. Don’t worry, all your stuff is Safe And Sound.”
That made me a little angry because Granpy obviously didn’t care about if things were in the right place or not, or if the little boy took things, or if I was in the middle of a book and I would have to find my page again because he closed it and lost my spot. And me and Granpy always tell the truth to each other, and we hadn’t seen the maybe-ghost-maybe-homeless-man on the sidewalk yet, so I wasn’t worried at all, and I said No, You’re Wrong, and I told him about the little boy trying to take my book, and then a voice behind me said “Prove it,” and it made me jump because I’d forgotten that Jose was there.
I turned around and looked at Jose. He had his arms crossed and his mouth was smiling and his eyes were sort of smiling but his eyebrows were a little scary, like maybe he would do something mean, but don’t worry, he didn’t. He said Prove it again, then, “Now’s your chance to prove that ghosts are real.” Granpy looked very surprised with three Os on his face, two eyes and a mouth.
I told Jose Fine and brought him upstairs and showed him the book on the floor. “That doesn’t prove anything” is all Jose said, and his arms were still crossed, and his smile got a little bigger. “Anyone could have put that book there. Maybe you moved it, or maybe your grandfather dropped it when he was moving your stuff. If a ghost is moving things around, and only you can see the ghosts, then we should be able to see objects floating through the air.” And then I realized I knew what the look on his face was: it’s the look that means you know you’re right about something and you’re going to prove it and everyone will see how smart you are.
I tried to tell him that the little boy is very good at playing secret agent, and he only moves stuff when no one is looking, so no one would see it. Jose said that I was Making Up Excuses and that if I caught him moving stuff, then other people would catch him, too. Then I said Maybe I’m just better at secret agent than you are. Then Granmy said Princess, you should really tidy up this room.
Granpy was looking at me and Jose and he looked surprised. He crossed his arms too, so the three of us were standing in a triangle with our arms crossed, and he said Do you know what, Princess, your friend sounds like a clever young man. And then he smiled and said, “A conversation like this deserves food,” and we went downstairs and sat at the table and Granpy brought us spaghetti with meat sauce which was All Ready To Go, and I tried to ignore the terrible smell of fake lemons, and we all had a few bites before Granpy started to talk.
After Granpy had swallowed his spaghetti, he said, “the problem with ghosts is Conservation Of Energy and Entropy.” And Jose smiled and nodded his head, and I Rolled My Eyes because I was a little tired of hearing about that. Granpy saw me Rolling My Eyes and he said, “Princess, you always Roll Your Eyes when I say that, but do you even know what it means?”
And the truth was that I didn’t know what it meant at all, so I shook my head No and kept eating my spaghetti while Granpy and Jose tried to explain it. Basically, Physics says that something can’t happen without Energy, and you can’t make new Energy, and also that Energy is always disappearing out of the world, and that some day very, very, very far in the future, there will be none left and the universe will turn cold and die. It made me sad to listen to it, even though Granpy said that wouldn’t happen In Our Lifetimes.
When they were finally finished with all their big words and I was finished with my spaghetti, all I wanted to know was, what did all this have to do with ghosts?