Ghosts in the Attic

I'm cleaning our attic.

Guest room from Coastal Living.
Not my attic.
Guests are coming, and the finished, air-conditioned attic is our guest room. Ideally, it should look like something dreamed up by Martha Stewart, with fresh flowers, bottles of mineral water, plump pillows, chocolates (why should the hotel-goers have all the fun?) and a general atmosphere of restful sweetness. The reality in our attic is somewhat different. We have lived in this house for thirty years, accepted a number of unwanted gifts, taken up and abandoned many messy hobbies, and raised a son to manhood while heaping him with toys and enshrining all his schoolwork and youth baseball trophies. All this stuff finds its way to the attic.

Then there are my papers. When I heard some years ago that Toni Morrison's house had burned with all her old papers, causing her unutterable distress, I thought, Lady, you don't know how lucky you are. Of course, scholars want her papers. They don't want my papers. I'm going through my papers right now, throwing out things. I found a padded brown envelope from Little, Brown with the original manuscript of UNBALANCED ACCOUNTS, together with a little note from Ray Roberts, my first editor, may he rest in peace. It read:

October 31, 1986

Dear Kate:

Here's the original manuscript of UNBALANCED ACCOUNTS. You must be sure to put this in a vault. It will put the baby through Harvard one day.


I did not put the manuscript in a vault. Eventually I put it in a box under the guest bed with some early drafts of various books I wrote later. Nor did the baby go to Harvard. Now I have dug out the box and thrown the drafts away. I'm keeping Ray's note, and the manuscript from Little Brown. But not in the attic.

A list of things to address is posted on my old sewing project bulletin board up there. The papers came first. Next comes the sewing. I once used the attic for a sewing room, collecting attractive dress patterns and beautiful lengths of fabric until I had more than I could do anything with in several lifetimes. Eventually one faces this. I have an absolute maximum of ten more projects left in me. So now I have to select ten patterns and ten hunks of yard goods and let all the rest go, probably to the church flea market, along with most of my knitting yarn.

Thymes Frasier Fir:
a Really Good Air Freshener
After that I tackle the toys. I'll hang onto enough to keep visiting little ones amused, but most of the toys will have to be given away. Perhaps I'll paint the walls, hang a few more pictures, make curtains. Already it smells a lot better up there than it did, what with finding and cleaning up the cat dump under the bed and putting out a really good air freshener.

You might say, all this is too much trouble for a few overnight guests, Martha Stewart to the contrary notwithstanding. Perfectly true. The guests create a more or less artificial deadline for a task that has to be done. You see, I have to clear all of this crap out of the attic so that my heirs don't have to. No, it's okay, I'm not sick or anything, but who wants to wait 'til they're sick to clean the attic? This way I get to linger over all the old bits of my life, find a place for them or throw them out, get comfortable with the past.

When I'm finished with this work I'll scatter sea salt on the floor and say some prayers to take care of the ghosts. One of my friends told me there were actual ghosts up there.

Kate Gallison