Rebecca Williams struggled to pull her foot free from the railroad track. The train was barreling toward her, so she was running out of time. She cursed herself for not paying attention as she jogged across the railroad crossing that she had traversed so many times before.
Her ears throbbed with the sound of the train hurtling down the track as it drew nearer. The train made no attempt to slow down. Maybe it wasn’t possible to slow down by the time the conductor saw a young black woman stuck on the track, Rebecca thought to herself, or worse, he didn’t care. But then the train whistle began to sound repeatedly as if in a panic. Okay, the conductor cares, thought Rebecca as she yanked her foot from the brand-new Nike and jumped from the tracks just in time.
She watched as the Nike was obliterated while holding onto her knees and catching her breath. Rebecca had been so proud of the new brand of running shoes her husband; Thomas had brought her back from California on one of his business trips. She was the first of her friends to have a pair and though she knew it wasn’t very mature to gloat, she couldn’t help but be proud of the success of her young husband. The train was a short one, so it sped into the distant track quickly as Rebecca watched.
She looked again toward her decimated shoe to see a woman on the other side of the tracks also looking down at it. The woman was not dressed appropriately for the Texas heat. She wore a long, old fashioned, black dress. Her thick long black hair was braided in cornrows. The woman lifted her head, and a gaping hole was all there was where a face should have been. She screamed at Rebecca, “Come back!”
Rebecca turned and sprinted toward her house; missing shoe be damned. As she ran, a black and white Ford, Crown Victoria came toward her, lights, and siren blaring. She entertained the thought that a black woman sprinting in a mostly white neighborhood might have resulted in a quick call to the police, but she didn’t slow down, and the patrol car passed her, as it headed in the opposite direction.
She reached her house and sprinted up the white steps of the Victorian era dwelling she had purchased with Thomas a few years ago. Well, he had actually bought the house without her present because they were afraid the realtor would put the kibosh on a “mixed” couple moving into the neighborhood.
Rebecca slammed the door behind her and held onto her knees again, gasping for breath. Once her heart stopped racing, she decided that she had imagined the faceless woman in her adrenaline-fueled state. She suddenly felt exhausted. Thomas was out of town and the summer sun was starting to set, so she just skipped dinner and collapsed on the couch, losing consciousness immediately.
Rebecca awakened to the sound of helicopters and gunfire. She bolted straight up on the couch, but then realized the sound was coming from the television. Thomas made good money, so it was a large console TV that dominated the room. The morning news was depicting images of the war. Rebecca was happy once again that Thomas had lost the hearing in one ear as a child and didn’t have to go to Vietnam. A pointless war in her opinion that had already required the sacrifice of many in her extended family. She rose from the couch, walked the short distance to the TV and turned it off. Funny though, she didn’t remember turning it on.
Rebecca headed into the kitchen, her favorite room. The kitchen was bright and cheerful, wallpapered in bright green and rose-colored stripes. She had chosen the wallpaper herself because she knew she would spend a great deal of time in this room. She loved cooking and baking and every Sunday they had family over for traditional Sunday dinner just like in a Norman Rockwell painting.
She put fresh water in the kettle and set it on the stove. She always felt better after her morning cup of tea. Thomas hadn’t called, but he was probably in meetings. Rebecca didn’t want to disturb him, especially since now in her bright, cheerful kitchen, she was sure she had imagined the whole thing.
She made her cup of tea and sat at the small round table looking out at her perfectly landscaped back yard through the bay window. Rebecca had spent hours in that yard, pruning rose bushes, pulling weeds, and tenderly caring for every bush, tree, and flower. She felt at peace now as she gazed upon her creation. But as she watched, she noticed someone moving under her favorite pear tree. It was probably her neighbor, Genevieve, she thought to herself. Rebecca picked up her cup of tea and headed out the back door to visit with her neighbor. Rebecca was very fond of the older woman because she had welcomed her and Thomas with open arms. Genevieve had been all over the world in her youth and was very progressive despite her advanced age.
Rebecca headed toward the woman, who was leaning over with her back to Rebecca. Genevieve was wearing black. Had someone died, Rebecca wondered. She was halfway across the large yard when the woman stood up and looked back toward her home. Rebecca hadn’t seen her face yet, but was sure it was Genevieve, so she called out to her neighbor, “Genevieve, hello!”
The woman was still looking away from Rebecca. “Genevieve,” Rebecca called out again. Genevieve turned and looked right at her, but said nothing.
Rebecca picked up her pace, sloshing a bit of the tea out of her cup and called out, “Genevieve! I’m so happy to see you!”
Genevieve didn’t respond, but turned and stepped back into her own garden.
“Genevieve!” Rebecca shouted. She noticed the elder woman didn’t have her glasses on, so maybe she didn’t see her, and Rebecca decided she must not have been wearing her hearing aid either. She decided she could talk to Genevieve later, so she turned back toward her own home.
Rebecca’s cup crashed to the ground as she gazed upon the faceless woman standing on her back porch. The woman screamed, “Come back!” and then vanished.
Rebecca stood there, her entire body trembling. The apparition was gone, so Rebecca being the rational person that she was, talked herself back to her senses. She reasoned that the woman was a figment of her imagination caused by the adrenaline rush which probably lingered from yesterday’s experience. She gathered up all her courage and walked back into her house.
She walked through the kitchen and into the den. She walked past the monolithic TV and stepped in front of Thomas’s rolltop desk. She picked up the phone to call him. She knew his voice would soothe her nerves. There was no dial tone. The phones were out again. Just her luck…
Rebecca spent the rest of the day bustling about from one task to another. She tried to finish the current novel she had been reading, A Wrinkle in Time, but despite it being considered a novel for teens, she couldn’t seem to focus on it. She busied herself throughout the day with menial tasks until the sun finally set on the never-ending day.
She was exhausted, even though by all accounts she hadn’t done much. She trudged up the staircase that led to the upstairs bedrooms. She peeled off her clothes and left them where they landed on the floor. She shimmied into a thin nightgown and then slid under the blankets.
The dream came quickly. She was five years old and her mother was setting the table for dinner while she watched.
“Can I help, Mommy?” little Becky asked.
“May I help, baby,” her mother smiled reaching down and caressing her face.
The dream felt so real, Rebecca felt safe watching her mother move about the kitchen as the beads on her cornrows clinked against each other. Rebecca remembered how her father had begged her mother to wear her hair in a more traditional way. He would say that it was hard enough blending in in a small Texas town when your skin is dark, much less when you’re foreign. Her mother would laugh and say she was quite sure her accent gave away her Jamaican roots, and she would add more seriously, that she refused to be ashamed of her heritage.
Rebecca’s father had grieved terribly when her mother died giving birth to her younger brother. He insisted that she leave our world sporting her beloved cornrows.
“Becky look at me,” said Rebecca’s mother.
“I am looking at you, Mommy,” the child answered.
“Rebecca look at me,” said the faceless ghost.
Rebecca woke up screaming. She opened her eyes, and the faceless specter was leaning over her. Rebecca continued screaming as she gazed up at her.
Rebecca was standing now, but before she could run, the ghost grabbed her by the shoulders and wailed, “Rebecca look at me! Do you see me?!”
The walls of the house dissipated around Rebecca. She was standing near the railroad tracks. She gazed upon the face of the ghost and then she did see. “Oh Mommy,” she said as she embraced her mother.
“It’s okay, baby. You’re with me now,”