I don’t remember whose idea it was to call the exorcist. How anyone knew who to call. My dad had been telling us about the strange things happening at night. A bright light dancing around the room. The ceiling fan moving every which way but the right ones. My mother’s back turned, steady breathing, easy sleeping, her only time to be these ways. Dad waking and feeling like he had been floating. Still grounded to the mattress, but sure he had recently risen above it. A lady appearing in the hallway, whispering come with her. The lights and the ceiling fan, my sleeping mother and the hallway lady, all dancing for my dad in perfect triangles and colors, turning and turning a private kaleidoscope.
I know this much: It wasn’t my brother’s idea to get the exorcist. He had no plans beyond moving back into their basement and pushing the bottle as far as it could go.
And now an exorcist, standing in the kitchen, looking like she was in from Craig’s List for something she no longer wanted to buy.
“Does anyone here speak Spanish?” she asked.
We didn’t know what to say.
“I’m sensing an Ibero-American vibe,” she said.
My dad looked at me and we secretly spoke a language built up over forty years.
He was saying, “Son, what the hell is an Ibero-American vibe?”
I was saying, “Dad, I just don’t know.”
He was saying, “Maybe this was a mistake.”
And I was saying, “Yeah, maybe.”
Laughter gave me some hope. Maybe the spirits couldn’t hurt my dad after all.
“Hold on,” the exorcist said, and we watched her leave and back her car out the way she had come. We stood in the kitchen and didn’t speak, not even in the secret language. We just stood there, prepared to keep doing so even if she never came back.
But she did come back, walking right in without knocking. The look on her face had gone to eager seller. My dad turned his head slightly, and he secretly said to me, “Might as well see what she’s got.”
“I had to drive around the block,” she said. “Sense the place around you.”
I just wanted to know the spirits couldn’t hurt my dad.
“There is something. Maybe a Portuguese woman. Does she mean anything to you?” the exorcist asked even though she seemed to know we wouldn’t answer. “It could also be energy from another house. It’s hard to be precise with these things.”
My mom stayed in her room. She had taken to preferring to be alone. Even before the exorcist. Even before my brother moved in. Before my dad began seeing things.
The exorcist asked my dad to explain what led us to her. He told her about the lights and the distortions, the woman in the hall. The exorcist listened as if it was all trivial. My brother came upstairs as if it was comical. Dad pointed to his recliner and said, “I saw the man sitting right here. A woman standing behind him. A little boy on the floor, playing.”
I realized he was talking about things he had seen during the day. It wasn’t just a sleep thing.
The exorcist pointed at my brother. “Take off that hat,” she said. “You’re creating the wrong energy.”
It was a stupid hat, a stocking cap with little pink pom-pom balls hanging below each ear. I don’t even know where he had found it. Probably from some girl at the bar.
The exorcist kept an eye on my brother.
“Did these people acknowledge your presence?” she asked my dad.
Hearing about them was as shocking as seeing them myself. As if they were with us even now. Sitting on our furniture. Living in our house. As if we were the ones in the wrong place.
“Yes,” my dad said. “The child smiled at me. Is that important?”
“I need you to go,” the exorcist said to my brother.
He flicked a pom-pom at her. It flailed around and around his ear like a misguided yo-yo.
We started upstairs, but she stopped on each step, shaking her head at pictures on the wall. Unhappy with James Dean. Disappointed in Marilyn Monroe. “You need to get these out of here,” she said.
“The hell I do,” my dad said, and then he looked at me, repeating in the secret language, “The hell I do.”
“All the tortured souls. Evil feeds on this.”
There was Marilyn, sitting wrapped in a towel on the beach, blowing the camera, and now my dad, a private kiss.
No one spoke, but the exorcist looked to the top of the stairs as if someone had. She went straight to my brother’s old room, a place now for my dad to pile his stuff. It was hard to believe we had even grown up here. I wondered if calling someone for the hoarding would’ve been better than for the haunting. The exorcist walked around the stacks of relics: the movie posters, the magazines, the board games, the old newspapers. She put her hand on the closet door. Her head tilted back and shook, and she began to speak in tongues. It sounded something like, “Eemo lima, hiss hiss. Top top. Ooga ooga!”
My dad looked at me, and I have never been closer.
He was secretly saying, “Can you believe this?”
I was secretly saying, “No Dad. I can’t fucking believe it.”
And he was saying, “Hey. Language.”
We were laughing, and for the moment it was just me and him. No brother within his bottle. No mother within her mind. No man and child or hallway ghost calling for my dad to leave. Just me and my dad behind the exorcist’s tongue, sharing our secret, getting rid of nothing. And no one was leaving. No one was haunted or tortured. Not even Marilyn. Not that we would see.
Al Kratz lives in Indianola, Iowa. Away from the day job, he likes to read and write and lie around with the dogs. He’s on twitter @silverbackedG
Image: Adi Goldstein