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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Page 1--Ghosts of The South Building--Diane Siebert

Last December, I sat in my classroom grading long after most people had left school for the day. It was finals week, and I had a stack of papers that I just couldn’t seem to finish at home, so I worked on as the other teachers popped their heads in to say goodnight and tell me not to stay too late. I watched the winter sky darken and felt the chill in the room. The tall windows that make up the south wall of my classroom usually seem so friendly when they let in the bright morning sun. This evening in late December, they were large black eyes watching me as I worked. It’s odd being alone in a place that usually teems with people. The quiet ignites the imagination, and the old tales of the Ghost of the South Building flickered through my mind.

“You’ve been reading too many bad essays,” I told myself ruefully.

I packed up, locked up, and started down the long, empty hallway. I was listening to my footsteps echo off the walls and straining to see the courtyard through the inky hall windows when a person standing a few yards away by the stairs startled me.

Must be a student, I thought, but the school was locked at this hour, and no one was supposed to be able to get in. At second glance, I noticed that the clothes were all wrong for a student—too old fashioned.

Drawing closer, I saw it was a young woman with chin-length brown hair and wispy bangs falling across her forehead. She wore a dress in a style from at least 60 years ago and an add-a-pearl necklace. We faced each other in the dim fluorescent light. There was something familiar about her.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“No, thank you,” she said in a soft, southern drawl.

“Are you sure?” I asked, the discomfort beginning to rise in me. My eyes darted left and right, hoping to see someone—anyone else.

“Yes. I just like to check in and see how everything is,” she replied. “You see, my brother and I spent a lot of time in this building when we were kids. Jem said that was our job.” She smiled and then added, with an amused eye roll, “A lot of students thought I was an African-American boy.”

I felt my eyes widen, and I looked hard at this young woman with her plain and open face.

“Scout?” I heard myself whisper.

“Why, yes,” she said.

My mind clicked through possible explanations. Was someone playing a joke on me, had someone spiked my Diet Pepsi, had teaching teenagers finally pushed me over the edge?

Finally, I said, “I don’t understand.”

“It’s simple, really. We characters like to—for lack of a better word—haunt schools, especially English classrooms. It’s where people get to know us and our stories. They love us, hate us, toss us in the trash when they are finished with us, but it is where we are most alive. Some of our dearest friends—like you—are here, and we just like to stay in touch. You remember what Atticus said about not really knowing someone until you stand in his shoes. But things look fine here,” she said and called “goodbye” as she glided down the stairs.

I stood still for a long moment. When I began to breathe again and could move my legs, I shakily turned and headed down the hall. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I glimpsed a tall, gangling boy in a red hunting cap . . .

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