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Everyday Ghosts
by S.B. Julian

It's interesting how ghosts tend to appear in mundane venues – the world's most ordinary and insignificant places. Ghosts are exotic additions to spots where no other exoticism exists. Apparently one recently visited British Columbia's Lieutenant-Governor in her office. It didn't creak and moan in a spooky attic or in the garden at dusk outside the conservatory; no, it merely sat on a visitor's chair in the office, watching. Distracting the L-G. Maybe she was drafting dull memos or answering boring emails, and wanted to be distracted. Everyone longs to make their workplace less boring. Sometimes we imagine presences that may or may not be there -- presences missed during humdrum days at the office, laundromat, bank machine, grocery store or other spots notably non-numinous.

The more we re-write history for reasons of ideology, the more active become the ghosts of the past. Ghosts are restless spirits of people repressed or banished, trying to make their way back into the world's attention. Historical figures banished in one way will reappear somewhere else, haunting the places they used to flourish in when alive. Somehow they seem to redress unbalance. We might argue that the more we censor the past the more we need ghosts.

It's not only historic personalities but historic social habits that erupt again in our thoughts, haunting us as products perhaps of our secret underground unconscious desires -- products of taboos.

I have proof: on the morning of Halloween, at the laundromat I smelled cigarette smoke. I swear it was there, a ghostly odorous emanation, even though no one was smoking and the walls were plastered with “No Smoking” signs. The diagrams on these signs made the images of wasted lungs look like skeletons: very Halloween-ish, very appropriate for the day. Halloween! Night before All Saints Day, when the un-saintly ones get out and express themselves.

More ghostly things happened to me that day: at the cash machine outside the bank I put my card in ... and it disappeared. Some evil force stole it and left a creepy message: “insufficient funds”.

This meant less cash with which to buy Halloween candy at the grocery store for the trick-or-treaters that night. I knew I'd have bad luck there and sure enough, a black cat crossed my path as I arrived. A free one! Just walking along! We never see a free cat any more since the “lock up your cat” lobby forced everyone to keep them indoors – for the sake of birds. This one must have been an apparition. The spooky crows in the trees overhead seemed real however. They cawed raucously, jeering at the cat who vanished down a dank alley. These crows had spent the summer killing baby robins, for which cats got blamed – a criminality of crows they were, black against a darkening sky. They soon flew off, evaporating like black wisps ...

Some people say that ghosts are mere imaginings, products of our need to hang on to things we've lost, things like history and the habits that used to live as robust choices in our personal lives. This seems to suggest that ghosts are “real”, and that whatever we ban comes back to haunt us.

In my town, the City Council decided it was wise to ban the statue of Canada's first Prime Minister because some aboriginal people didn't like walking past it. His statue's gone now, but Mr. Macdonald isn't: I saw a shadowy top-hatted frock-coated figure on Government Street the other night, flitting round a corner under the moon as the clock chimed midnight.

He'll stick around. History has a way of not going quietly.