Sunday, May 25, 2008

Haunted By The Ghost Of Michael Winter

This afternoon I saw an ad for a movie called The Strangers. It was a typical ghost story: A family's killed; another family moves into their home; the former family returns from the dead to get the home back. (Good luck; hope they had title insurance.) Anyway, the exact same thing happened to my grandfather. A few years ago he'd gone to an estate sale; he picked up a few things. A week later the dead couple came looking for their two-stroke lawnmower.

"I don't have it," he told them. "I sold it."

"You sold it?" they said. "Well, get it back, dammit."

"I can't. All sales final."

"Then steal it!"

"From my grandson!"

The whole thing reminded me of a time when I was, in fact, hounded by a ghost. I was sleeping one night--it was an ordinary, average May night/early morning--when there was a knock at my window. I woke up. I'd been having a strange dream in which Mordecai Richler and I were acting in a CBC production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Richler was The Giant, and I was Jack. Florence was there too--she was cleaning the windows.

I raised the blinds and looked outside.

"Let me in," a voice said.

"Who is it?"

"I'm a ghost."

I couldn't believe it. "What do you want?"

"I wanna borrow a book."

I opened the window. There, sitting on the sill, was Michael Winter.

"Shouldn't you be in Newfoundland?" I asked.

"You know who I am?" He paused. "Dad?"

"No...No. You've lived in my professor's house...I've read your stuff. I'm ABD. English." I paused. "'s not so bad?"



"Oh, right. Well...It's like meeting Alice Mun--I can't believe you know who I am."

"I have all your books."

"Oh, right," he said. "I remember you from a signing. Chapters at Yonge and Dundas."

"Actually, Goodwill's Buy The Pound at Jarvis and Adelaide. Hardcovers two bucks; softcovers a quarter."

"You know I don't get any royalties for that."

"Really? The guy behind the counter in the fun fur jacket said that you did.”

“Well, he lied.”

We looked at each other.

“So,” I said. “You want a book?”

“Yeah. You don’t have any kimchi, do you? ‘Cause I could really—“

“No kimchi.”

“Seaweed? You got any seaweed?”


“I’ll haunt you, you know.”

“I didn’t even know you were dead.”

“Technically I’m not. I’m just in Calgary.”

So we sat and talked for a while. He wanted Saul Bellow’s Herzog. Of course I had it. “Goodwill again. A quarter.”

A few days later he came back. Another knock at the window. And there he was, again, holding the book.

“Christ!” he said, throwing it down. It bounced off the roof, landing on my lawn. “You know what this is? This is Barney’s Version. I can’t believe it. He stole the whole thing.”

“Yeah, that’s what The New York Times said.”

“Well, I can’t believe it. I’m really disillusioned now. How can I believe in anything.”

“You’ve got the afterlife.”

“I’m not really dead.”

“No kidding.”

“I’ve got fines at the library,” he said. “You’re the only one in this city who reads.”

“The only Jew.”

“No, no. That’s not true. I just got a first-edition Harold Robbins from your neighbour.”

“So,” I said. “What’re you going to do now?”

“I guess I’ll go home and write. I’ve got a great idea about a rabbi who solves crimes.”

“I’d read it.”

“I’ll let you know when it’s published.” He started inching his way down the gable, then stopped and looked back. “Anansi’s interested in rabbi stuff right now. ‘Anything with a yarmulke,’ they told me.”

And that was it. I never heard from him again. But it was only three days ago, so we’ll see what happens.

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