In the great cities we see so little of the world, we drift into our minority. In the little towns and villages there are no minorities; people are not numerous enough. You must see the world there, perforce. Every man is himself a class; every hour carries its new challenge. When you pass the inn at the end of the village you leave your favorite whimsy behind you; for you will meet no one who can share it. We listen to eloquent speaking, read books and write them, settle all the affairs of the universe. The dumb village multitudes pass on unchanging; the feel of the spade in the hand is no different for all our talk: good seasons and bad follow each other as of old. The dumb multitudes are no more concerned with us than is the old horse peering through the rusty gate of the village pound. The ancient map-makers wrote across unexplored regions, “Here are lions.” Across the villages of fishermen and turners of the earth, so different are these from us, we can write but one line that is certain, “Here are ghosts.”
―W. B. Yeats, The Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore
In a Boston hotel, I sit waiting for a glass of sherry. The hotel is old and historic, but it is not what I envisioned; a corporate renovation has done away with all but the most stubborn traces of the past. Conference attendees stream through, “Jesse’s Girl” is blasting overhead. The menu has gone dubiously fusion. But then, this is why I can afford it.
No matter. I’m a master at ignoring the present. I find the reluctant concessions to history on that menu. I focus on the brass dial above the elevator, and the black-and-white photos in the lobby, and bury my nose in a book. The sherry is warm and sweet and awful, but that’s my fault.
A runner appears with my crock of bisque and a soft roll. “Is it for her?” he loudly asks the bartender, whose nametag tells me that she is Phyllis. I am the only person at the bar.
“Who else do you think it’s for?” Phyllis says. “The ghost?”
He plunks the food down in front of me.
“Enjoy,” he says.
I take a bite. The roll, locally famous, is too tepid to butter—the foil-wrapped pat is fridge-cold—so I dunk it in my soup.
“You have a ghost?” I ask Phyllis.
“Yeah,” she says, busying herself with inventory.
“A bunch of them?”
“Have you dealt with them, personally?”
“Of course. Don’t worry, they won’t bother you.”
“I’m not worried,” I say. “I’d love to encounter a ghost!”
I eat for a few minutes.
“The ghosts you’ve seen,” I venture. “Do you know who they are?”
“No,” she says. “But there’s books.”
“I’ll bet,” I say. We subside into silence again.
“Is there a ghost that haunts this room?” I ask finally, after she has brought me the terrible version of the cake that was invented here. “Like, here in particular?”
She finally looks at me. “They’re ghosts,” she says irritably. “They can go wherever the hell they want!”
I let her alone. It’s clear she wants to watch the Red Sox play the Marlins on the TV mounted over my head.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.