In the sticky heat of a New England summer, I open my windows to let in the sounds of the world. With my windows closed and the air conditioner on, I feel mummified, almost claustrophobic, as if the air itself is not fully oxygenated. I'd rather hear the sounds of car doors slamming, the screech of the police sirens from two blocks away, the chirping of the few birds who live in the small yews, the only greenery in my urban apartment building.
Sometimes, at night, I hear the whisper of feet down the hallway. Is it my neighbors coming home for the bar? A late night laundry run, when the laundry room is empty and you have your pick of washers? Or is the ghosts of the mill girls who came her in the 1800s to find a new way to live other than unrelenting farm work and child bearing? These women who came and started temperance clubs and literary magazines and lived in boarding houses watched over my mother-replacement matrons, but still lived independently in ways their mothers could not even have imagined.
Are the birds in the yews the descendants of their birds, just like the tombstone in the Lowell cemetery that has my family name, Clough, chiseled in granite? The sparrows and little brown birds whose names I've never learned seem happy, active, alive.
When I stare at the beamed wooden ceiling, stained with water, nail heads visible, I whisper to the girls who worked these mills before me.
"Thank you," I say, and I feel their peace dropping over me.