What haunts us isn’t always supernatural. Loss and regret can float through the dark the same as any phantasm, and they both come to roost in Anne Valente’s marvelous story, “Tell Us You Were Here.” Contributing Editor Karen Friedman took this piece through from start to finish, and so I’m turning the introduction reins into her hands. We’re thrilled that Anne will be one of our Literary Debutantes at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on May 15th (get your tickets now!) for her collection, By Light We Knew Our Names (Dzanc Books), which Matt Bell called: “a striking debut, reminiscent of Aimee Bender and Lorrie Moore, but with a bright promise all its own.”-HT
Do you have a ghost story? I do. One night, when I was eighteen years old and crying in bed, the springs of my mattress compressed beside me and a hand touched my leg. This contact was the culmination of months of eerie activity in my room – mostly missing items suddenly reappearing and unexpected noises. Senior year had been rough. Within one week, my grandfather died and my parents announced their divorce. The ghostly hand on my leg was not menacing, but somehow caring. It freaked me out.
Our latest issue, “Tell Us You Were Here” by Anne Valente is all about ghosts and what beliefs become necessary for a person to survive. The story centers on an unlikely trio of women ghost hunters, each with her own reason for searching out proof of the unknown, each damaged in her own way. The women seek a ghost named Patience Worth, who in the early part of the 20th Century supposedly penned novels and plays through the medium (and actual historic figure) Pearl Curran.
The narrator, a non-believer and a geologist by training, has recently fled her adult life and returned home to St. Louis. She is working at a coffee shop by day and getting stoned in her parents’ basement every night. Anne expertly interweaves fact and fantasy, the narrator’s concrete knowledge of geology with a spiritual search in which proof is often elusive.
My daughter, too, looks for proof about the things she loves, but fears may not be real. Like Narnia. Or the Tooth Fairy. We’re careful to walk the line between honesty and her imagination. My practical side recognizes the flimsiness of my superstitions. But belief in a little everyday magic has made my life richer, given me strength, even been a comforting hand at a time when I needed it. So when my daughter asks, I paraphrase the old line about there being more things between heaven and earth than we can imagine. I hope, like the narrator in “Tell Us You Were Here”, that even in the face of overwhelming reason, the chance of what might be possible is enough.
For more on Anne’s historical inspiration and how her story developed, please visit our author Q&A. We hope to see you on May 15th in Brooklyn, where we’ll be celebrating Anne as one of our literary debutantes! Read an additional interview with Anne about publishing her first book here.