by Will Medeiros.
(photography pictured is by Bobby Miller)
“Carol’s soul can withstand transplanting into the soil of my brain because, even thought I didn’t grow up in her family and in their various houses, I know, to some degree, all the key elements of her earliest years. In me robustly live and survive her early inner roots, out of which her soul grew…And so I can ‘be’ Carol, albeit with a slight Doug accent…”
- Douglas Hofstadtder, on his memories of his deceased wife Carol
Hofstadter’s I Am A Strange Loop spends many of its pages on a beautiful, thoughtful argument that the dead literally live on inside the people who knew and loved them. The broad strokes of the reasoning are that to live is to be a rich tapestry of patterns woven into a human brain, and if you know someone else well enough, then your brain will be capable of replicating their patterns with not insubstantial accuracy beyond their brain’s death. This argument is woven rather deeply into my own psychological tapestry, and “Front Porch Kathy” provides it with magnificent embroidery.
Author Erin Schallmoser skillfully and empathetically explores every bittersweet facet of the fact that the only true link we have in this world to our loved ones who have passed away is our achingly detailed and tragically incomplete mental models of them. We as readers are invited to perform a “not-a-séance-but-close” along with Hannah and Kathy, and by the time Hannah has in fact summoned a soul from beyond, our version of the ritual in the real world is already complete. Instead of cedar and crystals that we bring along ourselves, our talismans are expertly selected by the author: the fragrant herbs of the details of the Floridian summer setting and the polished sea-glass shards of Hannah’s memories and fantasies.
Using these reagents and a touch of inborn magic, we give Mick a version of life inside our own skulls from beyond the grave and through the page, and like the story’s living characters, we feel a multilayered grief. We live as Mick (with an accent) inside ourselves and so we are able to understand the details of what it means that he is gone, and at the same time, we recognize that this version of Mick is a transient simulacrum and has irreparable holes that will only expand over time. This is all compellingly paralleled in the literal layer of a ghost story with a wonderful eye for heartwrenching character beats and disquieting moments of horror alike. Summoning the ghost provides Kathy and Hannah with a chance to say goodbye; it is also a painful, traumatizing near-miss with utter supernatural catastrophe that Schallmoser is wise to only hint at.
We leave the story certain that Mick was brash and bold and liked a good Danish, but both because he is dead and because it is not on the page, we will never know for certain if or how he thought of his mother as he breathed his last on Kilimanjaro. All we can do is share the pain with Kathy and Hannah and attempt to probe the miniature version of Mick’s soul that, for a time, cohabits with our own.