The first time Mary saw the ghosts she was transfixed.
In the beginning, they had frightened her, the ghosts. Now she found them before they found her. She knew where to look and how. With a clever smudge here or a bit of pigment there, she could enclose them or set them free or leave them completely alone.
She looked across the street in the early afternoon sun, and was again struck by the ghost on the glass. She looked at the ghost, watched it as the sun moved in the sky. Mary could tell this one needed help, needed her to touch it, embellish it, bring it to life. This ghost, of all the others, was special.
Mary sighed and felt in those wonderful things called pockets for the small piece of chalk she had borrowed from school and kept for moments like this. She would be late getting home again.
With a simple mark on the ground it began again.
Mary had learned not to fight beginnings. She would look at the glass and the ghost would tell her when she had done enough.
"Look at it! Just look at my windows. I've had enough, Julie."
Julie Drahuta tried really, really hard to see what it was that had made Audrey Yost this upset. A dirty window shouldn't cause Audrey to lose her cool like this. Sure, it looked someone had smeared her window with colored snot and dirt but a little Windex, or the 1633 equivalent, would clean it right up.
"What am I looking at, Audrey?" It was best, in situations like this, to maintain a professional demeanor, regardless of the circumstances. After all, it was probably a child; a child who liked to eat sherbet with their bare hands then wipe them on Audrey's window.
"Look!" Audrey pointed angrily at the large, smeared plate glass window.
In Julie's experience very little made Audrey this angry. She took two very considered steps forward, her eyes scanning the glass and trying not to look at the potted plants on display on the other side.
Audrey might not have access to flower networks but what she had and what she could do with what was available was truly a sight to see, smeared windows or not.
"See? Smudges! Smudges all over. Look!"
"Glass gets smudged, Audrey." Julie tried not to sound amused. "Hell, I press my nose against your windows from time to time. You have a green thumb and it shows."
"She does it on purpose! And not with her nose! Every day, I turn my back for one second. One! Next thing I know I have to chase her away and the glass is dirty. She stands there, right in front of my face, Julie, and messes up the window. She does it on purpose. She used her tongue once!"
"Then she smeared it with her nose."
"With her nose?" Julie leaned in and scanned the glass more closely. Yes, indeed, it was . . . smudged. No, smudge wasn't a good enough word. There almost seemed to be a pattern . . .
"With her fingers too, Julie. Can't you see? Sometimes it's so thick you almost can't see through the glass. I think she sticks her hands in stuff just to dirty the glass. She has to and it isn't random. It's like she looks for clean places to mess up. Look at it . . . every day I have to clean the glass. Every day she smears a different part. If this keeps up, I'm going to wear the darn stuff out!"
"Just on the outside?"
"She'd never dare come inside and do that! I've never been this mad at a child, Julie. You know that . . . but, it's so . . . so . . . blatant. She's doing it on purpose!"
"Do you know who she is?"
"I'm guessing she's a German kid, a down-timer. She's blond and blue-eyed and she has that look. She understands me when I yell at her though, so she at least knows some English. She glares at me then she's off like a shot. Bam. Sometimes she runs that way or that way . . . if I see her I'd recognize her but . . . I just want it to stop, okay? Can you talk to her parents or something?"
"About what time does she do this?"
"Lately? Usually about midday. She should be in school, right? I mean she looks like she's about ten or so. Sometimes it's after school or before. Some parents need to be reminded to have their kids in school. Schools are for kids . . . not my window. If she wants to finger paint, she should do it in school."
"About how tall?"
"She's a bit tall . . . maybe close to five feet. Look at the glass. That should tell you something. She leaves enough fingerprints."
"We don't have an FBI fingerprint database, Audrey."
"I know . . . just . . . make it stop, okay? It's really annoying and I'm . . . more annoyed that I'm annoyed. I like kids, Julie, you know I do. We adopted two, remember?"
"I'll see what I can do."
Audrey went inside her store. The tinkling bell drew Julie's attention back to the window.