When we were children, my sister and I once passed by a psychic medium as he moved through a Civil War battlefield.
His hands reached outward, and he was murmuring to himself. There is a heavy burden here… I feel a disturbance, I feel the bones. Spirit, give me a sign.
We giggled and kept walking through the cornfield, a shortcut to a neighbor’s house.
At family dinners, my father, grandfather, and cousin would sometimes tell war stories. Guadalcanal, Vietnam, Iraq. Mostly they joked, laughed.
And they were funny, and we also laughed.
When they spoke, there was visible space between each sentence, a calculation of audience. The rest of us listened hard, trying to hear every word in every joke. But the empty air seemed louder.
After my grandfather died, we went through his things. Clothes, shoes, receipts.
And in the attic, my sister found a trunk. It was marked with his name and a year.
Inside were things from the war: his service uniform and letters from home.
Tucked under those items were souvenirs. A bag of tiger cowrie shells. A glass pendant in a jewelry box. A scarf.
And underneath those: a Shin guntō sword. An Arisaka rifle. A photograph of our grandfather standing over a blurry, prone figure, holding the sword awkwardly and grinning.
In the very bottom of the trunk was a small suede pouch. Inside was something that looked like a gold tooth.
My sister and I looked at each other. We had never seen a real gold tooth. We decided it was not a gold tooth.
Now, when we see each other on holidays, on birthdays, my sister and I greet each other quietly. There is a lot of space between our sentences.
We sit down to dinner and all appears normal, and perhaps it is. When our father and cousin tell funny war stories, we laugh with everyone else.
But there are moments, during these stories and after they are over, when my sister and I look at one another directly.
And I shut my eyes, and she shuts hers.
My hands relax, holding empty air.
I want to say, There is a heavy burden here. I feel a disturbance. I feel the bones.
I want to say, Spirit, give me a sign.