The Ghost in the Cupboard


I covet furniture.

Interior design was my career, my bread and butter, my love and my dread for many years. Love because beautiful things have always delighted me and I could spend other people’s money to buy them, and dread because much of what I did was customized and I had to depend on the aptitude of others to get it right. That’s tough for a control freak perfectionist.

Now, years later, although I’ve downsized to a ridiculous level of uncluttered spaciousness, lovely things still delight me. And if they’re unique as well as pretty, I lust.

Such was the case when I noticed a new shop on Monkey Forest Road about a month ago. I walked through the door into stacks of clutter arrayed in the most artful way. Antiques the world over smell like old wood and that same, dusty essence, met my nostrils as I scanned the tumbled assortment of treasures, first to the left, then to the right, taking it all in. Expecting the real finds to be toward the rear, I almost missed a stout cabinet, the rough-textured plank top and rattan basket drawers an unusual combination.

I glanced, then looked again, touched the delicious ridges and hollows of ancient wood, went on my knees to pull open the charming baskets, then checked the price tag. The number warranted closer inspection. How was it joined? What species of lumber was used in the body? The top was old, the rest was new with the exception of three antique wood drawers marching across the front sporting vintage hardware. They slid in and out precision-smooth. With the possibility of a serious traffic jam in the main aisle of the shop, I slid the piece away from the wall just enough to look behind it. Oooo! Impressive. The back and sides were recessed panels. This little honey could be floated in the center of a room, presentable from every angle.

Trying not to drool on myself, I pulled away and circled the rest of the store debating:

This isn’t what you thought you wanted.

But I really don’t know what I want.

It’s pretty expensive.

It’s quality.

You haven’t looked at anything else.

Good point.

I left the shop determined to make a trip to the nearby village noted for its furniture and visit the competition. But I never quite found the time. Two weeks later I was back. Standing in front of the cabinet, it didn’t look the way I remembered it. Were the baskets irregular? Was it a little too big? Small? I approached the attendant prepared to negotiate. How about a discount? Local price? Morning price? You have fixed price. Oh.

I left the shop again. As I entered my house, the piece I wanted to replace, a clunky wardrobe far too large, loomed, brooded, and mocked.

Two more weeks passed until one morning I awoke with a new plan. I’d buy baskets, measure the cabinet, and have one made at half the price. The style of basket wasn’t native to Bali so I asked Ketut to come along, figuring if he saw them he’d know where to buy them. We parked by the shop and strolled in. The chest was still there. He studied the baskets, scrutinized the design, then looked at the price tag. “Expensive,” he said.

“Yes, a little. That’s why I want to buy the baskets and make one. Do you know where I can find others like these?”

“No in Bali.”



We left the shop. Back home the bulky wardrobe leered with blatant malevolence. “Don’t look at me,” I snapped, then felt foolish but wary.

Right after breakfast I was out the door. The store was a mile walk and I got there in record time. Tutup. Closed. Because of the holidays, Idul Fitri for the Muslims, Galungan for the Hindus, I assumed the worst, that it wouldn’t open for several days, and now the desire to own the little chest burned in me like a fever. I stood to the side wondering what next when a woman hurried up, “Sorry, sorry!” she said as she unlocked the door.

This time I gave the object of my obsession just a cursory nod and went straight to the cash desk. What the heck, I’ll try again, “Discount?”

“Sorry, fixed price.”

“Free delivery?”


“Okay, okay.”

Four hours later, looking like it had never existed anywhere else, the new cabinet sat where I’d pictured it. The behemoth, on the other hand, was wedged against my bed to be unloaded and relieved of its post. But it could wait until morning. Worn out, I wanted nothing more than to crawl under the covers and read myself to sleep

That didn’t happen. Perhaps I had agitated the spirit of the wardrobe. Or perhaps it was the gecko that lived behind it who had just been rendered homeless. Whatever the case, unsettling noises emanated from the vicinity of the displaced item all night.

Up early, I dressed, drank a cup of coffee, then tore out the contents and piled it on the bed. “Okay, old thing, you’re outta here,” I said. When you live alone, inanimate objects become targets for random comments or rambling dissertations. I gripped the sides, see-sawed it around the corner and down the hall. I live on the second floor. Outside my front door is an area approximately 4 feet square (120 cm) and the steps drop down from there. The wardrobe and I wrestled each other to that landing. At the point where the beast was sitting at a diagonal across the skimpy space, Ketut came into view down below. He had, no doubt, heard the scuffling, and I had, in essence, cornered myself. I think he finds me relentlessly amusing. His smile was enormous but it wasn’t his gentlemanly smile, it was his…oh, don’t you look ridiculous smile…and that’s okay because I’ve done the same to him when the occasion warrants! “Good morning, Ketut. How are you?” I flashed an equally large grin back at him. I’d been busted.

“Yeah?” he asked.

“I think I need a little help.”

“Yeah,” he said.

Ketut, assuming I wouldn’t understand, summoned Wayan in Balinese, “Come help! Grandmother has trapped herself in the cupboard!” I don’t know many words of that difficult language, but I knew those and exploded into laughter. A look of guilty surprise crossed their faces, then they, too, gave it up and giggled like a couple of naughty schoolboys.

Ten minutes later, the unwieldy reject, riding high on their shoulders, was carried out of my sight forever. When I stepped back inside, the change was palpable. Energy flowed, clear, light, and joyous. The proportions worked. There was agreement, as if the room knew all along what was needed and had been waiting for me to conclude the same. But to ensure that the restless wardrobe ghost would not wander back, I lit incense and chanted a celebratory incantation, ‘Happy me, happy me, the monster’s gone, happy me!’

The next day I was chatting with a neighbor who reported that her cats had acted in the most bizarre fashion the night before. They’d refused to enter her room. Crouching spring-loaded in the doorway, ready to attack or run, their wild slit-eyes remained glued fast to an unseen threat under her desk. She searched around and behind it but found nothing. They were finally coaxed inside but gave the suspicious object a wide berth.

I know that cats are nervous creatures and will balk at a shoe if it looks out of place. But I happen to also know there was a cranky spirit on the loose that night. Maybe it was checking out her desk for its new base of operations. Woo-woo! I went home and lit another stick of incense.



Black Ghost

I wait, standing a bit back from the crowd around the stainless steal corral, eyes scanning the trickle of humanity exiting the airport. The double glass doors marked with ‘DO NOT ENTER’ symbols, whoosh open and closed, spitting out dazed and weary travelers. I am early. It will take about half an hour for my American friend to clear customs. I’m cognizant but not expecting to see the familiar face quite yet.  

I allow my mind to drift into a semi dream state and mindlessly observe the flow of nations streaming past. Suddenly my skin prickles and the air takes on a strange quality. It is as though a vacuum has been created in the space around me and time stops. A dark form floats past in a cloud of expensive perfume. Shrouded in fabric, lightweight and of finest quality, I see nothing but her eyes yet I know she is beautiful. With each step the hem of her garmet ripples and billows slightly but the tiny feet remain hidden.  She skims the earth. The air stirs with the cool touch of her passing. My eyes are glued, my heart barely beats, I am holding my breath.

The man with her is appropriate. He has been polished to a bronzed glow. His hair glistens, every strand of it perfectly in place. Immaculately clean, groomed, manicured, he is flawless. But I only glance at him. It is the woman who engages my fantasy. I pause in a space between bias and judgment to acknowledge a glimmer of understanding. Whatever form inhabits the drifting cloth is clear to the imagination only. The woman inside is safe from carnal eyes yet she has seduced me. I watch them as the crowd folds in behind them and they are out of sight.

A tall girl in 6″ platforms with a skirt barely there strides by. Her tattooed escort lopes a few steps behind. Dreadlocks wrapped with colorful bits of yarn brush his waist. I remember the couple only for the exaggerated contrast. Something dark and negative dissolved in my heart today. The black ghost stole it as she glided by. I feel much lighter without the weight of my prejudice.

Black Ghost

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