Originally published in Willow Springs 70
From the author
Notes on “Percipient”
“Percipient,” like most of my stories, is indebted to multiple influences. One night last year, I took my first ghost tour in the French Quarter and found myself as interested in the role of the tour guide as the ghost stories themselves. Here this guide was, in a top hat and cape, hands resting on the head of an old-fashioned cane, telling us, the tour-goers, story after story about New Orleans’s haunted history. And I kept thinking, what a weird job. Part actor, part historian, part ghost-hunter. Did he actually believe in ghosts? Did the job even require him to?
I guess it was at some point on that tour that I realized I wanted to write about a ghost tour guide. But the story has an older history, as well, because it’s also a part of a larger work, a collection of linked pieces, a novel in stories. Georgia, the protagonist, is the younger sister of the main character in two of these stories. What she deals with—her missing mother—is a shared experience with her older sister.
But the story stems also from my own conflicted relationship with the supernatural. I have always been drawn to the gothic, the grotesque, the ghostly. As a child of eight or nine, I brought home books of ghost stories from my elementary school’s library. I watched horror films on the sly. I adored (still do) Halloween. My younger sister is convinced that our mother’s house, the house we grew up in, is haunted. She claims a ghost-lady walked on her back as she lay on the floor of our playroom. She claims too that a face once hovered outside her bedroom window. She suffered from night terrors, and she would wake up terrified, sure that someone was in the room. In this way, she is like Georgia. But so am I, even though I’ve never experienced anything supernatural. Because I’d like to, I’d like to believe. And this is what the story, finally, is about. I wanted to capture the tenuous nature of belief. Not belief in God, exactly, or even ghosts. But belief itself, conviction, and how difficult it is to ever really grasp, how easily it slips away.
Notes on Reading
At the moment I’m reading Blake, and also Jung’s Red Book. I’m feeling very in love with complex personal mystical systems. I wish I had one, like these, or like Yeats’s A Vision. I visited Blake’s illuminations at the Morgan Library recently, and was amazed by his genius, how unlike any other artist or poet he is. I feel as if that’s the most exciting thing there is, the most incredible experience one could have, to have such visions. Even if they were never rendered, as his were.
I watch other people differently now. People on buses, on park benches, with their eyes closed. I wonder what they might be seeing, and wish I could visit their imaginations the way I got to visit Blake’s illuminations, and appreciate what a lovely, rare thing it is to be able to share a consciousness with some other human being, and am grateful that he had the talent to allow me to do that.
About Katherine Conner
Katherine Conner’s stories have appeared in Shenandoah, Copper Nickel, Blackbird, Fugue, Surreal South, the Chattahoochee Review, The Portland Review, and elsewhere. A graduate of the doctoral creative writing program at Florida State University, she also holds a Master of Arts from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. Currently, she lives in New Orleans and is an assistant professor of creative writing at Nicholls State University. She is at work on a first novel.