In “The Cost of Dehaunting,” by Dominica Phetteplace, Petra is at a job in a super expensive condo, hired to dehaunt it. There’s nothing wrong with the house, though, just a crooked floor, so she walks around to waste time. We move onto her next job, a house that will soon be demolished but the owner wants it dehaunted to fetch a higher price for the land. There are ghost cats in the kitchen so Petra puts them in a bag instead of passing them over into the ghost world. Petra gets a third call, to go dehaunt some apartments. Turns out there’s no actual ghost and it’s a ruse to evict the people living there. She wants to connect with the tenants but is rusty in her Spanish. She has flashbacks to her relationship with her friend Corazon, which she kind of relates to, her and her mother, which she minimally relates to. Then, she goes to her therapist Joanna’s office. She talks about being a Latina but mostly talks about the other country, which her therapist doesn’t fully believe. Petra lets the cats out and the therapist kind of starts to believe, but not fully until Petra pulls a ritual to out the cats away that doesn’t work as well as it should because she uses a simpler, rusty technique. The cats cause maybe but finally get absorbs in a gem of Petra’s. Joanna finally fully accepts Petra’s story and sits down for Petra to tell her tales.
Petra is technically Latina. She’s Morena and her name is as Spanish as it gets; anyone can tell by looking at her she has a Hispanic background. Petra’s sphere she works in, however, is majority millionaire of Anglo descent. The only recognizable part of Petra to her customers is designer Mansur Gavriel bag, and she catches a realtor, Wendy, “eyeing the bag” as she performs ghost rituals. It’s the only part about her appearance and her rituals the Anglo clientele can immediately relate to. There are two main worlds in this story: this dimension, and a magical other world she refers to as “the other country”. It is from this other country she gets her wealth from, though she must reside in this dimension. Similarly, there are two cultural spheres Petra alternates between: her Mexican background, and her American present. Petra looks right at home in her Mexican background, but her core- the culture she knows best and was surrounded by her whole life- is that of her American present. She lives in a state of in-between, never able to completely cross over into one culture or the other. Some of the ghosts we see her deal with in this piece, primarily the cat spirits, live in a similar state of not quite passing over. Petra affords the high-class life she leads only due to the gems she gathered from the other country; additionally, she is only able to successfully complete the ghost rituals through a mix of Mexican rituals. Both of these instances show that Petra would not be who she is today without her backgrounds, both in culture and in the “other country”. It shows that the magical land of the “other country” is a physical manifestation of her Mexican culture, which Petra prefers to reside in but must pay the price of isolation. Petra attempts to get over this feeling of isolation by talking to her second generation Latina therapist, Joanna. She talks to Joanna about things she cannot talk to her mother or her friend Corazon about: her adventures in the other country. Joanna’s mother, fully Latina, cannot understand the struggles of juggling two cultures. Corazon, being mega rich, of light skin, and living solely in this American culture cannot understand Petra’s struggle. Joanna the therapist is the only person in Petra’s life with some form of connection to both cultures, although even she does not fully understand Petra’s struggle (Joanna is also of light skin, has a totally American last name, and has a first name that can be pronounced in both Spanish and English, depending on the situation. She is able to seamlessly cross over cultures). Petra feels anger upon Joanna’s attempts to relate her struggles of identifying as a Latina to her own, due to the privilege of having a transferable name and genetics that allow for a smoother cultural transitioning; she internally explodes in a similar way the spirit cats do when Petra attempts to gather them from Joanna’s office in a non-traditional manner. The cats are Petra; Petra is the cats. Ironically, it is the ghost cats’ anger that finally leads to Joanna accepting Petra’s struggles in fitting in from the other country, or other culture, to this one; it is once the cats almost destroy all that Petra finally has her struggles listened to and fully understood by someone, what she wanted all along.
I want to copy how deeply the metaphor of the ghosts and cats represented Petra’s conflict with living in two cultures. The chronic tension is incredibly intertwined with the acute, and in a literal manifestation.
Exercise: Pick an object and write a scene with it. Put that paper away. Pull out new paper. Pick a character and write a scene with them having an internal conflict. Then cut up each line from both pieces of paper and collage them together, making a new story with the object intertwined with the internal conflict. Then take this idea and write a more fluent, cohesive scene with it.
- Was there a villain/ bad guy in this story? Who was the bad guy to y’all?
- Thoughts on writing two cultures in one piece? Was they way the author switched between them confusing to anyone?
- Satisfied with the ending? Did it feel like a cop-out or was it wholesome?