Note: I mentioned this once before, but it really is worth repeating: My story will be published in their online journal but it is now eligible for inclusion in one of their print publications. They take into account feedback left on their website and social media sites. So, if you like my story, please tell them. I would love the opportunity to reach a wider audience and for my story to be published in one of their esteemed anthologies.
We sit on the patio, the table drenched in white linen. I press the pads of my fingers into the cushion of my chair and I sit up straight. The furniture is wicker, but not old creaky wicker like at my Grandmother’s house, broken and bleached gray in the sun. This is new, all natural wickerwork. The sun is setting, casting a rosy hue against the clear water of Meredith’s infinity pool. Her staff quietly slips around us to light the tiki torches.
I’ve had two glasses of Krug Grand Cuvee with fresh raspberries at the bottom of my glass. Each time I take a drink, I try to grab one with my tongue. But, the berries slip from my lips and teeth, dancing on bubbles just out of my reach. My laughter is too harsh, too loud, like broken crystal against the stamped concrete beneath my feet. Sabine rests a hand on my arm, a quiet warning.
“You have no class,” Meredith says to me and I feel myself sinking – drowning in all that white linen and champagne. Blood is in the water and the sharks crowd near. Sabine is watching me, chin tilted up high, eyes shifted to mine. The table stretches out like a piece of the salt water taffy we used to buy in the summers in Cedar Point. All the women stop talking and wait.
My first thought? My first inappropriate thought? “I want.” It is a line of barbed wire that my bark has grown around. This thought, this need cannot be separated from my pulpy flesh. To cut the barbs away would kill me at this point. I want. I want more than I have. I was born with the wanting.
I want more than some little shitty farmhouse in West Virginia. More than Chapter 7 whispers spread out in some suburban nightmare. More than tiny faces covered in grape jelly, lips smacking for messy kisses.
My second thought? “How does she know?” How does Meredith know how to hone the point of her spear so finely? How does she know to shoot at my heel?
I look at Meredith who stares back at me with a defiance born on fine Egyptian cotton. I’m smart, I think. I’m beautiful in ways that other girls in Beckley were not. My slyness, my clever brain, pretty pond water green eyes – these are the very definition of me. I believe it, I believe it, I do. I’ve had to.
And, what defines Meredith? Her fake tits? Her new nose? Or, maybe its those bulges beneath her silver Dior gown suggesting all that liposuction to come. I’ve been places where sequins and sparkly eye shadows don’t recommend elegance, they proffer dark stages and horny truckers parked right off Interstate 77.
Sabine, too, is waiting for my response. Her eyes, like the stilted lilt of her voice, are very Dutch. Those eyes are a clear lake on a summer day. Inviting, but you can still drown here. Enter at your own Risk. No lifeguard on duty. She has sponsored me here, amongst these fine ladies. My reflection is in her waters. Her husband, my husband, brothers born of Hermes ties. I belong here, I belong here, I do. I will. I swear it.
“What is class?” Sabine says as she sets her champagne flute down. “In one so beautiful? In one so young?”
Meredith throws her head back and laughs. Her hair, a sly mink sliding down over her shoulders. She nods at Sabine. “It’s everything, darling.”
All the kids in the neighborhood would come together, in silence and black clothes, just as dusk was settling in. Together, they’d cry out, “One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock…”
A child, the first unlucky ghost, would run and hide. “Four o’clock, five o’clock, six o’clock…”
The bravest boy would begin to inch away from the safety zone. Amanda’s play set with the tire swing and shiny metal slide was always safety. With her hand touching the twisted waxed rope, the tire swing bumping into her hip, no ghost could ever touch her. At the count of twelve o’clock, their small nervy voices would cry out as one, “Midnight. Pray we see no ghosts tonight!”
The search for the damned would begin. A ghost-child would emerge from a shadowy hiding spot and give chase. Screams and the tinkling of laughter would ring out across carefully manicured lawns.
Jessica was Amanda’s best friend. They were born in the same hospital near Ardsley Park, in the same month of the same year. They lived side by side on the same street and shared the same love of banana pudding and vanilla wafers. Jessica was the dark to Amanda’s light, with thick mouse brown hair pulled back in a tight pony tail. Amanda’s blond locks were wild and streaked with sweat.
Amanda had the play set with the always-popular tire swing but Jessica’s yard was the biggest. The two lots together were the perfect summer backdrop for moonlit games of Ghost in the Graveyard.
That last evening – the night before Jessica vanished, her body evaporating into nothingness – she and Amanda walked side by side in the dark. Amanda’s eyes played across the shadows, searching for movement in the inky corners of porches. Joey Martin was the ghost and he was the best at it – he was never the ghost for very long. He was an older boy, too old, almost, to be playing with them still. Jessica grabbed hold of Amanda’s arm as they silently picked their way across the open expanse of grass. Joey’s little sister, Samantha, was still waiting, wide eyed, with her little hand against the smooth metal of the slide. Other neighborhood kids, already in the midst of the game, stretched out to the boundary lines.
“We stay together, Jessie,” Amanda whispered.
“We always stay together,” Jessica replied in a hushed tone. It was a promise, a low chant of safety and security. “We’ll always stay together.”
Amanda and Jeremy walked down Oglethorpe Street. One hand gripped the strap of her camera to steady it from bouncing against her chest. The other hand brushed against Jeremy’s but when he tried to grab it, she moved it just out of reach.
“Who is Juliette Low?” Jeremy asked her, pointing to the marker on the side of the road declaring the huge white mansion in front of them as a site on the historical registry.
“She was the founder of the Girl Scouts of America.”
“Hmm…were you ever a girl scout?” he asked his tone only slightly lecherous. “Did you go door to door in a cute little green skirt and sell your cookies?”
“No,” Amanda replied and smirked at him. “There was a group of girls in the neighborhood that were girl scouts but we hated them. Besides, green isn’t really my color.”
“What?” she asked, puzzled.
“You said ‘but we hated them’. Were you a part of some delinquent cookie hating gang? Who hates Girl Scouts?”
Amanda opened her mouth to respond but hesitated. It was said that Savannah was built on her dead – thousands of graves lingering just below the cobblestone streets and manicured parks. Amanda felt that she, too, had been built by the dead. But, she never talked about Jessie with anyone. She ran her hand idly down Jeremy’s arm and began to lead him up Bull Street to Wright Square.
Finally, she answered, “My best friend when I was little was a girl named Jessica. Her parents live in the house right next door to mine – the blue one?”
He nodded. “So, does Jessica still live around here?” Amanda smiled sadly, shook her head and looked away.
“I think I’ll get some pictures over here,” she told him and crossed the street into the park square.
“You’re the award winning photographer,” he joked. “But, I thought you said you couldn’t work in Savannah?”
She had driven down the N3 in South Africa, snapping shots of shanty towns and happy tourists eating Bunny Chow on the coast of Durban. She’d traveled across Europe with a backpack, her camera and little else. She’d sat in a steam powered boat on the Ben Hai River in Vietnam, skirting along the edge of North and South. In every one of those places, she had searched within the shadows, looking for Jessica.
It had been so easy to become an artist growing up in Savannah. The city practically begs it’s young to pick up a brush, throw some clay, haiku, haiku, haiku. Amanda loved capturing broken moments, those seconds in people’s lives when their fissures begin to grow. She was drawn to the vulnerability and to the notion that she had the power to stop time. But, she’d never allowed herself to work in Savannah, afraid that within the click of the shutter, she’d find Jessie waiting for her – hidden in the background like an abandoned vista.
She walked away from Jeremy and approached two old men sitting beneath the shade of a giant Oak tree. Spanish moss dripped down from the branches. After a quick conversation, she lifted her camera.
As she framed her shot, she caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye. Jessica stood near the President street entrance, never grown, still wearing the frilly white skirt and blue shirt she’d had on the day she’d disappeared.
Amanda blinked. Sun light filtered through the trees and blinded her for a moment. When she looked again, Jessica was gone and in her place was a normal, living girl, the sun refracting bright against her dark hair.
These ghosts are unnecessary, Jessie, she thought and the girl turned to her and smiled. Give me one day. One day to be happy, to be free of you. The wind picked up for a moment, skating through the fallen leaves that littered the sidewalk and dancing against Amanda’s skin. We always stay together, it whispered.
Several years ago, a college buddy, Tim Bugansky, invited me to submit some poetry for a contest he was running that featured North East Ohio writers. I laughed. A lot. (I am many things, a poet is not one of them. Although, every time I get drunk, I change my mind.) Then I submitted three poems and he said, “Sure! Why not?” and included me in the book he put out. You can download the book for free – it is full of Ohio poets that are actually good. And, then there are three of my own silly-full-of-white-space poems that I wrote under the influence of too much wine and too much bravado.