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Nothing but a Cold Digger

T

ammy saw a ghost last night. That’s what Martha says; saw him drifting right through the porch-siding like he was Elvis on a skateboard.

Tammy threw a fit, and threw her nice, new pitcher right through a window. That’s how scared she was. All she got left behind was an explosion of botanical glass and a five-dollar bunch of chrysanthemums, scattered all over, like ten dead, red men.

When I go see her, she’s still sobbing over the corner of a handkerchief.

All the rest of the Golden Acres women want to have it out with Tammy, grab her by the pink lapels, and shake some sense into that haze of permed hysteria, but I don’t. I just want to sit her down and feed her brownies – big, soft, brick-brownies – like I’m posting them into a letterbox.

You see, I think I’ve seen that ghost too, and more to it, I’ve got a notion he’s cheating on me. That you’re cheating on me. But I’ve got to hear it from her; from those chocolate-crumbed lips that are ‘umming’, and ‘awing’ over the old recipe Gramma’ Kennedy taught me, right down to the walnuts and the golden molasses, sticky as sin.

I can be patient, and, sure enough, she’s had a shock.

As I once did.

That’ll change, though. Sure, it’s all fresh and easy right now (she’s a spring-chicken sceptic at seventy-five, a hundredth of your age, if she’s a day). But you know what, something will go out of it. I don’t know what or where or when, but the spark will just leave – that little frisson of terror I thought would never go; that punch to the heart with every creak about the house, or a burst of static on the old B&W set with its Y and O of an aerial, or a flash and flicker of a light bulb, like something is squeezing along the wire – it’ll just… just slowly drift away.

I sleep well, these days – alone, but well – and maybe I don’t see anything quite as I should.

Now, ‘psychic’ or ‘sensitive’, or whatever you want to call it, are pretty big words. Not so long ago, I was just an honest soul who hadn’t seen so much; who only knew what I could see in front of me. I liked to bake of a Sunday, or clip roses on the front stoop – cupping their lip-kissing petals in the sunshine – or sip on a lemon soda, watching the bubbles fizz up out of the glass with the sound of a miniature steak cooking where the ice ought to be. And that’s the kind of person Tammy is, when she’s not scared half out of her wits, and throwing things through windows like she’s got an electric current shorting out her wiring.

And when Tammy pats at the corner of her lips – now with that handkerchief, mixing tears with chocolate – I wonder if those lips have kissed the frigid air my lips once kissed; perhaps howling wide in terror. Or she got electrified in a cold spot, tingling like teenage indiscretion; or clutched at a heart she thought might break ‘for the love of God’, stammering for whatever it was to go. Waiting for it to go. And it not leaving; deliciously intensely, horrifyingly, pulling out that moment like a gut string, tightening and tightening until…

It’s gone.

But only for a while.

Stubborn. Cold. A presence she feels in the house like a pit in a plum – dig it out with her fingers, right under the flesh – until one day, down the line, when she gets complacent, you won’t come any more.

Sure I got a home. But now it’s just a stack of firewood with a screen door and a porch, and a fridge that runs like a street car, and a few sticks of furniture, in a place that ain’t got no heart.

The horror didn’t get too much. It didn’t stop. It just grew convenient and familiar. We settled down you and I.

For a while, I did the dutiful thing: sat pulling the stuffing out of a goose-down pillow most nights, dull and unmoving, heart bursting, watching mama’s old tooth-glass move with jerky scrapes across the table and up over the plaster, only to drop like a crystal meteorite, while the energies got me twisted up to puking.

But it turned out, that my body and mind, and maybe my soul, couldn’t stay terrified indefinitely; that the promise of what could be manifest, never materialised; that I couldn’t stay hanging on forever, waiting on whatever that dark, toothed shadow in the cupboard had in store for me.

You had eternity; I had the last flutter of a graveyard moth.

So, guilty as I am now, sitting here on Tammy’s couch, Tupperware in hand, I’m trying to tell you – whoever you are – that I’m sorry. That I’d make you brownies, too, if you had the bones to eat them. But that’s just what I’m talking about: goddamn brownies when I should be shrieking and cowering.

Like Tammy.

Look at all that flooded mascara.

I know the times you’re going to have together. She’ll find life will never be so bright and precious than when she’s with you, floating by like a knife in the darkness.

I never felt so alive.

God damn. The Tupperware lid pops.

Then I’m standing up too quickly and telling Tammy that I’ve got to go.

I’m so sorry. So sorry, darling, but I can’t understand how this terror-stricken dolly-bird will ever make you happy.

 

9 comments

1 Harry B. Sanderford { 04.16.11 at 5:02 pm }

One of the coolest takes on a ghost story that I’ve ever read. Wonderful vividly described details. Another brilliant story!

2 asteve Green { 04.16.11 at 5:29 pm }

Wow, what an unusual angle, and as always extremely good on the imagery and descriptive.

Maybe poor Tammy will adapt to the situation, and be able to take over and learn to love the spectre too.

3 Steve Green { 04.16.11 at 5:31 pm }

^^^ Can you believe it? I actually spelt my own name wrong. 😀

4 John Xero { 04.16.11 at 7:52 pm }

Awesome ‘anti-love story’. =) Very cleverly done.

I particularly loved the line “and shake some sense into that haze of permed hysteria”.

A couple of other anti-love stories I came across around about the middle of February (can’t imagine why… 😉 ), that also do a brilliant job of playing with conventions and turning things on their head:

Inorganic Chemistry
(a little hard to grasp at first but worth sticking with)

and the End of Love

5 Icy Sedgwick { 04.16.11 at 11:23 pm }

Oh, this is just fantastic. I’ve never read anything directed TO a ghost before. Isn’t it cool that we both did ghost stories this week?

By the way, I love your style. A new fan, methinks. 🙂

6 Aidan Fritz { 04.17.11 at 4:20 pm }

A great premise and I like the way the details emphasize an understated violence (I just want to sit her down and feed her brownies – big, soft, brick-brownies – like I’m posting them into a letterbox.; like ten dead, red men, throwing things through windows like she’s got an electric current shorting out her wiring, (actually I could list the details I enjoyed all day this is packed full of them.). I get the feeling of someone nearly unhinged by jealousy and then I like the way it ends with hope.

7 Stephen Hewitt { 04.18.11 at 11:22 pm }

@Harry, glad you liked the angle on this. It hadn’t really occurred to me it was slightly unusual until after I’d slogged through the editing.

@aSteve/Steve, you may have been incognito, but you still managed to comment 🙂 Yeah, Tammy may just get to grips with her spectral visitor, though I guess that’s what the (unnamed) protagonist is worried about.

@John, thanks for those ‘anti-lovin” links. I’ll check ’em out. Glad you enjoyed the read, ‘permed hysteria’ and all. 🙂

@Icy, now you mention it, I’ve not read anything directed at a ghost either. Like minds when it came to the ghostly – I enjoyed your piece, too. Can’t go wrong with a good ghost story. Really glad you’re liking the writing :).

@Aidan, it occurred to me that this could be a fairly ‘realistic’ psychological reaction to having been haunted for a while — a bit like those folks who fall for their kidnappers. She’s definitely gone a bit strange. Unsure if she’ll be able to recapture that first innocent blush of ‘terror’, though. 😉

8 Joan { 04.19.11 at 8:44 pm }

This is very good, Stephen – the language in it is so rich that by the end of the story, you believe in it, the characters, even the ghost (of course) – ‘lip-kissing petals’; Tammy ‘sobbing over the corner of handkerchief’ – not just a handkerchief etc etc.
‘Elvis on a skateboard’ – no wonder the protagonist fell for him – but yes, there was just no future in it, was there? You can’t keep that level of excitement going.
The women in the story are old themselves, and the ghost ancient. Took me some time to work out the sum of the ghost being a hundredth more than ‘spring-chicken Tammy’ – but that’s just me – I like the way the women are old – it’s all more poignant – they may not have to wait long to meet this ghost more – insubstantially, I supp0se.
This is what I like about the story – it makes you think, and you find extra layers in it.
‘B&W set with its Y and O of an aerial’ – a good phrase – ie says more that just ‘the TV’ – but you don’t need the apostrophe in ‘its’ in that instance.

9 Stephen Hewitt { 04.23.11 at 8:03 pm }

Hi Joan — glad you liked the language. Somehow the story just seemed to suit pensioners. I hadn’t quite internalised the maths test in there (the ghost’s age), but that probably is a bit of a demand on the reader. I’ll watch out for that.

Ah, yes, I’ll fix that errant apostrophe. Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll catch it and use it in another story. 🙂 St.

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