This Friday Flash is a fresh revamp of a story I wrote many years ago.
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He wore a tailored suit of crisp white linen. A lavender hankie poked out of the breast pocket. His tie was an icy grey. He leaned in a casual pose against the balcony railing, staring at the full, pale yellow moon. It looked pasted on the hot, cloudless sky.
There was a soft clink of ice each time he lifted the highball glass to sip. The other sounds on this late balmy night were the buzz of cicadas and the languid rustling of bushes and trees decorating the courtyard.
I shifted on the sofa to see if the apparition would alter depending on my vantage point. It remained breathtakingly tangible if also transparent. I gazed through the translucent form at the cleverly painted shutters and ornate balcony on the cottage directly across the courtyard.
The gentleman sighed heavily. Or perhaps it was wind brushing through leaves. The apparition turned and looked at me. He smiled and said in a soft voice, “Good evening.”
This was lunacy, but it was happening. I wanted to flow with it and see where it led. I had chosen this particular guest house, this particular cottage for a reason. I’d heard murmurings that it was haunted. That it was graced by the ghost of my favorite tortured playwright, Tennessee Williams.
The gentleman moved to a wicker chair on the balcony. On a table next to the chair was a functioning gaslight lamp. The flicker of light bounced off him, and shone through him at the same time.
A robust breeze wove through the vines that draped the quartet of cottages. It sounded like ocean waves soaring and ebbing. I was momentarily displaced and dizzy. I shut my eyes. Would the apparition be gone when I opened them?
The next sound I heard was the lazy Southern drawl of a woman’s voice.
“I am parched is what I am. It is so devastatingly warm tonight. Just like a furnace of fire.”
I opened my eyes, startled. A woman’s amorphous form now stood in the doorway to the balcony. She was studying me. She addressed me in a condescending tone.
“Well there you are! Paying attention at last. Oh sugar, you should put that hair up off your neck. And why don’t you put on some cooler clothing. Something pastel and lightweight. You are so covered up, and in this heat! Why do you cover up so? And in such dark clothing too. It’s not becoming to be so morbid all the time.”
I glanced at the male form and then returned my gaze to the woman. Her voice sounded like my mother’s. Or rather, the tone did. I remained silent. The new apparition smiled indulgently and crossed to an open window. She stared out at the night. Her hands fluttered absently over her hair or smoothed over her skirt or fussed with the curtains that draped to the floor.
The gentleman remained seated on the balcony, one leg crossed over the other. His highball glass was full again. When had that happened? He stared at me. The gaslight gave his face an eerie glow. He took a sip of his drink and then said,
“She’s mine but she’s yours too. You might as well ride it out. I did.” He paused. “I do still,” he finished.
The woman spoke again. “I simply must get myself some of that delicious night air.”
She went onto the balcony to one of the other wicker chairs. She sat in shadow, away from the gaslight. The only light touching her was that of the moon.
The two ghosts conversed. They were playful and cajoling with each other or argumentative and vicious. I watched in rapt attention as the woman’s features shifted frequently. At times she looked young and intense or coy and flirty. At others, older, with a sharp watchful gaze. Her expression was prim and disapproving one moment, tender and wistful the next. It brought to mind Tennessee Williams characters, especially those portrayed in classic films starring the great actresses: Elizabeth Taylor, Vivian Leigh, Katherine Hepburn, and others.
The gentleman ghost was melancholy and passive unless provoked by her. Then he was angry, callous, or aloof.
“We all have our mother issues.” It surprised me that I’d spoken aloud.
The man sipped. The ice clinked. He responded, “Not just mothers. Sisters, aunts, paramours. And fathers, brothers, uncles. Some say we can have the same relationship over and over even though we are interacting with different people. That those we interact with are, in fact, mirrors of our many inner selves. I find that a fascinating concept. However, I also find it appalling.”
I laughed. “I agree.”
The cicadas buzzed. Breezes pushed the fragrant scent of night blooms into the room. The ghosts were now silent except for the woman’s soft melodic humming, the clink of ice, and the accompanying sounds of the night.
A ribbon of orange appeared on the horizon. Night began drifting away. The woman had moved indoors to rest on a brocade loveseat. A thin band of sunlight pierced the room. She shimmered for a moment and then disappeared.
The gentleman had moved to the darkest area of the room. The highball glass was gone. Sunlight spread through the window and flooded the chair where he sat. His smile was faint but his voice was strong and clear as he drawled goodbye.
Alone with my thoughts, I contemplated last evening’s visitation and what it brought up inside me. I have an uneasy peace with my mother. Our relationship isn’t great but we maintain a tense balance. The bizarre, perhaps triggering experience of last night did not make me want to get any closer to her.
Life doesn’t always tidy up nicely. Estrangements can remain vast. Closure is sometimes never achieved. I welcome visits from other ghosts, for an evening thrill or perhaps a spot of insight. But the ghosts that hide in my psyche? Where they are, I prefer they remain.