When the spirits of the past come back to haunt you in old, yet unfamiliar ways….
by: Frederick Foote1
She has a full lip smile that doesn’t reach her round eyes or rouse her dimples. She stops at my table, leans forward, exposing the depths of her buxom chest. “Do you mind if I join you?”
I motion for her to take a seat. She sits with all the grace of a feline, with a bare pretense of a smile. She opens her small purse and removes her lipstick, reapplying it with easy perfection.
I wait. She watches me wait. I wonder what good and gracious wind brings her to port at my table.
I signal the waitress for a refill. I point at my table mate. She declines with a shake of her head.
“You drink scotch now? You have changed.” Her voice is a bit husky, whiskey husky with a hint of the Deep South.
I nod. I like the sound of her voice. I want her to keep talking. Her voice takes me away to someplace in the past.
“You use to drink rum. Bacardi’s.”
“Magnolia blossoms, lightning bugs, clouds of mosquitos, back seats, bad girls, rum and Cokes.” I remember the time and the place, but not her.
She closes her eyes and sighs. “Jasmine in the air. Sweating all the time, boys in heat, bobby sox, blues on the back porch.” She sways to a beat I can almost hear. She opens her eyes. “Stella May.” She says the name with a finality. Like driving a nail in a coffin.
The name brings a smile to my face, brightens my heart, makes my day. Stella, long, lovely faced Stella. Quiet, cool, smart Stella. My girl at sixteen. A very sweet sixteen. “You kin to Stella?”
“Her youngest sister.”
“Baby Girl. I remember. I do. You must have been, been ten, eleven or so.”
“I was ten.” There’s a tension in her face, a tightness in her shoulders.
“You were a mess. Always into something. A rascal you were. Are you still a rascal?”
“No. I’m haunted.”
“Haunted? What do you mean? How is Stella? Where is Stella?”
“Dead. In the ground. Five years ago.”
“No shit! How? What happened?”
“An automobile accident in Nigeria.”
“Nigeria? Why was she in Nigeria?”
“Stella was a doctor, an epidemiologist, with the World Health Organization.”
What a waste. Stella was smart as a whip and determined to get out of Mississippi, to be somebody. I look at her sister a little closer. The shape of her face, but not the features, are like Stella’s. I reach across the table and touch her cheek.
“My name is Emma. In case you forgot, or you never knew. You and Stella are haunting me.”
She leans closer to me and gives me a high-intensity whisper. “You’re haunting me, and I need you to make it stop.”
Something in her eyes, a look I recall from long ago. “I don’t understand. How’re we haunting you? You have to – where did they bury Stella? Back in Greenville?”
“Near her home in Seattle.” Emma grabs my right hand in both of hers. “I was ten. I knew you sneaked into Stella’s bedroom at night. Sometimes I could hear you two, hear the bedsprings and, and Stella…I…”
“You what? What did you do?”
Emma squeezes my hand tighter. “I hid in the closet. I wanted to see. I wanted to know. I fell asleep. I woke, and you were climbing through the window. You just stood by the window in the moonlight staring at Stella sleeping, looking like you had discovered gold or gone to heaven without even dying.”
She flicks her tongue across her lips. There is a bead of sweat on her brow. “You pulled the sheet back from her legs and started kissing your way up to her ass. She was only pretending to be asleep. She raised up her ass like a bitch in heat and ah, ah; you started doing things to her ass and pussy with your tongue and mouth and fingers and, she twisted around, undid your pants, and took your dick in her mouth. I closed my eyes. That was so nasty. It was all so nasty. Disgusting! I think I cried.”
Emma stops and gathers her breath, calls the waitress, and orders us two rum and Cokes. “I couldn’t shut out the sounds and smells. I heard you cum. A deep moan, a high pitched note, a perfect contrast. I hated you for making my sister nasty, and I hated her for letting you do it.”
She glares at me with all that hate from that moment in the past. I hope the hatred is only from the past.
“When you two went to sleep I crept out of the closet. I thought about stabbing both of you two nasty dogs to death in your sleep. The thought crossed my mind but, in the moonlight facing each her, my sister looked so peaceful, beautiful, contented and happy, and you, you were her mirror, you had the same expression.”
Emma drowns her drink in one swallow. “That night is still with me, the sights, sounds, all of it…“
“I’m sorry if what you experienced turned you against sex.“
“No! No. Not against sex at all. I have spent much of my life trying to achieve what you two had, those matching notes, that peace and beauty. And, I compare my every sexual coupling with that night. No one has ever looked at me like you looked at her. I have never felt that peace and ecstasy. Never.” She reaches over and takes my drink and downs it in a gulp.
“Emma, I never had what I had with Stella again. It was a once in a lifetime thing.”
“Yes! Once in a fucking lifetime, but you did have it. You know what it’s like. I need to have that once in a lifetime feeling. I need…“
“With the right guy you…“
“I’ve tried. Hundreds of times. Guys and gals. I have fucking tried. And the harder I try, the less I feel.” She has a haunted look in her eyes. “Now, I feel almost nothing. Nothing at all.”
I sit and watch her deflate, go flat and gray. She looks away from me, wipes away a tear.
“Did you go to the funeral?”
“I want you to fuck me. Just once. I want to rule you out. I need to rule you out.”
“You know that won’t work. We don’t have the connection or the feeling and, and we’re old and less energetic, and too wise and experienced to fall in love like that.”
“You don’t find me attractive?”
“I find you very attractive, but I can’t be the boy I was with your sister, with Stella. It would be just another disappointment. It would.”
“But, you’re willing to try, right?”
“No, no, I’m going home now. I thank you for telling me about Stella. If you could tell me where she’s buried, I would appreciate that.”
“Look, Abe, you and her owe me this. You set the standard so fucking high. You burned it into my soul. Please!”
I take her hands in mine, lean in toward her. “If I owe you anything at all it’s to tell you the truth. You’re like Stella, fine, smart, and gifted. I think if you stand still what you are looking for will find you.”
“Oh, shit. I…thanks for that fucking worthless pearl of wisdom.” She stands. Opens her purse, removes three old envelopes with handwriting I immediately recognize. “Her letters to you kept coming back. She was in college. I saved these three.” My eyes are glued to the envelopes. I barely hear her goodbye. “Abe, Abe I’m sorry for being stupid and overbearing and overwrought.”
I look up at her. “Thank you, thank you so much. I do owe you. Can I give you a lift or buy you dinner?”
She finally gives me a real smile. “Thank you. I’m flying to Kosovo in the morning. I think I will go home and get some rest.”
I get up and cross to her, and we hug briefly. She’s all warm curves and soft delights. If she had never told me her story, never said anything about Stella…I’m black, two times twenty-one plus and free. I would have really enjoyed spending the night with her.
“Emma, why are you going to Kosovo?”
“I’m with Doctors Without Borders.“
“You’re a doctor?”
“Yes, I’m a…“
“Emma, did you love Stella that much? You sure tried to be her.”
Emma thinks before she answers. “She was my sister. I envied her far more than I loved her. I still do.”
“Have dinner with me. No more talk about Stella or haunting or any of that. Tell me about you. About your work. Would you do that for me?”
“To see. To see what happens. Like strangers who meet and have dinner just to see what happens.”
She pauses for a moment, offers me her hand. “Hi, I’m Dr. Emma Hathaway. I’m glad to make your acquaintance.”
“Well, I’m glad to meet you, Dr. Hathaway. I’m Abednego Marshal, and I would love to take you to dinner.”
We go to dinner, just to see what happens.
- Header art by John Clark. [↩]