A Witchy Mess
Skye stands on a square of lawn atop the townhouse. He sets his ball on a tee, pulls out a driver and gives it a solid thwack! The ball sails over the train trestle and toward the beach.
He turns to find Jack standing behind him, wearing a grin that flashes on and off like a strobe light. Jack sprouts red hair, his eyes turn green and he morphs into Audrey. She purses her lips and blows with such force that Skye falls off the roof. Expecting some kind of impact, Skye goes limp but finds that he is being borne aloft by a flock of pigeons. They carry him over the shopping center, the trestle, the evergreens beyond and set him carefully on the beach.
He’s next to a fire pit, one of a dozen maintained by the Seascape Resort for the use of its guests. Skye unties a sack of logs and stacks them in the pit, then watches the sun set in high speed. When the sun reaches the logs, they burst into flame. The guests at the other pits are eating s’mores, so Skye puts a marshmallow on a stick and lowers it to the flames. It catches fire, but when he blows it out it turns into his golf ball. He runs across the beach and throws it into the water.
A figure appears on the horizon and moves steadily toward him. It’s Rachel, wearing the sweater, leggings and sunglasses she wore the day he saw her in Central Park. Her Rollerblades have become two small hovercraft. She surfs the breaker, hovers his way and hands him his golfball.
“Sorry. Since you died, I’ve become a rebel.”
“I didn’t die. I killed myself.”
“What’s the diff?”
Skye takes a bite from the golf ball. It tastes like teriyaki steak. So. Drowning. What was it like?”
“Scary. But then I began to numb up. And I went under the surface, which was peaceful. And I told my body, you must accept this, because this time I am not going back. And I inhaled the water. And the water filled me up. And from there it all faded.”
Skye feels tears coming to his eyes. “I’m going to miss you.”
“Thanks.” She pulls out her cell phone. “Shit! I’m late. Just one more thing.”
She takes a deep breath and turns a variety of colors: maroon, chartreuse, vermilion, sienna.
“Take a ride.”
Rachel pops like a balloon, trickles toward the water in her several colors and drifts away like an oil slick. Skye sticks a finger into his mouth and blows, producing a sound like a clarinet, sliding slowly upward, striking the top and fluttering back down. He turns to find that the hotel guests are holding cellos, French horns, bassoons - and playing beautifully. A piano rises from the beach, played by a balding man with the nose of an eagle. He flails at the keys, sand flying from his tuxedo.
Jack takes a bite of his bagel and lox. “That is a freakin’ awesome dream.”
“Not too… strange? Creepy?”
“You’ve had a strange and creepy week, my friend. Your brain is working it out. But in a very imaginative way.”
Jack smiles. “Oh! You think I’m one of those witch-doctor types. You’re a sharp cookie. Figure it out yourself. Like, the Audrey monster blowing you off the roof.”
“Um… loss of control?”
“Sure. Even with the pigeons, you’re flying, but you’re passive. And the talk with Rachel?”
Skye rubs his forehead. “Weirdly natural. Like conversations we had all the time.”
“So what’s the crucial point?”
“I… I wanted to know what it was like, drowning. I was hoping it wasn’t too bad.”
“You’re a good man, Skye. You have a strong empathic sense.” He takes a sip of coffee, reviewing the story. “The part that gets me is the golf ball. You keep trying to get rid of it, it keeps coming back, and finally you eat it. Teriyaki. Genius.”
They sit in silence. Jack finishes his bagel, then wads up his napkin and fires it into a waste basket.
“I am awfully sorry. I realize this approach we have entails a certain amount of risk, but our failures are brutal. I’m so sorry that she fooled us, but I guess I don’t believe in keeping someone alive just so they can be kept prisoner.”
“She fooled you?”
“Yes.” Jack furrows his brow and chews on a fingernail, two actions that have increased in the week since Rachel’s death. “I recall you saying how angry she was when Sarge fooled her with the placebos. It makes me believe that she was looking for an exit, no matter what, that she was just going along with our therapies until she saw her chance. She was a good actress.”
“It’s my guilt,” says Skye.
“The golf ball.”
“Don’t you dare carry that around with you. For one thing, I am certain she didn’t know about your… dalliance. For another, when you compare one slip-up with the extremities you pursued to keep that girl alive, it means very little.”
Skye feels tears coming on, which surprises him. He grabs a napkin and wipes them away.
“Good,” says Jack. “You’ve begun. Grief is a process that makes us more human than just about anything else. You have the time and the money to indulge that process.”
Skye clears his throat. “So… hem! So, where do I start?”
“Start with the obvious. Go from there.”
He takes a walk on the beach, going much farther than usual. When he returns, he heads for Rachel’s old room – which Audrey and Jack have graciously afforded to him – and takes a nap. When he wakes, his eyes settle on the window, the one she used for her escape. It’s now a square of twilight blue, gathered around the silhouette of a ceramic urn, its sides flared upward like the shoulders of a jazz-age jacket.
Take a ride.
The overhead lights are a little more mesmerizing. But then, this time there’s no suspense about the destination. The urn sits at the center of the table, clamped into a holder designed for pitchers and vases. Sarge sits across the way, looking spent. He takes off his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose.
“They’re made by a shop in Mexico. I thought she would like that.”
“So young,” says Sarge. He’s unable to say more.
Skye studies the pattern of white lines on the urn’s torso, realizes it’s the petals of an immense flower. Perhaps a hydrangea.
“I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining, but two hundred grand?”
Sarge gives him a blank look. “Two hundred… Sorry?”
“In my checking account.”
“Ah. That was the appraisal on the Gershwin. And yes, I know you considered it the admission price to my magic kingdom, but Rachel was your admission. Oh God, Skye, this is not easy. I am such a romantic idiot that I imagined having your wedding up here. I really thought she was going to make it.”
“We all did.”
The transport slows to a stop. They stand and assemble their snow wear.
“Arctic fierce,” says Sarge. “The winds were howling last night.”
“I suppose that’s good. I’m not sure this is entirely legal.”
They struggle to lift the hatch and burrow through the snow. The drifts make for tough hiking, the flakes fall thick and wet, but the stretches of evergreen offer a respite. Sarge guides him to the field where Rachel had her awakening and stands in the shelter of a boulder as Skye ventures forth.
Half Dome is nowhere in sight. He finds a rise in the snow that might be the spot where she fell to her knees. He thought of doing something creative – artist as medium – but as soon as he casts the first handful it’s whited out by snowfall. He casts another, watches it disappear, and this is how Rachel Grossman returns to the earth, in strata. Come spring, the snow will melt, she will feed the grasses and when the blades rise up she will have her long-awaited conversation with her best friend. He leaves a single handful in the urn and heads back.
They are barely off the transport when Andorra runs to Skye and clamps on. She is sobbing. Her hair is a witchy mess. Sarge comes over to peel her off.
“Andorra. Our guest is probably very hungry. Why don’t you go take a long bath and come join us in the lab. Okay?”
She nods, reaches up to kiss Skye on the cheek, and walks away. They stroll across the racetrack auditorium into a long hallway.
“It’s the sister thing,” says Sarge. “As if she’s lost two now. I hope it doesn’t last too long. She’s wearing me out.” Sarge laughs, then covers his mouth.
“Never swallow a laugh,” says Skye. “For God’s sake, if we didn’t have humor, how would we get through this shit?”
They enter an elevator ringed by blue mirrors. Sarge pushes a button.
“You ever see a flock of geese flying in a vee?”
“Ever notice how one side of the vee is always longer?”
“You know why that is?”
Sarge’s deadpan breaks up and he slaps a leg.
“God I love that joke. It’s so…”
They exit into the dining hall, the one with the labradorite wall.
“Oh!” says Skye. “The lab. I get it.”
“Yes. Got tired of saying ‘lab-ra-do-rite.’ I thought you might like to watch the snow while we ate. It gets very dramatic up here.”
Sarge hits a switch, triggering a series of lights outside the long window. The only visible color is white, curtain after curtain of snowfall.
“Wow.” Skye stands and watches, hypnotized. Then he smells something. He turns to find the table already set, their plates topped with slabs of steak.
Sarge scratches the back of his neck. “Orders from Jack.”
Skye takes in the aroma. “It’s my dream supper.”
They’re finishing up a pair of blueberry crumbles when Andorra enters the room. She has tied up her hair, put on makeup, and is wearing the orange dress she wore when Skye first met her.
“You’re beautiful,” says Skye.
She sits next to him, takes his hand and gives him a searching look.
“I loved her.”
Skye kisses her on the forehead. “So did I.”
Late that night, he lies in the Louis and Ella room, feeling the dull glow from the olivine wall. Andorra comes to the bed and slides in next to him, wrapping her arms around his torso. In the morning, she’s gone.
Skye stands in the top house, drinking the last of his coffee.
“You’re all set?” says Sarge.
“Skye Pelter, chaser of ghosts.”
Sarge gets up and grabs his shoulder. “I’m sorry we couldn’t save her. You come back any time you want.”
“You take care of Andorra. I assume you’ve put her on the placebo program? Sorry – bad joke.”
“Yes,” says Sarge. “We have already switched out her pills.”
Skye opens the door and is a little surprised at the ferocity of the wind. He feels his way to the snowcat and slips inside.
“Bubba! We have got to stop meeting like this.”
“Back to the motel?”
“You got it.”
Photo by MJV