the relatives

There they are kept in humidors
smelling vaguely of lilac,
the brown photographs of relatives
whose names I’ve long forgotten;
Letters from World War One that begin,
“Somewhere in France, Dear Mother,”
Faces like seed that germinate
and within me reap their harvest.

© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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the ghost

 

Bethany’s first encounter with the ghost

She wasn’t sure what awakened her, but she could sense a presence in the room. She felt the hair on her neck stand on end as she lay on the couch holding her breath and listening. There was no sound, except for her heart ponding in her ears. As she strained to see in the darkness, she could discern an indistinct form gliding down the stairway. It appeared to be a man holding a candle in his hand. She let out a gasp and sat up on the couch. He was an older gentleman, with reddish hair and beard, dressed in turn-of-the century style clothing. The specter appeared to be equally alarmed at seeing them too. All three were frozen in time for a moment as if in a tableau vivant, then, the man slowly began to fade and disappear.

She shot up from the couch, turned on the lamp and stood. Jude went over to the staircase, sniffed the carpeted step and then walked back and curled up at her feet. Could I have been dreaming? She was cold and shivering. She rubbed the goose bumps on her arms nervously as she contemplated the possibilities. Jude yawned up at her, apparently satisfied there was no threat. It was just a dream she assured herself and forced herself to lie back down. She waited until she felt calm enough to turn off the lamp.

It wasn’t easy for her to control her racing thoughts, let alone relax enough to get back to sleep. At one point, she turned on the lamp to check the time on the grandfather clock—it was half-past three. She got up, rummaged around and found a baseball bat in the corner near the fireplace. No sense in taking any chances. She returned to the couch, turned off the lamp and with the baseball bat clutched to her chest, soon fell back to sleep.

The next time it happened she was prepared. This time she heard a distinct scraping noise coming from the direction of the hallway. She carefully slid off the couch bat in hand and silently made her way toward the front door. She could hear Jude panting behind her, nose on her right calf, clinging to her as if attached by a leash. Then a hand came out of the darkness and clawed at her face. She screamed and lashed out with the bat, flailing blindly in the darkness.

A great roar filled her ears as the dark form toppled back into the foyer. Panic gripped her and she groped madly along the wall until her hand found another light switch and snapped it on. On the floor of the foyer lay Griff, propped up on one arm and staring at her with glassy eyes. He was rubbing his right shoulder.

“Beth?” He tried to make sense of the spectacle of the blonde-haired girl, back-lit by the hall light, standing over him, baseball bat in hand.

“Griff?” She dropped the bat and ran to him. “I’m so sorry.”

“S’fine,” he replied, floundering around on the floor.

“I feel so bad—I could have killed you.”

“Naw, you couldn’t—you swing that bat like a klutz.”

She held out a hand to help him up and he glumly managed to get to his feet. She helped him over to the nearby sofa chair.

“Lucky for you, I grew up in the country and never played baseball.”

“Yeah, lucky me,” he hissed, as he tried pulling his coat off his sore shoulder. He was having no luck, so he stood up and tried pulling harder.

“Let me help you with that. I’m so sorry—I thought you were an intruder. ” She gently lifted the coat off him.

“An intruder—what made you think that?”

“I saw an old man on the stairs earlier—at least I think I did. Maybe I was dreaming. Anyway, when I heard a noise again in the hallway, I thought it was him.”

He stood dumbly staring at her glassy eyed and then burst out into hysterical laughter. “You tried to kill George?”

“Who the heck’s George?”

“S’okay, don’ worry ‘bout it. My fault. Lost my door key—always do that.” He wavered unsteadily on his feet.

She realized not only was he slurring his words, he was stinking drunk.

“Need to sleep,” he muttered and started to curl up on the sofa chair.

“Wait, you can’t sleep down here—it’s freezing. Let me help you up to your bed.”

“Sorry babe, don’ feel like foolin’ round—just want to sleep.” He turned over with his back towards her.

“How dare you! What do you think I am—one of your cheap dates?”

“Gotta sleep now,” he murmured, putting a cushion over his head.

She was so incensed she had to struggle against the urge to plant a kick directly into his backside—which offered a very tempting target at that moment. Instead, she threw both hands in the air and uttered, “argh!” grabbed her jacket and stormed out of the house.

All the way back to her apartment, she was suppressing the urge to swear. Such a frustrating night! First, the dream, and then Griff. It was four thirty by the time she got home, stomped up the stairs and slammed the door in a fury. Samantha looked up dreamily and leapt off her window perch, rubbing up against her. She bent down and swept her into her arms. “Sorry, Sam, I should’ve spent the evening with you—it would have been much more pleasant, I’m sure.” She headed off to bed.

Bethany agrees to live in the carriage house and finds out more about the Ghost

She awakened with a start. She lay there, heart pounding, unsure of where she was. Then Jude turned over and licked her chin and she remembered. The doorbell sounded. She wondered if it were the bell in her dream. She leaped to her feet, almost falling back down, but put out a hand to grab the sofa back and steady herself while her body recovered. She could make out the profile of a woman. She motioned for Jude to wait and then, opened the door so suddenly it startled the visitor. “Can I help you?”

The woman was in her early fifties and beautiful. Her long gray hair was luxuriant, swept into a loose chignon that perfectly complemented her violet eyes. Her chalk-striped navy business suit was elegantly tailored and she was carrying a thin, black leather attaché case. Upon first opening the door, Bethany felt intimidated, but when the woman turned and saw her, she exuded the warmest smile Bethany ever saw. She felt instantly accepted as if she had just been wrapped in an embrace.

“Hello. You must be Bethany.” The voice was so kind it almost took her breath away. “I’m Roz, Griff’s assistant. We spoke on the phone.”

“Oh, right! Pleased to meet you,” she stammered. “Won’t you come in?”

The woman followed her into the living room where Jude had been obediently waiting and as soon as he spotted her, he made a beeline for her yipping and bounding like a pup. Bethany tried to intercept him, but to no avail. He dodged beneath her out-stretched arms and placed both paws on the front of the woman’s suit, trying to lick her face.

“Jude, no!” Bethany cried in vain, but instead of pushing him off, the woman crouched down and hugged him, stroking his head and eventually letting him rest his chin on her lap.

“Guess you’re friends, eh?”

Roz smiled up at her. “Jude is my little boy, but I’m afraid I spoil him—don’t I pup?” She gave him a playful tug at his ears and he licked her cheek. She got up and sat on the couch where Bethany joined her. Jude was now content to stretch out at Roz’s feet with his chin on her foot. She placed her attaché case on the coffee table and snapped the locks open.

“Griff tried phoning all morning, but I guess you were out with your other clients. He had to fly to New York, but we’ve drawn up the agreement and cut you a check for three month’s salary in advance. He asked me to meet you here at five and get you to sign the documents, but the traffic was horrendous and I’m not used to the rush hour commute.”

Well, at least he made an effort this time to act responsibly, she thought. She looked at Jude and made another of her mental notes to train him not to jump up on visitors.

“His bark’s worse than his bite, you know,” remarked Roz.

“Oh, I know he’s just rambunctious,“ she said, patting his head, “but he still needs to be trained.”

The woman laughed. “I was talking about Griff—but I guess the comment still applies.”

Bethany flushed a little and Roz took note and smiled inwardly. “Here are two sets of keys to the carriage house—all the locks have been changed and the maid service has been through and tidied it all up.”

“There was no need…” she started to protest, but Roz raised a hand. “Nonsense. I’m sure Griff hasn’t been in there in months, not that he’d lift a finger to clean it.”

“Griff allows you to make those decisions?”

Roz looked at her sympathetically. “He’s a very busy man, Bethany, and doesn’t always have the time to consider all the things he should. Anyway, that’s where I come in.”

“Then you’ve worked for Griff for a long time?”

“Ten years this February. Griff took over the family business when his Dad passed away.”

“I see. I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to pry.”

“You weren’t prying. It’s only common sense to know about the person you’re working for. Lytton Gifts and Cards is one of the largest companies in Canada. It’s a huge responsibility for Griff to handle.”

“I can imagine how it must be a burden to employ so many people and have them depend on you.”

“Lytton Gifts and Cards is like a monster that can devour you and make so many demands on your time. I know it all too well, and Griff has also paid a steep price. He’s also had some difficult patches the past few years—his mom passed away soon after his dad—and now this business with Mandy.”

Roz looked out the window at the snow and blinked away a stray tear. Bethany saw the older woman was obviously quite attached to Griff, probably stepping into the void left by his mother. After a few moments, Roz composed herself and turned back to face Bethany. “You know the one commodity we prize at Lytton Gifts and Cards? —Loyalty. I know it sounds trite, but you’d be surprised how often people disappoint and ruin not only a business relationship, but a personal one as well. We’re like a big family here and when people let us down it affects everyone.”

Bethany wasn’t sure if Roz intended this remark for her or not. Suddenly, Roz’s face brightened, “But when I spoke to you on the phone, I knew you were the answer to prayer.” She patted Bethany’s hand and smiled kindly at her. “I just know we’re going to be friends.”

“I feel the same way,” she smiled back.

“You seem to be fitting right in—Griff told me you even met George.”

“Oh, I suppose he’s the family ghost,” she laughed. “Actually, it’s more like he bumped into Jude and me. I still find it hard to believe I wasn’t dreaming.”

“Have you seen his portrait yet?”

“His portrait?”

“George was the man who built this house and lived in it until he died.”

“Oh, I see.” Bethany didn’t really see the point at all, but she didn’t really know what to think or say.

“Well, come on. Let’s have a visit with the old guy.” Roz grabbed Bethany’s hand and led her up the staircase. They stood together on the carpeted landing in silence staring up at a framed picture of the very man Bethany had seen on the stairs. Beneath the ornate frame was an engraved brass plaque that read: George Bowden. 1854-1934.

It seemed so surreal, looking at the face of a man who once inhabited the house and evidently still did. The dying rays of the sun through the leaded window cast a rainbow of red and green hues on the wall.

“It’s lovely isn’t it?” Roz commented. “According to Elizabeth, Griff’s mother, George Bowden poured his heart and soul into this house. After it was completed in 1891, he moved in here with his wife and spent the rest of his life living in seclusion in the house he loved.”

“That’s sad,” Bethany observed, “but it probably explains why he’s still here.”

“Elizabeth saw him all the time. She loved the house probably as much as George did—as a matter of fact, she thought he was watching over the house and only appeared to those who had the same love for the place as he did.” After saying this, Roz looked directly at her, gauging her response.

“I was wondering, why me, but now I see. From the first time I drove up here, I fell in love with this house and its beauty.”

“Mandy hated the house—referred to it as ‘the museum’ and made Griff buy the condo in Manhattan and the house in Turks and Caicos. She was hardly ever home and when she was, she didn’t like spending time here. She always felt the house was judging her.”

She gave a short, embarrassed laugh, as if trying to soften her remarks. “I never was a fan of Mandy’s. The only thing she ever did, of which I approved, was to get Jude. Strangely enough, she was really good with him—when she was here.”

A fleeting look of disgust crossed her features and then was gone. It was as if she stumbled across something foul, quickly removed it, and now continued on again. She smiled at Bethany as if to reassure her, and then grasped her arm, guiding her back down the stairs to the living room.

When they sat back down, Roz remarked, “There are only a few papers requiring your signature—I’ll only take a few more minutes of your time.”

“I don’t mind—I’m enjoying our visit and talking about the history of the house.”

Roz looked at her quizzically. “You really do like it here, don’t you? It’s as if George designed the house with you in mind.”

“I really do love this place. If I owned it, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Did you hear that, George? Roz sung out to the house.

They both broke out laughing.

“Yes, I think you will fit in,” Roz said in a detached way that seemed to hint at a deeper meaning.

Then, a change came over Roz, as if a coin had fallen into place, setting in motion a whole new poetry of gesture. Suddenly, she was all business, briskly shuffling and arranging papers on the coffee table in the order in which she wanted Bethany to sign them. After each signature of Bethany’s, Roz added her own flourish. When the process was complete, Roz handed her several documents neatly folded in three as copies of the transaction.

“Griff told me to arrange movers for you. Here’s their card—feel free to phone and make arrangements whenever you’re ready.” She got up and held out her hand to Bethany.

“I don’t think movers will be necessary,” Bethany laughed. “I live in a furnished apartment and all my possessions can easily be brought over in my van. I’ll get my friend, Carly to help.”

Roz gave her a warm hug—not a polite hug, but a real hug, such as her mother would give. “I’m so glad we’ve found each other and if you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to phone.”

Bethany nodded and lowered her head so Roz couldn’t see the tears in her eyes. She didn’t know why she reacted the way she did, but Roz was so kind she made her want to cry. Somehow Roz understood and as she was leaving, touched the side of Bethany’s face with her hand. “Don’t worry. Everything will work out fine.” Then she was gone.

Bethany went back into the living room accompanied by Jude, his nose pressed against the side of her knee all the way. “Are you just being a typical Aussie, boy—or are you afraid I’ll leave you too?”

His eyes said it all, so she crouched down and hugged him until he licked her ear.  “I guess your master will be late home tonight, eh?” She decided to stay and spend the evening with Jude and go home about ten.

The Ghost is an excerpt from Epiphany by John J Geddes Reply w/ #AmazonCart for a free sample http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H6VBUS2/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_oJ8Hub16S9FWE via @amazon

 

© 2016, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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peeling back the layers

It’s hard on a man when his rival is a woman; harder still when she’s beautiful.

Deanna Crusoe brings out every contrary emotion in me. I’m usually calm and laid-back, but the minute Deanna begins speaking, it’s as if she’s raked her long, painted nails down a chalkboard.

Okay, I’d rather them down my back.

But I could murder her, hide her body and feel no guilt—except, I’d miss looking at her. Not that she’d ever consider me in million years.

She’s Waldorf and I’m Wendy’s – it’d never work… but sometimes, just before sleep, when my censor’s turned off, I find my heart wishing on her star.

 

“Hal, I want you and Deanna to checkout the Hodgson House.”

I can’t believe Trent Westcott would actually consider staging a train wreck.

“Look Trent—I know they have this CERN project in Geneva where they collide two particle beams head-on at very high energy, but I don’t think you should try simulating the Big Bang.”

“Ha-ha, you’re a funny guy, Hal—but I’m sure you and Deanna can put aside your differences and act professional.”

“You’d think so—but you don’t know her.” I make a gesture as if being hanged.

He gives me that look.

“You two are the best people I have and we’ve got a lot riding on this project. I need both of you to come to some sort of consensus. I’ve got to know whether to do a tear-down or renovate the estate.”

“So, when do you want this to happen?”

“I’d like the two of you to drive up to Elora this weekend—we’ve got you booked in a nice bed and breakfast—I need you guys to declare a truce.”

“Have you given the same speech to Deanna?”

Trent smiles sheepishly, “Nope, left that up to you.”

Before I can answer, he ducks out the door.

Oh, great! A two-hour car ride with Deanna—not to mention a weekend of having to find some common ground. Not bloody likely.

It’s not that I dislike Deanna—I don’t—it’s just that she’s not talking to me at the moment. In fact, she hasn’t talked to me for several months.

We work for Westcott-Martin, Trent’s firm. I’m a contractor-renovator and Deanna’s a former interior designer turned real estate agent.

We’re natural rivals like on those TV shows like Love It Or List It, where a contractor goes head to head with a real estate agent and they each try to convince a couple to reno their house or move—except in our case, we each try to convince Trent to reno the house or raze it.

I’m the reno part—Deanna’s the razing.

Deanna’s not talking to me because she had this brilliant vision for a tract of seniors’ lakefront condos, but I persuaded Trent to restore a 1930’s Inn.

It turned out to be a smashing success, but Deanna took it personally. So here we are. High dry and nowhere.

 

“Are we there yet?”

Deanna’s taken an emery board to her nails and I have to endure the scratching sound as she shapes her impossibly long talons.

With her bronze-streaked hair combed back, she reminds me of a golden falcon sizing up her prey.

“No, we’re not there yet—and how old are you? Do you have to scrape away at those nails?  You’re shedding DNA all over my car mats and I might have to kill you—so don’t leave any trace evidence.”

“You’d like that wouldn’t you? Do you get off on that Hal—fantasizing about abusing me?”

O God, give me strength. Doesn’t she know I could kill her with my bare hands?

I give her the silent treatment and stare straight ahead. I’ve come to the conclusion I can annoy Deanna as long as I don’t ignore her.

Women can stand anything except a man not being in love with them.

“This is taking forever,” she grumps.

I imagine tying her hands to the bumper and driving off, making her run in her high heels down the soft shoulder of the highway.

I glance over at her lovely tanned shoulders—such a waste!

We cross a huge steel bridge and pass several century-old buildings.

“Wow! This looks like a scene out of Dickens,” she whoops.

“Actually, Henry Winkler made An American Christmas Carol here—it’s one of the few towns left with so many Victorian buildings.”

“Yeah, it looks like a Christmas postcard,” she smiles.

“Here we are,” I say, pulling up in front of a huge, white, country-style home—“Ye Olde Inn”

“You’ve got a thing for old inns, don’t you?”

I ignore the barb. “Trent made the arrangements. I’ve got a view of the town and your room overlooks the river.”

“Oh really?” She smirks. “Nice.”

My hands are itchy. I want to strangle her.

“We’ll drive out to the Hodgson place after lunch,” I say, popping open the trunk to get our bags.

“That soon? I’m exhausted. I don’t want to eat. I need a nap.”

I look up at storm clouds piling up in the west.

“I don’t know if we should delay…”

“I’ll be ready by four—that’ll give us a couple of hours of daylight,” she argues. “We can’t do it all in one day.”

“Okay, Milady,” I bow sarcastically, “—I’ll see you here at four.”

I smile, and walk away leaving her holding her bag.

It’s kind of mean, but she bugs me—her voice tawny, in a spoiled, bratty rich-kid kind of way.

 

The clock in the nearby antique store’s chiming four when Deanna appears, gliding gracefully down the front stairs. My heart stops and my stomach does a flip. She’s breath taking.

The young guy tending the garden just stops and stares as she walks to the car. I doubt Marilyn Monroe in her heyday could make that guy’s heart beat any faster.

I open the door and she slips across the seat, sliding her shapely legs neatly in. I glance back at the kid holding the rake—he looks like he’s going to have a heart attack.

Deanna smiles coyly. Another conquest for the Man-Eater.

 

We speak little on the ride out. The Hodgson place is located on two acres outside of town.

Deanna’s about to ask if we’re there yet, when we round a bend and see the manse—it’s set back from the road, twin turrets rising majestically, and a huge mountainous cumulus cloud towering above it.

“Oh my God, it’s lovely.”

“I’ll bet you say that to all the dowagers,” she sneers.

I pay no attention to her, because I can’t take my eyes off the place.

I pull up onto the circular drive, just as thunder grumbles from the west. A red flare of lightning arcs over the ridge.

“I warned you it was going to storm,” I say.

She shrugs. “So what? We’ll be inside—Who knows? Maybe the roof leaks.”

“You wish,” I laugh. I wonder what she’ll find wrong with the place.

The inside is as impressive as the exterior. A huge, oak-paneled foyer greets us along with a winding staircase Scarlett O’Hara would love.

“What do you think?” I ask.

“It’s old,” she says, wrinkling her nose, “and musty.”

“It’s been shut up for months. I’d open a window, but it appears it’s raining.”

I point to the front windows crisscrossed with rain trails. We walk across and stare out at the garden. The shadows of rain trails mar her face, making her look mysterious.

I want her, but, of course, can’t have her. My arms never have felt so empty.

There are a few pieces of furniture draped with canvas. The rooms feel empty too—abandoned, just like me.

“I don’t like it Hal.”

“Why not?”

“Look at these walls,” she laughs, “they’re covered with hideous wallpaper.”

“Actually, that’s an 1850’s flocked Pugin design,” I smile.

As far as the extravagant Victorian prints, the wallpaper’s fairly conservative, even tasteful for its day, with a scarlet and cream color Fleur de Lis motif.

“I don’t like it,” she pouts.

I try my best not to roll my eyes, or pick up the fireplace poker and brain her.

She stares pointedly at me. “I’m cold.”

“I’ll put on the furnace.”

No sooner are the words out of my mouth, but there’s a mighty crash of lightning and the lights go out.

“Oh!” she screams and runs to my arms.

“It’s okay—nothing’s been hit—just the power’s out. I guess we can’t start the furnace.”

She shivers, and stays in my arms.

My right hand’s pawing air—I want to pat her back and console her—but feel awkward and constrained.

She looks up, dark eyes pleading. “I’m scared, Hal.”

She’s still clinging, and I look around helplessly. I can barely see through the front room window—the rain’s pouring down so heavily.

“Maybe we can light a fire,” I suggest.

“That’ll be cozy.”

She lets go and stands back. I feel bereft. I already miss her and a thrill of desire courses through me.

Reluctantly, I force myself to walk over and kneel by the fireplace. “I guess I should try to see if I can get this going.”

She comes over and sits beside me on the floor, her coat draped over her shoulders.

I find fireplace matches and birch logs in the grate and several maple logs piled in a neat stack on the hearth.

I look about for kindling, but there’s none.

I eye my prospectus and chuckle, “What the hell—let there be light!”

I begin balling the papers and pushing them between and beneath the logs. Then, I scrape the match and watch the logs flare into life.

The birch is dry and the loose bark easily catches. Within minutes, the hearth burns brightly.

Deanna seems visibly to relax.

“It kinda reminds me of when I was a Girl Scout,” she smiles.

“You were a Girl Scout?” A sudden picture of her in a short brown tunic leaps to mind, and I immediately shut it out.

“Of course, I was, Silly—I was a typical girl—okay, a little more princess than most, but typical.”

The firelight is dancing, gilding her skin, and I can’t imagine this goddess as typical in any way.

It gets warm in the room and before long we shed our coats. I stand up and begin exploring.

I’ve got a small pocketknife-penlight and I use that to poke around.

“You sure you weren’t a Boy Scout?” she giggles.

“Naw—this is more a gadget—kinda like Swiss Army gear for guys.”

All of a sudden I notice something.

“Hey, Dee—look at this!”

I pull away peeling paper from the dining room wall—“An Art Deco print. This paper comes from the Depression.”

She walks over and stops close behind me, peering over my shoulder. “It’s lovely—an ivory and sand color.”

I can smell her perfume and feel my knees go weak.

“Let’s go exploring,” I say and on impulse, grab her hand.

She looks up, startled for a second, and then smiles.

I lead her to the study and slide the pocket doors.

“Ah, damn! Someone papered this room in one of those modern zebra prints.”

She places her fingers on my lips. “Don’t swear, Boy Scout—besides,” she purrs, “you’ve got your Swiss Army knife—check what lies beneath.”

“Brilliant!”

I carefully slice through the top layer of paper and peel back a triangle.

She gasps. “Oh my God, a Frank Lloyd Wright Screen Print!”

“You know this?” I ask dumbfounded.

“Yes—I did a project on this for an interior design course—it’s a classic, circa 1956.”

I chuckle inwardly. For Deanna, the fifties would be about as close to classic as she’s going to get.

“This is fun. Let’s try another room,” she titters.

She then pulls me into a hallway. “Peel this back,” she demands.

Again, I make incision for our love.

“Hurry up, Silly!” she shouts impatiently.

I peel back the layer. Square shapes in beige and green appear, looking very geometrical.

“This is priceless,” she enthuses, then sees my face. “Don’t you know what this is?”

I shake my head and stare blankly.

“It’s Cubist—manufactured in one year only—1923, during the flapper era.”

I look at her with new eyes. “You amaze me.”  She smiles proudly.

Now, she drags me to the bedroom. This time she does the honors. “You’re too slow with a knife,” she jokes.

She peels back the layer, and we both grow silent.

It’s a print of rocket ships and spacemen from the 50’s—Richie Cunningham from Happy Days. or The Beaver and Wally would have had this in their room.

It feels strangely intimate being here with her—staring at a child’s wallpaper, thinking nurseries and family.

I feel her hand in mine and she raises her face to me.

I close my eyes and kiss her.

 

 

© 2016 – 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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desire

 

“So, this happens every night?”

Brett Waters stares at me as if I’m insane, and frankly I’m beginning to agree.

We’re sitting in the Hart House dining room having lunch and I’m telling him about my dreams. We both teach courses in modern drama, although he teaches Ibsen and Chekhov, who tend to be philosophical, and appropriately, I specialize in Tennessee Williams, who’s preoccupied with desire.

But I’m not just a drop of reason in an ocean of emotion—I hope. I try to convey some semblance of rationality.

“I’m at a loss to explain it,” I tell him, “but somehow I get the impression this girl is someone I once knew and is now dead—and, face it, she’d have to be, because as you know, my love life is pathetic.”

“Any clues as to where your dream affair takes place?”

“I get the impression it’s the Deep South—I see white manses and smell magnolias.”

He rolls his eyes. “O my god, Bro—southern belles and mint juleps! Can’t your dreams at least be a little less conventional?”

I color a little—Okay, a lot. I need to explain—try to justify myself.

“Yeah, I thought of how lame that sounds too—but I do teach Tennessee Williams.”

“Well, if I were you, Pal, I’d just go with the flow. It seems harmless enough—but until we perfect 3-D holography, this is probably the closest you’re going to come to losing yourself in a romantic fantasy.”

He gets up to go to his 1:00 pm lecture. “I hate to say it,” he grins, “but Freud would have a field day with you.”

I smile ruefully as he walks away. He’s right, of course—it’s probably my long-suppressed libido, my Id, making a back-door assault on my Ego and speaking to me through the language of dreams.

But I also have a lecture to attend too, and as I think about it, the image of my Nemesis comes to mind in the person of Karine Williams, a beautiful, but challenging student.

From the first day of semester, Karine has been a persistent adversary, peppering me with incessant questions and smirking if she succeeds in catching me unprepared.

Her constant needling has worn me down and made me limit student questions.

Lately though I’ve decided to take a more proactive approach—not allowing her acres of time to hand in assignments, and cutting her off when she verges off track.

I’ve drawn a line in the sand so to speak, and if she crosses it today, I’ll make sure she pays.

 

I lean on the lectern watching the students file in and sure enough, the last one to enter is Karine. There will be no respite from needling today.

It’s the Friday before the long weekend and term assignments are due today. I wonder if Karine will make the deadline, and to forestall any arguments I begin by reiterating the rule I made—either get the assignment to me in class, or hand-deliver it to my home.

“You know the rules,” I remind them. “If your term paper is not in today, I won’t accept it—or, poor you, you’re going to have a long car ride to my Muskoka cottage.”

The class laughs and Matt Morton, a linebacker for the Varsity Blues calls out, “My paper’s ready, Prof—I even read the books for this one.”

I laugh along with the class, but notice Karine is not smiling—not a good sign. I decide to get right into the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof lecture and so I start in with Brick and Maggie’s confrontation in Act One.

I begin by stating Maggie uses the excuse of poverty to justify why she always has ‘to suck up to people.’ She claims it’s turned her into a restless cat on a hot tin roof.

Karine’s hand immediately shoots up. The class groans—Matt Morton rolls his eyes, and I grimace inwardly.

“Yes, Ms. Williams?” I strain to say the words evenly, plastering a brittle smile on my face.

“I’ve noticed you’ve adopted a very biased attitude toward Maggie, Professor Enright—you’re seeing her through a male perspective.”

“Well, duh,” Matt Morton snickers, “He is a man, if you noticed.”

Karine’s eyes flash. “That is such a typical male response—taking sides against a woman.”

I decide it’s best to stifle this argument before it gets really heated.

“Let’s not get into a He Said—She Said, disagreement. I always believe that when there’s a difference in interpretation, you should let the text speak. Do you agree, Ms. Williams?”

She glares at me. “Yes, I do.”

“Good! Then bring your copy of the text up here and stand beside me.”

She hesitates a moment, looking uncertain. Matt Morton snickers, anticipating some kind of come-uppance in the works, but to her credit, Karine doesn’t back down.

“I want you to read Maggie’s part, and I’ll read Brick’s—and we’ll let the text decide.”

“I don’t do southern accents,” she hedges.

“Neither do I,” I counter.

She tosses her head defiantly allowing her long dark tresses to mesmerize me. But then, begins reading, falteringly at first, but gaining momentum and confidence as she goes.

Maggie’s part in Act One is demanding—she has to sound hysterical and out of breath as if she’s run up several flights of stairs yelling Fire! And she has to sustain that energy all the way to the end of the Act. A demanding role for Karine to play.

Serves her right, I chuckle inwardly.

As for me, my part is easy. I get to utter monosyllabic replies for most of the time, before things start getting heated between Brick and Maggie.

But as we get into the rhythm of the dialogue, a strange thing starts to happen. In the midst of acting out Maggie and Brick’s conflict, a storm blows up outside the lecture hall.

The tall, narrow windows are illumined by waves of blue lightning.

As Maggie lashes out at Brick, thunder rumbles ominously in the background. And as Karine gets into the cadence of Maggie’s voice, her speech begins to take on a southern accent. When I reply in Brick’s indifferent tone, my speech has a southern drawl.

Suddenly, a real rage exists between us. I feel myself grasping for Brick’s crutch so I can brain Karine—er, Maggie—do anything to make her stop.

The atmosphere turns electric and the room grows darker by the minute. Finally, it becomes so dark we both get scared and stop.

The lecture hall goes ominously silent—reminiscent of the pause between lightning and thunder—and then there is an enormous loud crash, and Karine screams in fright and falls into my arms.

The minute I feel her in my arms a dark network of hidden memories lights up inside me.

I’m dazed and shaken, and at the same time powerfully attracted to her. I stare at her lips wanting so badly to crush them beneath mine, but am aware of the students gaping at us as we cling together on the raised platform.

I come to my senses and pull abruptly away.

I manage to call out, “I think we’ll end early today because of the weather. Don’t forget to hand in your papers on the way out.”

Nobody moves or says anything.

Finally, Matt Morton gives a huge sigh and deadpans, “That was intense.”

His remark breaks the ice and the students laugh, and then begin to file out. It’s then I realize I’m standing alone on the platform, feeling bereft and desolate.

Karine has fled, leaving me feeling totally abandoned.

My hands are shaking as I clumsily gather up term papers and shove them into my briefcase.

I drive home in pouring rain, peering through the rain-splattered windshield and seeing superimposed over the splashing streets, a transparent image of her face.

 

I was planning to head out to the cottage in the morning, but I’m too keyed up. I need a long drive to calm me down.

I stop by my place, throw my packed suitcases in the cab of my F150 pickup, and point the truck north, and try to put everything else out of my mind.

Of course, I’m soon gridlocked in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but I turn on an FM station, thinking it’ll soothe my nerves.

The soft music of the Thirties works for a while, until a Billie Holiday song comes on, and I come apart. The song is from 1934 and is called, The Very Thought of You.

Fortunately, I’m approaching a highway restaurant and am able to pull off—my eyes are filled with tears.

The very thought of you
And I forget to do
Those little ordinary things
That everyone ought to do

The song gives voice to everything that’s been lying dormant so long inside me, and I realize I’ve been suppressing feelings for Karine. The truth is I enjoyed sparring with her and our verbal jousts—I’ve looked forward to each class knowing I’d be near her.

Even her negative attention, was proof she was aware of me.

I shake my head, knowing it’s insane. I’m ten years older, and she’s a student, but still, I can’t deny my feelings—and what’s worse, at that moment I realize, she’s the girl in my dreams.

Great–just great.

I stop for coffee in the restaurant and stare morosely out the window at the splashing highway and the muffled noises of cars passing outside in the rain.

I had her for a moment, I muse, and my body trembles at the memory of her in my arms.

I want her back in my embrace where she belongs, whether or not it’s right or wrong.

O God, I’m rhyming again, but I can’t push the thought away.

I sigh and finish my coffee, then force myself back out onto the road. I continue the trek north and finally arrive the cottage at eleven. I light a fire and pour a huge glass of Shiraz.

I’m exhausted but still keyed up from the day. Outside, rain begins to fall again and it helps in lulling me to sleep, but just as I’m drifting off, the FM station plays her song again and I’m back in the dream.

 

The following morning I feel tired and bruised, as if I’ve been beaten all over with a rubber hose. I decide to push through my feelings and try to lose myself in hard physical labor.

I came up this weekend to do landscaping, I muse, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anything deter me.

I drive to the nursery, pick up some evergreen trees and by the time I arrive back at the cottage, the local landscaping depot has dumped three enormous piles of gravel, stone and soil along the edge of the driveway.

I instantly feel overwhelmed, particularly since my mind is filled with Karine’s flashing eyes.

It crosses my mind to retreat and head back to the city, but what would that accomplish?

I push myself to work regardless, and manage to level the area and lay landscape fabric—but by noon, I’m done and can’t get any further.

“This just isn’t going to work,” I growl as I throw down the shovel disgustedly.

That night there’s more rain and the FM station conspires with Fate to play her song again as I’m drifting off to sleep.

I take Sunday off – it’s a day of rest after all, but I know Monday I’ll have to finish the job.

But I just can’t concentrate, or I’ve lost my will. A ruined weekend, I grumble looking at the piles of gravel and stone.

 

Monday morning I rise early, determined to work right through, but by noon I’m totally exhausted and only halfway done.

I sit dejectedly on the pile of gravel, jeans soiled and cheek smeared with mud.

At that moment, a car pulls into the driveway and a beautiful girl gets out – she’s wearing sunglasses and is dressed in sweater and jeans.

At first, I can’t make out her face because of the sun’s glare, but then I hear a familiar, southern twang as she teasingly calls out, “Aren’t you supposed to be grading papers, Prof?”

My heart leaps in my chest at the sound of her voice.

She’s teasing, affecting the role of a southern belle, using her term paper as a fan, but her mocking gesture has the opposite effect—it inflames me with passion. I feel as if there’s a furnace behind me—and each brush of her fan causes waves of heat to roll over me.

She eyes my jeans, damp with sweat, and my red ragged tee. “You don’t look like a Prof anymore—I don’t know what to call you—certainly not, Professor Enright.”

“You can call me, James,” I grin.

“I brought lunch—as a peace offering. You ready for a break?”

“Oh yeah—about two hours ago,” I laugh.

“Where can we eat?”

“How about down by the lake?”

We sit in the shade of a huge Maple eating delicious Swiss cheese on rye and drinking ice-cold Labatt Blue beer.

“I didn’t know if Profs drank,” she giggles.

“We’re prone to all the weaknesses of the flesh,” I smile.

A shadow passes across her features. “Can we talk about the other day?”

I nod. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears. I hope she can’t hear it too.

“I’m not sure what happened,” she begins, “ we were there in the class and then suddenly we were in another room—and you know the crazy thing? We had a history, in some other time, in some other place.”

The air goes dead between us.

She gives a little nervous laugh. “I knew you’d think it was crazy—but, there—I said it—and I’m not taking it back.”

“I felt it too,” I whisper.

Her eyes grow huge. “You did?”

“Oh, it gets even crazier—you’re in my dreams every night.”

Tears blur her huge brown eyes.

“I was angry at somebody in my dreams,” she continues, “—for years, I’d be searching and looking for him—to blame him for leaving me.”

I resist the urge to put my arms around her, but want to more than anything—to protect and shelter her.

“You know the other day when I fell into your arms, I felt I was coming home—but I also felt something else—something that made me run.”

“What was it?” I rasp hoarsely.

She blushes and looks away, and just when I think she’s not going to answer, she whispers so low I can barely hear her. “I think Tennessee Williams calls it Desire.”

 

There are still three piles of gravel, stone and soil sitting out in my driveway up north—up where the cool pine breezes blow.

We go up there nearly every weekend now—Karine and I, to listen to the forest song.

Some nights we sit by the edge of the lake and stare at the northern lights.

And some nights, I swear I smell magnolias, but that’s impossible I know.

 

 

© 2016 – 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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