by GRANT FARLEY
tevie stared out the window of the Coast Starlight as the rhythm vibrated his nether parts, and he pondered: What is it going to feel like doing it with a ghost?
He had been smitten with Sylvia from the moment he gazed upon the grainy photo on Harry Houser’s California Here I Come: A wispy entity haunting the stairs of the Bella Maggiore Inn. Houser had marveled at the “Italian-ate” architecture and eclectic furnishings of the quaint Ventura hotel. He relished in the stories of mobsters and ladies of ill repute. Erle Stanley Gardner had worked as a lawyer next door, possibly inspiring some of the murders in his Perry Mason mysteries. Then Houser had put his arm over the concierge’s shoulder and drawn out all the rumored details of Sylvia’s life as a prostitute, as well as the possibility that she had been a despondent writer. Not that the two professions were incompatible. And finally, her suicide and haunting.
Why Sylvia? Ironic that love would beckon through their T.V., narrated by the host in the tent-sized shirts who had captured Mother’s heart. Could his love be reduced to a sad pun--soul mates?
Stevie’s quest had begun at L.A.’s Union Station, where Mother had dropped him off. The cavernous interior, with its tile and wood and leather, the arched entries and high chandeliers, had felt like living in a 40’s romantic comedy. This, an omen of sorts, since Sylvia had died in ’47.
Sylvia was going to be Stevie’s first time. Not just ghost first time. But first, first time. It wasn’t through lack of trying that he hadn’t lost his virginity. It’s just that a very shy guy without a driver’s license in L.A. wasn’t going to get many--any dates. Especially if he was a little--a lot overweight. And a little--a lot short. Well, at least he wasn’t bald yet. In fact, he had a thick reddish mullet, which was definitely his best feature. Of course, he could be rejected by a ghost, too. But not Sylvia.
Amtrak had promised romantic ocean vistas, but the train looped east through grim industrial tracts, crossed the Valley to Sylmar, and finally headed west through neglected backyards. The conductor informed him as he punched his ticket that the train did not reach the ocean until Ventura.
How did one lose one’s virginity to a ghost? My God, what if it wasn’t even possible? Here he’d gone off willy-nilly without even thinking this through. Some of Sylvia’s hauntings had been described as dreams. Well, a wet dream did not qualify in reality, so neither would a ghost dream in spirituality. What about doing it while seeing a vision of her? No, that would just be like looking at a Penthouse centerfold. What about some kind of Jello-like ectoplasm? Holy sh…but there really was no such thing, was there?
A kid was blasting his transistor so loud that even through the headphones and across the aisle, Stevie could hear something that sounded like chipmunks singing, and he recognized the latest hit: Staying alive…staying alive…wha..wha…wahooo wahooo….staying alive…
What about her wispy aura enveloping him? He grew hard and crossed his legs. Yep, that was it. He must make love while embracing Sylvia’s aura.
Sylvia banged the final key, yanked out the paper, flung it to the floor, and then lugged the Smith Corona out the narrow back door of her dingy room, onto the veranda, ignored the two whores doing their nails on a wicker love seat, shouted “tenga cuidado abajo”--look out below-- and flung the machine into the jasmine scented air of the courtyard.
Metal exploded against tile, rattling the tranquility of the trickling fountain, and sending hoods diving from their chairs as they reached for their guns. It had narrowly missed Benny and that red headed number--Patty or Patsy. Sylvia regretted the loss of the machine if only to write this final scene.
Squinting up at her, Benny said to no one in particular, “Does this crazy bitch still work here?” Benny lowered his gun. “What’s a matter with you, Sylvia? Do us all a favor and instead of this here machine, throw yourself off.”
“Not high enough,” she called.
If only she had tossed it one foot to the left, there would be a few less widows. Still, she kind of liked Benny. And anyway, she already had one death on her soul, she couldn’t be burdened with another.
She turned, her stare daring the two whores to say something, straightened her shoulders and strode back to her room. Only after her back was turned did one of them sneer, “He’s never coming back, sweety. With the war over, all them sailors is returning to their wives.”
“Tell me something I don’t know, putas.” The glass in the door rattled as she slammed it and she yanked the curtain, her rose water scent cloying in the darkness. She knelt on the musty carpet and scooped up the drafts of a failed life and stuffed them into the trashcan.
Stevie disembarked at the old clapboard depot carrying the suitcase Mother had used for her honeymoon in 1951. A cool breeze blew ground fog around him so that he could not quite see the ocean, although he could hear the pound and sigh of the waves. He turned up California Street and climbed the three palm-tree lined blocks, past surf shops and bars, gift shops and seafood restaurants. He recognized the brown awning shading the sidewalk, as though The Bella was some New York hotel plopped down in the middle of this beach town. The large windows divided into small panes reminded him more of some English tea shoppe. Smaller brown awnings sheltered the upstairs windows like lids drooping over blank eyes. Stevie stood under the awning and faced the door. A couple with a stroller steered carefully around him.
Stevie recalled his second encounter with Sylvia. He had researched the L.A. Times and found an article about a séance staged by Dick Divine, the noted parapsychologist, head of The Coastal Paranormal Institute--COPIT. Dick and his team had witnessed the apparitions of three ghosts in addition to Sylvia. The first was a young man who had overdosed in the sixties when the place had descended into a hippy flop house, the second was a child who had fallen or been thrown from the third story, and the third was a more evil presence that may have been the man or entity that killed the child. Then there was Sylvia. Dear Sylvia. The Times, however, had doubted her very existence, noting that there was not a single picture of Sylvia when she was alive and no police or newspaper record of anyone named Sylvia dying in Ventura in 1947.
Spiraling concrete pillars framed the entrance. He read the gold lettering across the glass: The Bella Maggiore Inn. He pulled the brass handle and stepped inside.
“Ya got a regular, Sylvia.” Helen knocked on her door. “And it sure ain’t your sailor. From the smell I’d say a railroad coalman. But you can’t afford to be picky no more.”
Buck Jennings. Well, he wouldn’t be the first john that reeked. And at least it was the honest sweat of a workingman. She could even get him to shower and take care of him there, though Buck would want seconds.
No. She had already made up her mind. Any delay, she might change it. Sylvia tossed a crumpled paper at the door.
God damn you, Erle. He’d started her on this road seventeen years ago. He had demanded she use that pen name, F. S. Guard, insisting that if she was going to stick to Francis Sylvia Garcia, she might as well return to Tijuana and write Mexican novellas and quit bothering him about the ins and outs of crime writing. A man’s work. Erle had known that she had been a virgin, but not that she’d never been farther south than Norwalk. As it turned out, the only writing gig he’d gotten her was Spanish obits for the Ventura Leader.
Still, she’d liked him more than most men. And most men, she liked.
“You take this trick or you’re out, you hear me?” Helen warned.
“Just give me five minutes to get ready.”
“What’s to get ready?”
“Give him a shot of tequila on me. Lo mejor.”
No answer. But Sylvia heard the footsteps down the stairs and knew Helen’s mark-up had bought her the brief time she needed. Now that it was quiet, she heard faint notes of “Stardust” from Harry’s piano in the lounge. She’d miss lying on her bed and listening. He was that good. Too good for this place.
When it came to antiques, Stevie did not know Victorian from Bauhaus, vintage from collectible. But he did know just about every setting from every motion picture on the classics station that flickered endlessly through their T.V. since Dad had died. And so, as he stood in the middle of the dim lobby, he imagined Judy Garland sitting on that spindly sofa in front of flowery wall paper; Lionel Barrymore leaning against the marble fireplace that rose two stories against the far wall; Hoagie Carmichael tickling the keys of the baby grand next to the French doors that led out to the courtyard; Spencer Tracy scribbling a note at the secretary desk to his right; and Mae West teasing curls under the purple swag curtains framing the front window. It was as though he had stepped into a world where time and place had blurred into one ever present moment. He felt at home.
“Excuse me, can I help you?” The matronly blonde scowled at Stevie from over the check-in desk to his right as though he was just another looky loo.
Stevie had rehearsed this moment. He squared his shoulders, stepped to the counter, dropped his suitcase and declared, “Steve Schulman, with a CH. I have a reservation?”
She flipped through a pile of papers on the counter. “I don’t find….”
“I am Room 17.”
“Ah.” She studied him. “Yes, you certainly are. And you are alone.”
He looked around. “Of course I’m alone.”
Then it hit him: A single man checking in alone to room 17. Sylvia’s room. Sylvia the ghost who loved men. My God, he probably hadn’t even been the first to have this--so he admitted, sordid delusion. His ears and cheeks burned.
“You are not planning to…shall we say….bring in any ladies?”
“That’s none of your business!”
“The hotel reserves the right to refuse…”
“I am alone and I will stay in room 17.”
“You are aware that that room has a certain reputation.”
My God, is she including prostitutes of the supernatural persuasion as well? “As a matter of fact, I do not believe in ghosts,” he lied.
“Well, that does not mean they don’t believe in you.”
“Anyway, we may have a situation,” she said.
“Situation? No, there isn’t any situation. I have reserved that room with cash.”
“The reservation is not the situation.” She twirled the key, but as he reached out she pulled it away. “Have you heard of Dick Divine?”
“That psychic guy?”
“The noted parapsychologist,” she said. “He wished to know if you would change rooms.”
“What? No, I will not change rooms.”
“Well, he informed me that tonight is the thirtieth anniversary of Sylvia’s death. He is giving a ghost tour of Ventura tonight and would very much like to hold a séance in 17. He is willing to pay for you to have another room at his expense. In other words, you can stay here for free and join the tour.”
“I will not.”
“He guessed as much. A single male renting that room on the most likely night for her to be, shall we say, present.”
“No, we shall not say ‘present’.”
She shrugged and handed him the key. “There is a fifty dollar fee for ‘losing’ this.”
“Too many people take it as a souvenir of our most haunted room, don’t you know. Upstairs, deary. The longer, darker hall. First door on the left. It may be open.”
He grabbed his suitcase, turned and climbed the squared stairs caged in wrought iron. The stairwell was bathed in light from the stained glass window and chandelier at the top. As he reached the second floor, there were three hallways. The ones to the right and left appeared quaint and dingy. But the dark green carpet straight ahead disappeared into shadow. The first door on the left was open.
As he confronted the reality of 17, he was having a few--a lot of second thoughts. Why had he not braced himself for those other hauntings? Maybe that drugged out hippy ghost would be jealous. And wasn’t it in The Haunting where a weeping girl had held Julie Harris’ hand? Little girls definitely made the creepiest ghosts. Or what about the evil that had flung the child off the third floor? Why had he assumed he would get Sylvia to himself?
He took a breath, stepped in, and closed the door. Filtered light slanted through the sheer curtain covering the glass door on the opposite side of the tiny room. A slowly revolving ceiling fan did nothing to relieve the stuffiness. He pulled the chain on the fringed lamp but it added little to the gloom. A green, partial canopy sheltered the bed. He tossed the suitcase on the worn bedspread, stepped to the glass door, and jiggled the handle until it turned. He wedged an old cane backed chair against the frame so it wouldn’t swing shut, and stepped onto the veranda.
There were two doors to his left that also shared the veranda. Judging by their distance from one another they were larger, more luxurious rooms. Across from him, three stories of ivy-covered wall separated this tranquility from the mundane world beyond. Then he was drawn to the rail. He looked down onto a courtyard with wrought iron chairs and tables. There was a fountain amid the ivy with a lion dribbling water from its mouth into a fount. He returned to Sylvia’s tiny room.
He picked up his suitcase and stared at the white, paneled doors of the closet. It was in there that Sylvia had hung herself. He was staying only one night. He could live out of the suitcase and not even open the closet. So what was this morbid curiosity that was willing him to pull them open?
Sylvia grabbed her sailor’s belt--the only part of him not washed to sea. She opened the closet door, sat her packed suitcase upright, and cinched the belt tight around the cross pole.
He hadn’t come to the Bella the last time, but had met her on the steps of the Mission, a promising sign that he was going to steal her from under Benny’s nose and whisk her to paradise--a cottage near Laguna.
Instead, he’d taken her to bluffs south of Carpinteria for what he’d said, after they were sitting on a blanket gazing out at Santa Cruz Island, would be a free, farewell fuck--which was about the worst alliteration she’d ever heard, even if she had planned to steal it.
She might have stopped struggling and resigned herself to it if he hadn’t added, “Stop with the fighting. You know you can’t rape a whore.”
She wasn’t strong enough to push him off, but he was drunk enough that as she slipped out of his grasp, she let his own momentum take him over the edge.
Sylvia stepped onto the wobbly suitcase and worked her head through the belt. Luckily, she was not even five feet and barely 100 pounds or she wouldn’t have been able to pull it off. But pull it off she did.
It was that same Benny who had nearly been brained by the flying writing machine who sprung for her cremation and a classy urn. No need for the cops to be involved since by happy coincidence Benny had a discreet delivery to pick up off Pt. Hueneme, and so Sylvia got the burial at sea she’d always wanted.
There was no ghost in the closet, although Stevie felt overwhelming sadness. Sylvia must have been tiny. He felt like a voyeur. He tossed the suitcase on the desk and shut the closet doors. Then he clicked open the latches, and took out Dad’s vintage suit. He smoothed out the wrinkles and laid it on the edge of the bed.
He hadn’t really made a concrete plan, which was the story of his life. In third grade, his so-called buddy had said, “You’re like the red balloon in that movie.” He had meant Stevie’s reddish hair and constant blushing and balloon shaped head. But through the years it was his actions that most resembled that balloon. Bobbing through life, drifting past sharp objects and mean boys and somehow surviving.
He looked at the clock. 5:15. He had thought it was later. It felt too early to meet Sylvia. There was a free wine tasting in the lobby. He could use something to loosen up. Maybe he’d even get some dinner first. No, he felt too anxious to eat. Some wine and maybe cheese would do the trick.
He went into the bathroom to wash up. The formed plastic shower and fake counter top and low flush toilet were obviously recent additions. Back in the day, most of these rooms probably didn’t even have private bathrooms. They could at least have given it some character. Sylvia deserved that.
A scent of roses.
He unwrapped one of those tiny soap bars and scrubbed his hands and face. The soap smelled of roses. Had the hotel people chosen this scent on purpose? He stared into the mirror at a haunting vision scowling back at him. But this was not ghost haunting. This was chubby little guy with freckles haunting. My God, his hair needed work.
He took the Mega Blower 3000 to the bathroom and plugged it in. He switched it on and it whirred to life and he teased the feathered ends. Then the blower cut off. Jeez, he’d blown some kind of fuse. He couldn’t leave his hair like this. He went into the bedroom and looked for another socket. There was an old round one on the baseboard. He knelt down. It was caked with dirt, probably disconnected years ago, although there was a cord running along the baseboard that had been painted over. What the hell. He plugged it in, flicked the switch and it swooshed to life. As he powered up the heat setting, the fringed lamp began to flicker. He switched the Mega off, but the light continued humming. He heard voices in the hall.
--Look at the lights flickering!
--Do you feel that cold?
--Is that a rose scent?
--It must be her!
He quickly stuffed the blower back in its holster. He put on the suit, which was a bit snug. But wasn’t that how they wore them back then? He twisted the thin tie, recalling Dad reaching over his shoulders to teach him the knot. He listened to make sure no one was still lurking in the hall, took a deep breath, and went downstairs.
“Excuse me, could you tell me where the wine tasting is located?” he asked the desk clerk.
“Right here, honey. Red or white?”
She reached under the counter, pulled out a jug of Gallo and poured some in a plastic fluted glass. “The champagne glass is to celebrate the newlyweds over there.” She nodded at a couple sitting on the velvet couch next to the fireplace. “They’re next door to you, so you might not get a lot of sleep if you know what I mean.” He decided against telling her it might be his first time as well, though he was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be very loud and Sylvia probably wouldn’t make any noise at all.
He walked over and leaned suavely against the mantle. The chimney angled backward as it rose to the high ceiling, making the lady in the painting appear to be looking down her nose at him.
“So, congratulations. I hear you’re newly weds?” In fact, she was still wearing her wedding gown. Only it wasn’t quite like a regular wedding gown. Old and yellowish and sort of unraveling. She wore a black veil, but it was pushed back to reveal eyes with lots of mascara. The creepiness made him think of the ghost bride on the Haunted House ride at Disneyland.
“I like your gown,” Stevie said.
The tall groom wore a vintage tux that made Dad’s suit feel cheap and dingy. Except that the cummerbund was tucked into jeans. Jeans! And he wore Keds. A camera with a long lens draped across his neck.
“Say, I like your suit,” the groom said. “Let me take a pic.”
Before Stevie could say no he had lifted his camera and clicked. “I’m a wedding photographer for a living,” he said. “You’re sort of like one of our guests.”
“I guess that’s convenient for you today,” Stevie said. “Or, maybe inconvenient when you’re trying to get shots of the bride and groom.”
“Huh? Oh yeah, I get it. That’s a good one. I’m Eddy Jones.” He reached out his long arm and Stevie shook his hand.
“This is Mrs. Jones.” They laughed.
“My first name is Minnifer.” She slugged Eddy’s arm.
“My mom loved Disneyland and wanted to name me Minnie. But my dad wanted me to be named Jennifer, after his mother. So they compromised. Minnifer!” She declared it quite proudly.
“Say, can you take our picture?” Eddy looped the strap around Stevie’s head before he could decline. “I already set the aperture. Just click this.”
They leaned their heads together on the sofa and the camera clicked several times as he touched the button.
“Maybe there will be some orbs in the background, darling,” Minnifer said.
“Maybe, darling.” Eddy winked at Stevie, hinting that he didn’t believe in orbs, as he took back the camera.
“Did you experience the phenomena earlier?” Minnifer asked.
“The lights. Did you see them flicker? According to the reports, that’s one of the first signs that Sylvia will appear.” She sighed. “And the rose scent. It seemed everywhere upstairs. And that cold spot. I felt chills. Didn’t you, darling?”
“Just when I held you, sweetie.”
Now that he felt a little more comfortable with the couple, Stevie moved to sit in the big chair facing the fire.
“No, not there! That’s where he sits.”
“Is…is this chair haunted?”
They looked at him like he was crazy. “That’s where HE sits.”
“Dick Divine! Aren’t you going on the Ventura ghost tour? It comes by here.”
“Eh…no. I’m just staying here.”
“Ah, ha!” Eddy grinned. “You’re that single guy staying in HER room.”
“We had wanted that room,” she pouted. “I don’t suppose you’d….”
“It’s all cool,” Eddy answered. “We’re just next door in 15. Anyway, she likes men more than women. We wouldn’t want to make her jealous, would we dear?”
“That’s what I love about you. You are so logical, yet open-minded. We make the perfect couple, don’t you think? I’m a sensitive. And he’s a scientist, you know.”
“I majored in social science,” Eddy corrected. “Which is why I had to find another way to make a living.”
Stevie smiled and nodded. Unless there were others out on the patio, no one else seemed to be taking advantage of the free wine.
“I’m getting Eddy to experiment with paranormal photography. He’s so brilliant at weddings, that I just know he’ll be wonderful with ghosts. We could become our own paranormal research team.”
“I bet you could be as good as Dick Divine if you put your mind to it,” Stevie said.
“You think?” Eddy raised his plastic glass in a mock toast.
“That’s him!” Minnifer waved toward the front window.
A large man was pointing up to the second story. He wore aviator glasses and a beard covering a bloated neck. A petite woman with a sort of ethereal smile clutched his left arm. She must be his medium. Three elderly women in purple hats stood near him. He wore a safari jacket as though he planned to stalk down his ghosts. Divine turned and strode for the door. This was the kind of guy who would use mockery and peer pressure to bully him into giving up his room.
Stevie stood up at the same time as the newlyweds. However, as they waited for the noted parapsychologist, he grabbed his wine and headed upstairs.
“Hey,” Eddy called.
Stevie stopped on the landing and looked down at him.
“Watch out for your wallet, I hear Sylvia likes to mess with them.” Eddy laughed. “Guess she thinks she’s still in her old profession, huh?”
“She is not like that.” Stevie turned and stepped to 17.
He locked himself in and flopped on the bed and kicked off his shoes. He scooched over to the right side, and put his hands behind his head and sighed. What would he do if he felt her climb in next to him? If he saw an indentation on the bed spread? She was supposed to make her presence known that way with men. He had imagined this moment. In fact, he had imagined this moment quite a few times, with varying details. His skin flushed. But this was not quite as he imagined.
A piano was playing, “As Time Goes By”. Casablanca, wasn’t it? Could it be…No, this was just a recording. Then he heard the tour people clambering upstairs and knew the music had been a stage effect, something to “evoke” the spirits. The room spun. All that wine on an empty stomach.
“This is the infamous room 17.” There was a rap on the door. Stevie remained quiet. “As Jasmine discovered in a séance several years ago, a young prostitute named Sylvia hung herself in this very room after her Navy boyfriend left her to go back to his wife after World War II.”
A louder knock.
“Sylvia,” he whispered. “What should we do?”
“Perhaps I could show you….” Dick’s blustering voice. Then the rattling of keys.
Would Divine have the nerve to open the door without his permission? Yes, he’d blunder his way in, and when they all witnessed the balloon boy in his old suit lying on the bed, Dick would pretend he’d thought the room unoccupied, but since they were already here…
Stevie slipped from the bed, unholstered the Mega 3000 and cocked it to Ultra mode.
“Excuse me, but there is a young man staying in this room.” He recognized Eddy’s voice.
“Surely he would have answered,” Dick said.
Stevie knelt by the old socket.
“Oh…oh...Just this afternoon…” Minnifer’s voice squealed up into the range of her namesake mouse. “We experienced some paranormal activity right out here in this very spot! My Eddy took some photos…maybe when they’re developed we’ll see some orbs.”
“Orbs,” Dick declared, “don’t just…”
“The hall lights did flicker,” Eddy interrupted.
“Then there was a rose smell,” Minnifer said. “And then it got cold.”
“Aahh…” an ethereal voice whispered. “Those are phenomena we have previously experienced here.”
--I smell roses.
--Goodness, me too.
“Let us all take a moment,” Dick said, “to calm down. Perhaps we can experience a contact. Close your eyes. Take deep breaths.”
--Now I smell the roses.
--Oh, I have goosebumps.
Stevie could flick on the Mega, but it sounded like Eddy had already distracted them.
“Well,” Dick said after several minutes of silence. “We certainly experienced something, didn’t we? Ma’am, would you like to hold the rod?”
“Oh, may I?” An old lady said.
“Down this way is the parlor, also proven to be haunted…” Dick’s voice trailed down the hall and the footsteps followed. Stevie could hear something about mobsters and then the words droned….
Sylvia is standing at the foot of his bed. The scent of roses fills the cold room. He can’t swallow. She wears a simple green dress with her black hair in a bun. She tilts her head and nods.
Then she is holding his hand as they walk through the door into the hallway, only it’s not really walking cause his feet aren’t feeling the floor. Her other hand grasps his arm and she rests her head against his shoulder, strands of hair tickling his neck. He aches for her.
They are drifting past the stairwell and “Stardust” wafts up from the piano in the lobby. Odd, that no one else is in the hall. Oh, there is someone. A little girl smiles at them and then turns--there is a bow on the back of her dress--and she skips down the hall and disappears.
He squeezes through Sylvia’s hand.
“Just a little farther,” she coaxes, her voice distant like some Billie Holiday recording.
They should turn back, but his words fail.
The smell of pot as they pass 23 and then a kid yelling and a girl soothing and a Stone’s song and the sounds swirl together and fade away.
They are floating toward the parlor. The voice of a fight announcer crackles over an old radio. Now they hover at the arched entry. The velvet couches and worn rugs and brass lamps feel familiar. Gangsters--he knows they’re gangsters because several have their coats off showing shoulder holsters--huddle around the radio in a corner. They are transparent.
“They can’t hurt you, they’re not real,” she whispers.
And you are?
Other men are sitting around the room smoking, although no smoke trails from their cigarettes. One has a big blonde sitting on his lap, nuzzling his ear. They all seem unaware of him. Unaware of anything, like a film negative.
But the hood sitting on a big chair next to the French doors out to the upstairs patio is as real as Sylvia. His red tie and lapel rose are the only color in the room.
“Sylvia, he don’t belong here. Ya’ gotta take him back.”
“Aw, Benny. He’s sweet. I think he’s the one.”
“Sweet ain’t what we need.”
“I just want to take him out and see the sunset.”
Beyond the French doors is blackness. No star or moonlight. No city glow. No aura from the lamp next to Benny. Just blackness.
This is not good. He pumps his feet to get them moving back to the hall, but the two of them remain bobbing inside the archway.
“I’m telling ya, Syl, he ain’t the one. Ya think he’s got it in him?”
No. No, I don’t have it in me. Let’s go now.
“Ya don’t wanna sacrifice a guy ya like, now do ya?”
She squeezes his arm, a chill flowing through him. “Why are you always right, Benny?”
They are drifting back down the hall. Floating at the foot of his bed.
“Look at that sweet boy.” She is pointing at balloon boy, Dad’s suit twisted around him as he sleeps.
Her arms reach around his neck as she drifts up and her kiss melts like a snow cone against his lips and she is gone.
He opened his eyes. It had just been a dream. Not even a wet dream. He was still a virgin by any standard. Rejected even by a ghost. His watch glowed 3:00 a.m. If it had only been a dream, then there was still time for the real ghost Sylvia to visit.
Thump. He sat up, straightening his suit. Thump. Wasn’t that a sign they used in a séance? One thump for yes and two thumps for no?
“Sylvia, is that you?”
“Are you here to….well…you know…”
“I want you,” a girl’s voice whispered.
“I want you too,” Stevie answered.
A moan. Did it come from the bed? More like from inside the wall. “Are you here in bed with me?”
Thump. Thump. Thump.
What do three thumps mean?
Three thumps mean three yeses?
Then he recognized that voice. Minnifer.
The wall banged and the canopy shook.
He put the pillow over his head, but it didn’t help. What choice did he have but to listen? She had briefly stopped moaning and seemed to be whispering suggestions to Eddy. Well, the least he could get out of this were some pointers that might be useful someday...
She is drifting through the Bella…always drifting…waiting for the man who will whisk her to paradise.
Stevie stood at the checkout counter facing a boy with long blonde hair still wet from dawn surfing. The kid waved a familiar wallet and said that those freaky newlyweds had found it in the parlor. Stevie took it and found twenty dollars missing. A fair tip for Sylvia, considering. He paid the balance, picked up his suitcase, stepped out onto California, and squinted into a flat glare that was less real than the dark images of the Bella.
No rush. He would lose his virginity in its own due time. He strolled under palm trees, squinting toward the glistening Pacific clear to Anacapa Island. He stopped in a gift shop and bought sunglasses. The saleslady agreed that they almost made him look cool. More importantly, they allowed him enough shade to drift in his own world.
The forgotten key jangled in his pocket near his nether parts and he whispered: Sylvia hasn’t rejected me. She has spared me.
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