So, everyone, just to let you all know, if you are still following me….I have moved! My new address is theflyingarmchair.wordpress.com. You can now find me there. Thanks for following!
‘The Hands that Clasp in Jealousy’s Name’
Crofton & Smythe, said the sign over the door. Lady Felicia Darsborough looked at the dingy windows doubtfully before entering. She was loathe to touch the handle, but she’d left Peter and the chauffeur packing boxes from Wilkin’s. The bell over the door gave a dreary tinkle as she passed through, and her skirts rustled in the narrow space.
A man, probably either Crofton or Smythe, looked up from behind his tall desk at her entrance and bowed. He was small and weedy, much smaller than the Lady herself, and wore thick round spectacles that made him look owlish. Lady Darsborough hardly bestowed more than a cursory glance upon him as she moved about the store.
It was crowded with tall glass cases. Everything from cheap pearls to gaudy family heirlooms was displayed on worn black velvet, and boxes and cases were piled haphazardly beneath the stands. The air was dusty and close, and the oily lamps cast a ghostly pallor on the brilliant stones.
“I don’t know what Augusta meant,” she said under her breath as she passed the jewelry. “I can’t see anything especially fine here.”
The man was watching her closely, squinching his eyes behind his glasses. They narrowed furthest when she reached a stand near the back corner. The Lady glanced at the necklace upon the pedestal and froze.
She dug in her skirt pocket and produced a pair of eyeglasses, with which she peered intently at the necklace. From a distance, it looked like a black lace choker, but as one got nearer, the fine obsidian and diamonds woven into the filigreed metal became apparent. Lady Darsborough poured over every inch of the finery. It was small, probably only big enough to fit around her pudgy neck, but so wide it would lay some inches over her collarbone. The design was unusual, coming in two thick bands around from the clasp behind and ending in two knobs connected in front, precisely where the hollow of the throat would be. The plaque beneath read simply, The Hands.
“Excuse me, you there.” She said, looking at the owlish man, who was still watching her. “How much is this?”
“Ah.” The man replied, slinking around the desk and coming to stand beside her. “Well that would depend. How much would you offer for it? As you can see, it’s a very unusual piece. None like it in the world, so you might say it’s one of a kind. That won’t come cheap.”
The Lady scowled. “Yes, yes. Alright, as you say.”
She named a price, well into the five digits, and the man leaned his head doubtfully to one side.
“Well…such a rare item…” He dithered.
Lady Darsborough huffed eloquently and doubled her offer. The man nodded.
“Very nicely done. Very nice indeed. Let me just wrap it for you.”
He wrapped it in shiny silver paper and handed it over, eyeing Lady Felicia with a peculiar expression.
“If there’s any, ah, dissatisfaction with it, don’t hesitate to return it. I’m Smythe, of Crofton & Smythe. I appreciate your business ma’am. Good day to you.”
Nodding, Lady Darsborough exited and found Peter and her chauffer York waiting.
When her guests arrived for the fashionable dinner party that evening, Lady Darsborough met them in a flowing emerald dress, the new choker fastened around her neck. Lady Augusta Bernard made many exclamations over it, lauding her own good taste in shops while Lady Darsborough preened. Her husband, Lord Thomas Darsborough, was melting by her side, very stiff in his suit, with beads of sweat on his brow and nothing to say to anyone. He was usually in office or conversing with members of Parliament, not entertaining guests in his own unfamiliar home.
Lady Darsborough was in her prime, however, and she floated and conversed with the Chancellors and the Sirs and Madams, all at or well above her age, completely happy and at ease. All the Ladies were busy praising themselves and their husbands much too loudly to hear anyone else, and all the husbands were busy avoiding their wives and talking about politics.
The party was going exactly as planned when the disturbance arrived. Three young ladies, accompanied by their mother, Dame Lucy Toffingham, entered in a swath of silks and satins and fine jewels. The Toffingham girls were celebrities in high society, partly for their charm and partly for their stunning good looks.
Lady Darsborough flushed when she saw her husband, along with nearly all the other males, look appreciatively at the young girls. Their wives frowned as one, and many pulled their husbands into very pointed conversations with other older couples, or backed into parties of two or three in corners to gossip savagely about the girls. Their mother too was very beautiful, and much thinner than her peers.
Ballooning out indignantly, Lady Darsborough yanked her husband out of eyesight of the pretty birds and set him to talking with the Lord Chancellor. He wilted noticeably under the stern eyes and claxon voice of the Lord, but was safe for a while at least. His wife, satisfied, left him to it. She checked on the refreshments, admonished a waiter, and pulled at the choker, which was becoming a bit tight.
She joined Lady Augusta by the doors, near enough to the Toffinghams to see them laughing in the praise of all the single men.
“Tarts.” Said Augusta adroitly. “I’d like to know how well-bred they really are. I’ve heard the woman is common, you know. But her husband trumped up some title for her or another.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time a man made a fool of himself over a pretty girl.” Lady Darsborough said, pulling on the choker. “I wonder they came at all. Of course I had to invite them, Lord Toffingham is head of the party, but all the same…”
“Yes.” Lady Augusta nodded. “It was selfish of them. I wonder their mother lets them out like that. Shameful.”
Lady Darsborough glowered at the girls, pulling harder on her necklace. It was becoming really tight. She remembered sourly her own golden days, when she had been prettier and thinner than these beauties. But they were long gone, and no amount of Asian medicine or creams or treatments could regain the youth or shrink the fat. Her painted brows lowered angrily. Oh, her lost youth. It was reflected in the faces of every woman there; with their hair pulled and fastened tight, or hidden under wigs, the paints and powders used to desperately hide the fanning wrinkles, the corsets pulled to agony around thickened waists. Yes, it was deplorable, and a rage of jealousy sprang up in Lady Darsborough’s breast, hot and strong. She choked slightly on the necklace.
“Excuse me, won’t you?” She said to Lady Augusta, and fled from the room, heaving at the choker.
She reached the deserted Grand Hall and clutched at her neck, her fingers working at the clasp at the back. But it was small, and she fumbled, panting, unable to undo it. Her eyes bugged, and she gasped for breath, fell to her knees, her hands still scrabbling at the tiny fastening.
It clutched tighter and tighter around her throat, and she rolled, her tongue lolled out, pulling at the front of the necklace, desperately trying to break the bonds.
With a last gag, Lady Darsborough lay dead in the Grand Hall. A passing waiter, come too late to aid, cried in shock, dropping his tray of goblets. He ran to find Lord Darsborough, and soon the entire party was gathered around the shabby remains of the Lady, clucking and making astonished noises. The Toffingham girls shed beautiful tears of remorse, and the Lord blinked stupidly as the police and doctors rushed about. No one noticed the absence of the necklace, nor the faint black smudge around the Lady’s throat.
At Crofton & Smythe, the owlish man looked around from his books as a faint clink resounded through the empty shop. His eyes found the dark corner, where a necklace of obsidian and diamond glinted from its pedestal.
I’m back! << oh most ridiculous of introductions. Regardless, those long projects I mentioned still aren’t done, but I took some advice from David Gerrold and Ray Bradbury and am attempting to write one short story a week for a year. As Ray Bradbury is reported to have said, “You can’t write fifty-two bad short stories.” Let’s all hope I don’t prove the good man wrong.
And now, my ghost story. Hopefully not my last…I could do some morbid pieces too….hahummm.
My funeral was pretty boring, as funerals go. A few people cried, of course, but that was probably just convention; I hadn’t been a stellar friend or daughter or scholar or anything. I watched from the balcony while the preacher said his words. Stale, nice sounding words, but he hadn’t known me. I was just another face in the congregation. I think I spoke to him, what, three times in my life?
I watched with a sort of morbid curiosity when they took my coffin away. But I suppose any feeling of mine would have to be morbid, seeing as I was a ghost now. I liked it though. Being a ghost. It was wonderfully freeing. See, you don’t have to worry about eating or breathing or getting in scrapes when you’re a ghost. I did miss eating though. Food just tasted so nice, and you don’t have any senses like that after you’re dead. Because you don’t have a body.
But I was glad I didn’t have to look at mine anymore. Too fat, with too many spots, and too much frizzy hair. I was pleased to be rid of it. The old man ghost in the wings had told me he’d been pleased to get rid of his too, because he’d had no legs. When you’re a ghost, you can move about as you like. Not like in stories though. You can’t just vanish and reappear or travel super fast. You don’t have legs, but you move at about the same speed as normal people, and you have to travel distance like normal too. I was vaguely disappointed when I found that out.
My funeral was marching along well enough, but it had no pizzazz. Nothing spectacular or entertaining about it, and I was getting really bored and fed up at this point.
“Oy, old man.” I whizzed over to where he was sitting watching dreamily. “Wanna have some fun?”
“Fun? What do you mean? Shouldn’t you be watching your funeral?”
“Nah. It’s boring, and anyway I’ve seen coffins go in the ground. Nothing special. But here, I had a thought. Let’s go to the potluck and mess things up a bit. Throw some plates and spoons and things. Scare these old fogies right out of their wits.”
The old man twinkled disapprovingly, but I could sense the reluctant desire too.
“Well, that wouldn’t be very nice…”
“Who cares? We’re dead. They won’t know it was us anyway.”
He nodded after a moment. “I admit I haven’t done anything fun in the last few years. It might be a much needed break from monotony.”
I jumped up. “Come on. Let’s head to the community hall. All the dishes should be laid out; the burying stuff won’t last much longer.”
We dashed away, down the stairs and behind the auditorium to the kitchens, where several church women were gossiping and getting food ready. I didn’t hear them talking about me, which I thought was rude, and so, when their backs were turned, switched all the blenders on to high speed, sending their contents flinging around wildly.
Old man and I laughed silly, watching the old birds squawk and flap about, waving aprons and getting dough and vegetables in their faces and coiffed hair.
We left them to it, zooming into the hall where white plastic tables had been set up end to end, filling the length of the room. Those plastic chairs, the ones that fold out and always, always bend in the middle, were arranged around it. No food as yet was laid out, but it wouldn’t be long. Once the birds in the kitchen got the blenders under control, they would soon be getting all the casseroles and veggie trays and roasts and crockpots ready to go.
Old man and I waited, whispering in a corner while the first people trickled in through the doors. Old man had long since abandoned his disapproval, and was scheming like a master. We watched as families conquered whole sides of tables, and the stragglers filled in between. It was pretty packed, since the room was small and everyone loved a good potluck. Funerals are for food.
We waited until the prayer had been said, and the kitchen ladies, scrubbed and annoyed, with makeup smeared, began to dish out rolls and utensils to the awaiting throng. Chatter was loud and happy, and it definitely felt more like a party. I was annoyed at this too, and waited at one end of the table nearest for my chance. I was hovering by a kid, probably about eight, who must have had no idea who the corpse was, recently laid to rest, and was eating his meatballs with enthusiasm. Once most of the guests had sat down again and were busy eating, I surreptitiously nicked a roll and tossed it down the table, hard. It smacked the preacher’s grown son on the side of the head. Everyone on the table froze, looking around. Several kids were seated at my end, and all eyes swiveled accusingly down at them. Of course, none of them ‘fessed up, and the preacher’s son, what’s his name, just laughed and everyone went back to eating.
Old man and I sniggered plenty at that, and took our places. He went to the opposite end of the table next to mine, where some real old men and their real old wives were sitting, yelling at each other’s earpieces and gumming the food.
I moved to the other end of my table, where the preacher sat with his family, making grand speeches and sounding very pious. I liked him, in spite of all that, but I thought it would be super funny to send some stuff from his end, so I did. I grabbed a spoonful of sweet potato right off his fork, when everyone was watching his grandboy, and slapped it right on the table, next to some ladies napkin. She jumped at the splat, and the preacher, thinking he’d flung it himself, said he was every so sorry. Meanwhile, Old man was having a right laugh. He’d chunked a bit of bread right in the nose of an old man with big glasses, then whizzed to the other side and lobbed a meatball at the lady sitting across from him. Her hat bobbed in astonishment, and soon that whole side was yelling and arguing, and Old man was plopping bits down left and right.
I continued on my campaign, dropping bits here, flinging globs there. One landed smack on top of the baby’s head. He shrieked and clawed at the dripping brown stuff, but stuck it in his mouth all the same. The women were getting nervy, and the men were looking uncomfortable. They couldn’t seem to keep their forks and knives on the table, and I was laughing till my nonexistent sides hurt as I slid them repeatedly to the floor. I knocked over three glasses, creating a real mess, and upended a dish of deviled eggs in the following noise. Kids were screaming, babies were crying, women were tittering all over.
Old man and I hooted and flew through the ruckus, knocking over chairs when people tried to sit, sliding plates into their neighbors’s spots, pushing napkins into dishes, and generally making a right muddle of things.
I was pleased as punch; having everyone hopping around made me laugh til I cried out big shiny ghost tears. But it was enough. I knew if we kept up much more we’d spook them for real, and they’d run.
So Old man and I sat back then, and watched as the fuss gradually died down. Preacher’s family looked on the verge of tears; I guess they felt responsible somehow. Anyway, it got back down to normal pretty quickly, and slowly the chatter escalated again.
Old man was still laughing. “I declare, I haven’t had that much fun in years. Why, I knew that man with the glasses when he was a kid. Lands! That was a sight. Did you see his woman’s face? Like a prune.”
He hooted and hollered, and I chuckled along with him.
“It was good.” I admitted modestly. “Certainly will be a funeral to remember.”
I’ll be hibernating for a while now. I have a few very lengthy projects I’m working on, and until those are done, I don’t want to distract myself with too much else.
On the house on the hill,
the clouds have gone,
the fog has lifted,
my vision is unobstructed again.
I can see the ocean,
the path to the black rocks,
and the shining light of day.