A short story in three parts.
Bored to death, she thought, and it gave her a strange and wonderful idea.
You see, that morning of the idea she had found lipstick on the collar of Charles’ best button-up, the one he only wore for special occasions and yet had worn for no good reason just the day before, and he had smelled strange, like someone else’s perfume, and he had whistled – whistled! – in the kitchen before work. Charles never whistled, hadn’t whistled in years and years, and she knew right then, that she – his wife – was not the cause of it.
She was filled with a strange sort of excitement. Her stomach was nauseous, as though she had swallowed an ill butterfly, and her hands felt a little cold and clammy, the way they always did when she was nervous about something. But other than that, she felt quite alright. And more importantly, she knew exactly what to do.
“She shoots him, eh?” Belinda looked pleased at the thought, and she even gave Mrs. Lemon a thumbs up. “Good on you, Mrs. Lemon! Joey, I mean.” She winked.
Mrs. Lemon smiled in spite of herself, but shook her head demurely and didn’t return the wink.
“Josephine called the children on the telephone one by one, just to say hello. Two were off at college, they were twins you see. Neither of them answered, but she hadn’t expected them to. They had never seemed to need her. They had each other. They hadn’t even come home for Thanksgiving last year; had spent it in the dormitories with their friends. Then she called her son, the one who had married his personal trainer and given her a grandchild she never got to see. He was at work and was irritable to be bothered for no reason. The conversation was short.
Josephine hung up the phone and then she dug through her purse – the same purse she had had for years. It had a lip balm in a cherry scent and flavor, her wallet, a small folded up umbrella, a pair of gloves, and her extra pair of reading glasses. It also had a stack of business cards that she had collected over the years; one for her hair dresser and one for her banker and one for the man who had put in their sprinkler system, things like that. She found one for Cecelia Parker, Realtor, which was the one she was looking for. Cecelia Parker had sold the house next door and Josephine couldn’t remember exactly why she had her card, only that Cecelia Parker had been a forceful sort of no-nonsense salesperson and she had handed it over the fence to Josephine with authority as if she knew that she would need it one day.
And that day had seemed to arrive. Josephine did need the card and she did need Cecelia Parker.
Belinda was looking bored again and was picking apart the hem of her skirt, and just then Kitty came in from wandering the pasture. She looked rather the worse for wear, though Kitty always looked bedraggled and forlorn so it was hard to tell the difference to the undiscerning eye. Her long red hair was tangled and dripping down her back and her white, white skin was covered in goose bumps, which made an interesting contrast to her freckles.
“I’m freezing,” Kitty hugged her own arms and came and sat down at Nick’s feet. “It’s raining out.”
“Leave it to you to not have enough sense to come out of the rain,” Belinda said, unsympathetically. It wouldn’t have made any difference to Kitty anyway, since she was always wet, never dry. The lingering after effects of her drowning everyone presumed.
“I couldn’t help it! It’s so much more effective to be seen through mist and fog and such.” Her voice was dreamy. “You should have come, Belinda. The youth group was walking home from church. One of them saw me and liked to die on the spot.” Kitty looked pleased with herself.
Belinda sat bolt upright on the chaise lounge. “Was that tonight?” She exclaimed. “You could have reminded me!”
“Now, now, girls,” Bruce nodded to Nick, who was looking aggravated at this break in his tale. “Kitty, you’re behind on our story tonight. It’s about Mrs. Lemon.”
“Yes, she’s about to stab her cheating husband to death, along with his skanky mistress, and then,” Belinda trailed off, thoughtfully. “Evidently after that, she’s going to take up with a real estate agent or something.” She flounced backwards on the chaise once again, still irritated with Kitty.
“Look at you, Mrs. L.” Kitty smiled at Mrs. Lemon. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”
Cecelia Parker worked from eight a.m. to five p.m. six days a week. She was a very punctual person and she never changed her habits. She didn’t take vacations, except for one week per year when she made an obligatory trip to Canada to visit her brother, and she was never sick. So these facts made it very easy for Josephine to find her.
“Who’s Jo?” asked Kitty, in a whisper, to Belinda.
“Mrs. Lemon, naturally. I’m surprised you didn’t know her name.” Belinda examined her nails, and yawned.
“Girls, please! Anyway, there was no reason for Josephine not to find Cecelia Parker, and find her she did. Cecelia had had a cancellation for her two o’clock appointment to show the Ludwig house on 23rd Street-“
“There’s a lot of detail in this story, isn’t there?” interrupted Kitty, who was shaking and squeezing the rain out of her hair like she always did. It puddled on the floor beneath her, a tiny proof that she had been there should anyone ever need one. Of course the puddle would be dry by the time a living being might come through the house, but still.
Bruce sighed. He was never going to get to sleep on time, and the thought stressed him out a bit. June smiled compassionately, and though she wanted to reach over and pat his large knee, she didn’t. She folded her hands in her lap instead. She daydreamed about Bruce’s knee as if she were a seventeen year old school chit and he a handsome football player, and she completely missed the next part of the story.
“Yes, well, the Ludwig’s aren’t important. The point is, Josephine was able to get to see Cecelia Parker, Realtor, and soon she sat across from her, with her old purse in her lap, and Cecelia’s pen posed expectantly over a crisp, white pad of note paper.
“What kind of house are you looking for, Mrs. Lemon?” Cecelia Parker asked. “Do you have something in particular in mind?” She was itching to sell the Ludwig place, it’d been for sale for so long, but she didn’t think it was in this woman’s price range. Her coat looked old and shabby and her hair was in need of a trim and a frost. Plus, she looked as though she shopped at the same place she bought her groceries, which Cecelia thought was low class and distasteful. Definitely not the Ludwig place then.
“Something old.” Pause. “With character.” Another pause. “Preferably furnished. Quite large. In the country would be best, I think.”With each requirement, Josephine’s voice got slightly stronger.
Cecelia Parker was surprised. Perhaps this Lemon woman did have some finances after all. She wouldn’t rule out the Ludwig place just yet.
“Do you have any mansions, actually?” Josephine went on a bit shyly, yet her voice didn’t break. “Something grand. Oh, it doesn’t have to be in perfect condition. In fact, ramshackle is just fine. Actually, it would be preferred.”
Cecelia tried not to raise her eyebrows. “I take it you enjoy fixing things up? Are you wanting something to flip?”
Josephine looked confused. “Flip?”
“An investment?” There was a pause as the two women stared at one another, each willing the other to comprehend. Both lost. Finally, Cecelia broke the awkward silence. “No? Well, I’m sure we have some things you might like. Let me make a list.” She began to write quickly on her pad of note paper. “Do you have time to take a look at these addresses today?”
“Oh, yes! Yes, I have nothing but time,” Josephine said. “But I do have one more qualification for my house.”
“I’d like to haunt it, please.”
“What in the world?” Kitty looked more confused than ever. Her fingers were tangled in her wet hair and she paused, mid-stroke. She looked like a Renaissance painting come to life. Or death. “I never should have come in at the middle of this story.”
“Don’t worry, it doesn’t make any more sense from the beginning,” Belinda sighed. “Whatever happened to poisoning Chuck?”
“Excuse me?” asked Cecelia Parker, stopping her writing and looking up from the desk to stare at Mrs. Lemon. Cecelia had been told on numerous occasions that she possessed no sense of humor at all, so she always had to peer closely and carefully in situations where there were jokes or teasing, to see if indeed, she should laugh politely. She didn’t see anything in Mrs. Lemon’s face to show that she was joking, but Cecelia laughed politely anyway because she couldn’t think of any other response.
“Oh, I’m quite serious,” said Josephine. “I can’t afford to buy a house, I’m afraid; I’ve always let my husband handle the finances and I wouldn’t know where to start with that kind of investment. I’m fairly certain our savings has been dwindling over the years. No, I cannot buy a home, and I have nowhere else to go. Hence, my idea.”
“Your idea?” Cecelia was feeling rather warm. She took off her ironed red jacket, her most precious possession next to her riverside condo, and draped it over the back of her chair. She used the pad of note paper to fan herself. This was turning out to be a very odd appointment. She wished the other couple hadn’t cancelled. They had sounded so very promising.
“Yes,” Josephine leaned in, clasping her purse to her bosom and speaking conspiratorially. “You see, my husband is having an affair.”
“I’m so sorry.”Her tone didn’t match her words. Cecelia Parker, Realtor, wasn’t sorry about the affair, she was only sorry she’d been in the office when this odd duck showed up. She had no patience with women and their marital problems. Cecelia had never married and didn’t see why any of her sex should. If a woman’s inner clock was ticking that loudly and she wished to have an heir (Cecelia didn’t) there had to be easier ways than sharing your hearth and home with a man. Her friend from grammar school, Cressida, had never married and had simply adopted a child. That really seemed the way to go.
“Oh, it’s fine, really. I don’t mind that much.” Josephine seemed distraught that her sad story had seemingly brought sorrow to her new real estate agent. She rushed to comfort her. “My children are grown and doing their own thing. My parents are long dead and I don’t have any siblings.”
“So depressing,” Belinda mouthed silently to Kitty, whose green eyes widened, and her red locks bobbed as she nodded in agreement.
“And the thing of it is, Ms. Parker, I was thinking that perhaps you have an old house: a grand old place, with rumors of haunting. Do you have something like that?”
“No,” replied Cecelia. Her tone was clipped. She was losing patience with this woman.
“Nothing? Really? No haunted houses at all?” Josephine looked crestfallen.
“Mrs. Lemon, really. This is most unusual. What exactly are you hiring me for?” Cecelia pinched the bridge of her pointed nose; she felt a distinct headache coming on and no wonder. Her cousin, Theresa, was a mental health psychologist and suddenly she felt very, very empathetic towards her. If this were the kind of people she dealt with day in and day out, it was fitting that Theresa kept vodka under her bed. Cecelia wouldn’t judge her anymore, she decided, or make pointed, veiled remarks at the holidays and reunions.
“To find me a house, of course. It’s just that I can’t purchase it from you, so I was hoping to just live there.” Josephine bit her lower lip as she waited for the response.
“Mrs. Lemon, I’m a very busy woman-“
“Oh, I’m sure you are! I’m not explaining myself very well. Let me start again.” She took a deep breath. “Let’s say there is this house. A very difficult house to sell. It’s old and grand and expensive and been on the market forever. Do you have a place like that?”
In spite of herself and her better judgment, Cecelia nodded. “Of course, I do.”
Josephine scooted her chair closer which caused an ear jarring scraping sound on the hardwood floor. Cecelia winced. “It’s just that I watch a lot of television, Ms. Parker. I’ve seen some of those ghost shows, and they’re frightfully popular. You wouldn’t believe how appealing a haunting can be for the public!”
Cecelia sighed. “So, you think living in a house, pretending to be dead, walking around in chains or some such thing is going to help me sell?”
“I do.” Josephine let out a relieved breath and smiled.
“Mrs. Lemon, I do believe you’re crazy.”
Mrs. Lemon’s Haunting