This is my recent entry in a 24 hour short story contest. It didn’t win, but that’s okay. I guess. The paragraph that introduced it was about a couple who are on vacation at a summer house. They see a ghostly figure in white approaching…..(There was something else about the color red in there, but I’ve already forgotten what it was.)
It had been a long day. Miriam had cleaned the house, even if it was unbearably hot. After the kids had left with the grandkids, she kept stepping in sticky spots on the old wood floors. One spot had pulled the flip-flop off her foot. She couldn’t stand the mess another day.
The sun was over the yardarm, as the saying went, and she and Harry were sitting on the porch sipping his “signature” margaritas. His efforts with salt and margarita mix tasted the same as any other margarita she had ever had, but they were delicious. The second one was even better than the first.
Miriam was wondering whether a third one was in order (the grandkids were a fun, but messy bunch and she deserved to drink the entire pitcher), when a movement at the bottom of the lawn near the lake caught her attention. It was the silhouette of a woman, dark and unrecognizable at this distance. The figure was moving slowly, head down, pausing every few steps.
Staring out at the bright water made Miriam see dots. She blinked and blinked again. It wasn’t possible someone had just risen from the lake. The water was cold even in the middle of summer and the lake was too big for most people to swim across it.
The silhouette disappeared. Miriam shook her head to clear her vision, sipped her margarita, looked again, and there it was once more. It seemed to materialize out of the trees. She started to say something to Harry, but he had dozed off. She considered waking him—he hadn’t spent the morning cleaning—but let him sleep.
The figure had disappeared again. Miriam searched their yard and the surrounding ones for a glimpse of her, wondering if it was the margaritas, or the sun making her see things.
After a minute or two, the figure appeared again from the trees, drawing closer to where Miriam and Harry sat on the porch. Miriam watched the woman in dawning horror. Not again, she thought. Not again, please not this again. She had worked so hard to get over it the last time this happened. It had strained her marriage until she thought she would burst at the seams.
All the old feelings came rushing back as Miriam watched the woman approach: the anger, the despair, the apologies, the remorse, the sleepless nights. This woman had long red nails and a somber expression as she tightened her arms across her chest. The sweat beading Miriam’s brow ran down and blurred her vision more as the woman’s silhouette wavered in the mist across her eyes; a mist that might be tears, might be sweat. The woman appeared to be almost naked. Maybe she had swum here without a suit! That would be the last straw. Miriam didn’t think she could take it. In another minute, she was going to rush this woman in her eagerness to get at her.
Miriam gasped at the force of her feelings. Harry woke with a start. “What is it?” he asked. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s that woman,” Miriam answered. “I don’t think I can go through this again, Harry.”
“Go through what again?’
“You know what I’m talking about. Look at her. Walking up here like nothing is wrong. Why does this keep happening, Harry?”
“I don’t know, Miriam. Some things are beyond my control.”
“I’m about to lose it. I don’t think I can go through it again,” Miriam said.
The woman faltered a bit when she heard the raised voices, but continued walking. She came up to the porch and stood there, looking from one to the other. Her somber expression changed to a wide smile. Miriam dropped her face into her palms.
“Hi,” the woman chirped. “I have another package for you, Mrs. Handfield. I love the wrapping, the long red ribbons, and the bright white paper. The outside paper got wet on the boat over, so I took it off instead of letting it ruin the box. I’ve been delivering the mail on these islands once a week for ten years now and this rarely happens. I’m so sorry.”
“That’s okay, Denise,” Miriam said. “I can’t believe I ordered another box of chocolates from that company. They do wrap their stuff very nicely, but I wish I hadn’t bought it. I finally reached my goal of fifty pounds lost and I wasn’t bursting out of my pants anymore, or driving Harry crazy complaining about my weight and being tired all the time. Then one day last week, I lost my head. I just had to have those chocolates.”
Harry shook his head and took the package from Denise, who was holding the box out.
“I’ll take that,” he said. “She’ll eat the whole thing and then wail for two days about gaining weight. ‘Not again! Not again!’ Drives me crazy. She looks fantastic and I am going to make sure she stays that way. I’ll divvy them out one at a time.”
Miriam grinned at Denise. “Ya gotta love that man of mine,” she said. “Come back this way and I’ll give you a couple of them.”
Denise grinned back, gave a wolf whistle, and went to deliver the neighbor’s mail.