Once and Future Happiness
about 1700 words
Girl Fears Ghost Girl
by James Foley
Night on the beach. Awakening suddenly, David felt Jamie’s dark hair tickling his cheek.
He stirred on the towel. “How long was I asleep?”
“Only for a few minutes,” Jamie said. “You must be beat.”
Easy night: peace—the sky clear above a sea dark as itself.
And the eastern stars were ushering up the aging half-moon, still clinging to the ocean’s edge: this old ocean that could take one across the world, maybe with this girl Jamie, as once he’d wanted to go with another sweetheart:
Dazzling Cynthia, once his living wife—Jamie’s wild friend.
“Jerry’s up at La Cantina,” Jamie said now. “I think he’s giving us some privacy. David, I want to go up to the beach house and bury something there where you and Cynthia lived. It’s a present she gave me. I can never wear them again.”
“You’re going to come back, Jamie?”
“Yes, for a little while.”
“Swear you’ll come back.”
“I’ll be back. Go back to sleep, David.”
Right. But as soon as he did, she came back—the ghost girl, maintaining the old obsession in the void of its fulfillment: his olden-days golden-haired wife, wriggling her toes in the sand, just as she used to.
“Right in front of the beach house,” she said. “That’s sweet, David. I love it when you come here—even if it’s without me. What about the farm, baby? Will you ever go back there—now that I never will?”
“We’ll talk about it—at dinner.”
“David, you know I’m dead.”
“No, I don’t know that.”
“Yeah, I’m dead all right. And you’re with Jamie now. I saw you together. I waited till she left.”
“How can you see, if you’re dead?”
“The dead see better, David. They see it all. And they weep—because they didn’t see it before.”
The moon seemed brighter now, but still low above the breakers that crashed and frothed, moon-brightened beneath it. But was this only a moon of dreams—mimicking the moon above his closed eyes?
“Sweetheart,” he said, “this can’t be dreaming. Dreamers don’t know they’re dreaming.”
“I think sometimes they do,” Cynthia said: “In between dreaming and day-dreaming. You’re dreaming in the moonlight now, David.”
But somehow—in this dream or out of it—she was embracing him tightly, hard.
“No. No, Cynthia. This is no dream.”
“It’s our last dream, David: to hold each other one last time—to kiss once more.”
“If you’re dead, how can you kiss so hard?”
“You’re imagining me, David. Your lips that are pressing so hard against mine: you, my earth lover. And me, your old wild girl: it’s all just imagination. It’s not me you’re feeling. It’s your old love for me. But give that love to Jamie now. She’s my nobler than I was . I was too crazy. I wasn’t meant to grow old.”
And now what he felt—or what he dreamed he felt—was this girl crying in the darkness: crying in his arms, in his dream.
“Just remember what we had, David. Nothing can erase that. No time to come will ever keep that from having existed once—in those days when we were younger. The universe may end, but the emptiness which follows won’t wipe those days away.
“How many people in this world will ever have what we had, David? Doesn’t that make you happy, to remember what we once had?”
“Yes, it does.”
“The only thing, David, is this. When you’ll be sleeping with Jamie, will those tropical currents that we sailed—those waters off Culebra or the Grenadines. Will they still be beating against your memories? Those Caribbean waters that we once shared.
“And will I still be there, drowned in your arms?”
“Did you drown, Cynthia? And when? And why?”
“What does it matter, David? But the point is this—all those days we had. All those days will be drowned too: drowned into your soul, into your memory. Those days that were once so crazy and beautiful. They were ours once, David. Goodbye.”
Now, as he was waking up, he could hear Jamie saying, “I heard you call her name, David. I heard you say it: ‘Cynthia’.”
“Yeah, I was having a nightmare.”
“You were having a dream. And she was in your dream. Go on—deny it.”
Overhead, the moon was higher and really bright now, shining down on the crashing waves. And something in David’s bruised and confused mind cried out silently for some resolution to all this madness and passion. And he said impulsively but sincerely:
“Jamie, marry me—as soon as we can find some way to do it. You don’t know what you mean to me?”
She shut her eyes. “David, don’t make me cry. I want you, David, I want you more than anything, but I can’t fight what she was to you. I’d be in washing dishes, and scrubbing the floor. And you’d be waiting and getting bored with me. And all these angel Cynthias would be flying around your head. Angel ghosts of my best friend once, David. And how could I, David—?
“David, if I could have you, all of you—”
They were both standing now. “You’ve got it. All of me. It’s you now, Jamie. It’s over with Cynthia. It’s just been fading out slow.
“Jamie, can’t you feel it? Can’t you feel it? Sweetheart, you will have absolutely all of me—for all time to come.”
She was still shaking her head—and then suddenly she was shouting semi-hysterically in the dark night:
“This is crazy! How can I love my dead friend’s husband?
“David,” she screamed, “while she was alive, I wanted to take you away from her. Now I can’t take you from her memory. I wanted you so much. And now that it seems almost possible, I can’t do it.”
She hesitated for a moment, then turned abruptly and ran away—straight into the water: hurrying out quickly to where it was deep enough to duck under a breaking wave.
And as he followed, running and diving with her. They came up together, grabbing each other; but he lost her as she shouted: “When Cynthia died—”
Then a bigger than usual wave crashed over. And Jamie, drawing air into her lungs, let out one last cry: “—then we died, David.”
And they both went under.
And the next confused moment, when he rose to the surface, she was nowhere. He couldn’t see her. Everything was black, and she was lost—her head, her shoulders. Nothing was visible.
“Jamie, Jamie,” he was calling as another wave smashed over him: engulfing him, choking him. And he struggled to the top, surfacing again, swimming crazily now—slashing into the crashing waves as he zigzagged back and forth.
He had no idea where she was, or where he himself was, or how far from where he’d plunged in—or how long he’d been in this frothing ocean.
Then he heard it—a scream like the cry of a lost soul in despair in some vampire hell.
Yes, God, yes! But when he reached her, she seemed already gone—dead weight on his arm as he flailed and fought through the surf and swirling sand.
Until finally he could feel solid sand under him.
And he was clawing his way up the shore with Jamie against him, still in his arms.
But she was breathing. So for a long while he lay beside her. And time passed—like forever, a really long time—until she was able to stand up again: getting to her feet shakily and moving away. But then turning to say nothing but “Goodbye.”
He picked himself up. “I’ll find you, Jamie.”
She turned again, saying, “It was you—always you. You were it. You’ll have that. I’ll still have that.”
“Just marry me: the minute we can,” he said.
Her smile: so close. But a broken smile, almost sardonic. “What? And live happily ever after? It’s too late for that now, baby. Sorry. I can’t do the happy-ever-after thing.”
He felt helpless—exhausted. He couldn’t hold her by force. He was following her hopelessly.
In the village mall, he waited in La Cantina while she went into a bathroom to dress.
Now Jerry joined him, coming over from a pool table.
“What’s happening? You’re beat up.”
“Just some scratches—from the surf: nothing.”
Jamie now—coming from the bathroom in street clothes: the image of gloom and dejection.
And, of course, she was walking right past both of them without saying a word—just raising her hand and waving her fingers as she went away.
“What the devil!” Jerry said. He was agitated. “What’s happening? Why’re you letting her go?”
“I don’t know.”
“Grab her, man. We need her.”
“I know. I know. But we can’t stop her now. She’s in some deep mood right now—maybe in shock.”
“Because of Cynthia? Because she thinks you can’t shake off Cynthia?”
“Maybe. Maybe that’s it. I don’t know, Jerry. I don’t know anymore.”
“Damn! I wish I could help you, man.”
“You can. You’re helping. You’re my best friend.”
Now both of them were turning, looking out at the water—their gaze straying down the beach: towards some faraway lights at the limits of vision. Lights of some place where, someday, it might be nice to hang out—
—just to be there someday: with some girl on that day, and on all the days to come:
Days that may never come.
“So where do we go?” Jerry asked.
“Let’s go to the beach.”
Jerry laughed. “We’re at the beach now, man.”
“Let’s go to some other beach.”
Feb. 17, 2018, 5:19 p.m.