Ms. Grundy and the Bone Ghosts (1)

The street ran through a neighborhood drenched in summer. At one end it crested slightly toward a hopeful, golden horizon smeared with emergency room gauze. It was a quiet street mostly save for the children that came out of the boxes to play. The boxes lined the street on both sides and had windows and doors and chimneys and yards of green grass and flower beds and bird baths and one even had a mysterious round green orb that sat atop a pedestal with futuristic soft curves.

The old woman who owned this particular box, a red box with a white fence, well, her name was Allison Grundy and Allison Grundy spent a lot of time in her yard holding a green hose like a snake and watering things. Allison Grundy liked to wear a straw hat and dark sunglasses. She usually held a cigarette in the hand opposite the hose hand, the drooping ash half the length of the entire cigarette itself until it just fell. She also liked to look at her green orb as it sat there so peacefully, shining like it did. She would hold her face close to it and her eyes widened as they drilled though the shimmer and into a land of future fortunes. But her concentration was then often disrupted by the sounds of play. The youngsters with their whistles and their shiny bells and their harvest balloons and toy bazookas. It all soured her soul, like lemons in vinegar.

Allison Grundy didn’t care for noise and mischief and if any of the neighborhood children were up to any mischief at all, which of course they usually were, she would go right inside her red box, lift the yellow phone receiver from the wall and dial the constable. “Those kids are going to end up killing someone,” she would complain. “They’re rowdy rebel rousers the whole lot of them.”

“Now, now Ms. Grundy,” Constable Harley O’Shea would say on the other end. “They’re just kids. And kids get a little wild sometimes. Why don’t you just draw the curtains so you can’t see them and settle in with a nice cup of hot chamomile tea. Play that album you like. What is it? … A Farewell to Kings by Rush.”

“Yes, yes… But it’s the middle of the day,” she grunted with the hoarse voice of a smoke addled horse. “They shouldn’t be allowed to ruin my life, constable. It’s your job to keep the peace now, don’t you know.”

Constable O’Shea released a big sigh from the depths of his big belly. “Please, Ms. Grundy. You must understand that it’s all part of living in a community. If you don’t want neighbors, then perhaps you should consider moving to that isolated farmhouse on the edge of town.”

“The old Grady place?”

“That’s right. It’s still for sale. Very private. Very quiet. No neighbors and no young ruffians running about. Consider it, won’t you? I’ll talk to my wife. Bye now. I’ve got to run.” He hung up.

Allison Grundy stared into the receiver as if she might be able to see him deep inside there. When she finally realized she couldn’t, she slammed it into its holding place. It was right after that when a rock came flying through one of her front windows. The cacophony of broken glass made her drop to the floor in fright just like she did in the days of the war and the screaming bombs that fell from the dark sky. “You little bastards!” she howled from her position of defense. “You’ll pay for this you little bastards!”

Mary O’Shea, wife of the constable and part-time real estate agent, pulled up to the old Grady place and shut down the car. She addressed the condition of her face in the rear-view mirror. She reached into her purse for her latest lipstick. Her eyes caught the looming figure of Allison Grundy as she applied the redness to her mouth. The old lady was up on the porch and peering in through curtainless windows.

Mary O’Shea got out of the car and braced herself. She took a deep breath and called out. “Hello, Ms. Grundy. What do you think so far?”

The old woman grunted. “It needs a lot of work. I’m not sure I’m up to it. I’m without a man these days.”

Mary O’Shea smiled. “Some fresh paint would make a world of difference. And I’m sure you could find someone to hire. Would you like to go inside?”

Allison Grundy didn’t answer right away. She was too busy looking off at the vastness that surrounded the place. It was indeed isolated on its grass-swept hill, a wide bulge in the Earth that afforded one a wide view of the varied surrounding landscape. It frightened her somehow. There was so much distance. She sighed. “I’m not sure if it’s for me,” she said. “There’s an awful lot of nothingness.”

Mary O’Shea grimaced in her own guts. “But I thought that was what you wanted. Isolation. Quiet. Is it not?”

Allison Grundy craned her neck upward. The house was three stories high with a pointed turret in one corner. A peeling white. Dusty windows. Disjointed shingles. Dwindling memories of other lives lived within its walls. “It’s an awful big place. Hollow. End-of-day doldrums in the face of a falling sun.”

Mary O’Shea went for the lockbox on the door and worked it open to retrieve the key. “Plenty of room for you to spread out,” she said, trying to remain positive despite the fact she felt like biting the old lady’s head off and spitting it out over the edge of a sea cliff. She pushed the door open, and they moved inside. “There’s been some walls removed to provide for this wonderful open concept. Isn’t it just grand?”

Allison Grundy’s head moved around like a cat following a laser pointer. “It’s somewhat obscene,” the old woman commented.

“Nonsense,” Mary O’Shea replied. “I think you deserve to live lavishly, seeing that you’re…”

“That I’m what… Old? Near death? About to climb into my coffin for an eternal nap?”

“Of course, not, Ms. Grundy. I meant that, well, you deserve to spoil yourself a little.”

Allison Grundy peered up the grand staircase in the center of the main floor. “I could slip upon and fall down these velvet steps and break my neck,” she said. “And no one would ever know.”

“Oh, Ms. Grundy. Come now, don’t be so bleak. Would you like to see the chef’s kitchen? All the appliances are new and oh so shiny and bright…”

The first thing that Mary O’Shea did as she drove away from the old Grady place was light a cigarette. She cracked the driver’s side window and exhaled. The wind sucked the smoke away. “Crazy old bitch,” she said aloud to herself. “I hope she does fall down those stairs and break her neck. But then again, I’m sure she won’t even make an offer.” She shook her head at herself for talking to herself. She reached for the power button on the in-dash stereo and pushed it. An old Led Zeppelin song filled the car — Black Dog. Mary O’Shea suddenly wanted to have sex with someone. Anyone. She raced back to town and a place called The Village Fig. She parked her car a block away and walked. When she pushed the pub door open and allowed the light of day in, it was as if she had startled a coven of sleeping warlocks. Heads turned. Eyes squinted. Someone said in a surprisingly polite voice, “Hi there.”

The animals inside sniffed the air as she walked toward the bar. The bartender stepped out of the shadows and stood like a well-dressed mummy. His name was Lloyd and he looked dead, but he wasn’t dead. “What can I do you for, Mary?” he asked. His grin foretold of bad times perhaps.

She looked to her left. She looked to her right. She turned in a full circle and swept the entire scope of the pub with her Irish eyes. There were men everywhere and every one of them was looking back at her. She felt a pulsation between her legs.

Mary O’Shea turned back to Lloyd and smiled. “A whiskey on the rocks,” she said. She climbed into a barstool, retrieved her cigarettes, and lit one up. She exhaled her second puff directly above Lloyd’s strange head as he set the shot glass down in front of her and poured from a green bottle. Mary O’Shea snatched it up and tossed it back. She slammed the glass down and said, “Hit me again.” Lloyd did as he was told, and she threw that shot back as well. “Again,” she said. Same, and the same. “Again… Again… Hey, Lloyd,” she leaned in and whispered but spoke loud enough for anyone near to hear. “Can you recommend a good man? I mean, one who’s in here right now? I’m aching for a breaking.”


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