by Karen J Mossman
I was at Pedro’s house and we were making out on the sofa. My head was back, my neck stretched in pleasure, my eyes flicked open and there was his mother looking through the window.
I don’t think any of us recovered from that as I made a quick exit. Now as I lie in my bed, I feared I was drowning. My eyes wouldn’t open, not that I want them to. Carefully I poked out my tongue, jiggled it about and was rewarded with the strong taste of chocolate. Hmmm! My senses came alive as it rose up my neck until it covered my entire head. I was afraid that if I opened my mouth, I would drown. But how could I resist chocolate? Easter my favourite time of year. As my tongue ventured out again, I expected to feel the luxurious velvety creaminess, but instead, my eyes snapped open and it was all a dream. I was nose-to-nose in bed with Pedro and his brown eyes were looking at me.
“Good morning, Cassie!” he said. “Happy Easter!”
He brought his hand up and perched on his finger was a fluffy yellow chick. Not a real one, of course. Its wired feet were wrapped around his finger. He bobbed it a couple of times.
As I focused on it and then him, his eyes flicked sideways. There on the dressing table was a huge chocolate egg with a big red bow.
I shrieked and leapt out of bed, pulling down my short nightdress as I went. Grabbing the egg, I kissed it. I loved Easter! Pedro was now sitting up bare-chested with an amused expression on his handsome face. Remembering my manners, I skipped back and sat on him, thanking him personally for my special gift.
Just as we were getting into it, his phone rang and sighing I fell back against the pillow. “I have to take this,” he said, stabbing the button with his finger. “Hello, Mother.”
Once more she had come between us, she was constantly ringing, usually at the most inopportune moments. Actually, she didn’t even need inopportune moments to do that. She just rang.
“Can you bring home some milk?” “What are you doing? “When will you be back?” It was always the same. I was sick of his mum. Apart from that day, where I did a quick hop, skip and jump out of the front door, I hadn’t met her, and I already didn’t like her.
I am a clairvoyant, and there are some aspects of my gift I don’t like. One of them is suicide. So, when the mum of a victim wanted me to accompany her to the place where her daughter died, I already had misgivings. That’s another problem, I find it hard to say no especially when someone is distressed.
The circumstances of this were not pleasant, not that any suicide is. Jess Turner, a girl who seemed to have a lot to live for had ended her life horrifically. It had been in all the papers, I remember sitting in the Dandelion Café reading about it over a cup of coffee.
Jess, whose pretty face had stared up at me from the photograph, wasn’t much older than I was. She had one child, a husband, and loving family – and a dark secret. One day she took herself off to the local park, sat on a bench, doused herself in petrol, and lit a match.
Calling it a tragedy doesn’t do it justice. I wasn’t sure I wanted to communicate with such a troubled and demented soul. You had to be demented to do something like that. I’m sure there were easier ways to die.
So why her mum wanted to come to this place, was beyond me. I met her after work at the park gates; it was already dusk, and the sky was a dark leaden colour. I didn’t know her but guessed she was the lady clutching a flower.
“Cassie?” She came forward to meet me.
“Hello, you must be Sandra.”
“Yes. Thank you for agreeing to come.”
“What would you like me to do? You know I can’t promise anything, don’t you?”
She nodded as we walked together down the path. “I know, but I have to try. I’ve brought this along.” She dug into her pocket and pulled out a hair bobble. “This is hers and she wore it the last time I saw her.”
I looked at it but didn’t take it. “Okay, let’s wait till we get there. Do you know where it is?”
“Not really,” she said putting the bobble back in her pocket. I had a vision of us wandering around in the park after dark trying to find this bench.
Back with Pedro, our relationship had taken took a worrying turn. “My mother wants to meet you,” he announced one day while we were making ourselves a drink in my kitchen.
My stomach did a flip. “Why?”
“Why not? You’re my girlfriend, and you can’t hide from her forever.”
“I can,” I said filling two cups with tea and taking them to the sofa. My flat, above a shop, was small, with a lounge and a kitchen to one side. Another door led to the bedroom, and a small bathroom.
“She wants to meet you properly.” He slurped his drink and then placed it on the table before sitting on the sofa. “Cassie, we’ve been seeing each other for over a month. I’ve met your brother, so it’s only fair you meet her.”
“I have met her,” I said sitting next to him.
“I mean properly, not just a wave of your hand as you disappear.”
“Pedro, darling, I don’t think I could look her in the eye,” I said staring at him.
He laughed, “Do you think she’s never had sex? How do you think me and my sister were born?”
I slapped his thigh. “That’s not what I meant. You’re a mummy’s boy, Pedro, and I’m just competition.”
He looked indignant. “I am not!”
“Yes, you are. How many other twenty-eight-year-olds do you know still living with their mums?”
“A lot. It’s practical. Especially since Chantelle disappeared. Anyway, she wants you to come for dinner and I said yes.”
“Oh, Pedro! You didn’t! Why didn’t you ask me first?” I folded my arms as if protecting myself from his words.
“I just did.”
“Except that you’ve already committed me.”
“Oh, stop being a grump!”
I stuck my bottom lip out childishly. I had every reason to be a grump because I didn’t have a choice.
Chantelle was his twin sister who had disappeared. That’s how we linked up in the first place. He wanted me to help find her but I couldn’t.
It wasn’t difficult to find the place of Jess’s suicide as they’d cordoned off the area with police tape. The actual bench had been removed, but the blackened tarmac remained. There were a lot of flowers, with a variety of messages.
‘Miss you so much.’ ‘I’m sorry this happened.’ ‘You’ll be forever in my heart.’ Every one of them heart-breaking. I tried to keep my eyes averted and not read too many of them. I didn’t want to feel their grief.
Sandra lay down her flower and then dug into her pocket for the hair bobble. I took it and as soon as it touched my skin, I was consumed with feelings of guilt. Not only did the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, goose bumps flooded my arms and shoulders. I felt a piercing heat burn my bones. So much so, I almost lost balance. Sandra’s hand touched my arm, and I grabbed her wrist to steady myself.
Unable to speak, I nodded as the spirit of Jess filled me. Her last seconds of life were horrific. The moment she lit the flame, she panicked as the scorching heat became unbearable. She tried to beat it out, but it spread quickly. Her screaming filled the air, and I tightened my grip on Sandra’s wrist trying to endure it. Her pain became mine, and the terrible secret she’d tried to keep came pouring out. The secret itself was not so bad, at least not bad enough to kill herself for.
In the last few moments of life she had felt a deep sense of regret, not for what she’d done, but for this dreadful end she’d assumed would be was her only way out.
There was no time for tears or escape, one moment she was Jess and the next she was burned embers and bone fragments.
I opened my eyes and was crying as Sandra looked at me with alarm.
“What did you see? What happened?” She asked worriedly.
I couldn’t tell her how I watched her daughter burn in agony. “She was so ashamed,” I said, wiping my face and bringing myself back under control.
“Did she say anything?”
“I picked up on her addiction to other men,” I said tactfully.
Sandra’s face paled. “I know about that. She didn’t have to kill herself for it,” she said in a voice that sounded like a grumble. “What else did she say?”
“At the last minute, she regretted her action.”
“Yes?” she said expecting more.
I looked back at the charcoal-coloured ground and at the trees behind. The birds sang their goodnight melody, and I sighed. “Such a beautiful place to have witnessed such a sad ending.”
“But…but, did she say anything else? Mention anything at all?” Sandra persisted.
I turned to look at her, the hair bobble still twirling around my fingers. “What were you expecting?”
“I wanted her to tell me where she hid the rest of her Grandfather’s money. He left it all to her in his will, but we don’t know what she did with it. I was hoping…” She trailed off, seeing the look on my face.
I handed her back the bobble. “I think we’re done here,” I told her, as the night air turned chilly. There were no ghosts here.
Pedro’s mum held out her hand. “Hello, my dear, nice to meet you at last. Do come in.” Her red hair was back-combed, and she wore a lot of makeup with dark red lipstick, red nails and a pair of twisted gold hooped earrings. I wondered if she was trying to recapture her youth, or if she was making a statement to prove she wasn’t old yet.
I could feel the blush rising up my neck at the thought of her seeing me in the throes of an orgasm.
“Pedro, mijito,” she greeted, a Spanish word of endearment meaning my little son. “There is wine in the kitchen, go and fetch it while Cassie and I get to know one another. Oh, and turn down the oven while you’re there.”
She took my hand and led me into a back room. It was decorated with Spanish culture in mind. “You will have an apéritif before dinner, won’t you?” She said it in such a way it was difficult to refuse.
“Now, tell me all about you and what you can see.”
Really? “W-what would you like to know?” I asked not wishing to tell her anything. Where was Pedro?
“Well, you see ghosts, don’t you? Pedro has told me about it, and I want to hear it from you. I’m so fascinated.”
“Erm, well, only when they want me to, the ghosts I mean.”
“Ah yes, perhaps if I give you something of Chantelle’s?”
Here we go. “Mrs. Parslow-”
“Please, call me Amia.”
“I can’t tell you if Chantelle is still alive if that’s what you are asking.”
Just then Pedro came back. “Mother leave her alone. You promised you wouldn’t.”
“Well,” she said, taking the bottle of wine as he put three glasses on the table. “It seemed like a good opportunity.” Then she looked at the third glass. “Aren’t you driving later?” she asked him.
“Yes, I’m just having the one.”
“No, put it back. We’ll have no drunk drivers here.”
Amazingly Pedro returned the glass to the kitchen. Just like a good mummy’s boy.
Dinner wasn’t much better as Mrs. Parslow continued issuing instructions or contradicting whatever he said. After we finished eating, Pedro gave an appreciative burp.
“Manners,” she scolded.
“Pour Cassie some more wine,” she told him, and he rose to his feet.
“No, it’s fine, I don’t want any more.”
“Coffee then, anyone?”
I didn’t want coffee either; I wanted out of there. I’d had enough. I don’t know who was worse, him or his bloody mother!
“Could I just have some water?” I asked. “I have the beginnings of a headache.”
“Oh no,” Mrs. Parslow said dramatically. “Get her some tablets while you’re up, Pedro.”
“No, it’s okay,” I blurted. “I’ve got some special ones at home, I’ll take those.” Pedro was staring at me.
“What kind are those, love?” Mrs. Parslow asked. Before I could reply she glared at Pedro. “Stop gawping and get the girl some water.” He turned and left the room.
“Oh, just some the doctor gave me,” I said shaking my head and getting up. “I really should go.”
“Have your water first,” she reminded me.
“I will, thank you. Is the kitchen this way?” Pedro could get my coat at the same time.
I entered the room just as he turned holding the glass of water. “Oh! Are you going?”
“Yes, thank you for a nice meal,” I said taking it and drinking half in one gulp.
“I’ll get your coat then,” he said as I ignored the puzzled glance he gave me.
As I turned to leave, I caught sight of something familiar on the sideboard. It was a huge chocolate Easter egg with a big red bow. Exactly the same as mine.
This story is taken from a collection of short stories featuring Cassie.
Or a full length story in The Ghost on the Stairs