The following short story was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre event–Whispers of an Apparition: Literary Reading of Paranormal Fiction. Please enjoy.
“Party of two?” the hostess asks while looking down at the seating layout on the podium. My liaison gives a grateful nod as she leads us to a booth in the back right hand corner, far from any and all sections of the cloudy lounge. It’s filled with what looks but doesn’t smell like smoke. I try inhaling deeper, attempting to better identify the haze. I still have no idea.
“It’s smoke,” he says to me, as if he’d witnessed this eager inhaling before, “but you can’t smell it. You know how you get used to the smell of your house and you don’t even know it has a smell? Same thing.” The hostess stands there as we are seated but hands us no menus. She doesn’t even look at us.
“Whiskey neat,” he says. The hostess walks away. We sit at the dark mahogany table engraved with an everlasting knot. Surprisingly, it doesn’t clash with the Herati patterned upholstery. In fact, the smoke seems to tie it all together. I wonder how long it will be until I start coughing, and I wonder if victims of house fires typically feel this docile before being engulfed by flames.
“So, I’m Erick and you are…?” he interrupts, as he proceeds to get comfortable on his side of the booth.
“Evelyn,” I answer timidly, “I’m Evelyn.”
“Evelyn, that’s a beautiful name. Did anyone ever call you Eve for short?” He asks jokingly.
“No,” I reply, though I don’t quite get the joke.
“Mind if I do?” he asks smiling. I say nothing and his smile fades as if his sense of humor is spent. “So, Evelyn, I’m assuming you have been feeling pretty sad lately,” he says to me while he takes my hand in his. It’s not as comforting as it feels contrived, but I let him hold it anyway.
“What are you talking about?” I ask. For the first time in what seems like eternity, I feel completely disoriented. I don’t know why I’m here, how I got here, or where I am. I mentally prepare myself to calm down but then remember that I’m not panicking.
“Well, Eve, a girl as pretty as you throwing herself in front of the mercy of a subway car may seem selfish; ruining days, causing traumatic stress, scarring children waiting on the platforms with their sitters. But we all know it comes from being tortured ourselves. We don’t have to save face here. ” He rubs my hand again with his thumb. “So let’s cut through the guilt and get to it. You’re already doing your penance. How were you feel- ”
“Here?” I cut him off.
“Oh, you poor thing. Yes dear. Here. Hell.”
“Hell? But, this isn’t…”
“How you pictured it?” He chuckles slightly. “Just exactly how did you picture it? A million fucking degrees? Big red guy? Screaming infants with their faces melting off?”
“I don’t know,” I admit, “just not this.” The hostess returns with a whiskey neat and places it in the middle of the table. She leaves without a word. Erick grabs the whiskey and slides it to himself.
“Isn’t that the point?”