“Do you see him?” I pointed over Thomas’ head at the ghostly man. “Do you see that man!” I shouted, failing to hide the hysteria in my voice.
The group followed my finger, but no one jumped, screamed, gasped. Their faces remained still, expressions unchanged. Were they looking at empty space or a person? I had to know. I had to know if his was real.
Grandma stood up, walked over to the man and draped her arm around his shoulder. I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Drake, are you over here scaring my granddaughter?” Grandma asked as she guided him to sit on the purple couch next to Winifred.
Drake nodded like a bobble head doll. “I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m,” he repeated, like a scratched CD skipping endlessly on one second in the track. His lips made and arid popping sound as he spoke, and his voice was like the desert wind after a sandstorm. Grandma rubbed his back between his shoulder blades and lightly pushed him forward, but he froze when he crossed my path, his feet planted firmly, as if they were stuck in concrete. His mantra halted, and he stared at me with his jaw dropped. “Looking for my wife.” The vowels in his words dragged, and the accent in his voice rose on “wife,” almost like he was asking instead of telling, and seeking the answer in me.
“No, honey.” Grandma turned him around and sat him next to Winifred. “That’s my granddaughter. She wasn’t even thought of when you and Jenny married.”
His face formed a question mark, and he stared at her with furrowed eyebrows, debating in his mind whether to accept her answer.
“You remember, Jenny’s gone. She died a few years ago, before I came here. You remember. We were at her funeral,” Grandma said.
We, I wondered. Did Grandma know him prior to becoming a resident here? How? I’d never seen him before in my life. Just ten minutes ago, I’d convinced myself he was a ghost—an eerie figment of my imagination materialized from Grandma’s story about Gaston.
But he obviously recognized me. He pursed his lips, as if trying to say, “You,” but nothing came out.
I lowered my eyes to my lap, hoping the lack of eye contact would dissuade him from staring, but I felt his eyes on my skin, my cheek growing warm under his persistent gaze.
I would do anything for a distraction, to get the topic—and his eyes—off of me. “So who came after Ian?” I asked Grandma after she settled back down into her chair.
Grandma watched Drake from the corner of her eye. “I bought my first car from Jasper with the money Ian left me.”
“Was it a lot?” Tammy asked.
“We were touring with the fair,” Grandma said with light sarcasm in her voice. “Do you know how much admission was back in the sixties?”
“Enough to buy you a car,” Jerry said slyly.
“A jalopy is more like it.” Grandma brushed the tip of her nose, as if fanning away a foul smell. “He was a fast talker, but I guess you gotta be when you’re selling cars that ain’t worth the flat tires they rusting on.”
“He talked you right outta your skirt, didn’t he?” Thomas slid his tongue across his bottom lip. He was such a flirt, and it was so obvious that he and Jerry were competing to be Grandma’s next dead husband. To Thomas’ remark, Jerry made a gagging sound and pressed his finger down on his tongue toward the back of his throat. Tammy and I instinctively scooted our chairs back another inch. We couldn’t be too careful.
Grandma covered her face with her palm and continued. “I don’t know why I married him.” She shrugged. “Shoot, I don’t know why I bought that car. It was a piece of crap. But it was a means to an end . . . his end to be specific.” She gave us a chilling grin, and I half suspected her hands weren’t as clean she she professed in Jasper’s ultimate demise. She was supposedly married to a Cadillac expert. How much did Carl teach her about cars? Could she take one apart? “I’m just glad I wasn’t in the car with him when it finally blew out,” Grandma finished. Her innocent, unknowing widow routine was starting to get exhausted.
“You went to the beach?” Drake interrupted. He was watching me more intently now, his eyebrows in the shape of crooked commas.
“No, she’s not tanned, Drake, she’s black,” Grandma said.
“Black?” He jerked his neck back in shock—my being black, the wildest thing he’d ever heard.
“She’s not Jenny, she’s my granddaughter,” Grandma said, then louder, “GRANDDAUGHTER!”
“Oh.” Drake snuggled into the tiny space between the cushions of the couch next to Winifred. His eyes shifted as they tried to focus in on me. I smiled, which seemed to confuse him even more. He couldn’t believe I was anyone but his dead wife, Jenny. But who was she, and why did I look so much like her?
© 2016 Nortina Simmons
A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths
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