Chapter 1- Discovery
Spring, Carolyn thought to herself, always had made her restless. Rather than her usually cool and capable self, accepting of all the boundaries, she'd suddenly create or find opportunity from almost nothing. It had been in spring when she ended her relationship with Blair merely because she'd met someone else . . . who was it again . . . maybe Tony? . . .and exchanged a few pleasantries. Two years later she married Robert. Life intruded on her writing at that point, and for the most part, she had let it slide with some regret. After he died, she began to emerge from the numbness one spring by writing and daring to mail her stories to magazines. Waiting for an acceptance or rejection helped her to feel expectation and interest again. Finally, a few years later, having lived with first her father-in-law's meddling, and then her mother's smothering concern, she decided to take the kids and move somewhere beyond daily visits. She also decided that same year she could live with a handsome, kind, but very temperamental ghost despite her need for independence and solitude.
Yup, it was certainly spring again, because here she was sitting at her typewriter, trying to work on a piece for the state tourist board, yet daydreaming about the impossible, romance with the Captain. They'd only touched in her dreams- and once in a sweet dream he'd given her and the rest of the family as a Christmas gift. She grinned to herself, remembering. He appeared holding out a mug of coffee. "Good morning, Madam. I thought perhaps you might require some refreshment."
She took the mug while thanking him. She leaned back in her chair, away from the blasted typewriter, and said, "I could use a break. What I imagine is always much better than what I wind up typing."
"The curse of the writer. Perhaps a walk along the shore with me would do you good. Winter has passed and today is lovely, almost as beautiful as you are" He smiled at her, his eyes warm and admiring. Why did he have to be so handsome, and why did his voice always make her feel as if velvet had brushed against her?
"Well, Captain, I couldn't imagine any better company. Give me a few minutes and I'll meet you there." He bowed his head and disappeared. She changed into tennis shoes, brushed her hair, and added fresh lipstick, wondering exactly how crazy she must be.
She grabbed her jacket and jogged out, catching up with the captain who was walking along the waterline. He turned, his blue eyes tender, the breeze blowing his wavy auburn hair. She smiled up at him and said, "Captain, I do wish we could link arms as we stroll."
He smiled and sighed, looking out at the sea. "High tide." He turned back, asking "Shall we?" As they walked, he told her about the time he'd sailed to China: the stow away, a young girl whose feet were to be bound if she remained. Carolyn wondered if the stow away was beautiful as so many women in his stories were, until he mentioned the girl being younger than Jonathon. They walked only a few inches apart, parallel. Lost in his story and voice, she wasn't watching her footing. She stepped on a piece of driftwood and staggered a bit, bumping into him. "Whoops," he said as he reached out, grabbing her arm, steadying her.
She halted, glaring at him, feeling almost volcanic.
He smiled engagingly, "There might have been a slight stretch of the facts regarding my existence as a ghost, all for good reason."
"You lied to me!"
"Not lied, Madam, colored the facts a bit, perhaps."
"You lied and wrote a whole poem using that lie! All about how you'd trade so much if only we could kiss! I loved that poem!"
He stood there, silent, clearly searching for words. Hardly able to see, heart pumping so hard everything seemed dark, she slapped him across the face. He looked stunned, then disappeared. "How convenient," she yelled, "I wish I could just disappear!"
She heard his disembodied voice, almost icy now: "Madam, I will give you some time to calm down. I'll steer clear of you until you regain your reason, and then we shall continue this conversation in a civil manner."
"Captain, don't you disappear on me! Come back!" There was no response, only the waves crashing on the beach. "Look, I'm sorry I slapped you; I was just so shocked and angry! Oh my God, I never slapped anyone in my life before!" She began to cry. "Please forgive me!" Still, nothing.
She sat on the beach, watching the clouds, untouchable clouds, and the anger took hold again. Why had he lied? She walked home, muttering to herself. As she closed the front door, she heard Martha call, "Back so soon?"
Trying to keep her voice at a normal pitch, she called that she needed to get to work. At least all the angst helped her to type like a fury. Blast him and his lies about not being able to touch, him and his numerous affairs while he was alive, his meddling in what few dates she'd had. After finishing the article, she attacked the housework. Martha and the kids teased her about all her energy, and she just tried to smile and tell them spring was in the air.
Chapter 2- Truth and Stories
For days she didn't see him. Sometimes she'd forget for a moment and miss him, and then that casual arm steadying her on the beach would replay in her head, and she'd practically steam. She didn't know if he really was avoiding her or merely lurking where she was, invisible. She knew he'd spent time with Jonathon. Her son was very close-mouthed about the captain, not chattering on about him like usual, and the new model ship being built was too perfect to be Jonathon's work alone. Having him so close-mouthed made her even angrier. No doubt her son had been told some sexist nonsense about feminine moodiness.
One evening when the kids were in bed, she was sitting reading on the window seat. Martha entered with two cups of coffee, offered her one, and sat by her at the window seat. "Thanks Martha" was all she said before returning to her book.
"What are you reading?"
"I Sing the Body Electric- short stories by Bradbury. Our less than current Schooner Bay Library just got it despite it coming out last year." She went back to reading.
Martha said, "It's not good to be like that."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know what happened between you and the captain, but taking it out on us isn't fair."
Carolyn folded the page she'd been reading from, and put the book down. "Okay, Martha, let's leave the captain out of it. How have I been 'taking it out on' you?"
"You've gotten very quiet. When you smile, it's more like you're gritting your teeth. You've snapped at the kids a few times to be quiet, something you never do. And just now, I brought you a cup of coffee, sat down, and you dismissed me with a 'thanks'."
"I didn't mean to dismiss you; this is just a new book by an unusual author. If I have been short tempered or dismissive, I apologize."
"So what happened between you two? He hasn't been popping in unless you're elsewhere."
Carolyn sighed. Getting it off her chest would be wonderful, but discussing it with Martha- who lived in the same house- was out of the question. "Just another in our long line of arguments."
Martha nodded. "Must be serious if you won't discuss it. I won't ask the captain. Just so you know, when he pops in the kitchen our spirit is mighty dispirited. Me, I'd like to go back to being a nice normal abnormal family." Carolyn changed topics, telling Martha she'd missed out on any Schooner Bay gossip. She knew this would distract Martha, who'd tell her things Ed Peavey discovered while making repairs. Or, she amended to herself, Martha would be kind enough to pretend distraction. She tried hard to be like her normal self.
After Martha went to bed, she simply sat, having lost interest in the book. She always had figured the captain was the temperamental one, yet in the last few days, she'd slapped him, snapped at the kids, and been distant towards Martha. Yes, she was still angry, sort of a slow burn, almost . . . ugh . . . like a woman scorned. Blast him! Wait, calm down. Stewing won't help, and neither will avoidance. It was time to face him. She'd call him here, not in the bedroom, especially not in the bedroom. How dare he spend all that time there pretending to be an illusion! Of course, he'd always been a gentleman, triple blast.
"Captain? I'm ready to talk in a calm manner. Are you there? Captain?"
His disembodied voice rumbled, "Our first intentional touch and you slap me."
"I'm sorry, but did you expect me to throw myself in your arms and thank you for lying about something that matters so much?"
He became visible, leaning against the mantle. "Having you throw yourself in my arms would admittedly have been more pleasant than being treated like a cad."
"Why? Just tell me why! Is it because you've never been close to a woman you respect before? Are you afraid?"
"Women! I'm almost glad I'm dead as otherwise I'd suffer a mighty headache! My affairs during my life are my own, and have no bearing on the issue at hand. Secondly, even without touching, you think we HAVEN'T been close? Finally, for an intelligent writer who lives with a ghost, you seem singularly unversed in ghost lore."
"So, rather than telling me, you're directing me to read ghost stories so I'll understand. I'm alive and CAN get headaches. Just spit it out!"
He was silent for a moment. "Madam, This is difficult. I never meant to assume, but there's many a tale, Scottish, German, Japanese, even passed down from the Vikings about young men who fell in love with beautiful ghosts. Sometimes they marry, sometimes not, but at the moment of greatest personal intimacy, she becomes herself as she is in the grave, a rotting corpse."
All her anger seeming childish, Carolyn sank down on the sofa. Was it true or a myth? She didn't believe in ghosts before she came here. "Captain, I'm at a loss for words."
"Madam, lying was necessary. I did so the first night to maintain your comfort. When I
called it 'our cabin,' I knew you wouldn't remain if you knew I could be a physical being. Later, because I desired so much to touch you, and didn't trust myself, I wrote that poem to erect a barrier. If nothing at all could occur, we could not start down a dangerous path."
"Oh Captain, I'm so sorry for that slap. But we don't know if those stories are true or not."
"No Carolyn, we don't. But what if they are?"
She went to hug him but he backed away. She stood there, one tear escaping her eye. "Blast," He muttered. He reached out and took her hand in his, giving it a squeeze. She realized he was comforting her. That hurt even worse. This kind man whom she loved (she admitted to herself), this brave man who had just told her his worst secret, he was comforting her.
She looked at him, eyes glistening, and murmured, "This isn't such terrible news."
"It isn't?" He sounded angry.
"Captain, now I know you can make a dream real for me." He looked confused. "Dance with me."
For a moment he looked trapped. Then he nodded, pointing a finger at the radio, changing stations until a waltz played. His lips brushed the hand he was holding. Staring into each other's eyes, they danced, swirling graciously through the darkness that surrounded them. As beautifully as he danced, there was a dirge like quality to his movements. Carolyn knew that interrupted kiss from her dream would never be completed in reality. Probably they would never again dance, and so they danced until Carolyn staggered with exhaustion.
When Martha came down next morning, the captain hushed her at the base of the stairs, whispering, "She's asleep." Martha peeked in the living room and saw Carolyn asleep on the sofa, an afghan from upstairs draped over her, a half smile on her lips.
Martha whispered, "Oh good, back to the nice abnormal family."