By on Apr 13, 2010 in Fiction

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Ghostly girl with children at ocean

I don’t really know why it took me so long to look into it.  I suppose that it has a lot to do with not wanting to know — not wanting to know what happened, not wanting to know how it happened, and not wanting to know just how much Elizabeth had become a part of me.  Curiosity kills cats, after all.  And it can do the same to us; I know from experience. 

I stood outside the Beachwood Bay Public Library for almost five minutes, the dry fingers of both my hands pressing awkwardly into a flimsy Styrofoam cup.  The decaf coffee grew colder by the second, probably aided by the cold stares I got from passers-by.  There isn’t much sympathy in this little Virginia town, and the stares they offered were both frigid and spiteful.  I smiled at each person apologetically.

A car whizzed by in front of me, and much to my chagrin, I knew the driver.  It was Jackie Turner, another of the elderly empty-nesters.  I thought of her as the crow with the loudest caw.  She would gossip anything and anyone if it got her some airtime.  And as she flew past in her Cutlass, I realized something that I now hold thoroughly true:  there are only two types of elderly drivers.  There are those that go ridiculously slow, and there are those who go ridiculously fast.  I don’t drive at all.

Jackie’s liver-spotted left hand wobbled briefly in the window in a misshapen attempt at a wave.  I smiled apologetically and made my way to the building. 

The library’s door fell open easily, and I took comfort in the warmth inside.  It was getting cold outside.  Not quite blustery yet but cold just the same. 

“You aren’t allowed food or drink in here, ma’am,”  came a voice from the front desk.  I turned to find a young, pimply boy staring at me, and his stare was just as cold as the rest.  “Please, take — ”

“Charlie, come on.  Leave her be.  Sorry, Ms. Sallersby,”  a woman I knew only as Librarian Cindy said.  “Charlie’s new here.”

I smiled at them, too, and moved on quickly so as not to draw any more attention to myself.  You see, it was something of a ritual.  Some elderly people play bingo every Wednesday night.  Some get together and just chew the fat on Fridays (like Jackie Turner).  Some have their kids to talk to and visit.  Me, I have the library.  It is where I spent every Tuesday and Thursday night since my husband died nearly three years ago.  And on every one of those nights, I sat with my aging coffee in hand and stared into the periodicals section.  Sometimes, I guess, when you really don’t want to know, all you can do is torture yourself with knowing you could know. 

But today was different, plain as day, because I didn’t just sit and stare.  This time, I actually went and found what I had been too scared to look for. 

For the first hour, I did just sit.  But then, as if my body were acting of its own volition — maybe of someone else’s volition — I got up and went to the desk.  Both pimple boy and Librarian Cindy watched me curiously before asking what I needed. 

“What can I do you for, Ms. Sallersby?”  the boy asked, and Cindy promptly poked him in the ribs.  He winced and did his best to contain the smile that wanted to climb onto his lips.

“Well, dear,”  I said, surprised at the very strength and surety that had somehow crept into my voice, “I’m a wee bit busy tonight, if a date is what you’re after.  Gotta wash my hair and all, you know?”

The boy skulked away, and Cindy smirked, “Something I can do for you?”

“I need to see The Beachwood Bay Evening Post back from the tender year of 1942.  You have it on microfilm, I bet.”

“What month are you looking for?  We can make things a whole heck of a lot easier if you tell me the month of August.”  She started towards the back.

“Why’s that?”  I asked.

“Because that’s the month those two kids died, isn’t it?”

I felt my heart walloping the inside of my chest.  My mouth and throat went dry.  The surety left my voice:  “How’d you know about that?”

“Are you kidding?  This is the public library.  Where else are kids going to go find out about public incidents?”

“The kids?”

“Yeah.”  Cindy was now in the back.  I could hear her fishing through the reserves.  “Every year, Mr. Crouch’s seventh grade history class has to do a report on something that happened and defined this town.  Damned if I don’t know of a more popular bit of history.  Well, then there was that little girl who almost drowned three years ago.  The kids usually want to read about that, too.  Would you like to see anything on that?”


“I figured,”  she said, coming back out.  “Let’s set it up.”  We walked around to those projector doohickeys, and she started threading the film through.  “I’ll put in the recent one first for you, Ms. Sallersby.  And when you’re ready for the next one, just let me know.”

“Thank you,”  I said, smiling.  I placed my coffee — completely untouched and completely cold by now — on the table next to the projector. 

“You’re not doing a school report are you?”

“No,”  I said.  “Just curious, I guess.  I was eleven years old when they died.”

Librarian Cindy nodded solemnly, as if that was just the response she had been betting on, and walked off with her flowery skirt swishing.  I don’t wear skirts anymore, though I would like to.  They are too cold for me these days.

Just eleven years old, I thought.  Where had the time gone?  Gone are the days that girls get excited about Angel Face.  I think that that was about all I did for almost three years straight after I got it — I could’ve embroidered my father’s overalls if I had gotten the urge.  Gone are the times when boys played for hours with erector sets and model airplanes.  Gone are the Batman comic books that had “Ensure the 4th of July! Buy war bonds and stamps!”  splayed out across their covers.  Now such things can be seen only in toy museums and galleries, in places like New York City, places that I would never visit.  Those toys are just relics from a world that has moved on.  I suppose I’m such a relic myself, in more ways than one. 

I can remember the day after the storm like it was yesterday, a boy and a girl, dead, both just twelve years old.  The sun was blazing that day; it blazed like it wanted to burn away the ocean.  Its light rapped on our heads like fingers, hot, hard fingers. 

We were just eleven years old.


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Tony Dvorak lives in Buffalo, New York, where he is currently editing The Dead Letter, a novel in the paranormal thriller genre. More of his short stories, together with information on other projects, are available online at ADvorak.com. Updates can also be had by befriending Tony on facebook at his profile page.