by Glynda Shaw
I don’t really meet ghosts everywhere I go and I don’t always spend the lion’s share of my time talking to females be they live or be they dead. That’s true a lot of the time, but not always. Erica and I thought we’d run down the Oregon Coast for a few days away. My duties at the community College were suspended for Spring break and Erica hadn’t any pressing cases just now. “We’ve got two nights at a lighthouse keeper’s residence just north of Florence,” she told me, “About fifty miles west of Eugene.”
Erica Parsons is a psychic investigator with whom I work on the odd case. We’re not a couple, not really, but as the French say Bonne chance and we chance fairly often and it’s generally Bonne. Twelve hours on the freeway took us to Newport on the coast, perhaps two hours south and west of Portland From here we’d be hugging the water, on a narrow two-lane and by now, late evening.
“I never knew it could be so damned dark on a State highway,” Erica complained as she slowed the car and I heard the click of her putting on the brights. Usually we joke about me driving at times like this but I felt the tension in the car as Erica spread the map to get another look at our intended route.
The address said Yachats, pronounced Yah-hots, but when we got there that was a tiny village and there still appeared to be a dozen or more miles to go. We passed our destination twice before Erica resolved there wasn’t a driveway she could find under the present lack of lighting conditions. so we parked in the strictly-prohibited zone on the lighthouse grounds. Leaving our luggage where it was, we began a laborious trek up from the road toward where lights shone from the only house in the area.
“Great start to a ghost story,” Erica remarked, then “Jesus Christ, I really can’t see my hand in front of my face. How in hell are we going to find this place?”
“No lights anymore?” I wondered. “I thought you said–“
“There are,” she objected, “but the way the trail goes, the hill blocks the house. We have to wind our way around sort of a switchback and we’re in pitch dark right now.”
“Here,” I said, striking with my cane first to left then right. I located the edge of the gravel path we were on. “Grab me,” I said “I’ll see if I can find our way up.” Erica began to laugh then reckoned the reason of the strategy and grabbed my elbow, following me as often I’ve followed her. Several false starts and abandoned dead ends later, we gained the top of the bluff and a modicum of light.
Check-in time was between 3:00 and 4:00 but there was a combination lock box next to the door, with a key in it for us late arrivals. We’d been E-mailed the combination in case of this eventuality. We let ourselves into the dry, bright interior of what had once been a large duplex, now converted into a six-unit vacation facility complete with guest and staff kitchens, lobby with piano, Edison cylinder phonograph, and double spiral stair cases. On duty were two very plump, very self-satisfied Cats who duly interviewed us, signed our tenancy permits and bade us make ourselves at home.
Erica stretched and yawned. “I’d love a Martini,” said she, “But I imagine there’s nothing like that around here not locked up.”
“We’ll see,” I said. No jus au mot intended, seeing, like look and watch (as in TV) are general verbs. We made a short ransack of the guest fridge and cupboards; a few take out food boxes labeled with guests’ names, some cans of soda, cartons of milk, envelopes of cocoa mix, bags of microwave popcorn, everything not personalized appeared to be labeled $1.00.
“Well,” I said “This likely calls for drastic measures.” We confronted the door of the staff kitchen and found it locked tight. “Ave you an Airpin?” I inquired in my best John Stieg accent.
“Oh good heavens Chris, you’re not serious!”
I held out a hand. A roommate of mine in college was a real fanatic on locks, along with a lot of other things and could get in anywhere in the dorms. I’m not quite as good as Walter but I had the door open before our feline chaperone caught up with us to assist with this new adventure.
In here things were quite different. I left the lights out and Erica on guard while I circled the kitchen feeling inside cupboards and along counters for anything glass with caps or stoppers. “No hard booze I can find,” I whispered. “Will wine do?”
“Any Port in a storm,” She responded.
I sniffed, sipped. “Will Cherie do?” I filled two tall water tumbles from the industrial-sized bottle and sidled toward the door, my cane under my arm. Erica shooed a cat out and relocked.
“What if somebody comes in and finds us?” she inquired.
“No sin in having wine with a friend in the parlor is there?” I demanded.
“But how were we to have come by it?” she wanted to know.
“Brought it with,” I said.
“Yeah right,” Erica said. “We’ve arrived with nothing but the clothes on our backs and we’ve got a bottle of wine with us, or had?”
“I’m half Irish,” I said “and half Norwegian. For me it’s pretty much a birthright.”
“Interesting,” Erica observed after a few sips. “This B. and B. is haunted.”
“Aren’t they all?” I rejoined, not quite as dryly as I might have three minutes before. A page turned.
“This journal,” she today. “It’s full of eye witness accounts of people who’ve stayed here. Some of them are quite recent.” She quoted a date perhaps four months in the past. “Fascinating piece here about our own room.” She read of a couple staying in the Cape Cove room named presumably, for its view of a bridge over an inlet just to the north of the lighthouse. They’d been awakened by their closet opening. The wife had closed the door again but some strange force kept opening it. Finally she’d hooked a chair under the closet door knob, so the narrative ran, and again they were awakened by the door opening and this time the husband had felt a weight upon him like someone was laying atop him.
“Ooo,” I said. “Menage a trois.”
The story concluded with the husband somehow struggling out from under the crushing weight and the couple observing an indention there on the bed, like a body was still occupying that side of the mattress. “They sound sincere.” Erica commented.
“Don’t they all.”
“How are you doing for wine?” I asked then.
“Okay,” She said, “You?”
“Better not have any more,” I said. “I might need to drive.”
Our room was up three flights of stairs turning to the left past large windows and potted plants and other decorative fixtures so dear to the dedicated innkeeper. Our bathroom was perhaps 20 feet down the hall past an antique wash stand. No sounds issued from neighboring rooms. Erica fished out the key from her purse. The room was small but fresh smelling and tidy-feeling, taken up mostly by a huge bed with three sets of pillows and some bolsters which must have been decorative in nature since I couldn’t imagine anyone laying there head on one for very long.
“Here’s a flashlight,” Erica commented, “For use on evening trips to view the lighthouse,” she read.
“I guess we could use it to go down to the car?” I suggested not too urgently. Erica made a negative noise.
“We’ve just the one bed you know,” she said. I nodded. “I guess it didn’t occur to anyone to ask if we were married or whatever.”
“None of their business, is it?” I said. Feeling my way around the room I located a little stand with towels and washcloths for use in or out of the bathroom, then the closet, just about catter-corner with the lower right corner of the bed if you’re facing the head board. Paralleling the bed on the side away from the door was another of those generous windows which I threw open, and it not being impeded by a screen, stuck my head out and drank in the salt breeze. I live in Bellingham but in town you’re more apt to smell industrial fumes and car exhaust than ocean or bay. I trailed back to the closet door which stood slightly ajar and closed it. It opened again, gently but insistently. I widened the aperture, putting in a hand. “Why lookee here!”
“What?” Erica said sleepily, moving to my side. I indicated where the little metal tongue should extrude from the edge of the door to slide into the hole in the frame and hold the door closed. “No mechanism at all,” I said. “No wonder the damned thing won’t latch.” The room evidently listed somewhat, so gravity kept the door open unless restrained somehow. “Guess no night visitors, huh?”
Erica pushed past me to peer up into the closet. “Jeez,” she said. “There’s a ladder going up the side of the closet here and a hole in the ceiling. Must be a storage attic up there.”
“Ghosties and ghoulies” I recited, “and lang leggedy beasties and things that gae boomp inthe nicht!”
“And things that gae boomp in the attic,” Erica corrected.
After we’d each had a turn in the (shared but very private) bathroom with its clawfoot hip tub and slanting clear to the floor ceiling, “You feel like testing the mattress?”
“Okay,” I said.
“You want to be the boy or the girl?”
I was awakened hours later by screaming.
It was all of seven hours later though and the screaming was from gulls and the cold breath I felt on my bare shoulder was that of the sea. “Be safe Rue,” I said aloud, pronouncing the name a visiting group of college students had discovered for the spectral tenant of the place. I threw on one of the robes provided by the management, folks seldom seen as it was turning out, except at breakfast. Listening first at the closed bathroom door I gently turned the knob, bathed sketchily and shaved. Letting Erica sleep on, I went downstairs and mostly through hit and miss, discovered an armchair with a fat cat in residence. “We’re going sharezies Kitty,” I said, scooped her up and into my lap as I made one.
“Hi there,” a pleasant contralto from a chair on my right.
“Hello,” I said. “How are you this morning.”
“Pretty well I guess,” she replied, “for someone spending the night in a haunted house.”
“You experience any haints?” I inquired.
“No,” she laughed merrily. “It’s my husband who’s sensitive to those things and he’s not awake yet.”
“Well, we slept pretty peacefully,” I told her. “If it hadn’t been for the gulls I’d probably be there yet.”
“Have you read,” she began, then “I mean, has anyone read to you about the goings on in this house?”
“Some,” I admitted. “Erica read me about our room last night.” I recalled that we’d best get down to the car as soon as possible and park it in the mythical Approved Lot which so far we’d not been able to discover. I related the amusing story about the closet and what I’d found. She laughed again.
“My name’s Kim by the way.”
“Nice to meet you. Are you here on vacation?”
“A short one,” I said. “I teach at a community college up in Bellingham Washington, and” I added, “do some paranormal investigation on the side.”
“Wow” Kim said. “I imagine you take a lot of ribbing about that.” I smiled in a manner I hoped was ironic.
“You could say that.”
“What do you teach?”
“Psychology,” I told her. “The basic intro classes as well as sex and gender.”
“I’m in medical billing,” she said. “I work out of my home and I breed Persian cats.”
The Persian cat currently on my lap lifted her head and looked around as if someone had called her.
“So” Kim said “You take this ghost stuff pretty seriously?”
“I’m serious,” I told her “about serious spirit contacts but any house that’s old or maybe a bit creepy gains the rep. of being haunted, especially if someone can use that to turn a buck. I didn’t notice any activity at all and, I seem to attract that sort of thing.”
“Wow,” she said again, “That must be frightening.”
“Fascinating too though I’d imagine.”
“Good morning early birds!” Erica’s cheerful greeting wafted from the bottom of the stairway. “Chris, you want to walk down to the car with me for the suitcase and the laptop?”
“Sure,” I got up, carefully replaced the cat in the chair cushion hollow my butt had made. “See you in a bit,” I said to my new friend and putting my cane in diagonal, made my way carefully around dining table, piano and couch to where Erica was standing, jingling her keys by the door.
“This is spectacular,” Erica remarked as we dismounted the wooden veranda and crunched our way down the gravel walkway downward and seaward. “In Washington most of the seaside towns are on bays or along the Sound. But this is open ocean.” The waves beat stridently on the beach below us, it did sound vast and powerful. The wind cascaded tiny spray droplets in our faces as the gulls serenaded and threatened from above.
“We’ll come down here tonight I think,” Erica mused, “After dark, check out the lighthouse by night then do a beach walk.”
We found our car unmolested and un-ticketed and moved into the congested little parking lot just a short walk from the B. and B. and transferred our luggage up to the room. Breakfast was at 8-30 and we had a few minutes yet to spare, so we returned to the parlor and found Kim joined now by her husband Doug.
“I hope you folks brought your company go-to-meetin’ appetites” Doug said. “They stuff you like a Christmas goose around here.” Just then a rather raucous gong sounded, the call to table.
“Is there any protocol about who sits where?” Erica wondered.
“No,” Kim replied. “If you like some other couple you just sit down next to them.”
“Well, we like you,” I said. “Let’s grab some space.” Erica ended up next to a cattleman from Utah and his wife. Doug next to a Doctor and her contractor husband from Texas. I was between Erica and Kim.
“There are a lot of stories about hauntings along this coast,” Kim remarked. “We’re from Eugene but we get out here every year or so. Must be something about the sea air and the stormy nights I guess.”
“Any particular recurrences,” I asked, “or themes to the stories? Do the permanent residents of this place figure in at all?” My professional interest was piqued a bit and anything which turns out not to be genuine can always be collected as folklore.
“I’ve heard a number of times about a mother and her daughter,” Kim said. “Some people think the haunts that supposedly reside here are do to a mother looking for her daughter. Others think it’s the daughter trying to find her mom. Local legend has it that some years ago a five-year-old girl walked into the sea, though some say she was helped there.” I shivered a little in spite of myself. A terrible thing.
I don’t know enough Italian, Greek and probably several other languages to give a complete or even very accurate accounting of what we had to eat, but the seven course breakfast which I’d originally laughed off as a sausage roll and a six-pack, turned out to be all it was claimed to be and quite a bit more. We started with a salad made of passion fruit and pineapple, coconut and pomegranate with honey and mint; companioned by a slice of cranberry pecan bread. Everything had fancier names of course, but that’s essentially what it was. Next we had thin sliced smoked salmon with various garden herbs and a cream sauce. The third course was dubbed a frappe, an icy blender drink served in a glass with a spoon and containing raspberry, several other kinds of fruit, yogurt and more than a hint of brandy (where had they been hiding that?!) Course four was a plump sausage, pork and apple with maple if I recall and locally produced. Next to that was course five which was an egg baked in a puff pastry with lemon butter sauce.
“What plans have you two for today?” Kim inquired as I, wondering if I was going to come through this experience still able to walk, allowed my teacup to be refilled with Earl Gray.
“I think I’d like to check out some of the little shops in Florence,” I told her. “I like to find places where people actually own and work in their own place.” Courses six and seven arrived, a cherry and hazel nut coffee cake with Oregon grape jelly and a plate of thin-sliced Japanese pear with slivers of imported goat cheese. “Wow!” I said.
“Yeah,” Kim and Erica agreed.
“I know you won’t feel like it much at the moment,” Kim remarked, “but there’s a lovely tea room in town, Livingston’s. They’re a bit peculiar and close at Four, but if you can stand moving tea time back an hour, they’ve got great sandwiches and desserts, not to mention teas and things stronger. Erica doesn’t share my more British tendencies and I knew she’d be keen to be off on the cliffs with her camera, bird watching. While I enjoy a nice hike and love to listen to bird songs and other indigenous creatures, I can do that as well at sea level as atop some improbable crag.”
“Doug and I will be driving over to Florence this afternoon,” Kim told me. “We could drop you over at Livingston’s or anywhere else you’d like, then catch you again on the way home.” We discussed this a while, waiting for breakfast to settle safely. The four of us decided to tour the lighthouse before committing ourselves to any particular plan for the rest of the day.
It was a brisk after breakfast walk to the base of the lighthouse structure, 68 feet tall, navigated through upward by several sets of spiraling stairs. A retired Gentleman named David conducted us from the base or weight room where once a falling 200 pound weight provided turning force to rotate the kerosene fuelled light; up to an intermediate level where lenses were cleaned and other repairs affected; up in the top level save the upper cap, where the light actually was; now electrically lit and turned every eight seconds. I gathered from the intakes of breath that those with me found this to be a spectacular vantage for viewing the surrounding vista. The light, we were told, housed within it’s ellipsoid focussing lens, could reach 21 miles out to sea and had been shining with only minor interruptions since 1894.
Erica and I made our way up several flights of steep timber steps and over loamed forest paths to the top of the bluff actually overlooking the lighthouse, and back among the evergreens till we felt the burning in our calves and decided to return. She thought she’d drive down to the sea lion caves, which sounded less than intriguing to me since I’d likely discover for myself little enough evidence of the animals’ existence. I opted to meet her in town at around four and finding a wooden bench in front of our residence, only a short way from the water, I settled down with my little Braille computer to work on a young people’s novel on transgenderism I was writing under a pseudonym. The sun was warm, well-tempered by the cooling breeze and the iodine tang of the air washed away the fog of term papers and grade reports which of late had been cluttering up my literary centers. I got two solid hours of drafting accomplished then spent some resting time with a historical novel.
Our new friends were ready to leave for town by 1:30 or so and by then I’d again worked up something resembling an appetite. Florence was perhaps a 20 minute drive south of where we were staying and the day was fine. With windows rolled down, we bumped along the narrow coastal road toward the little town which always seems to illicit happy startlement when mentioned, to those who have been there.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking,” Kim said as we cleared the little tunnel Erica and I had traversed four times in our hunting last night, “how did you get involved with the kind of work you do, the paranormal investigation I mean?”
“She was telling me about it,” Doug declared, slowing to allow an oncoming car to clear us. “I’ve always been fascinated by that sort of thing. Is there much market for supernatural investigation?”
I answer questions like this differently with different people. The interest here was sincere and no hint of ribbing. “I’ve got an honest job too,” I admitted. “There’s demand for the paranormal work but those who need it most may not be able to pay much. Erica helps with police departments from Blaine Washington to LA and I assist her when a case comes along which seems to indicate my skills or temperament maybe? could be useful.”
“What kind of assignment would that be?” he asked.
“For some reason,” I answered carefully, “I seem to resonate with spirits who have been murdered or otherwise abused while in this continuum, this life. They almost always are female persons who are caught in the vortex as I think of it, created by their mode of dying or events leading up to their distressing state.”
“So is it true,” Kim inquired, “that spirits, ghosts? need some closure or some resolution to their tragic situation, their abuse?”
“Generally speaking that’s close,” I said. “There’s much about ghosts that we really don’t understand, in fact I suspect there’s most about ghosts we don’t really know yet, but ghosts often get caught in the tragic events leading to their misfortune. Part of the person’s spirit is caught there and can’t extricate itself without assistance, kind of like some mental health patients caught in a schizophrenic or bipolar condition. That might be a rough analogy.”
“So how did you first learn you had this ability to communicate with spirits?” she asked. I ran briefly through the time I’d met a young woman on a bus ride south from Bellingham, a young woman only I seemed to be able to hear or sense, and how through a jaunt in time and space, I’d discovered the secret of her murder and helped work, unbeknownst to me at the time, a rough sort of justice on her assailant-rapist. I didn’t mention that I’d been at the time dressed as a woman or that I generally worked in female attire when dealing with the highly apprehensive and vulnerable spirits with which I interact.
“The guy who runs this place with his wife I guess she is,” Kim remarked as we entered the little business district of Florence proper, “Is a native from around here. He’s full of local color and if there are ghost stories to research He’d be the one to ask.” I forebore to mention that I didn’t go travelling to collect ghosts and right now was mostly just interested in a good cuppa’.
“Do you want us to walk you in?” Doug inquired, pulling to a stop at curbside. I said that if they could give me the lay of the land, I should be able to get there okay on my own. Kim got out and pointed me toward the entrance, asked if I was sure I’d but already and I made my way more or less directly to the Livingston’s Tea room and pastry shoppe.
“Good afternoon,” A slightly British voice greeted me a few seconds after I stepped through the door. “May I show you to a table?” I thanked him and took his elbow. He led me to a captain-style wooden chair with arms, at a small glass-topped table. “My name is Jonathan” he said. “Would you like to start out with something to drink, tea, ale, cider?”
“I like a strong black breakfast type tea,” I said. “If you please.”
“I shall bring Kwazulu,” Jonathan said.
“You’ll bring tea too though?” I quipped.
“Quite so,” he said. I’m fairly good at asking questions about menu offerings so as not to use a lot of the server’s time. There’re few things better in my opinion then good chowder and hot bread but if you’re in the right kind of place, it’s worth asking the proprietor or employee what she or he would recommend. I rapidly decided upon New England clam chowder with a slice of dark bread and a pear and stilton salad on water cress.
Sipping the excellent tea, waiting for my food, I heard two ladies, Canadian visitors evidently and perhaps a couple, decide to split a club sandwich and a pot of Darjeeling. Elsewhere an elderly gentleman ordered Strongbow cider and roast beef. The population seemed to skew a bit over middle age and I heard no children but there was nothing of the tavern about the place.
The fare arrived and my host gave some description of where each item was, nothing that I really require but I always say thank you. “May I join you for a few minutes?” he inquired. “Business is a little slow this afternoon.”
“Certainly” I said and he drew out the chair opposite mine.
“I don’t recognize your face,” he said. “Are you visiting with us or newly moved here?” I told him I was here for just a couple of days.
“Are you a college professor then?” He inquired though I had no idea why he’d guessed that.
“Well, an instructor,” I told him. “I don’t think that a community college has professors actually.” He chuckled a bit at that.
“They say,” said he “that it’s much easier to teach a graduate class then Psych. 101.”
“I’d agree with that,” I said, “though I’ve never taught a graduate seminar.”
“I have,” he said “and there’s merit in what I say. “Judith and I have hosted this little teashop for seven years now and life is much less stressful.”
“What did you teach?” I asked.
“Oh quite a number of things,” Jonathan said. “I was an attorney first, criminal law, a judge for a while. These are all teaching positions if discharged correctly. Later I became a real teacher, taught law at Simon Fraser in BC.”
“You’re Canadian then,” I asked. (Victoria is one of my favorite places and I almost always like Canadian folks I meet.)
“A transplant,” he said. “Judith is from London, graduated Oxford, moved to Montreal where we met when I vacationed there. We corresponded for a time then I prevailed upon her to take a position at Fraser so we could save on stationery! I was raised here in Oregon, also in the Midwest, so you might say, I’ve lived around a bit.”
“I’d heard you were a native,” I said.
“Oh?” Jonathan said a little surprised. “From whom?” I briefly described my new friends. “Wonderful people,” he commented. “Now, enough of me, what exactly is it that you teach?”
Thinking this fellow was deep enough that I might risk telling the truth, I said “Psychology as you’d evidently guessed and I sometimes consult for Erica Parsons who is a psychic investigator.”
“Really,” he said, showing no incredulity nor missing a single beat. “I’m told that inn near the lighthouse is haunted almost nightly. That would be a fertile field for your endeavors I’d think.”
I mentioned that I’d spent last night there and would spend tonight as well and I’d not seen, heard nor felt evidence of spirits.
“Still, they do exist you know,” He persisted. “If not there, certainly somewhere.”
“Don’t I know it,” I said, then “Do you know anything of a little girl who died in the sea and a mother seeking a child, a child her mother?”
“Mmmm,” Jonathan said “that could describe quite a number of tragedies I think. The ocean hereabouts can be sudden and vicious, but I’m thinking there’s one in particular that people might have in mind, those few who’d remember it anymore. Let me get myself a cup of something and I’ll return shortly.” He did and reseated himself. If it had been a few years earlier I thought I’d have heard the draw, smelt the aroma of a meerschaum, a Turkish tobacco blend probably but nowadays in public, even poor Sherlock himself must chew Niccoban. Jonathan settled back in his chair and proceeded to tell me one of the most remarkable stories I’d every heard.
“As you may or may not know” he began, “There are rather high cliffs along this coastline and though much of the area is rocky and wild, some scrubby foresting and the like, there are also some very nice old homes, perched up there on the cliff-tops like molars in an old man’s underjaw. There lived, oh, many years ago in one of these old houses, built probably back in the 1890s or so, a single woman, quite independent and somewhat wealthy, too independently so, for her family had money. She had a sister back east and her sister had two daughters and a son. For reasons probably not too important to this story, The son, this single woman’s nephew came out to spend summers with his aunt. No-one knew this however, since for reasons long obscure, this woman dressed her nephew as a girl and passed her off as a niece.”
In spite of myself, I leaned forward. There could be a journal article in something like this.
“Nobody knew?” I asked.
“Evidently not,” Jonathan surmised. “He had playmates, girls mostly, good times with the aunt, her name was Claire; neighbors seemed unflustered by the whole thing. During the school year He went back to his mom and sisters in Michigan, went back to being a boy, seemed to have no real problem, not a footballer or baseball star you understand, be well enough liked for all of that.”
I began to sense that somewhere there was a denouement or punchline of some kind. “How long did this go on?” I prompted.
“Oh, let’s see, starting at around age 9 I believe, it must have gone on clear through high school. By now Auntie had to take ah- measures to pass her niece off as really a girl. I have it that one or more close girlfriends aided in the makeovers each summer. When you’re known as one type in a locality however, it’s surprisingly easy to maintain that impression year on year. People find it a wide stretch to go from girl to boy even if evidence exists right before their eyes. Newcomers were sometimes a problem, but visitors tended not to stay long in those days and those few who summered through in the immediate neighborhood seemed to acquire soon enough, a rather philosophical outlook on the matter. Aunt Claire had the repute of being somewhat a seer and even a healer in her way and it seemed to be part of the superstition if you will. People love local legends you know.”
“Yes,” I nodded. “I’ve noticed that.” Feeling the point of the story to be very close now, I sipped my tea, allowing the silence to extend till he might feel like speaking further. A good interviewing trick that, just shutting up. Too often, people feel they need to fill the stillness.
“At around age 18,” Jonathan said at last, “Our girl/boy’s time of graduating high school, Auntie died, leaving the house and everything else to her nephew. There was also a curious book bequeathed to the heir, a journal of sorts, chronicling through newspaper clippings and hearsay testimony, sightings of someone who hereabouts, had been called the Sea Girl. This was a child drowned under particularly tragic circumstances, perhaps accidentally, perhaps by malice. At the end of the journal was a birth certificate, with a surname to match Aunt Claire’s and a first name to match that given to the Nephew Niece during her summer visits.”
“And the name?” I asked in a way I meant to sound casual.
“Shawn” he said.
“Spelled?” I inquired.
“S-H-A-W-N,” Mr. Livingston replied.
Yes, that would make sense, for I’d already began to suspect. Shawn, Joanna in the Gaelic (Sean, John or perhaps Jonathan).
“The two sisters had conceived and delivered at about the same time,” Jonathan said now hurriedly as if to get the story over. “Young Shawn or sometimes Joanna had died at around age five and the aunt had grieved so sorely that her sister had finally agreed to lend her youngest child, her son to her, so she could have a young person around at least part of the time.. The elder sisters were rather too much caught up in their own affairs to spend nine or ten weeks each summer with a superstitious relative, seaside or not.” There was another pause then “I trust you have somewhat the gist now. The aunt had caused the boy to live in the stead of her deceased daughter, to become in a very real sense, kind of ghost?”
Now the room had become hushed and I perceived this was not a tale trotted out for just any visitor. “A very interesting story,” I commended. “Thank you for recounting that to me. It may find it’s way into one of my lectures someday.” Now I discoursed about my class load and the nature of the students I taught, things of little interest to anyone, till the tempo of conversation had picked up once more, then I asked “So how did it turn out for this Shawn/Sean person. Would you say he was overly traumatized or scarred from the experience?”
Mr. Livingston said “I’ve done well enough I think. I still prefer being around women to being around men and I’m told I’m sensitive, intuitive and usually a good listener.” A dramatic pause then, “Are you shocked?”
“No,” I said. “Sometimes I am called Stephanie.”
“Quite,” he said.
I spent an half hour or so exploring up and down the sidewalks nearby, guessing at the contents of shops and eateries by the sounds and smells issuing from within, now and again stepping inside to be greeted by the locals with their slight but distinct regional accents. A chatty woman named Beverly operated a kind of gift souvenir and candy outlet. Someone else sold blackberry ice cream and any flavor of salt water taffy one could imagine. Another sold crystal and china and silverware. Several sold books, always a good sign.
I heard honking from the street. “Hi sailorette,” Erica’s voice of course. “Want a cruise in my lifeboat?”
“Avast there,” I told her and got in.
“So,” she inquired. “What have you been doing with yourself?”
“Been talking to a ghost,” I told her. “A live one.”
“Tell,” she said. I told.
Our closet yielded no more the second night than the first. The ladder to the attic proved to be useful for drying lingerie and the only imprints we found in our bed were our own. At about eleven of our second and final night we agreed to make another trip to the lighthouse, then perhaps down to the beach. “I’ll go as Stephanie tonight,” I said “People come and go here so often it seems, nobody’ll notice the difference more or less.” I’d packed a jeans skirt and blazer in our luggage. My hair is medium long and with my Irish maid’s woolen knit cap I can usually pass without comment.
Though I couldn’t see the sweeping light from the tower which served as centerpiece for this maritime retreat, I fancied I could feel it on my face and it was in somewise awe-inspiring just to know I was there at the base of the lighthouse. We circled it, exchanging brief greetings with others making their nightly visit like moths I suppose, to a porchlamp. After a few minutes silence Erica and I bent our pathway toward the beach.
The gravel and boulder strew leading toward the water, gave way to sand, smooth as if brushed with a carpet sweeper. Letting go of Erica’s arm, I turned toward the sound of the water, dipping with my cane into the sand, probing for wetness warning of the water’s edge. Listening with ear outer and inner, I sought for a voice, for two voices actually, one young and probably frightened, one older and likely bereft. I heard nothing but the surf and a occasional night bird. “It is well,” I whispered. “Be at peace.” The wind gusted, kissed my cheek.
Erica, moving up besides me again, said “This is a quiet place.” And no more needed saying.
Breakfast next day was another sonnet of seven rhyming line pairing, but of different theme and different wording. We left our room key in a vase near the staircase, obtained permission to depart from the cat currently on duty and made the final stroll to the car.
“Are we centered yet?” Erica inquired.
“Close,” I said. “Curious how a haunted house can offer such a relaxing stay.”
She laughed as the engine spun and purred. “There was no work left for us to do.” she said.
Seven course breakfast cape cove Aug. 27
Course 1. Fresh Oregon blueberries, strawberries and peaches with elderberry essence and cream and orange bread.
Course 2. bagels with Oregon lox from Eugene, Dalcon shaved onion and radishes, Oregon salal jelly with chocolate butter and hazel nuts.
Course 3. mango lassi “drink from India” with yogurt.
Course 4. frittata openfaced Italian omelette made with farm fresh eggs, onions, cheddar, dried tomatoes, swiss chard, beet greens, new potato with goat cheese
Course 5. sage sausage.
Course 6. almond polenta cake.
Course 7. a Pluott and Dutch cheese.