Part 2 (continued from August 30, 2009)
“Excuse me,” says another girl, brown hair in a ponytail, to the bartender. “Do you have change for the phone? My cellphone just died!” He breaks a dollar and she makes her call. She is young, slender, pretty. Her voice is pleasant. Her brown skirt fits well and she’s thrown her rust-colored jacket over a bright white blouse – just flattering enough. She wears a little blush and plum lipstick, a thin coating. She rushes out.
Is she going to meet her lover – some guy who’s not worthy of her? Some guy who just wants to get her into bed, have her make breakfast, and then leave? Do not get involved, the ghost tells himself. This has happened over and over again. Stop. Stop now.
He leaves the bar a few steps behind the girl and watches her cross the street, heading toward Park Avenue. She likes to walk down Park because it’s wide. She is a fast walker, doesn’t like to be troubled with strollers. Heading south, she checks the light and crosses the street, beating the oncoming traffic. She stops every now and then to look in a window, check her hair, fiddle with the collar of her white shirt. She adjusts her shoulder bag and then and, reaching 14th Street, she turns west, toward Fifth Avenue. In front of the grocery store, she stops and checks her lipstick again, tucks in a wisp of hair. She stands in front of the store, trying to be casual, getting colder. Waiting, waiting, waiting. 20 minutes pass, then a half-hour. Now it is dark, almost 9:30.
The ghost drifts into the store and stands in the window. Warm here. The girl is still waiting but takes her Metrocard out of her handbag and buttons up her jacket. She goes to the corner and waits for the light to change.
A taxi pulls up. “Ellen, Ellen, hey, I’m here!” The tinny voice of a redheaded boy calls to the girl. “Hey, I’m here!!” Ellen turns and sees her date; she stops though she knows she should forget about him. The ghost glides up to the traffic side of the taxi. “Run,” he says over the hood. “Run!” Ellen shakes her head to shake out the sound.
The night has turned windy; she brushes the hair out of her eyes. The redheaded boy is still waiting. She demands, “Why are you so late? What happened?” She doesn’t say his name.
“Hey, come on, I’m sorry, Ellen!. Can’t we still have that drink?”
“Oh, I … it’s getting late. I’ve got an early meeting tomorrow. I’m sorry.”
“I raced here in a taxi to meet you, Ellen!”
“I know, I know, but it really is getting late. Give me a rain check?”
The man considers. The ghost waits. She replies, “Maybe later this week. Call me?” The man smiles and reaches out to touch Ellen’s cheek. The wind blows across the moon, shoving black clouds in its way. It starts to rain. The taxi lurches from the curb, and the ghost is shaken off. Ellen and the boy jump away from the curb.
She is shaking. “My god, we could have been hit!” She starts to slow her breathing carefully, as the boy looks at her. “Did you hear me? We could have been hit!”
The ghost floats up and lands near a statue in the park. Night traffic gathers: pimps, whores, junkies, and salvationists. He shakes out a cigarette. “Hey, man, got one for me?” a bum asks. The ghost shakes his head.
“Ellen,” he calls. “Ellen.” She turns away from the boy to look across the street. She cannot see the ghost in the crowd at the subway station. But she hears him. “Ellen,” he says again. “Ellen. Leave him. It’s getting late.” She strains her eyes against the light. The darkness blinks into tiny neon pinpricks. She cannot see. She cannot distinguish his voice from the traffic sounds, a siren, a distant ambulance. She cannot see the friend who called to her. She crosses the street to go down into the subway. The ghost leans against the iron railing at the subway entrance, waiting for her to brush past.
At the top of the stairs, Ellen sees him and stops cold. “Why are you following me?” she asks. “Have you followed me from the bar? I’m going to get a cop!”
She runs to the corner of the park where a mounted policeman sits. “Officer, I …” The horse bucks. “Whoa!” the mounted policeman calms him down. “Miss, step back, please. Step back. What’s the matter?”
(to be continued)