That shrill voice shot out of one of the guestrooms and knocked Tipsy sideways. Her ankle rolled. As she fell, she grabbed one of Miss Callie’s antique porcelain lamps. She hit the Oriental rug with a thud. The three cavorting cherubs on the lamp reached out to her in sympathy. She thanked god those expensive little dudes were still in one piece.
Tipsy stood and rotated her foot until most of the pain dissipated up her leg. She peered into the cheery little room, with its yellow wallpaper and accent pillows in the shape of lemons and cherries. A woman sat on the four-poster bed. While she appeared to be about Tipsy’s age, her tiny bare toes didn’t reach as far as the lace bed skirt. Her pale, almond-shaped eyes stared into Tipsy’s with startled curiosity, like a Siamese cat who unexpectedly found itself pinned down by the tail.
The woman jumped to her feet, buried her face in her hands and sobbed. She wore a sleeveless lavender dress with a dropped waist and a multi-layered lace hemline that ended below her knees. Her skin was translucently white, her hair black. Tipsy’s initial assessment had classified the women’s coiffure as a messy up-do, but her fidgeting revealed it to be a disheveled bob.
She whimpered with no break to gasp for air. It was too repetitive, too staccato. She wrapped her thin arms around herself. The edges of her dress smudged and faded and solidified again as she swayed. The fading spread from her clothes to her hair to her skin.
She’s dead, Tipsy thought. She doesn’t need to draw breath.
As a child, suffering from her own loneliness and tired of finding friendships in storybooks, Tipsy would speak to a ghost here or there, although most of them had lost their senses over time, like the teenage girl who haunted Martinville’s single public park. She once caught Tipsy staring at her. She followed Tipsy, in her Little House on the Prairie garb, from the slide to the swings, begging Tipsy to help her find the family pig. By age ten, Tipsy had to swear off the park all together. It had been years since she made such a mistake, and not only because a ghost’s desperate jabbering could annoy the hell out of a person in a skinny minute. Granna had warned her that while most were harmless, there were a few who were anything but. In educating Tipsy about their mutual peculiarity, she emphasized downplaying its existence, for everyone’s benefit.
Something about this woman, though, made Tipsy pause. She reminded her of a little girl in the middle of some childish heartache. Grown women don’t cry so hard without a good reason. This one was producing enough tears to fill the River Styx, and being damn loud about it—and in the bedroom right beside Tipsy’s. Tipsy’d probably seen a hundred or more ghosts in her day. She’d run across them in places as predictable as the old Dock Street Theater— during a showing of A Christmas Carol, no less—and as random as the Mount Pleasant Whole Foods.
She’d never, however, lived under a roof with one, or tried to have a real, adult conversation with one. Tipsy wasn’t really sure how any of it worked, from a ghost’s perspective. Now suddenly, she and this lady were two chickens in the same coop. Tipsy would need to make her acquaintance sooner or later, if she didn’t want to have the bejesus scared out of her on a daily basis.
Besides, from the antiquated look of the ghost’s dress and hair, it appeared this had been her house a hell of a lot longer than it had been Tipsy’s. Tipsy wasn’t going anywhere, and this women’s ghostly existence meant she wasn’t going anywhere either. Tipsy knew that much. The ghost couldn’t leave the house if she tried, bless her heart. Trapped as a blind and clawless kitten on a high tree branch. Compassion, practicality, and a smidge of plain old curiosity overrode Granna’s deeply entrenched wisdom.
“Can I help you with something?” Tipsy asked. She raised her voice to be heard over the woman’s bawling.
The woman hugged herself tighter and rocked herself faster. “I can’t say I know how to reply. Perhaps I did once, but I’ve forgotten.”
Tipsy didn’t know anyone other than Granna who shared her talent, so opportunities to speak probably hadn’t come this woman’s way too often. She tried a different route. “I should have introduced myself. My name is Tipsy Collins. Sorry if I startled you, but I didn’t expect to find a ghost crying in the spare bedroom.”
The woman’s fingers twirled among themselves, as if she were knitting an invisible scarf. She sniffed and went solid. Aside from her pallor, she didn’t look particularly dead. “Tipsy? Is that a French name?”
“No. My real name is Tiffany Lynn. Tiffany Lynn Denning, now Collins. The pastor’s son couldn’t say Tiffany when I was a baby. So I’ve always been Tipsy.” She waited for the ghost to make the usual alcoholic comment, before remembering she probably wasn’t familiar with booze-related slang.
“You can see me.” Still her fingers spun, as if she were raveling together fractured pieces of thought.
That seemed enough of an explanation. “My name is Jane Mott. I was born a Robinette. The Robinettes of Water Street. My mother’s people came from the Old Cannon, on the Wando.” Jane ran both hands over her face, and giggled. She smoothed her hair a little too eagerly.
Uh, oh. Maybe I’ve popped the tab on a shook up can of Coke.
Too late, now, said the voice of Granna. She might be crazier than a stoned possum, but now she knows you can see her. You’re stuck with her.
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