GH Wednesday: Day 04 Scene 19
Max Beaumont (f) & Wooster
Wooster and I walked through the Common, where the ghosts of cows grazed under the photographic gaze of the Japanese tourists. Wooster was happy to be getting another walk and the day was warming up sufficiently under a bright sun even for me to enjoy tramping through the snow, while he stuck his nose into drifts, seeking out abandoned food scraps, every now and then looking up at me with a nose powdered white, looking thoroughly disreputable, in an ‘80s Yuppie kind of way.
A hardy squirrel ran up a tree, taunting Wooster, but he was distracted by a tattered sign, long abandoned. “Where Would Jesus Go?” it asked, a question I didn’t understand. A homeless man and woman had brushed the snow from one of the stone benches by the civil war memorial and were sharing a miniature bottle of vodka. It seemed entirely inadequate protection against the cold, but I walked past them as though they didn’t exist.
Wooster chased one of the cow ghosts, causing a minor stampede, and I called him over before one of them kicked him. Even a ghost cow could hurt him.
“You’re a bad dog,” I told him and he wagged his tail, but stayed by my side as we made our way through residential streets up to Avon Hill. The snow was getting dirty, blackened by car fumes. The trees were still laden by their winter blossom, though the snow was melting slightly in the sun, despite it still being well under freezing. The air was still rich with magic, a slightly electric smell and a forest of phantom trees filled the lower streets, a memory from when only the Wampanoag lived here. I wouldn’t be called to exorcise them, though. The haunting was very faded, with cars happily driving through the forest as though it wasn’t there, and the local cadjin most likely couldn’t see it at all. It wouldn’t last long anyway. I took some photos for my blog, happily absorbed until I remembered I was supposed to be working and hurried up the hill.
At the yellow clapboard house, I was greeted by Laura Campbell, dressed in another loose, beige outfit, with gold jewellery. Her blonde hair was scraped back and her eyes looked bruised from the shadows beneath them.
“Thank god,” she said. “I thought you’d never come.”
Not knowing what to say to that, I said nothing and she let me in. I shrugged off my coat and boots in the hallway and she shoved them onto the stairs, as before. I followed her into the dining room, where David was working at the mahogany table, frowning at a piece of paper, glasses perched on his nose. Wooster wagged his tail and greeted both Laura and David with his usual sociability, sniffing their ankles and placing his head on David’s knee.
“Chief Newman said you’ve changed your mind about the ghost?” I asked.
“Laura has,” David said dryly, glancing up. “I’m sorry to have to trouble you with this.”
“No trouble,” I said. I was aware that David had just given me a double take, no doubt registering my change in gender. Though I try to dress the same regardless of my sex (if only to keep my costs down), I am not androgynous enough in either gender for the changes to go unnoticed by even a casual observer. I was also aware that I’d quite like to go the loo, one of the inconveniences of having my period.
“David thinks I’m being silly,” Laura said, bitterly. She didn’t seem to have noticed I was a woman.
“Did the Chief explain how unlikely it is that I’ll be successful in re-summoning the ghost?” I asked. “Unless there’s more information you can give me about it than yesterday?”
“This isn’t a casual request,” Laura said angrily. “My son is missing and that ghost might, might… Might have something to do with it.”
“I’m very sorry,” David gave me a charming smile. “Yesterday I thought you were a young man, but I can see now that you’re a woman.”
“I suffer from gender mutation disorder,” I told him. “It’s a mage thing. Sometimes I’m a man, sometimes a woman.”
“Really? How fascinating.”
“Your son is missing?” I asked. “Have you called the police.”
David snorted. “Laura has.” He must have seen the incredulous look I was giving him. “Ben is prone to going off for a few days. Even the police have refused to come out this time. We all know he’s just fine. Except for Laura, of course.”
“The ghost…” Laura said. “There was never a ghost before.”
“You think the ghost might have something to do with his disappearance?”
“She thinks the ghost might be Ben,” David said, dryly. He was sitting back in his chair, glasses perched on top of a stack of papers, seeming to enjoy himself at his wife’s expense. Laura, on the other hand, was standing with her hands on the back of a chair, clutching tight, near tears.
“You were convinced the ghost was a woman?” I said to her, softly.
“It sounded like a woman, I mean, she was crying…”
“How old is Ben?”
“And when did he go missing?”
“I don’t know. He never made it to school yesterday, never came home.”
“Could his voice be mistaken for a woman’s?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so, but…”
“No,” David shook his head. “One thing I’ll say for Ben is he sounds like a man.”
“Oh David, please, not now,” Laura moaned. “Can’t you see how worried I am?”
“Can’t you see that’s why he does this?” David retorted. “To torture you?”
“To torture you, you mean. It’s you he fights with.”
“But it’s you who cares when he goes missing.”
“But it’s you he wants to care. You’re his father…”
“For all the good that does,” David looked up at me. “I’m afraid Ben and I are rather different, Ms Beaumont. I’ve always been an active person, even when I was a teenager myself, and it’s hard to see my son waste his days playing computer games and hanging out with his friends online.”
“You’re too hard on him,” Laura insisted. “He’s a good kid, far more sensitive than most boys his age…”
David snorted softly. “Let’s not display all our dirty laundry in front of Ms Beaumont, shall we?”
Yesterday, he had called me Max. Today I was Ms Beaumont. These are the little differences I notice when I change gender. Sometimes people ask which gender I prefer, and I think they expect me to rail against the sexism shown women, or the limitations of the masculine form. But the reality is, I can’t favour one gender over another. I’m myself, no matter which one I am. I wouldn’t be me, if I was only one.
“Shall I try to raise the ghost?” I asked Laura softly, more sympathetic to her worry than David’s rather superior coolness.
“Please,” she said.
“But I must reiterate. Unless there’s anything else you can tell me about the ghost, any idea of who it might be, this isn’t likely to work.”
“Could it be Ben?” she asked.
“It’s unlikely,” I said. “You said it appeared in the morning?”
“If Ben had just died that morning, I would expect any haunting to be far more fully manifested. You would know it was Ben. The shadow I saw seemed more consistent with someone who’s been dead a long time, most likely years, if not decades.”
“You’re right, I know you’re right,” Laura said. “And I know he’s probably just gone off, the way he does. He has money, you see, his grandparents are very generous, and he has friends who’ll cover for him…”
“He likes to go boozing, wenching and gambling,” David said, seeming absorbed once more in his papers. “The boy is spoiled.”
“Well, let’s see what I can do.” My womb was aching from my period, more uncomfortable than painful, but still I had the urge to lie down on my stomach to ease it. Instead, I sat down by the lamp base that the shadow had been clinging to the previous day. Wooster immediately crawled into my lap and curled up, never one to turn down the opportunity for a cuddle.
I took out my notebook and looked through the notes I’d made before casting the exorcism the day before. I worked out a plainchant that I thought might work thread through the spell I’d cast and tease out any remnant of the shadow ghost that might remain. I started to sing, low and soft. I could hear the rustle of papers as David continued to work. Laura, in the meantime, stood over me. Yesterday, it had been David who had been so interested in my work, today it was her. I tried various plainchants, including a general plea to any ghosts in the vicinity to appear. That last was a dangerous spell - you never know what you’re going to summon up - and I kept it small, soft and localised.
There was nothing. No shadows that shouldn’t be there, no weeping. My head was starting to hurt, though the warmth of Wooster’s body against my stomach was easing my womb-ache.
“I’m sorry,” I said, looking up at Laura with newly light-sensitive eyes. “I can’t find anything left of the ghost…”
The doorbell rang.
“Who in God’s name is that now?” David muttered.
“Probably the agency,” Laura said briskly, moving to the door.
“The agency?” David looked up from his papers. Laura had already left the room and was answering the front door. “Who in God’s name have you called in now, Laura?”
I scrambled clumsily to my feet, dislodging Wooster, who started to sniff at the lamp. I kept an eye on him, in case he was able to sense the ghost where I wasn’t, while I packed up my notebook and pen.
There were voices in the hallway. “This way,” Laura was saying. It sounded like she was showing her guest into the living room.
“Hell,” David had got to his feet. “I can’t work with all these interruptions, Laura. If you want me to stay home and hold your hand…”
“Sorry Mr C,” said a smooth contralto voice. I got to my feet and followed David into the living room. A tall woman was standing in the middle of the room, coffee-skinned and lean as an athlete, dressed in an orange hoodie and tweed jacket that should have been horrible but was in fact, perhaps due to her beauty, rather wonderful on her. She smiled at David and I couldn’t blame him when he visibly softened. “Mrs C called me in,” the woman smiled. “Apparently Ben’s gone awol again? I’ll try not to disturb you though.”
“Oh, that’s all right, Indigo,” David said gruffly.
© Essie Gilbey, 2014