Weekly Wednesday Serial: The Memory Book

Each Wednesday I publish a new scene from the novel I am calling “The Memory Book.”

Rosemary meets the denizen of Saint Angela School

The Memory Book, Scene 26

A Musical Ghost

Rosemary can’t feel her feet. Her fingers are prickly with cold. She is wary, but she is also weak and needs warmth. The unforgiving wind pushes through her thin hoodie like a billion tiny knives. She can’t stop shivering.

Damn this angel. Damn them all.

Needing to accept a gift of warmth and food from her enemy, Rosemary feels her guts tighten, and a sour taste in her throat. She knows she let Beatrix get under her skin, a thing that should never happen. The famous Rosemary cool has melted around the corners. Emotions like respect and camaraderie have nudged their way in. This makes Rosemary angry and even anger, as useful as it can be, is dangerous.

In an instant the wind is gone. The moment they enter the gardens before the school building, the air is settled, although cool and misty. Also, the thundering wave-sound is muted, and Rosemary hears birdsong. She smells a rush of thyme and savory as they pass an herb garden. She wonders how often the sun shines here.

She follows Beatrix through the porte-cochere, up front steps of pink-grained marble, across a mosaic-laden expanse and to the massive double doors, paned with cut leaded glass. Through the windows she can see no light. Her hopes fall only slightly. Beatrix has said the school had burned down. But here, in this time, it is intact. Likely there will be adequate shelter here.

But once I am warm and rested, then what? Rosemary doesn’t answer the question. She can’t plan until she gathers a lot more information. And Beatrix, for now, is her only source.

Beatrix pushes one of the doors and it soundlessly swings wide.

They enter a wide, deep hallway. The floor glistens of highly polished wood, reflecting the light of a shaded lamp on a table several feet inside. The air is blessedly warm. From somewhere is the sound some kind of reed instrument being played. Rosemary gazes at Beatrix,to judge her reaction, and Beatrix is smiling, a deep dimple forming on the right side of her lips. The angel inhales deeply.

The air smells of furniture polish and the barest hint of mold. The silence rings, punctuated only by the clarinet—or is it an oboe?—being played with skill. Beatrix turns to her left, where a solid double door is closed. Two more just like it fade into the dimness of the hallway beyond.

An auditorium, Rosemary thinks. She follows Beatrix who opens one of the doors and looks inside.

The stage is far below, at the bottom of several rings of steeply rowed seats. It is hard to make out their color but they seem to be deep red plush. Ornate golden scroll-work decorates the proscenium, and the wooden boards of the stage reach back a long way into utter darkness.

Rosemary can’t see the player. The stage is empty. There is no one in the audience. The music is louder, as if the musician is standing in the perfect acoustical spot. Beatrix walks from under the first balcony, and as Rosemary comes up beside her, she stairs at the ceiling, to where a trio of ornate chandeliers shine down a pale light. Beatrix is looking up and toward the right.

Rosemary follows her gaze to the dress circle, to the section just above the stage. There, she makes out a figure, rather round in stature, and who is playing what she now realizes is an oboe. Darkness cloaks the player; Rosemary can’t make out what the person is wearing and what sex he or she is.

The music is disarming. Rosemary doesn’t want it to stop. Beatrix is listening too, her hands palmed before her chin, the barest smile on her face.

There is time to gauge the dimensions of the hall, to determine where the exit doors are. One of them, Rosemary guesses, leads directly to the outside. She files this away. Also the height and breadth of the room implies it takes up the entire section of this east-facing wing. Although, she judges, there could be rooms above the hall; she would have to review the building from the outside to be certain.

The music stops. Rosemary hears a sudden intake of breath from the dress circle.

“Beatrix!”

“It’s wonderful to see you, Martin.”

Then, to Rosemary’s stunned astonishment, this Martin steps up to the dress circle banister, walks into thin air, and glides toward them, sailing over the stage and the orchestra seats, until he comes to a halt in the aisle before them.

Rosemary’s stomach lurches. She is chilled, worse than the freezing cold outside.

She can see through Martin. She is sure of it, but seconds later he is as solid as her own hand. Offering Martin her hand, Beatrix beams as he kisses it. He is shorter than Rosemary, and quite rotund. He wears a plain suit, a shirt without a tie, and his black hair is unruly and long. He appears very young. He doesn’t have wings.

After his greeting to her Excellency, Martin turns his gaze to Rosemary. His eyes are a dazzling green, even in this deep light.

“Welcome, Mayor Place. It is delightful to make your acquaintance.”

He offers his hand. Rosemary can’t move.

“Yes, Rosemary. Martin is a ghost. But he means no harm to the living.” Beatrix’s voice is soothing. “You will need to be his friend, if you want to get home again.”

Keeping her eyes on Martin’s face, she lets him shake her hand. His is warm, and soft. She glances at the oboe in his left hand.

“Lovely playing,” she says, relieved that her voice is steady.

“Thank you, Mayor Place. And now,” he turns and makes a flourish with his oboe, “you must come to the parlor, to warmth and food, and plan what the hell you are going to do next.”

© Jill Zeller, April, 2020

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