You and I had not seen each other for decades when we decided to meet, with our husbands (acquired in the meantime), at an old hotel built during the gold rush. Of the two of us, you had changed least, looking much the same as the pretty girl I remembered from Maine, an only child, always at the top of our class. Unless I am mistaken, it was late September and slightly cool when we met again, but we opted to have dinner outside anyway, the only guests who did, and at some point during the evening a slight, blond woman in a summery dress came out to have a cigarette. Green and deep red ivy covered the back of the brick building, which she leaned against, smoking, below the string lights crisscrossing the patio. Our husbands had hit it off right away, both of them charming and talkative, generous with the wine and bourbon, probably relieved that what might have been an awkward evening was going smoothly. The sounds of live music, some sort of wedding party, drifted out of the hotel whenever the blond opened the door to lean in and listen for a few seconds, before she let it close again and lit another smoke. The truth is, I don’t remember much about her because you were telling me about a ghost from your childhood, that of a woman who had once lived in your centuries-old house and been raped repeatedly by men in the area because she was disabled and unable to fend them off, and you’d had had filmy visions of these doings as a child without understanding what they meant. One doesn’t hear a compelling ghost story very often, and you had such a rapt audience for your tale that neither of us cared that the blond, bored with smoking and a bit tipsy, it seemed, had come over to talk to our husbands. Kristen—I will call her that; she looked like a Kristen—told them her ex was inside and she didn’t feel welcome there, also that she was a hairdresser; she ran her fingers through my husband’s afro to indicate, I suppose, that she knew how to work with black people’s hair. Now you were at the crux of your story, though, and I paid them scant attention. Often women try to engage my husband because he has a kind face and expressive eyes. Will you believe me when I say that I didn’t even mind when she sat or fell down in his lap? He must have resisted a little then because suddenly she rose, came to our side of the table, and took our hands as if she were a priestess, saying how special it must be for us to see each other after so long. Only then did I notice how young and drunk she was, how hard she was trying to stay upright, and I didn’t care, I only wanted her to leave so you could finish your story. Which has long since laid itself within this one, causing me when I am not paying attention to mix up Kristen with the woman in your story, and vice versa.
Beth Spencer edits poetry and short fiction for Bear Star Press. “Women Be Wise” is from her unpublished chapbook of acrostic micro-fiction, Bebop Galactic. Her poems and stories have been published in a variety of print and online journals and blogs. She lives in rural Northern California with her husband and dog.