Thursday, October 28, 2010

For All-Hallow's-Even, a sweet ghost story

I wrote this within half an hour or so one evening while gathered with women friends in a writing circle. Our leader gave us a convoluted writing prompt and I somehow ended up with the words splendid, saddle and coffin. I was to use them any way I saw fit. Normally, a complete story doesn't fly out of my body in one quick flash like this. In fact, I don't even write fiction at all, ever, so this story's appearance remains a singular mystery in my life so far.

I fiddled with it a bit today. Couldn't help myself.

The Splendid Saddle

A ghost story by Lauren Edwards, 11/11/2004

How to get the splendid saddle into the coffin had been puzzlement at first.

Nobody questioned its importance. It was just a matter of how. David Woodman explicitly requested he be buried with the silver- and gold-inlaid prize he’d won at the 1942 rodeo in Satin Falls, Oklahoma, then a dusty, has-been of a city that would soon disappear from modern maps.

Some folks remember how Peggy Ann Rice kissed him the day he won. She just up and did it, out of nowhere, and afterward looked as surprised as anyone. She was a pretty little thing with gray-flecked, green eyes and skin the color of wheat in sunlight. David caught the pleasure in her eyes as she darted toward him, and craved it again afterward when she’d lowered her eyelids and clasped her hands lightly at her hip line. She stood there veiled in silence, radiant with an inner stillness that practically drew his heart straight out of his chest, as if it could land smack dab in the middle of hers and dissolve there like sugar in hot tea.

The crowd was buzzing with excitement of its own, and Peggy Ann’s kiss became part of that tableau, felt but a little bit forgotten. David forgot her momentarily when he was being carried on the shoulders of raucous buddies glad to see him win. No hour had been sweeter than that one, not in all the 37 years of the rest of his life.

It was matched like a bookend by the grief-soaked horror that followed. The girl Peggy Ann, this beautiful girl who’d kissed him, was trampled by a bull that got loose. It happens. It’s a thrill, usually, to watch muscle on muscle, and rope against hide, when the cowboys wrassle him back in.

David himself saw the awkward turn of Peggy Ann’s ankle above the lace trim of her white sock. He knew it was broken. He saw that her sun-kissed face was distorted by pain and that she lay unnaturally still, dainty and garish at once. Six days later, she died at St. Mary’s Hospital, in a room sweet with blossoms. Not all had been sent by David, but a lot of them were, and he felt there still weren’t enough in the room when nurses finally insisted he stop bringing them. He wept in the hallway, perplexed by the cruelty of nurses who couldn’t see how deserving Peggy Ann had been of more flowers, more sun kisses, more breezes and more life.

David caressed that prized saddle of his each time he rose in the morning and before he went to sleep at night. Whenever he moved to a new home, the saddle was transported in the front seat of his car, to make sure it wouldn't be left behind or so much as nicked.

Prayerful friends who attended his funeral knew the saddle was a beauty and assumed he’d been proud of his accomplishments. They celebrated him.

Only Brandon, the three-year-old son of the funeral home director, glimpsed the truth. He saw two human figures wink in and out of view near the coffin, which had been sawed out along one length to make room for the saddle.

The bluish-gray vision flickered unsteadily, but Brandon knew what he saw – a man lightly caressing the back of a lovely girl’s neck. Her eyelids were lowered and her hands were clasped lightly at her hip line. She was so still and light and sweet that she reminded Brandon of marshmallow topping on a chiffon pie. But his heart registered unmistakable evidence of this girl’s humanity. Brandon could feel, even more than he could see, the crinkle of pleasure in the tender flesh between her temples and sunlit eyelashes.

Peggy Ann was smiling.