Much like “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, “Closure” is a story that can be happily read twice a year, Halloween and Valentine’s Day, being both a ghost story and a love story…sort of. Is it superversive? We’ll let you decide.
MJ Marzo is the author of two stories in the critically acclaimed collaborative novel “God, Robot” (be sure to leave a review!), and the assistant editor under the name Mariel Marchetta. You can find her soon as the assistant editor, and co-author of the frame story, of the upcoming anthology “Tales of the Once and Future King”.
And without further ado, “Closure”…
The woman’s house lacked the crystal ball and dim lighting of every other place Robert had visited, which he took to be a good sign. There were no tarot cards, or bowls of powder. The very fact that they were meeting in a living room and not some seedy, back alley parlor was a novelty.
Robert squeezed the hand of the woman next to him lightly, both of them pacing the room while they waited for their hostess to return. The hand was clammy and had a slight tremor. The short blond woman smiled uneasily.
“Bobby, are you sure about this?” she whispered to him.
“What makes you so unsure?” he asked, smiling as he took in his surroundings.
“Well, this isn’t exactly what I pictured when I think of a medium. It’s certainly not like any of the places we’ve been to so far.”
He took both of her hands, looking into her concerned eyes. “That is precisely why I’m so excited Christy! No smoke and mirrors. This is going to be the one. I can feel it.”
His optimism was infectious; Christy couldn’t help but give her fiance a brief kiss, her own confidence rising to match his.
The woman they had come to see–a tall, thin woman in her forties, with streaks of grey running through her hair–walked in rubbing her hands on an apron tied around her waist.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized, “I had to get the cookies in the oven for my son’s soccer team. Please, sit down, sit down. We’ll get started.”
The woman’s nervousness only added to the authenticity of this experience. Finally, he was going to get answers.
“So…I’m afraid I’ve never done this for, uh…payment before,” She started. “Or for something like this. Usually it’s little things. Favors for the neighbors.”
“That’s perfectly okay, Mrs. Keller,” Robert answered, “We haven’t had any luck with people who call themselves professionals.”
This seemed to calm her down a bit. “Please, call me Edith” she said, smiling. She wiped her hands on her apron once again, finally folding them in her lap.
“Well, why don’t we start with why you’re here?” she asked tentatively. “The advertisement mentioned something about your wife?”
“You see,” Robert explained, “Christy will actually be my second wife. My first wife Sandra, she…” He seemed to have trouble continuing. Christy took out a tissue she kept in her pocket–it was obvious that she had done this before. Robert waved her hand away and ran his hand through his beard.
“She died of breast cancer,” He continued. “Such a wonderful woman, full of life even until the end. I don’t know how I survived without her–until I met Christy of course.” He grabbed her hand, lightly tracing circles on the back with his thumb.
“We met a year later when I decided to go back to school to get my degree and got engaged six months later.” Christy finished.
The back and forth between the couple felt almost rehearsed. Edith could tell that they must have told this story many times before. Robert took a photo out of his pocket and began to tear up.
“And you want me to see if I can help you contact your dead wife?” Edith asked gently. Robert nodded, wiping tears with the back of his free hand.
“I just can’t get married without knowing Sandra is okay with it. That she approves. We’ve been to so many other places that have told us what we wanted to hear, but I just never felt like they were really her–when it is, I’ll know. We’ve postponed the wedding for five years while we’ve searched for someone who could help us. I’ve put my entire life savings into offering a reward–at this point we can’t even afford a wedding. If things go well today Christy and I will just go to the courthouse.”
Edith couldn’t help but be impressed at the patience of his fiance, who looked to be trying very hard not to let her disappointment show.
“Well, I’ll see what I can do. May I see the picture?” Robert placed it gently into her hand. The picture was of a rather plump woman with a short bob of red hair. Despite her size, her dress suggested that she was very confident in her body. Edith held it in her hand and began to concentrate.
The couple sat on the couch, hand in hand, waiting anxiously for only a few minutes, but what seemed more like hours. Robert felt a twinge of guilt shoot up his spine as he watched Edith close her eyes and furrow her brow with effort. Was it really fair to put so much pressure on her?
But all of a sudden it changed. Edith relaxed, her eyes opening slowly. She placed the picture, very carefully, on the glass coffee table in front of her.
“Robert?” She said, her voice different. It became deep, with the slight rasp of a habitual smoker.
Robert’s mouth dropped open. It amazed Christy that after all this time, he still had that initial reaction. “Sandra?”
“Robert. Oh my god, I didn’t think I would ever see–”
She stopped, her eyes flitting to his and Christy’s hands clasped together. “Who is this?” she asked, her smile now forced.
Unlike Christy, Robert was oblivious to the poison dripping from that seemingly innocuous sentence.“She’s why I wanted to talk to you. This is Christy. She’s my fiance–”
“YOUR WHAT?!” She got up from her seat, throwing her hands in the air. Robert put his arm around Christy protectively and pulled her closer to him. Christy thought that leaving might have been the better option.
“You’re engaged?” Sandra screeched. “Why the hell did you think I wanted to be dragged here for that?”
“I–I–I just thought–” the man stammered.
“What, that I wanted to be her bridesmaid? When did you decide this was a good idea?”
“We met a year after you were gone,” He muttered, but unfortunately his words did not escape the scorned woman’s tongue.
“You mean I was barely cold in the ground,” She snarled, “And you’re already with this…this…skinny bitch!”
“Christy, please don’t–”
“YOU STAY OUT OF THIS!” The two women screamed.
Robert shrank as far into the couch cushions as he could, praying no one in Edith’s family was returning soon.
“I would rather be skinny than some fat-assed cow, I saw your picture, how Bobby ever found you attractive I have no idea–”
“At least I have a chest, people are going to look at you and think my husband is gay!”
“You mean my fiance!”
“No. MY husband!”
At this point the two women were leaning into each other, their hands resting on the glass coffee table.
“Girls, maybe we should calm down.” Robert suggested weakly.
With an unholy screech of anger, Sandra flipped the coffee table to the side. It flipped over their heads, hitting the wall and shattering. Reflexively Robert tackled Christy to the ground, guarding her from any shrapnel; it was a miracle none of them were hit.
When Robert looked up, Sandra was only glaring at them. “You protected her and not me?” she huffed.
Robert couldn’t even find words. He only opened and closed his mouth like a fish.
“I know when I’m not wanted.” Sandra answered simply, and with that she had disappeared. Edith stumbled backwards and fell back into the chair she had started out sitting on.
“Did it work…?” she asked weakly, her voice back to normal. “Did you get to speak to your wife–oh my God, what happened in here?” she gasped. seeing the remnants of the coffee table scattered throughout the room and Robert and Christy huddled together on the floor.
“That was absolutely ridiculous!” Christy shouted, getting up from under Robert and smoothing out the wrinkles in her skirt. Robert got up as well and stayed silent.
“Robert and I have been to dozens of these people–five years–the most humiliating scam we’ve ever been subjected to–flipping a coffee table? We could have been killed!”
Edith looked absolutely confused. Christy put a hand on Robert’s arm. “Bobby, I’m so sorry it didn’t work out. Get your coat and we’ll get out of here.”
But Robert was not leaving; in fact, he had moved away from Christy and sat down. Taking a pen and his checkbook, he began filling out a check.
“I’m very sorry about the table,” He said evenly. “But you’ll have plenty left over to buy yourself a new one.”
“You’re giving her the money?” Christy exclaimed. “I mean, I want to marry you Robert…But what about finding someone who could actually talk to Sandra?”
Robert ripped the check out of the book and gave it to Edith, who took it with trembling, disbelieving hands.
“Yes,” He said, the tension gone from him body, looking more tired than ever before, “I had forgotten. But that’s Sandra all right.”
He took Christy’s hand and left without saying another word.
“Robert, I’m so sorry–” Christy began, but was stopped when Robert grabbed her around the waist, spinning her around and laughing.
“We’re finally getting married!” he exclaimed.
“But–But Robert–You’re not upset?”
“Upset? Why would I be upset?”
“What about everything you said? About wanting her approval?” She held her head lightly, growing dizzy. Robert had, at this point, spun her three times.
“From her? Christy, I got something better! I’ve realized how lucky I was to get out of a marriage with that bitch!”
With that, he finally stopped spinning her around. Taking her hand again, the happy couple set off towards the courthouse.