A Couple of Swells (short story)

I suppose one day I could submit stories for publication, but I know nothing about the market…and I have enough to do with submitting poetry. In the meantime, I’m happy to post fiction here.

Since my time to writing is limited (usually forty-five minutes a day), I’m trying to write a complete draft rather than writing for a bit and leaving characters in permanent limbo. This one came rather easily after the first line.

A Couple of Swells

“What the fuck was that?” Judy Garland’s ghost asked, looking up at the ceiling. “What do you have up there, a team of wild horses?”

That time, she appeared as young Judy Garland, right at the start of her career. Sometimes, when she was feeling cranky, she showed up as she was in the 1960s. Still larger than life, still able to command an audience like none other…but tired. Wearing thin at the edges.

I sighed. It was just more ghosts, but I didn’t want to get into with Judy. She was something of a drama queen, which probably doesn’t surprise you. I was just glad that Mickey Rooney’s shade hadn’t shown up because God knows it would have been a bitch-fest broken up by sporadic dance numbers. The whole thing was just plain uncomfortable.

“I asked you a question, Darren,” Judy said in her most imperious tone. She stamped her foot on the ground, which didn’t make a sound. Unlike my guests upstairs, the only noise Judy made was from her voice. The woman could still belt it out, but it was clear to me that night she had no interest in singing. At least, not at that moment.

I could have lied, which I did sometimes, but she often found out the truth, and then she was pissed.”It’s a dinner party.”

“Oh, delightful,” Judy purred. “Shall I go up and entertain?”

“No, I don’t think that’s wise. Just stay down here with me.”

Judy pouted, and it was hard to take her seriously. “And why must you be the only one to enjoy my presence tonight?” she asked.

“Because I know those ghosts up there, and they probably don’t want anything to do with you. They’re more into punk.”

“Oh, they’re ghosts,” she said, drawing out the word as she lowered her head as if ready to weep. “And here I thought you’d actually gotten some friends.”

Judy didn’t like competition, but at least the ghosts stayed upstairs that night. She’d gotten into terrible fights with other ghosts who’d showed up on what she referred to as “her nights.” When that happened, she demanded everyone pay attention to her or get the hell out. She’d look at me, demanding my help, as if I could disperse the other ghosts. I could not more do that than I could summon them. They came and went as they wished.

Judy, on the other hand, could clear a room. There were notable exceptions, of course, including those she didn’t want to leave. Frank Sinatra was always welcome to stay, as was Sammy Davis, Jr. Of Dean Martin, she said, “That man is deplorable, and I’d rather drink a gallon of kerosene and swallow a match than spend a mere moment of my afterlife with him.”

Judy perched herself on my sofa, crossed her legs, and scrutinized me. “Darren, you look horrible,” she pronounced. “Are you getting enough sleep? Eating well?”

“I’m fine, just a little worn-out from the day,” I said, keeping the real reasons to myself. So far, and to my great surprise, I’d been able to keep from Judy the girlfriend I’d had for the last few months, but that secrect wouldn’t be a problem anymore.

“No, there’s more to it than that,” she said. “But if you’re not going to be honest, what can I do?” She snapped her fingers. “I’ll sing to you! That’ll at least make you feel better!”

“Oh, no, Miss Garland,” I tried protesting, “that’s not really necessary to–”

It was too late, as always. Judy blasted into “Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart,” and zing, came the headache. I don’t mean to sound cruel; she still has an incredible voice, but you haven’t been two feet away from her when she’s singing. Her voice is like a physical object in the room, forcing itself on it whether or not you want it. I pulled a happy-ish face. When she finished the song, she slugged me on the shoulder and said, “Still glum, chum?”

“No, I feel better,” I said, convincingly, I hoped. “I always do after you sing.”

We heard another crash upstairs, followed by raucous, drunken laughter. Judy scowled at the ceiling, saying, “Listen, if you want me to man-handle those bastards up there, just give me the word.”

“It’s okay, really. They’ll settle down and be out of here before you know it. How about another song?”

Judy’s face lit up. “Now we’re talking, buster. Which one? I got a million and two, you know.”

See, that’s my real job. I’m here to make sure they’re okay, and even though I had a splitting headache that night and bummed out about Tiffany, I knew Judy showed up because she needed an audience, just as the ghosts upstairs needed to have a crazy dinner party. I offered sanctuary of a sort, and I took my role seriously. Too seriously, probably, because I’m sure that’s why Tiffany ditched me. I never let her come over to my place, and I cancel dates left and right when ghosts showed up, needing something.

“You certainly do, Miss Garland,” I said. “How about ‘By Myself’?”

Judy wrinkled up her nose. “That’s a little blue, don’t you think?”

“Well, maybe, but you sing it so well.”

That was all it took. “Anything for you, darling,” she cooed and began singing softly.

I closed my eyes and leaned back, reminding myself that no one else on Earth was as lucky as me at that moment, having a personal concert given by Miss Judy Garland herself, dead nearly 50 years…but with me at that moment. A little transparent, a little monochrome, but beautiful as could be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s