The Ghost in Aisle Three

I see you over in the produce aisle picking out a perfect bunch of grapes. I linger at the meat counter trying to decide between the organic chicken and a T-bone. I go for the chicken, and duck around the corner before you see me.

It’s not that you wouldn’t be gracious should our paths collide. You’d hug me, and we’d exchange banalities. You’d ask about my kids, and I’d ask about yours. We’d tell each other how great we look, and one of us would say, “Let’s do lunch.” But, of course, neither of us would.

It’s funny how we let go of people. It’s usually a slow ungluing. We’re so caught up in our hectic lives, that we don’t notice the passage of time. Often the distance grows from a crack to a chasm, and we don’t realize it’s happened until one day we look across the aisle at the grocery store and see a face from a time long past. A happier time.

I tell myself I’m not rushing as I go through the aisles and toss my items into the cart. I’m sure I’ve forgotten half of what I need, but I can always come back. I pay and scoot out to my car. Once I’ve packed the car, I take a minute to sit with my eyes closed and my head against the steering wheel.

That was silly, I tell myself. I could have reconnected for a few moments.

I start the car and pull out of the parking lot. Silly, perhaps, but what would be the point? I’ve already disappeared from your life.

Better to remain a ghost.

Two Monkeys

“I don’t like this painting.” Emily stood in front of the copy of Brugegel’s Two Monkey’s and frowned. It hung in Joseph’s study over a comfortable red leather chair next to an arched window.

“Why is that?” Joseph smiled and held out his hands.

Emily shivered. The monkey on the left stared with sorrowful black eyes while the other gazed out of the arched window where the Scheldt River and the city of Antwerp stretched out. But the monkeys themselves sat chained to the windowsill in a darkened room, destined only to stare into the world beyond their solitary prison.

“It seems so cruel.” She went to him and sat on the edge of his chair.

“Ah, but in its day, it might have been considered a pun on the political times of the fourteenth to sixteen centuries. Then there was much “singerie” or monkey tricks for control of the Scheldt. On the right side of the river the count of Flanders was allied with France, but on the left the marquisate of Antwerp was aligned with Germany. In Bruegel’s time, 1562 the Emperor removed all room for maneuvering from his rivals. He chained them, so to speak.”

“I suppose that’s what successful monarchs do.”

“Sometimes one must be ruthless to maintain a kingdom. Yes. That is true.” He stroked her hand. “But it not something for you to worry about.”

“Will you do something for me?”

“Of course.”

She leaned closer, her golden hair tumbling over her shoulders, and her deep blue eyes filling slightly. “Will you take the picture down?”

He kissed her hand. “For you? Anything. Consider it gone.”

She flung her arms around him. “I do love you so much.”

“And I you, my dear.” He kissed her and glanced at his watch. “Now, we must get dressed. We cannot be late for a state dinner.” He looked at her and tilted his head. “Wear the blue velvet. It’s particularly becoming, and the diamond necklace.”

“It’s very heavy, Joseph.” Her voice trembled a little.

“Nonetheless. It suits you. And that suits me.” He kissed her again. “Now hurry, my dear.”

She gave him another tremulous smile before she hurried from the room.

Joseph waited for a moment before he stood and walked to the painting and pulled it down from the wall. He would replace it with something else from his cache, something more–what was the word–upbeat. He smiled and carried the picture with him. He told people it was an excellent copy, and they believed him because everyone knew the original sat in the Staatliche Museum in Berlin.

It was such a small picture, just 19.8 x 23.2 cm. Freedom and captivity. The two animals formed a perfect spiral from the ring that held their chains to the arch of the window overlooking the flowing river, the cathedral of Antwerp. That was the eternal dance—hope and hopelessness.

Joseph went to the wine cellar, and used the special key to open the door hidden behind a rack of exquisite French burgundy. He descended deep into the bowls of the house.

The two men sat in cells across from each other. They had been proud men once, even handsome men. Now both were stooped and gray. They stared at him with flat red-rimmed eyes.

He didn’t believe in torture. They had light—albeit dim light—water, food. Their waste was removed twice a day. Their clothing was grey, almost like a doctor’s scubs. Easy to remove and clean. Their left ankles were shackled to the floor by substantial iron chains.

He regarded the men. “And how are you, this afternoon?”

Neither man answered. Men without tongues could not talk or plot.

“I have brought you a present. Just for the night. Alas, I cannot afford to leave it here any longer for your enjoyment. But I feel you’ll both appreciate the picture for what it is. My new wife did not, and I will do anything for her, especially now that she bears my child.”

He propped the picture on a ledge. “It’s a reminder. You believed I would spare you because you’re my sons?” Joseph shrugged. “But you forgot I am the master of the game. No more monkey tricks for the two of you.”

He heard strangled sounds that sounded like sobbing as he made his way back up the stairs.

The Fool’s Dance

“At least you clean up well,” Beth said when they walked toward the senior partner’s mansion in Gladwyn, “Just try not to embarrass me, Ken.

She’d taken to calling him “Ken” after his first T.V. appearance, but he just smiled.

“Come on, Barbie, let’s go party.” He watched the corners of her mouth twitch, either in aggravation or in an effort not to smile.

Since the place was the size of a small museum, Danny had figured he could escape to the many side parlors so as to avoid the inevitable political debates. He’d hold his own against them, but it always led to an after-party fight with Beth.

“You can’t call my father the standard bearer for toxic waste in Pennsylvania,” Beth had said after one gathering.

“Then they shouldn’t ask my opinion.”

Beth had the big money, but he had the celebrity, even if it was of the minor sort. He’d just published a book on the growing social divide in America that had received critical praise and decent sales. At parties her friends didn’t know whether to slither up to him or treat him like a rabid socialist.

It had become simpler to hide.

He’d consumed his third glass of club soda and was pretending to study the painting with the bright geometric patterns of color in the music room when she’d appeared at his side, the blonde with sympathetic smoke-colored eyes. She placed a hand on his arm and nodded toward the picture.

“You like Kandinsky?”

The most he knew about Kandinsky was that he painted abstracts. “Sorry, I’m not an art expert.” He should have added he wouldn’t know a Kandinsky from a can of worms, but thought it sounded snarky.

“You were staring at it like meant something to you.”

He wanted to make up some lie but couldn’t do it. “I was just faking it.”

“You mean you were wishing you could escape.”

“Wishers were ever fools.”

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” She’d shrugged when his eyes widened. “Okay. I was showing off. I was an English major before law school. Please don’t hold it against me.”


She gave him a wry smile. “Yale.”

They spent the rest of the evening talking literature and politics, and he’d felt like he’d been starving, even more so when she slipped him her card. For the first time in years, the night had seemed too short.

Beth sulked in furious silence until they’d reached the driveway.

“That bitch latched on to you because you’re my husband. You embarrassed me in front of our friends.” Beth kneaded her evening bag like it was bread dough.

“Nothing happened, Beth.” He didn’t understand her fury. He wasn’t looking to wander; he was hers. He had always been hers, but so much had come between them.

“Do you think no one noticed?”

He pulled into the garage, and she sat still for a moment before she lunged at him, and began to beat him with her fists. “You bastard! I hate you!”

He caught her wrists, pinned her back against the seat, and for a moment they stared at each other. He watched the pulse pounding in her throat, her breasts straining against the deep red silk of her dress with every breath, and Christ, he wanted her so much his insides bled.

In the dim light her eyes had looked black, then they’d changed as if a fire began to simmer in their depths. Her mouth had begun to sear his, her impatient hands ripped at the studs on his tuxedo.           

They hadn’t cared about anything but that moment. It was always that way, a dangerous dance.

And he was very much the fool.


We smile at each other across the table, and I think of you as you were, when we made so many reckless promises. Before the dreams fell and shattered, the words hurled in anger, the lies told to cover more lies.

Memories can be sweet summer days. But they can also swirl around you like smoke obscuring what you don’t want to see and cut you like so many tiny shards of glass.

You have never understood that each cut leaves a tiny scar. Now we sit at opposite ends of the table, not touching, bound yet unbound. Frightened to let go, and exhausted by reality.

You sit back in your chair and sigh. “Are you happy?” You don’t wait for me to answer. You run a hand through your hair. It’s still thick and wavy. I’ve always thought it was your best feature. “It’s time for a change,” you say.