© 2018 Rebecca Wralstad. All Rights Reserved. Time-stamped by Beta Readers.
Sybil, a.k.a. Billy, is a character I have been working on for a long time. She has shown up in different situations and short stories but always with the same strange talent. Psychometry is the ability to pick up past-life energies from objects.
This began as my entry for the 2012 NaNoWriMo when my first son was only one month old. Unfortunately, Billy’s full novel did not reach the bench mark of the contest but my eldest son, nicknamed Primo, thrived. More about Billy soon! 🙂
“I can’t go.”
“Yes you can and we’ll be fine.”
I give my husband, Tommy, a disgusted look to cover up the swelling of desperation I’m feeling. He’s holding our six-month old son and should realize why I’m so conflicted but he is ignoring it. “I don’t need to go to a cocktail party and I certainly won’t feel bad about breaking a date with Alan.”
“You were all excited yesterday telling me how you haven’t been to a party in fifteen months because of the little guy. You were even willing to spend time with Alan again just to get out of the house and have, quote, adult conversations.”
Being quoted back to myself changes my look to a scowl but Tommy is immune and unfortunately right. I’m overjoyed to be in a little black dress, boots with actual heels, and wearing perfume instead of baby lotion. Though looking at my two men so cute in their sweatpants, ready for a night of sports highlights and bottle-feeding, I can’t help but want to stay home and revel our family.
Tommy sees this and starts listing my own pros and cons, “frozen pizza versus canapés; talk of headlines, world crises, and careers versus goo-goo and the five hundredth rendition of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle;’ a real cocktail versus juice from a sippy cup; yoga pants versus that damn sexy little dress.”
I smile despite my desperate wish to be two people. He hands me my little black purse pointing out I can hold it in one hand and not worry about diapers, wipes, or extra onesies.
“Besides you can’t back out now. Alan’s here.”
Alan rings the doorbell as he opens the door and lets himself in. It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t seen me in over two years or that he has never set foot in our house. It feels incongruous, him in his fashionable tight cut suit against our brightly lit entryway with the sky blue walls and light colored wood floors. The way my life has changed slams home with our heavy front door decorated for fall. All the flash and freedom of someone with a nightlife standing in front of a coat rack hung with burp cloths and an overstuffed diaper bag. Still, he comes in already at home despite the cool reception from my husband and gives big hugs and kisses all around.
I’m not prepared for his embrace as he enfolds me in a nightmare flash of someone else’s life. There’s a sickly fog all around and the muffled yells of men in strange flat-eyed masks. I’m being shoved out of a trench but am too afraid to stand up. The crouched man who pulls me the last few inches suddenly slumps over and a dark stain spills onto the ground near my hands. Terror makes me claw my hands through the dirt, soaking them in his blood, in order to start dragging myself along the ground to the cover of trees fifty feet away. I’m choking, unable to breathe, wanting desperately to tear the mask from my face but too afraid of the lingering green cloud clinging low to the ground. The cloud covers me and instinct takes over, I spring to my feet and a bullet bursts through my chest.
Alan doesn’t let me out of the hug right away, holding in me in front of him by my shoulders so he can check my reaction. I slam a mental door shut on the horror and scan his outfit for any World War II patches, pins, or medals. He must have a trigger object on him somewhere. A young solider staggers across my foyer and reaches for our forgotten stack of mail before fading.
“Oh, little family, aren’t you just perfect! What’s his name?” Alan doesn’t take his eyes off of me, sure that I saw something.
“His name is Edward, after his grandfather.”
“And what about the short one in footie pajamas?” Alan’s smile twinkles at me mischievously.
Tommy lets his jaw harden before putting out a firm handshake and saying, “I’m her husband, Tom, and you must be Alan. I’ve heard all about you.”
Alan lets his left hand flutter over his heart as he shakes my husband’s hand and mugs for me. Then he sticks his tongue out at Edward and straightens his slick suit with a flourish. “Yes, yes, evil old Alan. She just uses me for invitations to the best parties. It’s not like we’ve known each other for years and practically grew up together.”
“Being neighbors and never speaking doesn’t count,” I remind him.
“We were also lab partners in high school. Practically simpatico.”
Tommy can’t help but step in, “so how exactly did you two start hanging out?”
“Well, Eddie, let me tell you,” he sidles forward making Tommy frown and Edward giggle, “your mama used to like this wonderful thing called happy hour and for some reason wherever she decided to slake her thirst she would run into her old lab partner Alan. So we started to meet on purpose and viola: friends.”
“Friends sell each other’s secrets to the highest bidder?” Tommy asks casually, avoiding my look.
Alan takes stock of my family, reassessing our unit now that he knows I share everything with my husband including my unusual gift, and repeats absently, “yes, yes, evil old Alan. I sold her secret but I didn’t sell her out.”
“You just made a lot of money off of what she can do.”
“Yes,” Alan flashes a brilliant smile at the room, “so drinks are on me tonight! Come on, gorgeous, are you still willing to put up with my foibles for a little fun?”
Two years is a long time, I remind myself as I check my short hair in the hall mirror. Seeing myself here, in our crowded foyer with all the family clutter around me, I am confident I’ve put my past behind me. I’ve already practiced my plausible story with Tommy two hundred times and now it’s time to try it out on Alan.
“Of course. Besides, I can’t pick up spirits from objects anymore. It faded when I got pregnant and hasn’t happened since Edward was born. Seems to be a common thing to lose your psychic ability as your life changes.”
I kiss Edward’s sweet smelling head and let Tommy’s lips linger on mine, wishing all the while that what I said was true. The lie is thin protection against Alan’s probing look as he escorts me outside, past the World War II solider forlornly leaning on our mailbox, and out to his waiting car.
“You done good,” Alan says as he turns down his dreadfully hip music and pulls away from the curb.
Seen from the outside the blue suburban house could be anyone’s. Alan and I could be twenty-two again and I decide to go with the feeling. Tommy’s right and it has been a long time since I had my body and my time to myself just for a little while and I want to have fun.
“But do I look good too?” I ask, stretching my nyloned legs out and looking with delight at my high heels.
He laughs, “not only do you make cute babies but your body bounces right back.
“Yeah, well, you didn’t see me in the first few months.” It is easy to forget how putting on clean sweatpants was a victory; hot coffee was a luxury; and time didn’t signify anything except the countdown to the next feeding.
“Well I hope you don’t mind that I’m not taking you far. The party is literally at your neighbors. We could’ve walked but I wasn’t about to scuff my shoes.”
He pulls up and over the hill to the bay side of our neighborhood where the houses jump in price by one million dollars. San Francisco is a dull smudge of light under the ribbon of fog but the Golden Gate Bridge is bright behind the bulk of Angel Island.
“See,” I tell Alan as I tell everyone who lives in San Francisco, “this is why I live in the East Bay. We get the beautiful view of the skyline but none of the fog.”
“I like the fog. It adds the perfect ambiance to my store.”
“Store? No more eBay?”
He parks the car and comes around to open the door for me. “An actual store with a window, a sign, and everything. You should see the display I have up right now: beauty modification devices through the ages. Looks gorgeously sinister with a little fog in the air.”
Alan’s brand of antiques falls under the label of odd though a more accurate description would be macabre. He specializes in the Victorian Age and therefore loves San Francisco like no other.
He rings the doorbell of a lodge-style house with redwood siding and winks at me, “maybe if you’re a good little date tonight, I’ll ask Tommy if you can come out to North Beach and play.”
Our hosts are perched on top of the million-dollar bracket of my neighborhood as the wife opens the door and we are immediately treated to stunning views of the bay that span all three bridges: the Richmond-San Rafael, the Golden Gate, and the Bay Bridge.
“Alan it is so good to see you and you brought your friend! I’m so glad you were able to make it. Alan says that you are so busy with an adorable family but he was determined to tear you away for tonight.”
“She lives just down the street so I was able to make my extraction on the way here,” Alan pushes me inside as I stiffly realize I have not had to deal with this number of adults in a long time.
“My name is Sybil but everyone calls me Billy,” I manage and Alan beams at me like a proud papa. “What a wonderful home you have.”
“Thank you, Billy. Oh, we were just hoping you’d come. Here let me get you a drink.”
Her enthusiasm has me narrowing my eyes at Alan but he is ignoring me and already mingling through the impressive open concept of the main floor. Our hostess pulls me towards a kitchen island the size of a Volkswagen where a forest of wine bottles has sprung up amid fields of cheese trays and deep black pools of cavier.
Cavier, I think. How Tommy will laugh. For a minute I ache over the image of my darling husband and baby son enjoying their frozen pizza and bottle together on our saggy couch, but the first sip of a peppery Cabernet of unconceivable price range brings me back to the party.
“My name is Maria and that man with the round glasses by the window is my husband Xavier. We met Alan at a flea market. Xavier was looking for a gift for his youngest brother who just passed his medical boards and Alan had a perfectly hysterical collection of medical devices.”
“I can imagine what he sold you. Was it a stainless steel liver stimulator or perhaps a tonic made of strychnine?”
Maria laughs, “something perfectly horrific that his brother displays in his office. Oh dear, please excuse me, there’s the doorbell again.”