[The Indelible Miss Ida Vance]

A ghost and a girl eye each other while a fat man resets the clock. Abandoned. 902 words.

“Since you’re just going to stare, I might as well ask what your name is.”

“Melancholy.”

“That’s an odd name.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry for your name. You didn’t choose it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Stop apologizing, Melancholy. It’s unbecoming.”

“Okay, I will.”

“Why are you watching me like that?”

“I’m interested.”

“Hmm,” the man grunts while he fiddles with an instrument.

“What does that do?”

“It fixes this thing.”

“What is it?”

“It connects to this other lever.”

“Who is that woman?”

“What woman?”

“The woman who follows you each year when you set the clocks.”

“Oh.”

“Well? Who is she?”

“You see her?”

“I do.”

“Hmm. That’s peculiar.”

“It is? Who is she?”

“She is called Ida. Are you frightened by her?”

“A little.”

“It is good to be frightened. It reminds you there are things different from you that don’t make sense. It keeps you alert and aware that the world is dangerous and full of hazards. What do you think of her?”

“She’s beautiful.”

“I know. But what else?”

Melancholy ponders this for a moment. The woman doesn’t seem to mind the attention.

“Her skin is like the ivory my mother keeps the candles in when the electricity goes out. She glides instead of walks. When she gets near me the air goes cold and I get nervous. I don’t like being cold. It makes me nervous, you see.”

“Try not to touch her, Melancholy.”

“Why not?”

“Just try not. Our fear knows best.”

“That’s very cryptic, Mister.”

“Oh, don’t be a bother. Now go help your mother while I set your clock. It will only take a moment and I don’t like being watched.”

“What does my mother need help with?”

“I don’t know. Mothers always need help with something.”

“What is Ida doing over there?”

“Nothing. Pay her no heed.”

“That’s very unusual.”

“Run along now, Melancholy.”

“I’m very unhappy with this arrangement.”

“You’re a young lass. Young lasses are generally unhappy with all sorts of arrangements. I’m sorry to say that you’ll continue to by unhappy until you’re older. Now run along.”

“Tell Ida goodbye for me.”

“Very well.”

“You didn’t say anything.”

“Goodbye, Ida.”

“Did she say anything?”

“She said you’re very annoying and that you should go help your mother set the table for dinner.”

Melancholy assumes a cross expression and her jaw squares. She glares at Ida. The ivory woman smiles and winks, then goes back to her activity. Which is alien and quite mysterious.

Melancholy sighs when her cross expression garners no further pity, then retreats to the kitchen.

“Oh, there you are dear. I was just going to call for you. I need help setting the table for dinner.”

“You’re perfectly capable of doing that yourself,” says Melancholy.

“Of course I am. But if I did, you wouldn’t have anything to do.”

“How is that a problem?”

“Because then you wouldn’t be contributing.”

“Mister Thatcher is being a grump today,” Melancholy says as she retrieves the silver knives and spoons.

“And how is that?”

“I was curious about Miss Ida and he wouldn’t tell me about her.”

“Who?”

“Miss Ida.”

“Who is that?”

“The woman who follows him around every year.”

“Mister Thatcher is a serial bachelor, I’m afraid.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means women don’t like him.”

“Miss Ida seems to like him just fine.”

“Melancholy, there’s no one else in the house.”

Mister Thatcher arrives in the kitchen with his toolkit in one hand and his greasy working cap in the other. His sandy hair is unkempt and it’s no wonder he wears a cap in public. His brows are thick and black and he looks as though he dislikes shaving a great deal. He wears black coveralls and a white shirt underneath, with black working boots on his feet.

“All done with the clock, Misses Cooper.”

“Ah, that was fast, Mister Thatcher.”

“Only off by seven seconds this year. No problem at all.”

“Let me go get my handbag. It’s in the study.”

With her mother gone, Melancholy peers around Mister Thatcher’s expanse. He intentionally blocks her eyes, but she’s wily.

Miss Ida is unforgettable in every sense. Her dress is narrow at the top and blooms wide at the bottom. It’s mostly black, with fine white patterns stitched throughout in strange shapes. Her hair is pure black, as are her heavy shoes, but her eyes are sharp blue. She winks again at Melancholy.

“Oh, stop staring, girl.”

“Sorry.”

“And stop doing that, too.”

“Sorry. Why doesn’t she talk?”

“Perhaps because she doesn’t have anything to say to you.”

“That’s disappointing. I consider myself an interesting person.”

“That’s a high opinion of yourself.”

Miss Ida sighs just then, which is the first sound she’s made the entire time.

“I suppose I’m not that interesting after all,” Melancholy says with a sad voice.

“That’s rubbish, girl,” says Ida with a crystal tone, not unlike an icy winter wind. “You have plenty to be proud of. I’ve left you a present on the piano. Don’t look at it until after dinner, and don’t show it to your mother.”

“A present!” Melancholy says loudly.

“What?” says her mother, arriving back in the room with a pouch of coins in her hand.

“Nothing, sorry.”

“Just explaining how the clocks work, ma’am,” says Mister Thatcher.

“Oh, I see. Boring stuff. Sorry. Here you are.”

“Much obliged, Misses Cooper. I’ll be off then.”

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