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Tonight he finds her in his living room, seated in her favorite home-202264_960_720chair, gazing out at the City view beyond their window. “Mary?”

“Who else?” She turns to greet him.

“It is you, Mary! It really is you! Why here, of all places?”

“Oh, Richard, come on, you’ve been here before – often. You are always dreaming of us together, in this room, but tonight I thought I would join you. I want to be part of your dream. Why should the geography matter?”

“No, but you are different somehow; as if you were really, really here! I mean – you seem so young! You look no older than the day we met, all those years ago. And isn’t that the dress…?”

“…I wore on our first day together? You remembered.”

“Dearest, I’ll always remember. Twenty-four years, and every detail of that day is as vivid now as then, but this – this is special: I want…I want so much to touch you, to hold you…” The regrets – the regrets come flooding in again, the sorrow for the wrongs, the penitence he may not serve. It is all too late – too late for that.

“Richard, you are sleeping – this is a dream. In your dream you can do many things. You can touch me, hold me, love me if you like.”

“Please, don’t torment me, Mary.”

“A little, maybe. Should I not? Don’t I have cause, Richard? Or reason to tease you, or fear you? I have been, you see, very afraid. I have many good reasons to curse my fate, because I have the misfortune to be a memory of yours. Yet this night is a special night, and I will make it your own. Tonight I am a ghost to do with as you will, I will not leave you until morning.”

“Is this forgiveness at last? Can you forgive me?”

“For pushing me from the balcony that lies behind those windows? For insisting I was suicidal? For telling the world that I leaped to my own destruction? My forgiveness is what your conscience craves?”

Mary’s ghost revives the memory again, and often as he has relived the betrayal, the jealousy, the fury of that night, it can still bring tears. “It was an accident. I didn’t mean for it to happen. You must know that.”

“No, of course you didn’t. Nobody means to kill. It just happens; anger takes over and you find strength you did not know you possessed. You can look for excuse, for justification; as you have upon so many nights – it is not the issue here: not the reason I have come to you – not my cause to hope this will be a special night for you. This morning is a very special morning, is it not? Christopher is twenty-one, Richard. Our son is twenty-one today. Or have you entirely forgotten that?”

“No. No, of course not! How would I forget my own son?”

“Well, let us see. You left him with your parents when he was five years old, sent him to boarding school when he was eight. You moved here, to the other side of the world, when he was ten. He lives in England, you in San Diego. How many chances have there been to refresh your memory since?”

“That isn’t fair! After…after us, I couldn’t bear to be near him. I tried, I did honestly, but his every look reminded me of you, my darling. So what I did was for him, as much as for myself.”

“His every look reminded you of your guilt, you mean, don’t you? Is that why you never even visited – sent a card at Christmas, a telephone call on his birthday, congratulated him at his graduation? Richard, he is your son – your son and mine!”

“He never knew what really happened. I’ve done my best. I left him a gift, a special coming-of- age gift.”

“Ah yes, the gift. Remind me…”

“But if you are Mary’s ghost you have been watching; you must know. Today – on his twenty-first birthday – Christopher will receive a key to a safety deposit box I placed with my bank sixteen years ago. When he opens it, he will find bonds and share certificates inside – enough to make him secure financially for the rest of his life. He will never have to work, or worry. That is my gift to him, Mary.”

“How good it must make you feel – to be able to trade all that for a childhood!”

Richard smiles because he has often congratulated himself for this rich gesture. Yes, his benevolence must do more than compensate for Christopher’s lack of a father. “It is generous, isn’t it? Few children could receive such a gift: and it is not that I don’t love him – in some measure. I said so on a tape I placed within the box – a tape I made the day after we saw you to your grave.”

Sony_Voice_Recorder_with_Micro_Cassettes“And the day before your parents took him away. What did you say on this tape of yours? How you adore him, how you repent? ‘Grow strong, my son, and learn from the failings of your father’. Does it say that?”

“You’re being unnecessarily judgmental.”

“Am I? Richard, my dear, you didn’t even play the tape back, when you prattled into that little recorder of yours. You just offered excuses, dismissed your love in a few sentences, then added it to the safe deposit box. You didn’t listen to your own cheap, facile expressions of affection afterwards – before you placed the tape into the box. Such a shame, Richard. Such a shame.”

He frowns, suspicious at last. “You’re keeping something from me….”

“I? No, I would keep nothing from you. Tonight I came to give you peace. Come close to me, Richard; come close and I will whisper to you – such sweet words. I will tell you – no, come closer – I will tell you of a woman in fear for her life, in this room, eighteen years ago. I will tell you how, after you had telephoned her in your betrayal and rage and she knew you were coming to her with murder on your mind, she took your little tape recorder from its drawer and switched it on. And I will tell you that tape was never erased, and how that woman’s every cry of terror and despair was etched upon it. And then I will tell you that is the tape our son will replay this morning, when he opens that safe deposit box.”

“No! That isn’t possible! I recorded on a clean tape!”

“You believed the tape was clear, because before I switched the recorder on, it was. But your fingers shook as you pressed the ‘on’ button. You didn’t record. You should have replayed the tape, Richard. You should at least have taken some of your precious time to do that.”

Panic overtakes him, a fear as debilitating as the moment when Mary, overbalanced, slipped from his grasp, all those years ago. Can he think back so far? Did he check the red recording light had responded to his finger on the button? “I can telephone him!” He cries. “I can tell him there’s a mistake, that I’ve sent him the wrong key. I can stop him opening the box.”

“Oh, my darling Richard, you have forgotten, haven’t you? It is early morning here in San Diego, but the sun is high over London. Our son has already opened the box; the tape is already played. It is time to wake up, beloved murderer, because your dream is over. Any second now the telephone will ring.”

© Frederick Anderson 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.