Mr. Eisenstein’s Holiday
by Gary Inbinder
They walked along a purple wisteria-sprinkled path that meandered through the neatly manicured lawn and well-tended flowerbeds. Soft light flickered from the black wrought-iron gas lamps; the full moon glimmered behind a lampshade of drifting clouds. They stopped at a quiet vantage point with a stunning view of the Pacific and the palm-lined beachfront. The ocean breeze rattled the fronds. “This would have been a great meeting place for Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland,” Eisenstein thought nostalgically.
Laura crossed her bare arms over bare shoulders and rubbed them as if trying to keep warm. Eisenstein noticed and offered her his jacket, which she accepted with a grateful smile. He did not know what to make of all this, this being a rendezvous with a woman he barely remembered who had suddenly and unexpectedly appeared like a ghost from a shadowy past. It had the dubious quality of contrived fiction.
Speaking of ghosts, Eisenstein’s peculiar haunt reappeared, interposing her ectoplasm between our flesh and blood protagonists. He sensed her presence immediately, and began a silent dialogue. “I smell your perfume — musky and intoxicating as it was when you were young and alive. Why is that?” He asked the same question each time they met.
“You sense my presence as only you can remember it. When you’re gone, I’ll vanish.”
“Have you no other lovers — no one else to remember you?”
The ghost laughed. “I’ve had many lovers, as you seem to have forgotten. Most of them are dead, and of those still living, only you remember me.” She paused a moment, before adding, “I exist only in your memory.”
He shook his head. “Too bad — I’ll be dead soon.”
The ghost nodded her agreement. “Yes, it’s a shame. We’re both dead, but in different ways. I’m in my grave, and the world’s buried you alive.”
He grinned sardonically. “Yes, like a Poe character; and you’re my Annabel Lee.”
“Is this our kingdom by the sea?” She turned her gray eyes toward the surf.
He glanced alternately at the ghost and the living woman before replying, “No, I suppose not.”
The ghost sighed, “Vick darling, why don’t you come on to this woman? She obviously likes you.” That was the advice his former colleague had given him ten years ago.
He did not answer. Instead, he gazed wistfully at the moonlit clouds. “How beautiful!” he exclaimed aloud to no one in particular. He felt the soft caress of the ghost’s hand on his. Or was it Laura’s hand? He looked back at her, with dull old eyes. The ghost had vanished. Laura Brown held his hand. He wanted to say something, but what came out would have been better left unsaid. “That’s what killed me — too much beauty. Or perhaps it was too much imagination.”
Laura was taken aback, but she tried to be sympathetic. “Can we have too much beauty? And being imaginative is a good thing.” She smiled encouragingly while fixing her eyes on his.
He replied without thinking. “Beauty smoothes the rough edges, and we need that roughness to thrive, let alone to survive. And we can’t let our imagination run wild. We risk losing touch with reality.” He stared at her bright face, now half-hidden in evening shadows. He did not know where she ended and the ghost began. “And then of course, we don’t live beautifully or imaginatively now.”
“Did we ever?” she whispered and waited for an answer. He stared silently, and she continued, “Your life can’t be that bad. After all, you can still afford to come to a place like this.”
Why did she bring his finances into the conversation? Eisenstein glared at her, as though she had violated his trust. “I can’t afford it — not now,” he muttered. “That’s why I’ve come here to die.”
His morose comment frightened her; his reference to death had raised a red flag. “Are you ill?” she questioned, her voice trembling. She had started her professional life as a nurse and Eisenstein had, in her mind, transformed from a potential lover into a high-risk patient in need of professional help.
He looked down at his hands while realizing that he had revealed too much. “I... I meant that figuratively. My life is over, but I still breathe. Please don’t worry; I’m not worth it.” His voice faded; both Laura and the ghost were gone.
He heard the sound of a woman’s heels crunching gravel. He turned his head and saw Laura’s handsome figure scurrying away from him in the direction of the hotel. She had dropped his jacket on the ground while making her escape. Apparently, she did not want to spend the rest of her evening with a depressed old loony. “Smart girl,” he thought.
Eisenstein blinked his eyes as if by doing so he could restore her lost image. “Talking to yourself again, old man,” he mumbled. “It’s time to go.” He bent over to retrieve his jacket. Screams, laughter and the rattling of skateboards shattered the stillness. He sensed a rumbling, a rush of wind and the sting of a hard slap on his protruding buttocks. He jerked up, turned his head and saw the wheel-mounted Painintheass kids streaking down the pavement.
Little Meredith stared back at him and stuck out her tongue. Eisenstein gave her the finger; she cackled like a young hyena and skateboarded on into the darkness. Lurking behind a tall palm, Mrs. P. had recorded it all on her iPod for the next episode of Trailer Park Party.
Copyright © 2010 by Gary Inbinder