Needle, a magazine of noir, is holding its first Flash Fiction Contest. The rules: 1000 words or less and must include a needle of some sort. Here's my entry:
“Is it true — a ghost lives here?” the attractive twenty-something patron asked the waitress of the village bar and restaurant on the north shore of Long Island.
Bridget heard this question at least once a week. She hesitated briefly, glancing at the couple to evaluate their sincerity; believers and nonbelievers frequent this rustic location that was built in the 1800s. One time a patron even suggested burning pine needles to drive out her spirit; that pine needles are considered a spiritual cleanser, and it removes negative mental energy, to boot.
“I do believe a ghost lives here. Sometimes the volume on the TV in the bar jumps up real loud — while the remote sits on a shelf. Light bulbs and fuses blow quite often, but then again, this is an old place — it might be coincidental.”
“Does her presence frighten you?” the brunette with the heart-shaped birthmark on her right cheek asked, clutching her menu, more interested on what wasn’t on it.
“I sit on the edge of my seat — on pins and needles — when I watch horror movies, so I’m surprised that I am comforted by her presence,” Bridget said. “I’m not threatened by her; she belongs here, and we’ve become protective of her.”
The sound of crashing glass pierced the bustling atmosphere of the Saturday night crowd, although it didn’t interrupt the piano player’s rendition of “Look What You’ve Done to Me” by Boz Scaggs.
Take me up your stairs and through the door...Take me where we don’t care anymore.
“That’s probably her right now,” Bridget said. “Sometimes glasses fall from the shelves, cutlery ends up on the floor, doors slam, and the piano sounds like a kitten is running across the keys when no one is near the bench. I’ve even detected a scent of lavender when she’s around. It’s very soothing, actually.”
Bridget took their drink order. The floorboards of the historic tavern creaked under the carpet as she walked toward the bar.
“Hey, Frank, did you just break another glass?”
“It flew off the shelf. I didn’t see it, just heard it. I think it’s our friendly neighborhood ghost. She’s vying for attention, as usual,” Frank said, drying his hands with a bar towel. What can I get ‘ya?”
“A Long Island Iced Tea and a Bud draft, please. Frank, I think she’s finally here.”
“Elizabeth Rose? How do you know?”
“She has the birthmark, and she looks just like your sister. Let’s act cool for now.”
“I have to see her for myself. I’ll deliver the drinks. Tommy’s got the bar.”
Frank delivered the drinks and almost dropped them when he saw the young woman who could pass as his sister’s twin at her age.
Bridget took their order for a Caesar salad, Chicken Francaise and New York Strip Steak, medium well. After dropping the order, she delivered warm bread and butter to the couple.
“Do you know anything about this ghost, I mean, who she was?” her doubting Thomas male companion asked. He sipped his ice-cold Bud.
“Her name was Mary, a regular. She was drinking at the bar and had a few too many. She left with a man who lived in the rooming house upstairs. We only have the killer’s word for it, but she supposedly needled him about his manhood, or lack thereof. He stabbed her repeatedly and stuffed her body into a utility closet in the hallway.”
“They arrested a postal worker, right?” the man asked, buttering his bread.
“Yes, the first question the Postal Service asked was if he was on the clock — but he wasn’t. Finding the killer wasn’t a needle-in-the-haystack search. The bartender saw her leave with him. The police found her body in the closet and her purse in his room under an embroidered quilt.”
“Thanks for sharing this information,” the young woman said, her eyes watering. “I recently learned she was my birth mother.”
“I’m sorry her life ended so tragically,” Bridget said.
“Thank you. I never knew her. She was a heroin addict who ended up pregnant and in jail. After she gave birth, I was put up for adoption."
“How did you hear about her ghost?”
“During the trial, Newsday ran a photo of my mother; it looked like a cropped mug shot. An old friend who knew I was adopted had mailed it to me; she noticed the strong resemblance. I confronted my parents and they admitted she was my biological mother. When I spoke with people about the murder, the legend of her ghost came up. I had to visit myself — be where my mother was — or is."
The hostess whispered to Bridget, “I’ve just seated a four-top in the corner for you.” Bridget excused herself.
After the couple ate, sipped coffee and split a slice of New York Cheesecake, Frank approached the table and introduced himself. “I was wondering if I could speak with you privately for a moment? Do you mind, Sir?” The woman glanced at her companion for approval.
“I’m enjoying the piano music,” he said, as the piano man effortlessly played Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.”
...In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room…
Frank escorted the brunette to the back office. “May I ask your name?”
They shook hands. “Liz, have a seat. Bridget told me your story, and even if she hadn’t, there’s no doubt in my mind. Look at this photograph.”
“That’s my birth mother!” Liz cried. "She looks so beautiful."
Frank handed her a tissue.
“Mary was my sister; this was taken during happier times. After she got out of jail, she straightened her act out. She never forgot you. She knew one day she’d find you, in this life or another.”
“You’re my uncle,” Liz said. As they embraced, the door slammed shut, and the smell of lavender filled the office.
“She’s at peace, now.” Frank whispered.
I took the above photo of the restaurant that was once called "23 Wall Street" - which is the address of the location in Huntington Village -- when I worked there in the 1980s while waiting to join the police academy. Although "The Bond" is a fictionalized version, a woman was murdered by a postal worker who lived in a room above the bar restaurant when it was known as "Snyder's Hotel." I certainly did hear crashing glasses and the volume jumping on the TV and was often asked questions by the patrons. I was comforted by her presence. May she rest in peace.
My husband, who once volunteered with the Huntington Fire Department, recalls a legend about a little girl who died in a fire at that location; witnesses claimed to see her at the top of the steps of the hotel above the bar.