The Night I Saw Shannon Naked

I closed the book Dubliners, the words of the story “Araby” lingered in my mind. It brought back memories of my first love, maybe my only love, though I have loved several women since. Her name was Shannon after the River Shannon in Ireland. Though she was not Irish and had no Irish blood in her as far as I knew, still she was named for the river the Irish call Abha na Sionainne. I was in the fourth grade and she was my baby sitter.

She sat afternoons with my sister and me after school, watched over us and kept us out of trouble until my mother came home from her job in the cotton mill. Some afternoons she played the piano my mother kept insisting I practice on. Her fingers made their graceful way across the keyboard, giving voice to the notes Beethoven wrote. It was such a lovely sound that it always moved me, sometimes to tears, sometimes filling me with joy. Even today, I cannot hear Beethoven without stopping and letting my imagination recreate those moments when Shannon sat at the piano.

About six, Mother came through the door and hugged us, not once but twice, as if she was making sure we were real and not something from her imagination. Then Shannon gathered up her things and off she disappeared into the evening. The setting sun created a glow around her that made me think of the angel in the picture above my mother’s bed.

I returned Dubliners to its place on the bookshelf. My wife out of town and off tending to her sick sister, I had the house alone. It was getting late and there would be an early morning the next day. All that was left for me to do was let the dog out for one quick run around the yard, then it would be bed for both of us.

The night had turned chilly, so I ran with the dog to keep warm. Five minutes of this running and she was ready to come in for the night. I lay down in my bed with the Irish terrier at its foot. But it was not a night for sleep. It was a night for ghosts.

Not meaning to I had betrayed my first love. One night I sneaked out and followed her home. I was desperate to know her better. Where did she live? Who was her family? She walked a half mile or so until she came to a beat-up old trailer. It was unpainted and rusting, its door only half hinged to the front. I peeked through a window and looked into the interior. Only shadows made by the moonlight revealed what was inside.

She went to a cabinet and pulled out a glass and filled it with water. Slicing a loaf of bread, that was her supper. She got up and walked over to a nearby dresser. For the first time, I realized one leg was shorter than the other. Her back to me, she pulled the pins out of the bun on her head, her black hair falling, falling to the floor like an endless stream of water. She undid the necklace around her neck and laid it out before her. I watched, fascinated, yet also curious to see the real Shannon as she removed her makeup, rinsed her face, dropped her dress.

A fallen branch snapped under my foot. Shannon faced me. No, I couldn’t believe it. It could not be. It was her face, but it wasn’t her face. Horrified at what I had seen, I dashed home as fast as I could.

Though I never saw Shannon again, I am haunted by that night and how I broke the heart of the woman I loved. Sometimes in the middle of the night I wake up to the sound of music as her fingers touch the keys of my mother’s piano downstairs.

Uncle Bardie’s Song Spotlight: Riders of the Storm

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Song is the Doors’ “Riders of the Storm“:

I wasn’t much of a Doors fan. The Rascals, the Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds were the American bands for me. Then I heard the album, “L. A. Woman”, and I was impressed. “Riders on the Storm” was the last song on the album. It could be that it is the Doors’ “A Day in the Life”. It was the Doors’, and Morrison’s, last song, and one of their best.

It opens with rain. Then the keyboards. Then Morrison’s voice and the guitar. There’s a hypnotic effect from the music and a certain spookiness. The music is so powerful that I tend to ignore the lyrics. Inspired by “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, the music has the effect of taking you into a ghost world.

Lady Wimpleseed-Prissypott # 35: Running Amuckski

Previously, Quills Takes Charge

The ghost, B. P. Nutt, lay in the hammock behind the Haggismarche Manor house. It was such a lovely autumn day, the kind of day that you think heaven must be made of. The morning was a bit misty as autumn mornings tend to be. But the mist had cleared away and the afternoon sun was a nice toasty warm wiping away the chill that came with this sort of season. The ghost swung the hammock easily back and forth to the rhythm of “Get along little dogies”, his favorite song.

Elsewhere in the world, the times on the Thames was the kind that made for a jolly good swim, the weather being what it was. America had sent over a new ambassador and he had presented his affectations at the Court of St. James. The Queen’s race horse, Tallyho, had tallyhoed his way to winning at Ascot.

Jack the Rapper was rapping about the streets of London at night, and he had all the prostitutes scared out of their pantaloons. Though they were often out of their pantaloons, this was different. That was for business, this new threat seemed downright scary. If a whore couldn’t trust a client, who could she trust? Certainly not the police.

It was an age of technological advancement. The world had been introduced to new and newer inventions at unbelievable speed. Henry Augustus Glump became world famous and extremely rich after his invention of the very popular backwards unicycle. It was a conservative invention. Instead of moving forward, folks were returning to the scene of the crime. Those bikes were taking them back to the Crimean War and the charge of the Light Brigade. Pretty soon they would be back at Waterloo and that would be their waterloo.

Sir John Crapper kept waking up to the sound of his wife rushing to the outhouse, singing, “Got to go. Got to go. Got to go.” So, it was the indoor toilet for her and nothing less. Phineas Fogg, upon returning from his eighty days around the world, won the International Tournament of Whist. His prize, a trip around the world. What could be more appropriate?

The world was doing what it normally does. Getting on with itself and letting everything else get on with itself too. And B. P. was a happy ghost. His howling howdies had been flipped on their butts and came out with a smile and a jest. Ever since he returned from the Spirit World, he had been in a right-good, jolly good mood. Nothing but nothing could break down his wall of merriment. He was having a good time and he wanted everybody at Haggismarshe Manor House to know it. He floated out of his hammock and did himself a jig.

“What are you doing there, you fool of a ghost?” Butler said.

“I’m doing a Texas broad jump,” the ghost said, feeling the breeze sneak under his sheetlike exterior. It tickled but it felt pretty darn good. “What does it look like, you fool of a butler? “

“It looks like you are head over heels in love with your own ectoplasm,” Butler said.

“Why don’t you go,” B. P. said, stopping his hammock from swinging, “and butle something and leave a ghost in peace?”

“Have you no brains?” Butler asked, standing there glaring through the apparition. Why was it always his job to clear things up?

“No brains here. After all, I am a ghost. Or didn’t you know?”

“I know. That’s why I am here.”

B. P. stopped his dancing and floated over to Butler. “Okay then. I give up. Why are you here?”

“Even though her ladyship is still alive, that doesn’t mean she will remain alive.”

“Oh,” B. P. said. “She’s in good hands. Giles, our Times man, says she’s safe in Spain. Has a bit of the amnesias. But otherwise she’s safe and sound. Staying in a convent. So relax.”

“Haven’t you realized,” Butler said, ‘that her ladyship may not have her position and lands when she returns to England. Lords, you know.”

Now he was curious. “What are y’all trying to imply?”

“The House of Lords has been on a rampage to take her title and lands away from her since Lord Wimpleseed Prissypott’s death. Once they find out that she is alive they will be after them again. We have to come up with a strategy to save her ladyship.”

“Pardner, you are absolutely, I mean absolutely right,” B. P. said, getting excited. “Wait here and I will get Earl Grey and Sir Long John Longjohn.”

B. P. was off, flying hither and thither and yonder until he came across Earl Grey in the Master Bedroom. He rustled up Sir Long John Longjohn out of the kitchen pantry. He was having a snack. The three headed back to the hammock. Butler was waiting.

“What’s so urgent?” Earl Grey yawned. “I was hibernating right nicely.”

“I was about to have an Earl of Sandwich,” Sir Long John said.

“Y’all, we have a problem,” B. P. said.

“Just because her ladyship,” Butler said, “is alive doesn’t mean we’re out of hot water. We may lose her still.”

“How can that be?” both Earl Grey and Sir Long John said in unison.

“The House of Lords may vote it so,” Butler said.

“Oh, yes, Lords,” Earl Grey said.

“I forgot about Lords,” Sir Long John said. “Oh, what oh what can we do?”

“I’ve an idea,” Earl Grey said. “It’s not been done for centuries. The last time was against the Armada and the Spanish. But we might be able to pull it off.”

“How so?” Butler said.

“You’re right,” Sir Long John said. “It might work.”

“What might work?” B. P. said.

“A Gathering of the Ghosts,” Earl Grey said.

“What the—“ B. P. went to ask.

“My exact sentiment,” Butler said.

“It works like this,” Earl Grey said. “We call a Convocation of Ghosts at the House of Lords. Ghosts from all over the British Isles will converge on Lords. We’ll surround Lords and won’t let the lords out until the situation with her ladyship is resolved. We’ll squeeze them until they pop. And pop they surely shall.”

“But we can’t leave the manor house,” B. P. said. “It’s hard enough for one of us to get permission. You are talking about all the ghosts in England.”

“And Scotland and Wales,” Earl Grey said. “You’ve done this before, Sir Long John. How shall we proceed?”

“We have to have a very urgent need,” Sir Long John said, “one of national import.”

“This is of national import,” Butler said. “If Lords can take her ladyship’s lands and title away, then no one is safe. No American girl will marry a English lord ever again. There won’t be the guarantee of a title. This movement is led by all those wives of lords who are British. They don’t care for the American incursion. The large estates will eventually be split up and die without the wealth these American women have to offer.”

“That’s national and emergency enough, boys,” B. P. threw his two cents in. “Don’t you think?”

“I say,” Earl Grey said. “I believe it is. Then we call a Gathering of Ghosts.”

“First we have to get permission,” Sir Long John said, “from the Riders of the Sky to approach the Spirits Council. Earl Grey, you were a solicitor. You prepare a brief, and make your brief brief. Please don’t be the windbag you are in these cases. If the Spirits Council agrees, there will be a Gathering of Ghosts, and Lords will never be the same. But we don’t have much time. I have one question for ye lads?”

“Yes?,” B. P., Butler, Earl Grey asked.

“Can I wear my kilts, mon?” Sir Long John asked.

“I would say kilts would be quite in order,” Earl Grey said.

“And I can get out my new stetson and my justins. It will be the biggest howdy old England has ever seen. I say we go for it.”

Earl Grey wrote the brief. The Riders in the Sky agreed that the three ghosts from Haggismarshe might have a relevant case for the Spirits Council. The Spirits Council listened in awe at what was being proposed. It had never been done in peace time. But dire times call for dire resourcefulnesses. The Spirit Council agreed. They unlocked the walls of all the haunted houses and castles throughout the British Isles. The ghosts flooded into the surrounding countryside as the rain poured down. It was a dark and stormy midnight.

From Dublin and the County Cork, from Ulster and Shannon, the ghosts left their abodes and trod. From the Highlands and the Lowlands, the ghosts proceded. From Dundee and Aberdeen, they trod. From Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, they came. From Portsmouth and Plymouth and Cardiff, they walked. From Clwyd, Gwynnedd and Dyfed, they trooped.

They marched across the sea, They marched through forests and cities. They marched through the rain and the fog. They marched, and all of England knew there was something astir. Their trek led them through Hammersmith, Paddington and Kensington and onward, splashing their way to Westminster and the House of Lords. When they arrived at the Lords, they spread out in two directions, making a circle around the Palace. When the circle was completed, they began their howl.

“What is going on outside?” Baron Duffield asked his good friend, Sir Quinton Nobody, the Lord Mayor of London. Of course, the Lord Mayor did not have a clue. He couldn’t even guess. But the sound was very unpleasant.

“I say,” Sir Quinton said, “perhaps one of us should go outside and find out.”

“Whatever it is, it is downright scary,” the Baron said. “At least the rain has stopped. Thought we were going to need Noah and his ark.”

“You’d think somebody was on the warpath or something or the other.”

“I volunteer you, Quinton, old chap,” Duffield said. “to go find out. After all, it is your city. You are supposed to be keeping the plebeians in check. And when you check, keep your stiff upper lip. We would not want whatever it is to think that we were intimidated. We are not.”

Quinton walked slowly to the door and out into the great hallway and to the front of Westminster Palace, the home of kings of old. He came to the front door and turned to the doorman. “What is going on outside?”

“Ghosts, sir,” the doorman chattered. “Ghosts.”

“There’s no such thing as ghosts. I refuse to even fathom such a thing. It is unscientific.”

“Unscientific or not,” the doorman said, “there are ghosts out there. They are running amuck. We are unable to go in or out, sir.”

Next Week, Prime Minister informs the Queen.

Lady Wimpleseed-Prissypott 9: Haggismarshe and Its Ghostly Ways

What would an English manor house be without a few ghosts?

Previously our heroine arrived back in England with a casket but no husband. Her husband’s casket, with his body in it, had been lost at sea. The captain of the ship happened to have a spare dead sailor, so he subbed the dead sailor for Lord P.P The casket was a closed door affair at the funeral. There was a move in Parliament to take away Lady P.P.’s titles now that hubby had left this earth.

In the days that followed old Lord Dunnie’s funeral service, Lady P. P. retired to her estates at Haggismarshe Manor. The servants went about their regular duties and left the lady of the manor to herself. For months, she perambulated the grounds of her new estate in a haze of hallucinogenic stupors.

This haze, the servants believed, was caused by the mists coming off the moors nearby. Even the groundskeeper took notice of her condition and said to his twelve-year-old son, “Avoid the missus. There’s bats in her belfry. She’s a bit loony-toons herself these days.”

Finally Marye buried herself in a vault in a tower overlooking the estate. It was one of several dingy, dampy place spread throughout the manor house and its adjoining residences. With a cask of amontillado for companionship, she began to search her heart, contemplating her next step.

Should she return to her beloved Dilly and dally in New York Society? She had loved Dilly O’Jones with all her heart, had been heart-broken to leave him. But things were different now. If she went back to Dilly, she would have such a trivial existence for someone of her capacities and nobilities. She had experienced the devotion and worship that a Lady of the British Realm received. She had been put on a pedestal. She was not sure she was ready to step off it and marry a commoner. An American commoner, at that.

Then there was the problem of New York Society. They totally disliked her parents. They still held it against her father, John Smith, that he won the Pocahantas Shipping Line in a poker game. That was gambling and there was no way that a gambler and his hussy, Lady P. P.’s Moms, would be ever, ever accepted in New York Society. No matter what English lord their daughter had married.

After a few stiff drinks, she began to see things clearly through her drunken haze. “I am a lady, aristo…aristo…cratically speaking. I want to have some … fun. Burp! No more plain jane Mary-Mary Smith for me. From now on … burp … it’s Lady Ma-ma-rye Wimplethead Prittypott of H-h-h-haggitmore Etate.” Then she passed out and fell to the floor.

Like so many of the great houses in Great Britain, Haggismarshe Manor House had been the residence of ghosts for centuries.No aristocrat considered themselves an aristocrat unless they lived in a haunted house. The higher an aristocrat was on the aristocratic scale the more ghosts for their homes. Each of the Queen’s residences had at least fifty.

However, there were not enough ghosts in England to go around. The Brits being the Brits came up with the perfect plan. Invade other countries, colonize them and demand an annual quota of ghosts. Even though the Americas had more than their share of the specters, they resisted this wholesale theft of ghosts.

It was not the raising of taxes but this stealing ghosts that had led to the Colonial Rebellion in 1776 and the War of 1812. Britain gave the Americas their independence but never returned the stolen ghosts. It just wasn’t done.

Haggismarshe Manor had three ghosts. One of these was a peculiarly American fellow. Originally there were only two ghosts from the Prissypotts past, Earl “Early” Grey Wimpleseed and Sir Long John Longjohns Prissypott. The position of the Wimpleseed-Prissypotts required a three-ghost haunting for their great manor. A third was demanded. Otherwise the Wimpleseed-Prissypotts would be reduced in rank.That would never do.

Fortunately, for the Wimpleseed-Prissypotts, General Cornwallis came to the rescue. After his defeat at Yorktown, he sneaked away from the Colonies with a boatload of ghosts. Early in 1782, he gifted these ghosts to nobles falling short after King George 3 received his share. There was a sigh of relief throughout the land. Cornwallis had saved the nobility from being commoners. Needless to say, Cornwallis was everybody’s hero.

One of these ghosts given to the Wimpleseed-Prissypotts was Benjamin Patrick Nutt and his horse, Sally Mae Nutt. Needless to say, she was a chestnut. Benjamin Patrick was from the Nutty Nutt Nutt family.

Not the Headless-Horseman-New-York Nutts. Though his mother Meg was from that part of the clan, Benjamin came from the Georgia branch of the family. He was a circuit riding attorney and partner of the law firm of Peck & Nutt. Had seen the War for Independence as a chance to party, take a few British scalps, then go home as a regular Yankee-doodle-dandy. Sometimes things never work out the way you plan them. It had been his scalp scalped. He would have gone on to haunt some high-falluting Georgia patriot’s mansion if it had been up to him. Instead he had been hog-tied and dragged off to England.

This Yankee ghost hovered above Lady Wimpleseed-Prissypott’s passed-out body. Having wenched with the best of wenches, he recognized absolute perfection in the bosoms below him. “Oh, my my and a skip-to-my-lou-dy too-dy,” he said, staring with large, round saucer-like amazement.

His two associate ghosts floated beside him. They nodded their agreement.

“Now that’s a lady,” Early Grey said. “Dunnie done himself proud.”

“My liege lord Richard 3,” Sir Long John Longjohns. said, “would have locked her in the Tower to keep her safe for himself and his hump.”

“Shall we give her our two pennies worth, fellows?” Benjamin Patrick asked his good buddies. “She does seem a bit distressed.”

“I say aye,” Early said.

“I am an aye too,” Longjohns voted. “That makes it anonymous. I mean, unanimous.”

The three put their three heads together and worked to think up a plan.

“Wha-wha-what?” Marye slowly pulled herself awake and out of her stupor. She looked up. “Oh, lordy, I have a headache. It’s a real dilly. Not the real Dilly. Dilly is off in America. I’m here alone.”

“Having regrets, ma’am?” Benjamin Patrick settled onto the floor.

“What?” Marye couldn’t believe her eyes. She blinked her blinkers a number of times to make sure she actually saw three ghosts hovering above her. “Who are you?”

“Oh, we’re ghosts,” the Yankee ghost said. “We haunt places. Right now we’re haunting Haggismarshe Manor. My name is Benjamin Patrick from Georgia Colony but y’all can call me B. P. Everybody does. At least, my friends.”

“I’m Earl Grey Wimpleseed.” Early removed his hat, a broadbrimmer with a big feather sticking out of its top, and bowed a very deep bow.

Sir Long John bowed as well. “And, madam, I am Sir Long John Longjohns Prissypott, your late husband’s great-great-great-great-great uncle thrice removed.”

“What do you want with me?” her ladyship asked from her place on the floor. “Oh, my head.”

“We’re here to give you our quid’s worth of advice,” Earl. said, “if you will allow.”

B.P. said, “I been elected spokesman for the we three of us. We thunk and we thunk and in all our palavering we could only thunk one thing for you to do.”

“What would you say that would be?” Her ladyship was sitting up, interested. At least, as interested as someone with a hangover could be. She’d been after a solution for days and days and days. None had come to her.

“Leave this place. It’s loaded down with the past. Don’t go back to your dilly dallying with that silly boy, Dilly. He’s only after one thing.”

“That’s what Moms says,” she said.

“It’s not your companionship,” B. P. continued his agreement with Moms. “Get out and see the world. Have some fun. You have your daddy’s cash. He’s given you enough money to tide you through anything for the rest of your days. So, enjoy. Lying low here and moaning and groaning is a waste. You have a life to lead. And who knows?”

Early piped in, believing later was better than never when it came to advice, “Only the shadows know,”

“And they are not saying,” L. J. said, pulling up his long johns that seemed to be slipping into the aether.

Poof. Her ghost friends were gone.

Marye rose and refreshed herself with a jolly good stiff spot of tea. Then she viewed herself in the mirror. She liked what she saw. She admired the buxomness of her bosoms and her hourglass figure that flattered every dress she wore. Indeed she was not a plain-jane Mary-Mary Smith any longer. She was nobility, and nobly she must act.

Her smile melted into a frown. But how could she be a real woman? Look at the effect she had on the only man she had ever come close to knowing in the Biblical way. He lay in the bed of her memory limp as putty.

She choked back her discouragement and thought about what the ghosts had said. “You’re a grown-up woman and a lady at that,” she said to the mirror. “It just won’t do to stay all locked up in an attic when there’s a world out there to explore.”

So it was decided. Lady Marye Caterina Wimpleseed-Prissypott, the former Mary-Mary Smith of Brooklyn Heights, would travel. She would see the hither and the thither and see the world and all that lay beyond. And she would do it all by herself. No Moms, no Daddykins, no Dilly, no Lord P. P. No one but she herself.

If it was her fate to remain a virgin, so be it.

Next week: A train ride and a mysterious woman

“Hamlet” and the Dark and Stormy Night

Blow, blow, thou winter wind! Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude. As You Like It. Act 2, Scene 7

Act 1. Scene 1.

“Hamlet” begins. It was a dark and stormy night. A ghost amucked about. Think of all the stories that begin with a dark and stormy night. Let’s see.

There’s “The Shining”. No, that starts with snow. How about “The Great Gatsby”? No.

“King Lear” does have a dark and stormy night, but it’s not till later in the play.

“The Tempest” starts with a storm on the sea. “Macbeth” starts with night. There you go. You put the two plays together and you definitely have a dark and stormy night. With witches.

“Hamlet” could have started the way “Anna Karenina” does. You know the quote about happy families. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” But it didn’t. One thing is for sure. “Hamlet” is not about a happy family.

“Great Expectations” doesn’t start with a dark and stormy night. But it’s late in the afternoon, and Pip feels like it is a dark and stormy night when he runs into an escaped convict.

Jesus was born on a dark and stormy night. You think not. Look, you have a wicked king. He sends his troops into Bethlehem to kill all the babies in town. If that isn’t a dark and stormy night, I don’t know what is.

Talk about dark and stormy, how about Good Friday. It was definitely dark and stormy that afternoon. We all know how that turned out on Sunday. It’s like Annie sang, “The sun’ll come up tomorrow. You can bet your bottom dollar.”

Even Scarlett O’Hara knew about tomorrows. After all, she closed the movie, “Gone With the Wind”, with “Tomorrow is another day.” ‘Course she was stating the obvious. Tomorrow is always another day. ‘Cause it ain’t today. If it’s not today, it has to be another day. I think what Scarlett was trying to say was that there is always Hope. Hope with a capital H. Except for Hamlet.

You know Shakespeare was breaking that Elmore Leonard rule. Don’t start a story with the weather. But look at all the writers who do. Hemingway does in “A Moveable Feast”. “And then there was the bad weather.”

Everybody forgets the second part of that rule. If you do start with weather, put a ghost in your story. Works every time. Just take a gander at how many times Edgar Allan Poe used it. You’re going to need all your fingers and your toes to count up the times.

Will Shakespeare sure knew how to start a story. Take Macbeth. There may not be ghosts, but there are witches. Three of them, if I remember right.

I know you’re saying that “Hamlet” starts off with a dark and cold night. I am here to tell you that it might as well be a dark and stormy night. When there is a foul mood about, you’ve got a dark and stormy night.

Now on with the play. It’s Act 1 Scene 1. In one of the turrets of Elsinore Castle is a guard named Francisco. He may not be able to see Russia from his house but he sure can see Sweden. And down the way from the Swedes is Denmark’s enemy, Norway. Standing there, watching, Francisco shivers, says to himself sarcastically, “Nice weather we’re having, Francisco.” The church bell in the distance tolls midnight. “Where’s Barnardo?”

Next week we’ll find out where Barnardo is, whoever he is. Till then, sayonara or the Danish version of adieu.

Do you have a favorite dark and stormy night scene in a movie, novel, story or play?