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Eve pressed hard against her temples and he responded by shifting a little. The pain abated for a moment, then parked itself behind her left eye. She squinted, sipped the last of the tea that had failed to calm her nerves, and set the chipped china bowl in the sink. Today of all days, she wished Donald would just get out.
“I heard that,” he said, with a little buzz behind one ear. “I’m not going anyplace. And don’t try to change the subject. We were talking about this ‘interview’ of yours and why you won’t tell me whom it’s with.”
“Not now. I’m going to be late,” said Eve. Retying her kimono around her waist, she hurried down the narrow hallway of her apartment and into her bedroom, where she pulled open the French doors of her closet and reached for the dangling chain of the overhead light. She surveyed the racks, determined to find something elegant, professional, and, most of all, lucky.
“You wouldn’t need a lucky dress if you didn’t pursue these nonsensical jobs,” said Donald. “What was the last one? Party planner? Never heard of such a thing. Who plans a party? A guitar and a couple of blotters--there’s your party. And before that?” He considered. “Selling videogames to teenagers, was it? What exactly are videogames?”
“Quiet,” said Eve, running her palms over the rows of vintage tweed, tulle, silk, and suede that she’d inherited from her mother, Penelope. Once she’d grown into them, she hadn’t had to have even one thing altered. The bounty included structured skirt suits and dainty blouses, pert kitten heels and flowing silk scarves. Her eyes fell on a peacock blue sheath by Pauline Trigere, a favorite of her mother’s, and she held it up with a critical eye.
“Why on earth can’t you do what I used to do?” asked Donald. “Sweep floors, wash dishes, wait tables. Sweat of your brow! Good, honest work. The kind the creative class has been doing for centuries. And think of all the time it would allow you for taking down my stories.”
“For the hundredth time, Donald, this isn’t the fifties,” said Eve impatiently. “No one can wash dishes and afford to live in Greenwich Village anymore.” She dabbed at a spot on the sheath’s tulip skirt with a wet washcloth. “It’s one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city, full of bankers and lawyers. Remember? You’ve had them as tenants, you told me.”
“What kind of job is it, then?” Donald pressed.
Eve knew that telling the truth would set him off completely, so she busied herself with the choice between skimmers and spectator pumps--a sure way to throw him off the scent.
“The cream ones with the black trim, definitely,” said Donald dryly. “Fine. Don’t tell me. I don’t care. What we need to talk about is our next story, the one about the rubber glove that eats Manhattan. I believe I’ve found the beginning. The secret is to start in the middle.”
Eve threw back her head and looked at the ceiling. “First of all, it’s not ‘our’ story, it’s yours. And second, I couldn’t possibly take dictation now, if that’s what you’re hinting at. I need to focus.” Usually, Eve didn’t mind listening to Donald. In fact, she liked to think she was a good listener in general. But she would have preferred having the choice of when to listen and to whom.
The pain took real root now, spreading wide and deep. She needed aspirin. Not that it would help. There were so many pills on the market for so many different afflictions: muscle aches, allergies, depression. What they really needed to make was one for hauntings. “For the painful symptoms caused by the spirit of a dead man playing hopscotch across your brain synapses while complaining you won’t take down his ‘Pulitzer Prize-worthy’ short stories,” the label could say. She’d snap up a truckload.
“My, there seems no way around your peevishness today,” said Donald. “But grant me a minute. This is the story I was in the middle of when I, you know, left.” Donald never liked to admit outright that he had died, usually preferring to employ any of a half-dozen euphemisms. “And recently I realized how to get past my stumbling block. It’s about this mitten that wants to be a glove. . . .” He began to prattle in earnest now, like sandpaper on the cerebellum.
Eve groaned and flung herself on her bed. The worst thing by far about being haunted was that you couldn’t tell anyone about it. Well, you could if you came from one of those dramatic Southern families. Or if you were a child. But there were no ghosts among the upwardly mobile in Manhattan. Really, what would one say? “I’ve got six hundred square feet in an 1845 townhouse, complete with crown moldings, a fireplace--and a dead writer demanding I help him finish his life’s work”?
“Are you paying any attention whatsoever?” asked Donald.
“Soon I’ll have my own writing to worry about,” she said. It slipped out before she could stop it, but Eve couldn’t help but enjoy how the whirring in her head came to an abrupt halt as he took this in.
“What are you talking about?”
“My interview. It’s for a writing job. I’m going to be a writer, too.” Saying this proved immensely satisfying for some reason. “What do you think about that?”
A few moments of ominous silence followed. “There is no such thing as a ‘writing job,’ ” Donald intoned with ostentatious gravity, a sure sign he was about to embark upon a rant. Eve put her head under a large, lace-edged pillow as he continued. “Writing is not a nine-to-five thing. It is not a way to pay rent. You either are a writer or you aren’t. You either inhabit the craft or you don’t. You either challenge the métier or wither. You either--”
“It’s a television writing job,” she said importantly.
“Television! That Pandora’s box?” Instantly, Eve regretted telling him anything at all. “That which would steal our waking hours, hypnotize us with its propaganda and corporate doublespeak, and drain us of our humanity? You would be a cog in that evil machine, a worker bee servicing the fat queen of mediocrity, a jabbering messenger of commercial colonization? Absolutely not--out of the question.”
“As a ghost unable to muster physical form, I hardly see that you’re in a position to stop me,” said Eve, pulling the pillow away so she could breathe. “And anyway, if I don’t land this job, we’re both in trouble. I don’t have next month’s rent. Nothing near it. I’ll be out and your stories will never see the printed page, understand? I’ll have to go back home.”
Her intention was to rattle Donald, but it was she who shuddered as the words came out of her mouth. She’d never really had to manage money before, and looking at her checkbook last night, she realized with horror that after only six weeks in the city, her bank account had plummeted to less than four hundred dollars. She would need several times that in the next couple of weeks for Mr. De Fief, the kind of landlord who sent burly young men around to collect the rent of any tenant who was late, as a “courtesy.”
The idea of going back home was too painful to think about. She couldn’t leave New York. Not yet.
She bent to open the bedroom window to air the place out now that it had stopped raining. The moisture had caused the peeling old wood to swell, and it took several good yanks to move the sash even a few inches. Eve slipped into the Trigere, enjoying the silk’s structured yet soft embrace, and checked her reflection in the full-length mirror that hung by a ribbon on the back of the closet door. Her ink black bob hugged her head in becoming fashion, though shadows of worry purpled the skin beneath her large hazel eyes.
If she’d had any idea the night she decided to move to New York that soon she’d not only find a reasonably priced apartment in the Village--which everyone said was impossible--but share it with a ghost of a local writer, she would have clapped her hands with joy. She’d have reveled in elaborate fantasies of chatting cozily with Henry James, glowing softly white, complete with waistcoat and walking stick, the two of them discussing point of view in literature and French food. Or communing with Edith Wharton, who would float above the floor in a feathered hat and bustle, using her famed decorating skills to advise Eve on where to hang her nascent collection of gallery posters. Or playing poker and cracking wise with Mark Twain, his cards hovering over the table.
But no such luck. Eve had wound up with Donald Bellows, the Beatnik from Hell.
He possessed neither the others’ fame nor comportment. He was insecure, irascible, and bitter about dying before completing his “crowning collection” of avant-garde stories. And he didn’t even have the good grace to appear! There was no apparition hanging in the air above her bed, no doors slamming in the night, no “Mwaaaaaaaaaaa” coming from the dumbwaiter. All of that would have been fine, fun even; it would have lent her thoroughly modern life a sense of old-fashioned romance. But this voice inside her head, with its fizzing and churlishness? Hardly romantic.
Which was fitting because Donald himself wasn’t romantic. He came from an era, he informed her, when women turned their backs on marriage and its attendant obsession with household appliances, embracing instead the life of the mind. They certainly didn’t expect chivalry. And to him, chivalry extended to anything resembling politesse. There was no need for such pretense, he claimed, not among thinking people.
Eve turned to her jewelry box and mulled over her mother’s collection of rhinestone earrings, holding up an outsized pair she’d first clipped to her ears when she was six. She’d always remembered the moment because when she turned from the vanity to face Penelope, her mother had looked up from her book and burst into delighted laughter, a sound rarely heard in their house.
Penelope. She, and the mystery at the heart of her life, were a big part of why Eve was here. And was determined to stay. But it was a tight calculus she was up against. No temp work would pay enough to cover the rent of even this “affordable” Village apartment, which was exorbitant by the standards of any other place. And then there were the light and phone bills. And food. Takeout was ridiculously expensive, so much so that Eve was making two meals out of every one she ordered, supplementing with cereal when she was particularly hungry. People complained about living “paycheck to paycheck.” She would kill for that. She needed a real job and soon.
Eve shook her head as if to dislodge her fears. She wasn’t going to be forced out. No way.
“Well, well,” said Donald. “We certainly don’t want you going back to the Ohio suburbs. Perhaps I can be of some assistance for this interview. So, tell me. What is this evil enterprise of a job?”
This was an awkward question. The truth was, Eve didn’t know. She had no idea what being a writer at Smell the Coffee, the nation’s number two morning show, actually entailed. What was there to write at a news program? She’d never watched much television and didn’t even have one in her apartment. But her impression of people who delivered the news was that they just . . . talked.
Even Vadis didn’t really seem to know what the job involved, and she was the one who’d set up the interview. Vadis Morales was a college friend with whom Eve had reconnected at a dinner honoring the opening of a fellow alumna’s off-Broadway play. Now in their thirties, nearly all the women present that night had met with rather astonishing levels of professional success. Vadis herself owned her own Manhattan PR firm and seemed to know everyone on the island, including Smell the Coffee’s managing editor. She’d taken to calling Eve her first pro bono project and, over drinks, had assured Eve that the television job would be both easy and fabulous, a gig where you “read magazines, talk about the articles with your boss, and then go to lunch.” Vadis said all this breezily but Eve sensed her friend was running out of patience with her. True, Eve had lost the first two jobs Vadis had set her up with, but to be fair, party planning and videogame sales had been wildly inappropriate matches.
“Well, let’s start with what we do know,” said Donald. “We know you’ve shown some promise as a writer, yes? All those contests you won.” There had only been one contest, years ago, but Eve didn’t want to dwell on that. “Though they won’t actually expect you to write something today, I hope? We’ll have a lot of work to do first.”
“I appreciate that vote of confidence,” said Eve. “No, I won’t be writing today. This is just an interview.” Which was bad enough, though, because Eve had never been on a job interview in her life. Thanks to her father, she hadn’t had to.
She settled on a pair of faceted jet earrings and a cameo necklace, lamenting that New York hadn’t turned out to be the easiest place to take the reins of one’s fate for the first time. It was complicated, fraught, and fast; vital decisions seemed to be made and fortunes won or lost in the time it took for a yellow cab to peel away from the curb.
“You need to start thinking optimistically,” said Donald. “You’ll have a chance at this job, but only if you’re sure of yourself,” he said. “Conviction is the lifeblood of this city, whatever people tell you about money.”
“Great,” said Eve, slipping into a pair of slingbacks. She yanked the string of the closet light so hard that it came away in her hand. She sank back down on the bed, a sudden attack of nerves robbing her of her vigor.
“Sarcasm and defeat hardly become you, my dear,” Donald advised. “Try this for your interview. Picture how a confident person moves and adopt that posture, even if it’s a complete ruse. Your back is straight, your handshake firm, your voice even.”
This didn’t seem particularly profound. And she’d really have to work on the voice part. Since Eve had arrived in New York, hers had almost gone hoarse from lack of use. She guessed she uttered fewer than fifty words a day, most of them to Hyo behind the counter of the deli, who raised his sparse eyebrows at her request for a “horseshoe sandwich,” a favorite from home, and Mrs. Swan, her retired neighbor next door. Though anytime she was tempted to bemoan her solitude, Eve spared a thought for Donald and how lonely he must have been during the thirty-five years before she moved in.
From the Trade Paperback edition.