The owner of the B&B showed Rebecca Haynes and Sossity Chandler to their room. Todd was staying at another bed and breakfast. Rebecca had breathed a sigh of relief after she heard he would not be sleeping near where she would sleep—especially after what happened yesterday. Jergen and Lydia were at yet another bed and breakfast. Sossity tipped the bellhop and turned in a circle to examine the room they had rented.
“Well, what do you think?” she asked, making a sweeping gesture.
Rebecca glanced around. She tried not to look preoccupied.
The bed and breakfast was a converted plantation house. The room had high ceilings bordered with decorative plaster fringes. The furniture, heavy, Victorian—a claw-footed dresser, twin beds, a nightstand between the beds—looked solid and secure like the society that had created it—the Old South with its oppressive paternalism and criminal enslavement of a race of people set next to platitudes of benevolence. Sossity’s blues band had played six shows in the last ten days. Rebecca was tired.
“You sounded great tonight, Rebecca. You make me want to get my Fender out and thump on it again.”
“Don’t do that,” she replied. “I’ll be out of a job.”
They laughed. Sossity Chandler had played bass in her old band. Rebecca remembered seeing her on TV and watching her fingers as she adroitly played a huge Fender Precision bass guitar. She had been a skillful player. Rebecca had envied her back then. She could hardly believe that now she was in her band and rooming with her.
“I’m really tired, Sos,” Rebecca said. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to take a shower and go to bed.”
Sossity gestured at the bathroom door. “All yours.”
Rebecca sighed as the hot water ran over her. Her mind inevitably returned to the episode with Todd in the afternoon the day before. She had told him they were finished and stayed away from him two months. She even marveled at how easy it had been to share the stage with him when they started the tour, to travel and eat with him—not difficult at all, she had thought. As she soaped up, she reflected on how she had only been fooling herself.
Lydia VanLant had asked her if Todd had learned a new song the bland planned to do that night.
“Not sure,” she replied.
“I’ll go ask him,” she said.
“I’ll go ask him,” Rebecca offered. Lydia had things to do and agreed. Rebecca went to talk to Todd in his room.
All a self-deceptive ruse, she thought as she rinsed off. She had gone in, asked about the song, and accepted his invitation to sit and then to have a drink. An hour later, she left, wondering why she had caved in, why she had made love to him, how she could undo in a few minutes the separation she had fought for so strenuously in the months after their painful split.
Rebecca quivered when she thought about it. She had left his hotel room satisfied to her core by his lovemaking but sobbing and torn up from her failure and lack of resolution.
She stepped out of the shower and dried. Wrapping in a towel, she went into the bedroom and dug through her suitcase for a nightgown. Sossity had had cell phone open and was talking to Digory Marks, her boyfriend.
Rebecca went back into the bathroom and slipped the nightgown over her head. When she came back out Sossity had stretched out on her bed. She smiled as she talked on the phone.
She had reconnected with Digory after her divorce. Rebecca remembered that whole mess. Sossity had become a celebrity-meltdown focus on the news media in those days, with two DUIs, a week in jail, a great deal of impertinent public behavior, and serial fornication with rock stars, actors, and professional athletes. She had pulled out of it, regained emotional stability, engineered a spectacular comeback as a recording artist, and reconnected with Digory, an old boyfriend from her college days.
Rebecca remembered a tiff she had gotten into over her admiration for Sossity. Liking celebrity scandals, she was reading about Sossity’s latest one at a computer terminal at school one day when Cadetta Simpson came up behind her.
“Why are you so into that little blonde bitch?” she asked.
Rebecca remembered being startled. When she recovered, she said, “I like to see who’s screwing her this week.”
“Some white guy, you can be sure of that. You like her music too.”
Rebecca had all of Sossity Chandler’s CDs.
“So I’m not supposed to like her music because she’s white?”
“That sounds like a good enough reason to me,” Cadetta said, walking away.
Rebecca turned down the sheets. Sossity got up and pointed to indicate she would go to the lobby to finish her phone conversation. After she left, Rebecca snuggled into bed and switched off the light. She had not seen Cadetta Simpson in years. Her old classmate probably
knew she worked for Sossity Chandler. What would she think if she found out she—Rebecca—had had a white boyfriend?
This made her recall the whole scene from that morning—his arms around her, the kisses, her tearing off her clothes and him screwing her in the warm cocoon of a plush bed. She shuddered remembering the orgasm that tore through her like pleasurable fire, his abandonment, the unfeigned delight he found in her—and then lying there, drugged with pleasure, in the afterglow of their tenderly violent embrace.
Tears came to her eyes. Why did she try to fool herself? She stilled loved him. He had begged her to admit it. She refused and they left each other, angry and unresolved.
She tried to get comfortable. She could see him in her mind’s eye. Thankfully, exhaustion served as the narcotic to cover her pain. She fell asleep.
She woke in the dead of night. Someone stood at the foot her bed—a black woman, tall and thin with big eyes. Rebecca wondered if she were dreaming. She glanced over and saw Sossity in the other bed. When she looked back to the foot of her own bed, the figure had vanished. She dropped off to sleep once more. In the morning, she remembered what she had seen but wrote it off as a waking dream.
As she dreaded a high caloric breakfast with eggs, sausage, and biscuits with gravy to pour over it —very Southern food—she also dreaded that morning’s upcoming band practice. Rebecca and Sossity were joined at the table by two businessmen and an academic couple visiting the area for a conference. All were fans of Sossity’s music.
Unlike some celebrities, Sossity was always cordial and friendly to her fans. She did not avoid them and did not express annoyance at their adoring attention. She chatted with them, answered questions about her music, told anecdotes about touring and the days before success had come to her.
One of the businessmen asked how she liked the plantation.
“It’s a nice place. Quiet
“Did you see the ghost?” he returned.
“There’s a ghost?”
“Supposedly. A woman who was killed here. She kept the place shut down for years. The owner could probably give more details.”
The guests told Rebecca, too, that loved the way she played bass and asked her about the jazz band she played in when she was not touring with Sossity. Inevitably, someone asked about Todd.
“You guys must be good friends,” the academic woman observed.
“We’ve known each other a long time.”
“Didn’t you date him for a while?” one of the businessmen, who was African-American, asked.
“We used to do things together,” she said. “I wouldn’t call it dating. Maybe slightly romantic friendship. He has a girlfriend.”
The subject changed. Rebecca breathed an inward sigh of relief. Sossity knew they had dated, had been in serious relationship, and had split. Family pressure led her to shut the relationship down—pressure from her mother, brother, and sister—though not from her father.
As she sat and listened to the others talk, she remembered meeting Todd. She had known him in school, though they did not date until after college. She had played bass viol in the school orchestra. He played violin.
Rebecca liked him from the word go, she remembered. He was handsome and athletic, a good musician, and a good student. He was Jewish. His parents, in fact, immigrated to Israel after he graduated from high school, taking his three brothers and two sisters with them (Todd was the oldest). Despite his cheerful quirkiness, Rebecca could see he was lonely and missed his family. That, she reflected, was why she felt the urge to talk to him the times she saw him around town.
He attended the University of Chicago. She got in at Indiana University. He studied pre-law, she communications. When she was home for the summer, she went to a jazz club for a bachelorette part of a friend. She saw Todd playing drums for the band on schedule that night. They spotted each other. Not wanting to break the unwritten rule that guys were not allowed at bachelorette parties, she went over to his table. He gave her a hug and introduced her to the other members of his band.
“Drums,” she said. “I didn’t know you played drums.”
“I started in seventh grade—thought people might think violin was too sissified. I started playing in rock groups and garage bands.”
“I like the way you play.”
“Do you do music at Indiana?”
“They have a big music program there—a conservatory. I play in a string quartet and in one of the orchestra, but I’m not a music major. Playing music keeps me sane after reading communications theory all day long.”
“I do this to keep sane after reading law all day.”
She smiled. “It’s good to see you, Todd. I don’t want to rush off, but I’m at one of those women-only deals. I can’t stay here too long or I’ll offend the bachelorette.” Then she asked, “Are you guys playing here for a while?” She knew the club had a band every night.
“We’re here alternate days for the rest of the week.”
“I might come by and see you.”
“Do it. I’d love to catch up on things, Rebecca. I’ll buy you a drink . . . dedicate a song to you.”
She laughed. “Sure thing.”
She had stood to go, felt a rush of warmth and affection for him, and put out her arms. They embraced and he gave her a small kiss on the side of the mouth.
The conversation at the table at the bed and breakfast caught her attention and brought her out of her memories. The subject had turned once more to the ghost.
“She is one of the most well-known ghosts in the area,” the white businessman, who had a heavy Southern accent, was saying. “This place was deserted for years because of her. More than one family moved in and the ghost supposedly drove them off.”
“Did the ghost go away?”
“A few people say they’ve seen her, but I guess she’s a little calmer—so calm she hasn’t rattled chains or terrified anyone lately.” Everyone around the table chucked at this. “People who have seen her identify her as a woman who worked her as a servant in the Reconstruction era, though, sadly, we don’t even know her name. She died a victim of racial violence, I think.”
Since racial violence was a delicate subject, the guests quickly moved the conversation elsewhere. Sossity talked about the concert tour and gave everyone there tickets to the performance that night. Rebecca meant to ask more about the ghost, but she and Sossity left the B&B without getting a chance to talk to the owner.
During practice, Todd kept stealing glances at her. She made a deliberate effort to ignore him. They went through the playlist and worked on the two new songs Sossity had just written. Afterward they had lunch at a locally popular rib place. By the cash register sat a rack of tourist information. Rebecca noticed a booklet titled Plantation Ghost. Her eyes fastened on the cover. On it was printed a grainy photograph of the woman she had seen standing at the foot of her bed.
She bought a copy and stuffed it in her purse.
Lunch was hard. She ended up sitting next to Todd. He did not insinuate himself and did not hint at their encounter the day before. The band had a fund-raiser concert scheduled at a small venue at 3:00. At 8:00 they were scheduled for a concert at a large sold-out arena downtown. Rebecca realized she had to get herself together before they played. Also, Sossity made it her business to know the emotional nuances of her band members.
Sure enough, after lunch, as Rebecca and Sossity drove to the venue, she asked, “What happened, Rebecca?”
She thought of ways to be evasive and then decided she needed to tell the truth. It would be pointless to try to deceive Sossity.
“I fucked Todd. Yesterday.”
They drove on in silence.
“I appreciate your candor,” Sossity said at last. “Are you guys mending fences?”
She shook her head. Tears spilled out of her eyes.
“Let go have a drink. We have an hour before sound check for the library concert. I want you to tell me what’s going on.”
They parked in front of a small bar, went, and found a booth. Sossity ordered a whisky, Rebecca a lime daiquiri. They sipped their drinks but did not talk. The place was empty but for the bartender, two male customers, and the two of them. A vaguely R&B piece played on the old-style jukebox. Sossity put down her drink.
“Okay. I know you guys split. You told me about it, though you never told me why.”
“Can’t you guess?”
“Because you’re black and he’s white?”
“That’s it—family pressure.”
“I know a little about that.”
“How? Did you ever date interracially?”
“A couple of times. I dated a guy who was full-blooded Japanese—parents were émigrés—for a couple of years. In high school, I dated a black guy named Lenny—Leonard Palmer—for a while. God, he was handsome and I was struck on him.”
“Your family made you split up?”
“His family. They put so much pressure on him he finally dumped me. Broke my heart.”
“Well, that’s exactly what’s happening with Todd and me. My Mom, my sisters, my friends, my uncles, were giving me blue hell about my dating him. I got to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
“And you still love him?”
“It’s pretty clear what you need to do.”
“I can’t go against my family. It won’t work. There are lots of other guys in the world. I’m not going to alienate myself from everybody who means anything to me just because I fell for Todd.”
“Lots of women have alienated themselves like that because they loved someone of a different race or religion”—
“I know they have. I admire them, but I’m not made out of that kind of stuff.”
“You need to do what is right, Rebecca.”
She shook her head. She could not answer. It took her a long while before she could compose herself enough to speak.
“I can’t buck my family. I mean, I can but I don’t want to. They mean too much to me. I was weak yesterday. I won’t be weak again.”
“I’ve really gotten to like you in the few months you’ve played in the band. I don’t want to lose you or Todd. That may sound crass, but it’s so. Of course, it’s not my primary concern. My primary concern is you.”
“Todd and I can work through this.”
“Okay. I don’t think we need to go on with this talk. You know where you stand. I do too. I assume Todd does. But I want you to think about what I just said. You need to do what is right.”
After the concert that night, Rebecca went to bed. Sossity had gone out drinking with some friends who lived in Atlanta. As she tried to go to sleep, she thought about Todd. She remembered him at the trap set, handsome, exuding energy, undoubtedly the object of fantasized lust for most of the women who had watched the concert that night.
He loved her, she mused. She knew Todd had scores of beautiful blonde and red-haired girls beating his door down. She had seen them crowding around him like sparrows at a bird feeder after performances. She remembered her heart pounding—in the days before they got in Sossity’s blues band—when he began to indicate his romantic interest; the first time he kissed her, the thrill of his hands on her and, only a week later, the first time he made love to her in a motel room they rented after playing a gig in South Bend, Indiana.
She was not the kind of black girl white guys usually wanted, she reflected. She did not look like Halle Berry or Lisa Bonet. Still, he had fallen in love with her. That love had come to full fruition after they formed a jazz band and began playing gigs around Chicago. It had marginalized her, too, from certain section of her family and of her community.
Sleep began to claim her. She dozed off and opened her eyes to see the same women she had seen the night before. This time she was closer—not a foot away. She had a dark, weather-beaten face, large eyes, and a high brow. Tall and thin, she wore a print dress and pinafore. Her hands looked gnarled, though she did not seem old.
Rebecca wanted to scream but reigned herself in. Even with her heart pounding and her throat constricted so much she could hardly speak, she remembered the booklet she had purchased. This was the women on the cover. She did not look menacing. Rebecca decided to stay put, not to flee, and let the spectral woman speak first, but she said nothing. She wondered what her name was.
“Shoshie,” the woman said. “Shoshanna. But everyone called me Shosie.”
Rebecca managed to speak.
“You can read my mind?”
“I can tell what you’re thinking by the look on your face. What are you doing here?”
“Doing here? I’m staying here. It’s a hotel.”
“They let black folk stay here?”
“They do. I play in a band and we’re doing a concert in town.”
“Who is the white woman with you?”
“She’s the singer of the band. I play bass.” She paused and then added, “The woman I’m rooming with is my friend.”
“I thought she owned you.”
“They said it ended but I didn’t end. Not really.”
Then she faded away.
The door opened. Sossity came in. She noticed the look on Rebecca’s face.
“Bad dream?” she asked.
“Yeah. Too much stress, I think. How was the party?”
“Good. You should have been there. Athena McIntosh showed up. Kayle flew in.”
Athena McIntosh was a popular country singer. Sossity had written two hit songs for her.
Kayle Turner was Todd’s new girlfriend.
“That must have been a surprise.”
“Not so much. She goes to college in Raleigh—short flight. She and Todd looked really cozy.”
Rebecca did not reply. Sossity reached over and picked up the plain volume on the table between their beds.
“Is this any good?”
“Don’t know. I haven’t had a chance to read it. I think I might read it right now. The nightmare I had scared me so much I’m afraid to go back to sleep.”
Sossity smiled drunkenly. “That’s happened to me a few times. But maybe you don’t want to read a book about a ghost to get over a nightmare.”
Rebecca changed into shorts and a sweatshirt. Sossity climbed into bed and immediately fell asleep. Rebecca turned out the lights and softly walked downstairs. She sat in a large stuffed chair and began to read.
“That pamphlet doesn’t tell the whole story,” she heard a voice say.
So frightened she dropped the book, Rebecca looked up to see Shoshanna standing only a foot from her.
“My God!” she said. “You scared me.”
“I’m a ghost. I do that a lot.” She pointed down at the booklet. “Do you want to hear the whole story? The real story?”
Rebecca looked up at her. Tall, thin, she exuded beauty and dignity. She had very dark skin, high cheekbones and thin lips. This time she wore not a smock but a light blue blouse and a long, darker blue skirt. Like women of that era, she covered her hair with a scarf.
“Of course I do. Though I’d be a lot more comfortable if you would sit.”
“I can’t, sorry. I’m not allowed to rest.”
“Okay.” Rebecca regarded the woman. “Shoshanna. That is a very beautiful name. I’m Rebecca.”
Shoshanna did not seem to know how to react to friendliness. She only stared, looking bewildered and distressed.
“Tell me your story, please. I want to hear it.”
“That book tells a little of my story, but not the most important thing. After the war, I was freed. I went to live with my Mother. Some secesh caught us—ex-Confederate soldiers. They shot me. I managed to get away into the woods, but I was hurt pretty badly. I passed out and woke up in bed. A white man had found me. He nursed me back to health. He was a good man. Lived by himself in the swamp. He had been married but his wife died. They had only one child, a girl, but he had sent her to live with his sister in Anniston because he didn’t think he could raise a girl. After I got well, I stayed on to help him harvest his crop of sugar cane. One thing led to another.”
“You fell in love with him?” Rebecca prompted.
“He loved me. His being white and me being black didn’t make no difference. He lived out in the swamp and no one ever came to see him. Nobody knew about us. We had a child, a boy, and then a girl. I was afraid for them, so I sent them to live with my Mother.”
“No one ever saw you and him together?”
“A few people saw us working together, but Charlie was smart. He said he had hired me, that I lived out in the swamp and worked for him doing the stuff he couldn’t do since his wife died. That got laughs—you know what I mean, and the men in town weren’t against that. Of course, it wasn’t like that at all. He loved me and we lived together as husband and wife. He taught me to read and write. We were together ten years, and then he died.”
“How did he die?”
“Typhus. It hit the whole country. I didn’t want to get sick and get found in his house, so I told the men in town I’d gone to see him and looked like he was dead. I started out to where I had kin, but after I’d walked about ten miles, I came down with it myself. The people here took me in and I pulled through. They asked me if I wanted to work. I stayed the rest of my life here.”
“Why are you here, Shoshanna? Why do you haunt the place? Sounds like the people who ran this plantation were good to you.”
“Then why haven’t you gone on? Why are you a ghost here?”
“Because of another thing that book doesn’t say. I worked for the family twelve years. By that time, the Klan was getting strong. Somehow it got out that I used to consort with a white man. Back when we lived together, the people thought I was just a woman that would do the jellyroll with him now and then—they didn’t know we were man and wife, and they were okay with me doing that. The Klan wasn’t okay with it. They came one night and dragged me out of my room—I lived right out back, the building still stands. They were going to string me up, but one of them slipped in all the scuffling and his pistol it went off. The bullet went in my back and up through my head. They left me and rode off. I died a couple of hours later. The family buried me out back. They didn’t say anything because they were afraid of the Klan.”
“I’m so sorry, Shoshanna.”
“It’s nice to be able to tell somebody.”
“You’ve been here ever since?”
“The folks who owned the place sold out. They were generous to black folk and the Klan started threatening them, so they left. Somebody from that group of men who killed me bought the place. I ran him off. It’s been that way ever since. Not everybody who’s lived here has a bad history. If an owner was innocent, I left them alone. But anyone with my blood on their hands—and there were a lot of them—I’d drive off.”
“The people who own it now?”
“Relatives of one of the men in that mob, but”—She stopped.
“They’re good people.”
“If that’s so, why do you stay? Can’t you cross over?”
Rebecca did not reply at once. After a long pause, she said, “It’s nice to be able to tell
And with that she faded. Rebecca found herself standing in the dimly lit lobby, all alone.
The next day, Rebecca asked to see the old slave quarters. The owner took her and Sossity out to it.
“Not much to it, really,” the owner commented as they crossed under two massive magnolia trees.
“Is this where the woman who they say became the ghost lived?”
“She did live here, though by that time slavery was over. It’s a pity we don’t even her name.”
They entered the small frame building. Inside, they stood in a single room with windows looking toward the main house, an iron-frame bed with a stand by it, and a smoothed-off wooden table by the door. On the table sat a wooden box filled with old books. Sossity, who loved to read, especially during concert tours when she had many boring hours to fill, began to look through them.
Rebecca let her eyes rove over the large single room.
“This is where she lived?”
“All the years she was here.”
She contemplated a moment and then walked over to Sossity.
“Anything good?” she asked.
“Standard stuff. Dickens. The Brontës. I’ve read a lot of them.” She picked up a copy of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. “I haven’t read this one, and it’s on my list.”
“Take it,” the owner of the B&B said. “They’re old editions, but not old enough to be valuable.”
Rebecca saw a volume bound in calfskin with purple-edged pages. Opening it, she saw lines of beautiful cursive handwriting—in pencil, so it had not faded as ink would have faded in that hot, humid climate. At the bottom of the page, she saw the name, Shoshanna Kramer. She turned to the owner.
“This is a diary,” she said.
The woman glanced at it.
“Oh, that one—I’ve read a few pages out of it. Never got very far into it.”
“It might be valuable. It might be of historical interest. Someone might want to publish it for the picture it would give of life back then.”
“I’ve never been into that sort of thing. Why don’t you take it? You might want to see about getting it published. Didn’t you say your degree was in English?”
“Communications—sort of the same thing.”
“It’s yours. I’ll probably end up burning all of these books away. They’re just taking up space.”
Rebecca took Shoshanna’s diary. Sossity, who had a fondness for old books even if she had read them, took the box and its other contents. “I’ll read them to my kids or donate them to a library,” she said.
They walked back to the main house of the Plantation Bed and Breakfast, had a final cup of coffee, and left.
The remaining three concerts of the tour went well. On their flight back to Chicago, Rebecca sat next to Sossity. Todd was not on the jet. He had gone to Raleigh to spend a few days with Kayle. Exhausted from the tour, and from the intrigues with Todd, Rebecca sat one of the plush, custom chairs, Shoshanna’s diary resting on her lap.
“It will be nice to be home, won’t it?” Sossity commented.
Rebecca nodded. Sossity was quiet and then said, “You seem to have reached some kind of understanding with Todd.”
Rebecca mused a long, silent moment.
“I love him. No doubt about that. You told me I needed to do what was right. But sometimes you can’t do what is right in life. Sometimes you have to do what is wrong.”
She said no more. Sossity saw she did not wish to take the subject further, smiled, touched her arm, and went to the back of the aircraft to talk with Jergen and Lydia.
Rebecca opened the diary and began to read.
Bio: My fiction has appeared in Sinister Tales, Orion’s Child, Stupifying Stories, The Horror Zine, and many others.