Jan 30, 2013


This little story's about four years old, and it isn't doing much other than taking up a tiny percentage of my Google Drive space. So I'm throwing it out here for you, if you haven't seen it already, and then I'm going to forget it.

So here it is. And don't worry, it's pretty short.

Speak Softly

The first time I saw the ghost was on a Sunday morning. I was trying to sleep in that morning, and even the 10 AM sun pouring through my cheap curtains had been unable to rouse me. I was having a pleasant, somewhat nebulous dream involving a nubile pop star whose music was the only thing about her I didn't like.

She wasn't even a real pop star, just some amalgam of various singers too young for me to fantasize about without feeling like a dirty old man, but she and I had just hit it off wonderfully. We were walking together on the beach in front of a beautiful sunset. She stopped and looked up at me, her deep blue eyes full of desire. As I pulled her toward me to kiss her as she desperately wanted me to, she spoke, and her voice was peculiar in that it sounded distinctly like a middle-aged man.

"The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us," she proclaimed seriously.

The voice was gruff, but it was quiet enough that it didn't immediately startle me awake. I just opened my eyes, puzzled. I lay in bed for a long moment, and while I regretted the sudden disappearance of my paramour, I found myself deeply curious as to what the hell she'd been talking about. After a moment, however, I sat up. I then blinked with some alarm at a silent figure seated near the end of my bed.

He was a stout, fifty-something man with a bushy, grayish mustache and dark hair slicked down and parted down the middle. He was dressed in a dark brown twill suit, so old-fashioned and odd that it was more a costume than an outfit.

"Who are you?" I demanded, attempting to sound more indignant than fearful.

The man peered at me with a critical eye over a ridiculous pair of pince-nez spectacles. After a long, uncomfortable moment's contemplation, he looked away, gazing around the room. He nodded at my closet, which was overflowing with a chronic backlog of dirty laundry.

"I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life," he said. "I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well."

I stared at him for several seconds. He smiled at me and chuckled, hopping off the bed with a surprising spryness.

"There is not a man of us who does not at times need a helping hand to be stretched out to him," he said, pulling my over-full laundry basket out of the closet. He began gathering various dirty socks, shirts and jockey shorts off of the floor and placing them atop the pile. "And then shame upon him who will not stretch out the helping hand to his brother."

"Seriously," I said, climbing out of bed, then picking up and pulling on a tattered bathrobe, "who in the hell are you, and why are you in my house?"

He stood up, hefting the full basket, and nodded toward the bedroom door.

"Roosevelt," he said, balancing the basket somewhat precariously on one knee and holding out a large, meaty hand, which I found myself shaking without thinking about it, "Theodore Roosevelt."

He winked at me. "Friends call me Teddy," he said with a smile, "And I've got a lot of friends." He let go of my hand and stood there holding my laundry.

"Teddy Roosevelt," I said.

He nodded.

"The president," I said.

He nodded.

"The dead president," I said.

He shrugged.

I sighed, relieved. "For a minute I thought you were some crazy person," I told him. The ghost offered no response so I opened the bedroom door. "You want some waffles?"

After hauling my laundry into the garage (I had to run it myself -- he had no idea how to work the washer), Roosevelt sat at my kitchen table and watched me as I put four Eggos in my toaster oven. He watched me as I got the syrup out of the cupboard and the butter out of the fridge. He watched me pour the orange juice. I poured us each a small glass, because I was almost out.

When I tossed the empty container into my recycling bin, Roosevelt nodded approvingly."The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem," he said. "Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others."

"Yeah," I agreed. "Maple syrup?"

Roosevelt nodded. "Please."

We sat at the kitchen table and ate our waffles in silence. Occasionally, I would look up and meet Roosevelt's gaze. He'd smile and raise his fork in mini-salute.

I considered going out and getting the paper, but ghosts can be peculiar about current events, and the thought of the conversations that might force us to have was a bit much. It depends on the ghost, of course, but generally you don't want to open a newspaper in front of them unless you're looking for a four-hour discussion in which you explain things like American Idol and how that whole Soviet Union thing turned out.

For his part, Roosevelt seemed content to just eat. He nodded politely to me when I took his plate.

"Um… Anyway," I hemmed, "I'm supposed to go down to the park and play a little ball at noon…"

Roosevelt nodded, smiling, as I spoke. He took off his spectacles and cleaned them with a handkerchief.

"So, uh … I guess I'd better take a shower," I finished.

"To borrow a simile from the football field," Roosevelt said, "we believe that men must play fair, but that there must be no shirking, and that the success can only come to the player who hits the line hard." He smacked his hand on the table to emphasize something, but I wasn't sure what it was.

"Yeah. Well, it's basketball," I told him, "but I'm sure the sentiment is the same."

He nodded.

"Okay, well, I'll just go take a shower, then."

So I did. A long shower.

"I saw a ghost this morning," I said, as Jeff's free-throw bounced off the backboard. He caught the rebounding ball and dribbled it idly, considering."Again?" he asked.

I pointed toward Roosevelt, who now sat at a court-side bench. "That's him sitting over there." Roosevelt grinned and waved as Jeff looked over.

"Oh. I thought he was just some guy," Jeff said, waving back automatically. "So who's this one?"

"Says he's Teddy Roosevelt," I shrugged.

"Huh." Jeff pondered this for a moment. "You're moving up in the world, then, eh?" He grinned and I gave a noncommittal grunt. Jeff cocked an eyebrow. "Come on. He's better than that lawyer who was following you around in April."

"Hey, Frank helped nail Al Capone," I reminded him.

"Yeah, but he was kind of annoying with all that bitching about being left out of The Untouchables."I couldn't argue with that, it had been annoying. I still wondered how anyone could be upset that he was left out of a Kevin Costner film, particularly one I hated that much.

"He looks like he wants to play," Jeff observed.

Roosevelt was dressed in a grey, shapeless track suit or wrestling outfit. It had "HARVARD" stenciled across the chest. He also had a white towel draped over the back of his neck.

"He'll have to wait ‘til Adam gets here," I said, and Roosevelt sat patiently while Jeff and I played a little half-assed one-on-one.

Adam showed up about five minutes later.

"Who's that?" he asked

"Teddy Roosevelt," I said. "He wants to play," I added, as Roosevelt jumped up and strode over to us, a big smile under his bushy mustache.

Adam smirked. "He's on your team, ghostbuster."

I frowned, eyeing Roosevelt. He was spry but a bit thick-looking, and not particularly tall. Adam and Jeff were both taller than me, and better shots, too, so this seemed a bit unfair. The ghost of Frank Wilson had been following me through most of the previous Spring, when they had been really into playing pool, and I had perpetually been teamed with the ghost lawyer, whose skill with a cue was nearly as nonexistent as he was.

We separated, Jeff and Adam taking the ball to their end of the court. Roosevelt clapped me on the shoulder.

"It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed," he said.

I rolled my eyes and he laughed, punching me lightly on the shoulder.

Jeff and Adam laughed at some joke as they came down the court, passing the ball back and forth.

"Ready, Mr. President?" Adam said with exaggerated formality.

Roosevelt inclined his head toward Adam slightly and answered, "Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess, it becomes foolishness," prompting the other guys into polite laughter.

It was the last laugh either of them had for the next 20 minutes -- Roosevelt was dynamite.

After he had stolen the ball and scored three times in as many minutes, Jeff and Adam started double-teaming him. It didn’t help much. He was just as adept at passing it to me as he was at rebounding.

When it was starting to get pretty embarrassing, Adam made the mistake of fouling Roosevelt rather obviously. An "accidental" elbow to the solar plexus from Roosevelt forced Jeff to call a time-out while Adam sat on the court wheezing.

"We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man," Roosevelt said to me, winking.

"I couldn't agree more," I grinned in reply.

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