A Fine and Private Place
by Alvin G. Burstein
Consciousness returned. He savored feeling lapped in restful silence. The dark that greeted his opening eyes seemed soft, comforting, velvety. He took a deep breath and stretched, luxuriating.
Another deeper breath, and a sense of weightlessness bloomed. He floated free of his coffin, out of his grave to find himself standing by its side, erect but still weightless. The night was moon-lit. He could read the headstone. It bore an inscription:
Born February 11, 1950
Died March 18, 1995
This is weird. I must be dreaming. Maybe I should wake up. But…
In an habitual gesture, Andrew combed his fingers through his hair, rubbed his neck. He felt OK. But light, as though he were—not floating exactly—but not really touching the ground either. He looked down at his body. Dark suit, starched white shirt and striped rep tie. Dressed for a funeral.
A funeral. His funeral. Memories began to click into place.
The pistol in Audrey’s slender hand looked out of place, the blued steel contrasting with her gold jewelry. Hate glittered in her eyes as she spit, “You shit!” and pulled the trigger.
The first round took him in the chest, flinging him backward. As he sprawled to the floor, the gun boomed twice more.
He came to on a gurney in the ER. Medics were cutting off his clothing, starting IVs.
“You awake, Mac?” one of them asked.
Andrew mumbled something, trying to answer. Intubation ended the conversation.
Seeming to look down from the ceiling of the OR, he saw the team in what seemed like a scrum around his body on the blood-spattered table. One of them shook his head.
“He’s gone,” the medic grunted.
Fuck! That bitch killed me. Andrew shook his head. Can I be a ghost? I want to wake up. But…
Andrew stared at the tombstone. He clenched his fist to pound the granite slab. His fist passed through the stone. He kicked at the slab with one of his weightless legs. No impact. It was material. He was not, or his body wasn’t.
OK. OK. What’s next? Getting shot by that bitch wasn’t a dream. And I remember reading about out of body experiences when people die and then come back. Maybe I’ll come back. I need to find Audrey. I owe her… I…
How did it all start?
More memories swirled into place.
It was New Year’s eve. The party was hopping and the champagne was flowing when he arrived at Greg’s apartment. As Andrew scanned the room he noted the lanky blonde Greg was chatting with and walked up to the couple.
“Greg, old buddy, you shouldn’t keep this lovely person all to yourself. How about introducing me?”
Greg grinned, “Happy to oblige a friend. Audrey, this is Andy Martin. He’s a poet. Maybe he’ll write an ode to you.”
Audrey cocked an eyebrow and smiled. “You’re a writer? You do that for a living?”
“It’s hard to support yourself that way,” Andrew said. “Greg just wants to make me sound interesting. I write for pleasure, and publish some. But I do investment banking; that’s how I earn a living. What’s your racket, Audrey?”
“If I wanted to be cute, I could say ‘Tennis, anyone?’” Audrey laughed. “But money is as interesting as poetry, at least to me. Got some good investment advice?”
Greg cleared his throat. “Well,” he said, “you guys seem to be hitting it off. I think I will head for the bar. Toodle-oo.”
Andrew reached for Audrey’s hand. “Tell you what, Audrey. What about a mutual venture? Let’s invest in a dalliance with possibilities. Interested?”
“Interested enough to talk some more,” Audrey said. Then she slid her hand out of Andrew’s and brought her fingers to her carmined lips, blowing him a kiss as she walked away.
Heading for Audrey’s apartment Andrew found walking wasn’t necessary. As he thought of his need to get there, he found himself floating. He was transported to her place, without the need to use the elevators and open doors. As he looked around the familiar living room, he became aware of sounds from the adjoining bedroom, sounds that were also familiar. The sounds of Audrey surrendering to her passion. And a less familiar sound, Greg groaning in release.
I shouldn’t be surprised. I knew they had a history. But I thought she was on board with the plan. The bitch. What else did the two of them have going?
Andrew eased into the bedroom, grimacing as Audrey and Greg lit up post-coital smokes. He recognized the exotic aroma.
She’s even sharing the Sabronies I gave her. Damn!
“Umm, Greg, that was primo,” Audrey murmured.
Greg smiled, “Yeah, Babe, you’re a hot one. I wonder if Andrew ever…”
“Look, Greg, he’s dead and gone. He doesn’t count any more. And he got what was coming to him. He was too tricky for his own good. You ditched the gun, the cops bought my story about a break-in, so that’s that.”
Another memory came into focus.
It was the Monday after New Year’s day. Andrew dialed Audrey’s phone number; he got the automated leave a message spiel.
“Audrey, this is your favorite poet. I made a resolution not to miss a chance for us to talk. How about dinner Wednesday?”
She called back. He suggested the trendy bistro on Madison. She agreed.
Andrew got there early, and asked the waiter to set up a vase for some flowers he had brought. Seeing Audrey enter, he stood to greet her and helped her to her chair.
“What a gentleman!” she smiled, “And what lovely flowers. Are you romancing me?”
“Well that’s the plan. After we order a drink, we owe ourselves a get acquainted talk, don’t you think? You know my line. What’s your pleasure drink-wise and who are you when you are at work? If you work.
They agreed on French 75’s made with Plymouth gin, and toasted with the frosty flutes. Audrey took a sip, then looked down at her glass, swirling the lemon twist with her forefinger.
“Maybe it would be more useful to talk about likes and dislikes than occupations. What do you think?” she asked.
“Good enough,” Andrew nodded. “You know I write a bit. What do you do for pleasure?”
“I guess you could say I’m a risk taker. I like to gamble. I’ve done some sky-diving. And I like meeting new people.”
As the conversation and dinner unfolded, Andrew did learn about Audrey’s day job. She was a free-lance fundaraiser for charitable enterprises. Many of them were too small for expensive in-house staff, and she would contract for specific operations. Andrew told her that he was specializing in building a financial planning practice focused on the needs of families with net worth in the one to ten million dollar range. “Not scraping by, but not filthy rich” was his characterization.
The conversation slowed, not lagging, but becoming more reflective. They spoke less and looked into each other’s eyes more.
Over cappuccinos, Andrew reached for Audrey’s hand. “I think we’re a good fit. How about that dalliance I mentioned?” he asked slowly.
“Sounds like it might be an exciting investment, Andrew. Let’s give it a whirl,” she said lifting Andrew’s hand to her lips. And nibbling at it. Gently.
Their next meal together was at Andrew’s apartment. Wine and mussels. Desert cheeses garnished with grapes and figs. They sipped an old calvados. Standing at the window, they watched the sky darken into evening.
When Andrew put his arm around her shoulders, Audrey slowly turned toward him, eyes half closed, a smile on her lips. They kissed. And then kissed again, more deeply.
Audrey reached up to loosen Andrew’s tie.
“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable without this?” she asked with a throaty chuckle.
Then, for the first time, they made love.
* * *
“When did you realize he was filming you and him…you know?” Greg asked, taking a drag on his smoke.
“Not till he tried to con me into getting my charities to invest in his scams. I didn’t like it, couldn’t do that. He got ugly and threatened to post the pix. It would have ruined me. Lucky I had Roscoe in my purse. Andrew wasn’t expecting that.”
Pursing her lips, Audrey took a long drag on her Sabronie, exhaling a cloud of smoke cloud that drifted toward Andrew. Impulsively, he extended a forefinger and wrote A in the smoke.
“Wha-what the fuck is that!?” Audrey exclaimed.
“What is what?” Greg asked.
“There! It’s an initial. A for Audrey—or, O my god—for Andrew!”
Watching them stare, goggle-eyed, Andrew smiled sardonically for a second, and then wrote more on the cloud: Tape. Gym Locker. Comb 386.
Greg and Audrey were transfixed, staring, stunned.
Andrew turned floating back to the cemetery, back to his grave. He shrugged and eased himself back into to the silence of his coffin.
Making the tape was a shitty thing to do. Either they’ll figure it out or they won’t. Whatever.
He chuckled, luxuriating in the quiet once more.
The grave’s a fine and private place.
◊ ◊ ◊
Alvin G. Burstein
Burstein, a psychologist and psychoanalyst, is a professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee and a former faculty member of the New Orleans-Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center with numerous scholarly works to his credit. He writes a monthly movie review column, A Shrink at the Flics, for the e-newspaper, Psychology Times. He is a member of Inklings, a writer’s critique group that meets weekly to review its members’ imaginative writings. Burstein has published flash fiction and autobiographical pieces in e-zines; The Owl, his first novelette, is available at Amazon. He is a committed Francophile, unsurprisingly a lover of fine cheese and wine, and an unrepentant cruciverbalist.