Linda Barrett has always been a writer. She wrote her first book at the age of eight and put it in the McKinley Elementary School Library. She lives in Abington, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia in a house which is as old as she is. Her work is featured in Literary Yard and Pure Slush as well as this magazine.
Ron didn’t want to come on the New Directions road trip but his stepbrother, Tim, forced him into it. Agnes DellaRossa, the support group’s leader recommended it to him when she called him earlier that morning.
“Ron!” she shouted in her usual cheerful manner. Ron grumbled and cursed as he put the telephone to his ear in his dirty, cluttered room. “Do you want to go on Irving’s Outing to Yellow Springs today?”
He’d rather lie in bed and dream about ways to end his life. He’d been thinking of that for so long but nothing ever came of it. It was just like him, always thinking of something but never getting around to it.
Ron turned his head to see Tim’s tall form in his bedroom’s doorway. Putting on his thick, silver wireframe glasses, he squinted at Tim. Tim stood there, nodding his head while he held onto the overflowing trash can. Ron didn’t want to go to Yellow Springs but his stepbrother emphatically nodded for him to go.
“Sure,” Ron said in a flat monotone.
“Tell them I’ll drive you over,” Tim whispered. “You can’t spend another day eating Fruit Loops and watching the Wrestling Channel!”
Ron grit his teeth.
“Where should I meet you guys?” he asked in the same disinterested voice.
“At the Warminster American Baptist church parking lot!” Agnes said, “See you there!”
Ron brooded in silence as Tim drove his battered 1997 Ford truck down Route 611. He sat beside his stepbrother, listening to the country and western music. At least the songs on WXTU-FM seemed more sympathetic to his lovelorn plight than Tim’s constant chatter.
“What’s wrong with you? Why are you so depressed all the time?” Tim asked him.
“I can’t hold down a job! I can’t get a girl friend! I can’t find a place to live and you keep telling me to get out and get a life!” Ron moaned.
“Ron,” Tim whined, “You can’t find the right kind of girl by sitting around watching wrestling all the time and CNN News!”
“If it wasn’t for my social anxiety, I’d be like you!”
“Ahhhh,” Tim laughed, “Now you’re thinking more positive!”
“Divorced and working at a dead end job, driving a beat up pick up! Dad told you not to marry Peggy!” Ron pounded his fist on the dusty dashboard.
“Ahhh,” Tim wagged a finger at him, “But at least I thought I was in love! Until Peggy found that landscaper! At least I have money coming in despite my so-called ‘dead end’ job!”
“You’d find something positive about even a nuclear war!” Ron glared at Tim.
“My life’s been a mess since I came out of Mom! How can I look on the bright side when everything I’ve ever had is misery! Aren’t there any girls out there who have warm hearts and pure natures? Not skanks like Peggy!”
“Maybe you’ll find someone at Irving’s outing! You never know!” Tim shrugged.
“Right,” Ron grunted.
Ron sat in the back seat of Irving’s white Acura wrapped in a cocoon of total silence and self-pity. Agnes Della Rossa sat up front with Irving Shapiro, the mastermind behind Irving’s outings. Ron glanced side long at Irving’s wife, Sally. Sally didn’t have that much of a face or a body but Irving loved her. A question formed in Ron’s mind.
“Sally?” he asked her a few times.
Perky Sally blabbed on and on about Irving’s new position as Chief Lab Technician at Abington Hospital’s Willow Grove Campus.
“Sally?” he asked again.
“What?” she asked, turning her head to him.
Sally always seemed sympathetic to Ron whenever they were clustered together in the small group sessions. She understood what it was like to have been all alone in a world of so many couples. She met Irving when the rest of her big, Jewish family wrote her off as a complete old maid ten years ago.
“What’s wrong, Ron?”
“All my life, I’ve wanted a girl to love me,” Ron began, wetting his lips.
“You say that all the time in our small groups!” Irving said.
“Yeah,” Ron heard his voice crack, “But I can’t find one who’s not a skank like my former step-sister-in-law! All the girls in New Directions have boyfriends or husbands or ex-husbands. I’ve never even had a girlfriend! Not even in High School! In fact, I never even finished high school!”
“What’s that got to do with Yellow Springs?” Irving raised back his head to eye Ron in the rear view mirror.
Ron slumped in his seat.
“I just want to find someone, someone female and pure of heart and soul! Isn’t there anyone else in this group that’s like me?”
At Yellow Springs, Irving parked the white Acura in the parking lot next to the Washington Building. Climbing out of the back seat, Ron noticed there was only one car.
“What happened to the others who wanted to come along? I thought last night at the meeting all the other people wanted to go.” Ron asked.
“They probably had to work or go to school,” Agnes said.
School and work always dragged people’s lives down. If it wasn’t for his nervous breakdown in his first year of high school and his father’s death, Ron wouldn’t have to quit school and work as a supermarket bagger to support his stepfather and mother. Tim would have gotten him a job at SPS Iron works in Glenside. If it wasn’t for that damned George W. Bush and his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tim wouldn’t have joined the Army to serve over there. It was Ron who had to stay home with an alcoholic loser stepfather and a mother suffering from the early stages of dementia.
“My whole life’s just a bunch of thwarted plans!” Ron cried deep within himself.
Listening to the blonde middle aged tour guide on this bright, spring day didn’t do him much good. He stared down at the Yellow Springs’ sprawling property and brooded over his loneliness. Why should he care about the Lenape Indians coming here for centuries before the white man to sample the springs? People came here from all over the world and the early United States to partake of the spring’s allegedly healing waters.
If he drank from them, could those waters make him attractive to women and get him a better job?
After the tour, he crossed the street to see if he could find the rest rooms. It was just a bunch of old buildings and a stream running through them. Staring down the hill, he noticed something in the gazebo.
Within the gazebo’s ornate and yellow painted structure, a woman in a long flowing dress stood, holding onto the wrought iron railing. She had a huge flower in her
curled blond hair. Ron saw the pure spring light flash on her spectacles. Did she see him from up on the hill? She seemed to be looking around her for something or someone.
He decided to descend the hill.
At the hill’s bottom, he noticed something. The old buildings didn’t look so old. Around the gazebo, he stared at a ring of green bushes with white/pink flowers on them. His mother, who came from the South, recognized them as camellias. It was the same flower that the girl in the gazebo wore in her hair.
She didn’t seem to notice him. Swirling around in her dress, she hummed a song. Ron hid behind a huge pine tree and watched her. Her round, little face seemed to have red acne blossoms. Ron studied her nose. He realized it looked like a white bunched up caterpillar. Where did he see that face before?
She swirled around again as if swept up into some wind. Her skirts ballooned about her.
His foot stepped on a twig. A loud cracking sound caused the girl to stop in her whirling and jump. She grabbed at her chest with a delicate hand.
“Who’s there?” she shouted in a trilling little voice.
Wearing a disgusted face, Ron came out from behind the tree. He did it again. He tripped up over his big feet again and scared her off like a deer.
“Hi,” he grunted, “My name is Ron Haversham!”
The girl blinked her eyes from behind her thick wire framed spectacles. She looked as near sighted as he was, probably worse. Her optometrist made her a pretty strong prescription from what he noticed. He liked the way her eyes sparkled. They seemed to show some kind of life in them. Something he needed to cheer up his miserable spirits.
“My name’s Camillia Debroux!” she cheerfully sang, extending her arms out to him. “From the New Orleans’ DeBrouxs! Are you a guest here?” she asked.
“No,” Ron said, stepping into the gazebo, “My support group made me come here. Where’s the music coming from?”
Ron listened to the faint sound of classical music coming from the house in front of him. Maybe Agnes was playing some classical music for Irving to sample. Yet, it didn’t sound like a CD player coming from Irving’s Acura. He heard a faint cough and people talking in hushed voices during the music. A woman emitted a shrill laugh but Ron was sure that no one in his group laughed like that.
Camillia turned her head to the sound. She looked back at Ron with a tearful pout.
“That’s my mother,” she sighed, “She’s probably drunk too much champagne again.” Lowering her head, she fumbled into her little pocketbook for a handkerchief. Tears streaked down her round cheeks.
“My step-father used to drink a lot, too.” Ron said, feeling a twinge of sympathy for her.
Camillia took off her spectacles with one hand and dabbed her eyes.
“She brought me here to find a husband. I’m near thirty and none of the gentlemen will dance with me!” she sobbed.
“How come?” Ron asked.
“My mother knows I’m too plain for a decent husband! But she’s so desperate to save our family name! My father died of the Fever a few months ago and he left us with so much debt,...!”
Ron sat down on the gazebo’s bench. Camillia stood there, sobbing.
“Can’t you get a job?” he asked.
Camillia frowned at him.
“I’m from a society family! No one from society should earn their living with their hands! Are you a laborer?” she looked up at him, fresh tears falling in rain drop fashion down her cheeks.
“My brother is. He wants me to work the family business but I don’t have much of an education. I could get a GED but....,” Ron shrugged.
“What’s a GEE-ED-DEE?” Camillia asked, going from distraught to curious.
“It’s something you get when you can’t finish school. I had some trouble with my step-father and my mother and I had to leave school. You go to school?”
Camillia turned away from him.
“It was a ladies’ school up North. They taught me sewing, cooking in the French manner, dance, painting flowers on china but I didn’t like it there. The girls were all so pretty and so catty. They played all sorts of cruel tricks on me. I hated it so much but Thank Providence! Father died and I had to leave that horrid place! Ma Mere kept me
there just so she could drink and flirt with all sorts of men!” Camillia turned to him, her curls bouncing around her face.
“Does your mother beat you?” Ron asked.
Camillia sat down beside Ron.
“No, but she says such awful things to me. Worse than the girls at that school!” she looked down at her hands. Ron noticed she wore fingerless lace gloves like Madonna used to wear back in her 1980's videos. He used to like Madonna when he was a little boy watching MTV when school stopped for the summer.
“Did you learn anything there? Anything to get you a job?”
“Ma Mere wants me to marry a rich man but none of them seem interested in me!” Camilla snapped. “They know I’m too plain! They’re looking for Lola Montez!”
“Who’s that?” Ron asked, “Some Mexican T.V. soap opera actress?”
“She’s a scandalous woman! Beautiful as Delilah in the Bible but wicked! Ma Mere should be happy I’m plain. Lola Montez is an actress and they’re up to no good! She was a mistress to a few kings!” Camillia paused for a moment.
“I wish I was a mistress sometimes!” she harumphed.
“You need a nice guy. These guys your Ma Mere’s pushing you onto they don’t seem to be that nice.” Ron looked at her profile. She resembled someone familiar but he didn’t know where. Maybe he came across her picture in this tourist trap.
“They’re rich.” Camillia lowered her head. “I guess one of them will marry me but he’ll have Lola Montez as a mistress and even a few chambermaids. Sometimes, I wish I could run off with a common laborer and live with him on a small farm some
place and have lots of children. Like common people!” Camillia gave Ron a sidelong glance.
“I don’t know who my dad is. He left my mom because he was scared of being caught by my grandpa. My mom said he went to Atlantic City to be a professional gambler. I live with my step-brother, Tim,”
“He could be a king, you know. They do that to common girls, leave them with child and go back to their palaces in Europe!”
“They don’t have kings in Europe no more. They have presidents now. I watch CNN sometimes,”
Camillia leaned closer to him.
“Where are you from?” She asked.
“Pennsylvania!” he blinked his eyes at her.
“How did you get out here?”
“Irving drove us,”
“Irving is this lab technician at Abington Hospital. He makes all this money and he can afford an Acura,”
“What’s an Acura?”
“It’s a car!” Ron waved his hands in confusion. What planet was this chick from? He thought.
“A car?” Camillia gasped.
“Then, how did you get here?” he asked her.
“We took a ship from New Orleans and docked at the Philadelphia harbor then we took a carriage until we came here. Ma Mere and my slave, Jilicey,...she’s wonderful, you know. Raised me as my wet nurse,...Do you own slaves?”
“Well, my step-brother Tim, he like does all the house work. Nobody has slaves anymore unless you watch FOX News...,”
“Ohhhhh...good!” Camillia bounced up and down, “I’ve always been an abolitionist at heart! Treating those poor brutes the way they do!”
“What’s an abolitionist?” Ron asked.
“Ohhhh,” Camillia whined, “You must have come from out of a rock or something! Do you want go with me and dance? They brought in this band all the way from Philadelphia! A wonderful orchestra! Do you know how to waltz?”
“I know some dances I saw on MTV. But I’m not that good!”
Camillia grabbed his hand and he followed limply behind her.
“All you do is swirl to the music,” she began.
Agnes and Irving spent the rest of the day searching for Ron. Sally called his cell phone every five minutes. She turned to Irving.
“I can’t even hear it ringing!” she breathed, looking up at her husband.
“Did he turn it off?” Agnes wondered. Her heart started pounding. Did he throw himself into any of the springs? She thought.
Sally punched in Ron’s stepbrother’s number.
“Is Ron there?” she asked Tim.
Tim decided to go on Map Quest to find the directions to Yellow Springs. It took him a full two hours to arrive at the parking lot. He spent the whole day searching the grounds for his step-brother. Even the groundskeeper joined in the search. Ron was nowhere to be found.
“Let’s call the cops,” Tim moaned, sitting in the Yellow Springs Library.
Chester County Police brought in the dogs to smell around the woods and the fields. Ron’s face was plastered all over social media throughout the United States. No one found the pudgy, dark haired Ronald Q. Havisham with his out-of-date wire framed glasses. He seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth.
The search grew and grew into a major psychic event. UFO maniacs and conspiracy theorists wrote endless blogs about what happened to Ron. Even a ghost hunting television program joined in on the search.
One night, the ghost hunters set up their ghost finding equipment around the Yellow Springs gazebo. Pat and Mike Charleston, the ghost hunting twin siblings, adjusted their video tape cameras to pick up the gazebo’s eerie goings on for that night.
The Charleston twins sat behind the massive pine tree and smoked their cigarettes, waiting for the sun to set in order for them to record the ghost sightings.
Around nine o’clock at night, they awoke to the first movements of a Schubert quartet wafting from the structure. Hiding behind the pine, they witnessed the spirits of a man and a woman. The woman wore the ball gown which was the height of 1848 fashion. Her dowdy features seemed alive with the light of a new love. Tears dropped from behind her thick spectacles. She looked into the eyes of a young man who swirled her around the gazebo.
“Isn’t that Camillia DeBroux, the daughter of that New Orleans courtesan who disappeared in June 1848?” Pat nudged the equally goggle-eyed Mike.
“Yeah,” Mike murmured, “Her portrait hangs in the closet of the old mansion down in the French Quarter. She ran away from Yellow Springs and they never found her body. Like she disappeared off the face of the earth! What’s her ghost doing here?”
“Look who’s dancing with her!”
Ron Q. Havisham wore a laughing expression in his frumpy 2015 jeans and baggy shirt as he waltzed Camillia around the dance floor.