To begin with, the reason I know that Elmer is a ghost is because I saw him floating around over my head. And since he was my best friend, I guess I should know him if I see him, right?
My girlfriend Nelly saw him too. Fact is, she was so scared, she shinnied up me like a tree. I rightly remember when we saw Elmer. We were parked at the old covered bridge just outside of town. It’s the best spooning spot around here for miles because once you get down the bank underneath the bridge, nobody going over it can see you. Then you can really enjoy yourself, ‘specially on the nights when there’s a big bright harvest moon shining over the water like there was the night we saw Elmer.
I remember the crickets was chirruping and the night air felt soft as Nelly’s hand and smelled like her perfume That bridge sure is a perfect spot for putting your arm around your best girl and stealing a kiss or two while you’re cuddled up on the buggy seat. Fact is, that’s exactly what me and Nelly was doing that night, sitting cuddled on the buggy seat. I was holding her hand and whispering in her ear.
“Nelly, you sure are pretty. Prettier than any other girl in town, I’ll tell ya.”
“Prettier than Mary Lou Hawkins?” she asked me, leaning back in my arms and looking up at me with those big blue eyes of hers. “A whole heap prettier,” I murmured, bending my face over hers and eyeing those ruby red lips. Just as I was starting to kiss her, there was this awful moaning noise and our horse reared back like he was spooked something terrible. The buggy top slammed down like the barn door does in a wind storm. The horse reared up on his hind legs and I let go of Nelly and grabbed hold of the reins. Nelly’s head jerked up and she bumped my chin a good one. While I was rubbing it, she pointed to a spot above our heads.
“Ll-oook Simon,” she said. “It’s Elmer!”
I looked up and it was Elmer all right, floating up there above my head in a haze. He looked the same way as I had seen him floating in the water. You could see through him like he didn’t have insides anymore.
“Elmer, what are you doing up there?” I ask him.
He didn’t answer right away; jest looked at me with the saddest eyes outside of a basset hound.
“Elmer, why did you do it? Folks say you jumped off the covered bridge up there, that’s how you drowned. Why did you do it? Was it because of Susie?”
He nodded ‘yes’ and I seen droplets of water running down his forehead, though it had been a week since he drowned himself.
“Elmer, she ain’t worth it. I say you’re better off without her since she didn’t have no more sense than to run off with that traveling salesman.”
Elmer held up his hands in a ‘what can I do?’ gesture. He’s right. There isn’t too much he can do now about Susie running off or him being dead. At first I thought him and Susie was going to end up married with all of the spooning and courting they did. I could’da told Elmer that Susie might break out of the harness before he had the bit tightened, but somehow my heart just stood still in my mouth and I couldn’t talk around it. Elmer couldn’t keep from courting Susie because he’s loved her since we were all in our one room school house together. Susie’s blond pigtails hanging down her back made good handles for Elmer to pull and dip in his ink well, since she sat right in front of him.
“Hey Elmer!” I hollered. “Do you remember how old lady Johnson used to holler at you when you dipped Susie’s pigtails in your inkwell?”
Elmer nodded and more tears dripped down his face. When we got a little more growed, we used to go to dances at the school house and Clem the Fiddler played “Skip to My Lou”. I looked up at Elmer again.
“Remember the times you danced with Susie ‘til three in the morning? Then you took an hour to visit the covered bridge?”
Elmer brushed a tear off his nose and smiled.
“Then you worked for your daddy on the farm for two years to buy them back forty acres from him. Then when you got the deed to the back forty, you built a nice house and planted rose bushes around the front door, remember Elmer?”
He nodded, dripping more tears. I felt like I was in a rainstorm.
“And I remember how nervous you were the day you went to ask Susie’s father for her hand in marriage. We stayed up all night and the night before, practicing. You talked and I listened and gave you some pointers. Hey, Elmer, what am I going to do when I ask for Nelly’s hand? You’re a ghost now. How are you gonna coach me when all you can do is float around in the air?”
Elmer held up his hands.
“I don’t know either, Elmer. I just remember that I coached you and I did a bang up job because Susie said yes. You two set the date for June.”
Nelly snuggled up to me. “Who you talking to, Simon?”
“Nelly, honey, you ain’t gonna believe this, but I’m talking to Elmer.”
Nelly moved away from me. “You’re crazy Simon Jenkins. Maybe I won’t marry you after all.”
“Well, I ain’t sure I want to get hitched up with you, either. Especially after I seen what a woman did to my best friend.”
“It wasn’t all Susie’s fault,” Nelly said, her eyes flashing sparks at me. “Some of it was Elmer’s fault for not putting his foot down.”
Elmer heard what Nelly said about him and suddenly her head and shoulders were all wet.
“What more did Susie want?” I asked her while she wrung water out of her hair. “Elmer talked to her father.”
“He did that,” Nelly admitted. “But after her talked, he shut up tighter than a bear trap. Wouldn’t sweet talk her hardly none at all,” Susie told me. “Maybe that’s why she ran off with that traveling salesman. He did have a good tongue on him.”
I snorted. “Sweet talk don’t put bread and butter on the table.”
“But it sure can butter the way to lots of snuggling,” Nelly told me. “It sort of gets a woman’s will ready for the kids and the grumpy man.”
Nelly scooted over and started to jump out of the buggy.
“Nelly, I was just saying that because Elmer was short on sweet talking was no reason for Susie to run away with that traveling salesman.”
“Maybe the church picnic was Susie’s first earful of sweet talk and she got swept away in it,” Nelly said.
“It was a good picnic for sweet talking, Nelly. The grass was starting to green, the trees budding and the birds singing.”
Nelly sat down beside me again. “I remember, Simon. Most of the town was there and Clem sawed dances from his fiddle while the ladies unpacked all of their picnic baskets.”
I saw it in front of me like it was happening all over again. The picnic buzzed and hummed and lots of eating went on. Elmer and Susie and me and Nelly was dancing to that fiddle music when this stranger came walking into the picnic. This stranger, he was pretty handsome – tree tall with dark, wavy hair and pearly white teeth. And he had a little black moustache that looked like he brushed every hair in it at least four times a day. He had on one of them store bought suits and a string bow tie that he twirled around his little finger. He was what you call a dandy, and for sure, a lady killer.
Fact is, soon as the girls saw him sitting by his lonesome eating watermelon, they decided he needed company and pretty soon he was surrounded by white dresses and dimples.
“I don’t see how he’s so much prettier than the rest of us fellows,” I said to Nelly. “Put some city slicker type clothes on me and I’d be as good looking as him.”
“It’s not just his clothes,” Nelly said, looking at him with adoring eyes. “He’s got a sweet talking way about him that makes a woman’s heart beat extra fast.”
I crept up and listened to some of his talk and sure enough, he had a tongue slicker than a whistle.
“Hummmp!” I said to Nelly. “I’ll get he doesn’t know how to slop hogs or break colts.”
“Maybe not, but he knows how to play the fiddle,” Nelly said.
And sure enough, that dandified stranger pulled a fiddle out of somewhere and started playing right along with Clem. Them two sounded real good together and pretty soon everybody was dancing. First off, I didn’t notice Susie was paying him that much mind. She was dancing with Elmer, but then I looked up and saw her standing real close to the stranger, like she was counting every word he said. And that city slicker, well, he was looking into her eyes and smiling to dazzle the sun. And all of the time, he was still playing that fiddle of his.
Finally, Susie sheeps-eyed that stranger into putting down his fiddle and dancing with her. The city slicker and Susie danced and whirled around the floor like they would never stop. I walked over to Elmer. He was just standing there watching Susie flirt with that city slicker.
“Hey Elmer, why don’t you go over there and give him a punch in the nose?” I asked him.
“Can’t,” he said. “I ain’t got no string bow tie or fast talking tongue.”
“No, but you got her hand in marriage, according to her father. Why don’t you do something?”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“Walk over and punch him in the nose for flirting with your girl.”
“I can’t do that, Simon. She’s flirting back.”
“You can show her you’re a lot better than that city slicker.”
“You really think I can?” he asked.
“Sure you can. Come on, I’ll go over with you.”
We walked over to where the city fella and Susie was sitting, and real casual like I says to Susie, “Hey, Susie, Elmer’s been looking for you.”
She didn’t take her eyes off the city fella. “Tell him I’ve been here right along.”
“Susie, it’s time to go home,” Elmer said.
“Hmmmm?” Susie murmured, still hanging on to that fella’s words like a squirrel does a nut. “What did you say, Hiram? I missed it because I have some pests hanging on my other ear.”
“Tell them to get lost,” the city fella told her. “I rented a buggy so we can talk more privately.
Susie squealed like a hog. “Oh Hiram, a buggy ride with you would be wonderful.”
The city fella held out his high falutin arm. “Let’s go, my dear.”
Without a backward glance at Elmer or without even giving Elmer a chance to punch the city slicker in the nose, Susie waltzed off to his buggy and they rode off in a cloud of dust. That’s when Elmer got mad. Maybe it was the fact that the dust from their buggy made him sneeze, but anyway he got mad.
“I’ll fix that fella!” Elmer hollered, shaking his fist in the direction of the buggy. “I’ll punch him so hard he’ll land over in the next county. I’ll throw him in the river where the quicksand is. Just wait ‘til I get my hands on him!”
But it was too late. The next morning, Susie’s father brought Elmer a note she had left on the kitchen table. Her father was real upset, threatened to take his shotgun to the city fella if he dared show his face in town again. In the meantime, the city fella and Susie had gone and eloped and downright broke Elmer’s heart in two.Susie’s father said that when Elmer read the note, he tore it up quick as a wink and took off running down to the river to their courting spot. Just took off running so wild that Susie’s father got scared and followed him, hollering, “Elmer, you gotta come back here. Come back and talk about it!”
Elmer didn’t listen. He ran down to the river with Susie’s father following him as best as he could, which wasn’t too good because of his rheumatiz and all. I myself didn’t get there until every last man in town was by the river, dragging for Elmer’s body. We drug all night and still didn’t find anything. I was standing there at the spot where he jumped in and my conscience gave me a good, swift kick in the pants.
I hightailed it over to Elmer’s house, just in time to see his folks heading for the river. So we walked back to the Courtin Spot, and sure enough there he was washed up on the bank. He still had Susie’s picture clutched in one hand and a note in the other.
Elmer’s daddy read the note and that’s when I cried. I looked up at Elmer and even now there were remembering tears in my eyes. “You said it all in your note, didn’t you Elmer? You said there won’t never be another girl like Susie so you don’t want to live without her. Elmer, I can see that! But when you said you were coming back to haunt all fool lovers until judgment day, did you have to include me and Nelly in that? Elmer, you spoiled my whole, entire courting evening.”
Elmer nodded and more tears ran down his cheeks.
“Now just a minute, Elmer, you ain’t going to do this again are you? I mean, here we are, Nelly and me, spooning away and then you show up and cause a big fight between us. Is that what you meant when you said you’d haunt fool lovers? Now come on, Elmer, I’m sorry your courting didn’t turn out so well, but that’s no reason why you should be the ruination of mine. Now Elmer, I’m asking you. Will you go away so’s Nelly and me can court some more?”
Elmer shook his head “no” and the tears run down his face like river water. I knowed he was thinking about Susie and I knowed I’d never get rid of him if we stayed here. So I did what I had to do. I convinced Nelly to get hitched right away and we did.
Getting hitched seemed to make more sense at the time. We could court at home in our living room and it sure was more comfortable that way. Them buggy seats do get hard after awhile. And Elmer, well I hear tell he still floats above the heads of lovers that go down by the covered bridge to watch the harvest moon. After all, he did say he’d haunt fool lovers until judgment day. But he don’t bother me and Nelly nomore!
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