By S. Craig Renfroe, Jr.
She takes down the Ouija board, hidden away as if it’s valuable—not even a classic Fuld, but a cheap 70s Parker Brothers, though she or someone has decorated it with cut-out pictures of creepy children pointing to the sky or just looking glum.
“Let’s ask the spirits, shall we?”
“Really?” I say. “The spirits have nothing better to do? Eternal damnation, that kind of thing?”
“Aren’t you worried about your soul?”
“Not especially.” My grandmother had become increasingly concerned. A ninety-four-year-old ruining my rare visits with pleas for me to attend church, the tiny Baptist place full of well-wishers and jovial brimstone. She kept telling me I’ll never know when the Lord will come.
She moves our glasses of Pinot Grigio to make space on the coffee table.
“You’re drunk,” I tell her.
We had met online at one of those e-dating sites, but I fear she had the wrong impression because I had lied on my profile, saying things, like “I’m caring”, or implying things, like that I’m single. I had been tripped up by just how many women ask me point blank if I’m married, and, to my credit, once asked, I always admit to it. Due diligence should be rewarded.
“Let’s start simple: will Jim here burn in hell?”
The planchette, the plastic marker shaped like an upside-down heart with a clear, circular window in the middle, sits there on top of a particular sullen little girl, her face all anticipation of the disappointments and defeats of adulthood. Until finally, I nudge the thing toward the positive response.
“Stop it,” she says.
Then she pulls it her way toward the big NO. After a little tussle, we stalemate between the two.
“Looks like it remains to be seen,” she says. “All right, your turn.”
She squints and one eye twitches. “Spirits, should we play strip Ouija?”
The marker sits still in the no-man’s-land between our hands, but then slowly moves to cover the YES.
“How do we play?” she asks.
“We’ll each ask a question we disagree on and have these spirits so bored they’re hanging out here tell us the answer. The person who didn’t agree with the spirits has to remove one article of clothing. A serious piece, too, none of this ‘each earring counts’ bullshit.”
“You assume we’ll find something to disagree on.”
“Should there be sex on the first date?”
“Yes,” I say.
The planchette does a lot of hesitant movements but finds its way to YES. I know that the Ouija board actually works on a simple conceit: that our unconscious mind has some control of our motor system, like whatever monitors our blinks, or the way body language gives away our only-partially-known desires. So, even though it may surprise our conscious minds, it’s still us sending the messages, not the hereafter. And, though she said no, she’s willing to have a go tonight. She smiles and pulls her sweater off, her breasts safe in a dark green support bra. She has freckles on her stomach.
“Your turn,” I say.
“Should there be thoughts about commitment on the first date?”
“Do we even need to say where we stand?”
She smiles around her wine glass.
Our hands, posed pensive over the plastic marker, remain still. I give it a few seconds more before I start to ask for a redo, but it does inch its way, slowly, to stop at YES. I’ll be damned.
“Take it off, baby,” she says.
I unhitch my belt and make a show of whipping it, daring, through my pants, though it gets snagged. I toss it to the side, but she keeps looking, expecting more. “That’s it,” I say. “One article.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” she says. “Not from the man who ranted on and on about earrings not counting.”
“Fine, fine.” I pull off my polo shirt. “But you’ll pay for this.”
“That’s a hairy chest.”
So is yours, I stop myself from saying. “Is it fair that women have to shave more areas of their body than men?”
“No!” She screams and startles herself, checking behind her, as if the neighbors might bust through the door.
Light fingers, like we’re not even touching it. I stare at the little, lost girl. It really is an old picture, cut from a book or newspaper, maybe. She must be long dead. Or very old. That old where people wish you were dead so they could stop thinking about you.
“Fine,” she says. The planchette has found its way to YES.
She surprises me by cradling her breast in one arm and bending the other behind her, unhitching. The bra falls loose, trapped by her arm. She pulls down each strap. Then, almost anticlimactically, she drops the bra. Her breasts, free, smooth and freckle-free, droop a little, more playfully than saddened.
“Nice,” I say.
“Is there alien life in the universe?”
“I’m shocked. I read you wrong on that one. I was sure you’d be all cynically skeptical.”
“More agnostic but leaning toward believing.” At least, unsure enough to not risk losing my pants first.
“Should women have breast implants?” she asks.
“I’ll take the bait.”
We reach for the planchette, she misses a little, touching my hand, letting a finger linger before getting set. It flutters over to NO.
One button unbuttoned and one zipper unzipped. The kakis collect at my feet and I pull my socked feet out, careful not to let my boxers gape.
“Spirits, should she take off her pants next?” I ask.
It slides straight over to YES. She does a pirouette standing and almost falls. Steady again, she unsnaps and unzips and wiggles the jeans to the floor. Kicking the legs free is more of a problem, and she collapses into giggles.
She takes another drink of wine, her face flushed, her eyes almost glazed enough.
“Now, it gets interesting,” she says. “Is a spirit, something larger than ourselves, communicating to us through the Ouija board?”
I concentrate; not on my fingers, but in my mind, I see the inverted heart move to the NO. I block everything out so that it takes a moment to realize the planchette isn’t moving to the YES or NO, but the letters, slowly sliding over them and pausing on certain ones, then repeating.
“Stop it,” I say. “Just yes or no.”
“I’m not doing it.”
“Yes, you are. We are. We’re the ones moving it.”
“Then you’re as much to blame.”
It spells it out again. J-U-N-E, back to the middle, J-U–. I pull my hand off the planchette.
“What is it?” she asks.
I think about grabbing my clothes, running in my boxers out of the apartment, but where is my belt? And my boxers’ fly, the fly doesn’t have a button. “It’s my wife. June. I’m married.”
Instead of her face collapsing in sad shock or uplifting in homicidal rage, she smiles. “So am I.” She gingerly gets up and totters over to a small desk, I figure to retrieve her ring or a picture. When she returns, she drops unceremoniously a bible on the Ouija board.
“Is this a sermon?” I ask. “I mean, do you have room to talk?”
“No. I’m married. I’m a bride of Christ.”
“We had a nondenominational wedding.”
“I’m a nun.”
“No,” I say, “you’re not.”
She’s already tottering away again, talking over her shoulder. “It’s the habit, always the habit. My order doesn’t wear it, but here.”
Now, she hands me a picture with her and some poor people. She’s dressed matronly.
“That’s what I wear for people who want the tradition.”
“So you haven’t taken your vows, or whatever. I don’t know the protocol.”
“I have. It was exciting and they were excited to have me. Nuns are dying out.”
“But you’re a nun, and you were going to, you know,” I say. “I’m cheating on my wife and you’re cheating on God.”
“God is all forgiveness. People, however, are not. You should go back to your wife.”
I pull up my pants and search for my belt. She makes no effort to cover herself. I’m fiddling with my shirt and keeping my eyes on the Ouija board. “Did you decorate it that way?”
“When I was young. I could talk to God even then.”
“So it was God taking off your clothes?”
“We are married.”
At the door, she tells me to go home, but not to do anything stupid, like confess to my wife about this or the others—she just assumes, accurately but presumptively, there have been others. She suggests I ask my wife to reaffirm our vows. She tells me God loves me, and leans in, still naked from the waist up, to hug me, which, I suppose, is a kind of proof.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
S. Craig Renfroe, Jr. is the author of the short story collection You Should Get That Looked At. His work has appeared at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, 3:AM Magazine, The Pedestal Magazine, Monkeybicycle and others. He teaches writing at Queens University of Charlotte and blogs at I Don’t Know What I’m Talking About.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, January 16th, 2009.