Raymond’s Women

Raymond's Women

Raymond was dead. There was no mistaking it — his frail form laid motionless atop his bed in the dark, a hardcover book spine up across his chest. As she waited motionless on the couch in the dim lamplight, Lisa wondered if she’d ever be able to get the image out of her head. She’d called 911 when she’d discovered him — how long ago had that been now? Five minutes? Twenty? Part of her was compelled to return to the bedroom and take another look, the same morbid part that as a little girl had stirred her to return again and again to the drainage ditch near her house, watching as a dead robin was stripped of its flesh and eventually colonized by bone-white, pulsating larvae. But that had been different — this was a human being.

It was true that Raymond had never been one of her favorite clients. From a purely aesthetic perspective, he was an unattractive man in his seventies. His body was an old, twisted thing, gnarled in the way that one might describe an ancient tree. His skin was nearly translucent, with pearly white hair rounding the globe of his skull and stubbling the sagging flesh of his chin and jaw. His scalp had long since been bare and showed, like other parts of his body, several prominent liver spots. The hair continued sparsely down his chest, which displayed an unusual concavity between the pectoral muscles. The result of a minor congenital deformation, his ribcage descended inwards towards the middle, creating a valley of pale flesh flanked by the visible bones of his ribs. His arms were spindly, stick-like extensions of his torso, while his legs were sturdier instruments, flocked with the same white-gray hair as his upper body. The entire package reeked with a musty smell that mingled with the Polo he wore to produce a repellent olfactory experience.

Raymond’s genitals appeared externally normal, but internally the picture was somewhat different. Lacking a prostate gland as the result of an operation to remove an aggressive cancer, his climaxes were muted paroxysms which produced a thin liquid more closely resembling urine than the typical discharge of a healthy male. Lisa had discovered this during their first liaison, in which, after several glasses of a fifty dollar bottle of red wine, they had made their way to Raymond’s bedroom, onto the scratchy, stripe-dyed Hudson’s Bay blanket that sat atop his bed. 

The surgery had left Raymond with a long, curving scar across his lower abdomen. It had also rendered him more or less incapable of getting an erection. Lisa laid next to him and rubbed her flattened palm against his flaccid penis while he pressed his dry lips eagerly against hers like a messy schoolboy until he finished, erupting a weak stream of fluid across Lisa’s hand. They had lain there afterwards, Raymond feverishly groping at Lisa’s breasts and vulva until she feigned an orgasm herself. By the time they got up and returned to the living room, the blanket had begun to chafe at her long, freckled back. She was all too happy to return from the darkness of the bedroom at the back of the apartment to the open, bright space with its wide windows overlooking the East River, its piles of CDs — Raymond still listened to them — and the heaps of unread books he seemed to purchase almost compulsively on the recommendation of Michio Kakutani.

If it were just that he were sexually unappealing, he would be no different from any number of clients Lisa had seen in the past. But Raymond’s failings went deeper than that. The man possessed enormous wealth, having risen up from his humble beginnings as the son of Italian immigrants in Brownsville to become a successful hedge fund manager, and now lived in a high-rise near the United Nations in Manhattan. And yet after his initial efforts to impress Lisa, he became nothing short of cheap in all respects when it came to her. He paid her hourly rate without complaint at first, but then began to hesitate when the time came at each meeting to slip her the plain white envelope filled with cash. That he spoke at length of his generous donations to his alma mater of Princeton and various institutes for medical research only further inflamed the situation. 

Lisa was by no means well-off, though she did her best to hide this. It was a delicate line to walk, maintaining the illusion that she didn’t require the money Raymond gave her in exchange for her time and sexual contact, while occasionally reminding him that it was an essential aspect of their arrangement. Raymond was, for the time being, her lifeline. There were other clients here and there, but none so consistent as him. She’d thought about going back to school to train as a graphic designer, a skill she’d developed a little aptitude for in developing her web presence, but between the city’s high rent and trying to help her aging mother with her medical bills, money was scarce. Of course, she couldn’t tell Raymond any of this — to be seen as a charity case might ruin her image in his mind. Like so many women throughout history, she reflected, she was locked into a dependent relationship with a man, albeit one that was delimited by the formal and informal rules of their arrangement.

And despite his frequently expressed desire that they enter into a more “spontaneous” relationship — that is, one without money and scheduling — he had never introduced her to any of his friends or family. The only other person in Raymond’s life she’d ever met was his housekeeper Rose.

She’d noticed the woman working in the apartment occasionally, always quiet and unobtrusive. Once, they’d run into each other in the elevator, Lisa in a floral sundress and Rose in an old t-shirt and jeans, lugging her bag of cleaning supplies. Lisa glanced over at the older woman and gave her a polite half-smile, unsure of what to say. In response, Rose narrowed her eyes, a gesture that Lisa extrapolated to mean that she knew exactly what was going on between her and Raymond, and that she entirely disapproved. It didn’t help when she touched the golden crucifix around her neck and muttered something under her breath. Lisa just shrugged, picturing the woman on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor for a tenth of what she made an hour. Maybe you had to have piety, under those circumstances.

She checked her phone and found that only a few minutes had passed since she’d called 911. Slipping it back into her bag, she stared out at the glimmering lights of Brooklyn across the water. Who would live here now, she wondered? And then a memory pierced her brain, a recollection of the events of their meeting a few weeks ago that had been lost in the shock of encountering a corpse for the first time in her life.

Raymond had put her into his will. He hadn’t given her the apartment, of course, and most of his wealth was going to his family, understandably, but she was about to be much better off than she’d ever been in her life. A swell of happiness rose up inside of her, battling with a brewing sense of shame at effectively being glad that a man was dead. But then, why shouldn’t she be? He’d lived a full, successful life. He’d had a loving family, grandkids, all of that. He’d tasted all of the finer things — and she could include herself in that, she thought with only a slight pang of embarrassment. Certainly he’d been irritating, demanding, and tiresome at times, but in the end, he’d done right by her. She just hadn’t expected the end to come this soon, or in such an intimate manner.

She’d been drifting for years, never quite cracking the echelon of workers in the city who cultivated an elite clientele and were showered with expensive gifts. Escorting paid her bills but not much more than that. She flitted from day to day with the lack of direction of someone from a working class background who’d never been expected to achieve great things. The money, she realized, could be her ticket to a different life.

A sharp sound came from elsewhere in the apartment and Lisa leapt from the couch, her heart pounding in her chest. She tried to steady her nerves, realizing that it was likely just the EMTs arriving. Taking a deep breath, she went to the front door and peered out the peephole, but couldn’t see anyone in the lush hallway. She unlocked the door and pulled it open, leaning out and craning her neck to check in both directions. Nobody was there. A prickly cold swept over her shoulders and part of her wanted to run, to get out. But the sense of duty she felt, especially in light of the will, compelled her to stay. Really, it was the least she could do.

She stepped back into the apartment and closed the door behind her, but when she went to return to the living room she saw something that made her shriek. Raymond was standing only a few feet away from her. She tried to scream again but her throat was dry and no sound came out. Her body froze, back against the front door.

“Lisa,” he said kindly, “Lisa, it’s just me. It’s ok.”

Had she been wrong, she wondered? Had the old man just been sleeping so soundly it had seemed like he’d been dead? But there was something wrong about him — she realized that Raymond’s form was insubstantial somehow, flickering and translucent. She could see right through him to the other end of the hall. He was not quite there, not bodily anyway.

Lisa laughed involuntarily, sure now that she was imagining the vision before her, that the intense emotions and trauma of finding the man dead were causing her mind to play tricks. She shut her eyes hard against the sight, expecting to find him gone when she opened them. But he was still standing there, a half-real phantom lurking in the hall.

“Lisa, dear, I don’t mean to frighten you. Please don’t be afraid,” the ghost said, holding out his spectral arms.

“What’s going on, Raymond?” Lisa said, still shaking. “You’re dead. I saw you dead. What is this?”

He shrugged and gave her a crooked smile. “You don’t believe in ghosts? Well, now would be a good time to start.”

Nothing about this made sense. Lisa had always laughed at her mother’s habit of watching ghost hunting reality shows, at the way the investigators would make out a little smear on a photo or a glowing orb in the corner of a room as evidence of paranormal activity. They never saw anything like this, because it was the realm of horror movies. Either she was going insane, or Raymond had died and his spirit still inhabited his apartment.

“Wait,” Lisa said, her curiosity momentarily overcoming her fear, “you’re a spirit now, right?”

He nodded.

“So… there’s life after death?”

Raymond chuckled at that, then got a sad look about him. “No, not for most people. Not as far as I know. See, I knew this was coming. I took precautions.”

“What do you mean? What kind of precautions?”

The old man sighed. “Well, that book you found me with? That was part of it. I’m sorry to have had to put you through that. Was it the first time you saw a dead body?”

“Yeah,” Lisa replied. “But what do you mean?”

“Why don’t we go into the living room? You can sit down and I can explain it all to you there.”

Lisa felt hesitant to tear herself away from the front door, but once she’d gotten over the initial shock, the encounter seemed more miraculous than horrifying thus far. If he’d wanted to hurt her, surely he would have done so already. And besides, she thought, there was still a good chance that she’d just fallen asleep on the couch and was dreaming all of this. So she followed him as he drifted further into the apartment and deposited herself on the couch where she’d been sitting minutes earlier.

“It wasn’t chance that you happened to find me dead tonight, Lisa,” Raymond said, peering out the window. “I’m sorry to say that it was intentional.”

“You mean… you killed yourself?”

Raymond turned back to face her and shook his head. “Not in the way you’re thinking. I didn’t take pills or anything like that. I’ve known I was dying for a while now. The cancer came back. It was going to get me sooner or later.”

He paused, then, glancing around the room. “It’s funny… I always thought I’d be ready when my time came. I lived a good life. But I was scared, Lisa, so scared. And the doctors couldn’t do anything for me.”

“I still don’t understand,” Lisa said, wrapping her arms around herself. Had it gotten colder? “How is this possible?”

“You know I was always an avid book collector. Well, for years I’d been looking for something that could do what science couldn’t. Something that could spare me the indignity of dying an old withered thing and disappearing into oblivion. And I found it. It took years of study and millions of dollars, but I found it.”

“So this book, it let you live on like this forever?”

Raymond looked at Lisa, a smile parting his lips. “No, not forever. Not long at all, in fact. The spirit can’t survive without an anchor to this world. I can already feel myself slipping away.”

“An anchor? Like, an object?”

“Not quite. A body, Lisa.”

“A body?”

“That’s right. The spirit has to inhabit a body, or it will dissolve into nothingness. When I discovered that, it was a real pickle for me. I considered using one of my grandsons, but I couldn’t do that to Jason or Andrew. They’ve got their whole lives ahead of them. Then I thought, well, why not just drag someone off the street? But that would mean starting over with nothing. And I already put the work in. I want to be able to enjoy my wealth as a young person. So it needed to be someone I could transfer some of my money to in an above-board way.”

Lisa’s eyes went wide as the implications of Raymond’s monologue sunk in. “The will…”

“Bingo!” Raymond said with a chuckle. “I left you a tidy little sum. Not everything, of course — that would be entirely too suspicious. But more than enough to make a new start.” 

“You’re saying… that you want to… possess me?”

“Well, that’s a rather crude way of putting it. Call it… a partnership.”

“A partnership?”

“Yes, just think of it! You were probably going to use the money to pay off some loans or something, right? But with my skills and the amount I’m leaving you, I could be a millionaire by the time I’m 30.”

Lisa shuddered. “What would happen to me, though?”

“Oh, you’ll still be around! In a manner of speaking. You’ll be sort of a passenger. Just imagine it: I’d do all the hard work. You wouldn’t have to live like this anymore. We’ll be rich. You’ll never have to worry about money or anything else ever again. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

Raymond grinned at her, the skyline shining through his hazy face. He was getting less solid, slowly sliding out of focus. She considered his words — certainly, she didn’t doubt his talent in managing money.

“I’m sorry,” Lisa said, wondering at the way she instinctively apologized even in the face of such an extreme request. “I don’t think…”

Raymond’s expression dropped to one of desperation. “Please, Lisa, just think about it. What were you planning to do in life anyway? Do you even have a plan beyond hooking until you’re too old for it? It doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t let me slip away into nothing. Please.”

The words stung, and Lisa nearly felt pity for the shade. Maybe he had a point after all. What was she doing, really?

“Please,” he repeated, “After everything I’ve done for you.”

At that, Lisa scowled and the spell was broken. “Everything you’ve done for me? You nickeled and dimed me, you tried to weasel your way out of paying, you passed off old New Yorkers as gifts! And now I find out that even the will — the one really kind thing you did for me — was all part of this fucked up plan! Go to hell, Raymond. The answer is no.”

She was breathing heavily, her face flushed. Raymond just flickered there, lowering his head as if in acceptance of the situation. He was silent for a moment, then raised his eyes to hers again, his face twisted in fury.

“You insolent little whore!” He spat, “I’d hoped we could do this the easy way, but I should have realized you’d be too selfish and brainless for that.”

Raymond lunged towards her and Lisa jumped to her feet, but tripped as her heels dug into the deep carpet. She scrambled away, turning to face the ghost as it bore down on her.

“You can’t do this, Raymond,” Lisa said, fear overtaking her.

“I can and I’m going to. It would have been simpler if you’d let me in, but my will to live is much stronger than yours is,” he replied, a chill cutting through her bones. Lisa felt something pressing against her, the sensation of Raymond’s awful, scratchy stubble grinding against her face. She thrashed at the air, but he just laughed.

“Do you think you can fight me off like that? I’m not some fragile old man anymore. I’m going to wrench your soul out of your body and take it for myself.”

Lisa screamed, trying to back away from the overwhelming sense of frigid pressure that gripped her.

“Stop! People will notice! They’ll know something is wrong!”

“Will they?” Raymond smiled. “I mean, let’s be honest here, nobody’s going to be upset if some hooker quits whoring and gets into finance. I’m sure your parents will be proud of you for a change. And don’t worry, I’ll make sure they’re taken care of. I’m not a complete monster.”

He surged forward again, and Lisa grimaced as she felt the phantom touch of his body against her, creeping inside of it. She howled and wailed, trying to get to her feet to flee the apartment, but finding that her legs had gone ice cold and unresponsive. Darkness closed in around her, creeping into the edges of her vision.

“It’ll be a little strange being a woman,” Raymond mused, “but I’m sure I’ll get used to it. At least I’ll get to enjoy your body for free. I wonder how it’ll feel to get off in it.”

Nausea bubbled up in Lisa’s throat. “You’re sick!” She exclaimed, but she could no longer even see him. She was plummeting through the twilight, sinking into an endless ocean. She searched for any sense of meaning, cause, or belief she’d cultivated in her short life, but there was nothing to grasp onto. She’d been drifting for so long. All she had was the innate drive to survival. But Raymond wanted to live so badly — badly enough that he had gone through all of this, was willing to go this far. The strength of that overwhelming purpose made her own conviction seem feeble by comparison.

She reached out for it anyway, a thin, silvery cord suspended in front of her. But it was so delicate, so elusive. Her hands slid from it and she fell past, tumbling down as the lifeline slipped further and further away. There was a crash, and she thought she’d hit the bottom of the blackness, but then she could see and hear again. Someone was roaring, but not at her — at Raymond.

The specter shrunk back, repelled by her unseen savior. Raymond looked pained, frightened.

“I say to you, begone, unclean spirit! In the name of Christ our savior, begone from this place!” The voice boomed. Lisa craned her neck to see Rose brandishing the crucifix she always wore around her neck at Raymond, her face a picture of righteous fury. When Lisa looked back at Raymond, he had begun to come apart at the seams, his ghostly body unraveling into the air. One last time, he reached out towards Lisa with a pleading expression on his face, but as she felt the chill of his touch brush her cheek, all that was left of him dissolved into nonexistence.

The apartment was silent for a moment save for the sound of Lisa’s panting breaths. Lisa retched, bile splattering the carpet. She wiped her lips, red staining the back of her hand, then rose to her feet unsteadily.

“How did you do that?” Lisa asked.

Rose exhaled a deep breath. She was shaking, but slowly lowered the cross.

“I didn’t do anything. The Lord did,” she said. “Are you ok?”

“I think so. Thank you. But… how did you know what was happening?”

Rose shook her head, and Lisa noticed the cleaning supplies at her side. “I didn’t. I’m working tonight.”

Raymond must have forgotten, Lisa thought. In all of his planning, he hadn’t realized his cleaning woman would be there that night. Or, maybe he thought it wouldn’t matter. In his eyes, both Rose and Lisa might as well not have even been people. 

“Always thought something was wrong with that man,” Rose said, reaching for her bag and unzipping a compartment. She withdrew a spray bottle, then stepped closer to examine the stain seeping into the carpet’s fibers. The hot scent of vomit stung Lisa’s nostrils.

“Hey,” Lisa said, putting her hand on the woman’s shoulder, “you don’t work here anymore.”

Rose stopped and lowered the spray bottle, returning it to the bag. “I suppose you don’t anymore either, hm?” She said, her tone more wry than judgmental.

“No, I guess not,” Lisa replied, smiling as a thought occurred to her. “Turns out we’ve both got a pretty good severance package, though.”

One response to “Raymond’s Women”

  1. Mike V. Avatar

    These Ghostbusters sequels are getting too predictable

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *