“Johnny’s coming home to me…….”
In the end, the decision had been a practical one. When Johnny Walters didn’t want to married to Eleanor anymore, he divorced her.
When he didn’t want to pay alimony and her shrink’s bills anymore, he simply killed her.
The problem was, she kept coming back.
“Johnny’s coming back to me…….”
Ah, here it was again. Eleanor’s dismal calling card. That goofy Irish love song that she played and sang far too often during their dismal married years. A song about a sailor so fair that the very soul of the sea fell in love with him. Lured him to a watery death so as to possess him forever.
In their good days, he’d thought the song cute. He’d lamented that he’d not heard any love songs with his first name in them. But then, Eleanor had found this one. Yes, at first, it had been cute, flirty, fun. Then, as Eleanor became tiresome, so had the song. Then, as she became hated, so had he begun to hate the song.
Perhaps that was why she never stopped singing it to him………
Tonight, the last thing he wanted was another vile visit from his former, now dead wife. He had other plans, important plans. Tonight, he had planned to turn his mistress, Anne Roseby, into his fiance. A table was laid at his beach-side home with the finest tableware. He had a perfect meal cooked and waiting to be served by caterers. Her favorite music to be played over hidden speakers on the patio where the meal would be served. The mood would be perfect. Unless this unwelcome visitor arrived……
Anne was so unlike Eleanor. She was 14 years younger, a divine, ethereal beauty who knew her place. No histrionics or neediness. No clingy jealousy. None of what Eleanor had been. She was a breath of fresh air.
However, to be fair, Eleanor hadn’t been like that at first.
For some reason, all the women in Johnny’s life eventually seemed to go mad. One by one, despite his heartfelt struggles to help them with their issues. He hoped that this time, he had found the right woman. He’d dated her the last year he was married to Eleanor, and throughout their contentious divorce. He’d lived with her the year after Eleanor’s death.
Eleanor had never saw fit to haunt Anne, only him. However, Johnny thought Anne would be able to handle it, if Eleanor tried. She would see it as one more pathetic attempt to manipulate, and laugh at the specter. Yes, maybe Anne would be the right one after all.
“You’re such a good boy, John. None of these women deserve you. Why can’t you find a good one? Settle down?” The voice, in memory, was that of his mother, long gone and missed these last 9 years. She hadn’t approved of Eleanor, nor of any of his previous three wives, or a long chain of girlfriends. She never felt they were worthy of her only child.
She had died in a boating accident about the time that problems began to show themselves in his marriage to Eleanor. That day, they’d all been together, spending the day at the beach house. Elizabeth, his mother, seeming nervous and unhappy.
Finally, he had taken her aside and said, “Mom–what’s going on? You act like you’re at a funeral!” He’d learned to be direct with her, almost parental. In the years since his booze-hound father had left them, he’d had to step up and help out. Sometimes he felt like a father, son and a husband to Elizabeth. But he didn’t mind.
And she’d always seemed so grateful.
“Johnny’s coming back to me…….” Closer now, in the next room, maybe.
“Why don’t you just get it over with?” He yelled into the stillness. He was alone in the house. Anne was driving down from Tallahassee, where she worked as a paralegal at a law firm. She would not be there for another hour. It was time, he knew, to have it out with Eleanor, for once and for all.
It was always the same, whether she came by dream or visitation. He would hear the song and then, there she suddenly was. Eerie light all about her. Paleness that was strangely becoming. Every hair in place….at first.
Then, all of the beauty would melt in front of him, and she would become the ragged mess that she’d been when her body washed up on shore some three days after he reported her lost in the tragic boating accident. Seaweed in her hair, eye sockets hollow, her eyes eaten away by fish. The smell of salt and decay everywhere……a grim skeleton standing in front of him….
“Johnny……” He heard her sing out.
Eleanor had always had a flair for the dramatic. So her way of haunting him shouldn’t have surprised him. She often knocked at the door with ghostly raps, the sound carrying through the house, making it impossible to ignore. He’d come to the door, and there she would be, her skeletal smile greeting him, bony arms reaching out for him, dripping, dead, but there.
Only tonight, she wasn’t. Just the song. The song sang over and over by Eleanor until Johnny thought that he would tear out his hair. Anne would be arriving shortly. Couldn’t Eleanor have her fun and let them alone? He’d even act frightened if she liked, if she’d just go away.
It was such a burden. The worst one yet. Worse than the burden of his mother, and then, of his wives. Worse than how hard he had to work to make all the earlier women go away quietly.
Only Eleanor would not go away. Even in death, she wouldn’t, Johnny thought, resentfully. What was wrong with her?
He remembered that day, the day of the boating accident that claimed his mother. He’d asked her what was wrong. She’d wept and told him that she thought his latest marriage, to Eleanor, was a huge mistake. When Johnny tried to defend Eleanor, Elizabeth had broken down and wept. “I think she’ll be trouble for you, son. I just know it! I don’t think she’ll make you happy! I want you to be happy!” She had not settled down until Johnny had agreed to take her sailing, leaving his new bride, Eleanor, alone and confused at the family house.
He’d had a lot to drink that day, and later, when questioned, he wasn’t sure. One minute his mother had been in the sailboat, helping him steer. The next minute she’d been gone. Had she jumped? Was it a suicide? Surely not, Johnny’s mother had every reason to want to live. The death had been ruled accidental, and since her body was never found, no one knew for sure.
If only he’d been so lucky with Eleanor.
He’d gone home, and Eleanor had tried to nurture him, help him over his grief. And slowly, as time passed, he found that she was as tiresome as the others had been. Stifling to him. His mother had been right. Eleanor couldn’t make him happy. She just couldn’t. And she, like the others, would have to go. When he suggested divorce, in their 5th year of marriage, Eleanor hung onto him by attempting suicide. When she tried it again when he filed the papers in their 8th year, he almost let her complete it before calling 911. At the last moment, he’d relented. Divorced her anyway.
She’d not gone quietly, like the other ex-wives, content with fat alimony checks and homes bought for them in distant places. She’d kept begging him to take her back. Demanding for him to do so. One night, during an angry phone exchange, she compared him to a modern-day Henry VIII, a heartless womanizer and user of women, with no hope of change. This actually managed to wound him, because he knew himself to be a caring and sensitive man. That night, he’d made his decision about what he had to do.
His mother had helped him. That night, in a dream, she’d come to him, covered in seaweed and smelling of salt. “Maybe you should take her sailing” She said, meaningfully. “The same way you took me…..sailing.”
He’d woke up, his heart in his throat. He’d been drinking the night his mother drowned. He loved her. He cared for her as if she were the child and he, the parent. Surely he didn’t push her overboard? He just couldn’t remember…….
The better part of a fifth of vodka quieted these questions. His fear went away. He’d made his plans.
And then, he’d done it.
Johnny had made an effort, after their last angry phone call to court her, to appear to have forgiven all, to want her back. He’d suggested a romantic dinner aboard his sailboat, named the Elizabeth, after his sainted mother. He’d overcome Eleanor’s objections, and she never came back alive from that boating trip.
But, now, she wouldn’t stay dead.
Damn it all, he thought, stepping out on the beach…Eleanor seemed nearby. Where was she?
Her ghostly apparitions had been horrifying at first, then just alarming, finally boring. His blood pressure didn’t even go up. Last time, he’d cocked an eyebrow at her change from wifely angel to sea-raggled murder victim. “Is this the best you can do?” He mocked.
She’d smiled wanly, if a corpse could do so…and evaporated. He’d gone back to bed and slept soundly.
Tonight, though, she had yet to re-appear…where was she? Damn it all, she was being just as tiresome in death as she had been in life……
He went to the end of the pier where the boat he’d murdered her on was tied. “Why don’t you take her sailing?” He heard Elizabeth, across time, ask once more.
Indeed. Perhaps…it was time.
He stepped in the boat, and took it out. On pretty much the same route as he had the night he and Eleanor had gone out. It occurred to him that this was the first time he’d used the boat since she’d died. Neighbors thought that it had been too traumatizing for him to use the boat, to remember. It hadn’t been really. He’d just been otherwise occupied with Anne, who hated sailing.
He thought about the night he killed Eleanor. He’d planned to simply have her overdose. But the storm had come up and it fit perfectly into his plans. He’d turned and saw her, terrified, fumbling for a rope to try to help him get the sails straight. She looked up and him, and he’d been horror-stricken.
It hadn’t been Eleanor’s face looking at him. It was his mother, Elizabeth. Alive again, eyes accusing. And he remembered back to night his mother died. He had pushed her. He had wanted her to stop talking to him. To leave him alone.
Elizabeth had been shocked because he’d never laid hands on her. She seemed to go down in the water that day without a struggle. But now, Elizabeth was there, in the place of his ex-wife’s body. She would never leave him in peace…unless…..
That night, Johnny had found his fingers around the throat of the woman who had his wife’s body, but his mother’s face. He’d felt her fingers clawing his arms, but weakening as he cut off her air supply. Then, just as he thought he’d won, Eleanor (?) gained new strength. She’d fought with the strength of two women. She’d almost gotten away. Then it was over.
He’d won. But then, Johnny thought, he always won.
And it was Eleanor who was lying dead on the sailboat. Eleanor who he’d tossed overboard. Eleanor, who when she washed up later, was too picked over by sea creatures for authorities to see that she’d been nearly strangled before she drowned.
However, no one considered it any more than a tragedy. Johnny and his family had been peaceful occupants of the coastal area for years. It was tragic that his ex-wife had died in the same manner that his mother had done, but no one asked questions. Even about why his ex-wife was in the boat with him.
His memories were swept away by the siren-song seeming very close and loud now. Johnny turned in the sailboat and saw that his house was just a light point on the beach now. How had he gotten so far out? And the water seemed to be getting rough. He shook his head, and laughed bitterly. If Eleanor needed to haunt so much let her. He was foolish to go out this far, chasing a singing spirit. He would turn about and go home. Not give Eleanor one more moment of attention, attention that she seemed to crave even in the after-life.
“Johnny, you’ve come home to me……”
Then, he saw her, just in front of the sailboat. This time, however, Eleanor looked different. Not like herself at all. Oh, it was Eleanor, all right. But she had a different quality. An innocence, combined with something else…. A contentment somehow….that bordered on smugness. It infuriated him. His decision to go home was forgotten.
Johnny stepped off the boat, not even thinking, reaching for her, to shake her, to tell her that this had to stop. She had to stop. Yes, he’d killed her. Yes, he’d even gotten away with it. But her haunting had to stop. He had moved on. He wanted to be with Anne. She, Eleanor, needed to move on as well. And after tonight, he would simply ignore her if she’d tried to sing to him or haunt him again. He knew this would hurt her worst of all.
He felt Eleanor’s arms go around him, as his feet touched the water and sunk in. Too late, he remembered that he wasn’t an expert swimmer, and he had forgotten his life-preserver that he always wore, in his hurry to confront Eleanor.
In the last few seconds before the water closed over his head, his horrified eyes locked to the now empty eye-sockets of his former wife, he wanted to scream, but found that he could not.
“They say I washed up on the shore, Johnny,” The seaweed-covered skeleton said to him, clutching him even tighter. “But, I never left. And now, I’ll never leave you again.”
Two months later, Johnny Walters washed up onshore, near his home. Strangely enough, he wasn’t alone. The coroner noted that he seemed to be in the skeletal embrace of another corpse. The arms looked tightly about him. Later investigation determined the remains that seemed to be embracing him were that of his mother, Elizabeth, long-lost at sea.
The day of the gruesome discovery, footprints in the sand of something…not animal, not quite human, went from where the bodies washed ashore all the way to the front door of Johnny’s house. Seaweed and pools of salt water were in regular puddles all the way to his door, which was ajar.
Anne, who had taken to spending nights at the beach house while the search for Johnny continued, woke to find a trail of seaweed and salty water that came right up to her side of their bed, as if someone had come up and watched her sleep.
On the bedside table, encased in seaweed, was a jewelry box with an engagement ring inside.
Screaming uncontrollably, she’d had to be sedated, and never, after that day, chose to spend another night there.
No one could explain it. However, if asked, perhaps, Eleanor might have.
Johnny had come home. To stay.