Lady in Red
Like many well-meaning people, Felicity and Roy Williams thought moving to a new town would signify a fresh start. But they were to discover, as everyone eventually does, that troubles are rarely left behind. Felicity, a well-respected heart surgeon and Roy, a mediocre dentist, had just celebrated their pearl anniversary when Felicity detected the scent of cheap perfume on one of her husband’s shirts. This wasn’t the first of Roy’s indiscretions and it wouldn’t be the last. Her mother had warned her about marrying a man of such character but ironic as it is for someone in her profession, Dr Williams was naïve in matters of the proverbial heart.
They had paid little heed to the realtor’s warnings and local gossip that said their new home was apparently haunted.
‘It can have one hundred ghosts at that price,’ Roy had laughed handing over a cheque.
There had been reports of a woman in red, objects levitating, things that had been reported missing had turned up mysteriously in the town lake. The previous owners had packed up and moved out after a month.
‘Their loss is our gain,’ they toasted over champagne on their first night in the house. The hope that things would be different hung in the air.
It took one month for the ghost to show itself. A plump, corseted woman with drop pearl earrings in a blood red dress appeared in the doorway when Felicity was doing the laundry.
‘You’ll want to check those shirts for lipstick stains,’ the ghost said with a smirk. Then she disappeared into the thin air, not showing herself again for quite some time.
The strange thing was that far from being scared, Felicity felt oddly comforted by the ghost. The woman in red proved to be helpful, even. When Felicity misplaced something, it would randomly appear when she mentioned it. One day when running late, the ghost located her car keys and in so doing saved the life of Tony Parsons, a local barber who had gone into cardiac arrest. When Roy fell asleep with the TV on whilst nursing a bottle of whisky the ghost would turn it off. A ghost could have her uses.
‘You know this used to be a whore house, right?’ her friend Sally informed Felicity one evening over their monthly game of bridge.
‘They say the mistress of the house killed a man in cold blooded rage.’
‘Don’t believe everything you hear,’ said Felicity. ‘I’ve had no trouble.’
One-day Felicity found a receipt from a jewellery shop for a gold heart shaped necklace in Roy’s trouser pocket. Her birthday came and went and her neck remained unadorned. Christmas yielded nothing but new gloves and bath salts. She could feel that sickening but all too familiar feeling returning to the pit of her stomach. A lingering glance was observed between Roy and Debbie, his dental nurse when Felicity surprised him at this work with lunch on her day off. Debbie who wore too much make up and had one of those Chinese symbol tattoos on her wrist. Felicity noticed a gold heart necklace lie between her ample cleavage. She was reminded of that Bible verse about casting pearls before swine.
As with Vanessa, Susan and Julia before her, Debbie and Roy’s fling was short lived. Dr and Mr Williams played the usual routine of confrontation, frostiness and eventual forgiveness, a dance well-rehearsed at this stage. One night when Roy was out, the ghost, whom Felicity had come to regard as a celestial housekeeper, placed Roy’s laptop on the kitchen table. His emails were open.
Felicity read the screen. It was an email sent from Roy to Debbie.
Debbie I can’t leave my wife. She’d die without me. I’ve never loved anyone as much as you. You are always in my heart. Love Roy.
The email was dated 30th October, exactly one day ago. Felicity walked over to the cabinet, took out a plate, mashed it on the floor and let out a scream. This indiscretion had surpassed the others and her thinking it was over. What a fool they’d been making of her for months, Debbie and Roy, the dentist and the dental nurse, the middle aged man with the roaming eye and a bored fading beauty with the wrist tattoo, so ugly, so predictable.
Despite the heat eradiating from her body, Felicity felt the temperature of the room decrease. Then the ghost in red showed herself and with a brush and pan started to sweep the broken crockery. She even poured Felicity a glass of whisky and set it in front of her.
‘The rumours about me are true, you know. I did kill my husband. I ran a cat house, the best in town, frequented by gentleman, solicitors, judgers and bankers. A sailor never set foot in the door. My girls weren’t any common whores, they were the best in the business. I loved them all like daughters, until one of them betrayed me. Found her with my husband, my Wilfred, so one night, I sliced their necks right here, on your lovely kitchen island.’
As easily as she appeared, the lady in red was gone, leaving Felicity to her whisky and thoughts, which fuelled by alcohol and rage, were becoming increasingly darker by the moment.
Debbie was surprised to receive an email from Roy inviting her over to the house, claiming his wife had gone to a conference and wouldn’t be back until the next day. A baseball bat greeted Debbie as she walked in the door and her thick blood trickled from her head wound as Felicity dragged her plump unconscious body across the mahogany floor.
When Roy arrived home that night after a particularly trying root canal, he was greeted with the same fate as Debbie. A sharp pain in the head then nothing but darkness. When the authorities discovered the bodies the following day a doctor’s bag was beside Roy’s corpse. It appeared some kind of surgery had been performed, with impeccable skill, on his chest. An autopsy revealed a gold heart necklace had been inserted into the left valve of his heart and then sown up again.
The hospital mourned the loss of their most talented surgeon, who was also found dead in the living room, a revolver in her hand.
When they were zipping up the body bags, the detective could have sworn he heard a woman whisper, ‘now she’ll always be in your heart.’
Finlay holds a PhD in Irish literature from Queen’s university Belfast. Interested in the liminal space between fantasy and gothic, Finlay is an avid reader of horror and women’s fiction.