The Devilish Ghost – by Henry Cleage

Mercedes Gamble and Henry Cleage 1943
It was a marvelous party.  It had that nebulous, dreamlike quality that is so mellow. I was tripping daintily across the floor with this mellowness of aspect, when a small table sprang upon my person and bore me to the floor. It was pleasantly surprised to find that the lower level was as thickly populated and as chummy as the upper.  George was lying right next to me.
“Hello” I said, “a lovely scrunch.”
“Isn’t it though” said George raising his head to look about.
“Everyone seems to be having a very enjoyable time,” I said.
“Except Snuffy,” said George pointing towards a neglected part of the establishment.
He was right.  Snuffy was peering wildly out from behind some draperies.
He obviously wasn’t up to snuff.
“Soon as I rest up,” said George, “I’m gonna crawl over and see what’s up.”  He leaned back, tucked a bottle under his head and closed his eyes.
“Allow me,” I said, “I’m rested.
It was a gloomy hole that Snuffy had wormed into. Separated from the larger room by draperies.  It was dark and full of shadows.  Snuffy was sitting on a couch near the opening so that he could keep an eye on the party.  But his eyes had a haunted look, like they had seen too much.  Of course I knew personally that they had been around plenty, his eyes I mean, but there was definitely more here than met the eye, speaking of eyes that is to say.
“I’ve got a ghost,” said Snuffy.
“Female?” I asked.
“But talented,” said Snuff looking at me with respect.
I must admit that I was pleased.  One must be of a sensitive nature to delve into the mysteries with the nonchalance I had shown.  One must have imagination and faith.  Also one must have a particularly fine edge on.
“Behold,” said Snuff gesturing largely across the little room.
And there she was, a genuine ghost of absolutely the first water.  She was sitting across the room drinking a mellowroony.
She was, as far as I could see, a luscious piece of plunder too.  Of course it was all dark and shadows, but her robes and things were draped where they should be draped.  It was quite a ghost gown too.  Slit up one side about to her… It was beastly dark, as I say, and I couldn’t just say for sure.  The gown was very form fitting though and the ghost had no less a fitting form.  As a matter of fact, the tiny shaft of light that lay across that slit in her gown rested upon a limb that was surprisingly lifelike. But that cape gave her away.  That was a ghost cape if I ever saw one.
Immediately I realized the dire potentialities of the situation.  At a party like this where all is fellowship and noble sentiment, a ghost with a silted ghost gown has no place, especially if she also has a genuine ghost cape with a hood, yet.  Snuffy and I must protect the party, or vice versa.
But I wasn’t happy.  The party was showing admirable reserve strength as it swung into the stretch.  A lovely thing was doing a picturesque number on top of the piano.  Across the room George, apparently refreshed, was reaching great heights with his speech on fellowship.  Louis was standing before an Italian mirror, in a Mexican Sombrero, reciting German poetry.  And I was tied up, in a manner of speaking, with a ghost.  Giving my all—understand—for the group.
To top it all, Snuffy was well in was well in his cups and having difficulty remaining awake.  The ghost was not far behind, speaking of cups.  I was desperate.  That beautiful bit of talent on top of the piano needed me, I felt.  I couldn’t place her but that gown fascinated me.  A bit of ribbon here, a bit there and neither definitely here or there – understand.
I took desperate measures.  I marched right up to the ghost.
“Pffft, disappear,” I intoned whilst making mysterious motions with my hands.  Motions a ghost would understand, mind.
But she wasn’t having any.  She offered me a drink of mellowroony, which I accepted with a certain dignity and toddled back to my seat.
I was about to descend into a quandary when a nudge from Snuffy rescued me. I looked up.  Our ghost was upon us.
“She must not pass,” said Snuff.
The ghost had no intentions of passing.  She fixed us with those eyes and slowly raised her arms.
In those ghost capes and hoods she presented a most disheartening picture.  The room was full of darkness and despair with her just sitting there, but now it had gone hog wild.  It was as if some giant vulture had come among us.  As she hovered there she seemed to expand until she filled every corner of the room.  I was about to give her more room by leaving, when she spoke.
“Pfffffft,” she said.  She looked like the devil.
“Vamoose,” she hissed.
It was rather a nasty shock.  Being uncertain as to the powers of ghosts filled with mellowroonys, I quickly looked to see if Snuffy was still one of us.  He was and I was relieved.  Snuffy seemed relieved too.  We three looked at each other.  An impasse seemed to be reached.
Our ghost took in her stride though.  She sad down between us and cuddled up against my shoulder.  Snuffy cuddled against hers.  I was perturbed.
“Snuff,” I bellowed, thinking to keep him awake with conversation.
“Ummmm,” he replied.
“That girl on the piano with that gown, who is she?”
Snuffy and the ghost leaned forward to the opening and directed four beery eyes upon the piano and then fell back heavily to their former positions.
“Girl from the show,” said Snuff “George brung em.”
“Oh. And it ain’t no gown,” said Snuff fast loosing consciousness.
No?”
“It’s her costume, they didn’t change”.
“They?” I asked pointedly.
“Two girls,” he said heavily, “From a skit called Flesh and …” here Snuff gave it up.  He snuggled close to the ghost and put that devilish cape over his head and began to snore softly.
“Flesh and what,” I shouted hoping to arouse him. But I was let alone with a ghost with a slit in her gown.
I was beat – in a quandary-frantic.  This ghost was so permanent and so heavy.  The way she was leaning on my shoulder it wouldn’t be long before she had overcome me with sheer weight.  What to do?  Would I have to scream for help?
I was interrupted from my fast approaching neurosis by a giggle erupting from my left ear.
 “Flesh and the Devil,” my ghost confided in rare good humor.
“Didn’t you notice my devil’s costume?”
She held up that devilish cape.
*****
Henry wrote this story about 1943.  The photo at the top of Henry and someone I will try to find the name of was taken during 1943.  I looked up the drink “Mellowroony” and came up with the song “Cement Mixer” which you can hear near the end of this clip.  I had never heard of Slim Gaillard before but I think his performance fits in with the story. And he grew up in Detroit.

2 thoughts on “The Devilish Ghost – by Henry Cleage”

  1. I love the top photo. I hope you can find out who the woman is. Henry is quite handsome–and a writer too!

  2. Wonderful fun, Kristin. Your Henry had a way with words, ghosts and Mellowroonies – whatever they may be. Makes me want to try one.

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