“Listen, Zelda. There!”
And Zelda listened and at first there was only a creaking of wheels down in the dark, like crickets, and then a moan of wood and a hum of piano strings, and then one voice lamenting about this job, and the other voice claiming he had nothing to do with it, and then the thumps as two derby hats fell, and an exasperated voice announced:
“Here’s another fine mess you’ve got us in.”
Zelda, stunned, almost toppled off the hill. She held tight to Bella’s arm as tears brimmed in her eyes.
“It’s a trick. Someone’s got a tape recorder or-“
“No, I checked. Nothing but the steps, Zelda, the steps!”
Tears rolled down Zelda’s plump cheeks.
“Oh, God, that is his voice! I’m the expert, I’m the mad, fanatic, Bella. That’s Ollie. And that other voice, Stan! And you’re not nuts after all!”
The voices below rose and fell and one cried: “Why don’t you do something to help me?”
Zelda moaned. “Oh, God, it’s so beautiful.”
“What does it mean?” asked Bella. “Why are they here? Are they really ghosts, and why would ghosts climb this hill every night, pushing that music box, night after night, tell me, Zelda, why?”
Zelda peered down the hill and shut her eyes for a moment to think. “Why do any ghosts go anywhere? Retribution? Revenge? No, not those two. Love maybe’s the reason, lost loves or something Yes?”
Bella let her heart pound once or twice and then said, “Maybe nobody told them.”
“Told them what?”
“Or maybe they were told a lot but still didn’t believe, because maybe in their old years things got bad, I mean they were sick, and sometimes when you’re sick you forget.”
“How much we loved them.”
“Did they? Sure, we told each other, but maybe not enough of us ever wrote or waved when they passed and just yelled ‘Love!’ you think?”
“Hell, Bella, they’re on TV every night!”
“Yeah, but that don’t count. Has anyone, since they left us, come here to these steps and said? Maybe those voices down there, ghosts or whatever, have been here every night for years, pushing that music box, and nobody thought, or tried, to just whisper or yell all the love we had all the years. Why not?”
‘Why not?” Zelda stared down into the long darkness where perhaps shadows moved and maybe a piano lurched clumsily among the shadows. “You’re right.”
If I’m right,” said Bella, “and you say so, there’s only one thing to do-“
“You mean you and me?”
“Who else? Quiet. Come on.”
They moved down a step. In the same instant lights came on around them, in a window here, another there. A screen door opened somewhere and angry words shot out into the night:
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“You know what time it is?”
“My God,” Bella whispered, “everyone else hears now!”
“No, no.” Zelda looked around wildly. “They’ll spoil everything!”
“I’m calling the cops!” A window slammed.
“God,” said Bella, “if the cops come-“
“It’ll be all wrong. If anyone’s going to tell them to take it easy, pipe down, it’s gotta be us. We care, don’t we?”
“God, yes, but-“
“No buts. Grab on. Here we go.”
The two voices murmured below and the piano tuned itself with hiccups of sound as they edged down another step and another, their mouths dry, hearts hammering, and the night so dark they could see only the faint streetlight at the stair bottom, the single street illumination so far away it was sad being there all by itself, waiting for shadows to move.
More windows slammed up, more screen doors opened. At any moment there would be an avalanche of protest, incredible outcries, perhaps shots fired, and all this gone forever.
Thinking this, the women trembled and held tight, as if to pummel each other to speak against the rage.
“Say something, Zelda, quick.”
“Anything! They’ll get hurt if we don’t-“
“You know what I mean. Save them.”
“Okay. Jesus!” Zelda froze, clamped her eyes shut to find the words, then opened her eyes and said, “Hello.”
‘’Hello,” Zelda called softly, then loudly.