The broadest of daylight
“Your little friends are a couple of real pricks,” Rita was raving at Brenda over the phone. “Complete and total assholes.”
“Why?” Brenda asked, feigning shock and trying not to laugh. “Did they ask too much for the job?”
“No,” Rita snapped back. “They told me, and I quote, ‘You can take that job offer, shove it up your ass via the governor’s, and then you can all go fuck yourselves two-to-the-sixth ways from sideways. That is how much we don’t want your shitty little government job.’ End. Motherfucking. Quote.”
Brenda had to hit the mute button on her phone for a second because she couldn’t help but laugh long and loud. Goddamn, she knew she’d liked those guys from the start.
“Why do you think it took me a day and a half to call you? I was livid. Did you hear me?” Rita demanded.
Brenda took a couple of deep breaths, then unmuted her phone. “Yes,” she said. “So they don’t want the job?”
“Apparently not,” Rita huffed. “Which means it’s yours, more than ever — ”
“I already told you, I’m not relocating to Sacramento.”
“I know that,” Rita said. “You wouldn’t need to. We’ve done further studies with the state, and L.A. is the hotspot anyway. What else is new? And, I don’t know, maybe you can persuade your friends to do some occasional contract work for you, as a favor?”
“I could try, but I doubt it. Did they tell you the real reason they don’t want the job?”
“I took it that they aren’t big fans of government work.”
“I thought I told you that when I found them, they were working for the feds, so that’s not it,” Brenda explained.
“They don’t do it for the money. Those guys are richer than shit.”
“I know. I’m the one who told you that. But then what do they do it for?”
“I think it was originally curiosity. But it’s sure not for vengeance, and they may have gotten the idea that that’s the state’s motive for it.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?” Rita scoffed. “You saw what that storm did down here, across three counties. It’s a combination of vengeance and prevention.”
“They might take the second,” Brenda said. “But I know them enough to say they’d never accept the first.”
“All right, all right. If we keep talking about them, our conversation is going to fail the Bechdel test — ”
“Ooh. Did you just make a meta joke, Rita? I do believe you’re developing a sense of humor.”
“Fuck you, Brenda. Do you want the position or not?”
“Mostly work from home, budgeting is ad hoc, not annual — and guaranteed — my salary is the same as the Lieutenant Governor’s, full benefits — ”
“Hey, hey… you know that I’m only sort of the middleperson here, I can’t promise anything. All I can say is, the need is getting a bit more urgent.”
“What do you mean?” Brenda asked.
“You haven’t kept up with the news today, have you?” Rita replied.
“No, what?” Brenda said, grabbing the remote to turn on the TV, flipping around and not finding any news.
“There were lots of dead celebrities roaming around Hollywood this afternoon, trying to chat up the tourists.”
“In broad daylight?” Brenda asked.
“In the broadest of daylight,” Rita told her.
“Think about the offer,” Rita continued. “Call me when you’re ready to say ‘Yes.’”
Before she could say anything else, Rita hung up. Brenda wandered out into the living room, dazed, where Jonah was playing some board game with Samuel, Malia, and Esme. He looked up at her and smiled.
“There she is,” he beamed. “Top secret negotiations going on?”
“Something like that,” she replied. “I’d rather be out here, where everyone admits they’re actually playing a game.”
“Well, we’d just finished,” Jonah said, “Because Malia just won. She’s too good at this.”
He gave her a meaningful look but she was already ahead of him, turning to Esme. “Hey, Mama E, isn’t it time for the kids’ evening walk?”
“Of course it is,” Esme said, standing, Malia and Samuel jumping up, excited. She took their hands and headed for the front door. “Let’s see what new adventures there are to be had,” she told them before they exited.
Jonah turned back to Brenda and they just looked into each other’s eyes for a long moment before she hugged him tight.
“I saw what you did there,” she told him.
“What?” he teased her. “I didn’t do nothin’.”
“The hell you didn’t, mister,” she chided him. “And thank you.”
“Yeah, well…” Jonah continued. “I mean, when some freak storm comes along and you’re suddenly afraid that you’re going to lose your entire family, silly little shit doesn’t matter anymore. I was hung up on the ideas that my parents raised me with. But you know what? I don’t see either of them here involved in our kids’ lives like your mom is. All they care about is whether I’m going to drag my kids into their church and, oh, hell no.”
“I love you,” Brenda whispered, kissing his forehead.
“And you know I love you, Bren,” he replied. “I’m sorry it took me so long to pull my head out of my ass and accept the truth, but it’s a beautiful truth. I have one lovely son and two amazing daughters, and the most incredible wife in the world.”
“Flattery still ain’t getting you that Tesla,” Brenda says, playfully slapping his arm.
“No… but is it going to get me a shot at child number four?”
“At our ages?” she replies. “We don’t got time for that shit.”
“Well, we can at least go through the motions,” he tells her suggestively.
“You are such a typical man. Although I’m glad you brought up going through the motions…”
“Oh.” He suddenly lets go of her and steps away, and she swears that all of the blood has drained from his face before she catches herself.
“Oh, no, no, no, honey,” she quickly explains, taking his hands. “Not us. I’m talking about my county job.”
“Oh. That. Damn. Damn, baby, that’s a relief. I thought you were going to — ”
“Shut your mouth and never think that, Jo Jo Dancer. Come on…”
She took his hand and led him into the backyard, which was still a mess, although they had managed to get the porch swing back together and working, even if it now let out a horrible groan with every oscillation.
They sat next to each other, holding hands, her head leaning on his left shoulder as she told him the whole saga — the “ghost” hunters, Rita’s original offer, the storm, how the job offer had escalated to the state level, and where she was at now.
“And I just don’t know what to say,” she concluded. “Take the job? Say ‘no thanks?’”
“Y’all know how I feel about ghosts,” Jonah told her.
“They aren’t necessarily ghosts,” she said. “We don’t know what they are.
“Creepy A-F is what they are.”
“Oh, Rita told me… hang on…” She took out her phone and searched up the local news channel, then found the link to a story: “Hollywood Hauntings?” She clicked it, started the video, and handed the phone to Jonah.
They both watched, and then their jaws dropped. A reporter was doing a stand-up near Hollywood and Highland, and what Rita had said was true. There was a veritable brigade of obviously ghostly celebrities strolling around, engaging with the tourists, some of the apparently dead quite recognizable.
Of course, not everyone thought they were ghosts. Several on-the-street interviewees raved about the special effects, or commented that it must have been some viral marketing scheme and the latest holographic technology, although a couple of people were definitely freaked out.
One woman ranted, “This is what happens when you take Jesus out of the schools. Demons! Hollywood liberal elite demons everywhere!”
The irony was probably lost on her that, right as she said this, John Wayne strolled by and tipped his hat with a, “Mornin’, ma’am” directed at her.
Another passer-by, who identified herself as a curandería who worked at a bodega just off of the Boulevard, also agreed that they were the spirits of the dead, but showed no fear of them. “They just come out earlier than día de los muertos,” she explained. “You be friendly at them, they not hurt you. I see them all the time in the shop.”
The finale of the piece was an interview with Bette Davis, in full-on Margo Channing mode, who assured the reporter that they were all there in peace, in order to join forces with the living humans.
“And what are you joining forces for, Ms. Davis?” the reporter asked.
“Miss Channing,” she corrects him, “And it’s simple. To defeat that bitch Anabel and her allies.”
As she makes a fittingly Channing/Davis exit, the reporter looks at the camera, a little confused, before explaining, “In case you’re wondering, there aren’t any special effects going on here. She looked just as transparent in person as she probably did on camera, and our researchers have assured us that there are absolutely no hologram projection systems in existence that can do this in broad daylight. So… viral stunt? Actual ghosts? Something else? That’s what we’re all wondering. Live from Hollywood and Highland, I’m Casper Muir. Back to you, Belle Drury.”
The anchors proceeded to go to expert interviews, but Jonah just let the phone fall into his lap before staring off into nothing for a long, long moment.
Brenda finally looked up at his face, watched for a bit, then quietly muttered, “Honey?”
“Fuck…” he responded under his breath. “Is this real?”
“Apparently,” she said.
“Take that goddamn job,” he suddenly told her, rather confidently and forcefully.
“Really?” she replied.
“If this shit is going down in Hollywood right now and the state thinks you have the know-how to make it stop? Then, oh hell yes, you are going to tell the governor right now, ‘I accept this fucking job.’ And then you are going to be one hell of a ghost-buster.”
“And what about the attention it brings to you? And my mom — ?”
“Doesn’t matter — ”
“And our kids?”
He hesitated on that, then looked at her. “What do you mean?”
“Public figure, government official. It seems like by definition fifty percent of people are going to hate me, whether or not my position is political — which this one certainly isn’t. But the hater assholes like to go after families…”
“I can deal with it,” Jonah insisted.
“Great. What about Theresa, Samuel, and Malia?”
“Shit,” Jonah replied.
“So, like I said, not an easy question, is it?”
“No,” he sighed. “Of course, you know I do my best thinking after a good — ”
She put a finger over his lips, knowing exactly where he was going. “So do I,” she said. “But how long could that walk with my mom and the kids be?”
They headed back inside to find Esme, Malia, and Samuel in the living room, playing another board game. “Hey,” Jonah announced, “You all want to go to the movies? That new Disney film just came out. You can probably still catch the first evening show.”
All three of them exploded in excitement. Actually going to the movies had been a rare thing the last few years, especially when so many people now had 8K and ultra-high-speed connections at home. And no one liked to think about the long time out.
Jonah pulled his card out of his wallet and handed it to Esme. “Tickets, popcorn, snacks, and all that,” he said. “Oh, and take my car.” He handed her the keys, which she took with a smile and a wink.
The kids ran out to the kitchen and into the garage, Esme trailing behind, turning back before she left to admonish them. “At your age, three is enough! And at my age, two is almost too many! Don’t forget protection,” she called back laughing as she exited, leaving Jonah and Brenda to look at each other, nonplussed.
“I guess it is true,” Brenda finally said.
“Moms know everything going on in the house.”
“Do they now?” Jonah asked.
“Oh yeah,” she replied.
“Shit. Then I guess I’m fucked,” he told her.
“Not until you get that big round ass of yours into that bedroom you’re not,” she replied, giving it a good, hard smack.
“Yes, ma’am!” he saluted before running into the master suite, shedding clothes all the way.
Brenda took her time strolling in, thinking all along, “Ah, it’s good to be the queen.”
* * *