James Mulhern’s writing has appeared in literary journals over one hundred and fifty times and has been recognized with many awards. In 2015, Mr. Mulhern was granted a writing fellowship to Oxford University. That same year, a story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. In 2017, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His novel, Give Them Unquiet Dreams, is a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019. He was shortlisted for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2021 for his poetry. Recently, two of his novels were Finalists for the United Kingdom’s Wishing Shelf Book Awards.
After I showed my paperwork to the girl at the desk and signed in, David, an upperclassman at Boston University who was helping freshmen move in, brought me to an elevator in the rear of the hall. In the short time it took to get to the fourth floor, he managed to tell me a bit about the alleged haunting of Eugene O’Neill. Shelton Hall was once an apartment building, and O’Neill and his wife Carlotta, whose psychiatrist had an office on Bay State Road, lived in suite 401 starting in 1951. Eugene died of Parkinson’s disease in 1953.
David said, “His last words were ‘Born in a hotel room and goddammit, died in a hotel room,’ ” as we reached the door of my suite, a pair of bedrooms (each shared by two) with a common area. I was having trouble with the key; it wouldn’t turn.
“Let me help you with that.” He placed his warm soft palm on my wrist. His hands were big with long delicate fingers, like those of a guitarist. I noticed how clean his nails were and I could smell his body odor—a mix of sweat and freshly baked bread. I felt my nipples harden a bit. Maybe he would be my second? I thought. And I hoped he would be better than my first, a boy from my high school American History class, who I later found out was gay.
The door swung open quickly. We walked through a drab common area with a brown rug, old red-and-white plaid couch, electric stove top, and t.v.. My room, which was labeled A, was on the left. This time the key worked well. My roommate had already moved in; her things were on the left side of the room, the section with the best view of the Charles River. My side was close to the bathroom, which I wasn’t crazy about, and was darker with poor overhead lighting.
David pushed the bin to my bed, which was covered by a navy blue spread and two lumpy pillows. “It’s not the best,” he said, “but the view from the ninth floor is spectacular and the dining hall serves pretty good food.”
“Actually, I think the building is charming. I’ve always wanted to live in downtown Boston.”
“Guess your roommate’s first name begins with an A.” He nodded towards a very loopy pink wooden A that hung on the wall above her dresser. On the top shelf of the bookcase beside the dresser was a gold metal crucifix and a picture of what I assumed was her family. All of them were blond—father, mother, brother, and her. There was even a yellow Labrador Retriever.
David followed my eyes. “She looks pretty vanilla. Almost seems like one of those fake photographs that comes with the frame.”
“Let’s look. Maybe it is.” I laughed and he stood close as I pulled the cardboard backing from the frame and took out what was an authentic photograph. On the back was written, “Mom, Dad, Joey, me, and Saint Paul.”
“Who the fuck is Saint Paul?” David laughed. He hovered over my shoulder and I smelled him again. I wanted to kiss him.
“Must be the dog, unless it’s her brother. But he doesn’t look like a saint. He looks like a pain in the ass.”
“It’s my dog.” The voice came from behind us. David jumped.
We both turned. A pear-shaped, very tall Ashley stared at us with an irked expression. Her blond over-permed hair reminded me of a poodle and she had gained at least thirty pounds since the picture was taken.
“Sorry,” David said, putting his hands in pockets. “The picture just looked so perfect. We thought it was one of those fake ones that comes with the frame.” He smiled and laughed—flawless white teeth.
“You had no business touching my stuff.” Ashley stormed forward and grabbed the picture from the bookshelf. She pulled up the bottom of her pink t-shirt to rub off our fingerprints, then she slid the photograph inside of the cardboard backing, pushing down the clips, and held it tight to her small chest.
“Lighten up,” I said. “It’s not like we were going through your panty drawer.” I extended my hand to shake hers. “I’m Molly Bonamici. This is David. He’s one of the helpers for students moving in today.” She turned and put the picture on her bed in between two stuffed bears, as if that would protect it from future affronts. She had a fat ass that made the green and pink lines of her plaid shorts even uglier.
“Aren’t you going to shake my hand?”
“Not right now,” she said. “I’m still pissed off, but my full name is Ashley Adams.”
“I guess I’ll get going,” David raised his eyebrows at me.
I thanked him. He winked at me before he walked out the door and mouthed, “Good luck.” I loved his smile.
Ashley busied herself unloading a bag with construction paper, glue, scissors, and markers onto the desk by her window. I walked to my side of the room and checked out the bathroom. It was old-fashioned with black-and-white subway tile on the floor and white painted walls. There was a claw-footed bathtub with a black shower curtain, a decent size medicine cabinet, and 6 black shelves on the wall. I splashed water on my face, and wiped my hands on my jean shorts.
When I came out of the bathroom, I found Ashley lying on her bed, reading a book entitled, The Elements of Language Curriculum. I opened my suitcase and began putting my clothes away in the oak laminate dresser, hanging some things in the closet on my side of the room. “Are you an education major?”
“Yes,” she answered without looking up. “I’m in the College of General Studies.”
She couldn’t be too bright. Students who are not outright accepted to Boston University are enrolled in the General Studies College, a sort of probationary acceptance, with matriculation later on. “What grade level are you interested in teaching?”
“Elementary.” She flipped a page and pretended to read.
“We need good elementary teachers. One of my favorites was Ms. Hopkins. I can still remember her beehive hairdo. I think I had a crush on her.”
Ashley looked up at me, grimacing. She fingered a gold cross around her neck.
“Oh, I don’t mean ‘crush’ in that way. I’m not a lesbian if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“I wasn’t thinking that.” Now she looked me over, eyes moving up and down. “Where are you from?”
“Revere. A very Italian neighborhood, not too far from here.”
“Just outside of Boston. About five miles to the north. Where are you from?”
“Lenox, Massachusetts. We are mostly white so I don’t think we have a lot of Italians.”
“I see. . . .That’s where the Boston Pops plays during the summer. I’ve always wanted to go to Tanglewood.”
“Both my parents are violinists,” she said.
“That’s cool. I like classical music.”
“I hate it.” She put her book down and sat up on the side of her bed, watching me put my things away. It was obvious she was evaluating me, trying to figure me out. When I placed some books on the shelves, she said, “Did you read all of them?”
“I hate reading long books. I prefer children’s books and young adult fiction.”
I knew we were not going to be friends. I couldn’t help thinking she was an idiot.
“Oh, and I like the Bible, too.” She tilted her head upward, tossing her poodle-do with one hand. I noticed a pimple on her chin.
“I don’t like the Bible much. Mostly it’s a bunch of bullshit. The New Testament isn’t all that bad. I like the stories in the Gospel of John, and I like its Prologue: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ The idea of words being portrayed as divine appeals to me. I’m an English major, and of course I love books.”
“But it’s not words that the Gospel is talking about,” she said. “The Word means Jesus.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Of course it does.” Her face flushed. “John was talking about Jesus.”
“That’s an interpretation.”
“Are you a catholic?”
“I’m an atheist. I think religion is the cause of most of the world’s troubles.”
“How can you say that? Jesus died for our sins.” Her voice was shaking.
“Let’s change the subject. Have you met our suitemate yet?”
She slid back on the bed and propped herself up with pillows, moving the teddy bears and picture aside. “No. But we have two of them. That room is also a double.”
“I wonder where they are?” I said, thinking, please let them be more interesting than this stunod, as Nonna would say.
“Maybe they’re coming from far away. BU attracts students from all over the world.” She sounded like she was reading a brochure.
“Yeah, maybe they are coming from Mali or Guinea.”
“I never heard of those cities. Is Guinea where guinea pigs are from? I think they are so cute.”
“They are not cities.” What a dumbass. “They’re countries. Both in Africa.”
“This is soooo adorable,” someone said, entering the common area. The voice was that of an older woman, raspy, and slightly nasal.
“That must be one of them.” Ashley bounced off the bed, patted her t-shirt, and fluffed her hair. “How do I look?”
I laughed. “You look fine.”
“Well don’t you want to meet them?”
“I think we should give them a few minutes to get settled. Is it okay if I use the bottom three shelves in the bathroom?” I wanted to put my cosmetics away.
“I guess so.” She was hesitant.
“Or would you prefer the bottom shelves? I just figured because you were taller, the top shelves might be easier for you to reach, Ashley.” I wanted to call her Lurch, as in the Addams Family.
“That’s fine. You can have the bottom shelves.” She looked at herself in the mirror on the back of our door, practiced a smile, and walked into the common area. I moved just aside the door to hear the conversation.
“Mom, it’s hideous. But that’s fine. A college room is not supposed to be the Ritz.”
“Emily, turn around. One of your suitemates is here,” Emily’s mother said.
“I’m Ashley. Ashley Adams.”
“Emily Finnegan. And this is my mother.”
“Just call me Lorna.”
“Nice to meet you both,” Ashley said.
“You too, darling,” Lorna answered.
There was an awkward silence. I wished there was a peephole in the wall so I could spy.
“Well, I guess we gotta continue moving my things in.”
“Oh, I can help if you like.”
“No sweetheart. Go set up your own room. I’m sure you have a lot to do as well,” Lorna said. It was obvious that Emily and her mother wanted to get rid of Ashley.
“Really, it’s no bother.”
Emily said, “Actually I prefer to move the things in myself. Plus there’s a guy downstairs who’s offered to help, and my sister is waiting by our car. So we have to hurry. We’ll talk later.”
So Emily didn’t seem to care for Ashley much either. I had a feeling that she and I were going to be friends. At least we had one thing in common—an antipathy for Ashley. Ashley came back into our room and shut the door tightly. I quickly opened a dresser drawer and pretended to arrange my pants. I could hear voices in the bedroom next to ours, but the words were indistinct. I got the sense that Emily was unhappy with the dorm, college, or something else going on in her life, and her mother, Lorna, was trying too hard to make everything seem wonderful. I’ve always been very intrigued by the inflections of emotion in people’s voices. Most emotions have always felt like foreign languages to me, but over the years, I had become very good at translating them and reading people.
“They were a bit rude,” She sank into her bed and folded her arms. Her t-shirt lifted slightly, revealing one of the whitest bellies I had ever seen.
“Why do you say that?”
“I offered to help them move in and they brushed me off.”
“Maybe they just wanted to spend some time together. You know, the whole mother-daughter thing. Child leaving the nest.”
Her expression was steely. “I think she’s a bitch.”
“Who? The mother or the daughter?”
“Well I guess both of them.”
“Don’t you think you are being a bit harsh?”
“I was just trying to be a good Christian and offer help.”
“Atheists can be good, too, ya know.” She was starting to really piss me off. “Christians don’t hold a copyright on goodness.”
“I didn’t say they did.”
“No, but you implied it.” I pulled a pair of black panties out of my drawer and placed them on top of my dresser. Then I walked over to the mirror and began to disrobe, tossing my black t-shirt and cut-off jeans onto the bed. I fluffed my long brown hair, which was a bit sweaty, threading my fingers through the sticky sections. Ashley pretended to read her textbook, but I knew she was really watching my antics. I decided to give the prude a show. I unclasped my black bra, shimmied out of my black panties, and threw them onto the bed as well. I turned and faced Ashley—full frontal nudity. “Do you think I have nice breasts?”
Her face was blotchy. She looked up from her book, feigning a nonchalant glance. “I guess so.”
Then I put my hands under my breasts, cupping them. “I like them. I think they are the perfect size. 36 C. I like my vagina, too, especially the dark thick hair around it. I scratched my pubic area.”
Ashley threw her book on the floor. “Do you have to talk so much about your body? I really don’t care that you like your tits.”
“Wow.” I walked over to my dresser and eased my legs into the fresh pair of black panties. “You’re so uptight. I would think you’d appreciate the beauty of the human body. After all, the human being is one of God’s creations. And I think he thought pretty highly of us because he made Adam lord and master over all of the animals. You should review the book of Genesis, Ashley. I have to take a piss. Excuse me.” I went into the bathroom, leaving the door ajar so she could hear the tinkling of my urine.
I continued putting my belongings away; Ashley pretended to read. After a while she dozed off. I would have fallen asleep, too, if I were reading The Elements of Language Curriculum. From my bed I watched her face for a while. Her mouth was wide open and she was snoring very lightly. I walked over and stared down at her face. She must have been dreaming because her eyelids were fluttering, indicating REM sleep, a fact I had learned in Health class. There was drool pooling in one of the corners of her mouth; her lips were chapped. Her body was so limp and helpless. I imagined smothering her face with one of my pillows, like a murderess in one of those tacky made-for-t.v. movies that I loved so much.
I quietly opened her dresser drawers, periodically turning to see if she was close to waking. I rifled through her panties, silly underwear with images of Winnie-the-Pooh, hearts, and one with Christmas bulbs. She had an entire drawer of preppy sweaters and turtlenecks—a medley of lime green, navy blue, forest green, red, and black—all made of wool or 100 percent cotton fabric. There was a black velvet blazer, which I found unusual considering the other apparel, flowery knee-length skirts, and denim pants from L.L. Bean.
I heard a loud snort, so I turned quickly, bracing my hands on her dresser. Ashley opened her eyes.
“I must have been exhausted. Was I snoring?” She rubbed her cheeks with her palms and blinked a few times.
“Yes. You were very loud.” She wasn’t.
“Oh, sorry. I hope it isn’t too much of a bother, but I’m sure you will get used to it. You can buy some earplugs. Everyone in my family snores.” That was a sleepover I would definitely turn down.
“Hey, why are you standing by my dresser?” She sat up quickly. Her textbook fell to the floor. “Damn.” She leaned over and picked it up. I saw the crack of her white fleshy ass. One of her teddies toppled over the other side of the bed.
“I was concerned about you,” I said. “Your breathing sounded irregular.”
She placed the book on her bedside table. “Really? What do you mean irregular?” The area around her eyes twitched, and I forced myself not to smirk, affecting a serious, apprehensive expression.
“It’s no big deal. You’re alive. At least for now.” I laughed.
“Do you think there’s something wrong with me?”
“Don’t tell me you’re a worry wart, Ashley.”
She stiffened, her back firm against the headboard. “I’m not a worry wart! That’s silly. I was just asking what you meant, that’s all.”
“Methinks she doth protest too much.”
“I read that. Edgar Allan Poe, right?”
“Yes. I’m impressed by your knowledge of literature.”
She smiled. “Well, that’s why I decided to become a teacher. I believe I have a vocation. I am determined to help children grow up and become intelligent readers so their lives can become enriched by the myriad works of great literature.” She pronounced myriad as MY-ree-ad.
“I’m sure you will succeed.”
I did end up befriending Emily. She was a pretty girl with an atypical, but lovely face. Oval-shaped, flawless skin, kewpie-doll lips, a small quivering chin, and large golden eyes like two orbs of sunlight. I admired the way she exuded purpose and conviction. We hung out together quite a bit.
One afternoon a few weeks later, after our classes, the Resident Assistant called Emily and me to inform us that packages were delivered for both of us. When the phone rang, we were watching the evolving love affair of Luke Spencer and Laura Webber in the soap opera General Hospital, arguing over whether Luke was cute or not. I thought he was too old and ugly for Laura. But I didn’t care for her much either—she was too histrionic and breathy for my taste, a crisis junkie—so I told Emily that Laura deserved the ugly toad. Emily said I was mean.
She was laughing when she picked up the phone. “Hi Arnold. . . . . . . Really? How big?. . .” She looked at me from beyond the open door to her room. “She’s with me now. I’ll tell her.”
“We have some mail downstairs. Two large boxes for me, and a smaller package for you.”
“Let’s go. I’m sick of looking at his bad perm.” I turned the television off and we headed downstairs. Arnold loaned us a dolly to bring Emily’s boxes up.
When we had set the mail down in our common area, we both excitedly opened the packages. Hers were from her mother, and mine was from Nonna.
Emily let out a scream and jumped back when she opened the first box.
“What is it?”
“Oh God. My mother sent me a mannequin. It scared the shit out of me.” She put a hand over her heart. After she caught her breath, she pulled out the plastic torso of a female, followed my limbs, hands, and a head. At the bottom, her mother had thrown in a blond fright wig. “She is so crazy!” She opened up an envelope from inside and read the note aloud, “ ‘Baby, couldn’t resist buying this mannequin. Found it in a clothing store on Park Avenue.’ “ Emily paused and looked at me. “That’s Park Avenue, Rochester, not Manhattan.” She continued reading. “ ‘I figured you could name her after your roommate that never showed and prop her on the bed to keep you company. Hope you are well. Don’t spend all the money too soon.’ “ Emily pulled a check out of the envelope. I was curious how much, but didn’t ask. The second box was the waist, legs, and feet. We screwed the mannequin together and baptized her “Candice Kox” after the no-show suitemate.
“She’s blond. Most California girls are blond, aren’t they?” Emily said.
“I think she’s perfect.”
“Open yours” Emily stared at Nonna’s cursive on the brown paper she had used to wrap the package. Inside was a Tupperware container full of chocolate chip cookies. There was also a note and a check for $500.
“Well read the note,” Emily said.
I could smell Nonna’s Shalimar perfume on the light blue stationary. “Dear Molly. Here are some cookies for the sweetest cookie in my life. You must swear to eat them all yourself! Don’t give any to your dorm friends, especially that roommate with the stick up her ass. I am very worried about how skinny you have become. A curse on you if you don’t eat every last one of these cookies yourself. I want you to be fatter the next time I see you. I’ll send you more money for second semester, or call if you need any. Nonna loves mia bambina.”
“She sounds very sweet. I never knew my grandmother. She died before I was born.”
“Nonna’s pretty special. She raised me for the most part. My parents were always so busy with the restaurant they own.”
We heard the key in the lock.
“Stuff Candy in the boxes. I don’t want Ashley to know about her. I’ll explain later,” I whispered. The thought of having Ashley joining our fun irked me. She had implied that I was a whore when she overheard me telling Emily about what happened with David. She said sex before marriage was a sin. I had to bite my tongue. I wanted to ream her a new Christian asshole. Later Emily had congratulated me on my restraint, and suggested that I just refrain from discussing religion or beliefs with Ashley. I thought her beliefs were idiotic, but I had better things to do than try to educate a moron.
“You two look suspicious.” She was carrying a bag from 7-Eleven. “I bought some snacks if you want them.” Then she saw the cookies. “Oh, but it looks like you already have some. Those look really good.”
“They’re from my Nonna. I’d give you two some but my grandmother made me swear I’d eat them all myself. She thinks I’m too skinny.”
She looked at my body. “I wish I looked like you. I think you look perfect. I gotta lose weight. I just wish I wasn’t such an overeater.” She went into the bedroom and closed the door.
“She deserves credit. She’s always watching a VHS tape of ladies in leotards doing something called Fitness Dancing. She confessed to me that sweets were her weakness and she couldn’t resist.” I stood up and ran in place. “She does this with two one-pound weights in her hands.”
“Three minutes max. Then she collapses on the bed for a while and then eats everything in sight.”
“I hope she doesn’t eat your cookies.”
“I doubt it. She’s a Christian, remember? When she reads Nonna’s note, I’m sure she wouldn’t dare.”
I helped Emily slide the boxes of Candy into her bedroom and said I would tell her about an idea for an O’Neill haunting game when we met up with Michelle and Mark, other students from our floor, at dinner. Michelle was a tall, heavy-lidded black girl from Brooklyn, always dressed in flashy orange, pink, and yellow; she hoped to become a famous actress. Mark was an obese white guy with frizzy red hair, blue eyes and a cherubic face, who wanted to become a screenwriter. We always met at 6 p.m. at the back of the dining hall.
It was Burger night. The dining hall smelled of bacon, cheese, grilled onions, and French fries. I was continually impressed by the food at BU. Every night they had a different theme—Asian, Vegetarian, Italian, even Lobster Night. I got a very well-done burger with cheddar cheese and French fries; Emily had her burger with no cheese. She smeared a lot of mayonnaise on her bun, which I found repugnant. I was more traditional—a ketchup kind of girl. When I was a kid, I pretended it was blood.
At the table, Michelle and Mark were discussing President Carter’s alleged sighting of a UFO in 1969.
“He’s a smart man. There has to be some validity to the idea of extraterrestrials. What do you girls think?” Michelle said. She had ketchup on her chin. I handed her a napkin and pointed.
“I believe in intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, but I absolutely don’t believe these extraterrestrials are anywhere near earth. In fact, sometimes I think there is very little intelligent life on earth, period. And if there were intelligent beings visiting from somewhere else in the universe, I’m sure they wouldn’t want to mix with us; we are much too stupid.” I bit into my burger. “This cow was probably smarter than at least thirty percent of Americans.”
“How do you explain all the UFO sightings?” Mark said. “There’s gotta be something to them.”
“Forget about the extraterrestrials.” Emily waved her hand dismissively. “We have ghosts to talk about.” She turned and looked at me. “So what is your plan, Molly?”
I told Mark and Michelle about the mannequin. “I was thinking we could begin phase one of an O’Neill haunting game. Test it out on Ashley.”
“How? . . . Can you pass me the salt, Emily?” Mark asked.
“I’m going to my friend David’s tomorrow for dinner. We’re ordering pizza. I have an idea for when I’m gone.”
“Oh, he’s the hot blond guy,” Michelle said. “Hmm. Wonder what you two will be doing after you eat?” She smirked.
“Discussing the meaning of life.”
“Yeah, honey. Just don’t create any life.”
“Molly, I’m dying. Tell us what the plan is,” Emily said.
“Okay, you got to know a little about O’Neill’s life. I did some research this week. Evidently, he got pissed at his daughter Oona for marrying Charlie Chaplin. She was eighteen and Chaplin was 54!”
“Ugh. That is gross,” Michelle said. “She obviously married him for his money.”
“I was thinking you could put a cane in the mannequin’s hand, a Charlie Chaplin hat on her head, and a nametag that says Oona.”
“What the fuck type of name is Oona? Are you sure that’s right?” Michelle squinted her eyes and retracted her neck.
“Yes. I’m sure. And what does it matter. Ashley certainly doesn’t know.”
“Molly, where are we gonna get a cane and hat?” Emily said.
“Oh that’s no problem.” Mark knocked over his coke. Michelle sopped it up. “Sorry. . . ”
“Jesus, control your enthusiasm.” She rolled her eyes as she moved the napkins over the puddle.
“My roommate is studying to be an actor. He has access to the prop room for the BU Theatre. I can call him tonight,” Mark continued.
“And when I’m at David’s place, you can position the mannequin in front of the door, knock a few times, hide in the corner and project a high-pitched voice saying something like, ‘Hi, I’m Oona. Have you seen my father Eugene O’Neill?’ ”
Mark said, “Oh my god. She’s going to be scared to death.”
Emily said, “I don’t get it. Why don’t you want to help us do it, Molly?”
“She hates me enough. I don’t want her to think I had anything to do with it. But I do want to walk in on the scene. Ashley swears she’s going to exercise every night from 8:30 till 9 pm, while she watches a stupid aerobics tape. That way you can be sure she’s in the suite and not off studying, or over her friend Jean’s. Stage it for 8:45. I’ll be walking down the hall from the elevator when it happens.”
“Okay, I’m in,” Michelle said. “I hope Ashley has a sense of humor.”
Emily and I looked at each other.
“We’ll see,” I said.
Sex the second time with David was not as exciting. I get easily bored. After I’ve tried something once, the novelty quickly wanes. He asked me why I was in such a hurry so I told him about our plan. He thought it was ridiculous, but wished us good luck nevertheless. At 7:42 I got off the elevator. I saw Mark trying to position the mannequin, which tumbled over a few times before he got it exactly right. I was pleased to see the signature derby hat that Chaplin wore and a cane. Michelle and Emily were laughing, squatted in the hallway, by the next dorm suite. I stood for a few minutes in front of the elevator, pretending to look for a key in my purse. Two girls with grocery bags got out and smiled at me, then headed towards their room in the other direction. They did not notice the scene I had been observing.
I looked at my watch, then glanced to where Mark was pounding on the door. I scanned the hall, hoping no one else was around. Mark dashed to where Emily and Michelle squatted. Ashley opened the door wearing a pink leotard, pink stockings, and white sneakers with pink laces. She was eating one of my chocolate chip cookies, holding the Tupperware container. I thought, “Bitch. I told you not to touch them. But you did. I knew you would.”
By the time Emily projected in a high squeaky voice, “Hi. I’m Oona. Have you seen my father Eugene O’Neill?” Ashley collapsed onto the mannequin. Oona/Candy’s head came off and the blond fright wig, too. Michelle, Mark, and Emily ran to Ashley. I hurried down the hall as well.
“Ashley, are you alright?” Michelle’s face was sweating. Emily was ashen. Mark ran around in a circle, looking at the ceiling, repeating “Oh shit! Oh shit!” over and over.
I flipped Ashley over and checked her neck pulse; there was none. I yelled, “Somebody call 911.” Then I began administering CPR, after I wiped her mouth clean with my shirt.
Doors opened up and down the hall. “I already have,” a hysterical girl with mascara streaming down her face yelled.
I kicked Oona away and she completely fell apart. My adrenaline was rushing and the force of my punt caused one of her hands to fly and hit the mascara girl in the stomach. She screamed, “Her hand has come off!” Sobbing, she ran into her room and slammed the door.
I was counting my compressions, the heel of one had over the center of Ashley’s chest, my other hand on top of the first. I tried to keep my elbows straight, remembering Ms. O’Rourke, my Health teacher’s words.
“Mark,” I shouted. “Stick your finger in her mouth. Make sure her airway is clear and there are no bits of cookie.”
He grimaced and held his head back as he slid his middle finger inside.
Michelle said, “She’s not gonna bite you. She’s barely breathing. Come on now. Move that finger around. Pretend it’s a twat. . . .I’m sorry, that was inappropriate. I’m just freaked out.”
At times like this, everything happens so fast. Arnold, our RA, was soon there, as well as the Boston University police. Students getting off the elevator were told to get back on and go to another floor. I continued my chest compressions alternating with breaths, trying not to press to firmly on her lips.
“Good job, Molly,” Emily said. “Keep it up.”
When the paramedics showed up, they took over. I stood back with the others. “How could this happen?” I said, “Ashley is so young.” I knew she was dead, but I didn’t let on to the others. She was whisked on to a stretcher. Arnold hollered at the crowd of students, “Get back in your rooms.” People quickly obliged. Doors shut all around.
I turned to look at Emily who was ironically, “tossing cookies” onto the maroon carpet.
There was a patrolman looking on, even firemen, and in a short while, a Detective Corrigan from the Boston Police. Arnold escorted Emily, Mark, Michelle, and me down to his office on the first floor. Detective Corrigan eyed each one of us during the elevator ride. He was a scary-looking man with a craggy face, a perpetual scowl, and hollow cheeks. His color was gray. I thought he looked half dead himself. No one spoke until we were all seated in Arnold’s office.
There were three folding chairs that I let the others sit on. Detective Corrigan sat in the cushy leather chair behind Arnold’s desk.
“Do you want me here?” Arnold said to him.
“No. I want to speak with them alone.”
Arnold seemed relieved and left quickly. I grabbed a box of tissues from Arnold’s desk and handed it to Mark, motioning for him to pass it on. He gave it to Michelle, who wiped the sweat off her face. Emily grabbed a few tissues and daubed tears on her cheek and puke that had smeared on her sneakers.
“I wouldn’t worry about your sneakers, young lady. We have more important matters to attend to.” The detective’s voice was menacing and his black eyes darted over each of our faces.
“You,” he said to me.
“You seem pretty calm. Aren’t you upset?”
“Of course I’m upset, sir. I just don’t show my emotions much.”
“What’s your name?”
“My name is Molly Bonamici.”
“Since you seem the most controlled of your friends, why don’t you tell me what happened? And by the way, what you did was pretty heroic. Where did you learn CPR?”
“And you remembered exactly how to do it?” His eyes widened, two black holes.
“Detective Corrigan.” I stared at his nametag, then into his eyes. “I don’t forget things.”
He moved forward, putting his elbows on the desk, interleaving the fingers of his hands underneath his chin. “Okay, Molly. Tell me what happened.”
I told him about the alleged haunting of our floor by Eugene O’Neill. He asked me if O’Neill was a former student, with no seeming knowledge of the playwright. When I said he wrote Long’s Day Journey Into Night, he snapped that I should get to the point before this became a long day’s journey into night. He had to file the paperwork before the end of his shift.
“Who’s this Oona?”
“Oona is Eugene O’Neill’s estranged daughter?”
“Is she a student here?”
“No, she’s dead.”
“So does she haunt your floor, too.” He was twirling a pen in his hand, reclining in the chair.
“No, she’s a mannequin.”
“Excuse my French, Molly, but what the fuck are you talkin’ about?”
Michelle widened her eyes, as if to say, “don’t piss him off.” Emily was on the verge of laughing, and Mark was tapping his foot and looking down at his hand, picking a scab, obviously a nervous wreck.
At last, Detective Corrigan got the information he needed for his file. But before he left, he lambasted all of us, saying what we did was terrible and we’d have to live with it for the rest of our lives.
Mark burst into tears. The scab on his hand was bleeding a little. Emily and Michelle recoiled, backs stiff against their chairs, speechless.
“Yes, Detective Corrigan. I realize we will all live with this for the rest of our lives. We are truly sorry that a silly prank ended in Ashley’s death.” The image of Oona the mannequin in an electric chair flashed in my mind.
After he left, Arnold came back into his office. He was more sympathetic.
“I know you’ve been through a lot. I’ve spoken with the authorities, who will contact Ashley’s family. You have to be aware that that there could be some disciplinary action. The dean was, well, very pissed off. Expect to meet with him soon. You can go.” He opened the door for us.
I waited a minute until the others had left, then said, “Arnold. I was the one who came up with the idea. If there is anyone who deserves the blame, it’s me. I don’t want my friends to be expelled.”
He laughed softly. “Molly, I doubt any of you will be expelled. It was a stupid prank that led to a senseless death. And what you did upstairs was remarkable. You kept your cool and administered CPR while your friends were in meltdown. You obviously have the ability to show great strength in a crisis. I couldn’t have been as calm as you.”
“Thank you, Arnold.”
He patted my back as I left. On the elevator, I thought about what I had accomplished. I was sure that there had to be others who would have done the same thing. Nonna certainly. Ashley was a bitch. Obtaining the cyanide from Mr. Scarfone, a mobster friend of my grandmother’s, was easy. She was always saying that she would do anything for her “precious granddaughter,” so when I asked her to bake the special cookies, she said, “Sure mia bambina. What’s one more ingredient? Not a problem.”
Once in my room, I would call to thank her, and compliment her on the effectiveness of her wording in the note. She would be happy to know that Ashley had died for her sins and that her cookies were a perfect hit.