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Marly's Ghost

I opened my eyes and found that the Spirit and I were in front of a certain warehouse door.

"Know it?" the Spirit asked.

"Know it!" I exclaimed. "This is where I learned everything."

It couldn’t be anywhere else --- we had to be at Fezziwig’s.

Fezziwig had been a senior when I was a freshman. It was only dumb luck that had brought me into his orbit --- during our first week of school, he had put flyers for a Creative Anachronism Club into a dozen randomly selected lockers; I had gotten one, and was the only kid to show up at the "orientation." Fezziwig was a big guy --- if he’d been two inches taller, he would have knocked his head on most ceilings --- but he filled every inch of his soul with what I can only call mirth.

His parents were artists, and every now and then they’d let Fezziwig throw a party in their studio. That was where the Spirit and I now stood.

"Why, it’s Fezziwig!" I cried in great excitement as we walked inside. "He’s back!" Sure enough, the Fezziwig I remembered was sitting at his high desk, scribbling away in one of the ledgers he used as notebooks. Then he laid down his pen and looked up at the clock. I knew exactly what occasion this was: Valentine’s Day three years ago. I knew this because of Fezziwig’s outfit --- a capacious waistcoat and a cupid-print tie. Rubbing his hands, he called out in a comfortable, jovial voice:

"Yo ho, there! Ben! Marly!"

My former self came in briskly from another room, accompanied by fourteen-year-old Marly. We were both used to the way Fezziwig talked --- this wonderful affectation that was so ridiculous that it couldn’t possibly be considered pretentious.

"Yo ho, my boys!" said Fezziwig. "We’re having a party to end all parties, so let’s have the shutters up before a man can say Jack Robinson!"

I rarely knew what he was talking about, but it didn’t matter --- if I didn’t know the specific phrasings, I knew the enthusiasm that lay underneath. It was amazing how quickly Marly and I went to work, charging to the windows and opening all of the shutters before you could count to twelve, panting like racehorses when the effort was through.

"Hilli-ho!" cried Fezzwig, skipping down from the high desk with amazing agility for a guy his size. "Clear away, my lads, and let’s have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Marly! Chirrup, Ben!"

Clear away! There was nothing we wouldn’t have cleared away, or couldn’t have cleared away, with Fezziwig looking on. Fezziwig loved to be larger than life, and Marly and I were happy apprentices to that. After being together in a big way for more than a year, astonished to find ourselves sharing so much together. I think Fezziwig enjoyed our glow as much as we enjoyed his. When we’d been apart, Marly and I had each felt like halves. But together, we were so much more than that.

We cleared the warehouse in what seemed like a minute. Every movable object was packed off for its own safety; the floor was swept and shined, the colored lightbulbs were fitted into their sockets, and fuel was heaped upon the fire, our best source of heat. The warehouse was as snug and warm and dry and bright a ballroom as you would hope to see on a winter’s night. It was something magical.

In came a DJ with his milk crates of records. He went up to the lofty desk and made a DJ booth out of it, preparing his backbeats as Marly, Fezziwig, and I put out bowls of candy and bigger bowls of love-red punch. Fezziwig’s mother poked her head in, one vast, substantial smile, followed by his beaming and lovable father and curious little sister. In no time, the guests began to swirl in, throwing their jackets onto easels, revealing the soul of their clothes. In they came, one after another --- some shyly, some boldly; some gracefully, some awkwardly; some pushing, some pulling --- anyhow and everyhow, as Fezziwig would say. It was a conversational and flirtatious dance, couples and singles all at once, hands fluttering and faces tilted in laughter, friends walking to one corner then through the middle to another corner to greet another group. Old couples running into each other in the wrong place; new couples starting off on their newfound footing. The air was filled with the music of a dozen or more conversations, with the DJ’s loops and beats moving underneath.

I had found an old orchestra conductor’s jacket in a thrift store a few days before, and was wearing it as the DJ pushed the music harder, and I bopped and flailed and burned along. Marly was wearing a dress the color of cinnamon, chosen to match the shoes I’d just bought her, the ones she’d wanted so badly. For the fast songs, we danced without touching, opening ourselves out into circles upon circles of friends and strangers. For the slow songs, she lifted her hands behind my neck so I could feel the charms of her bracelet lightly against my skin. I knew then how happy I felt, but it wasn’t until now, watching, that I witnessed how happy I looked. Every joy I saw in her was reflected in me. At one point, Fezziwig clapped his hands to stop the dancing, crying out, "Well done!" The DJ plunged his hot face into a pot of punch, especially provided for that purpose. But upon his reappearance he instantly began again. He moved as if the first DJ had been carried home, exhausted, and he was a brand-new man resolved to beat him out of sight. There were more dances, and there were forfeits and more dances, and there was cake, and there was a game we called Cupid’s Arrow, and there were pies and plenty of punch. But the best part of the evening came after the cake, when the artful DJ struck up the Sir Roger de Coverley remix of a Madonna song. Then Fezziwig stood out to dance with Marly, and I was happy to oblige. Soon they were surrounded on the floor by other dancers who were not to be trifled with, people who would dance, even if it meant they wouldn’t be able to walk after.

But if there had been twice as many people on the warehouse floor --- or even four times as many --- Fezziwig and Marly would have been a match for them. She was worthy to be his partner, and I lavished her with high praise from the sidelines, happy to see her throw her hesitations to the floor and be happy. A positive light appeared to issue from her, shining in every part of the dance like moonlight. As if rehearsed, she and Fezziwig took over the floor with some old-style moves. And when they had gone all through the dance --- advance and retire, both hands to your partner, bow and curtsey, corkscrew, thread-the-needle and back again to your place --- Fezziwig cut so deftly that he appeared to wink with his legs, coming upon his feet again without a stagger.

The whole crowd burst into applause. Even the unpresent I, standing next to the Spirit, silently applauded.

When the clock struck eleven, the dance broke up. Fezziwig took his station by the door, shaking hands with the guests as they went out, wishing them love.

Marly found me again and said she was feeling a little woozy. I assured her it was just the dancing, and she easily agreed.

We were the last ones to shake Fezziwig’s hand and wish him a good night. I watched as the two of us left the room. My heart and soul were in the scene. I corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything. It wasn’t until now, when the bright faces of my former self and Marly had turned from me and the Spirit, that I remembered the Ghost and became conscious that she was looking fully at me. The light upon her head burned very clear.

"Such a small thing," she said, "to make these folks so full of gratitude."

"Small!" I echoed incredulously.

"It’s just a party," the Spirit pointed out.

"It isn’t that," I said. "You have to understand --- he’s one of those people who finds the greatest happiness in making everyone else happy. He didn’t have to do it; he could have used his wit to taunt us just as easily as he used it to embrace us. His power came from words and looks, from things so slight and insignificant that it’s impossible to count them. The happiness he gave us was priceless. It was never just a party." I watched as Fezziwig began to clear the remnants of the celebration, then smiled to himself and gave up for the night. It was only then that I let myself step out of the moment. Even though I couldn’t see my younger self and Marly anymore, I knew where they were going. We had planned such a big night --- she had told her parents she was staying at Sarah’s, and I had told my parents that I was staying at Fred’s. But instead Fezziwig had given us the key to his place, a small apartment above his family’s garage. It was going to be our first night alone together. I had brought champagne and strawberries. She had carefully selected the music.

But of course when we got there, her wooziness hadn’t gone away. I carved little valentine hearts into the Tylenol before she took them.

It didn’t help.

Nothing would end up helping . . . although we didn’t know it then. So we could still eat strawberries and play music quietly and leave the champagne for another day and kiss slow-gently and sleep a whole night in the same bed, each of us waking constantly, muttering contentments before going back to sleep.

My heart had grown too warm to freeze again immediately. So as I stood there in the dark warehouse, I was everything in-between.

Excerpted from MARLY'S GHOST © Copyright 2011 by David Levithan. Reprinted with permission by Puffin/Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA). All rights reserved.

Marly's Ghost
by by David Levithan

  • Genres: Fiction
  • paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Speak
  • ISBN-10: 014240912X
  • ISBN-13: 9780142409121