Clever Girl

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it. Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what. Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you. Just keep working and focus on that.

Advertisements

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it. Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what. Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you.

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it.  Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what.  Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you.  Just keep working and focus on that.

That’s what I wanted to tell her but I didn’t.  I told her that she was welcome to the coffee in the pot (just brewed), and I showed her the location of the bathroom.  I then left her to become acclimated to working with me and working within my haunted rooms.  When she shivered, I looked up from my manuscript.

“You okay?”

“Yes, felt like someone just walked over my grave.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, that’s something my grandmother used to say.  When she felt a cold shiver run down her back or shoulders, she always said that.”

I nodded and smiled while letting my eyes drop back to my manuscript.  It was rude but these Indiana girls had to keep their back-water statements to themselves.  She got right back to work without any sniffs or huffs.  The girls from outside the city were usually very conscientious and she was no exception.  When we broke for lunch I asked her how long she had been living in Chicago.

“About 12 weeks.  I was ready to give it up, I felt so overwhelmed.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t.” I was sincere as I passed her the salt.  I needed her help and, well, I needed someone around.  The cold spots were getting worse, the sounds of footsteps and God help me I thought I had heard a few sighs.  I needed someone who would come every morning, work hard and make human noises, human movement, human scents, and human residue.

“So this used to be an old warehouse, huh?  It makes a beautiful apartment.”

“It is nice,” I said  “I like the view all around.  I think the realtor thought I should be here because she found out I was a writer.”

She laughed slightly and nodded as if she understood that as a writer I must also be a Bohemian by nature.  I wasn’t, I was just a writer.  The apartment suited me for other reasons, one it was isolated for Chicago and two, the noise of the city didn’t crowd in upon my work.

We worked together for 13 glorious weeks and the manuscript began to take shape.  We even managed one night to make a timeline of the plot and conclusion.  She stayed until 11 P.M. we became so consumed with the work she lost track of the time.  Her hair began to fall out of its pins and curl down around her neck.  Her freckles began to glow through her smudged makeup.  She almost looked 12.  She definitely looked beautiful.  But this was business, all business and I couldn’t mix business with pleasure.

One Wednesday morning she was standing, looking out toward Lake Michigan.  The city was clear and gleamed before her, like some promising city.  I admired her body as she studied the scene before her.  Her straight, sky-blue, skirt was too large but still looked enticing around her rather bony hips and her soft, buff colored sweater cascaded around her narrow shoulders and folded softly around her thin waist.  Her clothes always seemed a size too large but she wore it well, oddly enough.

“You know,” she said, “I know this apartment is haunted.  I heard her crying in the bathroom.”

I stopped what I was doing.  My pen was in mid stride as she said those words.  She turned at my silence looking a little perplexed.  “What do you think happened?  Do you think she died in an accident while this place was still a factory?”

“No,” I said, slightly relieved she was forming conclusions that didn’t include me.

She looked slightly pouty and my heart beat hard.  “Are you sure?  How do you know?” she asked.

“Because the sounds and the cold spots started after I started living here.  I’ve never heard her cry before though.”

The dear girl actually frowned and sat down next to me as if to try and comfort me or dissuade me from my idea.  “You don’t know that.  The former owners probably wanted you to buy the place so they could leave.”  She looked so sincere and concerned.  I grasped her tiny hips and pulled her under me, wanting that one kiss, that wouldn’t be tainted with fear.  The kiss was sweet, and moist and lingering.  I would regret this one, I remembered thinking.

“I know you killed her actually,” she whispered softly in my ear.  “I know you did.”

I felt her pull the trigger, felt the bullet rip through my shirt, my skin, my heart my back.  My weight muffled the sound; just what she needed to leave me here to sigh, chill the air and press down upon the old floor boards.  No one stays for long.

She was a clever girl, whoever she was, a very clever girl.

 

The Driftwood Gatherer

I looked up in hope at my father. His hair was gray and his eyes a sharp sky blue. He seemed tall to me but not so tall among other men at church. Until that moment, I was not sure that I was even noticed by my father — ever.

I never said much, being the youngest and being the youngest it was best that I stay as still as possible.  There is hard labor for those of us who do not understand the art of silence.

Yes, the art of silence.  Do not hide, for when you are among siblings, out of sight does not mean out of mind, especially when an order is easily delegated.  Prepare to be busy, not look busy, this is essential to survival.  Plan your day do not hope for the best.  So among my chores, the major one being the gathering of driftwood – no matter what the weather –I became the driftwood gatherer, and my days were planned.

The weather made me I’m sure; wind blowing, cutting sleet, rain in deluges, and heat that baked the sand to almost dead white kept me in one piece.  Never once did I ever hear an anxious voice from the house as I drug the driftwood from the shore to the door.  This was my job, the others had theirs.

No one wanted driftwood gathering.

Annie, bless her heart wasn’t up too much.  She was always sickly and kept close to Mother.  Mother was harried and busied and spent most her life, it seemed to me, scolding my brothers and clucking over Annie, who stood still for Mother to wipe her tears away in a sort of rough but tender way.

I hated school but loved to read – as most readers discover.  School distracts.

I was shunned for the books I read, but I read them anyway.  I was the driftwood gatherer, I could face the disdain of any long nosed librarian.  When we went once a week to the library (my fellow classmates in purgatory), I felt at times she only pretended to put on her worst face for me.  I do not know to this day if it was my selection of books or my designation as family driftwood gatherer that sparked a look of possible admiration in her face, possible disdain.

As driftwood gatherer I felt it incumbent upon myself to be observant.  There were several old Bibles in the library – thus and so Bible donated by Captain Daniel McGuire and thus and so Bible donated in the memory of Captain Joseph Benton.  On and on I could go.  After my selection of books by George Elliot, Jane Austen, or any of the Bronte sisters, I would go along the long low shelf of Bibles and touch each one.  I was the only one allowed to touch them, because in my family, I was the driftwood gatherer and in the library I was sneaky, or prized.  I touched them because for those who donated the personal or family Bible to the local library usually meant shipwreck, leaving the big lakes that took down their loved ones and frankly being sickened by the whole idea of setting sail.  I felt that I was connecting to the driftwood I found along our shores by touching those Bibles.

I was very young when I was first sent out to gather driftwood.  The shoreline to Huron was close to our house, and it was cold in the morning, any time of year. The mist was often low to the ground.

One October morning I was lost for some time, trying to find my way back with driftwood.  The driftwood was water logged and worn smooth by the roughness of the fresh water waves.  You see, so many don’t understand that fresh water has no plashy, saltwater softness to it – ever.  The ships wooden and even the new long boats take a beating within the sharp and harden waves of Huron, Superior, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario.

My father found me first.

“Well, at last I find my daughter hard at her chore.  What has become of you?”

“Huron was in every direction,” I sniffed a little hardened in attitude due to the heaviness of my load and the ache in my shoulders.  “Even on shore Huron mists up and hides shelter.”

“Naw, not true.  Huron is only along the east here.  She sent the mist to confuse you.  She didn’t want you to leave.  There is no harm in her.”

“Why doesn’t she want me to leave?” I felt little regard for her at the moment and I felt myself struggling not to pee.

“Well, Huron loves all lovely young maidens.”

I looked up in hope at my father.  His hair was gray and his eyes a sharp sky blue.  He seemed tall to me but not so tall among other men at church.  Until that moment, I was not sure that I was even noticed by my father — ever.  I could feel a thin mucus crust along the edge of my nose and my eyes felt swollen and my shoulders ached with pulling the driftwood beside me, in what seemed to be all day.

“Now let’s see what you have here.”  My father pulled up the driftwood that I had gathered; gray and black, heavy and long.  “Yes, yes, I knew you had it in you.  This is from my ship I’m sure.  Don’t you see pretty maiden, Huron loves you and wants to keep you near, and has given you a piece of what I worked so long and hard for.”

“I think I should find Mother.”  I told him.  His fine blue eyes stared long and hard at the driftwood I had drug along behind me; he said nothing.  So I started off again, away from Huron’s shore, my shoulder’s aching and my legs dragging deep within the sand.  When I looked up again, the house was in view and I felt like weeping.

“Where have you been, you dolt, looking at rocks again?” asked my Mother.

“No,” I said, “ “looking for driftwood like you said.”

“I’ve told you not to be so long — what would your father say if he could see you?”

I thought of the Bibles in the Library and how ours remained on the shelf.  I shrugged and went into the warm kitchen.

Nearly every day, I look for driftwood and wonder which sailors clung to the edges and then let slip away and which Bibles are donated, which remain.

 

The Scariest Time of Day

There’s a kid I know that can’t be insulted and I envy him. No one will play with him so he played by himself until he saw me. I watch for him near the swing set when his mother drops him off in the morning. He talks and plays with me now.

The scariest time of day is just after lunch and on the playground.  It’s better if the clouds are low but when the sun is out, yes that’s the scariest time of day.

There’s a kid I know that can’t be insulted and I envy him.  No one will play with him so he played by himself until he saw me.  I watch for him near the swing set when his mother drops him off in the morning.  He talks and plays with me now.

We met just as the new school year was starting he seemed a little lost, not his jovial self.  He didn’t run about the playground trying to fit into games.  He looked around, his bright blue eyes scanning all the children, laughing, fighting, crying or hiding.  The sun was high and I was nervous for I felt exposed.

He was cautious in his approach and spoke to me.

“Hello,” he said

I said nothing.

He told me his name but I won’t tell you.  He’s my friend now, none of you wanted him.

“Why are you always at this swing set, there are lots of places to play?”

He reached out his hand and I shied away.  It was broad daylight and I needed to stay in the shadows so he sat down and played in the grass next to me.

Once a playground assistant came to him and asked what he was doing.

“Looking for a four leaf clover for the girl who won’t tell me her name.”

“What girl?”

“The girl who can’t come out into the sun because she’s afraid.”

The playground assistant peered into the shadows where I stood and narrowed her eyes as if she could just see me.

I became suddenly angry at the intrusion.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because he wasn’t doing anything but being kind to me and nobody cared before now.  The playground assistant shied away.

“You shouldn’t do that,” said my friend.  “People don’t understand.”

“What does that mean, ‘people don’t understand,’?” I asked.

My friend shrugged. “I don’t know, it’s what my mother says when I’m sad that nobody likes me.”

“I never told my mother nobody liked me,” I said

“Where is your mother now?” he asked.

“Long dead,” I said.

I liked my little friend all the more because he didn’t try to sympathize.  He simply gave a little shudder, looked about the loud, clamorous playground with one worried playground assistant always glancing our way.

“Would you like to come home with me?  You can stay in my room, out of the sun and play with the toys I have in the closet,” he said.

“Who would take care of you on the playground if I’m in your room?” I asked.

“I’m sorry your dead,” he said suddenly.  I felt he meant it.

“I’m sorry too and more so that you find me less frightening than the living around you,” I said.

 

Dance for Me

A turbid small puddle of whatever mirrors the dim lights of centuries ago – no, no perhaps just a block or two away, the lights and no time sways.

A turbid small puddle of whatever mirrors the dim lights of centuries ago – no, no perhaps just a block or two away,  the lights and no time sways.

But time is more distant than the miles we count.

Leave be the mud of place and cleanse you with the ideas of where your mind has taken you.

I’m left here to contemplate the depthlessness of this place because centuries from now, I’ll read about it.

I hear you dance about me upon the grimy cobblestones.  Who do you hold in your arms and how does she keep the hem of her dress pristine?

I scribble away upon this wooden box, a quill and an endless supply of ink.

I begged for the writing box on a birthday so many years ago, and I’ve followed you about sketching out your life of beauty and gentle love.

How is it you haunt me?

How is it that I cannot push you away despite the many distractions I beg for each day.

I want nothing, nothing from you and yet if I could, I would ask you to stay.

Dance for me.

Dance for me.

Take her slender body in your arms and gently lead to music that I can only imagine, in a room of marble and admiration. In the end, my envy and depravity will exhaust my efforts and I will sell my foolscap upon the corners.

A word picture of you in the lush white of winter immortalizing, in physical beauty, the lies of the age.

 

Into the Asylum

Nobody questions why a homeless schizoid dies alone – they just pack them off to cold storage.

There are days I simply wish it were over.  I don’t want to know who I am and I don’t want to face another night.  It’s different when the sun goes down.  I know and they know and the world just goes on.

When I was a kid I would read every fantasy novel I could get my hands on.  I was the skinny kid saving his pennies for the dictionaries on Middle Earth and I was the kid alone on the playground acting out the last epic battle of good versus evil.

Teachers would pull my mother aside and tell her that I made other children uncomfortable.  That the reason I was picked on and ridiculed was because I was allowed to stay in my fantasy world.  I’ll give my mother this, as tired and over worked as she was, she stood up for me.

Every once in a while she would pick me up early from school, sign me out and we would have ice cream in the full light of day.  I know that she felt it was us against them but at that time I didn’t know how many battles fronts she was fighting.

She didn’t come home one night.  They found her remains three months later down by Navy Pier.  She didn’t die there.  The police still call it an open case.  The cops that investigated her murder even came around to check on me in foster care.  Of course that told me she didn’t die easy, it wasn’t quick.

I was thirteen when she died and foster care was one of the worst things that could have happened to me.  You see when they tapped on my window and I cried for help, my foster parents didn’t believe me.  At one point I was institutionalized for schizophrenic behavior.   That was worse because then the bastards could walk right in – the loons invited them in all the time.  Nobody questions why a homeless schizoid dies alone – they just pack them off to cold storage.

Strange, the loons never turned.  Never.

I would have been lost if my screams hadn’t been heard by a weary old priest.  He didn’t believe me that they could crawl along the ceiling and hide in shadows but he did give me a golden crucifix that has never left me.

You don’t know how desperate and crazy you can sound when a white clad orderly is standing in the doorway with a straight jacket for you and one of the cursed ones is smiling at you from the ceiling; they would crawl around like flies.   I think many of the inmates went crazy after they arrived.

I sleep in the basement of the church now.  I do odd jobs so they let me.  I sleep well there despite the unbelief of the old priest who saved me.

I miss my mother.

I work hard to avenge her.  That’s what she did, worked hard.  Maybe it will all end with me.

Some how.

Lydia Ink / Into the Asylum by SK Woodiwiss

The Strength to Choose

“Jonathan, nothing is certain. You must believe me. I’ve seen hell and nothing is worse than that, please help me.”

I, of course, didn’t believe her.  I told her I did but I didn’t.  She smiled at me in a half-hearted or perhaps a whimsical sort of way and said ‘thank-you.’  She whispered the two words to me and looked away.  Her soft hair, straw colored and wavy, veiled the side of her face in a cascading shine of brilliance as she looked down at her hands.

I felt a surge of male adrenaline.  Was she that damsel in distress or that Victorian lady, even the mad Ophelia who was sitting across from me?

My friend, this is the 21st century and maybe my Baby-boomer father would have succumbed to her soft strength, I did not.  I pocketed my anxiety about her, along with my surge of Freudian awareness, paid the bill and walked away.

She was found dead the next day – her neck was broken.  I was questioned by the police and it was determined that I was the last to see her alive – outside of her murderer.

I did not kill her.

I did not.

I was at a party that night, celebrating my best friend’s engagement to a wonderful woman; strong, an attorney and not beyond child bearing years despite the time it took for them to fall in love between their accomplishments.

Does that sound cynical?

The cynicism is for me alone and anyone who might read this and ponder their long nights working not for the money necessarily but for the security of being the best.

She told me that nothing was secure.  She told me just before she died.

“Jonathan, nothing is certain.  You must believe me.  I’ve seen hell and nothing is worse than that, please help me.”

“I believe you.”  I think I even reached forward and squeezed her delicate hands.  They were warm to my touch but only, I think, because they had held the coffee I had bought for her.  She had looked almost anemic, frail, suffering.

No, perhaps now that she is in a pauper’s grave, by the grace of the state of New York, I see her differently.  My memory, no doubt, is romanticizing her last moments.

Don’t think me a total brute, please.  I would have taken her with me, fed her, introduced her back into the fold of our mutual friends but she said no.  She had to face her reality.  Odd now that I rethink our last meeting, odd that she said reality and not destiny.  Writing this all down, to whom or really why I don’t know, it strikes me that I didn’t pick up on that.  Perhaps I was too busy being pragmatic and telling myself it was for her sake.

For you see, I did believe she believed what she told me.  Now I believe her and it will no doubt be the death of me.

I won’t suffer as she did, the long nights, the endless pursuit of truth.  I’ll fight the monster as long as I can and hope I have the strength to choose death in the end.

 

 

Lydia Ink / The Strength to Choose by SK Woodiwiss