Lunch in the Basement

Carly is different.  Carly wants.  Carly wants to know where he is, what he’s thinking about, what he’s planning to do.  Who is “he?”  He is the latest poor slob who thinks he can fix Carly. 

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I think wanting is a sign of a weak mind.  I think that wanting, desiring, longing for someone is akin to slavery.

Listen, we work in cubicles and it’s a lonely job.  I’ve seen my co-workers plaster one wall with all sorts of memorabilia to help them get through the day.  You know what I mean–the picture of the cute kid stuck in daycare while they are in the cubical. The picture of the loving dogs packed in their kennels while they are in the cubical. The picture of  aging parents, stuck in Florida who are thankful their kids have a job so as to keep funneling money into the “system.”

Now most of us cubical workers just want to get through the day.  Most of us want to do a decent job, answer the phone be the well-oiled and sharp cog in the works.  I know men and women both who take the bus to their downtown jobs, eat a simple lunch and take the bus back to their sanctuary apartments.  They have no presumption; they want to pay their way and that’s it.

Carly is different.  Carly wants.  Carly wants to know where he is, what he’s thinking about, what he’s planning to do.  Who is “he?”  He is the latest poor slob who thinks he can fix Carly.

After sitting next to Carly’s cubical all day and listening to her smartphone softly ding messages, causing her to sigh, squeak, and giggle like a school girl, I imagine myself becoming a liquid human, stealthily creeping over our shared cubical wall.  I see my own eyes in deadly, wide-eyed intent seeking out the unsuspecting Carly.  She sits, back to me, cooing over the words the latest “he,” texted her (he is still unaware she is a maniac ball, and chain) while I, an insane look on my face, my eyes shining red would slide over the cubical wall, a seething sheet of menace.  I would do the deed quietly.   Marge, in the next aisle, may pause over her keyboard and ponder the small squeak of alarm and surprise from Carly’s cubical but would soon be back to work due to the deadly silence.

Carly is a favorite employee of the boss, you know.  The boss is ten years younger than me and fifteen years younger than Marge.  The boss received her Master’s in organizational skills online.  Yes, you’re right I don’t respect that but she isn’t all bad.  She likes Carly because Carly is a demon on the keyboard and resolves client issues quick as lightning after she breaks up with a boyfriend.  She breaks up a lot.  He doesn’t call, he doesn’t text, he doesn’t show up for lunch or he doesn’t feel like picking daisies with her on a Saturday afternoon when the game’s on.  Whatever.  Her thick, coiling, ever demanding attention seeking personality warrants yet another dump.  She then becomes this skinny, large fanged, red-eyed fiend.  It’s good for business.

I prefer the raving demon to the “in-love,” Carly.  Carly in love is the world in all its political correctness.  Once I day-dreamed that I could grab her smartphone while she “tripping along,” to the “little girls room” to “freshen-up” and tweet on her twitter account her confession of the night before what her present lover’s name was.  I imagined the text going around the world in a few hours and her puzzled face when the sickos on the world wide web whoop it up on her behalf.  I know it’s vindictive, but I didn’t do it, just dreamed it.

“What sort of guy falls that head over heels in love with her in like a week and then dumps her inside a month?”  Marge was staring up at the dingy hung ceiling in the downstairs break room.  We break in the basement because there is a large truck dock on the east side of the building and you have to be ready for terrorist attacks at noon.  We had just finished our lunch.

“He tells her what she wants to hear until football season, then he dumps her–there are lots of guys like that.”  Rich was a young man working his internship out of the way, in the mail room.  He knew a myriad of facts about the world of demanding, emotional and life force sucking young women who worked in cubicles.

“I saw her the other afternoon, when the latest “he,” had dumped her.  She was down the block leaning up against a lamp post.  Slumped up there pulling hard on a cigarette and some old guy walked up to her, looked like he was lost, and she flipped him off,” I said to Marge and Rich.   I was trying to remember what I had for lunch but I still had a fixed picture, in my mind’s eye, of Carly flipping off some lost guy in the big city.

“Maybe he mistook her for a prostitute,” said Rich.

“Maybe, but I thought she looked like she needed a wooden stake driven through her heart.  She looked like the walking dead,” I said.  Marge nodded her agreement.

“Those are zombies, not vampires,” corrected Rich.

“The term, ‘the walking dead,’ has been around long before it became the title of a TV show,” I said

“How long before she gets another one, a boyfriend I mean, not some confused old man,” asked Marge.

“Usually takes about three weeks,” I said

Rich looked from me to Marge.  “What do you think, should I ask her out?”

“You may be the only one in this city who hasn’t asked her out,” said Marge looking mildly curious at the young man.

“Well, you know, nothing serious, she’s at a low spot, maybe if she had dinner with me she might perk up a bit.”

“You’re a sick man, Rich,” I said.  Besides, she won’t let you be a one-night stand.  You two work in the same building.  You’ll both be out panhandling in a month because she’ll follow you around, stalk you, text you; she’ll be that skeleton in the shadows, staring at you when you least expected it.”

“Okay, okay, that’s enough and creepy,” said Rich.  “You two are worse than my mother.”

Marge stood up and grabbed her lunch box.  “Better three mothers in your life than one psychotic ex-lover.  Don’t you watch the movies?”

“No,” said Rich, “I have lunch once a week with you two.

The Nervous Kid

He scared easily.  He had always been nervous and when his “friends,” needed to feel superior (which was often) they would devise ways to scare him.  You know the usual stuff.  Keep him distracted and then one of them would fall asleep with the inability to wake up. 

He had always been nervous and when his “friends,” needed to feel superior (which was often) they would devise ways to scare him. The usual stuff; keep him distracted and then one of them would fall asleep with the inability to wake up.  The nervous kid would panic after telling them to stop it and quit screwing around.  They knew the nervous kid would always succumb because hey it could happen.  One of them might fall asleep and one of them might not wake up.

The usual scenario; one would slump over, pretend to sleep but fall asleep while the others distracted the nervous sidekick.  Perhaps the sleeper wrapped himself up too tightly or became too warm or board and fell asleep, it happens.  So, the nervous kid is running around and when he has his back turned the others are sniggering and the guy who is pretending isn’t pretending anymore.

It’s like all the guys are sitting around and yakin’ it up eating the nervous guy’s snacks while he’s sneaking around his parent’s house looking for contraband.  Yeah, that’s the way all pranks happen.  The nervous kid is searching his parent’s house looking for odds and ends of booze he knows his parents don’t have the money to buy.  He might find his grandfather’s bottle of bourbon from 100 years ago but the seal is still on it, so no way can he take that down to them.  Or he might find cooking sherry that his mother thought she might need for a recipe for a bunch of snooty ladies.  That small little party where she planned to get to know his friend’s parents.  They showed up, but it was real stiff.  None of the other moms invited the nervous kid’s mom to the garden club or to tennis lessons–not that she’d take the time off work and go, right?

So anyway, here’s this kid, he’s sneaking around the house and his buddies are like snickering and laughing and then take a swing at the sleeping guy and the sleeping guy just sort of falls over,  wooden-like.  They laugh and tell the guy–hey he’s in the house looking over his lousy parent’s cheap stash of booze so knock it off but the sleeping guy’s expression is like frozen on his face.  He’s like looking at the person who sees hell coming.

The nervous kid’s buddies sort of sober up but still knock the sleeping kid about a little.  What happened, they joke with the sleeping guy, did the nervous kid’s snacks harden your arteries, or did they like numb every nerve ending in your body?  What crappy food where do they shop the dollar store?  Still nothing but a blank terrified stare from the sleeping guy.  The sleeping guy is like looking but his eyes are not moving but you get the impression he is seeing and hearing everything but he can’t move.

Then there’s that moment when everything is silent, all the guys say nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  The house is creepy quiet, not even the sound of the nervous kid shuffling around in his parent’s dusty cupboards looking for something that is not there.

What the hell, right?

So, these guys they whisper all at once and calling the sleeping guy by name and they notice their voices don’t sound like a bunch of rich smart asses in a middle-class home.  Yeah, now they sort of sound like a bunch of whiny, tall skinny guys in a shit load of trouble.  Did he have drugs, what’s his parents going to say?  Hey, man I didn’t give him shit.  Should we go, crawl out the window and blame it on the nervous kid–hey where the hell is he, anyway?   Yeah, that’s what they’d do, ditch the sleeping guy and blame it on the nervous kid–he can explain an overdose, he has nothing to lose.

So, they gather all their stuff and wondering how they will make it look like they were never there and then they think about a plan they left early.  That the nervous kid and the sleeping kid hung out after they left.  Yeah, that’s what they’d say.  The nervous kid he had some wicked stuff and these pristine assholes didn’t want any part of that because what would their well-to-do parents say to that?  Yeah, so they left, maybe it was wrong, they should have called the cops right away but hey they were friends.  Friends don’t do that.  Right?

So, the nervous kid comes down to a trashed basement and a wooden looking guy curled up on his parent’s couch and the back windows open where his “friends,” scurried out the window.  The nervous kid shuts the windows, cleans up the mess, even sweeps the floor.  The nervous kid’s mom comes down and check’s the sleeping kid’s pulse and looks into his eyes.

“It should wear off by morning.”

“Did you call his mom?”

“Yeah, told her he was staying over tonight, that you were playing video games.”

“So Mom, what would you have done if they’d had not tried to stiff me?”

“Oh I was sure they would run like scared rabbits but if they had tried to do the right thing I’d have slipped him the quick cure.  He’d have puked and shat for a few hours but they’d have blamed it on our ‘crappy food.’

“Look, I think he’s actually falling asleep.”

“He won’t remember a thing in the morning, might have a slight headache.  Do you think we should tattoo something on his ass?”

“Nah, I prefer the subtle dump.”

Rescue Me

I feel the best sort of rescue happens on the up swing.

Perhaps you should go ahead and rescue me.

The music was loud and perfect, the songs begged to be danced to

And me with two left feet –

no matter swing me around to the beat and the sway;

Allow me to trust you.

I was alone in a well-known crowd but no I didn’t feel isolated

I was so happy actually

So, rescue me.

Come to me now, with the gloom gone, the moon bright

The world still such a terrible fright.

Rescue me.

Take me to a late-night movie we know nothing about

Hold my hand as we walk slowly out

Bad or surprisingly good, let’s talk it over in the morning over coffee

Rescue me.

The place around me is again feeling like home and not a sanctuary,

I’m not asking you to stay

Just rescue me.

 

A Writer of Whatever

For two years I have been trying to write my third novel. In between work, my son’s college career, my house, my yard and my ageing parents I’ve been trying to write.

For two years I have been trying to write my third novel.  In between work, my son’s college career, my house, my yard and my ageing parents I’ve been trying to write.  There is something about this project that has pushed from having fun writing poetry and flash fiction to becoming this consumed haunted person.

My first two novels were different.  The first was a rush.  I sat down each night and pour forth scads of words and formed characters who I think about once in a while but they don’t consume me.  My second novel was just plain fun because I wrote it with my son.  Actually, it was his idea, his characters and the time we spent on that project was a joy.

My third novel I guess I can say is transforming.  I’ve actually fought deep depression and a sense of worthlessness.  Could I write it?  Sure I could write it.  I wrote it several times and each time about ten thousand words in I deleted the damn thing.

I’ve had the title for two years now – two.  The title is Quincey.  Quincey is the one that has almost defeated me.  With my other novels I had spin off poetry, shortstories, flashfiction, with Quincey I have a half baked novella.  No kidding a novella.

In short I’m the writer of whatever which is better than a writer with a blank page.  And here’s the thing, when I tried to push it through, just write, I’d end up in tears.  I’m way to old to cry, blubber, sob.

Then all of a sudden Quincey began to drop.  The words started to come and the story line started to fall in line with my expectations.  I know that when I have the first draft down the rewrite will be the real story.  But the real goal is to complete this thing that has consumed the whatever writer in me.

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.

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.

 

Attic Dance

Wooden beams. Books. Chests and wardrobes. Wardrobes for the love of God. Real ones, I could tell, all lined up. The floor was bare wood with tattered chairs all about and in the center of the room was a long looking glass. The looking glass had no dust upon it and it reflected the different angles of the house. I was enchanted. Truly enchanted with the attic.

You just never know.

I’ll tell you what it was like; it was like placing your hand upon a window pane thick with frost. As you place your hand closer to that cold, fridge, flat, piece of glass you feel your own heat emanate out from your skin and you touch what is you, outside of yourself. The heat from your body sort of battles the cold that is there, swirling ridged and beautiful in white opaque designs no artist has mastered. You know for a moment, though only for a moment, you know for a moment you will win against the glacial cold.

And you do.

For your hand layers into the cold and burns a sort of ecstatic agony that is questionable memory the moment it happens. Your hand tingles and then you feel the slide and the wet upon your skin — you are beating the cold. Then your skin makes contact with the window at last and the inanimate and the animate make contact and become lifeless and alive at the same time. You, remember that same window in August, not January, and you feel sort of triumphant.

And God above help us there is always something – like when you look at your best friend smoking together on the playground and her expression moves from smug to “oh shit,” and you know you’ve been busted. But that’s something else altogether and maybe the same thing – it all starts with something stupid and silly like a few lifted cigarettes from your mom’s purse.

But – back to that, yes.

So there you are sort of happy for a second because now the window pane is even dry in spots but then you feel a sort of shiver move up your left side and under your arm. Then you feel this sort of ache in your elbow. You concentrate on your hand and sure enough, it’s warm and the window is drier even though the blizzard outside is blocking out all reality. You’re sure you are seeing knights in white armor battling screaming alabaster dragons outside or upon the window pane. You’re sure that what you are seeing is not tundra blown snow and pinhole lights but ghosts from at least 100 years ago walking about lost and alone within the white upon white. Then the shiver moves from your side and up to your neck and the dragons and the ghosts pause in what they are doing and look in at you. They peer and ponder all of a sudden the dark smudge of you through a frozen veneer of ice.

Who could that be?

You of course, and that shiver becomes a shudder and you drop your hand. And where your hand just was is a blank spot in the thick, thick frost, but only for a second – only for a second because to your shock and amazement a white hand – a solid white hand from the other side, bloodless, without life, frozen to the core covers the warm spot you just made.

It was like that, just like that when I saw her face, looking at me. But it wasn’t a window, no it was a mirror and I had turned to see myself in the dusty old frock I had just put on. I was smiling and carefree then I saw her face at the other side of the room, peering at me.

You see it was in an attic that we weren’t supposed to be in – we had snuck into the house, Louise and me. We weren’t 12, hell, we were 21 and 22 respectively and we had had a little too much wine and the guys we were with were boring really, all they wanted to do was wade into the river with no clothes on and wade back out, their bodies shivering in the cold looking more buff. But Louise and I were bored with that sort of thing and they kept trying more outrageous antics and failing. Louise and I were down to our skivvies but she grabbed her dress –she always wore something that was “easy in and easy out,” and called for me to follow.

Well, I had taken my tongue lashing and quit smoking with her at the age of 11 so I had no problem following her through the woods to her aunt’s house when she called me to follow.

Yes, I know if it was her aunt’s house why then was it off limits? Well, it wasn’t exactly and it was. Louise’s family was odd just like Louise but I loved her, I very much loved her. I often think what my life would have been like without her – normal, but I don’t regret missing out on normal. Even now, I don’t regret it. So we moved through the woods while the guys had their backs turned and we heard their cries as we moved as quickly as we could, our clothes bundled beneath our arms and the hot air of August thick and sticky beneath the dark green leaves of aging summer. I kept slipping off my sandals and giggling as my feet smarted from the wild and prickly raspberry branches that crept along the ground while the smell of marijuana clung to my hair. I felt sort of taut inside and my skin, along with my arms and breasts, tingled tightly from thoughts of touch that I would not allow because Louise was bored with the game and I knew she was right – once things got started the fun left and we were just on the ground putting up with men.

“Hurry up,” Louise hissed from just above me, the land sloped sharply up from the river bank. But it was hard to see her because the foliage was so thick.

“I am but my feet hurt.”

“Quit whining, Auntie’s house is just up ahead.”

“I thought you weren’t allowed in there.”

“That depends on who is there.”

We plunged out of the woods and onto the green lawn that was her aunts. I had been there a few times. Louise’s older sister was married there last summer and Louise is always there for Christmas. But Louise’s mom is sort of an outsider and the aunt, I was told, had peculiar ideas about Louise and her family. I read between the lines, she didn’t trust them. I didn’t say much but I thought to myself maybe the aunt just doesn’t want marijuana smoked in her kitchen or beer cans stashed everywhere.

Louise backed up against the woods and pushed her long black hair out of her face and started to put on her dress. I followed suit and pulled on my cotton pants and an oversized shirt. Standing beside Louise with my bobbed off blonde hair and droopy clothes I looked the perfect sidekick. No matter what Louise did, she always looked like some movie star, who knew just how to move and just how much cleavage to show.

“Look, no one is there, let’s go.”

I didn’t want to and I didn’t step from the spot from where I had put on my clothes but Louise just kept walking away from me. Now here is what it feels like when you think you’re going to win over the cold. When she was walking away and she didn’t even turn to see if I was there – just walking away, sure that I would follow and all I would have to do is plunge back into the woods and have my way with two oversexed guys at the river. Even as I contemplated it, watching her black hair swing across her back I knew I would follow but I gave myself another second to feel that edge of rebellion, then I shrugged and trailed after her.

The house was huge, and new, and not creepy at all. Really. I saw to the side of the house a small building, a wing if you will, with an indoor pool and hot tub. The shrubs were boring but of course, would need little maintenance — just right for an aging aunt who liked to entertain her other wealthy friends and who had to put up with the black sheep side of the family once in a while.

The door was locked of course so she knocked. Then she peered into what I could only guess was a living room and then she threw pebbles at the windows that showed off the indoor pool. I just stood there and watched. Finally, Louise put a rock through one small pane of the back garage door, reached in, scraped her arm on the broken glass and unlocked the door.

I said nothing – frankly, I was shocked. She walked into the garage and punched a few numbers into a control panel and the beeping caused by opening the door stopped. We both stood there for a good three minutes and said nothing.

Finally, she turned to me and said “C’mon, I want to show you something.”

We didn’t go anywhere in that house but to the attic. I thought she would glance through the refrigerator or skinny dip in the pool and we would be out of there – but no, we went straight to the back and up the stairs, we went.

“What the hell is this?” I asked Louise “Is this where the servants live?” The staircase was narrow and it actually wound around like it had only one purpose – to reach the third floor. There were no doors to the second floor, and there was no odd smell or echo sound as we moved up and I felt my heart pound and I found myself struggling to breathe.

“Shut up. Do you think she’d give up any of her money to hire help?” Louise’s voice was a little high pitched as if she too were finding it hard to breathe. We came to a shut door. It was plain, even cheap looking and as Louise reached to open it, I wanted to say stop and it was on the tip of my tongue but the door seemed to open without her help, the door seemed to know that Louise was there and it opened of its own accord.

To this day, I think it did, I think that the door did open on its own because for the first time in her life she hesitated. She didn’t toss her hair around, push her shoulders together and then square them like she was walking into a room full of her adoring fans; she sort of leaned in and looked first, like I did in kindergarten. I was five and I was afraid and my mom was making me go, so I leaned in while my mom and my teacher talked over my head. I saw several children but one in particular with coal black hair that shown down her back, she was building a wall with cardboard bricks and when she saw me she gently pushed it down and smiled at me, her teeth shiny white and the glow of the autumn sun shining in all around her as the meticulous cardboard wall teetered and then tumbled down.

She was still standing in the stairwell when she turned to me and said “C’mon.” But I couldn’t go forward with her standing there and for one wild moment I thought we were going to turn around – but we didn’t she stepped into the attic and I followed.

Wooden beams. Books. Chests and wardrobes. Wardrobes for the love of God. Real ones, I could tell, all lined up. The floor was bare wood with tattered chairs all about and in the center of the room was a long looking glass. The looking glass had no dust upon it and it reflected the different angles of the house. I was enchanted. Truly enchanted with the attic.

“Looks like the old bat keeps the place up – not an ounce of dust anywhere.” Louise’s voice was flat with contempt but I ignored her. I knew by the flake and crease in the leather that some of the books that lined the walls upon the thick, dark, wooden shelves were first editions. The chests were leather and wood and looked like they had just come off some steamship. I could almost hear the clang of a dockyard and the clatter of people moving about with their luggage, home from a long trip abroad. I turned around and saw Louise open up a wardrobe. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes – it was ice inside the wardrobe but then I realized that I was looking at clear plastic that only reflected the sunlight angling in at odd directions from the octagonal shaped windows. Louise unzipped the plastic and started taking out dresses.

The dresses were early 20th century; the material dark mauves and blacks. Louise held one against her and she was transformed from sultry beauty to a sort of royalty. She laughed at me. “I knew you’d love it up here. These all belonged to my great grandmother, my aunt’s mother.” Louise danced about, small, little whirls with the dress clasped to her middle and the material floating about. “My aunt hated her mother. She was beautiful and didn’t pass any of her beauty along, you see – so my aunt resented her. Some say that she even killed her in the end.”

Louise said the last with a little lilt to her voice – as if she were a child again and trying to shock me.

“How’d she do it?” I asked moving toward the wardrobe and picking out a dress of my own. A light rose colored dress with ecru color lace and a low neckline. This I could believe would belong to one of Louise’s relation.

“Poison. That’s what my mother always said. Auntie’s mother was very old when she died but I wasn’t around yet. I was born one year after – Mom swears I’m her, I’m back to torment my aunt, that’s why she has nothing to do with me,” said Louise.

I was smaller than Louise by far – and without thought, I pulled the dress over my head, traipsed over to the mirror and looked in. What I saw was me — a small girl in an oversized dress and just over my shoulder a figure fully clothed in dark mauve and black, her hair piled high in glorious waves and curls, fit for an evening at the opera or somewhere less cultured. The figure in the dress was smooth and vibrant within the form fitting satin. What shocked me wasn’t the transformation, the image of the ghost looking out at me from the mirror but the look of pale rage upon her face. Her beautiful face was full of hate and loathing. I felt a shudder of cold deep within me, the white hand that I often imagined during those winter nights making hand prints in the window of my bedroom now clasping my very heart and squeezing it, infusing me with the horror of my situation. No matter what the mirror was reflecting I was actually seeing Louise and she was looking at me as she always did – with a hatred beyond reason – when my back was turned.

I whirled around and I saw Louise again, the dress simply in front of her, her hair down but her face pale. “Please take that off,” she said.

I didn’t say anything but I slid off the dress keeping my eyes upon her and wondering really if I was going to get out of that attic. I handed it to her and she glided up to me and gently took the dress out of my hand without a word. She replaced both dresses but left the wardrobe open.

“C’mon. The old lady will be back soon – we’ll leave the place as is. She comes up here all the time to poke through her mother’s stuff – this will unnerve her.” I said nothing, I felt nothing but fear, raw throat fear for myself. I felt no pity for the old lady that would tremble at the fact that someone had broken into her house and danced around in her attic.

Louise floated down the steps and out into the garage. She closed the door quietly and started walking back toward the woods. She stopped and looked back at me. I had made it half way my feet were still on the well-manicured lawn and I watched as she swayed with all poise and grace toward the small woods that lead to the river. She smiled at me, ducked her head down and disappeared into the foliage. I walked the long drive to the road and took the long way home.

 

Mrs. Drewery Listens Well

“I once believed that a man had it in his power to make a plain woman pretty and a beautiful woman forever stunning. Of course then I married and realized that my thoughts were complete rubbish.”

“Good morning ma’am.”

“Good morning. May I see your badge before I unchain the door?”

“Certainly…I have it here…Let me flip the thing open.”

“Oh, fine, fine, I can see it. I’m sorry. I know if you wanted into the house you could get in by just giving the door a good shove but I always think that I could possibly get a good scream or two out with the delay that shove would take.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Come in officer, come in I’m just having some tea.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh, be sure to wipe your feet, Miss Anne, my cleaning girl, does fuss over my kitchen tiles.”

“Yes ma’am”

“Miss Anne goes to our church. She works so hard. She goes to the University of Minnesota extension.”

“Really.”

“Yes, that’s quite a drive in the winter. Miss Anne works so hard. She is going to be a nurse this spring. Then I’ll need someone else to clean my kitchen tiles.”

“Yes, ma’am. I was wondering how I could help you, ma’am?”

“Oh yes, of course. I did call. So good of you to come, officer.”

“Always glad to help Mrs…?”

“Don’t look for your note dear man, I’m Mrs. William Drewery. Mrs. Drewery.”

“Mrs. Drewery, of course. Well, Mrs. Drewery, you phoned the police station…”

“Yes, Miss Anne, decided I should. She told me there has been murder in this town before. Well, hat was several years ago but I remember.”

“Murder ma’am?”

“Yes, of course murder. Weren’t you here during our small town scandal?”

“Yes ma’am but…”

“Oh! You were questioning my use of the WORD murder, how silly of me.”

“No ma’am.”

“Well yes of course it was silly. But I meant it, murder.”

“Mrs. Drewery can we start from the beginning?”

“The beginning?”

“Yes ma’am”

“Well the beginning starts with Mr. Drewery.”

“Ma’am?”

“Oh yes you see he was dying”

“Dying?”

“Yes, God rest him. Before he died he told me I needed to keep up with our hobby.”

“Hobby?”

“Yes, bird watching.”

“Birds…”

“Yes, they are so lovely and the songs are just beautiful.”

“You look through binoculars at the birds?”

“Yes of course. Oh officer, in the springtime the colors are just spectacular.”

“Then while watching birds you saw something suspicious.”

“No.”

“No.”

“No, nothing suspicious. Mr. Drewery has been gone nearly five years.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“In those five years I’ve grown older and I don’t mind telling you officer, a little deafer.”

“Deafer?”

“Yes, I’d almost say hard of hearing.”

“Really?”

“Really. More tea?”

“Yes. No! I mean…sure thanks.”

“Well Miss Anne, last spring, came early to clean one day and finished early as you might expect.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Miss Anne is so sweet she does work hard.”

“Yes but…I’m sorry but…”

“Don’t be sorry officer she knows what she is doing. Anyway we set off to the annual birdseed sale in Bemiji.

“A sale?”

“Yes, and what do you suppose I found at 60% off?!”

“I have no idea.”

“An outside environmentalist listening devise!”

“Ma’am?”

“Oh officer, it’s so simple. I plug it in, turn on the speaker and place the microphone outside the window. I can close the window right down on the wire! It won’t get damaged!”

“Really?”

“Really. Of course Miss Anne pointed it out to me. I would never have known what the thing was by looking at the box.”

“No ma’am.”

“Well, you can’t imagine my delight, last spring, a year ago, at the song-bird music. That music had been fading for me these last five years, then revived into this very house; I was delighted.”

“But Mrs. Drewery…”

“Officer, you know I do sincerely believe police officers are the most canny of people.”

“Yes Ma’am”

“Well you can imagine my suspicion one morning when I heard a canary over my speaker.”

“A canary?”

“Yes, they are not indigenous to Minnesota.”

“Oh.”

“Well, I had to step out and see if I could spot the poor thing.”

“Yes?”

“Well, I spotted him.”

“Good.”

“In Mrs. Weller’s yard.”

“Mrs. Weller?”

“Yes, my neighbor. We live quite close.”

“Yes, ma’am all the houses here are fairly packed in.”

“Yes, well that comes with living on a lake.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Well, anyway Mrs. Weller’s canary was on her back porch. Then out comes poor Mrs. Weller.

“Poor Mrs. Weller?”

“Yes, poor dear. She could have been so beautiful, so happy.”

“Um…”

“But she married Mr. Weller didn’t she? I often wonder about her family. Mrs. Weller’s I mean. Did they try to talk her out of it? Do they even know what happened to her? Maybe she eloped. But in any case she married Mr. Weller and that as they say is that.”

“I see…”

“I’ve invited Mrs. Weller to church with me on Sundays. We had a marvelous time, the few times she went.”

“She stopped?”

“Yes. One Sunday we stayed to have coffee and sweets with Rev. and Mrs. Hart. Such sweet people.”

“Yes, I know them.”

“Yes, of course you do. Such a nice couple and Mrs. Weller seemed to like Sara Hart. They did chatter on. But the next Sunday Mrs. Weller wouldn’t go to church. Just called me up and said she couldn’t go. I know Sara called but we didn’t see her for a whole week.”

“She stayed inside an entire week?”

“Yes. And when she did come out I could tell she had been beaten — beaten, officer.”

“Did you try and talk to her?”

“Yes, of course officer, I knew better than pursue the bruises on her arms and neck. I just chattered on like we usually would about birds, weather, whatever! But I did tell Sara Hart.”

“How long ago was this.”

“Oh, about seven months ago.”

“Have you heard fights or threats from the couple?”

“No.”

“Really?”

“Yes officer, really. Quiet as a mouse if you don’t count Henrietta.”

“Excuse me, Mrs. Drewery but who is Henrietta?”

“The canary, officer. Please try and stay with me. Henrietta is Mrs. Weller’s canary. An unfortunate name really, Henrietta, since the bird was obviously male. She wasn’t necessarily an expert on canaries but she loved that bird.”

“Excuse me Mrs. Drewery I take it that Henrietta is no longer among the living?”

“I heard a canary out on the back porch last week. Mr. Weller brought out the bird and I heard it over my speaker just last week.”

“Then the bird is still with us.”

“But it was Mr. Weller that set the bird out on the back porch.”

“Mr. Weller set the bird out for some air.”

“Officer are you married?”

“No ma’am.”

“Neither is Miss Anne and do you know when I mentioned to her last week, that Mrs. Weller’s canary was out on the back porch, she said the same thing. The canary is out for air.”

“It is a possibility Mrs. Drewery.”

“Yes officer. But I’ve yet to see Mrs. Weller take the canary in or out. Mr. Weller takes the canary out in the early evening when he arrives home from work and takes it in later on in the evening.”

“Is that unusual Mrs. Drewery?”

“Yes it is officer.”

“Why Mrs. Drewery?”

“Because Mrs. Weller couldn’t have taken her canary in or out of the house.”

“How do you know?”

“Do you know that I watch birds for a hobby Officer?”

“Yes ma’am by the suggestion of your late husband, five years ago you decided that you would continue bird watching as a hobby.”

“Yes, and Mrs. Weller — we would chat sometimes when we had a moment. As you can see I have several bird feeders.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“She of course would talk about her Henrietta.”

“Henrietta?”

“Yes, her canary.”

“Oh yes, the male canary named Henrietta.”

“Do you know that once she told me that she couldn’t bear to part with Henrietta? That her Henrietta was the only bright spot in that house over there.”

“Yes, I can imagine the woman’s sentiment.”

“Oh officer, I know you have seen so much, but I really doubt you could imagine Mrs. Weller’s feelings. Did I tell you that she could really be beautiful?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I once believed that a man had it in his power to make a plain woman pretty and a beautiful woman forever stunning. Of course then I married and realized that my thoughts were complete rubbish.”

“Ma’am?”

“Oh Mr. Drewery was a sweet and considerate husband, Officer, but just a little controlling as all men tend to be.”

“Controlling?”

“Yes, some men over money, some men are jealous, some men try to control time itself.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh you’ll know soon enough.”

“Mrs. Drewery why are you concerned about hearing canary song in Mr. and Mrs. Weller’s back yard? The bird is only out at the most a few hours during the evening.”

“Well, because I spoke to him almost two weeks ago and told him I was shocked that Mrs. Weller hadn’t brought out Henrietta to take the spring time air.”

“You told Mr. Weller?”

“Yes, you see I heard his back door open. I walked out casually to see if Mrs. Weller was out in her back yard.”

“Was she?”

“No just Mr. Weller.”

“So you asked him about Mrs. Weller?”

“No, I asked him about Henrietta.”

“About the canary.”

“Yes, I have a bird feeder near the back of my property so that Mrs. Weller might enjoy the birds as well as I.”

“How nice.”

“Yes it was, I suppose, until Mr. Weller put up the privacy fence.”

“The privacy fence.”

“Yes, one day last fall I was out filling my feeders and asked Mrs. Weller if she saw the indigo bunting at the feeder the day before. Of course she had and we chatted about their beauty. The next thing I know a privacy fence is going up.”

“I see.”

“Perhaps you do, Officer. Anyway, last week I was putting feed in my back bird feeder and waited until I heard someone quite close to the privacy fence.”

“Mrs. Weller?”

“No, Officer, I’ve already told you I heard Mr. Weller come out his back door. I casually went out to my back yard.”

“How did you know that it was Mr. Weller behind the privacy fence?”

“Because he tripped over something and then spewed out some foul language.”

“I see.”

“Well, in my loudest voice I called over the fence to Mr. Weller. Of course I asked for Mrs. Weller. I’m afraid, Officer, that I played a little dumb and ignorant to get Mr. Weller’s attention.”

“Right. What happened?”

“He ignored me and remained as still as possible. But I knew he was there.”

“What did you do?”

“I became a little shriller and louder.”

“Did that work?”

“Yes, it usually does. I’m not worried in knowing that I’m old. Sometimes there is advantage in age. Mr. Archer told me that once. You know Mr. Archer don’t you?”

“Mr. Gabriel Archer?”

“Yes, we attend the same church. He enjoys my apple pie. He was a friend of my late husbands.”

“Yes ma’am”

“Where was I?”

“You became shriller and louder.”

“Oh yes, well Mr. Weller came to the gate and opened it up a crack. Of course he told me his wife was busy in the house. Oh, I say, I was just about to ask her what was wrong with Henrietta. He gave me a quizzical look and asked why I thought there would be anything wrong with Henrietta? Well, I say Henrietta hasn’t been out at all this spring. Very unusual and I go on and on about Henrietta. Is anything wrong? If something happened to Henrietta, Mrs. Weller would truly morn. I know what it is like to morn and feel alone. Perhaps I should call on Mrs. Weller.”

“What did Mr. Weller say?”

“He told me that Henrietta was fine. That Mrs. Weller felt it just a bit cold this spring to bring out the canary.”

“I see. Then you notice that Mr. Weller brings Henrietta out in the morning and evening for a few hours?”

“Yes.”

“You notice through a privacy fence.”

“No Officer, I heard. I looked to make sure when I think Mr. Weller’s isn’t about.”

“During the evening?”

“Oh well, at dusk I peek through the gate.”

“Mrs. Drewery, that is not very neighborly and may even be considered criminal by Mr. Weller.”

“Oh dear, Officer, I have no doubt that Mr. Weller would think it very incriminating, but after Mr. Weller started taking out and bringing in Henrietta I have become very concerned about Mrs. Weller.”

“Mrs. Drewery, I have no doubt that you have concerns and I will go and ask Mr. Weller about his wife. But you have only HEARD the bird being moved. Mrs. Weller may very well have become very reclusive. I have seen cases where abuse is involved that causes a person to hide inside their house…”

“Officer, Henrietta is buried in my back yard.”

“Excuse me?”

“Henrietta died four weeks ago.”

“Henrietta died four weeks ago?”

“And it was the last time I saw Mrs. Weller.”

“The last time.”

“Yes, very pathetic. It was a bitter, cold morning, one of the last cold days. I came out to my kitchen to make my morning coffee and to my shock and dismay I saw Mrs. Weller in her boots and parka sitting on my frost covered picnic table holding a shoe box.”

“A shoe box.”

“Yes, poor dear. Her nose was red and she had no make-up on at all. Her hair looked a little oily, her hands were chapped and looked so thin. I, of course, knew without asking what the shoe box meant. I made her come in and placed a cup of coffee in her hands, took the box and lifted the lid.”

“Was the bird destroyed?”

“Funny you should use that word. No officer the bird was murdered and Mrs. Weller was destroyed. He killed the poor creature.”

“Ma’am?”

“She told me that he killed the bird, wrung it’s neck. I really don’t know what drove him to it. What makes a man kill to cause others pain? What makes a man insist on causing pain? You, see even before the privacy fence went up their house was always quiet. Never any loud shouts our slamming doors. I wonder now, Officer if I had kept my distance and not tried to talk to that poor, pale person…”

“Mrs. Drewery, why did you bait Mr. Weller?”

“I’ve seen nothing of Mrs. Weller. No lights during the day. She used to try to make the yard look nice in the spring, but I haven’t seen her out and about at all these past couple of weeks.”

“You say the last time you saw her was when she brought Henrietta over?”

“Yes, she told me she wouldn’t leave the bird alone in that house. I had some hopes she was going to leave. Leaving is hard and expensive. She didn’t work you know and this town is too small to stay. I asked her to stay with me or to call Sara Hart but she just shook her head. She asked if Henrietta could stay in the yard until the soil was soft enough for burial. She wanted to think of Henrietta here among my wild birds. I of course didn’t refuse. I wrapped the bird in plastic, taped the box and wrapped the box in plastic. Later, just a few weeks ago I buried Henrietta next to my patio and placed a brick over the ground where he lay.”

“Mrs. Drewery, have you seen Mrs. Weller at all in the past four weeks?”

“Of course not officer, and if you wish me to initiate a missing person’s report I will be glad to do so. Miss Anne, she said that you might ask me to do that.”

“No ma’am, that won’t be necessary.

“Are you leaving now Officer?”

“Yes ma’am”

“I’d appreciate if you could tell me how this all turns out.”

“Mrs. Drewery, I don’t think it will turn out all that well.”

“Oh officer, I have no doubt, but I’m well suited for bad news, just as you are and just as sweet Miss Anne is”

“Ma’am?”

“Well, officer you are with the police, not the jolliest of professions, Miss Anne is soon to be a nurse, that can go either way and I am old — to the point where I miss my husband. I am old and I am a little hard of hearing but I manage to hear the victims in this world or I’m much mistaken.”

“No Ma’am I don’t think you are mistaken.”