Professional to the End

He thought of lifting her onto her desk and pulling her hips up to his.  No words no sounds.  Her deep blue eyes serious but soft looking up at him. He imagined the sweet, peach taste of her perfect lips on his. 

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He thought of lifting her onto her desk and pulling her hips up to his.  No words no sounds.  Her dark blue eyes serious but soft looking up at him. He imagined the sweet, peach taste of her perfect lips on his.  He thought of just taking over, feeling her slip into his embrace and following his lead, perfectly trusting his every move.

He had never met her before face to face, they had talked a couple of times over the phone.  That was her job, customer service.  He was a client.

She was nice, pretty too, not beautiful and not athletic just pretty.  She smelled really good.

She was too nice to be up on her desk and pulling his body toward her in a less than ladylike fashion.  He wanted to stop thinking about her that way, but it was her scent, the clean, cool scent of her skin and the way she looked at him, straight on with an open smile.  He felt thin and hollow, and his heart beat deep down into his echoing stomach.

Her office was full of papers, and she was talking and working.  She was walking between her computer and the copy machine and telling him that she was always ready to help.  He needed the help, paperwork wasn’t something he was good at.  He needed her to slow down because he needed to look at her while speaking; when he got nervous, he went deaf.

Suddenly rather than thinking about fumbling with that tight-fitting slip that he knew she wore under that flowing summer dress he wished he was sitting across from some pencil pushing moron from the IRS who had no interest in helping him at all.  He felt the hot prick of sweat spread out between his shoulder blades.

She was still smiling at him and still handing him papers.  They stood side by side, and she was pointing out key and important telephone numbers, websites and email addresses that would get him through his present dilemma.  She didn’t lean in, her hands moved slowly when she talked, and the pen she used to point out what might keep him alive was tucked up nicely behind her ear when she was done.

They had not shaken hands brushed up against each other nor stopped the flow of conversation between them in any sort of meaningful way.  He was someone off the street who needed assistance, she was doing her job.

“Well, I think that should get me through.”

She was already looking at the papers on her desk.  “Don’t ever hesitate to call me.  I’ll try and help in any way I can.”

He hesitated, he had been taught never to extend his hand to a lady, but he wanted to touch her before he left.  She stood smiling totally oblivious to the fact that he had made love to her in his head during the whole damned ordeal.

He extended his hand as a sort of reward to himself.  She stepped forward smoothly placing her hand in his.  There was no spark, no electric current, only the cool, soft grip of kindness.  She was professional to the end.

Caves

The cave was deep and little was known about it.  That’s the thing with quiet little states like Indiana, nobody realizes the secrets it holds.  I knew simply because I was, for the most part, alone.  What else did I have to do than read books and listen in on conversations? 

The cave was deep and little was known about it.  That’s the thing with quiet little states like Indiana, nobody realizes the secrets it holds.  I knew simply because I was, for the most part, alone.  What else did I have to do than read books and listen in on conversations?

I hate the summer heat and to this day I lay low when summer is at its zenith.  I suspected that the small cave near the river was not just a small cave.  John Wilkie would take foolish girls there and so it began to have a reputation.  I suspect that John Wilkie, tall and good-looking as he was, really didn’t know what to do with a girl, so he took the doe-eyed ones to the small cave by the river just to get the girl to sit close to him and shudder.  There were a few fathers and elder brothers that didn’t weep at his memorial service but still, he has his name in bronze over at the courthouse square on the World War I memorial.

I digress.

John Wilkie, Salem Schultz, and Nathanial Barrow were the river rats of the town and on hot summer afternoons, they would take a raft up and down the river and spear carp and catfish.  Every once in awhile they would put a line in and pull up bluegill.  Salem’s father was a whiz at smoking fish and I even had the honor once or twice to try the delicacy as my father and Salem’s father were fairly good friends.  One such night, my hands greasy from smoked fish, my senses were deadened by the drowsy conversation between my father and his friend.  They spoke of their own fathers and their memories of the civil war, which to me, in 1914 seemed eons ago.  I was fourteen, wore wire-rimmed glasses and had grown at least two inches that year.  I stuck close to home, the library and anyplace relatively cool.

“Let’s go to the cave.”

“No, I don’t want to go to that stupid cave.”

“Why not?  It will be great at night.”

I spoke up, amongst the whispered conversation of the boys who never took any interest in a bookworm like me.  “You know, I think that cave is probably connected to a much larger cavern or cave system.”

There was a dead silence and I felt myself grow red.  The heat along my neck and face positively burned.  What had made me open my mouth?

“Who asked you worm?”  I couldn’t tell which one whispered that in my ear but all three chuckled as if the words were unique in the annals of slights and rudeness.  Perhaps that was what prompted my boldness, they were such dullards.

“Actually, I’m sure that cave is part of a larger cave.   There is even a possibility that an underground river is involved.”

I was practically drug to that cave with the words, “prove it, know-it-all, and smarty pants,” filling the air as we walked down the dirt road, and down the narrow path to the river.  The darkness was complete as the town’s lights disappeared behind the steep bank of the river.  We felt our way along the bank with the swift water just at our feet and the gleam of fast running river expanding out before us.  I was relieved when we all managed to crowd into the narrow cave opening.  To actually get into the cave we had to belly crawl.  I didn’t like it as I wasn’t fond of small places but the natural stone walls quickly gave way to a fairly large cavern.  Nathanial lit the lantern and the cave walls lit up with the spark of tiny quartz and dripping wet stone.

I had been in the cavern before and seen the impressive glitter.  There had even been some geologist down from Chicago to examine the cave.  It was from over hearing those men talk in my father’s store that they suspected the cave was part of a larger cave system.  The bought supplies from my father intent on exploring the cave in greater detail but were at the last minute called back to Chicago.

They never came back.

“It’s cold in here.”

“Hush, did you hear that?”

“Stop it, Salem, nobody wants to hear your ghost stories.”

“No, Nate, really, I think we should go.”

The cave did seem unusually cold.  I was delighted.  Perhaps this was where I could escape to occasionally from the heat.

“Hey, I think I heard it too.”

“What?”

“Like voices.”

I moved to the outer line of the light.  Nate had held up the lantern but his hand was shaking and the light shook with him.  Suddenly we were in complete darkness and what shattered me was that I heard nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  There was no sound from the boys, no teasing or angry words and I heard nothing hit the stony ground.

I am pretty good at keeping my bearings and I felt that if I followed my left hand straight ahead I could reach the small opening that led to the river.  I knew that I had been duped but still it was terrifying to be left alone in that cave.  I moved ahead swiftly and bumped into something soft and warm.  It bounced off of me and then seemed to swing back and forth a darker shadow than the blackness about me.

I fell to the ground.  The ground was wet and smelled of urine.  I scrambled forward and bumped into a soft lump that shuddered and cried softly.

“John?”

“Worm?”

I crawled over him and he grasped my foot following me forward.  I heard a soft scratching and some whispering overhead.  I moved faster and John Wilkie nearly crawled over me.  I felt the fresh air and so did John because he pushed me aside and pulled himself out.  As I crawled out I felt a stabbing pain in my right foot and I shouted out in agony.  I made it to the small cave at the river and found John standing at the edge weeping.

My foot and leg were never the same.  I wasn’t fit for active duty when the war came.  My parents spoke in whispers near my sick bed and to me, they were always a little distant from that time on.  I was ill for a very long time.  I even had to complete my first few weeks of school at home.

I was never a popular boy so I can’t say I was bothered by the solitude.  The whispers were what bothered me the most.

“He’s poisoned.  What got Salem and Nate got a piece of him too.  He can see in the dark and his eyes flash red.”

You see, it’s important now that I stay incognito, I’m not so changed I need a cave to hunt in.

Old Things

or perhaps she was thinking of a long term lover who knew her moods and who knew she didn’t do well on rainy days.

She stood there without a coat and really, she needed one.  It was cold outside – not bitter mind you, but a wet cold.  The mist was chilling and when the bleak sun rays intermediately slipped from behind the heavy clouds, the light reflected coldly in the dripping moisture that clung to the bare tree limbs.  The sluggish, he’d almost say lazy rain semi-solidified upon the winter brittle tree limbs and bushes, pulling the branches down toward the ground. So he stood there and watched her and pondered; why would she be without a coat in the middle of the semi-freeze?

So he continued to watch, intrigued, despite his concern regarding her lack of forethought. He enjoyed watching women. She looked down at her feet and studied her brown, nondescript shoes with more solemn attention than they deserved.  She glanced up and he realized that oddly enough she smiled, in a sort of tired accepting fashion, at the long and bleak trail of the empty railroad tracks. He frowned in returned and glanced about for the person who must be teasing her — certainly someone must be — or perhaps she was thinking of someone.  A young child that acted out to perhaps cheer her on dreary afternoons or perhaps she was thinking of a long term lover who knew her moods and who knew she didn’t do well on rainy days. He peered about certain someone must have caused that Mona Lisa smile but the train depot was empty outside of her and him.

He kept his distance, tactically checked his chin for any roughness; a sign that he wasn’t careful enough this morning while shaving but found his chin faultless.  He didn’t understand the rage today to allow so much stubble on a man’s chin.  It was nothing new, chin stubble.  He remembered his grandfather, from the old country, German to the core, going a day or two without shaving, especially during harvest time.  However, no matter how tired the man was he wouldn’t go out socially without a good shave. Why young men thought that going about in public with what he reasoned was a harvester’s beard made them sexier or more intriguing to women, was beyond him.

He glanced over at the young woman again who was now just inside the depot, standing alone by the door. She was staring right at him. She ducked her head, embarrassed to be caught in the act of obvious assessment. Though she looked away, he tried to give the woman a half smile and a nod. Wasn’t he doing the same? Looking her over? He just didn’t get caught – he wasn’t embarrassed.

What was there to be embarrassed about? A sixty-something, thick glasses, his tie too wide for present style dictates, his sports coat was a good fifteen years old, not quite navy blue and his khaki pants were ironed – taboo. He knew when he reached his destination he would be the only man there, young, old or otherwise with a plaid shirt. He knew he looked neat in appearance which of course would make him appear fastidious and unattractive.

He took out his well ironed, white, cotton, ’kerchief and wiped lightly at his nose to hide a smile. He had no idea why he thought it was funny to appear as a fussy old man but suddenly it was funny.

“Excuse me?” Her voice was soft and he could tell it took a lot for her to approach him.

“Yes?”

“No one is at the ticket counter.” She turned to look at the vacant counter to confirm the obvious. He knew Mr. Mullins would be in the back making tea and spreading too much mayonnaise on his hard salami sandwich; a fact that he had to push out of his mind quickly for fear his disgust for Mr. Mullins and all things sandwich would show upon his face – and she would certainly misinterpret that. “I was wondering – do the trains run on time?”

“No, I’m afraid not. I do hope you are not trying to make a connection in the city.”

She smiled, almost it seemed in relief. “No, actually I’m not. I was just here to get away for awhile. I’m in no hurry to get back.”

“Ahh, you live there then.”

Her face became suddenly still, void of animation, and almost pasty. “Well, I work there.”

He could only nod, not knowing really how to take her odd reply. He wondered suddenly, with dread, if she was going to start telling him her life story. How she was alone in the world, working for next to nothing for a man who had everything and existing in a small garret apartment in a rather run down part of town.

But he felt his shoulders relax for she simply turned away and walked back to stare out of the window, watching the mist gather into pools of muddy water upon the sidewalk and along the tired tracks that never varied in direction since the day they were laid to accommodate the so few who used public transportation.

He looked about at the depot, not changed since sometime in the 1970s – and at that the only change was disconcerting. The railway had thought it best to do away with the long time wooden benches and replace them with spoon-like fiberglass seats that not even the most agile of hoodlums could slouch into a workable, relaxing sit-down. Most in the small town were outraged at the change and so the renovations stopped – the wood and glass of the depot were saved for prosperity. The benches? Most were saved and had places of honor in homes around the small town; his own front entrance sported a sanded down renovated bench – it glowed in shining glory there under soft lamps and amid walking sticks and umbrellas. Of course, no one sat on it any longer. Good company just wiped their feet and kept on toward his large living room – forgetting about the bench altogether.

Of course, there were the Smiths. They wanted two of the benches and insisted that the carvings and the overall wear and tear of the benches made them pieces of art. He snorted aloud at the memory. Checking himself, he glanced over at the young woman to see if he had offended her at all with his noise of disdain, obviously not, she didn’t even look in his direction.

Works of art indeed. He knew they had no intention of cleaning up the wooden benches while their copious amount of children and now grandchildren still charged about their house as if they were aboard Vice Admiral Halsey’s Enterprise, during the battle of Midway…

“I’m sorry to bother you again…”

He stood abruptly and she took a step back. He tried to smile but he knew that his attempt at trying to look friendly only made him come off as condescending so he tried to frown just a little as if the next words out of her mouth would tilt the world.

To his delight, she fought a genuine smile. “I was wondering, just how late does the train arrive? I thought of going over to the café for some coffee…”

He interrupted her. “OH, I’m afraid it maybe a little late for that. I think the train is nearly here. ”He was swelled with his own good luck. Mr. Mullins had come around the depot and was standing on the sodden wooden planks outside. He must have been notified that at last the errant train into town was coming ‘round the bend.

She turned following his glance past her. She flushed slightly and said “Oh. Well, I guess that’s what I get.”

He wasn’t quite sure how to respond to her – what sort of retribution had she received? He had only stated a fact and it certainly wasn’t an inconvenience to let her know the train was imminent; as a matter of fact the timing of the situation was wonderful, it reminded him of a Sherlock Holmes story but for the life of him he couldn’t remember the title.

She turned and seemed to wander away from him, rather than walk in any one direction. He cocked his head slightly; a habit his last lover found particularly annoying. He smiled to himself and wondered what that eminent and profound woman was doing with herself lately.

He heard the clatter of the slowing train and the low warning whistle. He filled his lungs, suddenly exuberant with the thought of the two-hour train ride, and a day and night in the city.  He had some shopping to do, then a late supper with one of his long time sorority friends. They planned to meet at their club, and though the dress code was a nuisance, he was looking forward to the all-male company the club offered. He liked women but only in small doses.

He turned and she was standing in the rain, huddled was more like it. He was instantly annoyed. Why on earth didn’t she stay in the station until the train had stopped and was ready for passengers? He shook his head but determined, he grabbed his umbrella and headed in her direction. He walked up to her and extended his deep, black umbrella over her.

“You could have stayed in the station…” she was obviously crying. “What on earth is wrong?”

“I don’t want to go.” Her voice was strained and hiccuped out her words. He wanted to run. Hand her the damned umbrella and run. She was young, probably sentimental and had heartbreaking thoughts of never seeing this tiny, little, quiet, peaceful, peering, scrutinizing, gossiping, town again.

“My dear young lady, I’ve lived here all of my life, you’re better off in the city and facing the heartbreak of leaving this antique encrusted little tourist town once a year on vacation rather than being tethered to it and all its gossiping politics for the rest of your life.” He heard Mr. Mullins clucking in the background and it was all he could do to keep from turning on the old man and glaring him into his grave. He turned back to the young woman, “What’s your name?”

“Sarah.”

“Mine’s Abraham, how do you do?”

And for the first time in his life, he saw a romantic glimmer of hope for she smiled through her tears, “I’ve always wanted someone to say that to me,” she said softly “but I don’t think your name is really Abraham.”

He looked hard at the simple, almost gray woman before him, young, her eyes red from crying and she needed a tissue for her nose. Her hair curled under the misting rain and the little bit of makeup she wore was blotted on her face. “My name is Nathaniel Barrett and I am the proverbial “Philadelphia Lawyer,” which has allowed me to retire early and work on only what interests me in the world of high finance. I hate romantic books, antique dealers, and the crushing academic weight of “women’s studies.”

“I’m Sarah Lewis, I’m a poet and essayist. I majored in women’s studies and I love anything old.”

He stood staring at her as the train spewed exhaust and clanked contently to a stop He smiled at the young woman without thinking how he must appear; “Pleased to meet you,” he said.

 

Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

Her Sister’s Room

She wandered into the room.  She was usually so careful but even the best of plain girls make mistakes.  She knew her error when through the doorway the air became still, hushed.  And in between that hush and the next noisy moments; the scraping of chairs and clanking of metal upon metal her entire life was lived; a life, to her surrendered and sighing, full of regret and self-incrimination.  It was as if she had already lived through the consequence and looking back to the day her life changed.  She was beyond the belief of her own existence that she could have been so careless, so arrogant regarding her own health and psyche.

But the moment was gone, with the first brash word that sounded like a scrape upon an old blackboard, intentional and mean-spirited and shouting.

What did she think she was doing, what right did she have?

Her sister and her friends, all beautiful and flouncing when outside and before crowds of admiring, small town fans had crowded into her sister’s room.  Her sister’s room; off limits to such disasters as she.  When indoors, behind the secret keepers of wood and curtains, the darlings grew fangs and acquired a foreign language.  The door to her sister’s room held their vices in and taunted her when she blundered in.  The quick squashing of ill rolled joints smoldering between prettily painted fingertips, the slush of clear filmy liquid capped with rusty sounding metal lids was quickly stuffed away behind flowing, flowering material that draped her sister’s room.

She often wondered if her sister really did like the flounce and prissy look of her room or insisted upon the shape of her things to hide and secret away reprehensible things.   She and her sister had separate rooms and upstairs away from her parents.  But the second story was no stopping point for those who were limber and in on her sister’s secrets.   The laughter, the hushed moans, and the sharp whispers to “shut-up if you want to do this again,” that only she could hear and her parents never fathomed.

And now she was in her sister’s room, in broad daylight, with no more than a direction from her mother to take her sister’s sheets up to her room.  Cream and pink with bits of stylish brown woven into the six hundred count cotton sheet.  She herself had white by her own insistence.  What a thing to think at a time like this.

Makeup smeared and a masculine chuckle and she did not want to look up – if only she thought if only all of her friends weren’t standing around acting as if they had just been disturbed during a private feast.  She felt her stomach lurch when she heard someway say cover him up.

And then, then, a faint call, a singsong sort of wavering request from downstairs.  She was to come down and help with chores.

Gladly and the escape into cool, clean, air unhindered by thick perfume and too many bodies in a closed-door room.  She had escaped into work and cleared space.

“Tell your sister to come down too please.”

“She’s busy,” and she ran out into the yard and down the street, not wanting to be a part of what must surely be coming.

Reading

It was a dark and stormy night when I decided I hated everything written by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. I know that probably kicks me out of the league of women despite my gender qualifying me but the only thing a woman hates more than green peas is deception.

It was a dark and stormy night when I decided I hated everything written by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen.  I know that probably kicks me out of the league of women despite my gender qualifying me but the only thing a woman hates more than green peas is deception.

I know as I scribble away in my garret room (garret because it’s true even in the 21st century, women suffer financially from divorce and I have two behind me, divorces not marriages), that the Bronte sisters and Miss Austen are probably mere pawns in the battle for my psyche.

I also realize that perhaps the Bronte sisters and Miss Austen would have had less infamous influence if Sigmund Freud had died in obscurity but he didn’t.  Actually, men don’t do they?

The veil split too late before my eyes that these women were writing fairy tales.  You have no idea my suffering.  The artist even bohemian atmosphere around me closing in, the impending July thunderstorm and my single paned window looking out on a back alley, opened wide for the storm to enter in.  I had stripped down to nothing, my skin absorbing the heat and humidity of summer, even prickling in the anticipation of cold wind, thunder riddled, coming my way.  Sense and Sensibility was open before me and the margins, where I had penned notes over the decades of reading the novel, consoled my loneliness.

Yes, Colonel Brandon, even though he wore flannel waistcoats (or something flannel) was a true knight and our young heroine would embrace his calmness, his intellect, his nonexistence?

His fiction?

Shit!

The storm had not hit, there was time and I knew to keep up my own self-induce façade I had to bring out the big guns.  Villette?  No, Jane Eyre.  Rochester must pave his road to hell and with single-minded passion. Would such a man really have brains enough to covet a mousy little governess over an accomplished coquette?

The storm hit with such a vengeance I jumped and the rain hit my clammy skin like so many needles and the blue-white lightning split the skies before me and I saw the face of God.

Don’t believe me, I don’t care.

He was there beard and all – the Father and in my despair, He did what only a loving, encompassing parent could do, He drove the lesson home.

“I told Adam anything but one thing – he took the one thing.”

“I told Abraham he’d have a son in good time but he had to help it along.”

“David had any woman he wanted, freely but he took the one that didn’t belong to him.

I raised my arms in an appeal to stop, and He did.  The storm passed with a shudder and I sat in my garret room cold and damp.  The pages of my books, both Austen’s and Bronte’s were damp with rain but not tears.

I’ve not evolved, I have adapted however to reality.

 

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.