06/26/12

Widow’s Peak 3&4

3
“Mac it’s the exact same house.” Gabby slopped the burned pot-roast onto his plate, not noticing his grimace.
“It can’t be the same house Gabs. You’ve never seen it. No one has.” Mac scooped a blob of meat into his mouth and suppressed a gag. He’d quickly learned how to slip Gabby’s cooking into the back of his mouth and swallow it without tasting it; in a few months he would be ready to go on Survivor. He shook his head again, “In a dream things are foggy. You just think it’s the same house because it’s a house. You were dreaming of a house because we just bought one. Not that you need to sleep for this place to be a nightmare, you know the new hot water heater is gonna cost us eleven hundred?”
Gabby sighed and scooped out her own dinner. It looked disgusting and she pushed it away. “Or maybe it’s the same house and I’m psychic.”
Mac laughed with a hearty snort that sent barbeque sauce into his sinus cavity. “Trust me you’re not psychic.”
Gabby felt like the words were loaded, she smirked. Maybe he was right, he had to be. She could barely even remember the dream now and even that morning, when she had only just escaped dreamland, it was already being pulled away.
After being quiet a long time, Gabby spoke up. “Maybe I went there once as a kid. Camping or something?”
Mac sighed, “Let’s change the subject.”
“Fine.” Gabby scooped more carcass onto his plate.
He swallowed, “My parents called.”
Mac had never been good at navigating the terrain of a fight. He leapt into unfortunate conversations with oblivious gusto and usually at the beginning of meals or long car rides.
“What did Gloria have to say for herself?”
Mac wiped his mouth and cleared his throat, hacking up his next sentence. “They’re coming to visit.”
Gabby dropped her fork. It hit the cheap dishware with a clank. “Why?”
“They’re my parents.” Mac responded defensively.
Gabby’s face turned red as her temper flared. “I meant why are they going to start acting like it?”
“Gabby you know why they cut me off.” Mac pointed an accusatory fork towards Gabby.
“Unbelievable. You know there’s the door. If marrying me was just a big mistake leave. I’m sure Gloria will take you back. Your dad will cut you back into the business. You can be CEO instead of a lineman. Isn’t that what you want?”
Mac stood, “I’m a lineman because I believe in working my way up in the company. I will be CEO one day. I went to Wharton! I don’t need this.” Mac pulled his jacket off the counter and left the porch door open in his wake. A cool breeze rolled through the kitchen and brought with it a few dried leaves.
Gabby sat examining her Formica island and packing boxes. “You’re in denial!” She bellowed out the door, the breeze blowing it back in her face. Not that he would have heard it anyway. She’d already heard his Toyota’s engine fire up and fade away. Why she didn’t get up and leave was a mystery to her. The door was already open. She supposed love had something to do with it. It had something to do with why Mac had given up a life of privilege to marry her and why he’d stayed. Love had never seemed like a more ridiculous notion than it did now. Like magic or the tooth fairy. A child’s fantasy. She needed something tangible. Something she could hold, a physical reason. Gabby wasn’t sure why she didn’t at least get up and shut the door. The wind had gotten icy and her goose pimples were spreading. But she couldn’t move, once open some doors can’t be closed.

4
Toilet paper. Toilet paper. Toilet paper. Again the mantra sounded with every step that Gabby pounded into the sidewalk. An imaginary shopping list she would remember all day and forget once she entered the store. She would also forget her eco-friendly grocery bags. This would annoy her for the rest of the day, especially while she sat at the laundry mat thinking how she could have used the dimes saved to wash her delicates separately. Her cashmere socks could have their own cycle, separate from Mac’s rugby clothes. Nothing was separate anymore. A twinge in Gabby’s knee forced her off balance and she circled around the post office’s flagpole and onto the soft grass of Collin’s Green. In the summer time the green landscape would be dotted with bikini ready high-schoolers and dog walkers. Today, not a soul dared interrupt the endless landscape.
She and Mac had once held a picnic there. They had announced their engagement and her pregnancy at what was supposed to be their graduation party. There was a lack of enthusiasm amongst the guests. Gloria’s face had been cold to say the least.
Hummus. Hummus. Hummus. Must get hummus. If Gloria and Hank came they would bring Ingrid and she was wild about humus. Of course that meant making a vegetarian dinner. Gabby would do it for Ingrid. Mac’s little sister was the only member of his family who accepted Gabby. She had smiled at their wedding and given them a bouquet of onsies for the baby. The nursery was being transformed into a guest room. It should be done by the time his parents came. Mac could deal with it.
Gabriella stopped, catching her breath and scanning her surroundings. She hit the hold button on her iPod and tied her headphone around her waist. The large white home in front of her was being entombed alive in ivy. Without moving a muscle the paralyzed architecture had accepted its fate and allowed nature to protect it from gentrification and vandals. Gabby hadn’t meant to run there and yet there she stood, face to face with her demon. A large widow’s peak anchored the Victorian house and a small shutter squealed for oil in the morning draft. It was more beautiful than Gabby had perceived from town.
Walking up the stone path Gabby tried the door. It was locked tight. She’d hoped the years would have rusted the hinges or that previous intruders would have left her an entrance, but there was no luck. Going deeper into the woods, she peered in each darkened window and soon found herself behind the house, which proved to be wide but narrow. The cliff it sat upon was small and any additional rooms would have taken up the entire back yard. Instead the owners had set up white stone benches around a small pond and rose bushes. Nestled amongst the thorns was a small ornament of Pan playing a fife and peering into the water. Gabby could smell lilacs, but it would be months before the trees would bloom.
Her phone beeped and she checked her calendar.
-A reminder to get an electrician to ground the outlets.-
She had, in fact, remembered to call him, he would be at her house in ten minutes. Getting up to leave her eye caught movement in the window of the widow’s peak. Straining to see Gabby balanced on her tippy toes, there was no one there. Sticking her ear buds back into her ears she bolted for her house, skidding down the mountain in a treacherous shortcut.
The electrician had cancelled. She unpacked three boxes and found a recipe online for vegetarian goulash. She washed their Hawks jerseys and packed the cooler for tailgating. There was nothing else to do, well nothing that could be done in the thirty minutes she had until Mac came home. Flipping on her computer Gabby circled the machine, thinking about cookies and browser histories. She opened Google, then skimmed TMZ and Apartment Therapy, then re-opened Google. Her morning adventure had produced an address for the house. Number 1605. A foundation cornerstone had even produced a date. The place was built in 1856. Gabby tapped her finger on the keyboard trying to select her strokes. Presuming that road had once connected to Anderson Drive, the main road which now led a quarter mile up the bluff, it would be 1605 Anderson Drive. Gabby typed ferociously. Nothing.
The local library offered digitized editions of the Morgun Gazette from 1843 – 1925 but they were impossible to search. Searches returned random symbols and her browser complained of an error more times than not.
“H-A-W-K-S Go!” Mac screamed from the hallway as he threw down his work duffel and continued the chant. Scooping Gabby into his arms he kissed her and grabbed his jersey. “Homecoming weekend. Doesn’t get much better than that!”
Mac had always been a sucker for traditions; it was one of the first things Gabby loved about him. He was already loading the car with coolers of beer and bags of hot dogs and fixins.
The Cliffwood High School Hawks were undefeated the past two seasons. Their rival, the Panthers, had been champion for the forty-five years before that. To say the town was obsessed with the outcome of the homecoming game was putting it mildly. Main Street had already been renamed Mainard Street in honor of the victorious coach who drank for free in every bar and enjoyed every moment of his small time celebrity. Mac rubbed Henri the mascot for good luck. Gabby grabbed the beak and whispered inside, “Want a beer Bryce?”
The hawk nodded and Gabby stuck a cold one down the hatch. Mr. Withers and his wife had already snagged the best spot overlooking both the field and the parking lot where the fights and legends were always born. Last year Scotty Greer had been born there too.
“Got the dogs?” Mr. Withers gummed his words.
“You bet. Got the grill?” Mr. Withers pointed to the small camping grill behind his folding chair. Mac dropped the coolers and the two men began deciding on the best strategy for getting a good char on the sausages.
“How’s things Mrs. W?” Gabby sat down in her daisy embroidered beach chair and rested her head on her purse.
“Fine, just fine.” Mrs. Withers was always rocking her head back and forth. Mac theorized it was a rhythm she heard in her hearing aid. Maybe it got Lite FM. They always joked if there was a twister she’d be the first to know. “We talked to Rachel last night.”
“Really?” Gabby didn’t mean to sound disinterested but news from Rachel was always the same. Besides the two hadn’t really been friends for years now.
“Sent her some pictures of the house.” Mrs. Withers pointed to the bluff. Night had hidden the mansion just as well as the trees had, Gabby couldn’t make out a single feature. “She’s going to paint it. Says it’s a great story.”
“I’d love to know the real story.” Gabby considered telling Mrs. Withers she had been there but Mac was in ear shot. “You haven’t heard anything have you?”
“No. If anyone does know a thing it would be Prudence.” Mrs. Withers looked down to the green tent that Prudence Collins’s maid had set up. Her money was legendary. Rumor was it had bankrolled the Revolutionary war and Prudence always thought that gave her the right to run the town. Now, her great-grand-children were grown and gone to the West Coast, leaving the old woman alone with her memories and roses.
“I honestly hadn’t thought of her.” Gabby admitted.
Mrs. Withers hoisted herself up with great effort and grabbed her walking stick. “Let’s go have a chat.”
Gabby glanced at Mac, who was lost in an argument over the taste of charcoal grill with Chuck Lawrence.
“You’re not gonna make me walk down this hill alone are you?” Mrs. Wither’s cocked a titanium hip.
Grabbing an arm the two gingerly made their way to the green tent that housed a woman whose age was more legendary than her money. Some believe the reason she was so touchy about whether or not George Washington had spent the night in her mansion was because he had been her lover.
“Knock knock.” Mrs. Withers sat herself in an empty chair beside Prudence, whose lips were shaking with an unsaid hello.
“Sorry about barging in.” Gabby apologized.
Prudence smiled. She wore a black Chanel suit with small earrings that sagged in her earlobes at different heights. “Non-sense, come in.”
This coming from a woman who used to throw flaming candles at children who dared ask her to ‘trick or treat or smell their feet’ was amusing. Gabby sat cross legged on the grass. “Excited about the game?”
Prudence nodded enthusiastically. She was lonely and bored and Gabby felt bad for the woman who had been mostly closed off from humanity for the last thirty years.
“What’s the deal with the mansion? We want dirt.” Mrs. Withers felt pleasantries were for the young. She always said if she worked up to saying something she may drop dead before it gets said. Gabby wished that just this once she’d added some finesse.
Prudence looked annoyed. She calculated her response. Saying nothing wouldn’t end this conversation, she needed to give up something. “Oh yes. I knew it was there. Always wondered why they didn’t level the eyesore but its historical and so on.”
“You knew it was there?” Gabby asked incredulously.
Prudence chuckled, “Of course.” With that the conversation was over. The three women watched as the rival teams huddled and chanted. Cheerleaders with fire engine red spankies and Adderall powder on their noses chanted cheers to get the audience pumped. Mac appeared and knocked on the roof of the tent making the sound with his tongue. “Food is ready. Hello Mrs. Collins.” Mac smiled a dimply greeting.
“Hello Macenroy.” Prudence blushed a bit.
He helped Mrs. Withers to her feet. “Would you like some food?” Mac offered.
“No. I’d like peace.” Prudence said longingly. It was tiring to live so long.
Mac smiled and waved as they made their departure.
Prudence had been born and raised in Cliffwood. She knew now she would die there. A day hadn’t passed when the house hadn’t plagued her dreams, her memories. Despite the 90 years that had passed she remembered vividly the day her father travelled up to the mansion on the bluff. A chance to see the mansion up close, its regal gates and beautiful occupants. If only he’d come back.

06/20/12

Widow’s Peak, a not-so-’short’ story

I have decided to serialize a short story I have been working on. Beginning today I plan on putting up a few chapters in six installments. Hope you enjoy!

Widow’s Peak

A young woman in a stricken marriage is plagued by demonic dreams and restless nights, until a home is uncovered within the forest near her home. As her obsession grows the home’s power over herself and her town threatens their livelihood and their lives.

Widow’s Peak

1

Gabriella was dead. It was the oddest sensation. A slight tingle that began at the base of her brain and ebbed its way throughout the network of nerves that netted her body. Only it wasn’t in her body, because she didn’t have a body. Putting a hand in front of her face she was aware that she felt nothing, smelled nothing and heard nothing. Not even the thump, thump, thump of blood rushing past her ear drums; the annoying persistent beat that normally would have filled such a complete silence. The urge to laugh seized her, although she couldn’t imagine why seeing as she was dead and she didn’t want to be. It was the lightness that did it, like nitrous oxide without the root canal.

Her nothingness came into focus and she began to understand a gravity to be present here. Perhaps not a gravity but an order to things. What went up, what went down, and where up and down were respectively. She knew these things instinctively. Then she realized in the same instant that she had retained sight, and with this sense she was able to know that she was being watched. Eyes surrounded her, light and dark, blue, brown, green, and amber; in every shade and shape and size they surrounded her, uniform only in their constant possession of a round bead of water that nestled in the corner of each lash-line, waiting to shiver free. The ball of regret shook there for a few moments before finally falling into the nothingness. Suddenly, she felt again. A gnawing feeling within her soul and becoming frightened she summoned her weakened powers of concentration and she could see that these were not eyes but windows.

She was in a house, with windows and doors and furniture. She had a body although she did not care for it as she had when she was living. There was no fear of pain or promise of eventual life. It was just a memento of being human, something she’d become accustomed to. The darkness lifted and a white light flowed through it. The shutters flickered open and closed, like Betty Davis’s eyelashes as she coyly smoked her cigarette. There was smoke, or maybe it was fog, microscopic chips of paint flaking away from the house so quickly it changed color before her eyes.

The fog turned to dust. So much dust it kicked up and swirled as Gabby explored the endless passageways of the mansion. Dark wood, slick as tree sap, covered the walls and floors. Portraits of long dead inhabitants and a plate full of half eaten lasagna, burned lasagna, sat on an ornately carved table. Deep inside Gabby knew she must have made it. Another dish she had burned.

Brushing a palm against a floor to ceiling canvas to remove the grime Gabby found herself staring at herself. A version of herself more beautiful, and well-bred with rosier lips, a happier blush, and a more assertive demeanor made evident by tightly squared shoulders. It was suffocating. Or maybe the dust had begun to have it effects. With a heavy wheeze she attempted to cough but couldn’t. Her body seized and she threw herself forward beginning to panic as she choked on air. Beating her fists into her chest she worked to free the obstruction from her lungs to no avail. She was already dead and still dying. What bad luck is that?

The tightness enveloped her and she felt her arms restricted, her back hot with the fire of a hard assault and finally, with some effort Gabby forced the cloud from her chest. Blinking Gabby found she had begun to tear with the effort, but through her blurry eyes she could also see she was in her bedroom and awake.

“Are you alright?” Mac asked, still half-asleep but awkwardly aware he’d just punched his wife in the back.

Letting out a weak cough just to assure herself she could she nodded, “yeah. I think it was dust or hair or something.”

“You had a hair ball?” Mac asked.

Gabby winced. “Ew. No, go back to bed.”

Mac rolled his eyes and turned on his side, within moment he was asleep. How could he do that, just shut off.

Putting a bare foot to the cold floor she got out of bed and made her way down the stairs and to the kitchen. Grabbing a large steak knife she returned to the hall and, in complete darkness, cut into one of the large moving boxes she still hadn’t unpacked. She shredded the top of one labeled Wedding Gifts. Inside were eight pristine and no doubt expensive crystal goblets her in-laws had purchased for them. They hadn’t bee on the registry. Gabby’s mother-in-law knew how much Gabby looked forward to getting her own mother’s depression glass for the new home, but here they were, someone’s else’s idea of classy. The urge to throw the glass was strong, and Gabby knew the Gabriella in the painting would have smashed it. Instead, Gabby rinsed it and filled it with water.

The house was small but the kitchen was large for their price-range. It had an island with cheap white Formica and leaning on it Gabby could overlook their butcher block table and more packing boxes. They had lived in the house for three months but hadn’t found the desire to unpack. They simply took out what they needed, which probably said a lot for how much superfluous items they’d amassed. A scurry above made Gabby think of the empty rooms above. There were so many places a mouse could find refuge, her studio with blank canvases along the walls, the guest room without guests or furniture, the nursery with an un-built crib.

For the millionth time since moving in Gabby wanted to walk the twelve blocks across town to her parents’ house and curl up in her old room. The Lithuanian couple now renting it wouldn’t be pleased but they could deal. Her parents had put the house on the market the moment she and Mac had graduated college and gotten engaged and even then Gabby had felt it was too hasty. Mac refused to buy it. Too many old memories he said. Like a photo album you buy half filled with someone else’s mementos.

Finishing her water she returned to restless sleep and dusty dreams.

 

2

‘Bulbs. Bulbs. Bulbs.’ Gabby kept the chant going and found herself matching the words to her pace. Running had seemed like a good sport to pick up. It was free, time-flexible, and supposedly it freed your mind. Her creative block had come at an inopportune moment as she’d finally been given a bid to illustrate a children’s novel. The introduction had been Gloria’s and accepting help from her mother in-law was like eating glass. Now, she couldn’t produce and there were only eight weeks until her mock-ups were due. The pressure made Gabby run faster and she forgot her shopping-reminder mantra. Her garden would never get any bulbs. This year her little patch of earth would look just as forgotten as the rest of her house did.

Waving to Mr. Withers, Gabby slowed to a jog and stopped, catching her breath and making a show of admiring his newly finished mosaic-mailbox.

“This is mighty fine work.” Gabby smiled, finding herself slipping into the dialect of a 50s housewife, hands on hips and shoulders tilted back for the full effect.

Dave Withers smiled and patted the red and white box. “Rachel sent it from New York. She’s into stone work now.” His face gloomed over and he whispered quietly, “Thank goodness. I was running out of places to put her little cat statues.”

Gabby smiled. She had received a number of flora and fauna miniatures herself. Her high school best friend just kept making them and sending them. Gabby assumed they were a sign of pity. Poor Gabby couldn’t become a struggling artist inBrooklynlike we planned because she got married and moved home, here have a ceramic cat.

“She likeNew York?”

“Oh yes, yes. Always asks about you. I told her about your book. Very excited!” Mr. Withers smiled at the thought of his grand-daughter living in the big city. As the bus driver for all kids south of the highway he knew everyone’s secrets from kindergarten until high school. He was the only one not surprised when Rachel dropped out of college and studied art with hobos in Quarry; Kansas’s answer to an underground art scene.

A loud clang adopted Gabby’s attention and she began to look around for the source. “What the heck?”

“It’s been going on all morning. My wife turned her hearing aid off an hour ago. They’re getting rid of all the trees on the bluff.”

“Oh, wow. I had my ear buds in. When did they announce this?” Gabby’s face betrayed her unhappiness. The forest that dominated the cliff was what gave Cliffwood its name, the town was nothing without the backdrop of a looming oak grove. Turning to examine the bluff Gabby blocked out the morning sun with one hand. She’d been running all morning with her eyes down to the ground to avoid the long glare of the fall sun.

“Oh my g-.” Gabby felt her throat close. She needed to cough but couldn’t. “The dust.” She croaked.

“What?” Mr. Withers yelled begging her to speak up.

Gabby pointed.

“Oh yes. It is a surprise isn’t it. I think the mayor will be quite upset. All that hoopla about getting an ordinance to take down a few trees and then there’s that!”

“What is it? I never knew that was there. I swear, I never knew.”

Mr. Withers eyed her delicately. “I believe you dear. I don’t think anyone did. My wife and I didn’t move here until the 50s. We never heard anything about there being a home up there, especially a mansion like that!”

Gabby watched the bulldozer drop mounds of dirt from its jaws. The home was huge, gigantic really. Despite what she imagined was a considerable age spent in neglect, from this distance the place was perfect. Simple white pillars graces each side and the front, or maybe it was the back, stood strong with large windows looking out onto the town. In the middle the midnight black roof was interrupted by a large widow’s peak. In its prime the home must have been amazing, horse drawn carriages edging their way up the cliffs, torches lighting each floor, there were so many! Gabby pinched herself. Her brain was in shambles, trying, with little result, to pull at threads of a long forgotten nightmare. There was nothing there, yet she knew, beyond reasonable doubt, that this here was the house haunted her, with Betty Davis eyes.