Heather Day Gilbert
copyright Heather Day Gilbert–January 2009–all rights reserved
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” Genesis 4:7
I know she has to be the one. She, with her glossy long red hair and sparkling green eyes. She, with her heart open and ready to be filled. She, with a beautiful blonde daughter and loving husband.
I want to feel bad for her. But there is nothing I can do to stop it.
He moved me so far from Gap Kids, I have no idea where to buy Phoebe’s clothes anymore. Who ever heard of Wood Knob, West Virginia? He had to trade our van for a four-wheel drive Suburban just to get to his job in Troy Mills. His new job, which pays only slightly more. But he’s higher up in the union now, so we do have better benefits. I still don’t think it’s worth it, and he knows what I think.
“Mother,” Phoebe says from her little loft room in our cabin. I made sure she called me Mother right from the start. No slang for her.
“Can I watch Barney?”
“We don’t have the TV hooked up yet.”
“Can we play dollies?”
“Not now,” I say, and straighten a longer piece of my hair. I refuse to let her think her needs should dictate what I do. She needs to learn young that the world doesn’t revolve around her.
After lunch, which was leftover chicken cordon bleu for me and peanut butter and apples for her, I decide we may as well see what’s outside.
Our cabin sits on two acres of woodland. Not that I really care much where it sits. But my husband wanted land. He wanted to “get away from it all” in the city. Basically, he forgot to acknowledge the fact that I am, and always have been, a city girl myself. Sometimes he forgets to consult me in major decisions. The few times he does, he usually doesn’t approve of what I want to do. This is a far cry from what I knew growing up, when my mother pretty much got whatever she asked for.
I round up Phoebe and we put on polartec jackets and rain boots. It’s still a little muddy out. Our moving truck almost got stuck on our dirt driveway. We’ll have to get it paved.
In the pine woods to the right of the house, there’s a little creek. Not too much underbrush. Phoebe climbs over dead trees and jumps in the shallow part of the creek. We see some tracks, maybe a raccoon or a small dog, I have no idea what.
“Alright, Phoebe, let’s keep going,” I say, and we head out for the woods to the left of the house. This woods has some pines, but more deciduous trees, it seems. It’s also smaller–we come to the end pretty quickly. There’s a pretty wide hay field ahead. I only figure this out because of the big white bale-sized things lying around everywhere. Past that is a big hill with a light purple house at the very top. I guess that would be our new neighbor. Phoebe runs into the field and starts doing cartwheels. We should probably go ahead and introduce ourselves while we’re out.
“Come on, Phoebe.” She’s actually in front of me, but I get ahead of her and grab her hand. “Let’s head for that hill.” Phoebe shoots me a glare, but I ignore it and keep walking.
A couple of big black birds seem to be eating something dead near one of the bales. The sky is a rather oppressive shade of grey with some heavier charcoal clouds.
As we get to the hill, Phoebe tears off around the side of it. I refuse to chase after her. There are some old stone stairs, overgrown with moss and dead grass–I decide to go up here. When I get about halfway up, I check to see if I see Phoebe anywhere. I don’t.
There is a small treeline ringing the hill, and I’m getting close to it. I decide to yell.
She still doesn’t come. I continue toward the house. The small trees now completely block my view of the sides of the hill.
I can see the house clearly now. It seems this is a side stairway, winding toward the front door.
There is no porch. It’s a bit of a Victorian monstrosity, a pale purple house with black shutters. It has two side turrets, but neither one has a door or any apparent windows.
At the front door, there are three small steps and a tiny stoop. The front door is black. I imagine there’s some feng shui reason people shouldn’t have a black front door. I don’t see any kitschy welcome signs or flags or cheap patio chairs, which I was fully expecting. There is just the stoop, the ornate ironwork doorbell, and the black door.
About this time, Phoebe runs up the left path out of the trees. Her blonde hair looks wild and has leaf bits in it. She offers no explanation for her willfulness and I decide not to ask for one. She just smirks at me as I press the doorbell. Heavy chimes ring inside.
Almost before the chimes ring, the door opens. An old woman with blue-tinted hair peers out at us. “Hello?” she asks, and her pale blue eyes squint a bit.
“I’m your new neighbor,” I say. “My name is Aurora Himmel. We just moved into the log cabin a couple days ago.”
Her eyes unsquint a little. “Oh, the log mansion over there? And this is your daughter?”
“Yes,” I say, and ignore the mansion quip. “Her name is Phoebe. Say hello, Phoebe.”
Phoebe just looks around at the trees.
“I wondered,” she says, “because I just saw someone down by my pond.”
So that‘s where Phoebe was. I‘ll let that one slide. “Well, nice to meet you,” I say. “Your name is…?”
“Dollie Massey,” she says. “Would you like to have some tea? I was just getting a pot going.”
Before I can come up with a reason to refuse, Phoebe says, “Please can we get something to eat here, Mother? I’m soooo hungry! Please…?”
Dollie smiles. “Sounds like you need a little snack break.”
I look at her blue hair, yellow cotton apron, and floral dress that must be about forty years old. But her shoes aren’t the grandma brogans I expect. They’re actually stylish brown clogs. Her earrings are chandelier-style–something I’d buy myself.
Who is this woman?
“Alright,” I say.
I always knew I was meant for better. She feels the same way. I know she hates her husband for bringing her to this godforsaken place. She cannot hide anything from me. I am so much older than she is, and I have so much I can teach her.
Dollie shows us the “parlor,” as she calls the living room, and heads into the kitchen. Phoebe starts climbing on the couch. I examine some of the photos. There are no knick-knacks. Just photos, on the walls, on the dresser, on the coffee table. Where on earth did this woman get all these friends and family? She’s not even wearing a wedding ring.
I open a photo album. It must be as old as her dress. There’s a photo of a woman who vaguely resembles Dollie looking sideways, away from the camera. Right next to her is a man. Wonder who that is?
“Here we are!” Dollie announces, bringing in a tray with a couple mugs of tea on it. There is also a smaller orange Tupperware cup with water in it, presumably for Phoebe.
“I just put sugar in both teas, I hope that’s alright,” she says, starting to unwrap the three Little Debbie cakes on the side. They are Christmas tree-shaped, though Christmas was about ten months ago.
“Those are my most hatable-est kind,” Phoebe says, as she stops couch-climbing long enough to look at the cakes.
“Well,” says Dollie. She looks at me pointedly.
“What a lot of pictures you have here,” I say, and try to eat a bite of my red-and-green-sprinkled tree.
“Oh, lawsie-daisie, yes!” she says.
“Are they all family?” I ask, and gulp some of the weak tea to wash down the cake.
“Mostly,” she says. “We had ten kids in our family. I never did get married. But most of them did.”
She stops and pats her hair, then glances behind the couch, where Phoebe must be hiding out.
“She surely has a lot of energy,” she says, and looks intently at me.
I’m not sure if she’s fishing for an explanation. I could explain that Phoebe has ADHD and impulse control problems, but I don’t really want to. I’ve explained her behavior so many times, to so many people, I simply don’t want to anymore. I’m making a new start in West Virginia.
“May I look in your dining room?” I ask. It’s right across the hall and has a wonderful chandelier and an antique buffet I can barely see from here.
“Of course,” she says, looking out of the side of her eye to see where Phoebe is again.
I walk across the hall and take my time looking at the furniture. It looks like cherry, very glossy and dark. The walls are painted a sort of marmalade color, which seems dated but somehow works. There is a large round mirror in front of me, and I can see a person in it. I turn to ask Dollie if Phoebe is doing alright, but she’s not there. I turn back. The person is still there, right behind me in the mirror. It is a man.
“What the…?” I ask, and whirl around as quickly as I can. There is no one there. But it feels like someone is.
I run. “Dollie!” I yell, and scuttle across the wood floors into the parlor. Phoebe is on the couch, picking a Little Debbie cake apart into little pieces. Dollie is on the chair, sipping tea. She quickly puts it down and jumps up.
“What is it?” she says.
I look at Phoebe and control my voice. I don’t think she’s paying attention to me anyway.
“I just wanted to ask you a question,” I say, and steer her out into the hallway between the rooms.
“What?” she says again.
“I just saw a man in your mirror in there,” I say.
“That’s impossible. There are no men in my house!”
She looks at me steadily, obviously trying to figure out if I’ve lost my mind.
“Are you sure?” I say. “Maybe I’ll check outside the window.”
“Go right ahead,” she says. “But no one comes up the hill but my cleaning girl, and she only comes on Saturdays.”
I quickly head to the door, black inside and out, and peer out. No one is there, and the wind’s not even moving. I head back to Dollie, who is in turn heading toward Phoebe. Phoebe has put crumbs from the Little Debbie all over the coffee table.
“Well, that was strange,” I say.
“What did he look like?” she asks. I’m a bit surprised, because I thought she didn’t believe me.
“He had black hair and dark eyes. He was really tall and skinny.”
“Hmmm,” she says, and starts picking up Phoebe’s crumbs and putting them in a napkin. “Doesn’t sound like anyone I know.”
I’m shocked she’s not more fearful than I am, since it is her house. But she’s old, so maybe she doesn’t know how dangerous the world is now compared to when she was young. There are always murders and scandals these days. Or maybe things are different in the country.
Phoebe gets up and runs around the coffee table and Dollie about five times. Then she runs up to me and says loudly, “I want to go now.”
Dollie looks up from the cleanup. “Thank you all for stopping by. So nice to meet some neighbors.”
“Does anyone else live near here?” I ask.
“No, like I said, there’s a pond at the bottom of the other side of my hill, then there’s a huge wooded lot, and some more farmland. The next house is at least two miles away.”
I wonder how she gets her groceries, but I noticed a garage, so there must be a driveway down the back of the hill that heads toward town.
“Well, we’ll be going,” I say, and wonder if I am going crazy. I saw that man as real as any man could be, just standing behind me in the mirror.
“Until next time,” she says cheerily, and walks us out the door. We take the path toward our house.
Phoebe immediately begins running down the stones. I turn to take a last look. And I could swear I see a tall man looking out the dining room window.
copyright Heather Day Gilbert–January 2009–all rights reserved