Alright–here go the next two chapters. Please comment on my blogspot or become a follower! That way I know you’re reading it and interested. Thank you! Enjoy.
She was so close, I could almost touch her hair. I want that hair, that red, flaming cascade of waves. She saw me. It was risky, but part of the plan. She will want me soon enough.
That night I tell him I went to meet the neighbor. I describe Dollie, in detail, and her house, in somewhat less detail. I leave out the one little detail of the man in the mirror. And I’m not talking about the Michael Jackson song.
Phoebe climbs all over him as he reheats his spaghetti. We always go ahead and eat these days, because it takes him so long to get home. It gets dark so early, and I get tired.
“Daddy, daddy, I saw a lake today! And some fish in it!”
“What is she talking about?” he says. “Is there a lake on our property?”
“No, it’s our neighbor’s.”
“That’s nice, Phoebe.”
“And I runned out on the dock and almost fell in!”
Great. That part I did not know.
“WHAT?” He looks at me for an answer, an explanation of some kind.
“She was running ahead, she got too far away from me…”
He looks at me, hard. His eyes get really icy, which only happens when he’s irate.
“Do you have no thought for our child’s safety? Most mothers would have run after her, or at least known where she was.”
Here we go. Always comparing me to “most mothers.” I don’t have to listen to it.
“I have to go to bed early. I’ve had a hard day,” I say, and head into our room and shut the door as loudly as possible. Let him deal with putting Phoebe to bed. I know he won’t come after me. He is far too passive for that.
I decide to take a bath. I pour in the rest of my peppermint bath oil, and get a magazine. I have about 13 subscriptions, but I still have to change the address on about half of them.
After about a half hour, I get out, put on my purple Victoria’s Secret silk pajamas, which I know he loves, and climb into bed.
I can hear Phoebe running all over the house, up and down the loft ladder. I decide to get up and see if Dollie’s house is on the internet. Maybe it’s haunted. It is an old house, who knows who could’ve died there.
It takes awhile to get online, since we have only the slowest of dialups here. No one could afford to run broadband through these mountain passes.
I look up West Virginia haunted houses. Nothing. I look up Dollie Massey. Nothing again. I look up haunted purple houses, West Virginia. Finally it brings up something that looks like Dollie’s house. I can’t really tell, because the picture is so full of bits or bytes that you can’t really see it. I can discern that it seems to have black shutters, so I click on the photo.
“West Virginia House a Cozy Place for Haints,” is the title. Looks like a small personal interest story by a guy named Gordon Plummer. I take it “haint” is the West Virginia word for ghost.
“This seemingly charming purple house is full of murder stories, dating from the Civil War,” it begins. “From a Confederate killing to a black man’s lynching, it seems wrapped up with evildoing from the time it was built.”
Not very well written, but interesting.
Basically, it says that a man who was thought to be a Confederate sympathizer was shot in the back of the house by the Union soldiers. Later on, a slave who was hiding out in the house was arrested and lynched in one of the trees by some of the locals.
I knew I hadn’t seen the ghost of the black man. Maybe it was the rebel?
“These ghosts have been thought to haunt the purple house for decades. The current owner, Dollie Massey, claims she has never seen anything. But visitors in the past have seen trees swaying wildly with no wind in sight. Stories also have been told about blood stains on the back lawn.”
I’m so engrossed, I don’t hear him come in. He looks over my shoulder and coughs. “And what is this?” he demands, obviously still ticked.
“Nothing,” I say, and shut the laptop.
“I put Phoebe to bed for you. It is now 11:15 p.m. Why do I always wind up putting her to bed?”
“Maybe because I have to deal with her all day,” I say.
“Well, she’s going to kindergarten as soon as we can find one,” he says.
“Find one that takes her, that is,” I say.
“Why do you have to be so hard on her?” he says. “Why can’t you just show her some love?”
“I am. I am showing her love when I don’t give in to her every whim. I show her love when I live my own life. Don’t you read anything?”
“Certainly not the tripe you must be getting from those magazines,” he says, and gestures toward the open one on my bed. “My mom never acted that way toward us.”
“Well, your mom had four children and home-schooled them all. She was with you every second. She had no life of her own. I will not become that kind of woman.”
“And what kind is that?” he says, and I know I’ve pushed it a bit too far.
“Just one who has no memories apart from her kids,” I say, to soften it a bit.
He puts his hands on my head, absentmindedly smoothing my hair. I look at his dark curls, at his smooth tan chin, and think about touching him back.
His hands slip down my silk pajamas, and I know where this is headed. I am a little interested, but mostly not. So I decide to respect myself, and I tell him to stop.
“Aurora, we’ve been married for eight years, and you still do this to me all the time,” he says. Poor whiny baby.
“Yes, because you still haven’t learned what I like or how to treat me,” I say.
“How can I when you never let me come near you?” he says.
“Maybe read some of those magazines,” I say, and head over to bed.
“Maybe I will,” he says, and goes out of the room. I know he’ll sleep on the couch. I think that’s why he bought an extra-comfy couch for this new house–brown leather, very cushy. It’s because he was planning to sleep there, a lot.
I really want to see her again. I’m hoping her own curious mind will bring her back to me. No one knows how alone I am here. She is perfect for me.
The next week, he decides to take Phoebe to the local kindergartens. That would be a grand total of two. One is 30 minutes away, and one is 40 minutes, in the opposite direction. In the meantime, I decide to go to the library and ask for books about Dollie’s house. Surely someone knows something.
The librarian is in her 40s, and obviously proud to be a librarian. She has the pince-nez type glasses and wears the palest of pink lipstick. I ask her if she knows anything about the house on the hill.
“Oh, honey, that’s a ghost house, alright,” she says. She looks down over her glasses for added effect. “I don’t have any books or anything on it, but there are plenty of stories around town from those who’ve grown up in these parts. I take it you’re not from around here?”
She can hardly conceal her curiosity. She is looking at me like a cat ready to pounce a mouse.
“No, I’m not,” I say, as if my black turtleneck, black ankle boots, and Vera Wang purse don’t give it away.
“Well, if you want some more information on it, you can always ask Rick,” she says with a grin. She gestures to a man who is sitting at the “homework table” and looking at a book. He is wearing a very dirty red cap (in the library!), some overalls, and looks like he hasn’t ever thought of washing his yellowish beard.
I decide to take her up on it. What could it hurt?
Rick looks up from his book and watches my every step. He is looking at my hair as if he’s never seen red hair before. I guess it’s a tit-for-tat, though, because I really have seen nothing as gross as his beard before. It seems to have chewing tobacco stains running through it, giving it a marbled look.
“Can I help you, ma’am?” he says.
I stop dead in my tracks at that “ma’am,” but then remember that in the south every woman over 20 is a “ma’am.”
“Um, yes. I was actually wondering if you knew anything about the purple house that’s up on the hill outside town?”
He looks contemplative, with his hand on his beard. Then he pulls out the seat next to him.
“Sit yourself down, ma’am, and I’ll give you an earful,” he says with a grin. He is missing some teeth, and I don’t think it’s because of crystal meth usage.
I decide to sit, but pull the chair away from him quite a bit. He seems not to notice, and launches into a story.
“My brothers and I grew up on the other side of town,” he says, as if it were the wrong side of the tracks. This town isn’t even big enough to have a wrong side or a right side.
“We used to deliver milk up there.” He pauses, no doubt for effect. “This was before Miss Dottie lived in it. She only moved in about twenty year ago.”
He continues. “There’s been haints in that house as long as anyone remembers. So we wanted to see some. We would go up there before dawn, a’creepin up them steps. One time, my brother swore he saw a human body floating in that pond. And I myself saw someone sitting on the porch, but when we got up closer, no one was there. Then one time, my momma had to deliver milk, because we all had the fever. We needed that milk money. So she had to go up later of the evening. She saw something that scared her so bad, she dropped the milk and ran all the way down that hill. I never got it out of her what it was, till she was an old lady and going soft in the head. She told me, ‘I saw a man. He was watching me. He was coming for me,’ and that’s all she said.”
He stops, and looks closer at me, or maybe my hair, I can’t tell. His eyes are a bit askew.
“And did she say what he looked like? Or where he was?”
Suddenly, Rick draws himself up and has an idea. “Are you some kind of reporter?” he says. “Because I talked to one one-time about it. He didn’t pay much attention to what I said.”
“No, just wondering.” I don’t want to tell him I just moved into the house next to it. “I’d read an article on it, that’s all.”
“That’s probably the one he wrote. Didn’t pay much attention at all,” he repeats.
“Well, thank you so much,” I say, and push the chair back in. He holds out a hand to shake, but I look the other way as if I’m looking for something.
“You’re welcome,” I hear him say as I walk the other way.
copyright Heather Day Gilbert–January 2009–all rights reserved