I’m posting the next 2 chapters because people are snowed in and have been asking to read more! I’m so glad you are enjoying this story. Just a disclaimer–this is an adult book, with some adult scenarios. Also, it has some pretty creepy scenarios!
I am really getting impatient. I have nothing to do here by myself. This house is far too clean and empty for me. But I cannot leave it. She has to come to me.
I decide to head up to Dollie’s again and ask some more questions. Maybe she’ll let me poke around some more. I really don’t know why I want to do this.
But first, I pick up a loaf of fresh bread at the little bakery, “Le Petite Patisserie.” The owner is actually French. How she wound up Wood Knob, I’ll never know. The door is wood, painted sky blue, and there is a huge red flower pot full of mums by the door. I pick up some croissants for myself, as well.
When I get to Dollie’s, I park my car at the bottom of the hill, and decide to walk up the pond side. I have a phobia about driving straight up hills. I hate roller-coasters for the same reason.
Dollie opens the door, again on the first ring. She is wearing a navy polyester skirt today, with a gingham blouse. This time she has her blue hair pulled back in a red bandanna handkerchief.
“Oh, hello! It’s you!” she says, and starts pushing her sleeves down. Apparently she has been cleaning.
I hand her the bread. “Just wanted to stop in for a minute,” I say.
“Of course. Come in, come in!” she says, and gestures toward the parlor.
Instead, I find myself heading toward the dining room.
“Like that room, do you?” she asks.
“It’s so lovely,“ I say, then decide to get real with her. “I’m just trying to figure out what I saw. Have you ever seen any ghosts or anything here, Dollie?”
She squints up her eyes a bit. “No, I never have. I’ve always wanted to. People tell me the most fantastic stories about this house. But I’ve never been bothered by any of it. Guess I have to miss the fun!”
I don’t know if I’d look at it quite that way, given the history of this place.
“That mirror…where did you get it?” I say.
“Oh, it was here when I bought the house,” she says. “It fits in so well, I didn’t even want to move it.”
“I can see that,” I say.
“It’s even the cherry, like my dining room set,” she continues. “It’s a bit warped, but you wouldn’t know it.”
I go over and look at it again. All I see standing behind me is Dollie, who starts dusting the table with a rag in her apron pocket.
“I wish I could see more of your antiques,” I lie.
“Oh, this house is quite full of them,” she says cheerily. “Feel free to look around. If you go straight down the hall you’ll find my kitchen. Upstairs are the bedrooms. To the left down the hall, past the parlor, is the door to the left part of the house. I usually keep it closed off, since there’s not much in there. And to the right down the hall is a door to the right section. It has some paintings in it that were here when I came. I have my cleaning lady dust them once in awhile. It’s too expensive to keep the whole house heated when it gets cold.”
I assume she’s talking about the two turrets you can see on the outside of the house. Maybe I should check those out.
“Could you show me the paintings?” I ask.
“Sure, dear,” she says. She takes a last swipe at the table and leads us out of the room. I glance back at the mirror and see nothing.
We walk down the hall and to the right door. Dollie twists the old metal knob and it creaks open. The walls are huge and dark, since there is only one large fluorescent light on the side of one wall, and the walls are painted dark red. The paintings go about halfway up toward the ceiling. Most of them are poorly done landscapes, which make me think some mother along the way had an “artist” child and felt the need to show off his work. There are a few family portraits, but one painting catches my eye. It is of a thin man with dark hair and eyes. He is posed next to a woman sitting on a chair. He has his hand on her shoulder. And she has astonishingly red hair.
“I really need to get back to work,” Dollie says apologetically. “I have my sister coming to visit tonight. She’ll be staying for a week. The cleaning lady was supposed to be here by now.”
“Oh, of course,” I say. I don’t know if I should stay or go. I want to look at that painting more closely. But I’m just a little nervous of a repeat of last time.
I decide to follow Dollie back out. I can’t handle feeling someone behind me again. Dollie turns off the light, but before I go out the door I look around. The light from the hall shines on something. It looks like the painting. But it is actually a face. It is his face.
I can’t pretend to know what it’s like for her. The anguish of leaving her family out of this quest, the feelings of fear and yet fascination. Unlike her, I have always been alone. I have been perfectly content here in this house. I have only lately started to think about leaving, about going somewhere new. Somewhere with her.
I cannot explain to him what is going on, but I am so distracted these days. He seems to sense that something is not right with me. He actually found a school for Phoebe, and she will start next week. I have to get some school shopping done. I used to always go to Target. I have a feeling there’s no Target anywhere in these mountains.
“How did you do it?” I ask him one night.
“Do what?” he asks, looking up from the local Times. He always reads when he eats dinner. It bothers me, but it shouldn’t, since he’s always eating alone anyway.
“Get her into that school,” I say. “Did they not go over her records? Or do any tests?”
“No records needed, since she’d only been in preschool. They took my word on that. And I guess they don’t test here either. It’s just a public school, Aurora.”
Of course he is insinuating that it isn’t as hoity-toity as the kindergarten I’d hoped to get her into back in the city. He’s gloating, I know it. So public school is good enough for his girl now.
Whatever. I have a PMS headache, and I don’t even want to go there. I turn to get a bath.
“What about Phoebe?” he asks. What on earth is he talking about?
“What?” I say.
“Tonight,” he says. “Who’s putting her to bed?”
Oh, right. It’s almost 10:00 and she’s been surprisingly quiet up in her room.
“I guess you can,” I say. “I don’t feel like it.”
I’m almost through the French doors when he says to me, “I don’t feel like it either.”
He never talks that way to me. Who does he think he is?
“Someone needs to check on her. She’s way too quiet,” he says.
“And just what someone is that?” I ask.
“Well, I’m eating,” he says, as if that justifies everything.
“And I’m going to get a bath,” I say.
He jumps up. For just one minute I wonder if he’s thinking about hitting me. He doesn’t grab me, though. He just moves in front of me.
“You will go and check on your daughter, right now,” he says, very quietly and calmly.
I think about saying something, just one more thing, but decide not to. I head toward Phoebe’s room and climb the ladder to the loft.
Her door is closed and the light is off. I can faintly see the glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling. He helped her make a Big Dipper and Orion’s belt with them.
“Phoebe?” I ask. No answer. I flick the light switch.
Apparently she’s been playing Barbies, but she’s currently laying across the bed. I can see a family scenario in her dollhouse. The little girl Barbie is also on her bed. The daddy is at the kitchen table. The mommy is naked, in her room, with red lipstick smeared all over her chest. She looks like she’s drowning in blood. But maybe I’m just seeing things that aren’t there.
“Phoebe, what is going on here?”
She turns, and her eyes are red, like she’s been crying. “Mother, why do you keep going to the purple house?”
How did she know I’ve been back? She wasn’t even here.
“What do you mean?” I ask, and sit down next to her, trying to get in a motherly mood.
“I mean,” she says, and looks right at me with her big grape green eyes, “I mean that I’ve been having nightscares that are bad about it.”
She got that word off some show, and still can’t remember the correct term is “nightmares”.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” I say, hopefully reassuringly. “Why do you think Mother shouldn’t go back there?” Maybe she knows something I don’t. Maybe she’s a psychic child.
“Because something bad will happen to you,” she almost whispers, and puts her head in her hands and sobs.
“What happened to the Barbie?” I can’t stop myself from asking her.
“That’s enough,” I hear him say from the doorway. So he’s followed me up here, to make sure I’m doing a good job of parenting.
Phoebe continues to sob, and I pat her head a bit. He looks at me strangely, then says, “Just go get your bath.”
Whatever, again. My headache isn’t getting any better in here.
The next day, I get dressed up in my best black Banana Republic shirt, and the Seven for All Mankind jeans I bought when I was working. They still fit, because every morning I’m sure to do 40 minutes on the treadmill. I will not get old and fat and unfashionable as long as I can help it. I find some Gymboree leggings for Phoebe and a little minidress to go over them. We both put on our boots and head for town. She seems to have forgotten about last night. He must have spent another hour in there with her, talking.
I drive all over town, even down some side roads named “Lily Pond Road,” or “Mechanic Road,” almost all guaranteed to be winding and dead ends. There is nothing like a Target. All there is, in the center of town, is a Big Kmart. Kmart! I guess I’ll have to go in and get some kind of school stuff. We have a list, and she’ll probably be using it soon, since school already started.
I find pretty much everything in the art supplies aisle. Phoebe is shockingly well-behaved. She walks alongside the cart, instead of climbing in and out of it like she usually does. It’s almost like she wants to be close to me.
As I wander through the kids’ shoes, wondering if I should buy some rubber-smelling new tennis shoes for Phoebe, I see Dollie in the women’s section. Phoebe sees her too, and tries to scrunch under me.
“Hello there,” I say, and wave. Dollie looks up from her cart that has only one package of toilet paper in it, and says, “Oh, hi!”.
“Is your sister here yet?” I ask.
“She decided not to come,” she says. “And my cleaning lady never showed up. I’m afraid she got pregnant. These young girls always are.”
I have no idea how to respond to this, given the fact that Phoebe is nearby. I look down, and she has her hands over her ears anyway, and is humming.
“I’m so sorry,” I say. “Can I help?” I have no idea why that popped out.
“Well, I could use some help cleaning and dusting my house. But I usually have someone come in once a week. Usually they bring groceries, too. And supplies. That’s why I have to be out shopping today.” She looks rather pained by the thought of shopping on her own.
“Well,” I say, and look down. Phoebe is now starting to climb into the bottom rack on the cart. “Phoebe has to start school next week. Maybe I could come over sometime and help, just till you can find someone regularly.”
I realize there is only one reason I’m offering help. I hate cleaning, despise it. I always let my husband do the cleaning. His mother taught him when he was a boy. She had to give them chores, with all those children. I just want to figure out what that ghost is trying to tell me. I know it’s a ghost. I saw him in the painting. He probably likes me because I have red hair like his wife. Maybe he has unfinished business, like the ghosts in movies.
Dollie starts nodding furiously. She seems relieved at the idea of not having to go out and shop again. “That would be wonderful,” she says. “Just stop by sometime next week.”
“Okay,” I say, and start wheeling my cart away. Phoebe isn’t that heavy, but it surely makes it more difficult to push her when she’s crammed in the bottom like dead weight.
That night I tell him when he comes in the room. He seems in a mellow mood, sort of sending me come-hither glances. He can do that with those blue eyes somehow.
“I’m going to be doing some part-time work,” I say.
“You are? How did you find something so fast?”
“It sort of dropped in my lap. You know, helping an elderly housebound woman. She’s actually our neighbor on the hill I was telling you about.”
I throw that “housebound” part in, hoping it makes her sound more desperate for my help.
“Well, that will be nice. What do you have to do?”
“Just clean, get groceries, that sort of thing.”
I see him squelch a grin. “That sounds nice,” he says. I know he’s wondering if I even know how to clean a toilet.
“I used to be single, you know,” I say.
“Yes, and you had a very helpful roommate, as I recall.”
Tina had frequently picked up the slack for me as far as apartment chores went. But I didn’t think he’d known that.
“C’mon, Aury, I’m just kidding.”
He only calls me that when he wants something. Of course he’s in the mood, at this time of the month.
“Headache,” I say.
He comes a bit closer, and touches my hair. He is looking at me intently, but I don’t look up from my dresser mirror. He turns and leaves the room. Why do men have such one-track minds?
copyright Heather Day Gilbert–January 2009–all rights reserved