Here’s a longer chapter to tide you over!
I finally gave in to the desire to touch her hair. She seemed to sense my presence, even as she fumbled for the light. Then I just felt this burning desire to pull her toward me, so I did. I think she fainted then, so I caught her before she hit the floor. I had to touch her hair, it goes so far down her back. I couldn’t help it. Then I was sitting near her, stroking it, talking to her. I really didn’t think she could hear, until her eyes opened. She couldn’t see me. I heard someone coming, so I got out of the way. It was enough.
When I woke up, I was home. He was hovering over me, pressing a cold washcloth to my forehead.
“Aurora? Honey? What on earth happened? I got home from work and Daisy was here with Phoebe, who must’ve gotten off the bus and walked herself home. She said you were knocked out up at her house and you were okay but still not awake. I wanted to take you to the hospital, but I guess Daisy had been a nurse and she said you were still responsive, only sleeping or something. Are you okay?”
I look up at his exceptionally dark blue eyes, and those curls, and really have no idea what to tell him. He looks so concerned, and he just spouted off almost the biggest paragraph I’ve ever heard come out of his mouth.
“It’s Dollie,” I say, rather incoherently.
“What?” he says.
“The old woman is Dollie.”
“Oh, okay,” he says, and sits down on the end of the couch. It seems dark out. I wonder what time it is.
“Well,” he says, then sighs. “Well, do you feel okay? Phoebe is in bed, but she was really worried about you. She has some kind of phobia about that house. But she likes Dollie well enough, it seems.”
“Okay,” I say, not sure if that’s the right answer. I feel a bit light-headed still.
“I made chicken noodle soup,” he says helpfully. He reaches over to brush my hair out of my face. Why does that remind me of something?
“Well,” he says again, looking completely clueless as to what to do next.
“I could have a little soup,” I say.
“Alright,” he says, and jumps up.
At least his mother taught him how to fix his own food sometimes.
That night, he puts me on the bed, very gently, for a man his size. He crawls right in next to me, and curls around me. He lays one big bicep over my own scrawny arm, protectively. I should feel safe. I should feel loved. Instead, I just feel a constant yearning to find out what that poor ghost up at Dollie’s house needs to tell me. I vaguely remember a voice, not like anything I’ve ever heard. But I can’t remember what it said.
The next day, Phoebe is very quiet as she comes into my room to say goodbye. “Are you better, Mother?” she asks.
“I’m really feeling a lot better, Phoebe.”
“Are you going to meet me at the bus stop?”
I see the shadow flit across her huge eyes.
“Was Miss Dollie there yesterday?”
“No,” she says, and I see her lip quaver. Please don’t start crying right before school. “I had to walk down the road by myself. But I waited till the bus left.”
I’m not sure why that’s important, but it seems important to her. “Well, good job, Phoebe. Did you like school?”
At this, her eyes light up. “Yes, I like my teacher. She’s called Miss something, but we can call her Miss P. for short. She has yellow hair just like mine.”
I can hear him calling her. “Alright, Phoebe, you go have another great day. I’ll be there to meet you.”
“Okay, Mother,” she says, and reaches up and hugs me.
He peeks into the door. “You alright?” he says.
“Just fine,” I say. He’d brought me eggs and toast in bed this morning, as well as the coffee.
I decide to wait till 10. Then I’ll get myself ready. I’m not sure how Dollie is going to react to my coming back up there. She seems completely oblivious to the goings-on at her famously haunted house. Maybe I can convince her I actually am an uber-devoted housecleaner.
It takes me till past eleven to get up the hill. It took awhile to shower and put on my makeup, since I refuse to go anywhere without at least foundation and mascara. Plus, I have to take it easy up the hill steps. I go up kind of slant-wise, looking below and above before the next step. I think I’ll come out at the front door.
Sure enough, I make the right turn and emerge from the trees at the front stoop. I ring the doorbell, but Dollie doesn’t appear directly on cue this time. I decide to look around. There is a little row of windows going down the sides of the door, presumably so one can see who is waiting outside. They are so skinny and cloudy I wonder if anyone can see through them anymore. I look in the glass as closely as I can without pressing my nose against it. That would rub off my foundation and give me something else to have to clean.
I see something moving in the hallway, something small and black. I look a bit closer. What on earth? It looks like a big spider on the ceiling. But it’s too big to be a spider.
These blasted windows, I can’t tell what I’m looking at. Maybe a bat? But I didn’t think bats were that big. I decide to throw caution to the wind and press my face against the glass at the least warped part. Now I can see perfectly well what it is.
It is a black cat, walking upside down on the ceiling. And it is coming toward the door.
I think about running, but steel myself and start ringing the doorbell furiously. At the very least, it might hurt the freakish cat’s hearing.
After what seems like ten minutes, Dollie opens the door. She looks at me and says, “What on earth are you doing out today? Didn’t that man of yours tell you to stay home? You were passed out cold, dear.”
“I know, I know,” I say, trying to think what to say next. “I just felt really good and energetic and thought…I could get your groceries,” I add.
“Oh, well, if you’re going to town, I did make a list,” she says. “Come on and sit in the parlor. No cleaning for you today!” I follow her in, checking out the ceiling. There is nothing to be seen.
“I was thinking you had a cat?” I say.
“Oh, no, dearie, I’m so allergic to animals, I can’t get anywhere near them. My brothers were always trying to give me puppies from their hunting dogs. ‘You need some company,’ they’d say. But no, I never had anything of the sort.”
“Oh,” I say.
“Now you just sit down there and I’ll run get the list. I have it up on my dresser,” she says.
I decide to sit completely still and try not to think of anything I have seen in the rooms right next to me.
Dollie returns amazingly quickly with the list. Mostly old woman food, like corn meal and beans. There are also a few cleaning things on there.
“Here’s a $50,” she says. “Just bring me the change with the groceries.”
I really don’t feel like shopping, but she’s not going to let me clean today anyway. I could stop by the drug store and get that Light Espresso lipgloss I’ve been wanting, while I’m out.
“Thank you,” I say.
“No–thank you,” she says, and wipes her hands on her apron. It’s green today, with polka dots. On her hand, I notice a large red ring I’d never seen before.
“What a gorgeous ring,” I say, shocked again by her good taste in jewelry, if nothing else.
“Oh, it’s a genuine Alexandrite,” she says. “My brother got it when he was in Russia during the war.
Genuine Alexandrite! And that size! That would be enough money to buy a whole new wardrobe for her!
She smiles. “You know, there’s more to life than things, though. I don’t even wear it all the time. It’s just special because it makes me remember him.”
I smile back, hopefully convincingly. “Oh, I know what you mean,” I say, and head for the door. As she closes it behind me, I turn and see that smile still plastered on her face.
copyright Heather Day Gilbert–January 2009–all rights reserved