Gary Smothers 4818 words
Last night was a bad night for writing. I'm keeping this post short--I have a lot of work to do. I had posted on Facebook that I had wrote, then cut two pages. I had wrote that I couldn't even call it killing my word babies (writer lingo for the uninitiated). They weren't even sperm, but that glaze over a drunk's eyes. And in the morning, I sort of rolled over and looked at what I'd done. Yecch (SP?)... DELETE. Tonight I need to make up for this. I'd rather be watching Black Swan but I have to pay the price for crappy writing. Besides, the page bank is still at 0, maybe 1.
Submitted my novel today. Posted my blog on Facebook and Twitter. Still at 4 followers! I've posted a short story previously published in "The Alchemist Review" to remind myself that, sometimes, I can write.
Andrea wasn’t supposed to be here. Her father called it “Nigger town.” Her mother, “Colored town.” She said a quiet prayer of thanks for the heat wave that had saved hundreds of kids from the final three hours of school. On the way out the door she had imagined a daring jailbreak from all the horrors of the fourth grade—cursive writing, multiplication.
She stood in time-worn Converse, feeling the heat emanate from the roadway and looked to the legendary house at 22 Acacia Avenue. For months now she had trod blocks out of her way, risking punishment and the ghastly horrors which surrounded the house to simply stand here, to look, to wonder. Of course, some of the children had warned her about the demons, ghosts and homeless people. What if the ghosts caught her and ate her—everyone knows little girls are the tastiest. “There are scarier things than old houses,” she’d often responded.
A warm coastal breeze whispered through the eaves whipping the underlying kudzu like the soft downy hair of some lonely, precious child. What must it be like to be inside?
The house’s large white columns, chipped and worn, the gray undersides of the flecks of stone lying like dirty snow at their bases. She imagined the stout columns as the bars of a drawbridge gate similar to the castle pictured in her favorite library book. Keeping her out. Windows which seemed as large as her bedroom, boarded up—the houses eyes. Unruly branches of the hedge sticking out at haphazard angles like the extended arms of drowning souls.
She stepped towards the house, the warm salty breeze urging at her back. Upon reaching the red, buckled sidewalk she stopped and closed her eyes allowing the wind and the beating sun to warm her upturned face. This was her dream house: brilliant, stately columns to keep threats at bay; lavender curtains dancing outside in the breeze at her opened window; bumblebee populated honeysuckle stretching to the ground. She could make it this way, she nodded at the sun seeing this: herself in pig tails and a purple dress, dressed impossibly fine for such a task; paintbrush in hand, paint on her nose; a merry father in the background pantomiming how to stroke the brush. Her mother standing nearby pouring lemonade.
A horn honked.
“Get your ass home!” She opened her eyes at Dorvon’s voice. “What’d I tell you about messing around after school? You know’d you got work to do at home.” Dorvon’s anger fired at her back seeming to chase the sun away, the bright of day slipping away offering a muted world in its leave. She would not turn to face him. “You wantin’ to go to Hell for disobeying the parent that the good Lord saw fit to give to you? I’m going to see some people downtown. Be home when I get back!” Dorvon’s truck sputtered off into the distance.
She walked to the white fence that surrounded the house and, for the first time, stepped onto the weathered sidewalk.
The house at 22 Acacia Avenue had stood dormant for close to twelve years now, or so she’d been told. Once, the decrepit building had been home to the Scanlon clan, heirs to an old oil tycoon’s fortune and lavish estate. Once, before the murders. The exact nature of the crime had been extrapolated throughout the small mining village becoming a mosaic of events, the hairy vines on the house’s walls keeping the truth tucked within.
“Hey, what’re you doing here in my part of town?” Andrea turned to see a young black boy straddled on a chrome bicycle, brilliant red tennis shoes barely touching the ground. “Bad, bad story in there, girl. Some guy killed his family in that place.” She looked back to the house. “What my older brother told me. Spooky place. I gotta jet. Momma’s cooking supper.” He wheeled away and she watched him on down the pale street. In the distance a loud growl like that of Dorvon’s truck. She clenched her fists and stepped off the sidewalk.
“Hey! Wait,” she hollered after the boy just as he rounded a corner into the awaiting arms of the apartment complex. “What’s for supper!” She hollered. Watching. “Can I come,” she asked sagging in the street, her stomach growling with a primed hunger.
Alone now, no sound besides the hushing wind, she started after him. Towards home. Soon, she came to the rows and rows of red bricked apartments. Laughter floated on the hot breeze from box fans jammed into windows. The tinkling of silver-ware against plates. Probably, through one of these windows sits the little boy kicking his red shoes beneath the table.
The hot wind blew into her casting the clouds away to illuminate a painfully bright world. And then, quick as the arrival of brightness, the world dimmed once again.
Andrea seated herself in front of the only luxury item her residence held within its dirty walls, the television. She watched with simple delight as the characters she knew so well went about another zany adventure—all held within the tiny confines of their lovely TV house, within Andrea’s unlovely house, within 27 inches of RCA cabled-in futility. On the screen, little Maddie was crying and her older brother Steven was trying to cheer her up by making finger puppets fight. Mom and the Nanny were out shopping at Macy’s for Christmas presents. Her dad was making supper—and a mess. Hysterical.
Andrea laughed out loud.
Dorvon’s clunky footfalls sounded on the front porch and she rolled her eyes. He pushed the screen door open and lumbered inside, his enormous frame blocking the television screen for a seeming interminable time.
“If I don't pay back Sal, and soon…” He stepped into the kitchen stroked-tugging at his gray tufts of beard again and again, his green eyes shifting this way and that. He played the upper denture plate in his mouth showing two fanged incisors, then flipped the dental piece back into place. His wooden crucifix, home whittled, hung desperately from beneath his beard, Jesus’ feet dangling there. “I’m talking to myself. Andrea, where’s your momma?” He glowered at her, flipping the dental piece out of place again.
Andrea turned from him and concentrated on the portion of screen she could still see between his legs. Hearing the comedic results of the televised chaos she grinned nearly imperceptible. Perhaps, she mused, she too could help cheer Maddie up.
Dorvon stepped away from the television and she watched as he stepped heavy across the trash-strewn floor.
“The bathroom I’ll bet.”
She turned back to the televised family.
Dorvon pounded at the bathroom door. “Woman, I hope you ain’t getting’ high on my dime. We gonna need to give it to Sal to hold him off or my ass is grass. Seems the Lord’s struck us with a bit of a struggle. The economies for shit when the users ain’t using,” he growled.
On the television the credits were rolling past a freeze-framed shot of the sitcom family embraced in a flour fight.
“Woman!” He kicked at the door.
Andrea ran to the hallway. She grabbed onto Dorvon’s leg and clung to it, “Please don’t hurt her, daddy. Please. She’s been throwing up!”
“Dorvon,” her mother’s voice, separated only by the flimsy door with its fist-sized holes, sounded distant and immaterial, “It’s been days. Please.”
“You. Woman. That stuff’s earmarked. You better hadn’t used it yet. I swear, this reminds me of Jesus in the marketplace. He ended up kicking some ass.” Dorvon grasped the crucifix, his knuckles turning white. “Poor you’s sick. You didn’t do any dates today? No, you didn’t.” His eyes began their maddened darting and Andrea released his leg, backing against the wall. He pressed his weight into the door, the door creaking against his belly. Open this door or I’ll…”
He released the crucifix and turned his head to Andrea, “Git.”
Andrea laid in bed, eyes to the ceiling on the thin sliver of light which shot into the room from the kitchen.
“Let us not have another day like today, Cynthia.”
“Yeah, well you best leave my baby girl out of all this. She was just trying to protect her momma.”
“Sure, sure. Like her momma protects her all the time, junkie that she is.”
“I’m sick damn you,” her mother creaked. “I love her. More than you.”
Andrea’s face flushed. She breathed in easily. Someday, someday soon, her and her momma would leave Dorvon.
“Not more than your dope though.”
“That’s not true,” she wept.
“Woman, why you use? It’s very vex-e-cating to me. Sometimes I wonder about you.”
“Dorvon, I use to get away from you.”
“Hmm. And how’s that working for you?”
“I’m a junkie. Why do you sell?”
“It ain’t no sin to take advantage of…sinners. Like you. I sell them dreams. Wholesale.”
When all was silent, the cursing stale, and the tears dried, Andrea performed her sleeping routine. This time, she pictured the huge blackboard eraser of Mrs. Wilson’s erasing the day’s events. Herself then clapping the eraser against the side of the building, watching the dust float away in the breeze.
Eventually, with most everything erased, her thoughts returned to the one thing that always remained. The house. The legend behind it. She imagined herself as a spectator unbeknownst to the killer as he stalked through the wide halls with lustful murder on his mind. His ax stuck on a bed spring and he pulled at it with quiet midnight rage. It was freed.
Then, as always, he would turn to her, his face hidden by shadow, and she would run. Escape only to return someday when he was gone to make a home. And through her sleep filled vision, a part of her feeling herself at home in bed and the tingling in her feet where she’d stepped upon the glorious bricks of the house’s walk. Suddenly it became clear as the dream completed its revolution in her mind and she watched the little girl in the pigtails and the Mother with the lemonade. That, yes! She was the mother!
Andrea stood at the ruined sidewalk. She stared into the windows wondering if someone was watching her watching them. Even if they were ghosts. Maybe it was the black boy playing and watching her—rooting her on. She turned and took a final scan of the street and the brick housing units further down, but the boy and his bicycle were nowhere to be found. She took a breath and stepped up onto the sidewalk. Still alive and at the base of the faded wooden steps, she carefully scanned the windows ahead of her. Each warped plank creaking with its own distinct weariness as she climbed up. She looked to the reddish-brown doorknob planning to throw the door open then step back (for fear of being grabbed and eaten), and gaze through the surely cob-webbed covered doorway. She grabbed the rusty doorknob, took a breath, and turned it. She pushed the door, it wouldn’t budge. She turned the knob in the other direction. Pulled. Pushed. Twisted the knob again. Kicked the door. She stepped back, breathing heavily now, “Just a junky old house.” She nodded her head.
In the window’s dusty glass, the reflection of a man immediately behind her. She spun around backing against the house. The impossibly large elderly man furrowed his thick creased brow and, smiling, bent to her.
“Can’t get in, little one,” he spoke warmly.
“You’re a homeless guy.” She spoke quickly, searching his deeply set his eyes for clues of sinister plans.
“Well, yeah. But I like to call this my home. Can’t get in though. Been trying for quite some time now.”
The old man stepped aside and Andrea jogged down the steps, leaping the final two. She walked quickly down the buckled sidewalk and turned to face him.
He seemed to get a rise out of this action and chuckled so. “This’d be a nice place to live. It was nice folks that lived here, y’know. Scanlons. Once’t.”
Still facing the man Andrea stepped off the walk and onto the pale street.
“You knew them?”
“You must be old.”
“C’mon now. Call me Clive. Not old.” Hands to his sides, held low, he stepped slowly from the porch. He nodded wistful the turned to face up at the steep house. “Old enough, though, to remember. It was a tra-ged-y.” His posture slackened as if he were a slowly deflating balloon. He breathed in deeply, inflating again. “A lot of pain caused. You know, child, one can almost feel it.”
“That’s not at all what I feel.” Suddenly Andrea found herself beside him staring up to the spot where her lavenders curtains often fluttered in the wind. “I pretend this place a lot. And I don’t never see sad.”
“So much sadness,” he cracked out weakly.
“Tell me.” She sniffed at the air for it seemed as if honeysuckle were about.
Andrea wiped a sheen of sweat from her brow and looked from the television to the window unit air conditioner Dorvon had been claiming to fix soon. Always so hot. The bathroom door shut and the clinking of Dorvon’s unbuckled belt sounded his approach. He stopped at her side and thumped her in the back of the head.
“Hey, dummy, ain’t you got no chores to tend to? If it ain’t this TV it’s that house over in nigger town. Ain’t you got no friends?”
She scooted over a foot or so and picked up the remote control. She switched the channel just in time to observe a man tying a careful knot and tossing the large rope over a wooden beam. She placed the remote down.
“Dorvon, let her be,” her mother offered, stepping from the bathroom and adjusting her bra beneath her shirt. “She’s not bothering us.”
He jerked hard at his beard staring down at Andrea, herself staring back at him. She looked away as his eyes began their maddened darting. Huffing, he strode into the kitchen and sat at the table with her mother.
The man on the television climbed a stepladder.
“Make me any money today, woman?”
“I’m sick, Dorvon. I need, you know? You know.”
The television man extended one shaky leg.
“Look at this place, woman. A mess. You’re sick, not working, not keeping a Godly clean home like it says to in Genesis.” He paused for effect. “Little miss TV is gonna have to start picking up the slack sooner or later.”
“The slack.” Her mother sneered.
“What’s slack?” Andrea asked.
“Quiet!” Dorvon barked. “This adult bid’ness.”
The man on channel five took an air walk step off the chair. Just in time, Andrea looked from the screen wincing at the sound of the chair’s falling. The electrifying music of sudden television death.
“Little miss TV, in there, I saw her down in nigger town yesterday, standing in the middle of the road by that old Scanlon house. You wantin’ raped or something, child?”
Like life imitating cheesy television art, a chair crashed to the floor in the kitchen. Andrea arose with a start, somehow more sweat poring over her. Her mother lay on the filthy linoleum, the floor seeming electric gasping, eyes a solid white.
“She’s sick, papa!”
“Woman!” He stood there above her nodding. He crossed himself, “Woman!”
He turned to Andrea and, lowering his voice conspiratorially, stated, “It’s devils that’s got her.” He bent to her then backed away just as a green spout of rancid bile shot from her mouth.
“Papa! She needs some stuff! Papa, she’s real, real bad sick!”
“Oh no.” He shook his head, lowering himself back down, “No. Demons, Andrea. Same pricks that got her to a using in the first place.”
The death music of the end credits offering, quite kindly, an apt soundtrack.
Dorvon grumbled as he hefted Cynthia to a seated position, her head lolling uselessly. “There, she’s fine. But not her soul.”
“Andrea, go to the porch and fetch me my rope coil.”
She reached to her mother and stroked her sweating forehead.
“Do what I say, child!” Andrea wished that this were one of her shows that she could turn off, forget about in a few days. “This ain’t one of them TV shows. You can’t turn this off. It’s a demon. Go!”
“Honey, just a little please. We can spare it,” her mother gurgled.
Dorvon said a prayer, “Jesus fucking Christ!”
Andrea sobbed, lowering her mouth to her mother’s ear, “Mama?”
“Bah!” Dorvon lumbered away, the knick knacks on the wall rattling, the floor sinking beneath his weight.
“Mama, me an you, we can run away like they do on the TV sometime.” Her mother’s eyes opened. Bloodshot empty vessels of sight. Her blue irises shifted upwards, jitterbugging in their sockets. Andrea’s head jerked back in a quick snap then reeled forward just as quickly. A clump of her hair snake curled and frazzled fell to the floor beside her. Dorvon’s boot racked hard against her ribs clearing her from her mother. He growled pushed her further away.
“I heard that and it’s the Lord gave me the right to do this. Book of John.” Dorvon spun her around to face him and bent her over his knee. He breathed heavily as he ripped down Andrea’s shorts and pink underwear.
“Mama!” Andrea squirmed, helpless atop the rolling mound of knee bone beneath her. Fingernails tearing the flesh of her back in long plowed streaks.
“It’s time to teach you some of them ten commandments. Loyalty!” He swatted at Andrea’s rump, his entire hand covering her backside. “Respect!” Another smack reporting sharply off the barren walls.
And then Andrea ceased her struggle. She clenched her eyes tightly as the story told from an old man who called himself Clive unfurled itself in her mind like the curly pink ribbon she wore in her visions.
With each swat, her sweat-glazed skin slipped further from Dorvon’s grasp. With each hand fall, the characters in the afternoon’s tales came to life in front of honeysuckle-strewn white walls and lemon-yellow daisies.
With much effort Andrea lifted her head and scanned across the nicotine stained ceiling. “Now you listen to me, child.” Dorvon’s bearded face, mouth agape, stained incisors filled her view. “I thought they was one demon, but they’s two. You lashed out at me.” Andrea rubbed at the sore spot near the base of her skull wondering if her brain had been damaged. “Listen now, hear? Your mama’s locked in the bathroom, tied to the bottom of the terlet. Do not let her out. No matter what she says. Do not let her out. Hear? It’s like Jesus once said, ‘for the devil will lie his red ass off, he is a legionist’. Now I’m leaving for a bit. Work. It’s in you and your mama’s best interest that she stay tied to the terlet.” Dorvon prodded her, his eyes widening.
Andrea nodded. He lumbered away. She looked down the darkened hallway, dim light from the bathroom spilling like a trap upon the floor. Slowly, she crawled and laid in the light.
“Mama?” Breathless from her crawl, she repeated herself only to be frightened at the silence which followed. Perhaps she lay there naked, a hooked tail dangling recklessly into the blue water. Freshly sprouted horns peeking from her mound of sweaty hair. Or maybe she was simply as bruised as she herself was. Probably.
And then, “I pulled your panties and shorts up for you. You was out cold.” She sounded, remarkably, normal.
“Momma, let’s run away from him.”
“No, baby. Marriage is tough sometime.”
“On this cartoon once, a magic drink cured this princess. Once. Maybe if I find your stuff you can take it and be cured and then we can run and then…”
“It seems tough after he gets into your back with them nails of his and starts yelling and stomping around. He means the best for us, though. He’s trying like hell to keep us together through a tough time.”
“We could get out of here now, find someplace to live. A nicer man for you. A house.
Just like on TV.” The measured silence broken only by her mother’s muted sobs sounding ever more distant for the water in the toilet she cried over.
“No. Your dad’s out there making a sale. A big one. He gets a janglin’ in his pocket and he’s always better. You’ll see. He’s gonna fix that air conditioner.”
“Mama, can I let you out?”
“Yes. I’d like that, baby.”
“Will we run away?” Andrea backed from the door. The still shadow of her mother playing out the silence.
“Yes. We’ll run away. Get a new house. A nicer man.”
“Mama? Are you telling the truth this time.”
“Yes. A new life, Babydoll. Open the door now.”
Andrea arose, left the house, and walked the pale moonlit road past the brick homes and their happy din and their box fan breezes and their nicer men. And she began to run only to stop at 22 Acacia Avenue.
Andrea leaned in the moonlight against the porch’s loose railing and stared up at the back of Clive’s head. Again, he was looking up at the house.
“You’ve been crying, little one.”
Andrea brushed her foot across the rough wooded porch. “I never been here at dark. Guess I should be scared.”
Clive turned to face her. He took two slow steps and sat on the stairs. Andrea sat down on the far side of the stairs.
“What’s troubling you? Where have those wide, wondering eyes gone to?”
“I decided tonight that I don’t wonder no more.” She petted at the wood, tiny splinters entering her finger with a tickle of pain. “I…hate my parents.”
“Family.” Clive hung his head low and breathed a heavy sigh. “I’ve lost my family. Now look at me. Homeless. Don’t take them for granted.”
Andrea turned and raised the back of her shirt. She felt Clive’s eyes on her studying the moonlit scabbed grooves. She lowered her shirt.
“Who did this?” Clive tipped his head forward.
“My dad. Mama didn’t much help.”
“Where was she?”
“She was there.”
“My God. I wish I could’ve helped. My dear, I could never stand aside while someone hurt you—if you were my little girl.” He breathed out raggedly, placing his prayer clasped hands over his nose.
“Then help me.”
“I can’t help you, my dear. I am a man without a home. Useless. Something to be frightened of. Ashamed of. Oh, Andrea, how I wish I could, could save you.”
“Fine then,” she spat. “Then I will live here!” She arose and went to the porch. Taking a breath she grasped the rusty doorknob. It turned with ease. She pushed the door and stepped inside.
There were no cobwebs to be stepped through. No bloody mouth phantoms or beasts unknown. Instead, the smell of chocolate chips filled her. Across the sitting room replete with a tall bookshelf, circular rug in the center of the room with a lazing dog atop it, a high-backed wing chair with sweet cherry smoke puffing into the air; lay a wash of light from the kitchen. A woman entered the room and, stopping just short of the lazing collie, extended a pitcher of lemonade towards Andrea. A man arose from the chair and nodded to the woman. He stepped around Andrea and went to the door peering outside. “He’s gone.”
“He only means well.” She stated flatly to the man. “Lemonade, Andrea?”
Andrea nodded slowly.
“Have a seat, dear.” The man stood now at Andrea’s side. He tugged playfully at her hair, took a step back, and smiled warmly. Pools of sadness filled his eyes.
Andrea walked to the chair and sat down. She brushed at her hair amazed at the silky ribbons now there.
“Honey,” the woman began, the man going to her side, “we wanted you to be comfortable. Lemonade? Cookies?” She nodded towards a table at the side of the chair. A brilliant platter sat there, steaming cookies atop it, a glass of lemonade tinkling with melting ice beside it. “You’re comfortable, yes? Not afraid of us?”
“You don’t scare me.” Andrea beamed.
The man placed his hands on his hips, “You must stay away from Clive. He has very bad intentions.”
“Please! Don’t scare her.”
“She needs to be scared. The worst of intentions, Andrea.” And with that the man broke down into a face quaking cry and left the room. The light from the kitchen extinguished.
“You remind him, us, of our daughter.”
“The one that was killed here.”
“The one. Well, all of us were killed of course. Our little girl, she never found her way back to us.” The woman smiled and looked down to her apron. From the kitchen, sobs. “But we’ve enjoyed your visits to the house. We worry about you. You should go away and never come back, much as we’d like you to though…” Again, she looked down to her apron fussing with a frayed end of string.
The man returned to the room. He walked wide and brisk scaring the dog into a yelping trot. “Go!” He screamed, bending his soaked face to Andrea. “Go! Now!”
Andrea jumped from the chair and ran to the door. As the door slammed shut behind her she heard the man yelling for her to never return.
Andrea’s mouth opened capturing her tears. She hoped, she prayed, that it wasn’t happening. She stared at the dark shadow at the foot of her bed hoping that one of her nightmares hadn’t awakened with her.
The click, click of Dorvon’s dental plate flipping out of place.
But in a dream, things never were so clear.
His looming presence closed down on her so that she could see his bloodshot eyes crazy-darting, his bared incisors buried in the tufts of his beard. He groaned, smiling of evil. Without willing them to, Andrea’s legs shut. Her heart raced at the realization that she’d been tied. The twine scratched at her wrists as she worked her hands uselessly. She thought of Mrs. Wilson’s magical eraser. Imagined it erasing. Erasing.
He stepped closer to her bed. “You’re mama ain’t no good to me in that there terlet. You gotta pick up the slack. Get some dates. My concubine. I must marry us divine first for it is my right. It says so. In the Bible.”
“Mama?” She finally blurted out.
“You two get along.” Her mother stated simply in her muted toilet bound way.
“Mama!” His meaty paw closed over her mouth.
“He’s gonna let your mama take her magic stuff in a little bit, you do this. It’s for the better for all of us.” Her mother reasoned. Dorvon nodded, grinned.
Her body went limp. In a dream, things never were so clear.
Vaguely, she wondered if the ribbons were still in her hair.
That night, beneath the blood red of the Autumn moon, she returned to the house seeking Clive.
“The reason they fear me, well, I killed them all. Their daughter too. Can you blame them for fearing me? I was sick.”
“My mother, she’s sick too.”
“Sick. But not like me.”
“Dorvon, he…” And she told Clive. When she was finished they cried together on the steps of the house. Long into the night, when the moon went down and the red glow of the sun crawled into the clefts of sky they talked.
“You know, Andrea. I want you to stay here. With us. I always have. I just never knew how. I’ve wondered—if I could bring her back, their little girl Jessica, could I too return inside and dwell with them forever? Them with a new little girl. Like you. To spend the remaining days. Whatever that is.”
“That sounds good, Clive.”
“I’d be your uncle, you know.” He winked. “But you’re alive.” He winked again.
Clive was nowhere to be seen when, in the dawn, she returned to the house at 22 Acacia Avenue. She threw the length of rope that had bound her over a metal rod she imagined had once held Mrs. Scanlons’ flower pottery. She balanced her bare feet on the guardrail and tied the rope at the top. Then she tied the other half around her neck. Without another thought she stepped off the railing. Her body rounded in slow circles with the inertia of her step. She concentrated on Clive and the family that had once lived here. The house. She hoped, even prayed that maybe, just maybe.
The snap of a bolt, the creak of wood. Slowly, she spun towards the door. She closed her eyes. From somewhere the sweet, sweet smell of honeysuckle.