This snippet is probably not in order. Sorry about that. It’s the cost of having snippets straight from the forge, if you will.
That evening I spent digging through old newspaper clippings in Frank’s office. Yes, both Phil and Frank had separate offices– Phil’s inevitably looked like a tornado hit it, save the fact that the floors still passable. But her rolltop desk was an impenetrable mountain peak of paper, binders, receipts, tchotchkes and old books. Frank had acres of open space by comparison– he had a big flat top executive table and a narrower side table making an all embracing corner of workable area.
There was an old leather blotter, a nice library light with a tubular green shade, a hutch framed the second desk and had neat cubbies with well organized slots, a dish for paperclips, a mug full of pens, a taller beer stein had scissors, rulers and even a set of slide rules and an engineer’s ruler and a couple of compasses. A large naval compass in a chunk of weathered glass stood in for a paperweight nearly as big as the paper itself, though all it weighed down was the latest balance sheet booklet for Sweeney financial empire. The farm balance sheet, the taxes, his business, her business, the alfalfa and clover tally, the eggs purchased by the restaurant down the street, the few dollars given over to the neighbor kids who harvested them every Monday evening.
It was time to collect the money from the box, I realized. I had entries to make, such as my last purchase of fish food, and the new delivery of frozen mice that was no doubt collecting frost in the vet’s freezer. The single vet appointment for Zanzibar, and Fuseli’s checkup after dental surgery. The goat chow was getting low, and I needed to record my next withdrawal from the feed bank for the cows. I noted that some of it was already recorded in a thin spidery hand that looked almost too small to be of human origins.
I really needed to get my act together, if they were even doing the paperwork for me. I felt better because I had done the cows this morning, including the milking, and the ritual passing out of dishes and fresh milk. The rest I put into the chiller, and from there, I’d dose out some for myself and some for the pasteurizer. I wonder which of the barns housed the summer feed for the cows. Sure they had grass and clover in pasture, but apparently they liked to feed them, too. Maybe it was a milking thing.
That was when I found the files on the history of the Irish Hills– and the sad record of the various amusement parks and shutting down of the attractions. “The Blarney Isle” the property that Phil managed though not generally open to the public, wasn’t the only casualty. She had articles about every major attraction– even the twin towers and saga of the Spite Tower, and the popularity of the Wagon Train, run by a War hero and movie star, the tenacity of the Mystery Spot, who was Sherrill’s most famous client. Sarah had deals with a couple of the owners for horse trails through some of them… odd that some of Sarah’s paperwork was in there, too. I blinked.
Oh, yeah. Uncle Frank, was an accountant. Sure, he did the blog thing, but he also did taxes and wrote up contracts– so he’d wanted to be a financial lawyer at one time? Funny how I thought of him as a writer and not a sharky bean counter. I saw that Sarah and a few others got a discount for yard maintenance. So many absentee landlords. I suppose we were lucky enough that the old sites weren’t just plowed under and turned into subdivisions.
And there was the trouble with the Old Mill Bar and their sign being too near the road, blocking other signs of a couple attractions down the road. Seemed like such a big deal back then, I saw from the clippings. If only they knew. But perhaps it’s best they did not.
I spent the rest of the night perusing them, and stumbled to bed– which was fortunately not far down that narrow hall. I collapsed and shortly found a cadre of furry sentries making sure I was safe in my sleep. They couldn’t protect me from disturbing dreams.
The next day, I got up early (again) and did all my feedings and various chores, then chilled over second breakfast, which must have been invented by farmers. Wasn’t quite 10 o’clock yet, but I’d earned it. Strong coffee and a little hot cereal and fresh milk, still sweet from the cow. Oh, and a doughnut from yesterday, only slightly stale, but still tasty. it was even better soaked in milk.
I grabbed the old walking stick and headed out– straight to the cat this time. Then I was going to check that property thoroughly. Just to make matters more disturbing, a scraggly weed was growing out of the eye socket of the cast concrete cat, washed old bone grey by weather and time. Paint hadn’t adhered well, and Phil was ever debating on whether she should repaint this one, or remove it.
The creepiness factor was inconsistent with the other statuary, and was clearly some kind of last ditch effort to add some literary panache. It was the Cheshire cat, grinning wide, yet oddly looking up. Along gangly weed danled from one soil filled eye socket. The dirt made the already skeletal head look down right creepy. The land around it was blasted and barren, with a few tall trees that played streaky shadows all over it. Wind whispered unpleasant things through those branches. Today the wind was still brisk but the sky was clearer but still trespassed by high, fast moving clouds. A watery sunlight bleached everything with a too strong light. Eh, maybe I was due for a migraine in a few hours. At least the opressive humidity had broken, though the air was still a bit thick. Puddles of water stood here and there, though the land around the ghost of Cheshire cat was dry, a pale crust over a darker substrate of mud.
The few weedy plants that grew around this statue were thin unhappy looking lambs quarters and slender grassy things, and all were stained fuchsia, as if a paint fairy had splattered them. I shivered and turned away.
The whole thing felt wrong. I wanted to drag the thing over to the rock pile and blast it into fragments, with Frank’s favorite 20 lb sledge hammer. Couldn’t do it without Phils permission, right? Right? I wondered at her pathological need to change nothing.
She’d always said she was going to restore the steel leprechauns brownies and sprites, but that had been, what, over 10 years ago now? Some of the metal parts had been restored and renewed, in some places the rust had been cleaned, but no painting that I saw had been done. Painting was one of the few skills I possessed that might be applied in this area. One summer I painted houses, interior and exterior. I’d planned on going back to it this year, until Phil seduced me away.
Granted that made better money, but this was easier on the old psyche. Or so I thought. It was certainly going back through memories. It was probably about time for that, anyway. I realized it was time to make a phone call. I walked in a lazy loop around the clearing and made my way back to the groomed trail, and double timed it home.
“Yes, Karrie Grace.” she sounded tired.
“Um, hi.” We did some small talk, mostly about her garden, the weather, and her ongoing feud with the hysterical society. What set of improvements were they blocking this week, because the plans were insufficiently historical?
“Did you get your flower boxes approved?” I finally asked.
“What you do?” I said, more joking than anything. But then, mom sounded more defensive than a joke would warrant.
“Nothing. Just submitted my paperwork the approved number of times, and waited 6 weeks. Though some people think I set fire to the old firehouse where some of the records were kept. But I didn’t. Fortunately, police don’t seem to think I’m much of a threat. Thats something, anyway. With all the accusations flying around, I thought I was going to be arrested.”
I sat there, stunned. “But… how?”
“Back window on the building was busted. Some helpful soul tossed in some glass bottles of gasoline, then tossed in a molotov cocktail. At first the beat cop took a look at my garage, but somehow didn’t see what he thought he should. His techs didn’t think so either, and they never came back. But it sure was exciting.”
“Mom, why didn’t you call? Something?” I squeaked.
“Oh, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I figured you’d call this week anyway. My heart is fine.” she said in a tone meant to be assuring.
“Well, that’s good. They didn’t take anything? do you want me to come down, and help you clean up after them?” I pleaded. It wasn’t that far, only a couple hundred miles. Mom lived in Ferndale. I could spend a few hours at her little house in the suburbs, pet her psycho dogs, and rearrange the garage. That way, the goats wouldn’t be staring at me. That black one was starting to creep me out.
“That’s not necessary. You can come have lunch on Saturday, or go to church with me on Sunday.” she said brightly.
A knot got stuck in my throat. “Saturday lunch sounds great! But I have to check on the cows on Sunday.”
There was a pause. “Well it will be good to see you on Saturday.” she said. She knew I didn’t have to check on the cows specifically on Sunday, but she let it go by this once, thankfully. “So Philomena has cows again.” she said for conversation.
“Five this time.” I said softly.
“Well, at least it’s not horses. She does poorly with horses for some reason.” mom said sadly.
That was a dead end. Finally I asked her. “Do you know where dad is?” I rasped. My throat felt strangled, my face hot.
There was a pause. “Why do you want to know?” mom asked. Her voice was low and quiet.
“I think he might be up here.” I said, voice distant.
A long pause. “Do… you think he’s wants to talk to you?” she whispered loudly.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure if he’s really up here. Dorn at the gas station thought he saw his car. And, ugh, his cigarette brand butts all over the ground afterward. No lipstick.” I said.
‘Smoking at a gas station is just like him.” mom said. Her voice was still flat and hissy.”But… I thought he quit.” she finished, her voice almost normal.
I shrugged. “Maybe I have a half brother.” I quipped.
There was a long silence, like a dead thing.
“Don’t you joke about that.” Mom said. It was… like an old era breaking into this one. A time of uncertainty, flight, and hiding. Flashes of old emotions scathed my mind, and I felt cold in a hot stuffy room.
I made a strangled sound– without meaning to.
“Are you all right?” mom asked, edged with concern. She snapped out of her old self, and into the new. But I hadn’t quite caught it yet. I still thought of her like old mom.
“Yeah.” I said quickly. Too quickly. But she ignored it and moved on, leaving me startled.
“Strange things going on since you got up there. ” her voice brooded. I felt a storm coming.
“Tell me about it. I want to run, but if I do… I leave Phill in a bad place. She doesn’t deserve that.” I said irritably. “Besides, the animals will starve without me.”
Her voice came on slow but strong, like a glacier sliding across a field. “Then do it. Just get it done. Doesn’t sound like you decided that yet. Stop dithering and do what you got to. It’s the only way I got away from him. Don’t let him catch you in your own net.” Words were like a slap in the face.
“But…I should see him?” I asked.
“See him if you have to.” was the inevitable reply.
“But what if he…hurts me?” I squeaked.
“You are a grown girl. You gotta gun. If he comes at you, why you’ll just do all of us a favor. Make sure people know where you are, and know to be on the lookout for trouble. Just don’t let him– or your fear of him– control you.” Her voice was implacable.
I laughed. It was a high piched kind of hysterical laugh, because I was visualizing what would happen if I told Sarah and Patrick. Kendra would excrete a very uncomfortable shape if she was within sniffing distance of this conversation. Then I realized I had one very important question yet to ask.
“Mom. Did dad have… gifts? Was he weird? Does he have er… weird friends? I mean, supernatural friends?”
There was another silence.
“You been talking to Kendra, haven’t you?” she asked. Flat.
“Yes and no. Mom– you know what it’s like out here. It’s not just a carnival atmosphere. It’s something in the water, in the sky, in the land.”
At first I thought she’d hung up.
“He used to go out at night. You know. I don’t think he was always trysting with hussies, because he was’nt always at the bar or that bowling alley place where he met his marks. He collected strange things. Natural things. Roots. He had a mandrake in a jar. He used to joke he’d feed it to the dog if I caused too much trouble with him. That’s why we had to give Sugar away. I was afraid he’d kill her for some purpose. He had books. Aleister Crowley, and worse. He had those stinking cards he’d play with, and was said to play poker with tarot cards. I thought it was some kind of game, Tarocchi or something? It had some kind of meaning though, beyond what folks speak of in daylight.”
The monotone of her voice, like reciting a tired litany, scared me. The words themselves– I could barely parse them.
“Is that true? Was it there before…?” I sputtered.
“I would not marry a man like that, Karrie. You know that. Not even back then. I wasn’t always a good girl, but even I knew you don’t take a man like that home.Your Gran would have something to say,” she urged the words forward. It cost.
Gran had died in the middle of the worst of the separation, I realized. When things where bad. That’s why Sandy took us in. Dad’s sister. Phil was beside herself. I stayed here, but it was mostly Frank who took care of me. Phil spent all her time out doors working at the farm… or just gone. Sometimes with the plane. Frank told me not to bother her, because he was just happy she got up in the morning.
They sent me to Phil’s place, because mom couldn’t stand to see me, and… to keep Phil anchored in this world, I suddenly knew. Except I tended to go out into the woods for long walks, too… but I rarely encountered her. I would tell myself she was in the barn, but I knew the barns were empty of humans for most of the day. When I found her, sometimes she was riding a horse, looking far away. Sometimes she didn’t see me, or even seem to recognize me. So I retreated into a world of ‘imaginary friends’.
Only they weren’t so imaginary. And that’s what’s hard to deal with. Those painful days at the therapist because I didn’t want to leave, and believed I had to stay with Phil forever. It was like someone stabbed my heart with a pencil, and they broke it trying to get out. Bits were still lodged inside. I’d come to believe I was so weird, I couldn’t have real relationships. So I had friends, but…. couldn’t stand to be close to a guy who might learn the truth.
Some days Frank sent me over to Sarah. And that’s when I met Patrick for the first time. Back then, he’d been nerdy, reading a lot. Sure, country kids can be nerds, but they also go out doors and do things. Usually technical things, like fixing engines or building the perfect tent, or doing the naturalist. Camping, hiking, collecting specimens that sort of thing. He’d made a primitive, battery driven robot out of sticks, wood, scrap, washers, paracord, duct tape and rubber bands. He was forever working out how to get the clamp or fingers to work. In the end he used a hook, strap, and clip model, but he was never really happy with it. He made the block and tackle that Sarah used to haul in the feed for the horses, and then made a smaller one for Phil, too.
He even made his own bug spray. NO not with chemicals, but with essential oils he ordered from a catelog. No, he did use chemicals, too. He made them. He had Popular Mechanics, Ranger Rick, The Boy’s Adventure Book, and an old chemistry textbook from one of his brothers that he coveted. Sure he hid them, but I knew. He also went hunting with his brothers, father and uncles on the weekend. No one teased him about being a geek, because he’d shoot well and clean the kills without flinching– and shoveled twice his weight in horse manure in a few hours. Most folks read in the evenings in the country, and if he happened to read SF and engineering manuals– well good on him.
These days Sarah had Jeb made his spray in big vats and even sold some at the country store. But she used more than half of it on the farm– hung in little vials along the trails so our horses and riders would be more comfortable.
I remembered being sick. I fell or something. I remember needing to stay in bed, and he was asked to watch me. So he sat there, sat for hours, reading. He’d come in after his morning chores, which he always did without complaint. I marveled at him. Sure, you asked me then, I said I hated him, or at least didn’t like him. But he was a good looking boy in a scholarly way. Looked good in glasses. Since then he had been working out… or doing heavy labor and got contacts. The outdoors had been good to him. I’d seen him read in the evenings still wearing his old pair of glasses. I guess he just got new lenses when his prescription needed to change. He said he wore contacts for work, because glasses tend to get in the way or fall off.
But we talked. About things. And I had realized that something about me scared him, but I couldn’t figure out what. It wasn’t even really being a girl. OR maybe it was. But I didn’t think so. Maybe I was a cousin? No, he and Ken got along pretty well.
No, It was something I did. But I had no idea what. Thinking about it made my chest hurt– bad. So I decided to not go there. If it was important, it would come, right?
So there he was shooting. I came up behind him… not too close, because startling anyone firing a gun is a bad idea. But I waited until he was getting ready to reload and I cleared my throat and bit a bit closer. He turned to me and smiled. He seemed genuinely happy to see me. I wanted to say something, to ask to speak my mind. I was falling for him, and hard, and I knew I wasn’t the kind of girl he wanted. But I wanted to say something. My heart contracted and a stab of pain tore into my chest. I reached deep into my self control so he couldn’t see the pain. I smiled instead.
He took off his ear protection, set down his weapon, making sure the safety was on, even if it was empty.
‘So, what’s up?”
I opened my mouth. I felt cold, and nothing came out.
I tried again. “I.. just wanted to see you.” I said lamely.
He nodded abstractly. He came over and gave me a considering expression. And a hand on the shoulder.
“What’s going on with you ?” he asked. His lively green eyes were sympathetic.
“I.. don’t know. I… am going through a lot of old memories. Only they aren’t complete. That’s got me disturbed. I don’t know what to think. I don’t even know what you think of me. I know Kendra has always liked me but… I just remembered that you acted kind of strange around me when I was sick.”
He sighed. “Do you want to know now? Or do you want to remember?”
“I actually want to know.”
he was quiet for a while, as he field stripped and cleaned his pistol. I was amazed at how many tiny parts there were, and how he just knew where all of them went. His hands worked mechanically as his voice was measured and neutral, as precise as his hand movements. When I met his eyes, they were blank. He glanced quickly away.
“You attempted suicide. When they told you you’d have to leave Phils. Your mom didn’t deal well with that. They were going to institutionalize you , but somehow mom and Phil talked them out of it. Sent you over to us for a while. Mom was going to have you stay with us. But your mom decided that wasn’t going to work. So she sent you to a therapist. I had no idea how to react to that. I understood not wanting to live anywhere else, but I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to die.”
There was a long pause. He looked down at his peices set out with precision, examined each one, and rubbed it down with black cloth. he stopped, arms at rest. Then looked up. He regarded me, almost challenging.
I had nothing to say. I could barely think. He must have seen something in my eyes, because he turned away again, with a swift soft glance that was almost apologetic. He started talking as he fitted each piece back together.
“Mom told me your dad did bad things to you. So when was sitting there reading, I was thinking –or trying not to think– about the various ways I might have to kill your father if he tried to take you back. Or what I’d say to your mom if she broke her promise and took you back before the agreed date.”
By then, the firearm was back together, and his hands were clean. He examined it critically, and dry fired it a few times into the weeds at the base of a dying old tree. He set it back down on the stump, and looked ready to listen.
I couldn’t breathe. “I can’t imagine being like that,” I said softly. “I mean… things have sucked, but… I haven’t’ wanted to die– not since I can remember. Never when I can remember.” I gasped.
I felt like a wound had been torn open. I curled up on the second table. He came over behind me and rested his hands on my shoulders. It became a hug, as I leaned into his arm. I was leaking tears, but sobs wouldn’t come. I just felt achy, sore and tight.
“To be whole, is it worth getting that back?” Patrick asked, gently.
“What good could come of knowing something like that?” I asked back, feeling irritated I couldn’t come up with a better reply. I didn’t know. I really, really didn’t know.
No wonder mom was freaked out about dad being up here.
But there was a new feeling emerging from the depths… something I hadn’t felt since I was a kid. Sure, when you get cut off in traffic, you feel affronted. When your friend betrays you, you feel rage. But this was a whole new level of fury. It was ALL for my father. I reached over and grabbed his hand and put it next to my cheek. He did not resist. I felt his fingers delicately touch my cheek.
“I think I need to prepare.” I said, voice soft and low.
He nodded. “Need help?” he asked.