Chapter 25: Present 9

Present #9

            Lynnie spoke French. She knew what she meant. And she knew, at that moment, that they were leaving.

I bolted out of my bed the morning after my walk knowing exactly what I was going to do. I threw on clothes, brushed my hair and rushed downstairs. It was early, 6:30 maybe, and my parents were still asleep. I grabbed my father’s car keys from the drawer, left a note saying I’d be home soon, and ran out the door.

On the car ride there I didn’t know what I expected to find. I didn’t know if I wanted to find anything. I just needed to make my peace with it and move on as best I could. God knows, I had waited long enough.

The lawn had been cut in the last several weeks, but twigs from the oak tree lay scattered across the ground. The old tree bent like an elderly hunchback. The shutters, those that still clung to the house by one rusted nail, were no longer of a distinguishable color. The house faced a similar predicament. The pink looked more like peach.

I moved the car into the driveway since no one was coming. No one had in nearly fifteen years. Unwilling to open the car door, I pulled out my cell phone. I left a message for Luke and told him to meet me at the café a few blocks from my apartment at seven the next night. Finally, I coaxed myself out of the car.

I didn’t bother with the front door. It would be locked. Off to the left of the front yard, hidden by several formerly tame and trimmed trees, was the small gate that led to the backyard. I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach the inside latch, nestled in the leaves of a sagging tree branch. Years of rain and disuse had rendered the gate almost unserviceable.The gate only swung open after a forceful kick. Its swollen boards seemed as if they might disintegrate at the slightest touch. With one kick, the wood yielded like a couch cushion.

The little house we played in as children had collapsed inward into itself, the roof having caved long ago. The doorway arch, the only part I desperately needed, had survived the years of abandonment. Just to the right of the door was a small drawer, formerly part of the playhouse’s kitchen. I reached for the knob and jiggled it open. The spare key, protected by the drawer, was still intact; it would work.

The forgotten key fit the lock to the front door. It creaked and hawed until the door opened to reveal the narrow hallway I had walked so many times before. But on this occasion it held a silent solemnity, an expectation; perhaps it wanted someone to dust the hardwood floor that had not felt feet in a decade and a half. The lighting inside was dim; the dirt and grime covering the windows blocked the fair morning sun. When the light trickled through, I glanced around. Cracks had split the walls and spiderwebs nestled in the high corners of the living room, dining room, every space I cautiously passed. Dust flew as I treaded across the floor. Occasionally, the dust flew into my nostrils, my mouth—the air so stilted I began to cough. The Enson-Mortons clearly had never returned, unnoticed by neighbors.

It was all part of the fairytale I had woven, the labyrinth of memories I had created, nurtured layers, imagined scenarios, fantasy conversations—talking to the moon even though they couldn’t hear me. I just wanted out of the ordinary, normal life I led—out from under the smothering, protective love of my parents. I wanted the fairytale before my time. They hadn’t come back. Dozens of those imagined scenarios dissipated in a moment.

The furniture had been left in its place, the loveseat from the antique shop unmoved in the living room. The same went for the plates and glasses in the kitchen. Most of the silverware had been taken. The pantry was empty and the appliances unplugged. I flicked the light switch, but the lights didn’t turn on.

There were few places in the house  I had rarely entered. They were off-limits to everyone unless we were with Lynnie or Dave. They were the office, the master bedroom, and the attic—one room on each floor.

I decided to start with Dave’s office. It was neater than I remembered, probably because he’d taken most of his papers with him. It felt like a showroom. I didn’t really know what I was looking for—a clue about why they left, who they were. They were paradoxes—bohemian and refined– personalities that did not reconcile.

The bottom drawer of Dave’s desk served as a file cabinet, but no files remained. I opened the drawer above it, expecting to find office supplies. If there had been any, they too had been boxed and taken. In their place were several medicine bottles, some sealed, and a business card.

The medication in the bottles had hardly been used, if at all; the bottles were probably the same ones into which I had seen Lynnie drop pills when Dave refused to take them. I looked at the labels; they were antidepressants, all expired. The business card was for the doctor who prescribed them—a psychiatrist from Montreal. I tucked the contents of the drawer into my purse. My search through the rest of the desk yielded no results, so I headed upstairs.

Little remained in the master bedroom. The bedframe had been left, along with a couple empty nightstands and a painting above the bed. It had clearly been made by Lynnie, with a portrait of the two of them and the words “Have the courage to be exactly who you are.” I wanted to come back for it, take it with me. Before proceeding to the attic, I checked the two children’s bedrooms. They had been nearly untouched. Their clothes were gone, along with a few stuffed animals. It was like visiting a museum, maybe a mausoleum.

Sitting perfectly in the center of Romaine’s bed was Porgy, her stuffed pig, as if they’d expected me to retrieve him. I lay down on the bed, clutching him, and stayed there a while, wishing I could cry.

When I collected myself, I proceeded to the attic. It was empty. There was no equipment. The bookshelves, formerly saturated with pots and little figurines, were bare. Only two boxes in the corner remained. They had been taped shut.

Before I really registered what I was doing, I took the house key out and ripped apart the tape closing the first box.

Inside were dozens of photo albums, labeled by year, but otherwise in an arbitrary order: 1976 under 1981 under 1984 under 1977. I opened the top album, 1977, to a page in the middle. The page was thicker than the others due to a postcard. It was addressed to Vera Morton, signed by a James. Dave must have had a sister. I flipped to another page, further in back. It hosted a photo of a girl, unmistakably Lynnie, with long and straight platinum blonde hair held back by a bow. She was about eleven, in the pink ruffled dress I’d worn years before, sitting on a couch next to a boy her age, with dark curly hair and wide eyes. On closer inspection, it looked like Dave.

The next scrapbook came from 1984. On the first page, Lynnie blew out eighteen candles on a birthday cake, Dave to her right, an unfamiliar woman—severe looking, I thought—to her left. Her smile looked like a grimace. The other pages were blank. I moved on to the next album.

Nineteen-eighty-one was photo after photo of Lynnie and Dave. Others made several appearances, but it was largely the two of them. Toward the end of the book, I found the first caption. It was a photo of Lynnie and Dave sitting on a staircase. The caption read: “Vera Morton and James Enson enjoy each other’s company on the school steps.” But it was undeniably Lynnie and Dave. I put the book down exactly where it was and keyed open the next box.

It didn’t make sense yet, but I was determined it would. Lynnie and Dave. Vera and James. It didn’t compute.

The second box boasted piles of unsorted photos atop likely unfilled photo albums. At the top was a photo of Ara, Romaine and me in our Thursday tea best, crumbs coating our mouths. I smiled and slipped it into my purse. I began to sift through the photos, removing and placing them beside the box in order to get to the photo albums. Between the photos and the albums was a solitary newspaper article, jaundiced and worn at the edges, as if it had been handled, folded and creased too many times.

I began to read. It was a missing persons article for two wealthy New York teenagers, both eighteen, who hadn’t returned home from school one day. Their parents suspected that the two had run away because the medication used to treat the boy’s bipolar disorder had been taken. The article listed the number for the police department above a black and white photograph. The caption revealed the teenagers’ names as Veronica Gwendolynn Morton and James Davison Enson. The photo was of Lynnie and Dave.

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