Chapter 23: Memory 12

23Memory #12

            Things went back to normal for the most part after the woods incident. My mother insisted that everyone stay over at our house for the weekend so no one else would get sick. Lynnie thanked her when she came to take us all to school (and nursery school for Boo) on Monday morning. We would have been more excited if we were less frightened.

Once we resumed our after-school schedule, we grew skittish around Dave. Lynnie no longer asked us to get him at meal times; she did it herself. He returned to his usual demeanor. He even asked if we could have Thursday teatime again, and we missed it too much to turn him down.

One Monday in late May, we were all at the house. Dave was in his office, working frantically. His exclamations were so loud we could hear them in the kitchen, even though his door was closed. Lynnie helped us make rice krispie treats. By “helped,” she did most of the work while we colored at the table. Occasionally, one of us would wander over and ask to stir for a couple seconds. She was making several batches because our third grade class was having a party the next day following a reading of the fairytales we’d written in the last month. I wrote a story based on a combination of Peter Pan and Cinderella. Romaine opted for a modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel.

The rice krispie making took up most of the afternoon. Ara counted the marshmallows we needed, mainly so she could demonstrate how easily she could count to forty. I measured seven cups of rice krispies and Romaine stirred the marshmallows until they melted. Stirring the rice krispies in was too hard, so we had Lynnie do it.

Around four o’clock there was a knock at the door. The Enson-Mortons rarely had visitors. We ran down the hall to see who it was.

“I want to open the door!” Ara screamed. She was in front.

When Ara reached the door, she waited for the rest of us to catch up, Lynnie the last to arrive. Ara slowly opened it, pulling it further and further back until she was squished against the wall.

Standing on the front step was a woman of almost sixty who looked so out of place on the Enson-Mortons’ doorstep that I thought she must have the wrong house. She was dressed impeccably in a navy and white tweed suit with buttons so shiny I couldn’t tear my eyes away. A strand of pearls decorated her neck. A matching pair of pearl earrings hung from her ears, barely visible behind her shoulder-length, light-brown hair. Her green eyes, ones that might be bright had she smiled, appeared dull and rigid. Her posture made her seem taller than she was; she struck me as positively regal. She was unlike anyone I’d ever seen before.

“Lynnie, now, is it?” She asked, looking past the four children at her feet. There was something wrong about the way she said it.

We turned to Lynnie, whose jaw had gone slack.

“Now, I don’t expect you to invite me in yourself, so I’ll save you the trouble.” The woman continued. She stepped into the house, her tiny heels clacking against the floor. She walked forward like a ballerina—a long, stretching stride, impossibly fluid and graceful.

“How did you,” Lynnie began.

The woman held up one of the business cards Lynnie had given away at the art fair several weeks before.

“A friend of mine bought one of your works. Very nice, I may add.” The woman looked around, her eyes resting on our small, motley crew. Ara pulled at her hair, weeding out the melted marshmallows that had become stuck. Multi-colored markers dotted my face and Boo’s hands. Romaine alone looked presentable, her arms resting at her sides, as if imitating the woman in front of us.

“Thank you.”

Lynnie hadn’t moved a millimeter since the door had opened. The woman stared at us, inspecting our faces, our fingers, the way we stood completely still, too struck to scamper off.

“Goodness, are these all yours? What’s your name?” She asked Boo, leaning down. Even bending down, her back remained straight; she was like a Nutcracker ballet doll. He didn’t respond.

“Dave? Dave!” Lynnie called. Her voice shook. Her hands fluttered. “And all of you, upstairs now.”

“But Mama,” Romaine protested.

The door to Dave’s office slammed. He appeared in doorway, disheveled and annoyed. He stomped down the hallway, studying a page in his hand.

“Did I not say I was working?” He looked up. At the sight of the strange woman, he stopped. He looked like Boo about to throw a tantrum when Lynnie refused something he felt entitled to.

“Now.” Lynnie told us sternly, pushing Romaine and me toward the stairs, her eyes darting between Dave and the woman. I grabbed Ara’s hand and Romaine grabbed Boo’s. We walked as slowly as possible to the stairs.

“Then I appreciate your taking the time for me. The living room, shall we?” The woman moved through the house as if it were hers. Lynnie didn’t say anything. Dave grunted.

We didn’t make it all the way up the stairs. We thought about it, but were too curious.Instead, we sat on the landing, out of sight.

“Who do you think she is?” Romaine whispered in my ear. She pecked her head about, struggling to catch a glimpse of the adults through the thick, wooden, banister bars.

I shrugged my shoulders; I wished Lynnie had introduced us.

They were speaking too softly for us to hear. A few words slipped through here and there, but nothing of substance.

“Four children?” The woman asked.

Ara held up her fingers, counting each of us on the stairwell. She held her hand out, four fingers up, just to prove her math skills.

“Three,” Lynnie responded. She said something else too, but it was lost.

Ara pointed to me and shook her head. For today’s purposes, my status as family member had been downgraded. Romaine laughed softly and kindly. Boo clung to her sleeve, using her as Lynnie’s surrogate.

Dave didn’t talk much downstairs. When he did, it sounded a lot like growling. The landing of the staircase was hardly better than upstairs.

We listened to what seemed to be mostly white noise for several minutes until we heard Dave smack the floor with his foot. We jerked backward. Romaine and Ara slid down a step to try to get a better look.

“Get the hell out of my house,” he said clearly. I knew from my mother that that wasn’t a very nice word. Romaine and Ara, still seated, scooted further and further down, so far that I was afraid Lynnie, Dave, or the odd woman would see them. Boo and I remained back. Boo tapped his fingers on his leg, having lost interest in what was going on downstairs several minutes before.

No other words were exchanged. Feet shuffled in the direction of the entrance. The door squeaked open and slammed closed shortly after. The footsteps inched toward us. Lynnie appeared at the bottom of the stairwell. At the sight of us on the landing, Ara and Romaine now almost at the bottom of the stairwell, she sighed.

“Mama, who was that?” Romaine asked, still sitting up straight like the woman had.

“No one we want to talk to!” Dave shouted as he passed by on the way back to his office, where he locked himself up for the rest of the evening.

Lynnie held out her hand.

“Come on, let’s finish up the rice krispie treats,” she said.

In the kitchen, Lynnie scooped the rice krispie treats into a pan and let them sit out on the counter. We returned to the table and tried to resume our drawings.

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Chapter 22: Present 8

22Present #8

            I thought about what Will had said. In my usual fashion, I would cope by not dealing with it, which is how I found myself on a train back home for the second consecutive weekend. I was getting some space, conducive to figuring things out, I rationalized. The weekend before I had thought about the Enson-Mortons, but had done little proactively. I needed to intensify my search. It was like I was a teenager, thinking that finding them would solve my problems. Maybe it would this time.

My mother picked me up from the train station again. She had tried to conceal her surprise over the phone when I’d called and told her about my weekend plans. When I was in the car though, she hardly said anything.

“Do you still like your job?” She asked. There must be a reason I left New York every weekend when my social life would be at its peak.

“The job’s great.”

She kept her eyes on the road.

“Luke asked me to move in with him.” I don’t know why I said it. I didn’t usually let my mother in on my decision-making process, but I was desperate for any advice and opinions I could get.

She hit the brakes a little harder than she normally would at a stop sign. Her body jerked back, the curls atop her head bouncing like matress. She turned forcefully toward me.

“What did you say?” She asked, hushed. Her wide eyes were fearful.

“I said I’d think about it.”

She drove on, her eyes set firmly on the road, as if she couldn’t bear to look at me. By that point, we neared the house, its brick façade nearly within sight. I could see her constructing the last few weeks in her head. My visits home hadn’t been solely coincidence.

“When did he ask you?”

After the first week, I had lost count of the days. Adding the math myself, I realized it didn’t look pretty.

“Two and a half weeks ago.”

We pulled into the driveway.

“Good God, Emma.” She turned to look at me once again. As the shock wore off so did her frantic manner. “You have to give him an answer, even if it’s not what he wants to hear.”

She unbuckled her seatbelt and got out of the car. I did the same. She hurried toward the house, not bothering to look if I was following. She locked the car without so much as a glance.

“Well, do you have an opinion on the subject? What should I say?” I asked when I caught up to her on the porch. She shivered when I asked.

“Yes and no.” She replied firmly. The key remained listlessly in her hand, the front door safely locked.

“Meaning?”

“Yes, I have an opinion,” she began. “You should say ‘no.’”

I regretted asking her. I only wanted to hear one answer.

“Why?” I asked aggressively as she coaxed the key into the lock.

Her hand shook as she tried opening the door. The key rattled as it found its place.

“Because that’s what you want to say.”

The door opened and we walked inside. She placed the key back in her purse and the purse upon the table in the entryway.

“That is not what I want to say.” I answered indignantly.

Her face drew stern, her lips thin and strained, her eyes suddenly tired. She braced herself for telling me the truth, rather than sheltering me from it. For a moment, I wished she would lie. It was the only time I would ask to be protected.

“If you take nearly three weeks and still can’t say ‘yes’ then the answer is ‘no.’”

She knew she was right. We stayed in the hallway in a stand-off, each refusing to relent. It recalled so many times growing up. This time, though, we took the same side, even if we didn’t yet realize it.

“Put the poor guy out of his misery.”

I nodded.

“Kathleen, Emma, that you?” My father’s booming voice sounded from the kitchen.

I was grateful for the distraction.

My parents were going out to a party that night. I was invited to accompany them, but I said I’d rather stay home. I thought about calling Luke, but decided that I should probably sleep on the decision and tell him in person. He deserved at least that. My mother’s opinion only confirmed what I knew.

“What will you do tonight?” My mother asked several hours later when she came downstairs, dressed for her party, to find me still sitting, reading the same book, at the kitchen table.

“I think I’ll take a walk and go to bed early.”

“Sounds good. I love you, darling.” She kissed my forehead.

“Love you too, Mom.”

“Al,” she yelled to my father, who was probably still adjusting his bowtie upstairs. “We’re going to be late!”

I could hear his footsteps on the stairs.

“Goodbye, Emma.” He said as he came to fetch my mother from the kitchen.

“We’ll see you in the morning,” she added.

They left for the party. I closed my book, took the spare house key from the kitchen drawer, and started on my walk.

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Chapter 21: Memory 11

21Memory #11

            The woods were frightening only once. Not because I was with someone I didn’t know, but rather because I was with someone I did.

It was early March during my third grade year. Patches of freckled snow still dotted the ground. It had been a gloomy winter. When I envisioned it, it was always dark. The fog seemed to choke us. It was like a great big void, like a black hole, pulling us in. I don’t remember exactly what it felt like then, but it felt wrong somehow.

In late January, Thursday afternoon tea had been postponed indefinitely. Dave had stopped showing up. The first time, Lynnie said he was out on a walk. He started taking a lot of walks, especially for in the middle of winter, when we’d deemed it too cold to play outside. When he wasn’t walking, he seemed confined to his office with the door shut. Lynnie asked us to fetch him at meal times, but he rarely came. When we peeked inside, he would be at his desk, surrounded by piles of papers, staring at a blank sheet in front of him. When we asked if he would like to join us at the table, he would peel his eyes away at though in a trance and shake his head. Romaine would tug on my shirtsleeve and shut the door quietly behind us. She never said anything about it.

In February, he didn’t get out of bed most mornings. He brought most of his papers and books upstairs, but he likely spent most of his time watching the small TV that was off-limits to everyone else. The volume was turned up so high we could hear it all the way downstairs. When we asked Lynnie to see him, she said he was too tired or that he was on a walk even when the front door was bolted shut and the faint strains of a newscaster’s voice could be heard. I asked if he was sick. Lynnie said that he was just exhausted and needed more rest. She said it was nothing to worry about. She worried though. We could tell by the way she hurried around the house doing chores meant for two. She was late to pick us up from school, a cardinal sin in the Enson-Morton household. The bags under her eyes darkened and deepened. She spoke in French on the phone a lot. We pretended not to notice.

By March, Dave had emerged once again, sometimes appearing for an afternoon snack. Lynnie treaded nervously, hovering over his shoulder as he ate. He was growing a beard. He said he was making good progress on his work and we all nodded as if we understood what that meant.

On the second Friday of March, Lynnie picked us up from school in the car. If it wasn’t too frigid, we walked back to the house, even in winter, for some exercise. But on that day, Lynnie had run errands all morning and needed the car. Groceries were piled in the trunk and several shopping bags littered the backseat.

“Is it all right if we get a treat at home today, girls?” She asked as we climbed in. On Fridays, we usually went into town for a cookie or brownie as a reward for getting through the week.

“Sure.”

“Oh good. I left Boo and Dave at home for a long while, so I want to check up on them.”

We buckled our seatbelts and sped off in the direction of the house. It only took us a few minutes to get there. Romaine and I showed Ara our art projects. We’d been working on still lifes. Mine had a feather and an apple. Romaine’s had a vase and a pear.

When we arrived at the house, we unloaded quickly and Lynnie went straight to the door, key in hand, leaving the groceries in the trunk.

“Hello?” Lynnie called as she unlocked the door and we entered the house.

There was no answer.

“Hello?” She yelled again a little louder, when we reached the landing of the stairs. The house was quiet. She set the keys on the kitchen counter, next to the mail, which Dave must have brought in. She called for Dave and Boo a couple more times, but no one responded.

“Girls, can you see if they’re on the second floor? I’ll check the attic.” Lynnie instructed. She walked briskly toward the stairs, trying to hide her concern.

“Maybe they went on a walk,” Romaine suggested.

“We’ll check the house first.” Lynnie replied. She bounded up the stairs, two at a time. We followed her.

The three of us split up to check the rooms faster. We called for them. We opened every door. It seemed like a big game of hide and seek. We would have enjoyed it, but Lynnie seemed too nervous. They weren’t on the second floor. We ran back down to the first floor to meet Lynnie, still upstairs.

As we walked toward the kitchen, Romaine glanced at the back door.

“It’s unlocked.”

We could hear Lynnie running down the stairs.

“No?” She asked as if she expected it.

“Mama, the door’s unlocked.” Ara told her.

“They must have gone for a walk,” Romaine tried again, sounding optimistic. Dave took a lot of walks, even Lynnie said so.

But Lynnie was out the door before Romaine finished the sentence. Finally sensing that something was wrong, we ran after her.

Ara pressed her face to the windows of the playhouse. Following Lynnie, Romaine and I sprinted across the backyard. There was no place to hide there.

Behind the backyard was a patch of wooded area we rarely explored. Occasionally, Lynnie and Dave set up scavenger hunts, like the Easter egg hunt the year before, that encroached into the area, but it was off-limits for most of our normal games. Roots protruded from the ground; the dense treetops let in little light.

As we approached the boundary, we could hear muffled voices. They were coming from a fair way into the woods. I was glad we hadn’t taken our shoes off inside since small patches of snow were still visible in the dirt.

“Girls, wait,” Lynnie said as we reached the border. She hesitated.

We took off anyway, jumping over roots and weaving in and out of trees, following the voices. Lynnie, slightly behind, eventually surpassed us.

“Stay with me.” She yelled. Her voice rose. She ran faster.

The voices stopped at the sound of another. This time, we did as we were told. We tiptoed as the voices resumed. When Lynnie stopped, she threw her arms out in front of us. We stepped backward, our vision blocked.

“What the hell are you doing?” She screamed. She lowered her arms.

In a small gap between the trees were Dave and Boo.

Boo wailed. He sat on the cold ground, dressed in a thin, long-sleeved t-shirt and shorts; his feet were bare. Dave was hardly dressed more appropriately, though he had thought to put on flip flops. In his hand he held a large stick, which he used to write in the dirt and snow. On the ground were dozens of numbers and mathematical symbols. When Lynnie spoke, his head jerked up, startled and he flung his hand with the stick out, almost hitting her.

“Mama,” Boo shrieked.

Lynnie went straight to him and gathered him in her arms. She bounced him on her hip and ran her hands along his legs in an attempt to warm him.

“We’ve got at least one dull kid.” His voice sounded strangely calm. “Look at this.” He pointed to the jumble of numbers on the ground. “He doesn’t get it. Doesn’t have a head for numbers.”

Boo continued to cry.

“He’s three.” Lynnie replied.

“Either you’ve got a head for,” Dave continued, but we couldn’t hear him over Lynnie’s instructions to us.

“Romaine, take Boo,” she handed him to her. “The four of you go back to the house. Don’t stop.”

We started back quickly to the house as Dave threw a ball of snow and ice at her back. Ara shook. When I looked over, she was crying. I took her hand. Romaine adjusted Boo on her hip, turning her head quickly back. She bit her lip.

“You listen to me!” He screamed.

We ran. Lynnie screamed back.

We didn’t stop until we reached the house. Once we were safely inside, we went upstairs to find warmer clothes for Boo. We dressed him in his big coat, pants, socks, and shoes and tucked him between the covers of his bed. He cried for Lynnie. Romaine, Ara, and I huddled around his bed, trying to soothe him, trying to calm ourselves. Ara wouldn’t stop crying. Romaine concentrated all her attention on Boo. I said nothing.

“Kids!” Lynnie called from downstairs.

“Upstairs!” I yelled. I ran to the stairwell, and by the time I reached it, Lynnie had arrived. She didn’t stop on her way to Boo’s room.

She pulled his blankets over him. Her hands shook.

“Emma, I’m going to call your mother and see if she can watch the four of you for the afternoon.”

Five minutes later, the doorbell rang. My mother’s voice carried through the house.

“I’m so sorry to hear Dave is sick. Do you have a good doctor? Dr. Martin is a fabulous family doctor if you need a referral.” She said.

I carried Boo, still dressed as if he were outside, downstairs alongside Romaine and Ara.

“Thank you.” Lynnie told her.

On the way to the shop just across the street, my mother asked Romaine and Ara what was wrong with Dave.

“A cold.”

“The flu.” They said simultaneously.

“A cold and the flu.” Romaine offered.

“Too bad. I hope he feels better soon.”

None of us said anything.

Every few minutes, I would peek out the back door and look back at the house. The car never left the driveway, the groceries likely still in the trunk.

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