Happy Halloween! It’s one of my favorite holidays. Both sides of my family come from Ireland- so the Celtic holiday of Samhain and its roaring bonfires may still burn in my bones. To celebrate, I’m gifting you with my latest otherworldly tale. The bond between sisters is a common theme in my work, and you will read more about this in the months to come…
Inside and outside, the earth quivers and quakes. My sister is with me, even after all these years.
Sweet Jarvis From State Indemnity has joined us for Chamomile tea, in our good Royal Albert cups, the ones with the pink flowers, but then he decides to go talk to his associate, who is assessing upstairs. Busy boys, to make calls on a Tuesday evening. Sammy clomps down stairs, grabs a very large black bag, crosses the room and turns up my radio. Jarvis returns. He sits calmly and quietly, sucking the dark chocolate layer off the biscuits and putting the shortcake layer covered in spit back on the plate.
I know that it is Tuesday evening because Lisa calls during their visit. Jarvis looks impatient, drums his fingers on his plate, wouldn’t want to break it, but he must be a busy man. As usual, I am too busy for Lisa’s rambling. She asks me, again, to move to Florida with them. She always calls between First News at Five and Wheel of Fortune, but before Masterpiece Mystery.
“I’m not moving.”
“Come on, mom. It’s dangerous up there. It’s all over The Weather Channel. And we found the cutest condo! Pets allowed. Partial water view!” She gushes.
“Listen, Abe and I worry about you. All alone up there except for your cat. Ever since Aunt Bea was called Home…”
“Not interested.” I say. “I keep telling you, Bea is still with me.”
“How have you been feeling? Are you taking your pills?”
“I’m not an idiot, girl. Rain’s coming. Put sweaters on my grandsons.” I hang up.
The couch sits further from the wall than it did yesterday. My right calf burns, burns until I plop down and prop my leg up on the embroidered, green pillow. Where is that clicker? Bea hides everything. I wrestle a bulky rectangle from the space between the faded cushions. I point and push, point and push. Nothing happens. So I open the back of the remote and change the direction of the batteries. Positive becomes negative, negative becomes positive, and everything ekes out one more drop of juice. The TV screen blazes. Bingo!
“Daughter calling?” Jarvis asks, strolling over to the couch.
“Heavens, no. Daughter-in-law. Thick as molasses.”
“Good job. Just stay calm.” He gives the slightest of nods towards the receiver curled up in the cradle as if ready to spring.
“As a cucumber. Only way to deal with meddlers. Me, I’m staying put. I could never leave Bea alone here. But that silly mule Lisa just keeps asking.”
Soon my nice visitor and I are watching my program. Because the chubby schoolteacher is too chicken to solve the puzzle, I lose interest. Then that infernal alarm goes off that means some poor girl has been kidnapped. I don’t look up to read the text of the Amber Alert scrolling across the screen. I never notice cars, so I wouldn’t be able to help. I could read that romance with the half-naked man on the cover, the one that Mrs. Lemming dropped over, but my glasses have been hiding from me since the weekend. Sunday, probably. I weigh the comforting clarity of my Pearl Vision readers vs. the nerve tingle that will build and crest into a roar when I stand up. Bea will know where they are.
I slurp from a half-full can of Coke sitting on a neatly stacked pile of newspapers on the coffee table. I drink that weak herbal tea, and a little caffeine won’t kill me, no matter what that homely doctor says. Jarvis startles me by standing up. He walks through the living room, feels his way past the small painting in the antique brass frame on the wall, and asks to use the bathroom. I begin to remind him about his muddy boots, but a coughing fit seizes me. He can find his own way.
Why do I hear bells? Did I leave something in the microwave? Minutes dart. My coughs wander away. Demanding, the phone rings on and on. “Yeah, yeah, I’m coming.” I mutter. Patsy Cline’s still signing and heading out “Walking After Midnight” in the kitchen, so I guess I left the radio on. Or Bea did.
“You feel it?” A voice asks over the scratchy landline.
“What? Who the devil is this?” I spit on the floor.
“Alice, it’s me, Sandy Lemmings. Everything okay? Anything fall down over there?”
“Nothing fell. I’m as okay as I’m going to be, with this dampness creeping over the entire valley.”
“So you didn’t feel the aftershock? The earthquake is all over the news.”
I sigh. “Do you mean I have to go stand in the damn doorway again? Good Lord. My tuckus is killing me.”
“No, news radio says it’s over. Just a little one here, bigger down by L.A.”
“Good. It was on the radio? And not the TV?”
“I saw an emergency weather alert on channel eight. Can you hear your TV okay?” Mrs. Lemmings pauses. “Want me to come over and check on all your paintings and shelves for you?”
“Thanks dear, I must have dozed off. Two young men already came to help. I’m fine. Bea’s fine,” I hang up. I yawn.
I get a pencil and the cheap, orange spiral bound notebook that Dr. Horse Face gave me during my last appointment. He wrote “Sleep Log” and “Day, Month, Year” in tall, dark letters, in different columns, on the first page of lined paper. All the other lines stood bare. He creased the page, just slightly to separate the columns.
“Tuesday.” I write. “Slept during my program.” My “ts” waver and my “ds” droop.
Bump. I turn and look for the cat, Esther, or my sister, behind me, but I find Jarvis. Standing directly behind the couch, holding an empty brass frame and frowning. The kitchen door slams, and I remember his associate. Timmy or Sammy. My right ear starts to ache.
“We should be going now ma’am,” Jarvis says. White slivers of light pop out around his silhouette in the dim room.
“In this dark, I would think so.” I manage a smile just before the linoleum shifts beneath me. I fall. My head throbs. An antique Wedgewood pitcher crashes down off its shelf.
“Hey, what’s the hold up? What if there’s a biggie, a real earthquake?” Sammy asks, tromping down the stairs. He lugs a heavy bag and wears my best purse, black leather with a real gold buckle, on one shoulder.
Jarvis does not answer. Is he frowning at me? My eyes pull themselves further and further down. Is the young man looking at me or for the pitcher that also fell on the floor?
“Time’s ticking. No safe. I already checked the freezer, and under the mattress. Maybe check for coffee cans in the basement? With these Great Depression grannies, you don’t need a mask, but you never know where they’ve stashed their green.”
“Fine.” Jarvis says.
“You okay, lady?” nice, young Jarvis whispers.
When I open my eyes, and remove the cool cloth that someone has placed on my forehead, Jarvis stands alone in the living room. The front door has blown open again. Jarvis stands by the roll-a-desk and waves something white in his hand.
“So did you want our senior plan? State Indemnity backs us, and that’s why we came. ” Jarvis looks down at his hand, and the paper, no, the envelope that he is holding. “That’s why we came, right, Mrs. Primrose? Mrs. Primrose?”
My eyes push themselves closed. Sweet sleep. I sway slightly. But he is still out there? I open my eyes and look towards him. “What are you selling again?”
“Life insurance.” He says in a far-away voice. He is clutching some kind of velvet pouch in his hand, the kind that you’d get at the jewelers. My patched tabby cat slinks in the open door, sees the strange man, and dives under the kitchen table.
“Not tonight, dear. Thank you anyway, Mr.-”
“Call me Sam.” Jarvis pockets the envelope, walks to the door and puts his hand on the door knob. The right side of his face creases upward in a lopsided grin. “I’ll come back then. Thanks for the Fig Newtons.” He pauses. Then after a second he shouts, “Thanks for everything, ma’am, but we have to go back to the office now!”
He waits. When his friend does not appear, he murmurs, “Take Care, ma’am.” He leaves something black on the floor, pushes in the button on the back door knob, and shuts the door behind him. Such nice manners. Rare these days.
Patsy, or Bea, sings “Your Cheatin’ Heart” as I doze off again.
By the time I manage to get up and back to the table, neither of my young guests remains. Time to tidy up. I see a brass frame on the floor. Hopefully the painting my father gave me wasn’t damaged. Before I make it into the parlor to check, dizziness grabs me, sways me, then releases me; we waltz to a country twang.
One of the pink flowered plates tremors. I change course, stumble to the table, and grab it for support. But then the earth’s vibrations flow out just as quickly as they flowed in. From the TV in the living room, concerned male voices rise with authority. I pick up the plate with my left hand, and slowly trace the border of it with two fingers. No chips. I put the plate back down. Not so bad.
A door thuds closed. Another thud follows, louder. The thieving salesman falls.
I putter over to the cellar door, ignoring the ache that has returned to my ear. I pry the door open and look down the stairs. Squinting, I see a twisted lump halfway down the steps. It could be a dead dog, except for the big open green eyes and mop of human hair. And his neck twisted at an odd angle. Aftershocks have caused worse. Then I see my black purse lying there. Is that the insurance agent’s nice friend? Is that, no it couldn’t be a gun. I have to stop watching that NCIS program with the handsome actors. It must be a reflection in the dim light.
Bea hums “Crazy;” it’s always been her favorite song. A sharp winter breeze, ice-kissed like in the Colorado days of our girlhood, whips up the stairs of our California retirement house. I catch a glimpse of white fluttering in the cellar. Could be laundry on the dryer rack. Could be the faint shadow of my sister’s thin frame, swaying as she sings.
Smiling, I shut the door and hum to myself. I feel steadier on my feet and make it to the couch fine. Queen Esther wriggles out from her hiding place beneath the sofa and rubs her furry, black body against my shins. “There’s our good kitty,” I tell her. She meows.
Using the clicker, I turn the volume down on all those smug professors and that dandy hosting the quiz show. I feel a dull pang, and then a quick spasm in my rump. Damn little pills Doctor Know-it-all gives me do squat.
“Mrs. Primrose! Mrs. Primrose!” the busybody from next door raps on the back door. I lean back on the couch and tilt my head back on the pillow. I fake a snore, two snores, and three. Queen Esther jumps up and curls up next to me. She purrs.
“Are you OK? A white van was parked in your driveway, and then it took off. Is everything all right in there?” Mrs. Lemming shouts through the door.
The knocking and prattling continue, but I pretend not to hear it. My ears are full of my sister’s clear alto, and I can almost see her snapping her fingers along to “I Fall to Pieces.”
The phone rings, and I’d bet every dollar I have in the cookie jar that it’s Lisa again with her whiny voice and real estate listings. As if the kitty and I could leave my sister and move to some palm tree town. The phone rings four times and then my answering machine picks up.
I close my eyes. Don’t want to talk to anyone. There has been enough commotion today already. Inside and outside, the earth quivers and quakes. My sister is with me, even after all these years.
More of my fiction about sisters will be coming in Summer, 2017. Stay tuned to my blog for more information.