Saturday, November 5, 2011

"Inside the Old House on the Corner that Night" by Skadi meic Beorh


One candle burned thick and still, its light like gelatin in the dim room. A big dog barked in the near distance, shocking the crisp night air. Three tabby cats squirmed through a hair-scraping hole in John Locket’s fading white picket fence.

“This part o’ the world’s a funny old place, child,” Grandma Withersmith said in her low, certain voice which disturbed the contented candle, made it jump, quiver, dance in the blue darkness. “Never know which way the wind’s going to blow. Cold one night, warm the next. Here ‘tis April already...”   

A little girl rose with one of her three quilts, crossed the big dusky room and placed it across the legs of the ancient woman. “You missed your home, though, didn’t you, Grandma? You missed being here.”

“‘Tis why I come back like I did.”

A south wind picked up and batted at the loose windows of the dwelling once filled with children; joyous children. A baby pierced the night with a plaintive plea, and then gurgled as if nestling against its safe-feeling mother.

“What’s it like being blind, Grandma?”

Stillness swept through the room like a blue heron, majestic and sure.

“Grandma?”

The wind began to howl and shake the panes. Fright filled the corners, and dread seeped in through every crack.

“Grandma!”   

Cold deadness loomed over that room of once-bright curtains and smiling burnished wood. Missy’s feet hit a swirling floor as she rushed to her only love in the world.

“Grandma? Grandma!

Nothing.

“Grandma Withersmith! Grandma!

“Child…”

“Oh! I... I thought...”

“You asked me a question. I was answering you is all.”

“But... oh... hoh?

“My answer about how being blind feels. It’s quiet.”

“Oh... Now I see. You liked to scared me to death!

“Yes, child, you do see. And I don’t. Not anymore. It’s quiet like dusk afore a thunderstorm.”

“I understand.”

“And that understanding will get you through this old world where nobody understands no more; nobody wants to understand; everybody wants to be understood. But you, child... yes. You’ve a hand on you.”

Missy dropped her head. Tears burst forth from a hidden spring.

“How long has it been now, Grandma? Since...”

“Oh, not but a few years now, I reckon. I don’t rightly know. It happens slow, they say. One day, it’s just gone. Can’t read no more. Hard to cook at the stove. Have to start feeling your way around like a old spider or something. A body gets use to it, though.”

The widow smiled to herself, and thought on the sunny Spring day, so long ago, when she and her older brother, Miles, had discovered the forgotten schoolhouse way out in the backwoods. It had been haunted with laughing, screaming children. They had wondered to themselves, in whispers like butterflies, if maybe the ghosts might have been friends with their grandparents when they were little, and might have died with the fever, or maybe worse.

“I like the way you laugh, Grandma.”

“How do I laugh?”

“You know, like... You sound happy.”

“Well, child, I am happy, but it’s took a lifetime o’ doing.”

The aging woman pulled her shawl closer around her frail shoulders. Missy got up and threw another log on the fire. It blazed up and cackled like something living and breathing.

“You warm enough, Grandma?”

“Yes, child. It’ll be bedtime right here directly.”

Missy would be ten tomorrow. She was so excited she knew, she wouldn’t be able to sleep. Not much, anyway. Then she remembered stealing a new baby doll from the little girl next door. The family was away, and it was so easy just to walk up to the porch and pick the doll up and walk away. It felt good. Made her feel powerful. Big. But then she had thought about it, and knew it was wrong, and took the doll back a few days later, only to be scolded by the girl’s older brother, who was a big boy. He was twelve! He said she could never come back there to play again! His words broke Missy’s heart in two.

“Grandma?”

“Yes, darlin’.”

“I’ve done bad things.”

“We all have.”

“But... really bad things.”

“No thing’s worse than any other, child.”

Hmmm... It ain’t?”

“If it plays in your mind more than a thought, then it’s wrong as much as any action could be. And every wrong action makes a hole in the world, whether it be hollering or killing. Either way, you take life away.” 

“But why? I don’t...”

“Think on something long and hard enough, and it’ll happen sure as you’re sitting here. Try it and see. Whatever you do in life, it’s the power o’ the spirit dwelling in your mind, child. We can use that power for good, or for bad. You make your world how you like it. Others push and pull at it, but it’s you who makes it.”

“But, what makes people bad then?

“Want.”

“What makes people want then?”

“Need.”

“Well, what makes people need then?”

“No love.”

“But, why can’t they have love?”

“Nobody gives it. Nobody knows how no more.”

“But... what is love then?”

“Accepting people. Full and complete. You done something bad, I still love you. Like that.”

“But why can’t people accept people then, just the way they are?”

“No love. In their own lives. You can’t give what you don’t have.”

Missy fell silent. She could hear her own heart beating.

“Child?”

“Yes ma’m?”

“Pour me a cup o’ that ice water you brought me. I’m a might thirsty. Will you please?”

“But Grandma! I didn’t bring you any ice water!”

Silence.

“Now. See what I mean?” said the old woman. “You can’t give what you don’t have to give.”

The room flickered in anticipation. The coals in the hearth brightened, waiting. Something lit down on the roof. Then two. Then three.

“Strive until you bleed love, child. It’s way down deep inside you, but it hurts to bring it out. Strive ‘til you bleed it out. The doorway back to the way’s been ripped open wide. The price o’ freedom’s been paid in full. It just needs to be redeemed is all.”

“Love? That’s the answer then? To all the hurting people in the whole wide world, Grandma?”

“Love’s the answer.”

“But it’s so hard sometimes! Lots of the time even!”

“It can be done, though. Mark my words. You can be perfect, if you trust the spirit to make you so.”

“How?”

“How? Take every minute every day and work at it. Miss no chance to love and show love. That’s how.”

“But I can’t! Lots of people make me so mad! I get so mad at them!”

Missy balled up her fists and beat the pillows where she sat. The room took on a sordid, nauseous glow. Grandma Withersmith shifted in her chair.

“Who’s your friends you brought here with you tonight, child?”

“What... friends... Grandma?”

“Your friends. Who are they?”

“Grandma! Who... d-do y-you s-see, Grandma?”

“Well, let me see here now... I see one... two... three... four... There’s four in all.”

“Grandma! I’m frightened! You’re really scaring me!”

The cold floor shot up through Missy’s bare knees like ice picks.

“Love’s hard to do, you say, child?”

“Y-yes ma’m...”

“Then trust your friends here. That’s why they’re here. Lest you cast your foot up against a stone. They’ll do what you can’t, ‘til you can. Believe me, you can do it. It might take some time, or even a whole lifetime, but you’ll get there. Just never give up.”

“How?”

Missy looked around the shadowy room. She saw no one. Her teeth clacked together. She fumbled with her curly hair, got her silver spoon-ring caught.

“Dream, child. Then you’ll see.”

“But I’m not asleep, Grandma... I’m really scared. You’re scaring me...”

“It don’t make no nevermind whether you’re asleep or not. Go to dreaming, and you’ll see who came with you tonight.”

“How to dream while I’m still awake then?”

“You never had a daydream, child?”

“Yes ma’m. All the time... mostly in school, though.”

“Same thing. Just fade away.”

Missy dimmed her eyes and turned away from the suddenly sunlight candle, wishing it were put out, but then it didn’t matter, because the flame melted into the strawberry jam wallpaper and disappeared.  

“Now, child. Look over to the window.”

Missy moved her head. It was like swimming through honey. A tall man leaned in the corner. He was all shadow, but Missy could tell his dark hair was cropped short and sticking up in little spikes. His arms were long and muscular, and he didn’t wear a shirt. He seemed relaxed and confident, but ready for any action necessary. Nothing would pass him. Nothing in the whole entire universe would be fearless enough to even challenge him. Missy felt overwhelmed with a perfect sense of peace. She knew this man, this thing like a man, was there to protect her, and her alone.

“Now, child, look behind you,” her grandmother said.

Missy gazed about her. In the other corners of the room stood three... what were they? Angels? They were there as sure as she was there. She tried to talk, but couldn’t.

“They go with you in love, child. They’ll teach you.”

The soothing voice of the old woman filled the room and the twirling mind of Missy, and just before she slept, she saw the man by the window make a circular motion with his hand.

The candle went out without protest.

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