Authors: Kenneth J. Harvey
âShortly after leaving Liverpool, I heard that Georgie and Willy were murdered. An anonymous letter arrived in which it was stated that my
name was on a list, that my address was known. Of course they knew my address. What more proof did I require than the letter in hand? At once, I sought out an address far removed. Bareneed. The letter stated that my food or water would be poisoned. That my family would be hunted. I had to escape, and it worked. You were not harmed. Were you?' Alan Duncan turned his eyes to the secret.
The secret, wiping at her eyes, slowly shook her head.
âYour mother, she grew to despise me. But you were never harmed. I see that now. Thank God. My food and water. It seemed they were safe, despite what I suspected. Under the protection of this institutionâ¦Regardless, I have been poisoned.'
Emily watched her father until she could no longer bear it.
âIt has been an exceedingly slow poisoning.'
Emily turned away and went to her case. Opening it, she sniffed away the tears and searched around for the black and white photograph taken by Brent Linegar with his new camera. She found the envelope containing the photograph and slid it out into her palm. Captured there was Junior, holding a baby in his arms and smiling. The sun was in his eyes and one eye was completely shut, his head tilted on an angle as though to shun the brilliance, the tall grass behind him, the slatted corner edge of their house. Blackstrap in Junior's arms. Emily had meant to show it to her father, so that he might know the two boys, at least in image. But now she was made nauseous by the prospect of his eyes roaming over the appearance of her sons. They were children, just as she had been. She glanced back at what she'd thought was her father.
âWhat have you there?' he asked, with a lightness to his voice, as though the story was now told and done with, and they might be not only fair-sailing blood relatives, but friends.
Emily considered turning the photograph around and bringing it near to her father's face. His eyes fixed on the black and white surface. How far into it might he fall?
Who is this? Alan Duncan would think. Who are these boys? Nothing of what he would see of them he would know.
Emily slid the photograph back into the envelope and put it in her case. Her knees were wobbling. She shut the case and moved it from the
chair. Then she dropped down onto it. Seated there, in her hat and coat, she put her hands to her face as though to hide.
A room, thought Alan Duncan. A weeping woman. A dying man.
The secret changing hands.
Uncle Ace kills the creature in the box
The flicker from the sway of a single candle flame gave illumination to the kitchen table. Vaguer light lent dim visibility to the far reaches of the room. Uncle Ace was seated in his motionless rocking chair toward one corner, his grim face unchangeable in the subtle shift of shadows cast by the creeping and ebbing light. Steadily, he watched toward where the creature was set down in its box beside the stove. The creature made not a sound even though it stirred awake. It searched with its eyes. It seemed to know and not know at once. It sniffed to recognize the space it shifted in. The creature would soon chew. It was good at chewing.
One creature eating another. A full stop. He was a man. He knew that much. His hands were a dead giveaway. The grasping fingers of a man. Hands that could hold artefacts. Tools. Food. Weapons. As was the case throughout his long-standing years, he suspected something skulking in the corners of his eyes. He took it for a trick, yet it was not. What moved always in the outermost line of his peripheral vision was often a bug. In this case, a carpenter, its grey back sectioned like armour, searching out a hiding place for the fall. The carpenter bug found its way inside with the cold, like mice, like rats, like hornets and blue-arsed flies. There were creatures hidden everywhere in the house. Behind ceiling mouldings, beneath wallpaper, tucked away in attics where they chewed themselves a nest. Hiding away from the killing weather. Their home. A man had to permit them. Why should they cause him unrest? Who was he to say
otherwise? A mouse snapped in a trap. A bug underfoot. The crushing smear. He took it all to heart, yet â in doing so â experienced an even greater urgency to destroy. Love and kill. Keep the heart removed from it. Flesh was meat, no matter what god was said to govern it. When face to face with a murderous animal. Try to reason it was worth more than yourself. Worth sparing with its teeth and claws in you, like hunger, like desolation, slaughter to put food on the table. A moderate heart was a luxury, not for the caring, but for the eating.
Uncle Ace pressed his thick, blue-veined hands into the armrests of the rocking chair and stood. It was enough to be on his feet. He often suffered from dizziness and a throbbing at the base of his skull. Whiteness sheeted across his vision with any sudden movement and he would forget everything. He stood still, waiting for his brain to allow sight, his eyes clearing to a view of this room.
The creature in the box by the stove shifted its eyes to give him attention. It was a round, soft creature from which no challenge would be expected. He had taken this creature from the house of a woman. The creature was being fed there. He had taken it from where it was sleeping, and brought it here. The creature had not seemed to mind. It made no noise.
There came the sound of a larger creature from overhead. Footsteps and shifting. A sound or two from a mouth or nostrils. Whatever it was might be sleeping. Tossing itself from one side to the other. The house tipped by wind. Not a threat in its present form.
The scurrying and clawing of life in a wall.
The progression of the carpenter bug, thriving on the rot, with its grey armoured back that would not prevent its own crushing, inching toward the table leg.
Seven blue-arsed flies nestled beneath a sheet of wallpaper with its edge slightly unglued toward the ceiling moulding. They would sit in your hand and not fly, made sluggish by the accumulating chill.
A hornet hibernating in the sleeve of an old coat in the back porch.
A man inside, kept safe from the biting wind that hammered the walls. It was preferable to be in here than out there, although something told him he would fare better being blown about. Facing every punch of the wind.
Uncle Ace stepped nearer the box by the stove. The creature's mother was nowhere to be seen. Usually the creature's mother was near, but the creature's mother seemed to have been gone for a time unknown. There had been a number of them in a nest. His memory of such things. There were bottles that the creature sucked from. What was it? This thing. He trod nearer. The creature watched him. There was no threat, but once it grew larger, there might be a challenge. One day the time would come. Larger and larger until its needs surpassed a meagre amount and the power that was held over it would dissipate. It would encroach upon the requirements of others. It would make demands and strike out at those nearest to it. Proximity of the heart, he thought, his eyes fixed on the creature's chest. Proximity of one heart to another. Never to forget the others' passing.
Now was the time to make away with it, before it gained the upper hand for all of its life, hiding inside one, hiding inside another. It was the stink of men that he sensed from the creature. How the creature might live off the stores of others. Not so young then. Not so cuddly. The creature would occupy space in its mother and father. Take up more and more space.
Uncle Ace trod nearer. The creature's eyes were upon him. He stared and stared, growing agitated, breathing harsher. Beast upon beast. Club it to death. Deliver blows until nothing remained, save the act of forgetting.
The creature's eyes shifted from him toward the doorway. Uncle Ace turned to see yet another creature, larger but still not full grown. Two to kill. No. Two to kill him. The larger but not full grown one with its eyes on his hand. He was holding the weapon. The one he needed before, in the first place. The one that would have saved him. He laid it down on the counter where it made a clatter and caught the soft glimmer of the lone candle flame. Little creatures surrounding him. They would not take him down. He was the bigger of the three. The larger now.
The one in the doorway stalked in and took the smaller one from the box, eyes warily fixed on him. âI thought he was at Coffey's,' said the small creature.
Uncle Ace watched them go out together, through the door. He looked back to the box. The creature still in its place. The one he had
been after. Grey and long with a bald tail. He raised the weapon from where he had laid it down. Both hands held the handle high. Then he squatted and thrust at once. Nothing felt as the tip went through. The creature pinned there, to the bottom of the box. Done. He checked over his shoulder. Footsteps slowly treading upstairs.
Rising from his crouch, Uncle Ace watched the creature jerk in spasm. It was a dance, a jig, a trick that everyone might, one day, learn the steps to. Funny, it was. He had seen it before. Men engaged in that painful flailing of limbs. How many living things in the room now with him not counted?
When the jig had stopped, he yanked the weapon loose and picked up the still-warm creature in his hands. He went out the back door and through the front yard, past a sleeping mongrel and down the slope of Bareneed toward the headland. Under the blue spill of moonlight, he climbed up the headland, clinging to rocks and small trees until he reached the top. He watched out over the night ocean, the moonlight on the black water, a glistening streak that absolved his heart of every troubling crime.
The creature was not so heavy in his hands. He clutched it in his right hand and pressed it to his heart. Its pain would equal nothing short of his own. He moved toward the edge of the headland and stared down. He might fall forward, tumble and plummet for a count of final seconds before smacking the rocks, smacking other surfaces, harder and softer, in a blind thudding, until the water stopped him.
But he did not fall. Not this time, like all the others. He crawled down the far side of the headland to where the hole ran from one end to the other, the hole he crawled into as a child, barely capable of fitting through. A faultline that was said to be the place where Newfoundland, the island, would break in half one day if struck by the foretold tremor. He found it, big enough to barely fit into. Head first, he leaned into the narrow cavern, shoving the dead creature ahead of him as he progressed. Knees and elbows working to take him deeper into the rock, inching into the squat, dank confines until he could shift no further, nor could he move backwards. It was a place to rest, to hibernate. Warm as it was. Safe from the wind and the snow that was sure to gust in the coming months. Where he would spend the winter, safe from others, others safe from him.
With the dead creature, he shut his mind off to the other live ones that journeyed down the hole ahead of him, to worry over his face and scurry on legs that tracked upon him in time.
There he slept, waiting for division to open up the rock and expose him.
Junior sat on the edge of his father's bed with Blackstrap in his arms. His father's snoring pitched and rolled and thundered toward choking.
âHey, Blacky,' Junior whispered, watching the baby's face. âWhere'd Uncle Ace go? Did you see Uncle Ace too?' The baby's eyes searched around the dark room. Junior mentioned his uncle only out of fear, as though to talk about the man might lessen that worry. Blackstrap's eyes kept wandering, then fixed on Junior's face.
Junior checked his sleeping father, but would not wake him. Would his father believe him about Uncle Ace? He absent-mindedly rocked the baby in his arms and sang the song he remembered hearing from his mother:
Silent Night, Holy Night
All is calm, all is brightâ¦
âYou like that, Blacky?'
â¦Round yon virgin
Mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleeep in Heeeavenly peeeeeace
Sleeee-eep in Heavenly peace
Junior's eyes shifted to the doorway. There they remained, while he plainly uttered: âI don't think Uncle Ace is really dead, Blacky. How can I see him if he's just a ghost like Mom says?'
Any number of names
In the morning, Emily rose startled from bed in her room at the Welcome Arms. Confused as to where she might be, she threw back the covers and stood, her breasts paining her, the front of her nightdress wet with milk. A sour odour rose to her. She stepped before the mirror above the basin and saw the stains. Loosening the straps of her nightdress she let it drop and felt the fullness of her breasts. She leaned nearer the basin and prodded her nipples, rolling them and then squeezing them, until dots of milk appeared. She took hold of her breast with both hands and pressed her fingers into the flesh. Jets of milk shot into the sink. Doing so, she could not help but think of Blackstrap, but also of Jacob who had tasted the milk and commented on its flavour, taking a liking to it thereafter.
Having relieved herself sufficiently, she then dressed and ventured immediately by bus to the lunatic asylum. A deep-seated sensation of breathlessness and ill ease kept her fretting on the entire forty-five-minute ride.
The psychiatrist on duty, Dr. Frazier Walsh, was summoned by the nurse at the station when Emily requested a visit with her father. Stood in wait, Emily began to tremble, her head swimming with weakness. She remembered that she had not eaten breakfast, as her thoughts were with Blackstrap and whether he was being properly cared for. A baby. She tried to remember his face. She should never have left him, even though he was in capable hands with Mrs. Coffey. A woman not Blackstrap's mother. Emily began to perspire, droplets rising along her brow and hairline. If only she could be home now. Home with Blackstrap and Junior and Jacob. A house with them in it. This imagining connected her to a dream she had experienced last night. A dream of her house and family. Junior and Blackstrap had looked nothing like themselves. In
fact, they were the exact same age. Twins, eight years old. And when she entered the room, they merely regarded her with indifference and asked her where their mother was. How to remember now? Her mind jarred at the thought of their true faces. She could not recall them and the vacancy frightened her.
âHello.' Dr. Walsh, the lilt of an Irish accent evident in that one word. He placed a hand on her shoulder as though he had known her for years.
Emily shifted her eyes to that hand. The long fingers and trimmed nails.
âI'm sorry to tell you, but your father passed during the night.'
Emily made an involuntary sound, while Dr. Walsh went on to explain that every effort had been directed toward notifying her during her father's final hours the previous evening. However, she had not left an address where she might have been contacted.
Dr. Walsh then gestured her to his office. âCome and have a sit.'
Seated behind his desk, the doctor watched Emily as though he might know the truth of her existence. Her head swam while she wondered whether her father had told him about her, and she flushed with embarrassment, fearing that she might faint away. What if he asks about my children?
âAre you going to be alright?'
âYes,' she heard herself say. The sound of her own voice in her ears only heightened her weakness.
âI'm very sorry about your father, Emily.'
She could barely manage a nod. âThank you.' She bowed her head, her hands there in her lap.
âI have to say I'll miss him.'
Emily focused on the doctor, drawing out from within herself.
âHe was an interesting man, and I know he cared for you deeply. He always had a way of showing that.'
For whatever reason, perhaps because she had been removed from him and thus suspected that he was removed from her, in thought as well as location, she was caught off guard by the doctor's admission. Her head gave a slight shake.
âIt was always another name, but I knew it was you he was talking of. Any number of names. Victoria. Betty. Elizabeth. Emily. He had
delusions of harm coming to any number of young girls. He used different names, but I suspect he was referring to you in these cases.'
Again, Emily lowered her eyes, for she had begun to cry.
âI'm sorry for your troubles. Here.' He handed her a handkerchief.
Emily took it and dabbed at her eyes.
âI often wondered what kept you away. There was a record of your visits from several years ago. I had been meaning to contact you about it shortly. I only took over here five months ago.' The doctor paused. âWhat I suspected was that he might have harmed you at some point?'
Emily sobbed, âNo,' and shook her head.
âI needed to ask. He seemed to fear that his association with you might harm you in some way. Any idea why?'
Again, Emily replied in the negative, and pressed the handkerchief tight to her mouth to smother her sobs.
The doctor leaned back in his chair. âYour father was a brilliant man, Emily. He had a highly complicated story for me every day. It was always a chore to sort it out, always entertaining though.' He gave a caring, boyish smile. âI'll miss him.'
âYes,' she said, not knowing why she agreed. Who knew more of him? This doctor or the dead man's supposed daughter.
âAlan spoke freely of everything under the sun, yet he had a great secrecy about him.'
âYes.' More tears, and an open sobbing she could no longer restrain.
And so it remained, the matter of her father without clarification, her mother passed on, as well, the history of her existence left to her own mind to formulate.