Authors: Joan Hall Hovey
Tags: #General, #Fiction
Joan Hall Hovey
(Electronic Book Publishers)
192 Lakeside Greens Drive
Chestermere, Alberta, T1X 1C2
Copyright 2011 by Joan Hall Hovey
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
Copyright Joan Hall Hovey 2009
It was nice to be alone. As she brushed her hair, Gail launched into her favorite fantasy—buying her sister a white Ferrari. Ellen’s birthday was coming up in May. She’d have the car delivered right up to the door, a big red bow tied on the antenna. Dream on, girl, she told herself, grinning at her reflection in the mirror.
Tiger padded into the room just then, winding his sleek, warm body around her bare ankles, purring like an old washing machine.
"I owe her so much, Tiger," Gail said, reaching down to stroke the cat’s soft, glossy fur. "If it wasn’t for—"
Suddenly, Tiger’s back arched under her hand and he hissed. Gail’s heart leapt in her breast and her hand drew back as if it had been burned.
But Tiger, fur standing on end, had already fled the room. Gail turned in the chair just in time to see his electrified, retreating tail.
Then she caught a movement from the corner of her eye. Turning, she froze at the sight of the closet door slowly opening.
August 6, 1979
The closet door was at the top of the stairs at the end of the hall. To get to it he had to pass by two doors, one on either side, both now partly open. He could hear talking, very low.
Farther away, the sound of running water.
In three quick strides he was past the doors and inside the closet. He knew he was smiling. He felt excited the way he always did when he got past them. Even if anyone had got a glimpse of him, it wouldn’t really matter. He was invisible.
The invisible man.
The secret door was to his right, just behind the wide rack of musty-smelling winter coats in varying sizes. He ducked beneath them, and opening the door, let him into the narrow, cave-like space.
The space separating the inside and outside walls went nearly the whole way round the third floor, stopping abruptly at the wall of the stairwell where he had to turn around and go back the way he had come. Once, this space had been used for storage - old bed springs, broken chairs, trunks - but the doors, except for the one in the closet which he had come upon quite by luck, and through which he had come again and again, had long since been replaced by sheetrock and papered over with rose-patterned wallpaper.
It was pitch black in front of him and all around him, like he was all-alone in the world. He had his flashlight, but didn’t turn it on. He knew the way. Besides, it might shine through someplace.
As he made his way along the darkened corridor, breathing in the stale, hot air, his progress slowed by the long, heavy skirt he wore, he had to stoop. At seventeen, though narrow-shouldered, he was nearly six feet tall.
Sweat was trickling down between his shoulder blades, and under the wig, his head felt squirmy, so he took the wig off and stuffed it into his pants pocket, under the skirt.
And then he was there. He could see the thin beam of light shining through, projecting a tiny star on the wall. It was coming through the place where two Sundays ago, when they were all at Chapel, he had made a peephole. He’d made it by simply pounding a nail through, then drawing it cleanly back out so that there would be nothing detectable on the other side—no more than a black dot.
A giggle floated through to him and the smile froze on his face, his fists clenching involuntarily. No, it can’t be me they’re laughing at. They can’t see me. They don’t know I’m here.
You’re invisible, remember?
Calming himself, he slowly brought his face to the wall.
Eight narrow, iron-framed beds faced him, each covered by a thin, gray blanket with a faded red stripe across the top and bottom. Twelve beds in all, but the two at either end were cut from his view. A few religious pictures hung above the beds. The one facing him said "Suffer the Little Children to Come
Me." It had a picture of a lamb on it. Only three of the beds were occupied. It was still early. Some of the girls were probably downstairs watching their allotted hour of TV. Others would still be doing kitchen duty. At least one troublemaker would be doing "quiet time."
He grinned. He understood now that the laughter he’d heard had come from one of the two girls sitting on the edge of the bed flipping through a teen idol magazine. He’d caught a look at the cover—some weirdo with a green punk hairdo and a guitar slung around his neck. The two sluts, heads together, were still at it, giggling, whispering, low and secretive. He felt a hot surge of hatred course through his veins. He wished SHE would walk in on them right now. He knew what they were doing. They were talking about who they
who they thought was "cute," who they would let do it. They were thinking and talking about that.
Two beds over, a fat girl with short brown hair that looked as if someone
(guess who? Ha-ha)
had cut it around a
lay on her back with her hands behind her head, staring at the ceiling. A jagged scar traveled from a spot between her eyebrows right up into her hairline. He could tell she’d been crying; her raisin eyes were all red and puffy, practically disappearing in her moon face. They cried a lot in here. Mostly in the middle of the night when they thought no one could hear. It always excited him hearing their soft muffled sobs. Sometimes though, it just made him mad like it did when they laughed. Then he wanted to fix it so they didn’t make any sound at all.
His gaze wandered back to the girl who had first caught his attention, the one who sat under the lamb picture, and who he’d wanted to save for last. She was sitting cross-legged on the bed, a writing tablet balanced on her knees, her long, pale hair fallen forward, though some damply dark ends curled against her neck. He watched as she scribbled a few lines,
frowning, looked over what she had written. She would chew on her yellow pencil, then write some more, the pencil making whispery sounds on the paper. He watched her for a long time, taking in the flushed, shiny cheeks that made him think, as had the dark damp curls, that she might just have stepped out of the bath. Yes, he remembered hearing the water running. He liked to see them when they just got out of the bath—all that damp flowing hair, pinkly scrubbed skin, soft necks.
Sometimes they changed into their flannel nightgowns right there on the edge of their beds, right there in front of him—though of course they didn’t know that. That was the best part.
Them not knowing.
It didn’t matter that they dressed so hurriedly and so fast that he often didn’t get to see much. Though occasionally there was a flash of white shoulder, a curve of breast. I’m watching you, he thought, and had to stifle a giggle of his own. And then she raised her head and those clear blue eyes were staring right at him, stabbing fear into his heart. He couldn’t move.
She was frowning, not in the way she did when she was thinking of what to write, but with her head cocked to one side, as if she were listening for something. A terrible thought struck him. What if he hadn’t just almost laughed, but actually done it, right out loud? Adrenaline pumping crazily through his body, he backed slowly away from the peephole. Standing perfectly still with his back against the wall, he waited. When after several minutes there were no screams, no sudden cries of alarm to alert the other girls—and HER, especially HER—he began to relax. His heartbeat returned to normal; once more he brought his eye to the hole. She was back to writing.
Of course she was. He smiled to himself. He hadn’t laughed out loud, after all. And she hadn’t seen him. Of course she hadn’t. His gaze slid down to her breasts, their shapes round and firm as little apples under the flannel nightgown.
But you will, he thought. You will.
Standing on the top rung of the stepladder, Ellen
up on her sneaker-clad toes and carefully fitted the silver angel on the top of the tree. Its shadow shivered on the ceiling, then was still.
"Hand me that blue bulb, Myra, please," she said from her rickety perch.
was playing on the stereo—a new London Philharmonic tape. It was the first Christmas Ellen Harris had celebrated in three years.
"Christ, will you be careful," Myra said, having returned from laying another log on the fire. "I swear, you had to be a tightrope walker in your last life, you’re so damned sure-footed." She started to set her glass of wine down on the blond coffee table, caught herself, and slid a coaster under it, which brought a faint smile from Ellen. Behind Myra, the fire crackled and leaped to life, the flames lighting the sherry in her glass a lovely ruby red.
A twin tree bedecked in colorful bulbs and tinsel was reflected in the window. Beyond the window, fat snowflakes fell softly—just like in the snow-scene painted on the Christmas bulb.
A perfect dress rehearsal for Christmas Eve, Ellen thought. And what was it they said about a good dress rehearsal? Oh, hell, knock it off, she told herself as Myra’s hand hovered above one of the boxes lined up on the sofa, chose one.
"No, the steepled one next to it," Ellen said. "Yeah, that’s it—thanks." She gingerly reached for the bulb.
"Pretty," Myra commented, handing it up to her.
The scenic ornament was electric blue in color. Ellen held it in her upturned hand as if it were a precious jewel. "It is." Her smile was wistful.
It belonged to my mother, and to her mother before her." She searched for a bare spot on the tree, found just the right one. "Gives me a sense of continuity, I suppose," she said, studying the effect. "And maybe it sounds crazy, but it sort of makes me feel a small part of Mom and Dad will be here, sharing Christmas with me and Gail." It felt so good to be finally able to say that and mean it. Her parents wouldn’t be fighting, of course. They never fought in the ideal scenarios of Ellen’s imagination. Well, at least she didn’t hate them anymore, and that was something.
"It doesn’t sound crazy at all," Myra said, picking up her glass and taking a sip of wine.
"Maybe a little sentimental, but what the hell?
Sentiment’s good. Actually, I wish I could say the same about..." Her words trailed off, but not before Ellen heard the old note of bitterness creep into her friend’s voice.