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Authors: Bentley Little

The Town (10 page)

BOOK: The Town
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But she was afraid to get up and go to the bathroom.
She was ashamed of herself. She was a mother, for God’s sake. She was supposed to be the one reassuring her children that there were no ghosts or monsters, that the world was the same at night as it was during the day, that darkness hid no terrors.
But she could not even make herself believe it.
She did not understand what it was about the house that unsettled her so, that engendered within her this feeling of dread, but it was there, and it had not abated one whit since their arrival. If anything, it had grown stronger. There’d been no incidents since the dishes, no overt examples of anything unusual occurring, but as much as she tried to discount what she felt, as often as she attempted to ignore her feelings and write them off as the result of culture shock or emotional strain, she could not.
Which was why she was lying awake in the middle of the night, afraid to go to the bathroom.
Was their new home haunted?
It was what she kept coming back to.
She had never been superstitious, had never even been totally convinced of the existence of God. Anything beyond the physical world had been, to her, entirely theoretical and more in the realm of fiction than fact. But that attitude was changing, and, as ridiculous as she would have found it a month ago, she was now seriously considering the possibility that some sort of ghost or spirit was living in their house.
A ghost or spirit? Was she serious?
She sighed. Hell, maybe it
Earlier, she and Gregory had lain awake for a long time, talking. It was the only time they really got any privacy these days, and once they were in bed, they snuggled together to share the thoughts and feelings they did not want to discuss in front of Gregory’s mother or the children.
When he started talking about the café and his plans to make it into a nightspot, an entertainment venue that would lure name acts to this little corner of the state, she suggested that perhaps she would find something to do, too.
“You want to help me out with the sound system?” he asked.
She shook her head, smiled. “No. I was thinking more like volunteer work.”
“I thought you wanted to—”
“I’ll get around to that,” she said quickly. “But I need some . . . adjusting time.”
“Volunteer work, huh? Let me guess. At the library.”
“Or Teo’s school,” she said defensively.
He chuckled.
“I want to be here when the kids get home in the afternoon.”
Gregory nodded, still smiling. He pulled her closer, kissed her forehead. “Whatever you want.”
His condescending attitude annoyed her, and she dropped the subject, letting him drone on and on about the café before they finally made love and went to sleep.
Or rather he went to sleep.
She was still awake.
And had to go to the bathroom.
She remained in the bed, wide awake, and it was another half hour before she finally gathered enough courage to get out of bed and walk across the hall to the bathroom, “accidentally” waking Gregory up in the process so that he would be conscious should anything happen. It was another forty-five minutes before fatigue finally overcame her and she fell asleep.
At breakfast, Gregory’s mother talked about angels.
She was telling Teo and Adam a story about how a guardian angel had saved her from falling off a boulder into a cactus patch, and between bites of cereal, the kids asked clarifying questions that indicated they believed every word. It was not the first time this had happened, and Julia felt a little uncomfortable having so much religious talk in the house, but she understood that if her mother-in-law was to live with them, this was something that she would have to learn to put up with. She and Gregory exchanged a look, and he shrugged resignedly.
Besides, who was she to say? Maybe there were angels. A completely separate race of beings existing on some other, higher plane. It was something that a lot of people seemed to believe in. But would angels take such an interest in specific individuals that they would monitor a person’s every move? It didn’t make any kind of logical sense, but perhaps angels sat around and discussed the impact of things upon people just the way people sat around and discussed animals and the environment. To a race of beings that advanced, humans would be like pets, like lower life-forms, and perhaps their intervention in human affairs would be the equivalent of saving redwoods or protecting the denizens of natural wetlands.
Sasha walked downstairs, poured herself a glass of orange juice, and quickly downed it. “I’m off,” she announced.
Her grandmother frowned. “You need good breakfast. You eat breakfast.”
“No time!” She was out the kitchen door and into the living room. “See you this afternoon!”
Gregory pushed his chair back and stood. “Come on,” he told Adam and Teo. “Better get ready.”
“How come you have to drive us?” Adam said. “How come I can’t walk to school like Sasha?”
“Because she’s in high school. Go brush your teeth and get ready.”
“No good,” his mother said, shaking her head. “Breakfast important.”
“I don’t want to brush my teeth!” Teo announced.
Julia pulled back her daughter’s chair, lifted the girl out and set her on the floor. “You brush them anyway. Hurry up, you don’t want to be late for school.”
Ten minutes later, both children were in the car, and Julia waved to them as Gregory pulled out of the drive. She turned and walked back into the house, where Gregory’s mother was already clearing the breakfast table and preparing to wash dishes.
Julia picked up her cup and sipped the still-warm coffee, sitting down at the table and glancing through first the Food, then the front-page sections of the
Los Angeles Times
that they’d received yesterday in the mail. They’d fallen into a pattern: she made breakfast and Gregory’s mother did the dishes afterward. She and her mother-in-law took turns cooking dinner, and Gregory and the kids alternated with the washing. Which meant that she was only really stuck with cleaning the lunch dishes.
It was the one part of their new domestic arrangement that was an improvement on the way things had been before.
From out on the road, there was the sound of a rattly pickup truck passing by. Julia glanced up from her paper and over at her mother-in-law. They were alone, the old woman had just been talking about angels, and this was a perfect opportunity to bring up what she’d been thinking about. She sat there for a moment, finished off her coffee, then took her cup over to the sink. She placed the cup in the sudsy water and cleared her throat. “Do you believe in ghosts?” she asked.
Gregory’s mother looked at her, but did not answer immediately. She rinsed the plate she’d been washing and placed it on the rack. “Why you ask?” she said finally.
This was her chance. She could come clean, tell her mother-in-law what she’d been thinking, what she’d been feeling, but her American attitude was too firmly ingrained for her to drop the facade, and she was disgusted with herself as she said, “I was just curious.”
The old woman nodded, as if this was what she had been expecting. She looked at Julia. “There are
” she said earnestly. She paused, thought. “Father, before he die, he saw brother George. He die long time ago, when he was ten years old. Poor ragged clothes. Father in bed, and brother George came to the room and he gave Father a key and disappear. Father dying and he told Mother, said, ‘He give me the key, the door’s open. I’m going to die.’ And he did. He said brother George look exactly the same, same ragged clothes. So those things happen.”
Julia felt a chill pass through her, though she could tell that her mother-in-law had meant the tale to be reassuring, not frightening.
Those things happen.
She thought about the uncomfortable darkness of the house and the uneasiness she’d felt here ever since they’d arrived, about the box of dishes that had fallen from a place where it had not been put, in a room that had no one in it.
There was the sudden sound of their van crunching gravel in the driveway, and Julia jumped, startled. Gregory’s mother looked at her, and there was a knowing expression on her face, a look that said she knew what Julia had been thinking and why she had really asked about ghosts.
Julia turned away in embarrassment.
“Hey,” Gregory said, walking into the kitchen and dropping his keys on the counter. “What’re you guys talking about?”
“Ghosts, the afterlife, the usual stuff.” Again, Julia was disgusted to hear the flippant tone of her own voice.
“I tell her about Father. How he see brother George before he die.”
Gregory poured himself the last of the coffee. “What about Aunt Masha’s husband? He died when she was really young, didn’t he?”
A cloud passed over his mother’s face. “That was no good.”
“Still, it happened. Tell Julia. It’s interesting.” He smiled at Julia, and she suddenly hated that smug, superior look on his face, the same exact look she knew was all too often found on her own. For the first time, she saw things from the perspective of their parents, and she thought that Gregory’s mother had been uncommonly patient with them and their intellectually snobbish attitude, far more patient than she herself could ever be.
She gently took her mother-in-law’s arm. “Tell me about it,” she said.
The old woman sighed, nodded. She wiped her hands on a dishtowel, then followed Julia back to the table, where the three of them sat individually, like the points of a triangle, facing each other.
“Masha’s husband, Bill, see, he die. At thirty. She took it too hard. She cried every single day. Was losing her mind, she cry so much. Then she said she hear so much noise from the back room. Always noise. But nobody was there. Then she call Father and say she saw Bill in a black suit. When she told Father, Father said, ‘We have to have prayer’ ”—she clapped her hands together firmly—“ ‘That’s it.’ They have a prayer, and she never saw him, never dream, never notice him again. Gone.”
“He was a ghost?” Julia asked.
“No. No ghost. No such thing as ghost.”
Gregory sipped his coffee. “Father told me, ‘If I can come back and let you know, I will.’ ”
His mother’s expression was determined. “He’s not going to come back.”
“So there are no ghosts?” Julia said. “Dead people can’t come back?”
“Sometimes they come . . . but in the form of angel. Then you know it’s not a devil.”
“So when dead people come back, those are evil spirits?”
The old woman nodded. “Yes. See, when somebody dying, they always see someone. Like my father see brother George. And when my grandmother’s father dying, he said, ‘There’s your mother, standing by my feet.’ ‘Where?’ ‘Right there.’ ” She leaned forward intently. “He saw. Nobody else saw, but she
there. When you die, somebody’s there with you. You don’t die alone, but other people cannot see it.”
“What if a regular person sees a ghost? What if someone who’s not dying sees a ghost?”
She shook her head. “Ghost is nothing.”
“I thought you said Masha saw her husband dressed in black. Wasn’t that a ghost?”
“No.” She shook her head. “It was evil spirit.” She thought for a moment. “Devil like mean things. He want to disturb her more and more and more, see? That’s why you have to
It happen to Sonya, my cousin. She live in San Diego and her mother die. She so close to her mother. She lost husband on account of mother. She take care of her mother, husband took other lady. So after her mother die, she said, ‘My mother came and visit me and she talk to me.’ When she told her father, he said, ‘What you mean, you talk to your mother?’ They have to have prayer, too. See, it wasn’t her mother but the
of her mother. Because she cry too much. You don’t cry. Well, you cry, but not everyday everyday everyday, you know?”
Julia felt chilled. “So when you have too much grief, they come back?”

come back. That’s why when John die, I pray every single night. It’s hard, but it’s easy. If you say prayer, he not going to come in. When you pray, they don’t like it. The devil will leave.” She leaned back. “Those things happen.”
Those things happen.
Julia was glad that Gregory and his mother were here, that she was not alone in the house.
“Anyway, that’s what I believe. That’s what I think happen.” She gave Julia a meaningful look, then stood and walked back over to the sink. “Dishwater getting cold,” she said.
Gregory drank his coffee and shrugged apologetically, but Julia ignored him, looking away, watching his mother’s back as she began washing plates. She felt bad about the way they’d treated the old woman over the years, guilty for the manner in which they’d automatically dismissed her obviously deeply held beliefs.
Was Julia a believer now herself?
No, not really. She was spooked, yes, but she still thought that it was probably due to the fact that she was spending too much time in the house. That was what was at the root of the problem, not anything supernatural. She just needed to get out, meet some people, find something to do.
Maybe volunteering wasn’t such a bad idea.
But she had a newfound respect for her mother-in-law, and as she walked out of the kitchen and back to the bedroom to change out of her pajamas and bathrobe, she vowed that she would no longer disparage the older woman’s convictions. After all, this was her culture as well. She was American, but she was Molokan, too, and perhaps it was time she started honoring her roots.
She walked into the bedroom. The drapes were open, but it was still dark in here, and Julia shivered involuntarily as she quickly flipped on the light.
There was a letter waiting for him when he got home from school, a letter from Roberto, and Adam took it immediately into his bedroom and closed the door. He plopped down on the bed, tore open the envelope and read. Roberto had written a hilarious account of the first day of school, catching him up on what all of the other kids had done over the summer, how Sheila Hitchcock had ballooned up even more and now looked like a white whale, how the sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Mejia, wiggled her butt when she wrote on the chalkboard and how Jason Aguilar stood behind her and did a killer imitation and then quickly sat down in his seat before she turned around. He’d included, as promised, a Spiderman card, a new one, and Adam immediately added it to his collection, placing it on the top of the rubber-banded stack on his dresser.
BOOK: The Town
2.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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