by Wendy ParkerLucy stood in the closet and twitched her nose.
There was an odd smell. Had someone had entered the room at last? She held her breath and placed her ear against the door. Yes, she could hear him. She was sure it was a him. No woman would enter her room without an invitation. Not in this house.
She sniffed. A smell like new-mown hay, yet not quite the same. Marijuana was it? Or sweet grass? Maybe it was an Indian from the reserve down the road. Or a drug-crazed Hippie from the commune on the other side of town. She had heard stories from the cleaning girls. She tried not to think of them. Both the girls and their stories frightened her. The girls were always giggling and clacking about the house. She hated the noise they made. Banging pots and scraping chairs across the floor. She was always happy when they went home, leaving her in peace for a whole week before they came again. She counted her life in those quiet weeks between their visits.
A tiny clink made her raise her eyebrows. A clink. What would that be? He must be going through the perfumes and cosmetics on the dresser. She wondered what he was looking for. Money or drugs? Well, he wouldn't find them here. Not in her room. She doubted whether he would find any money in the entire house. And drugs were out of the question, of course.
But the girls must wonder where everyone had gotten to. They were probably spreading stories about the Halpin household. How strange it was. How weird the residents were. Yet there was really nothing weird about them, was there?
A crash and a muffled curse brought her back. That would be the bedside lamp. Yes, she could hear the drawer sliding open now. He would find only her well-thumbed Bible and a picture of the family, taken in sunnier days when they were all together. They had posed for it in the grand backyard. She recalled that late Uncle Ambrose had operated the camera for them.
He was long gone now. Ambrose had died suddenly the year her mother had been diagnosed with brain cancer. It was the same year her brother, Tom, had left home. They said he had gone to the city to take a job with an insurance firm, but he had never come back. She had always wondered about that.
She suspected he had robbed a train and fled to South America. So many of the young men had done that, in those days. Some day they would all come home and there would be a population explosion. Real estate would soar and her father would build lovely big homes again.
Her father should have gone to Argentina or Bolivia or Uruguay or wherever it was that all the young men had gone. There must have been thousands of houses to build, with all of them there, with all of that money from the train robberies.
Strange that he had never sent any money home though, even when the family was having financial problems that had worried her father so much. Oh well, he wasn't worried now, was he? He was past all that veil of tears.
She forced herself to pay attention. If she concentrated, she could hear the rustle of his clothing and the scuff of his shoes as he moved around the room.
She imagined the room in semi-darkness, with only the soft light of the setting sun coming through the shades. The rays would pick up the motes of dust and make frightening patterns in the air. When she was a child, she had seen ghosts in the dust motes. Now she knew better. There were no ghosts. There was only silence.
He would be feeling his way around the bed, toward the wardrobe, toward the closet where she hid.
If he looked under the bed, he would get a surprise, but she doubted he would look there. It was a chore to bend down, pull up the bed skirt and peer into the darkness. How he would jump, maybe even give a little squeal of terror. But no, he wouldn't look there. Men never looked under beds. They were too sure of themselves, too full of their own dignity and too far from their childhood nightmares.
Only women looked under every bed. Experience had taught them that bogeymen were most surely there, no matter what their fathers had said in those long-ago nights. The stranger in her room would never stoop to peak under the bed. So he would learn to his chagrin that bogeymen were everywhere, even where you least expected them.
The wardrobe door opened and her skin pricked. She could almost hear his breathing. Unless something frightened him away, he would be on her, right at the door of her hiding place, in moments.
Did he know what he was seeking? Did he know what it looked like, what it felt like? Did he see its shape and colour, taste it in the back of his throat? Or had he just heard stories from the girls about the wealth lying hidden and useless in the Halpin house? Unspecified wealth. An ambiguous treasure of some kind. Something kept secret and covered in the old house on the hill. Did he sense her hand in the stories, so carefully placed and nurtured?
She wondered how old he was, how tall, how disappointed in life. He must be disappointed or he wouldn't be here. He would be home with his family, living his own life and not pawing around in the debris of hers.
A soft breeze rattled the wooden slats of the blinds. They clattered like small bones. Almost next to her, separated from her by the thin wooden panel of the closet door, he coughed with a muffled grunt. The dust must be getting in his nose. She grasped the doorknob loosely, so she could feel it in her fingers when it began to turn.
It began to turn. Then a flash of soft pink light from the window hit her eye. She pushed the door open, right in his face, with all her strength. Surprised, he grunted and lurched back. She could see him now, taller than her but not dramatically so, a slight man with longish hair and a sharp pinched face. He was startled, stunned even, by her sudden appearance. She must have looked like death to him.
In that instant, she smelled the fear on him. His heart must have leaped, as if jarred by an electric shock.
She waited motionless. Then his eyes took her in and a smile played on his mouth. She was nothing to be afraid of. She waited, until his muscles relaxed and his lips sneered and he reached forward toward her, to grab her and pull her out of the closet. He knew the house was empty and he thought he had nothing to fear.
She waited until the long, thin fingers touched the rough fabric of her brocade jacket. She could see he was about to speak. She didn't want him to speak. She wanted him frozen in that arrogant, indolent pose forever, without sound and without reprieve. She pushed the muzzle of her father's army revolver hard against his ribs and waited for him to glance down. There it was. That little frisson of doubt in the eyes. The explosion filled the small room with a roar that made her ears ring. The glorious, evocative smell of cordite and the soulful thump of the corpse on the old hardwood floor.
Lucy briefly wondered who he had been in his life, then dismissed the thought. It didn't matter. It never did.
She kicked his arm out of her way, stepped out of the closet and went to make dinner for herself. Something simple, she thought, to mark the day. Something in honour of all that had gone before and all that would come after. It was her novena, wasn't it? Good as gold, ever true, never known to fail.
The Black Mamba is said to be the deadliest snake in the world. It is also said to be nervous, which is hard to understand, giving that it is virtually unkillable. Check out this fascinating creature at the Blue Planet\'s Black Mamba site.
Submitted on 2007-05-06 21:05:00
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