“Mac it’s the exact same house.” Gabby slopped the burned pot-roast onto his plate, not noticing his grimace.
“It can’t be the same house Gabs. You’ve never seen it. No one has.” Mac scooped a blob of meat into his mouth and suppressed a gag. He’d quickly learned how to slip Gabby’s cooking into the back of his mouth and swallow it without tasting it; in a few months he would be ready to go on Survivor. He shook his head again, “In a dream things are foggy. You just think it’s the same house because it’s a house. You were dreaming of a house because we just bought one. Not that you need to sleep for this place to be a nightmare, you know the new hot water heater is gonna cost us eleven hundred?”
Gabby sighed and scooped out her own dinner. It looked disgusting and she pushed it away. “Or maybe it’s the same house and I’m psychic.”
Mac laughed with a hearty snort that sent barbeque sauce into his sinus cavity. “Trust me you’re not psychic.”
Gabby felt like the words were loaded, she smirked. Maybe he was right, he had to be. She could barely even remember the dream now and even that morning, when she had only just escaped dreamland, it was already being pulled away.
After being quiet a long time, Gabby spoke up. “Maybe I went there once as a kid. Camping or something?”
Mac sighed, “Let’s change the subject.”
“Fine.” Gabby scooped more carcass onto his plate.
He swallowed, “My parents called.”
Mac had never been good at navigating the terrain of a fight. He leapt into unfortunate conversations with oblivious gusto and usually at the beginning of meals or long car rides.
“What did Gloria have to say for herself?”
Mac wiped his mouth and cleared his throat, hacking up his next sentence. “They’re coming to visit.”
Gabby dropped her fork. It hit the cheap dishware with a clank. “Why?”
“They’re my parents.” Mac responded defensively.
Gabby’s face turned red as her temper flared. “I meant why are they going to start acting like it?”
“Gabby you know why they cut me off.” Mac pointed an accusatory fork towards Gabby.
“Unbelievable. You know there’s the door. If marrying me was just a big mistake leave. I’m sure Gloria will take you back. Your dad will cut you back into the business. You can be CEO instead of a lineman. Isn’t that what you want?”
Mac stood, “I’m a lineman because I believe in working my way up in the company. I will be CEO one day. I went to Wharton! I don’t need this.” Mac pulled his jacket off the counter and left the porch door open in his wake. A cool breeze rolled through the kitchen and brought with it a few dried leaves.
Gabby sat examining her Formica island and packing boxes. “You’re in denial!” She bellowed out the door, the breeze blowing it back in her face. Not that he would have heard it anyway. She’d already heard hisToyota’s engine fire up and fade away. Why she didn’t get up and leave was a mystery to her. The door was already open. She supposed love had something to do with it. It had something to do with why Mac had given up a life of privilege to marry her and why he’d stayed. Love had never seemed like a more ridiculous notion than it did now. Like magic or the tooth fairy. A child’s fantasy. She needed something tangible. Something she could hold, a physical reason. Gabby wasn’t sure why she didn’t at least get up and shut the door. The wind had gotten icy and her goose pimples were spreading. But she couldn’t move, once open some doors can’t be closed.
Toilet paper. Toilet paper. Toilet paper. Again the mantra sounded with every step that Gabby pounded into the sidewalk. An imaginary shopping list she would remember all day and forget once she entered the store. She would also forget her eco-friendly grocery bags. This would annoy her for the rest of the day, especially while she sat at the laundry mat thinking how she could have used the dimes saved to wash her delicates separately. Her cashmere socks could have their own cycle, separate from Mac’s rugby clothes. Nothing was separate anymore. A twinge in Gabby’s knee forced her off balance and she circled around the post office’s flagpole and onto the soft grass of Collin’s Green. In the summer time the green landscape would be dotted with bikini ready high-schoolers and dog walkers. Today, not a soul dared interrupt the endless landscape.
She and Mac had once held a picnic there. They had announced their engagement and her pregnancy at what was supposed to be their graduation party. There was a lack of enthusiasm amongst the guests. Gloria’s face had been cold to say the least.
Hummus. Hummus. Hummus. Must get hummus. If Gloria and Hank came they would bring Ingrid and she was wild about humus. Of course that meant making a vegetarian dinner. Gabby would do it for Ingrid. Mac’s little sister was the only member of his family who accepted Gabby. She had smiled at their wedding and given them a bouquet of onsies for the baby. The nursery was being transformed into a guest room. It should be done by the time his parents came. Mac could deal with it.
Gabriella stopped, catching her breath and scanning her surroundings. She hit the hold button on her iPod and tied her headphone around her waist. The large white home in front of her was being entombed alive in ivy. Without moving a muscle the paralyzed architecture had accepted its fate and allowed nature to protect it from gentrification and vandals. Gabby hadn’t meant to run there and yet there she stood, face to face with her demon. A large widow’s peak anchored the Victorian house and a small shutter squealed for oil in the morning draft. It was more beautiful than Gabby had perceived from town.
Walking up the stone path Gabby tried the door. It was locked tight. She’d hoped the years would have rusted the hinges or that previous intruders would have left her an entrance, but there was no luck. Going deeper into the woods, she peered in each darkened window and soon found herself behind the house, which proved to be wide but narrow. The cliff it sat upon was small and any additional rooms would have taken up the entire back yard. Instead the owners had set up white stone benches around a small pond and rose bushes. Nestled amongst the thorns was a small ornament of Pan playing a fife and peering into the water. Gabby could smell lilacs, but it would be months before the trees would bloom.
Her phone beeped and she checked her calendar.
-A reminder to get an electrician to ground the outlets.-
She had, in fact, remembered to call him, he would be at her house in ten minutes. Getting up to leave her eye caught movement in the window of the widow’s peak. Straining to see Gabby balanced on her tippy toes, there was no one there. Sticking her ear buds back into her ears she bolted for her house, skidding down the mountain in a treacherous shortcut.
The electrician had cancelled. She unpacked three boxes and found a recipe online for vegetarian goulash. She washed their Hawks jerseys and packed the cooler for tailgating. There was nothing else to do, well nothing that could be done in the thirty minutes she had until Mac came home. Flipping on her computer Gabby circled the machine, thinking about cookies and browser histories. She opened Google, then skimmed TMZ and Apartment Therapy, then re-opened Google. Her morning adventure had produced an address for the house. Number 1605. A foundation cornerstone had even produced a date. The place was built in 1856. Gabby tapped her finger on the keyboard trying to select her strokes. Presuming that road had once connected toAnderson Drive, the main road which now led a quarter mile up the bluff, it would be1605 Anderson Drive. Gabby typed ferociously. Nothing.
The local library offered digitized editions of the Morgun Gazette from 1843 – 1925 but they were impossible to search. Searches returned random symbols and her browser complained of an error more times than not.
“H-A-W-K-S Go!” Mac screamed from the hallway as he threw down his work duffel and continued the chant. Scooping Gabby into his arms he kissed her and grabbed his jersey. “Homecoming weekend. Doesn’t get much better than that!”
Mac had always been a sucker for traditions; it was one of the first things Gabby loved about him. He was already loading the car with coolers of beer and bags of hot dogs and fixins.
The Cliffwood High School Hawks were undefeated the past two seasons. Their rival, the Panthers, had been champion for the forty-five years before that. To say the town was obsessed with the outcome of the homecoming game was putting it mildly. Main Street had already been renamed Mainard Street in honor of the victorious coach who drank for free in every bar and enjoyed every moment of his small time celebrity. Mac rubbed Henri the mascot for good luck. Gabby grabbed the beak and whispered inside, “Want a beer Bryce?”
The hawk nodded and Gabby stuck a cold one down the hatch. Mr. Withers and his wife had already snagged the best spot overlooking both the field and the parking lot where the fights and legends were always born. Last year Scotty Greer had been born there too.
“Got the dogs?” Mr. Withers gummed his words.
“You bet. Got the grill?” Mr. Withers pointed to the small camping grill behind his folding chair. Mac dropped the coolers and the two men began deciding on the best strategy for getting a good char on the sausages.
“How’s things Mrs. W?” Gabby sat down in her daisy embroidered beach chair and rested her head on her purse.
“Fine, just fine.” Mrs. Withers was always rocking her head back and forth. Mac theorized it was a rhythm she heard in her hearing aid. Maybe it got Lite FM. They always joked if there was a twister she’d be the first to know. “We talked to Rachel last night.”
“Really?” Gabby didn’t mean to sound disinterested but news from Rachel was always the same. Besides the two hadn’t really been friends for years now.
“Sent her some pictures of the house.” Mrs. Withers pointed to the bluff. Night had hidden the mansion just as well as the trees had, Gabby couldn’t make out a single feature. “She’s going to paint it. Says it’s a great story.”
“I’d love to know the real story.” Gabby considered telling Mrs. Withers she had been there but Mac was in ear shot. “You haven’t heard anything have you?”
“No. If anyone does know a thing it would be Prudence.” Mrs. Withers looked down to the green tent that Prudence Collins’s maid had set up. Her money was legendary. Rumor was it had bankrolled the Revolutionary war and Prudence always thought that gave her the right to run the town. Now, her great-grand-children were grown and gone to the West Coast, leaving the old woman alone with her memories and roses.
“I honestly hadn’t thought of her.” Gabby admitted.
Mrs. Withers hoisted herself up with great effort and grabbed her walking stick. “Let’s go have a chat.”
Gabby glanced at Mac, who was lost in an argument over the taste of charcoal grill with Chuck Lawrence.
“You’re not gonna make me walk down this hill alone are you?” Mrs. Wither’s cocked a titanium hip.
Grabbing an arm the two gingerly made their way to the green tent that housed a woman whose age was more legendary than her money. Some believe the reason she was so touchy about whether or not George Washington had spent the night in her mansion was because he had been her lover.
“Knock knock.” Mrs. Withers sat herself in an empty chair beside Prudence, whose lips were shaking with an unsaid hello.
“Sorry about barging in.” Gabby apologized.
Prudence smiled. She wore a black Chanel suit with small earrings that sagged in her earlobes at different heights. “Non-sense, come in.”
This coming from a woman who used to throw flaming candles at children who dared ask her to ‘trick or treat or smell their feet’ was amusing. Gabby sat cross legged on the grass. “Excited about the game?”
Prudence nodded enthusiastically. She was lonely and bored and Gabby felt bad for the woman who had been mostly closed off from humanity for the last thirty years.
“What’s the deal with the mansion? We want dirt.” Mrs. Withers felt pleasantries were for the young. She always said if she worked up to saying something she may drop dead before it gets said. Gabby wished that just this once she’d added some finesse.
Prudence looked annoyed. She calculated her response. Saying nothing wouldn’t end this conversation, she needed to give up something. “Oh yes. I knew it was there. Always wondered why they didn’t level the eyesore but its historical and so on.”
“You knew it was there?” Gabby asked incredulously.
Prudence chuckled, “Of course.” With that the conversation was over. The three women watched as the rival teams huddled and chanted. Cheerleaders with fire engine red spankies and Adderall powder on their noses chanted cheers to get the audience pumped. Mac appeared and knocked on the roof of the tent making the sound with his tongue. “Food is ready. Hello Mrs. Collins.” Mac smiled a dimply greeting.
“Hello Macenroy.” Prudence blushed a bit.
He helped Mrs. Withers to her feet. “Would you like some food?” Mac offered.
“No. I’d like peace.” Prudence said longingly. It was tiring to live so long.
Mac smiled and waved as they made their departure.
Prudence had been born and raised in Cliffwood. She knew now she would die there. A day hadn’t passed when the house hadn’t plagued her dreams, her memories. Despite the 90 years that had passed she remembered vividly the day her father travelled up to the mansion on the bluff. A chance to see the mansion up close, its regal gates and beautiful occupants. If only he’d come back.