Authors: Susie Moloney
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Horror, #Thrillers
A Dry Spell
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2003 by Funny Girl Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Atria Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
is a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Visit us on the World Wide Web:
Here’s to the women in my life: Queen Victoria, Laurie, Jolanda, Helena, Mikell, Jane, Pamela, Sam, Brig, Noreen, Auntie Helen, Joannie, Linda, Janis Rosen. You made me go there and got me the hell out of there; for this, I shall be forever grateful.
The ever-resourceful Linda McAllister took me into the world of reality with enthusiasm and good sportsmanship; I took up far too much of your time for that measly 6 percent. It was an adventure. Thank you, Linda, and the folks at Phoenix Realty, who patiently answered the silliest of questions. Suzanne O’Neill and Greer Hendricks took care with my words and feelings. Thank you. Thanks to Damon Rondeau for squeaking me through no fewer than four computer emergencies in the nick of time, and equal thanks to Laurie Marshall for food, drink and her heartfelt expression of terrors in the night because of something I wrote. Kim Dearsley provided tasteful emergency office space at the Morning Vale Inn. Special thanks to Josh and Mario Lemieux. Michael kept me grounded. Mick read all the research material I didn’t want to, thank you. The wonderful Riouxs, Gord, Earl, and Noreen, got down in the dirt with me and pulled down my house, helping me to build it back up and, in the process, create a new beginning that led to this book; there are no words for the likes of you three. Thank you, Janis Rosen. All those house dreams had a purpose.
SINGLE FAMILY HOME. NEW HARDWOOD FLOORS THROUGHOUT, ALL APPLIANCES. BATHROOM, 3+ BEDROOMS, UNIQUE DECOR, MUST BE SEEN! WORKING FIREPLACE IN SPACIOUS LIVING ROOM, LARGE LANDSCAPED YARD WITH GARDEN. ATTIC READY FOR YOUR CONVERSION, NEW WINDOWS. A STEAL AT $95,900.
—Glenn Darnley, Shelter Realty
There was what looked to be a tombstone at the front of 362 Belisle, glaring morbidly in the gray morning light. A grim shrine to something passed over, Glenn hoped fervently that it wasn’t opportunity. The house at 362 was the only one with a hedge
a tombstone, in this case actually a four-foot concrete pillar with the name
stamped up the side in block letters. The hedge, a Caragana, would be pretty in bloom in a couple of months, but until then the pillar and the hedge together made the place look haunted.
Glenn tugged at the hair at the back of her neck, and absently brushed phantom wisps from the sides of her face out of habit. For fifty years, she had kept it long. Today, she’d had it cut. Short. It was driving her crazy.
She leaned against her car, giving the house the once-over before going in. It was gray and cool out, the sort of spring day that isn’t spring at all, but smells like winter and looks like threatening fall.
The hairdresser, a girl of about mid-twenties or so, had greeted her carefully.
Hello, Mrs. Darnley, how nice to see you
—She’d stopped suddenly without finishing and blushed furiously.
Oh god, I’m sorry, are you still going by Darnley? I’m so—
He died, dear. He didn’t dump me,
she’d said gamely, making the girl stutter and blush some more and ruining the whole New Glenn experience for about ten minutes. How could a person be so stupid? Howard would have loved that story.
About two weeks after he’d died a woman from the church down the street—a church neither Glenn nor Howard had ever set foot in—had dropped by with some pamphlets and Glenn had been forced to give her a particularly ugly go-away stare. One of the pamphlets had been titled
Blooming after Widowhood.
She’d thrown them all into the fireplace and they’d gone up the next cold snap. But she wished she’d at least taken a look at that one. She bet it had a section called, “Haircuts: Dos and Don’ts for the New Widow.” Glenn’s hair, chic as it might be, felt hard and cold and indifferent to her, like a clerk in a jewelry store. It hadn’t even known Howard, how dare it conceive to make her feel better?
Howard would have loved that one, too.
She swiped absently at a phantom wisp.
From the outside, there was little to recommend 362 Belisle. It was ordinary. There were two things that separated it from the neighbors that might help (excluding the vile memorial-cum-pillar-cum-grave marker): there was the hedge, which
be pretty with yellow blooms soon, and the front door, which boasted stone stairs. The door was clearly new, and it brightened up the exterior, dragging the eye away from the common flat-front, which was a feature of literally hundreds of houses all over the city. It looked…different. It had been empty since the previous fall, and that was apparent. The yard had been neglected and it looked as though it could have used a paint job a couple of years earlier—also no different from a dozen other homes on the block. It was not really a good day to look, if you were buying.
Early spring, before the snow was entirely gone, was the best time for a realtor to view a house. They were at their lowest ebb in the leafless, ashen surroundings, the litter and discard of winter clinging to their corners, unwanted, for sale, and for whatever reason, abandoned by the people who had once been a part of their walls and floors. There was a vulnerability about them then, caught naked in the daylight after god knows what infidelities. Houses in April were new divorcées with all the accompanying brittleness and desperation. The house on Belisle had all of those qualities. It looked as though it would fall and disappear out of courtesy, if you pushed it.
The letter from the insurance company said that numerous upgrades had been done inside and that would help in selling the place, but you had to actually get people to go inside, to call the number on the sign. Glenn was taking a look. She would probably take the listing. Her first in four months. Her last day of work, she’d had twelve.
Ah, How. See what ya done to me?
He would have refused to take the blame for his own death. He would have said it was the curry. Glenn smiled mildly and went inside, listening against her will to the sound of the cell phone in her purse not ringing.
If this was an ordinary morning Howard would have called her by now. Or she him. Retirement had made him easily lonely, a thing they were both aware of, and stepped around carefully. They met for lunch a lot. She might have called him from the front door and said, “Okay, I’m going in.” And he would ask her what she saw. In her poshest voice—the voice that still held traces of an English accent, even when she wasn’t being posh—she would rip the place to shreds, make it cry, and then, that done, would have begun to see its finer points.
The fireplace works.
Miss Glenn, it sounds like a house among houses and you have been destined since birth to set it free among the people you are the messenger you are the—
The door opened easily with the key and swung wide smoothly without creaking or scratching on the floor. The floors had been redone, the smell of varnish still in the house, after having been shut up for so long. They were shiny and new. They looked stripped and done as opposed to replaced and that was good too; she would note it on her features sheet. Old floors have character and color. The varnish smell would be good: it made the house smell new and clean. She hoped it would hold out. Nice large hall, the ceiling going to the top floor. Stairs ran up the left to the second floor.
Her heels clicked cheerfully and echoed back at her through the
living room with working fireplace and into the dining room. It was chilly inside, and Glenn tugged her sweater closer and folded her arms under her bosom. The walls were freshly painted
She poked her head into the kitchen. Fridge, stove, dishwasher and garbage disposal. Four appliances. Too bad no microwave.
The floor was stone tile, also new. Would have cost a fortune if the kitchen had been any bigger. As it was there was only room for a small two-maybe-three-person table on the wall at the back of the house
(eat in the kitchen!)
. In the corner was a wraparound that led back to the front hall and the stairs. The back door peeked between the wall and the corner. There was a small room built under the stairs, hardly large enough to be called a room.
She would see the backyard. It would be large. Nice thing about these houses.
She pulled open the heavy interior door. The outside door was new: a wood-look frame, sturdier for its plastic interior and woodlike veneer; the screen was black and the frame was somebody’s idea of Old Atlanta Quaint. Not bad. The cutesy, ornately carved frame had been painted a nice teal.
Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
There was a terribly tangled, but large, practically English garden along the back of the property. Even in the ugly spring light and the ugly pre-bloom stage of the season, she could see the garden would be lush. The property backed up into trees; she could see three varieties, all small, maybe young. In front of that was a tangle of last year’s perennials. Like the front yard, it had obviously been neglected in the previous autumn, but that could be taken care of. The Caragana hedge that had bordered the front yard wound its way around to the back on both sides. It needed to be trimmed, but the little yellow flowers would be pretty and add a touch of color for continuity. On the west side of the yard was a row of three lilac trees that blocked out the neighbors’ backyard on that side, effectively.
One very nice thing about these older houses was the lot size. Glenn sighed. An old English gardener herself, she and Howard had built their house on a little lot that cost what was being asked for this entire property. He had a small rose garden that he tended with more care than they might have given a child, and at least as much anxiety, and a utilitarian tomato and herb garden at the back of the house. There was room for a bench and an umbrella in her yard. The Belisle house had room for a gazebo. In fact the ground around the northeastern corner had patches of black earth that showed in the shape of something large. Glenn bet the Previous Owners tore one down. And added a monument to Industrialism in the front.
How about that, How?
Now, now. No accounting for taste, Miss Glenn, but room for us all.
She pressed her forehead against the cool glass for just a second and thought about the roses that would bloom in summer without him. When a breeze blew through the yard, it would fill her own kitchen with their scent. Summer seemed very far away, hard to imagine right then. It would be, really, her second season without Howard. Then it would be autumn and her third; then winter again. What would it be like to pass the seasons? Howard wouldn’t even see his roses.
It was so gray out. She pulled away from the door before it left a mark on her forehead and closed the bigger inside door with a professional snap. She locked it.
The house was now under Power of Sale. It had been a mortgage default, not that it mattered one whit, but the sort of people who got their second mortgage from an insurance company and then made thousands of dollars’ worth of investment in their property were very likely in marital default by now, and Glenn had the feeling that the marker out front would not be listed in their assets. Although they were welcome to take it back. While it wasn’t in the letter or the assessment sheet, there were rumors about a tragedy of some sort. Someone had either been badly injured or died during the renovation. They likely lost heart after that. Glenn wondered briefly where they were now. Did it split them up? Those things happened. About fifty percent of the listings she used to get were out of divorce.
We never had that problem. I wish we had. I wish you were holed up in a midlife crisis apartment dating a woman half your age. I wish I was crying over that.
The walls around the back porch, such as it was, were old plaster and lath, although freshly painted. The floor had been refinished down the hall right up to the back door and up to the narrow door of the room under the stairs, but as far as she could tell, the only adjustments to the house up to there were just that.
There was an old knob and cover with a skeleton key lock on the door, a nice old, dark oak door. She turned the knob and pulled the heavy door open.
It was quite dark, having the disadvantage of the gray day, and no window to relieve it. And there was wood paneling, the bane of a realtor’s existence. It made the room dark. She flicked at the switch and light popped into the room. The bulb hung low, with a green glass half-globe over it, obviously original or near. It was quaint; very thirties or forties or something. The shade did little to diffuse the light. It hung from a cord dangling from the ceiling and Glenn guessed that this was where the renovations had concluded.
The paneling was not as offensive as she first thought. It was wainscoted to just over halfway up the wall. The wall above it—original, it looked—was likely plaster and lath, confirming her opinion that they hadn’t touched the back end of the house, save for the floor. They had painted, however, thank god they did, and had done it unfortunately in a paler than usual forest green, making the room darker. Under the paint, even though dark, you could see the ripples in the wall. On the exterior wall the wainscoting stopped partway before the door and ran suddenly up to the ceiling. On either side of the full-length paneling ran bars of some sort. It took a moment for Glenn to catch on.
Frowning, she went inside and ran her hand along the wall. Up above, just above head level, was a small recess. She put her hand inside and gave it a gentle little tug.
A Murphy bed. She hadn’t seen one in years.
She pulled it down, letting the legs fall naturally to their place from inside the recesses. They snugged to the floor. She leaned on the works. It seemed solid. There was no mattress, but that couldn’t be hard to fix. The frame seemed intact, maybe replaced.
It was delightful, like a surprise. A grace note.
With the bed pulled down the room practically disappeared, but it looked very natural, like a tiny maid’s room or visitor’s quarters. The dark walls and paneling implied a man’s room, and even fair paint of some sort wouldn’t change the masculine view of it. But for some reason, Glenn felt a femininity in the space.
It was a good room for a sudden liaison. Instant bed. She blushed thinking about it.
Taken for a moment with the thought, she suddenly remembered the last time she and Howard had made love. Unconsciously, she leaned with her buttocks pressed against the cold frame of the pull-down bed.
They had bought a trailer to pull and park someplace close to the slip where they kept their boat. It had been a job-and-a-half, buying that trailer. There were—she was sure of it—more than a thousand trailer-sale outlets in the metropolitan area, and she and Howard had visited them all, peeking into tiny mobile homes that after the first twenty minutes all looked the same.
Sex was something that had been put on a slow burner with the two of them. They flirted, they touched, they even exchanged innuendo throughout much of their time together, but the actual act became somewhat theory after Howard had retired. She suspected that he felt diminished in a way she understood, leaving his life’s work. He puttered about the house in what he joked was a “housewifey” way, and hadn’t quite found his retirement niche. They made love, but not with the frequency of six or seven months before he retired. Had he felt old?
You weren’t, How. Not to me.
Point duly noted, Miss Glenn.
They had poked in and out of trailers for most of one day, getting punchy and silly by day’s end. A salesman made the mistake of leaving them to it, after showing them nearly everything on the lot, from the obsequious to the cozy.