Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 69
Stories
To Know and Be Known
by Aimee Ogden
The Chaos Crushers' Day Off
by Alethea Kontis
Long Hair
by Stefan Slater
IGMS Audio
Long Hair
Read by Kaitlin Bellamy
Vintage Fiction
Crowdfinding
by Eric James Stone
Bonus Material
The Story Behind the Stories
by Jared Oliver Adams

Last Days at Rosewood House
    by Sarah Grey

Last Days at Rosewood House
Artwork by Nick Greenwood

Raul in the Dogwood Suite goes soft: a long exhale, a reflexive squeeze of his son's hand.

Around him, the Rosewood House Hospice--three stories of restored Victorian glory, ornate as a spider's web--waits for Raul to pass. When it's over, the Rosewood drinks him up.

Raul's is a smooth life, a life ordered and humble, all the joys drawn from giggling infants and midnight strolls and the roll of a dust cloud over high desert homes. Everything of Raul not bound to meat and bone, the Rosewood claims. The scent of a long-dead grandmother's house, lime and cigarillos, sinks into the grain of the parquet floor; the banister absorbs the slope of a failed marriage, a cordial divorce; in the windowpane lingers the view from a small Costa Rican hotel, the hot pulse of a tropical rain, the cry of howlers from the trees at dawn.

The Rosewood plays these moments through, invisible to the patients and staff, as if reviewing a reel of film or rifling through shoeboxed photographs. The Rosewood has no patience for nostalgia; these memories are curiosities and little more. It considers itself a collector. There's a moment in the long life of Raul Emilio Williams Fuentes to which the Rosewood relates: Raul walks a beach under an ashen sky. He picks up a shell. The shell is empty but intact, the creature inside long since devoured. The exterior is an unremarkable white, worn featureless. The inside, though, is a shifting rose-blue, iridescent. A whirl of abandoned magnificence.  Raul slips the shell into the pocket of his linen shorts and wanders on.

The Rosewood does the same. It gathers the beautiful parts, once the flesh has fallen away.

In an hour, the coroner's van pulls up to the Rosewood's rear doors, and then the cleaning staff come and go and leave the Dogwood Suite smelling like ammonia and furniture polish and fresh white linen growing hot in the August sunlight. Two nurses restock towels and toilet paper and lengths of oxygen tubing. The taller nurse sucks black coffee through the stirring rod and eyes his coworker.

"How long we got?" he asks.

The coworker, pixie-blonde in pink scrubs, answers. "Couple of hours? They're transferring a woman from Mercy with a team, but the docs are still pulling the paperwork together."

"A team? Wow. Is she that bad off?"

The blonde nurse laughs, a high glittering giggle. The Rosewood recognizes this sort of laugh: it's a laugh to launch a romance, in so many of the memories it's gathered. "It's lymphoma," she says. "Lots of pain, but she's got a month or two still. No family though, and she doesn't drive."

"How's she footing the bill, then? Not insurance, obviously."

"Got her own money, they're saying. Truckloads."

"Guess someone's gonna win the inheritance lottery when she's gone," says the tall nurse. "If only you and me could get that lucky. Am I right?" He sucks his coffee.

"Right," says the blonde nurse, but now her laughter's gone, and she quickly leaves the room.

Later, as twilight sets in, an ambulance slips up the drive--no sirens, no lights--and stops just beyond the Rosewood's front steps.

The Rosewood watches, considers. Each new patient is a gift still wrapped; the shape alone hints at what's inside.

The woman who climbs out of the ambulance is curiously tall, even as she leans on a paramedic's arm. Too tall for a woman, the Rosewood thinks. Too tall for anything but a storybook villainess, glamorous and whip-thin, a smile like a pinch. The witch in a thousand childhood nightmares, all stored in the Rosewood's beams and tin ceiling tiles. Cold, thinks the Rosewood, and cruel.

"Oh," says the woman. She scrutinizes the Rosewood, takes measure of its height, its shape. Her eyes, black and lashless, trace its stained-glass doors, its pale mint paint, its hand-carved garlands, its gables, its tower. "Oh, no, no," she says. "No good at all. You expect me to die in this gingerbread trash heap?"

"Find a place," says the woman. She's folded like a crane into the leather armchair across from the administrator's desk. "There must be something. Plenty of people lie around dying every day. They must have somewhere to put them all."

The administrator covers the phone with her palm and smiles. It's a cotton-candy smile, the Rosewood observes. Sweet and empty. "We're making calls, Ms. Stone. We'll find you something."

Ms. Stone waves a hand at the flowered roof tiles above, then lets it collapse in her lap. "Like a dollhouse collecting dust," she snaps. Then softer, conciliatory: "You may call me Jacqueline, if you like. Never Jackie."

Another sugared smile. "Yes, Ms. Stone. Of course."

Jacqueline, then, thinks the Rosewood. Jacqueline Stone. A carved-ice name, sharp and hard.

The Rosewood unearths a memory from its attic. It dusts the memory off, compares it.

The boy is cold; yesterday's blizzard still gnaws through his hat and gloves. He is visiting a park in a city far away from his home. He hates it. The frozen steel city, the lifeless snow-strewn park, the casually violent weather. He clings to his mother and looks upward at a statue, a woman carved from granite. The woman has wings, spread wide as she is tall, but she's no angel: her wings are ragged and black, like a crow's or a vulture's. Her gaze is resentful.

The memory's owner is long dead; his name was Walter Goldman and he lasted less than two days beneath the Rosewood's roof before a tumor in the back of his brain stopped his heart. But the comparison is apt, the Rosewood thinks. Jacqueline Stone, hawk-faced, thin-lipped, cold as the statute in poor Walter's memory.

"Help me up," Jacqueline snaps at the tall nurse. He scampers to her side and lifts her. She hangs on him like wet laundry. No, thinks the Rosewood. Like white bedsheets thrown over the line in the late July heat, just before a dust storm rises over the Texas plains and pitches them into the wind, leaves them crumpled two blocks away, in the street outside the Presbyterian church. A fragment of some dead woman's memory, of a summertime long past.

Then Jacqueline trips.

The nurse catches her, but only halfway; the rest of Jacqueline's weight slams against the doorframe of the administrator's office. She braces herself with one weed-thin palm spread wide against the polished wood.

Jacqueline gasps.

The Rosewood feels the summertime memory blur. The sheets, were they lost in a dust storm, or was it rain? Was it the Presbyterian church, or the Baptist? It grapples, pulls the memory back. Yes, the Presbyterian, packed full for a Saturday picnic moved indoors to defeat the dust.

The nurse and the administrator begin fussing over Jacqueline Stone as if she's a broken vase, gathering her to her feet. The administrator has abandoned the phone, dropped the sweet smile, taken to issuing recriminations; the tall nurse simpers, apologizes.

Jacqueline, though, is utterly silent.

And then the Rosewood realizes Ms. Jacqueline Stone is looking directly at it, her black eyes bright and sharp.

No. Not at it. Through it.

A flutter of memories race through the Rosewood's walls, all expressions of the same, familiar experience.

The chill of being watched, discovered.

Jacqueline lays a hand on the administrator's arm. "I've changed my mind," she says. "I'll stay here after all." She does not look at the administrator as she speaks; instead, she eyes the carved banister, the worn stairs, the doors of the linen closet left open in the hall.

The administrator blinks. "Are you sure?"

"I'm not fond of Victorian architecture," Jacqueline says. She straightens herself, keeps her unbroken gaze on the Rosewood. "I had an unfortunate experience once, in a house much like this. But that was decades ago. Best to let the past go, isn't it?" She finally glances at the administrator, and smiles.

It's no sugar smile; it contains no sweetness. Just a chilly twist of the lips.

"And honestly, I'm interested in the Rosewood's history," she says. "Such a captivating structure. So full of stories, I'm sure."

Jacqueline Stone plods up the staircase alone, toward the third floor landing. The Rosewood watches.

Twice, the blonde nurse offers a hand. The first time, Ms. Stone refuses in the most gracious terms; the second, she scolds the nurse and demands to be left alone.

It takes her more than ten minutes to mount both flights of stairs. She pauses for a long while, halfway, both hands tight on the banister, both eyes closed.

At the Rosewood's northeast corner is grand tower, octagonal with a turreted roof, and inside the third floor is a library, with overstuffed blue velveteen chairs and eight hundred books, most of them expounding on God and loss and the nature of grief.

Jacqueline stands in the doorway and stares right into the Rosewood's pineboard bones.

"I don't think Mr. Williams would be terribly happy to learn what you've done to him." She slips into a chair by the window, takes slow, practiced breaths. "That . . . memory. His marriage. It was a piece of him, do you understand that? Even if his marriage ended, even if he's dead and gone now. It was part of him. It's not yours." She opens the window halfway and pulls a pack of cigarettes from her pocket, then looks upward. Two feet above the window there's a metal sprinkler with a heat-trigger tube at its center. Jacqueline sighs and puts the cigarettes back. "He certainly would not want his marriage left in the stairwell like a discarded toy, where strangers will stumble on it."

The Rosewood cannot reply, not directly. It watches Jacqueline, waits for her to touch it again.

She doesn't touch it. Instead she settles into a chair beneath a window and tucks her hands away in her sweatshirt.

"I've found other things, too. They've put me in the Honeysuckle Suite. There's a love affair in the closet and a car wreck by the bureau. And right in the doorway, an actual war. Helicopters! And so much screaming . . ." She trails off, folds her arms tighter across her abdomen. "I'm the first to catch you, aren't I? Hand in the cookie jar, that is. Taking what isn't yours."

The Rosewood is silent.

"That doesn't surprise me. Most people just can't see it. Or rather, they won't. I have . . . a connection with houses. A talent, of a sort. My grandfather was an architect. When I was little I thought I might want to be one, too. But I don't have the stomach for it. You see, old houses like this--like you--people think they just gather dust. Mostly that's the truth. Dust and dry rot and plenty of spiders. But sometimes they gather so much more."

Silence. The Rosewood wills her to touch it, to understand.

As if sensing the Rosewood's thoughts, Jacqueline sighs, leans to her left, and places a palm on the windowsill.

The Rosewood offers her a memory.

The surface of each case is etched glass, spotless. Outside it's pouring and muddy and the traffic is awful, but here, inside the warm light of the jeweler's on Fifth, all is tidy and quiet, like a museum. Gold and diamonds and sapphires and rubies and opals and amber, buckets of it, a dragon's hoard, all laid out in perfect glittering rows beneath the glass.

The gentleman behind the counter wears a tuxedo and white linen gloves; he pulls out a set of rings, nestled in rows in navy blue velvet, and sets it on the counter.

"I'd rather have pearls," says Miriam. She turns to Charlie, who smiles indulgently, as if she's a child requesting a particular flavor of ice cream. "Is that tacky? A pearl wedding ring?"

Charlie laughs, just once, soft. "Not at all."

The gloved man pulls out more rings, this set all polished and round and lovely. Miriam flushes. "Oh, yes. These. All of them! I'd take them all, if I could."

It is Jacqueline's turn at silence. She's hardly breathing. Her eyes are glazed, distant. The Rosewood thinks, for a moment, that she's slipping away--so soon!--and it prepares to take her in.

Then she pulls her hand away, folds her socked feet up onto the chair, sits upright, and sets her jaw.

"I see," she says. "You think you're a connoisseur. You're gathering all the shiny things you can find, and you think they're free for the taking." She eyes the sprinkler again, fiddles with the pack of cigarettes. "Well. You've sorely misunderstood the situation. Don't misunderstand me as well."

And then the blonde nurse is in the library door, peering in. "Ms. Stone? Are you all right? I heard you talking and--"

"I'm fine," says Jacqueline. "Just talking to myself. That's what old ladies are supposed to do when they're dying, isn't it?"

The nurse flushes. "I just want to help." She waits at the door.

Jacqueline sighs, blinks at the ceiling. "Oh, fine. Help me downstairs, then." She pulls herself out of the chair; the nurse takes her arm.

Just before she leaves the library, Jacqueline stops, turns back, looks around at the empty library. "I expect you to stop," she says to the walls, to the bookshelves. "Immediately."

The little nurse blinks in confusion, lets go of Jacqueline's arm. "Okay," she says. "I thought you wanted my help this time. I'm sorry. I misunderstood."

The Rosewood, however, understands perfectly.

On a Wednesday midmorning, Karen Leigh Moore, middle-aged and unconscious in the Lavender Suite, begins to slip away.

Her pulse collapses; a monitor blinks. The blonde nurse trots in and pushes through the gathered family, who are squabbling over the fate of the Karen's Subaru hatchback.

"Ben needs a car for college," says a stocky man with an unshaved patch below his lips.

An alarm sounds, an insistent ping.

A teenage boy folds his arms, rolls his eyes. "I don't want a Subaru." He turns his back and sulks toward the door. "Whatever. I'll just buy my own car."

The nurse silences the monitor, turns up the oxygen. Karen Moore's cheeks are gray, her lips on the edge of blue.

"We'll sell it, then," says a woman with daisy-green eyeshadow and Karen's wide nose. "We'll use it for a down payment on--on whatever Ben wants."

The number on the monitor climbs; the pinging stops. The nurse exhales--a long, relieved breath--and tucks the blanket around Karen's chest. Then the nurse coughs--loud, firm. "Please," she says, "Karen could use some quiet. She's stable for now. Maybe get some lunch, come back in an hour? You should plan to stay for the evening, though."

The man nods, suddenly grave. His wife folds her hands and twists them like a wet towel. "I want a BMW," says Ben.

The Rosewood watches this.

And then it watches Jacqueline Stone, who stands alone in the hall outside the Lavender Suite, a few feet from the open doorway, her eyes closed, her hands tucked under her arms, stowed safe away from the Rosewood's walls.

She's weak, the Rosewood thinks; she wavers with the effort of standing unsupported, as if she might topple sideways.

Like a wheat stalk bending in a southbound wind. The Rosewood pulls up a fragment of memory, stored in the pantry behind cartons of pancake mix. Harvest sun descending toward California. Threshing season starts tomorrow at dawn.

Yes, it thinks, Jacqueline's time is coming.

Jacqueline opens her eyes, looks up at the ceiling tiles. Looks right at the Rosewood, watches it as it watches her, stone-still in the hall outside Karen Moore's suite.

And the Rosewood knows it's been caught.

Jacqueline slips into the library with a glass of water in one hand and a folded, fresh-laundered cotton towel in the other. She switches on the light, crosses the room to the window by the velveteen chair and opens it, then pulls her hands quickly away from the frame. Outside is warm summer darkness, cicadas.

"I'm going to ask you, politely, to leave that woman in the Lavender Suite alone." She pours the water onto the hand towel, squeezes it. "She has enough trouble in this life, with that family. Somewhere along the way she's had happiness, too, and it's not yours to take." She climbs up onto the chair, throws the damp towel over the sprinkler. "Let her carry it all away with her, wherever she's headed. The good and the bad." She pulls the pack of Camels out of her pocket again, along with a red plastic lighter.

A flash of fire. The Rosewood recoils. The cigarette ignites.

Jacqueline takes a long draw of smoke, holds it, then coughs. "Stale," she says. She tosses the cigarette into the pool of water at the bottom of the glass. "I grew up in a house very much like this. Only two stories, though. And an attic." She waves a hand at the carved floral moldings. "And fewer of these ridiculous frills. It was a family home. My mother spent her whole life in it. She was born there, got married in the garden. Eventually she died there. Very suddenly."

The last words leave her voice gravelly. She goes silent; she looks around at the Rosewood's walls, but never touches. Instead, she wipes a hand across her face.

Nostalgia, the Rosewood recognizes. The flaw in every human mind, even Jacqueline Stone's. She's tearing up, it thinks. Over a memory, of all things! A harmless image, a splinter of the impotent past.

She pulls her hand away from her face. Her eyes are clear, tearless. "I'm telling you this because I want you to know: I understand you. I can see you're rational. I'm confident you can also be reasonable. I will grant you the benefit of the doubt, this once. Only this once." She's growing pale, the Rosewood sees, but her eyes are sharp. "A memory belongs to the person who made it, and it's supposed to die with that person. No one else is supposed to see it. No one. So I want a promise. You will stop. And you will let that poor woman go."

Jacqueline glares up at the hanging ceiling lamp, at the shadows gathered among the beams, and waits. Then she shoves a hand, hard, against the windowsill.

Promises, promises. The Rosewood contains a thousand memories for just this sort of occasion. It selects one, a candy-sweet one, one that dazzles with sincerity.

Pincurls and a pillowy ivory dress. So much of it is illusion, Lydia thinks, chaos barely kept at bay: safety pins and bobby pins and hairspray, cakes of powder to keep the shine off her nose. If she turns to the left, sneaks a glance at the guests, will a seam burst or a curl fall free?

Worse: what if the whole wedding falls apart? What if Neil hesitates? She caught him gawking at the bridesmaids earlier, she's certain of it. Maybe it was those dresses. They were her mother's choice, the crepe fabric green as frozen peas, skirts as wide as houses. Maybe not.

Neil is watching her as the pastor drones. She feels lightheaded. The moment's approaching. Inevitable.

And then he says it. "I do." Lydia's breath catches. He's said it! No reluctance at all, just perfect calm.

Just as expected. Just as promised.

He cups her head in his hand presses his lips hard to hers, hard enough to smudge Lydia's lipstick across his mouth and knock her veil out of place. And then they're both lost in rose petals and rice and the bustle of well-wishers, and she realizes it's real, it's all real, it's no illusion at all.

The Rosewood waits. It is a good memory. No, it is a glorious memory. Perfectly human in its appeal.

Jacqueline, expressionless, pulls her hand away. "A promise, then," she says. "Understand, I will hold you to it."

When Karen Leigh Moore goes, she goes hard--her pulse rises, steep and ragged, and she pulls awake long enough to choke for breath. Even her nephew stands, sets his phone on an end table, and watches her.

And then her lips and eyelids fade to blue, and she's gone.

The wide-nosed woman grasps a lifeless hand. Her husband stifles a sob. The boy, Ben, can't seem to decide where to look; he glances once at the bed, then keeps his eyes on the little blonde nurse, who mouths a gentle "I'm so sorry" and looks away.

The Rosewood hesitates. It understands the boy too well, at this moment. Where else is there to look? What else is there to see, when something so grand and final has taken place just across the room?

It watches the bereaved sister and her family finish their weeping, sign a clutch of papers, gather the jewelry and paperbacks and folded blue sweatpants Karen Leigh Moore left behind. It watches them move on, quickly, with living.

And then it watches the body cool. The more time passes, the more the memories will break down, lose their clarity, like shells worn dull by the sand.

It thinks of its promise, of the pretty bit of memory it offered Jacqueline in trust. It thinks of Jacqueline's black-ice glare, the flick of her lighter, the audacious blaze of her lit cigarette so close to the shelves full of books. She is a temporary thing, the Rosewood thinks, this weed of a woman. Powerless, impermanent.

It thinks, Jacqueline Stone will follow soon enough.

It's effortless, taking the dead woman's memories in.

Karen Moore, a little girl. Butterball fingers white from a summer indoors, sick with chicken pox, reading borrowed books. The boy in the desk behind her chucks wads of paper at her head; one lands in her lap. She unfolds it. PIGGY, it says. The word is smudged with damp eraser; under it is the shadow of a mistake. He spelled it wrong the first time. He left out the second G.

Karen, seventeen, stood up for prom and watching The Price is Right in a violet tulle dress. The pizza delivery came late; the pepperoni's cold and congealed, tacked in place with a scant layer of dry cheese. She's alone in the den with her grandfather, who smells like brown liquor and socks. He's angry they've awarded the car to a woman again. He speaks to Karen just once, to tell her to walk the dog.

Karen, arm broken in two places in the last fight with Nathan and now pinned back together, slung around her neck like a dead animal. The third-floor hospital room overlooks a parking lot strewn with hamburger wrappers and automotive grease, but the painkillers are doing their job and the nurses are kind and the ward is clean, relentlessly clean, full of bright lemon-ammonia scents that keep everything unwholesome away. She's going home soon, just a little paperwork left. She doesn't want to leave. She can't figure out how to break up with Nathan, or how to make the fighting stop.

Karen scared, Karen sad, Karen on an all-meat diet that leaves her emotionally raw, because her sister says she's getting fat again.

Karen growing too thin, too fast. Karen growing sick.

The Rosewood is disappointed. So little beauty in this brief, frantic life. It lets Karen Leigh Moore soak into the wallpaper, lets her drain into cracks in the foundation, and turns its attention elsewhere.

It finds Jacqueline in the hall, her palm on the wainscoting, her face tight with rage.

"Every single room," Jacqueline tells the administrator. Each word is an order, as if spoken to an errant child. "I want them empty. I can pay for the whole building, you know that. You have, what, one other patient?"

The administrator fingers a curl at her shoulder. "Ms. Stone, that's technically confidential--"

"Technically? I can see in the doors. I can count. I'm not deaf, I can hear you all gossip in the halls! You have one patient. Joe Reeves. And if your staff is to be believed, he'll be dead in three days."

"Again, that's confidential, and it is completely inappropriate--"

"I'll pay his bill if you move him elsewhere."

The administrator knots her hands; her knuckles turn white. "We absolutely will not do that. He is a patient of the Rosewood House Hospice. His finances are not your concern."

Jacqueline sighs and sinks into the leather chair. She's breathing heavy, the Rosewood sees, each breath a ragged grasp for air. She's dwindling, hollowing out. Her lips are gray as dust at the edges.

"Keep the other rooms empty, then. Don't admit anyone new. I'll pay for the empty space. I'll pay extra." She pauses to breathe, folds her long fingers in and out of fists. "And minimal staff. Please. At least . . . until I'm gone."

The administrator narrows her eyes, chews her lip. "Ms. Stone, the Rosewood House is a nonprofit foundation. Our mission is to aid the dying. If you wish to arrange a suitable donation, we'll be grateful, and we'll do our best to keep the rooms open. But we won't guarantee anything. If a patient needs a bed here, we will take them."

Jacqueline inhales as if to speak, then stops, shudders. Winces as if she's been punched. Holds her breath.

Pain, the Rosewood thinks, delighted. She's in pain! It's often this way, the Rosewood knows, as the final days close in.

Jacqueline gathers herself, props herself on an arm of the chair. "Fine," she says, waving a long hand as if brushing away cobwebs. "No choice, I suppose. Keep the rooms empty, if you can. Do your best." Her voice is reedy, thin as a breeze, half the life already gone. She extends her arm, slowly, and lays three clipped fingertips against the wall beside her chair.

The Rosewood feels a hard tug at Karen Moore's memories, feels Jacqueline Stone digging them out of the walls.

"Let me go," Karen says. Her bare feet are warm on the concrete outside the door of her bottom-floor Tallahassee apartment. Wilson Phillips on the morning radio show behind her. Hair pinned up with a ballpoint pen.

Right arm pinned to the doorframe by Nathan's brawny hand.

"This is why I broke up with you, loser. Let go."

The memory distorts, loses focus. Was it Florida, the Rosewood thinks, or South Carolina? Nathan or Nolan? Was the arm ever broken, or was that part yet to come?

The uncertainty enrages the Rosewood.

It wrenches the memory away from Jacqueline's hand, back into grain of the paneled walls. The stippled gold of dawn and the stubbled tan of Nathan's face stretch long and twist together, like taffy.

Jacqueline Stone is weak, the Rosewood thinks. Jacqueline Stone is dying. This will end soon. Then she'll be gone.

It pulls harder.

There's a low groan from the Rosewood's beams, as if a sudden gust has shaken the structure.

The administrator looks up. "Didn't expect a storm this week," she says.

"No storm," says Jacqueline. "Just a stubborn old house."

She withdraws her hand, and Karen's memory snaps back into place.

Jacqueline manages the two flights to the library only with the tall nurse's aid. He bears most of her weight for her, on his right arm; with his left hand he hauls a portable oxygen tank, the long tube tickling the floor, the end fitted into Jacqueline's nostrils. She clings to the nurse as he lowers her into the chair by the window.

"I'll stay by the door," says the nurse. He eyes the oxygen tank. "Let me know if you need anything, okay? We aren't really supposed to bring the oxygen up--"

"I'll be fine," Jacqueline snaps, but it comes out as a wheeze, so she glares at him.

"We're not supposed to leave a patient unsupervised with oxygen. It's our safety protocols, there's a big risk of injury if--"

Jacqueline coughs, musters what's left of her voice. "I've breathed oxygen my whole life, and yet somehow I've survived without your assistance. I think I can manage this last bit as well. Don't you agree?"

Still, the nurse hesitates. Finally, Jacqueline lifts a hand from her lap and waves it twice, as if shooing a mosquito.

"All right. I'll go." He backs toward the door. "The call button's to your right. Push it if you need me, okay?"

Jacqueline nods and grants him a taut smile. "Shut the door, too, will you?"

The nurse, obedient as a lapdog, closes the library door.

Once the tap-squeak of the nurse's sneakers fades down the stairwell, Jacqueline unpacks a clutch of objects from the folds of her clothing. From her front pouch of her sweatshirt, a small silver flask. From the left pocket of her linen pants, the pack of stale Camels and the red plastic lighter; from the right, an orange prescription bottle half filled with tiny white pills.

She opens the flask and sets it on the bookshelf nearest the chair. She shakes the pill bottle gently and looks up at the ceiling. "For the fear," she says. The Rosewood can hardly hear her; her voice is haggard, worn down to a whisper. "I can't imagine you're able to relate," she continues, "but dying is . . . well, it's frightening. Cancer is the worst. It just takes from you--your strength, everything you hoped to do--and gives you this awful pain. You know you're going, and you know it's going to happen soon, and you can't do a thing to stop it."

She twists the bottle open and pours four pills into her palm, then swallows them without so much as a glance at the flask.

"I don't enjoy losing control. No one does, I imagine. But I refuse to accept it."

She looks up at the ceiling beams and the Rosewood sees her face is drained and grayed, and yet--her eyes. Black as ever. Alive. Jacqueline is no stone statue at all, the Rosewood now understands; she is an animal. Desperate. Vicious.

She adjusts the oxygen tubes, narrows her eyes. "I handle the loss of control about as well as I handle broken promises."

From under her sweatshirt, she removes a damp hand towel.

"And if I recall correctly, you made me a promise," she said. "Or rather, I understood it as a promise. Was I mistaken?" She arches a brow.

The Rosewood has been expecting this confrontation; it is surprised only that it took so long. It has already selected a perfect memory, fresh and new, one tiny remnant of Karen Moore's dismal little life. It holds it ready for Jacqueline's touch.

Nathan laughs. He presses Karen's arm harder against the doorframe. "You think you can stop me from coming here? I live here. This is my apartment."

Karen thinks about screaming--it's early morning, no one's left for work yet, maybe they'll hear, maybe they'll help--but then she sees a man, pepper-haired in a brown paisley bathrobe, leaning over a balcony across the road. The man is watching the scene play out, the slightest smile beneath his untrimmed mustache, as if she and Nathan were merely actors, as if her life were a daytime drama.

And then she understands: no one cares. No one will call for help. No one will stop him.

Karen jerks her arm away.

Nathan slams it back in place.

Three things register in Karen's mind, with a clarity beyond anything she's ever known: there is the sensation of her forearm cracking in half; there is the grit of filthy concrete on her bare knees as she falls; and there is the man on the balcony, shaking his head, walking calmly back inside.

But Jacqueline doesn't reach for the wall. Instead, she hangs the towel loose over her left wrist.

And then she stands on the overstuffed chair, her white-socked feet sinking into the seat. She reaches up to the sprinkler above the chair--slowly, teetering--and tosses the towel over it.

She lowers herself into the chair, breathes slow, rests, and turns up the dial on the oxygen tank. She pours four more pills into her hand. Swallows them. Then another four, and another, and another, until only a few pills remain.

The Rosewood understands what Jacqueline is doing; it has memories of overdoses in its vast collection, memories of suicide and its aftermath. Good, it thinks. Let her depart on her own terms, if she likes. The sooner the better.

"Yes," she says, "I'm certain. It was a promise." Her voice is syrup-slow, indistinct.

The Rosewood pulls back, satisfied. It's time: she's dying now, giving up and going soft. There's a particular gift in the passing of Jacqueline Stone, the Rosewood thinks as it watches her eyes slip closed. She has proven the fragile impotence of humanity. She may have seen through the Rosewood's walls, but she couldn't steal back Karen Moore's memories, couldn't sweep Raul Williams's marriage from the stairs.

For patients of the Rosewood House Hospice, the collection is as inevitable as death. This one little truth, the Rosewood thinks, is delightful.

Then Jacqueline opens her eyes.

She reaches for the flask and pulls it into her lap. It tips over. She lets it go, lets it spill completely. Its contents pour out over her lap and onto the pink crocheted rug. It stains the hem of her gray sweatshirt charcoal, darkens the rug a deep strawberry red.

She closes her eyes, lifts the oxygen mask off and sets it aside. Pulls a cigarette out of the pack. Thumbs the lighter three times. Slow movements. Painstaking.

The fourth time is smoother, faster. A flash of red, a sliver of acrid smoke. She lights a cigarette. Never brings it to her mouth.

At last she lets her head fall sideways, into the buttoned cleft of a velveteen cushion, and stretches her arm out. She keeps the cigarette locked in her right fingertips, hanging over the floor.

For a moment, she does not move. The Rosewood moves in close, to the wall, to the windowsill, to the lace curtains that hang within a breath of her face.

"Old houses," she says, though her eyes are closed and lips hardly move. "Gathering dust."

Jacqueline Stone goes soft, in a halo of unsmoked cigarette smoke.

The Rosewood immediately collects her.

The first thing it finds, to its utter surprise, is a tall Victorian house.

It is impeccably maintained, this house. The paint is fresh, hardly a season old, a bright robin's-egg blue trimmed in navy and white. White tea roses bloom beneath the windows. The roof tiles are new, the gutters are clean, the bricks in the circular drive are laid in flawless arcs.

In the drive there's a Buick, cream-yellow steel, convertible top closed tight.

In the backseat of the Buick is Jackie Stone, barely fourteen, dressed in a black lace shift, and, at her grandmother's insistence, a black cap and mesh veil. Her thighs are bare; the back of her legs stick to the white leather seat. Her grandmother, behind the wheel, has chastised her twice for not wearing stockings.

Stockings. As if these things matter, when your mother's just died.

Jackie looks upward. There's an octagonal window, white-framed, at the peak of the roof. Behind it is the attic, above the second floor. She played there when she was small, propping tin soldiers amongst the dust and dressing herself in mangy furs.

That's where it happened, she thinks. That's where my mother hanged herself--hanged, not hung. Where she went to die.

Jackie doesn't cry. She hasn't yet, and she won't. She refuses the act of grieving and all its implications. Instead, she's angry. There is no sense to the action at all. In her last clear memory of her, her mother is wearing a white dress, hosting a garden party, all the guests laughing. Her mother laughing too, black hair falling loose in the wind.

Hanged. The act doesn't fit with the mother she knew.

Her grandmother heads toward the house, waits on the front stairs. The petals are falling off a rosebud already, one that hasn't yet bloomed. Insects, perhaps. Jacqueline lets herself out of the Buick. The air is too cold for spring.

She climbs the brick stairs. She puts a hand on the pillar to her right.

There's an electric sizzle as her hand makes contact, and a jolt as someone else's memory comes alive.

It's as if she's lived it herself. As if she's living it, now, real as her own heartbeat.

Jacqueline's mother wears a white dress. Embroidered silk. Merciless, this dress, and so there's a corset, too, and a slip. Her feet ache in too-small buckled pumps, heels so narrow and high that she sinks an inch into the grassy lawn.

The quiche is undercooked. Mrs. Allen was kind enough to tell her.

There's a blonde woman shaking hands with Jacqueline's father.

He is leaving soon, he said last week; he wants a divorce. He is moving out, very soon, but she may keep the house if she likes, because Jacqueline needs a place to grow up. Never mind that it was her house to begin with, it belonged to her family, her own father built it forty years before.

And he will send money, of course, after the divorce. Plenty of money.

This blonde, she's smiling so wide. Is she the one? Is it the brunette by the roses? Does any of it matter at all?

Mrs. Allen speaks. A stage-whispered remark on the uneaten quiche. The other guests laugh, loud. Mrs. Allen laughs loudest, at her own joke, whatever it was. Jackie's mother forces a laugh; she has no clue what was said. Doesn't much care anymore.

She's trapped in an unwanted marriage, then she's crushed by a humiliating divorce. How did this happen? How did she become a mother, in fact? She hates the stifling judgments of motherhood, never wanted any part in it. The delicacy of children repels her; even Jackie, independent as she is, is a vortex of need and expense. Like hauling a priceless vase up the side of a mountain.

The wind picks up; the guests look skyward. There's rain coming.

She feels like a moth in a hurricane. Helpless.

Let the rain come, she thinks. Wash this away. End it.

Jackie pulls her hand off the pillar, fast. The memory slides away, loses its immediacy, but the horror remains, the wrenching realization that her mother loathed motherhood, detested marriage, despised her life enough to want it gone entirely.

She tries to scream but she can't even breathe.

She chokes for air, manages a single breath, but all she can do with that breath is cry.

"Come inside," her grandmother says. Her lips are tight. "Your father needs you."

"No," Jackie tries to say, but it comes out as a whimper, incoherent.

Her grandmother reaches for her.

Jackie backs down the stairs, away from her grandmother, away from the house. She turns, trips on a stair and falls, but then she's up again and she's running, she's running hard, shards of asphalt stabbing through the leather soles of her shoes. Past the Buick. Past the open iron gates.

Away.

When she comes home again, it's well past dark. It's cold; she has no coat. She scraped her right thigh when she fell. She doesn't know where else to go.

The door's unlocked. Her grandmother's asleep. There's a cold pot of chamomile tea on a trivet in the kitchen. Jackie's father isn't home; perhaps he's gone to look for her. Perhaps he's gone to be with the blonde woman, just as her mother feared.

Jackie wanders the house, feet bare, still in her black shift, the lace now shredded at the hip. She puts her hands on the walls, on the mantel, on the floorboards. She finds fragments of her mother accumulated in every surface: garden-party laughter on the porch, sleepless nights in the wallpapered hall, endless screaming fights with Jackie's father rubbed into the grout between the bathroom tiles. A broken teenaged heart in the bathtub; an aborted pregnancy in the laundry room, just above the hamper.

All these secret, bitter memories. A frustrated life, managed and contained, the smallest freedoms all trimmed away. A life as cultivated as the tea roses outside, before she clipped it short.

A life Jackie should never have seen.

Eventually, she makes it to the attic door and places a hand on the knob.

This grand blue house, this family house, offers her a memory.

Her mother is young, hardly old enough for school. She's playing in the house, in the attic, amongst the dust and spiders. She holds a doll in each hand, pretending.

"I love this house," says the rag doll on the left.

"I love it too," says the silky-haired doll on the right. "I hope we never have to leave."

Again, Jackie pulls away. At least now, she thinks, she understands. It's an old house. Her family's house. It couldn't let her mother go. It kept what's left of her, like a broken toy.

Immediately, Jackie stops crying, promises herself she'll never cry like that again. She keeps her hands away from the walls, keeps her shoes on her feet. She doesn't want to see it again. Any of it. It's not her life to see.

Just before sunrise Jacqueline rifles through the storage closet in the hall, gathers old newspapers and towels, a bottle of lamp oil, and a box of matches, and goes about setting things right.

Fire.

She burned it down, the Rosewood thinks. Her family home, and she burned it! It is transfixed by the memory--the gulping flames, the blue paint feathering to black, the surging smoke damping out the moonlight. Horror courses through its beams; it shudders.

It does not notice the cigarette fall from Jacqueline's hand.

The crocheted rug, soaked with furniture polish, goes first, in a flare of pink cotton and gold. It takes with it all the scraps the Rosewood has braided into its threads: a twisted ankle at a late-night basketball game, a half-knit sweater left on a train, gin martinis with double vermouth, a rose-red sunset, a white light in a dark room. All the richness and detail of each memory burns away, gusts upward into ash.

There's oxygen pooled throughout the room; the fire burns hotter.

The curtains go up in a sheath of white, then the books; the spines of Coping with Loss and God's Hands and How to Go On Living warp and blacken. Then the body of Jacqueline Stone, gaunt in her oversized sweatshirt, goes up as well.

Then the walls, then the beams. The ceiling, the carved moldings, the turret. All of them burn gold, then black.

The flames swallow the oxygen tank. There's a clink, a hiss.

An explosion.

The Rosewood reels, flails for the last fragments of memories as the whole of the tower explodes outward, and then it rushes down the stairwell, into itself, down to the second floor landing, down through the parquet floor of the foyer, down to where its foundation bleeds into bedrock and soil.

The sprinkler, impotent beneath the dampened towel, finally goes off. An alarm sounds.

The Rosewood hears the tall nurse shouting, hears the administrator snapping orders. Hears the sirens closing in; hears the thud of boots on boards.

It folds itself tight into its foundation, buries itself in whatever memories it can find.

It finds a young Karen Moore, checked out of the hospital and climbing into her sister's car and so unspeakably grateful, just this once, for her sister's presence.

It finds Raul Williams Fuentes, signing the divorce papers, surprised at how completely relief overwhelms regret.

And it finds Jacqueline Stone. One last tiny remnant of her life, hardly a memory at all.

"A promise, then," she says. She folds her hands into the pouch of her sweatshirt, looks up at this creaking Victorian monster. Not a trash heap at all, she thinks. A cache of secrets, stolen from the dead.

She thinks of her mother, laughing and radiant in a white silk dress. She thinks of her mother, forcing laughter through despair.

Jacqueline's seen this before, long ago. She knows how make it stop.

She stares up at the ceiling beams arching into the turret. "Understand," she tells the grand old Rosewood House, "I will hold you to it."


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