He turned around and bellowed from top of his lungs, even drunk would get sober hearing it.
Behind him was a black casket neatly attached to the roof, it’s front faced turned towards us, not even an inch away from where he stood. Lovely, black, shiny and with tiny silver cross on top. I had a feeling it had champagne satin inside.
He moved away, fast. “That’s, um…”
“A casket.” I offered, unable to look away from that horrid thing. This was a big step away from memento mori – I was living in a mausoleum!
We stared at that thing over several minutes, unable to move. Him hitching his breath startled me and with I watched him take off towards the casket again.
“What are you doing?!” I demanded, hooking in his sleeve and pulled him back. He brushed my hand off.
“I’m just taking a look! What bad can happen?” I demanded he stopped his nonsense, but he ignored it. He stretched his hand out and touched the front of that thing. It slipped a bit and slammed several feet closer to the floor.
I screamed as loud as my lungs allowed, before his fingers forcefully closed my mouth and he hissed. “You’re wake my friends up!”
“Why care about your friends?” I babbled in horror. “I have a casket under my roof!”
“Stop it!” he demanded and turned back to our find. “That woman was strange, she probably just… bought the casket before her time. Some do that.”
“You think so?” I knew he was searching excuses, but seeing it in this light, perhaps it wasn’t that awful to imagine and it made me feel better. Just a wooden box, nothing more to it. An item that lady never could use, because she disappeared before her time.
“See? It says here Valerie Harting, and her birthday,” Saul read from small metallic plate under the cross. “13th of May, 1936.” He took a deep breath and turned back to me. “See? Nothing to feel alarmed for.”
Had I known then that this 13th and May was Friday and thirteenth, I would have walked away from this long ago. But instead I calmed down and sat on a closest box with clothes sticking out. I needed the time to breath normally for a change.
Why did people have to keep such things at home? Couldn’t they just buy the casket and leave it in the workshop until the deceased really departed and need their investment? Or have it order made after they died? She must have been crazy -who’d bring death down on their own houses like that?
I didn’t want to explore it, but I couldn’t look away.
“Um, Saul-Erik?” I called him at the back end of the garret, where he was looking through old albums.
“There’s something else written there too.”
I recalled the casket being closed down. “Another date.”
“June 15th, 2008?”
“What date is that?” his mind didn’t register it just yet.
“I don’t know, it’s few years back – time of death, maybe?”
Saul’s eyes widened in the dark and he looked straight at me. The small pause we needed to get our hearts working was over in split of a second and we ran as fast as we could down the ladder, down the stairs and out of the house, where the wonderful fresh air need no force to push its way down our throats. I heard someone fidgeting behind us. The sound was eerily familiar, like someone was pulling up their pants.
“What bee went through your brains?”
After the initiative yell from both of us, our eyes turned on Malek.
“Never surprise me like that again!” yelled Saul, white as a sheet, forgetting all his restraints on other’s sleep needs.
I kept panting until I needed to cower over and search earth’s support. He looked so untouched by our reality, eyebrows high and drinking his morning coffee that it made me wonder if indeed what we’d just found had anything to do with reality.
“What’s with you, guys? You saw a ghost or something?”
“We came close.” Saul whispered and we burst uncontrollably to laugh.
“Really?” sleepy Malek was gone and replaced with something far more sinister-looking.
“Remember that old woman, who lived next to us?”
“Yeah, so?” He remembered she disappeared in thin air one morning.
“I think we found her.” He drawled and burst laughing.
I saw nothing funny in this and came to conclusion that this man was out of his wits. That’s all – just stress getting best of him.
“Where?” Malek jumped effortlessly over the hedge and spilled contest of his cup in the bushes. “I wanna see!” he screamed and off he went towards the house, but Saul-Erik caught him.
“It’s under the roof. Don’t go!”
“We should call the police.” I skipped, earning very shocked stares from both guys and he let Malek go. “No, no you can’t – no police!”
I didn’t get it. “I just bought a house that happens to be the previous owner’s last resting place! Why not?”
“You can always explain him later,” Malek interrupted Saul-Erik, “but I want to see a body! Now!” And gone he was before either of us could stop him.
“Explain me what?” I lowered my voice and waited while he gathered his courage, but Malek was back and looked as calm as ever, making me forget what I just asked.
“I don’t think you were looking in the right place…” Saul guessed, seeing his calm expression.
“Oh yes, I did.”
“Inside the coffin?” Saul stepped closer.
“Where else?” he seemed insulted. “There’s no one in there.” He shrugged.
“What do you mean?”
“Residence is there, but no inhabitants.”
I didn’t get it. What did he mean there was no one home? Coffin – closed up, tagged.
“Come one! I work in mortuary for three years! I recognize a corpse, when I see one!”
My mouth fell open. Saul-Erik didn’t look as impressed and sent me a joyless glance. “No honey, he’s not lying.”
The coffin above my ceiling was out of my head at once. “That picks up girls well, eh?” I asked sarcastically, wrapping my arms on my chest.
He shrugged. “They’re more interested in my shekels.”
“Money! Dope! Capital, funds – god! You really are stupid!”
My frown picked up entire new horizon of thunder clouds. “What’s that suppose to mean?”
I felt Saul-Erik’s hands grab on my shoulder, pressing them hard before patting me and blocking Malek out of my way. “So you didn’t find the body?”
“No. I opened the casket and where was no one in there.”
I wanted to faint and die right there. Why couldn’t I end up amongst normal people for a change? Why couldn’t I end up in a nice neighborhood? Somewhere, where the women’s ideal was Martha Stewart?
“Are you OK?” I was woken by Saul-Erik’s scared voice and I opened my eyes. I was laying flat on my pavement and in my view were Saul and Malek and gray sky. I was confused and looked around, blinking. How did I get down here? I couldn’t remember falling.
“How long was I down?” I asked, brushing fingers over my face. My head hurt, but when the fingers touched the stone under it, it became clear, why.
“You just fell.” Saul-Erik said and pressed his hand under me to pull me up.
When my eyes hit the product of a dog’s rear end next to me, I was thankful and up faster then would’ve been good. It was good Saul was holding me, otherwise I’d just fallen over again, for I saw a large party behind my closed lids.
“Easy, easy!” he couched, “you hit your head pretty bad. Come, we’ll take you in.”
My eyes measured him and the house standing behind him. It looked very big and scary.
“I-I don’t want to.” I protested and tried to get free before he lifted me up and dragged me back in there. “You want me to go back in there?” I was dumbfounded. “We just discovered a big black coffin!”
Malek raised a finger and sing next to me. “Without a body!”
I wasn’ about to give in. “A tagged coffin!”
Malek frowned. “What about that tag?”
“It carried the deceased’ date of death!”
Oh that happiness that made Malek dance next to us, bringing out all the horror in me and Saul, so much so he immediately throttled me against him and heaved me several steps away.
“That means there MUST be a body!” Malek screamed like euphoric peacock. “We never stamped the caskets before the dead guy was completely dead and in it!”
“No-no-no, no fainting again!” I heard Saul-Erik’s voice and painful slap brought be back. I captured myself moment before my legs gave in and realized I was nearly gone again. But before I could take any action, Saul picked me up and carried me back in the house, seating me down in the kitchen, facing the baby again.
“You’re crazy!” I protested, but was handed glass of water instead and at this point it looked more appealing than picking a fight. I looked out from the window and saw how first drops of rain hit it, drumming gently on the glass. It seemed so improper in our current situation. Oddly I didn’t feel scared or unhappy. Just slightly prone to fainting.
“If you really don’t want to be here tonight, you can stay at my place.” Saul-Erik offered, crouching before me, but I declined his offer.
“If this corpse-expert has no objections here, perhaps you could help me go through the house and check if there really is a body hidden somewhere?” I proposed, shuffling in the glass, eyes stuck in the bottom of it.
I didn’t want to stay at his place. He seemed sincere, but I couldn’t get off the idea that he was somehow still involved. Plus I had my own plans I couldn’t afford coming public just yet.
“Search from where?” asked Malek.
“Under the shower, doofus!” Saul snapped, but burst laughing instead. “Come,” he pulled me up, “you have keys to all the rooms, right?”
Strange that he asked. But he was right, I think I had all of them. Another oddity of this house – it didn’t have a skeleton key. All doors opened with different key and not one of them was unlocked. Just picking out which door went with which key took me half a day. Some of the keys matched with their locks, others were confusingly similar to each other, making me go through six of them before I reached to the one I needed.
“And tea after that,” I offered, “some of those rooms are still dusty.”
“Like that concrete room you keep mentioning?”
“Wait, I forgot,” Malek stopped mid- step, eyes fixed on his big watch. “I gotta be at work in half an hour!”
Now that was catastrophic revelation I couldn’t live without. I waved to him and he was gone. I thought Saul-Erik would follow him, but he didn’t move.
“Where are your keys?” he asked when the neighbor house door banged and the rumpling of the car disappeared down the street.
I didn’t respond. He stood close, only a reach away and was messing up all my thoughts. My lungs needed air, but none was getting through and after few unsuccessful tries I gave up. I rose my eyes and got stuck in his.
He was waiting.
My hand rose involuntarily to touch if that was indeed the same God, whom I’d seen on the other side of the hedge last night, but I realized immediately how impolite I was being and changed the movement of my hand to show to living room instead and towards the keys laying there on the table. He headed there.
This wasn’t the time to get myself infatuated with a guy, I scolded myself. I had very different purpose for being here and some lovelorn meddling wasn’t part of that plan. Then I thought back on Mykola and the cure for my shuddering heart was found. I won’t repeat the same mistake twice!
“Do you want me to leave?” he asked seriously. He seamed relaxed, but the crackling in his voice wasn’t unfamiliar to me – I had began the game and at some point he expected to continue with it. I shook my head quickly and his lips turned into timid smile. I grinned back, but didn’t let it get any further.
We started with the pantry door in the back of the house. It was small, slightly wider than I was, made of plywood and dirty. One could expect anything behind such door. I pressed my eyes closed before opening it. After such eyes-closed experiment I heard a sound grunt behind me and the keys disappeared from my hand.
“Here,” he showed me one long skinny key that fitted nicely into mighty tiny hole, “if you keep your eyes open, you actually can’t see what you are doing!”
The key grated in the hole like sand under the shoes, but finally it opened. But that’s where his courage ended and it took him time before he finally dared to open the blue door and look at the bottles standing there. I peaked around him and breathed easier, when I saw nothing else there besides marinated cucumbers and tomatoes. Just veges. We stared at them for a while, like surprised that they had nothing else hidden in them.
He was disappointed and slammed the door closed. “Why keep it locked then?”
On the next moment we were hiding our heads between hands, because it sounded as if all six shelve-fulls of glass jars had just taken extra lesson in gravity.
He slowly reopened the pantry and besides water plumped out also black currant leaves, broken glass and pickles. His grimace showed sincere remorse before familiar vinegar scented liquid damped my shoes. I was about to scold him good, when he suddenly grabbed my shoulders and pulled me few feet away.
He sounded amused, as if he’d just discovered something interesting. Light shined in through the washed down brick wall! It lit up most of the pantry.
“Hidden door!”He let me go and brushed pass me. He shouted and knocked gently on the canvas. “She had hidden door in here!”
“Saul, I don’t think I want to continue this search.” I said quietly and went back in the kitchen.
“Hidden door is good thing…” he tried to explain, but I wasn’t listening.
“First things first – I want some tea.” He followed me and I could hear him close the pantry door before sitting down behind kitchen table. Back on the same chair closest to the front door, his back to the door.
I pushed the kettle back on, even though it was still warm, and concentrated on that until the water came to boil and the machine died out. He shifted from his right side to his left and leaned against the back.
“I came here to find my dad. He left us, when I was very little. I thought it would be good time to search him out.” I changed the subject. I thought it might bring trouble. especially in the light of the current events. “I worked for a man, who said he’d meet him once. I guess he came in the shop when I wasn’t there. He was searching group 167.” I listened his breathing change. It was subtle, but I heard the air going through him as if someone had started storm season. “I had some family back here once and as this was only last month, I thought I’d try my luck here.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to search if you weren’t glued to some place?”
“He said he’d like to spend his pension here.”
“So you bought a house here?”
“I needed to change the scenery too. It’s not all about long lost relatives.”
I was happy with my answers. Yes, all is right as long as I’m just looking for daddy dearest.
“What’s his name?”
I startled. “Whose?”
“You’re not Kornilova, you’re Helder.”
I felt my hands heat up in a second. How did he know that?
“I took mom’s name, I guess I wasn’t that OK with him leaving back then.”
How long was he gonna go on with this?
“I know Kornilov family, they’re not in my search list.”
My eyebrows must have popped notably high considering his jumpy reaction. Who was I dealing with here?
“You search people?” I asked, pretending I was eager to find out more. I wasn’t, but it made him surprisingly uneasy. Maybe I could get info from him? “That’s so perfect! I knew my luck was just hiding around the corner! I search people too!”
“I don’t search people!” he shouted to pull down my eagerness and I let myself fall back against the chair, rewarding him with wide grin exchange to his stupidity.
He avoided looking at me. “Let’s just drop it.” he said softly after awhile.
“No, I want to know more.”
“Evelyn, it’s not like…”
“Make my life little bit easier?” I offered, disappointed “I will find out sooner or later.”
“Our organization is not built on everybody knowing about it, so drop it!”
“I live next door to you.” I pointed out.
He grunted, but then his frown turned into smile and he got up, slope over the table and collected his tins.
“Then keep your eyes open and find out!”
He left, leaving me alone in my kitchen.