After Martha’s visit, each of my mornings began with Oliver banging at my door and accusing me of stealing the picture from their living room. It didn’t seem to get through to his thick head that he was the one, who started the whole thing by pointing out that the image is cursed and it would move from its place. But of course, it was much more fun to torture me each morning.
It came back by nightfall, spent the night on my cupboard and in the morning Oliver came to pick it up. Like clockwork. First time we argued a great deal and when I finally hit the fragile frame and the pot in his stomach, the horror in his eyes was worth it. After fifth such session, I grew thick skin and simply gave the damned thing back to him without uttering a word. He usually came on the last minute, when I was about to put my shoes on and run to the bus. I would have loved Saul’s help on this one, but the entire punch had all disappeared to god knows what errants, so it was just me and him grudging against each other.
I made a mental note to do some yelling at Saul, when he got back, remind him I was not gonna tolerate this much further. But the picture itself was like a pet. It might not have the soul or bark, when I got home, but it grew on me like the most best behaving mini poodle. Even better! I didn’t have to feed it or take it for walks. All I had to do, when I came back before it was sometimes pick it up, if it hadn’t reached its destination. Perfect pet for a businesswoman like me. Later on, getting acquainted with it without others around, I could solemnly swear I’d guard its peace as long as I lived there. I couldn’t make that promise for others though.
On Friday morning I was in hurry and couldn’t wait for Oliver. I broke the heel and lost time searching the next pair instead of making few sandwiches or even brushing my hair. Together with my car that was right now waiting in the other end of the town for quick fix. I was getting anxious, when he hadn’t turned up on his regular time, so I went there myself, jumping softly over the fence, picture settled in the bushes while jacket and heals hanging from my right hand. Though I knew I had no spectators to fear – the street was nearly empty – some senior observer might have still needed ambulance duo my unseemly jump. I quickly pushed the shoes on and went knocking on his brown door.
I got no response. I banged harder.
I had no time to wait, the bus came around the corner any minute now and if I wasn’t in the station in time, the driver would be cold-blooded harpy and left me to fend for myself. But taking taxi from this part of town equaled signing up for a space travel.
So far I had had no reason to come here, but right now I felt deep urge to give reason to Oliver’s every morning mental break down, break in and set that picture next to their coffee machine. They did drink coffee, so there had to be machine somewhere?
I set my hand on the doorknob, but my conscious decided then that such petty break-in would have still equaled with crime. I was already taking medication against ulcers from the last crime I committed and my body wouldn’t survive another lawbreaking on my conscious. Annoyed, I still pulled my hand away and continued basing on the door.
“If you don’t come now, I…” I hissed, but before I could finish, the door swung open and Saul-Erik with his red dream glad eyes stared back at me with surprise.
“The hell do you want? Waking me up seven in the morning…”
“Give this to Oliver,” I pressed the picture in his lap, “I’m already late and can’t wait until he has time to come himself!”
I managed only few steps away, when his shout nailed me on the pavement.
“You go nowhere! Not before you explain me why I should give it to Oliver?”
I turned around slowly. “Because he’s been around every morning, asking for it?” I prattled and quickly eyed my watch, which stated that I had no more than two minutes to spare or the trip to space would have been cheaper. “Honestly, I’m in a bit of a hurry, so…”
“Ain’t gonna happen!” he stretched his bare chest and leaned against the doorway. “Why has he asked about it?”
“Because you have convinced him that the photo can’t possibly move by itself and now he believes I break in your place each day and steal it.” I shrugged. “Out of spite! I’m that much of a bitch!” Get to the point, I begged in my head, I didn’t have time for twenty questions!
His shoulder slumped and his face turned red before sending some rank expressions in his war cave and called for Oliver.
I was out of my wits! To start sorting out two week long argument right now was not my purpose! I just wanted him to put the picture back on top of their fireplace so it could start its way back.
“Oh, good!” I praised his actions, “you can continue asking himself, why he thinks so, but right now I don’t have time for this!”
I disappeared from there was quickly as my feet allowed and I gave myself a promise that if he wants, we’ll talk about it in the evening, but right now the Old Devil would had the power to keep me here. I reached the bus station right in time to wave good-bye to the bus turning around the next street corner and it became clear to me that my crazy day hadn’t even started yet.
I was late on my first day at job at a tea shop and already paid penalty worth two days of shopping for the taxi and to top it all off, owner’s son decided to play little take over on mama’s shop and kept us at work longer to discuss how poorly his dear mother is and how we’d win if we’d do his bidding and convince her mother to leave the shop to him. Which, on obvious reason, didn’t go through for I had no idea what was going on. But he did manage to steal two days from one and by the end of it, I couldn’t see myself returning at all, so I told them to continue searching.
And so, by the time I got home, I was waiting rather poor results from our little argument as well, because Oliver had had the entire day to smooth his statement and I believed I would be unanimously proved guilty with no opportunity to speak for my defense.
To my surprise I found no one waiting at my place. I closed the gate and warily walked to the porch, in case Saul-Erik was again hiding behind the vines, but he wasn’t there. Only the picture hadn’t got in, which scared me more, and was standing like glued against the front door.
I was disappointed, but a bit glad in my heart. I preferred fighting with them some other day, when my nerves were in better shape.
I picked the picture up.
“On Saturday then…” I began, gently brushing off some dirt stuck on the frame, when my tenderness was mercilessly replaced with terror, when my ear caught distinctive creek my front door only made when it was open.
I reluctantly observed the door closer. It didn’t look as if someone had forced themselves in, even the key was still hanging in front of the door. A tiny dusty green Chinese charm was also hanging on it. So they had a spare key to my house, I gathered, good to know.
I slowly pushed my door open and reached for the candle holder, but stopped midway, when I heard that this someone humming!
Someone was singing! It was gentle as a breeze, but it was undoubtedly “Lady Madonna” and that robbed me my confidence. I quickly backed out before deciding it was best to disappear and took another unladylike jump over the bushes.
I drummed hard against the wood, eyes frozen on my door, and waited with growing fear somebody to respond.
“Where are you?” I kept hitting it, but this time the light inside didn’t go on and no Saul-Erik opened the door. “Moved away, huh?!”
I heard thud and knew exactly, where the intruder was – in the bathroom. But I wasn’t up to taking on anyone today and so I curled up, as close as I could manage to the currants so whoever was ransacking through my house wouldn’t see me from the windows.
I pressed my eyes closed and prayed. You have to do it at some time in your life, I decided and began what I remembered of Our Father. But it seemed God was in merciful mood today and soon after I started, I heard familiar sound of a car pulling in the yard.
I shot my eyes up and was face to face with Rasmus! Oh the joy, when I saw his stubble beards! And behind him, slamming the door closed, was Saul-Erik. Only, seeing him brought my ulcers back.
“What’s wrong with you today?” Rasmus wondered, kneeling in front of me. “First you wake the entire house in early hours and now you’ playing chick pea?” He pushed me with his crooked finger. “Need a strait-jacket?”
“No,” I whispered nervously.
“Then you better have a good explanation!”
“He…mh!” I set my handbag and the picture aside, but didn’t get up. “This isn’t a time, there is no time!”
“You’ve got that right!” said Saul and reached his hand to me. My instincts told me I should play nice and follow his demand, but the fear for whoever was in my house, was bigger. I heard again that weird sound from my house and glanced quickly over the bushes before hiding behind them again.
I turned my eyes on Saul-Erik and stated the obvious: “Someone is in my house!”
“In your house?” I saw from his thin lips he wasn’t buying it. “Stand up!”
Order is order, but I shook my head and stayed put.
“Get up!” he demanded again and grabbed me to pull me on my feet. “You have lost it for good and I can’t say your fooling is making me feel better!”
I pulled my hand free and stepped away from his reach.
“I’m not fooling! There IS someone! My door was open, when I got home!”
Rasmus shook his head. “Girl, stop it, you don’t want to see Saul angry! You probably forgot your door open when you left!”
Was I talking to a wall? I pulled my handbag from the bushes and turned it upside down and let everything fall before my feet. There was my notebook, mobile, which I forgot to load, deodorant, comb and punch of keys. “If I’d forgot to lock it, those keys would be hanging next to kitchen door!”
“What’s going on?”
Great! Oliver too! It promised to grow in a grand gala show! I felt my nostrils grow larger and cold waving from my body with heat replacing it from inside.
“Don’t interrupt, Oliver!” I warned him.
“Don’t tell me who I can yell at in my own house! Why are you yelling, anyway?”
“I yell if I damn want it! Because you, devil, won’t even leave my stuff alone!”
“You tossed the urn in the trash! You have no decency in you that would prove to me you’d let other things rest!”
“It was only one time and I explained you, why I did it!” I squat and tossed the bits of my life back in my handbag.
“You ungrateful –! I would never thought you to be such louse!”
“You want your aunt’s stuff back, do you? I would have offered them gladly hadn’t you started that war with that picture!”
“I didn’t start it! I just want it back!”
I think I chipped my tooth, besides my saliva was something else swimming around in my mouth. Where was that picture now? I searched for it and saw it on its usual round. I grabbed Oliver from his shoulders and pushed him around.
“Look!” He wanted to go and pick it up, but I pressed my fingers in his jacket and stopped him. “Just watch! Stand here two minutes and observe the wonder!”
“Evelyn, enough!” Saul-Erik groaned, but that wasn’t my problem right now.
Oliver swoon back against me and I knew he had seen same think I’d seen already weeks ago – the last journey of the picture. I thought to pleasure his mind with the site for a bit more, but he disappeared from my grip and last we heard was banging of the door.
“I’ve had it,” I grabbed the picture before it was too far under the bushes, “I’m calling police!”
“No!” Saul-Erik exploded. “I told you – no police! And what would you say to them, huh? You keep coffin under your roof and dead on your table!”
“I promise, I won’t tell them about your marvelous punch or the freaky mausoleum! I just want them to catch that thief in my house!”
He stared at me like he was only now starting to comprehend, why I was willing to freeze my bum off on this damp cold soil. But he didn’t give in on police.
“They wouldn’t be asking you about it. If they search the house, they’ll easily find all the rest as well. You crazy – to call police is…” he raised his voice, but I didn’t need his analyze on their late night parties or how much any of them was in trouble with the law.
I saw a rectangle object in his chest pocket and reached my hand in from the open jacket and grabbed it. He immediately imprisoned my hand, pressing it away from him, but the phone was already firmly in my hand. Fear supposedly gives inhuman strength, but unfortunately not enough against raw force and I had to witness in pity how the phone was thrust from my hand.
“I won’t let you call the police! You’ll only make a fool of yourself. Besides, who would break in such house anyway?”
“You think I’m putting up this charade for a joke?!” I exploded. “If you won’t get the police, check my house yourself!”
Second later I deeply regretted the words, because that thief might be armed and if he now went in the house… I looked up to his broad shoulders, his neck and Addams apple and felt the pain go through my heart.
“Please don’t go.” I whispered suddenly and made puppy eyes on him.
“Make up your mind!” wrangled Rasmus by our side.
Saul-Erik only frowned on me, before he understood the meaning hidden behind my rumpling and his shoulders slump. His quick glance on Rasmus and then towards the Oliver hiding behind the curtains was filled with fear of being found out. Like a little child caught on stealing candy.
I felt guilty putting him in such position. He wasn’t the sort of guy, who could allow himself be thrown off his track and I understood that, especially by some whittles fool like me. I promised to control myself more from now on, what I say and do around him.
I swallowed hard over this newfound disappointment and turned to Rasmus.
“If the police isn’t coming, do it yourself! The door is open.”
“Then say so!” he rated and went.
Saul-Erik didn’t move. He stood there and studied me, trying hard to figure me out. He didn’t ask any question aloud, but they formed in his eyes. Had he asked, I wasn’t sure I would have had answers. One I was sure of – I didn’t want him staring me like that.
Why did I have to run in with him with that? I would have offered him to come over for tea again, but where would I go from that? He probably thought I was as crazy, as nutty as Oliver.
“I’m not crazy,” I began silently, “I…”
We were interrupted by clashing in my house and someone running, followed by Rasmus raucous roaring, which concluded more than simple swearing. I could hear through the walls how he ran. It was spooky, because now I was fully aware that my house built-up resembled public toilet with just its walls keeping away the onlookers view. Anyone with good pair of ears, however, could do spying with little hindrance.
We both saw a man taller than Malek run down the porch and disappear in frightful speed between the houses across the street. He was gone before Rasmus reached the door.
Saul-Erik looked me with shock, as if so far he had really thought it was some sick joke on his behalf. He started off, but when he was close enough, I clung in his jacket.
How I wished it had been some sick joke! That I was delusional and thought that out! Or I simply forgot to lock the door! But that someone was in my house? That was too…
I woke up on a painful slap over my cold cheeks. When I opened my eyes, I was looking right at Saul-Erik. He had caught me before I reached the ground.
“You gotta stop this!” he said with voice shivering. “If you should faint when he’s in the same room with you…” he fell silent. He wanted to add something, but couldn’t manage a word after that.
I felt his hand pulsate on my back and my heart started pounding. But this time he didn’t let me go, but gazed at me for a while.
I sensed fear, when he so carelessly had said him and I was sure he wasn’t talking about the burglary.
He jerked and apologized immediately that I shouldn’t worry about it, quietly, almost unnoticeabley that it wasn’t worth my trouble. I didn’t believe him. I raised my hand and brushed over his cheek to comfort him a little. No, I promised, I won’t faint in front of the guy, who would even make God of Wolves shiver in fear.
Hadn’t Rasmus intervened and made Saul-Erik pull me on my feet, I would have gladly given him something to think about on lonely nights. But the cold reality was still here and right now I forgot all Saul’s problems and had to deal with my own.
“Hell, you see that? I could have sworn it was Janay! When did he move in St.Pierre?” The little hunt had taken decades off him and he looked as excited as a teenager. Then he stopped and looked us over. “What happened?”
“Nothing.” Said Saul instead of me and abruptly let my hand go, but he kept his left on my back. He didn’t think I’d notice how he shook his head while we listened Rasmus. I quickly glanced at him, but his eyes had gained the same glass stare he had, when he introduced me to Martha.
“The lock wasn’t damaged,” Rasmus voice proved to me once and for all, why he was in charge of the security around here, “the key still turns nicely.”
“Our spare key.”
“You haven’t changed the locks?” The scrutiny from Saul-Erik that followed on such statement made me look away. I didn’t dare to look up again before I was convinced he’d turned away, but I calculated the time wrong and was faced with the same grey eyes. I felt sick inside. Embarrassing as it was, I hadn’t had time to deal with that yet.
“Where’s your key?” Rasmus asked and I turned my attention back on him.
I waited with my answer. It was kind of nice to know I could turn to him if the party next door was getting out of hand. That of course if he wasn’t seeing donuts flying through the air on the same party, I corrected. Remembering the little incident of him going through the street side firs searching for pixies he could kiss last week.
“In my bag. You had the spare key, I see?”
“You haven’t changed the locks?” He asked again.
“Why?” I couldn’t help the irony in my tone. “So your key wouldn’t match any more?”
Saul-Erik’s hand disappeared from my back in a flash. So did the secure feeling.
“I’ll deal with it, when I get the money.”
“I think we have one lock set in the storage?” he turned to Rasmus.
“Yeah-yeah, I’ll deal with it tomorrow.”
I didn’t want any charity. “I will call the locksmith to…”
“It will come cheaper if Rasmus does this tomorrow. Besides,” he said sarcastically, “then we still have the spare key.” He finished every argument on the matter and wished us good night.
“Good night.” I wished to his back. Rasmus shrugged and followed him and they both left me alone in the front yard.
I gathered my things and went around the bushes this time. I looked at the open door and the lock with the key still inside it and sniffed quietly before pushing it away from my way and walked in.
I was ready to leave this day behind me, when mom suddenly called and said she was coming over on the next day. I had plans regarding searching my dad, but, well, that was hardly a reason to block out closer relatives.
I tossed my jacket and things in the bedroom, placed the picture back on its place and dragged myself back on the porch. I needed to think. The house felt utterly cold tonight and I didn’t want to sit in the living room. Here I could at least hear the birds and feel the warmth lingering around.
Yesterday passed 10th anniversary of the last murder committed by Montford Huntsman. That according to newspaper delivered on my doorstep each morning. What possessed people to mark it out in the local news each year was beyond me. It was a mockery that never went away. I could see my friends reading it and raising the time-old questions. How would his wife feel? It has to be woman – no man is capable of such heinous crime. What kind of offspring they would produce?
“I bet they follow their dad’s footsteps…” I swallowed the insightful words of my old classmate. I was haunted by those words since she blurted them out in 7th grade. They had turned into nightmare a year ago. Back then I knew they were wrong, all of them. I had no doubts, who he was and who his children were.
Six gifts over five years was no coincidence. For different occasions, but there they were – something important happen in my life and suddenly a body would be found. Police didn’t know the connection, but with Social Movement just starting their program on “saving the kids of the future”, we never went for the police. Nobody worried of that program – their parents were all nice, good citizens with future plans and drank beer. There was only one child in the town, who waited in fear that people around her learned the truth, and that child was sitting right here, forcing the tears away.
That was back then. Now I couldn’t tell if killing was our family trade. I was guilty of it and now I planned another. But I was not my father. I did it for self defense and for everything that woman put us through. One strike for us.
I was still trying to figure out, who that us was.
“Can’t sleep?” Malek asked quietly from their garden.
I woke from my thoughts and quickly brushed my eyes dry.
“No. Too much happening today, I guess.”
“Neither can I.”
“You should, Rasmus said you had some meeting tomorrow.”
“I can shoot with half brain dead.” He laughed and jumped over to currant bushes.
I bet he did. Wait, what did he say?
“You’re searching someone, Saul told me.”
Had I lost something here? How did Saul… Oh, yes, now I remembered.
“Yes, my father.” I drawled, not sure if I could trust him.
“I’m going for a tour around the premises tomorrow, wanna come?”
We had premises? I was living in a closed area? Here? I was ready to decline. I was not built for security tasks. On a second thought, that would prove to be a good opportunity.
Now I had to handle mom coming over.
“At what time?” I called after him, because he had already gone back.
“Ten in the morning..”
“Good.” Then I could arrange her to come in the evening.
Secret against secret, I thought suddenly and asked bluntly.
„You grew up together?“
„No, Saul and Oliver grew up together. They picked me up from the street like mushroom and I went to work for them.“
„What on earth could a child do in such business? Work as a delivery boy?” I was baffled. I didn’t know they were street children. I couldn’t read that out from his confidence. I examined him closely – nothing in him hinted for insecurity which I had encountered with the kids I’d worked with in my youth.
He burst laughing. “It’s mine to hide and yours to find out. I’ll see you later.” He nodded.
“Malek!” Rasmus exploded on their porch, making both of us cringe.
He wished good night and jumped over to their yard. He returned to house, accompanied by a very angry Rasmus.
I watched this strange couple while they went inside and smiled. There was no secret here, Rasmus regarded him like son. The respect between the two was visible like sun in the morning.
“Did I just hear you right?” he immediately demanded explanation from Malek. “Did you just give her permission to dig through our pasts?”
“Rasmus, cool it, she’d find out sooner or later.”
“But you just…”
“She won’t start snooping in our past, so chill!”
“And you base that fairy tale on what, princess?”
“She’s already searching for someone.”
“Yes, and so you giv…”
“Somebody else. Her house is filled with things that don’t belong to her. She’s like us, Rasmus, we should understand the need to find someone close to her.”
“Really?” I heard Rasmus drag out stool from the kitchen corner and sit on it. “What stuff?”
“A notebook that doesn’t belong to her. Too old and greasy. Yet she keeps it close and not just for looks. And a small box, where she keeps papers in – it keeps changing the position.”
I stood there, my back against the strut, eyes wide and nailed to emptiness before me. The scallywag was keeping eye on my stuff moving around? I quickly turned and looked back and the first thing I saw from the open door was indeed my father’s notebook. That’s what happens if you don’t have the habit of putting things away! I pushed away from the post to go and put it away, but thought then it was too late. Perhaps it was good that he knew. One thing less to lie him about.
I couldn’t go to sleep yet and sat in the living room, rolling the papers around on the floor. He called me in the evenings to check on me and I didn’t want to be in bed, in my private space when I received it. I heard the buzzing and watched it ring, unknown caller nearly topping the phone off the coffee table. Before it could crash, I grabbed it.
“Yes?” He sounded stoic tonight. “I haven’t got to him yet. Too early to tell if I can find…” I listened the reminder of what would happen if I didn’t co-operate. “I know, I know! I’m searching!”
He hung up and I slammed the phone in the sofa behind the table.