"The Fairies know who she is." The stories her aunt had told her were only fairy tales;
Behind the Vines
Jill H. O’Bones
Copyright 2015 Jill H. O’Bones
This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are use fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental or is used fictitiously.
A Note from the Author:
I originally wrote Behind the Vines back in 2009/2010 and floated it around a few internet sites, but then I got distracted by my son’s ‘what if’ question and other stories, and took the draft down, filing it away.
When 2013 rolled around I didn’t have any ideas for National Novel Writing Month. I visited my old stories, rediscovering Behind the Vines and used that draft as my outline for my 2013 NaNo project. With all of the chapters I took out, I questioned at the beginning of the month if I’d have enough story to reach the 50,000 word goal, but as I wrote, I added, and by the end of November I went over the goal, but still had a lot of story to write and I continued to work on Behind the Vines throughout 2014. As the story grew, I started to loving call it the NaNo Monster.
As to my son’s ‘what if’ question; ....................
June 16, 2010
Lisa stood outside the bedroom door, afraid to enter. Just a little over a year ago her best friend had died in that room. The closest she’d been was when she helped Thomas pack his things two days after his mom died. Lisa couldn’t go into Elizabeth’s room then, and she wasn’t sure she could do it now, but she wanted to be close to her friend. Lisa missed her so much.
After Thomas asked to visit his mother’s grave as a Christmas present, Lisa could only agree. It would only be for a couple of days, and it was the least she could do for the boy. He had lost his mother, and she had lost her best friend. Thomas, who had turned sixteen in February, could have had driven, but she didn’t feel comfortable letting him take off when he just got his license, and she wanted to go with him. Neither of them had really said good-bye to Elizabeth, and they both needed to. Yesterday afternoon she left her two daughters, Katie and Lynn, in Mankato, and she and Thomas drove the four hours to the town in Iowa where Elizabeth had spent the last five years of her life.
Once they arrived they took their bags into the house and went right to Elizabeth’s grave. Thomas knelt and placed the flowers he had brought and those he had picked on the walk. Lisa could tell he was trying not to cry, but he failed and a few tears dripped to the ground. With a shaking breath he had asked if it was okay if he could go for a walk. Lisa didn’t want to be alone, but she knew Thomas needed this time to deal with his emotions, so she gave him a nod and he walked towards the woods. She watched him for a minute or two before making her way back to the house.
When she came here last year to bury her friend, she understood why Elizabeth did not want to leave. It was beautiful, and it wasn’t as quiet in the country as Lisa thought it would have been. Sure, it wasn’t as noisy as the city, but it had its own music and was peaceful.
Thomas came back later that evening, and he seemed depressed, but he cheered up while on the phone talking to the friends he had made while living here. Lisa knew he had stayed in contact with them through the internet, and it might not be until next year when he would be able to see them again.
He had left early the next morning, walking down the half-mile drive to meet his friends. Lisa never heard a car come down the road, but she had been lost in her own thoughts of Elizabeth.
Elizabeth had made all of her arrangements after the chemo almost killed her, every last detail including what flowers she wanted at her funeral. Four days after Elizabeth’s death, Lisa took Thomas back to Minnesota. He wanted to go; he said that there were too many memories. His mom had made both of them promise that they would not mourn her after her funeral; instead they were to go on with their lives. It was hard at first. Lisa had heard Thomas crying every night, but as the days went on he cried less and less.
Lisa turned the handle and pushed the door open. It was like any other bedroom: a dresser, an old desk that sat between two windows that looked out to the woods, and Elizabeth’s heavy black sweater was hanging over the back of the nearby chair. Out of all of the sweaters Elizabeth owned, it was her favorite. She had said that it felt as if it was hugging her, and it kept out the cold. That was one of the odd things about Elizabeth. She was always cold. It could be the hottest day of the year, but Elizabeth would be wrapped up in a sweater, her hands cold to the touch. And even with all of the tests, before and after the tumor, the doctors could never find a reason why.
But the room was missing the bed. Elizabeth had died in her sleep; an aneurysm was the doctor’s guess, from the headache she had complained about a few hours before she went to sleep, so the bed and all of its coverings had to be removed.
Lisa was thankful that it wasn’t another one of the other possible outcomes that killed Elizabeth. There was no way she would have been able to handle that. Elizabeth could have had anything from seizures, loss of motor skill, hallucinations, extreme pain, to losing her memory, similar to Alzheimer’s. Lisa had seen firsthand as a nurse what happens to people who have Alzheimer’s, how they come into the nursing home scared but understanding what was going on, but the very next day they had no clue where they were. She had seen families leave the building in tears because their mom or dad didn’t know who they were and yelled at them to leave them alone. And it only went downhill from there. The patient would sit and cry for their mom or dad, and then they could fall into a zombielike state where they could barely move on their own until they died.
Feeling tears threatening, Lisa walked through the room and picked the sweater up. Dust had coated the black fabric, but when she brought it up to her face she still smelled her friend. Sitting in the chair, she looked out the window and let her tears roll down her cheeks as she clutched the sweater to her chest. Lisa had thought she had shed all of her tears for her friend, but she was wrong, and as she sat there so many memories came flooding back: how mean Elizabeth’s father was, her heartbreak when she found out that she could never have a child, her husband’s reaction to the news and how he had beaten the crap out of her, leaving her for dead. And the miracle of Thomas being created from her husband’s wrath and how determined Elizabeth was to hide the child from her ex-husband.
Her eyes drifted to the desk and, even though her vision was blurry, she knew who those six people in the photo were. Fresh sorrow ripped through Lisa. The photo was taken a few weeks before her own husband was killed in a car accident, and Elizabeth had been there for Lisa and her two daughters, just as Lisa was there for Elizabeth after her own minor car accident six years ago. Elizabeth wasn’t hurt, but the doctors wanted to make sure so they scanned her brain and found that little tumor that changed both of their lives. There was a ray of hope: It was so small, and the doctors were confident that treatment would get rid of it. But instead the chemo almost killed Elizabeth.
Picking up the frame, Lisa gazed at her best friend. Elizabeth would have looked just like anyone else, but her red hair and her eyes set her apart. Lisa had always been jealous with how the sun would make Elizabeth’s hair look as if it was on fire, and her eyes both bothered and entranced Lisa from the very first day she’d met her. Elizabeth had passed that broken crystal pattern on to her son, but he had bright blue eyes instead of Elizabeth’s bright green, and even after all of these years Lisa has never seen anyone with those eyes.
Lisa sat there and looked at herself in the mirror. Her brown eyes were red, her round cheeks moist, and she wondered how she was going to be able to move past the pain she was feeling. It was a mistake coming, just like it was for Elizabeth to come here looking for her mom’s grave. Elizabeth would have never found out that her aunt, who her dad had told her had died, was still alive. She would have never sat by that woman’s deathbed, and never would have stayed!
She was mad at Elizabeth for moving away and for dying, and she blamed herself for allowing it all to happen.
Out of her pain she hit the top of the desk. The mirror wobbled, and she heard something fall to the floor. She leaned back, and on the floor was a notebook with a piece of paper folded in thirds. Picking then both up she set them on the desk, and her hands started to shake when she recognized the vine sketches on the cover of the notebook. Elizabeth had always had a thing for vines, and as Lisa looked at the wall in front of her, she understood why.
Even though the white wallpaper was yellowed and fading, Lisa could see the vines that brought life into the room. They were so detailed. From the green shading of the vines, the veins in the leaves, and each flower petal, it looked as if they were alive, snaking their way and curling around each other. Elizabeth had told Lisa that she was sleeping in the room that she had slept in when she spent the nights with her aunt, and the room had brought back memories of her mom and aunt telling her bedtime stories.
And her obsession with vines stayed with her. Besides drawing them, Elizabeth took pictures, her potted plants were all vines of some sort, and when the doctor showed them an animated video of how the tumor could affect her, Elizabeth commented on how the synapses of the brain looked like vines.
Lisa played with the edges of the folded paper and, after telling herself not to a few times, she unfolded it. It was a letter addressed to Elizabeth.
My sweet child, you were so young when your mother left us, and it tears me up knowing that I was not able to protect you from your father. I tried to fight him, but he used my age and our family’s stories to put me in here, but he did not gain your inheritance. I made sure on the day you were born and before your mother died that he would not. I do not know what he has told you, but it is time you know the truth. Although after this many years of life I can feel that I am losing my thoughts; they are here and then they are gone, and some days it is hard to put the words together, but I was never crazy and I never tried to hurt you.
I will not lie; I have never liked your father. He was always more fond of the drink and cards than anything else. He returned my dislike by taking your mother away after they wed, and then you after your mother’s death.
As your mother fought the cancer, your father threatened to take you away if I did not sign over your inheritance to him. He had already gambled away most of your mother’s money, and what was left was used for her medical needs.
I agreed to a yearly allowance, for your care, but I knew it would not satisfy his greed, and I made additional conditions to my will. My lawyer was a good man, and he knew of your father’s immoralities, and he helped make sure your father would never be able to take your inheritance or birthright away, no matter what course he took.
Upon my death, everything becomes yours.
There are only two exceptions. The first is the birth of your first child. You are entitled to a quarter of your inheritance upon its birth. The second, you must renounce your father and come home to me. Once I am free, you will take your rightful place.
Because I have never trusted your father with your wellbeing, there is an additional condition included in my will, which digs a pit in my soul. The possibility of your death. If you die then your inheritance will transfer right to your children. They will be entitled to a yearly allowance, which will grow in amount every year after they turn twenty-one, but if you do not have any children, then your inheritance will be split between one hundred charities I have designated.
Your father took you away from me when he discovered what I had done, and he put me in here and forbade me to ever see you again. As I said, he used my age and our family’s stories against me. I’ve spent years trying to prove his lies wrong, to prove my sanity, and I have even lied, but every year that went by made my release less likely.
Do not believe your father’s lies. I never tried to harm you, my child, you are too special.
I love you and not a day goes by where I am not thinking of you. And when I smell the apple blossoms in the spring, I can feel your small arms hugging me.
Remember the stories and find the Fairies; they will take you home.
All My Love
That last line sent shivers through Lisa’s body. She could remember Elizabeth talking a little about her mom and her aunt. Before her mom died, Elizabeth would spend most of her time with her aunt, who would tell stories about fairies, Elves, unicorns, and a queen. But after her mom died, Elizabeth’s father had told her that her aunt had jumped off the roof of her house and that in the note she had left she claimed that the fairies were going to take her home.
He had lied. Her aunt had not jumped off the roof of her house; the proof was right there in the letter Lisa had just read.
Lisa’s fingers traced the vines on the battered cover of the notebook; but curiosity overtook her and she opened it. She felt tears sting her eyes as she gazed on Elizabeth’s handwriting.
June 27, 2004
I can’t keep my thoughts straight. It feels as if they are the balls inside a pinball machine slamming around my head, and when I try to make sense of all that has happened in the last month, the flippers will whack them and they scatter, bouncing off the bumpers.
Lisa, my best friend, has always written in a journal, and she wrote a lot after her husband died. She said it helped her get her feelings out in the open and didn’t feel as if her heart was being ripped out as it did when she said the words out loud. I’ve never had an interest in journal writing, even after finding out that I was dying. I would sit with the notebook on my lap jotting down a word or two, but it never felt right, but this does, just as long as I don’t think too hard. If I do, especially about what has happened, then my thoughts start bouncing around again.
Maybe if I start at the beginning; that’s where all stories start.
My name is Elizabeth Mary Simmons but I was born Elizabeth Mary Quenn. I didn’t know this before now, but my mom was the first woman in my family to take her husband’s last name and I was the second. But I changed it to my mom’s maiden name after I divorced my husband. I had to put as much distance between us as I possibly could, and taking a different last name felt right. I’d thought about changing my name completely, but I couldn’t. My mom was named after one of our grandmothers, Mary-Elizabeth, and when she named me she just flipped the first and middle name around. My name is one of the last things I have of my mom; she died when I was seven. Breast cancer took her, and a brain tumor is taking me.