Devlin? Devlin who? That weird little kid over there? Never seen him before in my life.
|The world outside her kitchen window was bright and sunny. A light breeze rustled the foliage atop the tall trees two houses over. Several birds lit upon the verge in spots along the side of the turnaround at the side of the house. Each pecked, cocked their heads before springing again skyward on flapping wings.
The neighbor's sedan rumbled up the neighbor's driveway. It rounded a bend behind a hedge, disappeared behind a few trees, reappeared and settled near the neighbor's little decorative water feature near their front steps. The car idled many moments. Little puffs of exhaust burped impatiently from the vehicle's grumbling tailpipe to rise, spread and dissipate between ruby red, illuminated taillights.
Maggie watched and waited and silently counted the moments.
"... eighteen one thousand, nineteen one thousand, twenty one thousand ..." this lengthy interlude might indicate Mr. Merchant was reading something, "... twenty-four one thousand, twenty-five one thousand, twenty-six ..." or else he was on the phone.
Maggie reached over and twisted on the cold water tap. The spigot erupted, sputtered to life, and a cold stream washed into the kitchen sink basin.
"thirty-four one thousand, thirty-five one thousand, thirty ... oop."
Taillights went dark. All life went out of the neighbor's car. Its incessant rumbling ceased, and all was quiet. After a dull thudding sound, the driver's side door popped open.
Maggie diverted her attention to the floor and then to the sink. She dipped her hands into the basin but not into the water and made a wringing motion is if she were washing her hands, which was was not ... she then tore a section of paper towel from the roll atop the counter and pantomimed drying herself. When she brought her eyes again to the window after tossing the napkin into the trash receptacle beneath the sink, she caught an older, mustached gentleman standing beside the sedan next door, briefcase in hand. He gazed up at Maggie's kitchen window, obviously taking account of her. She reacted with feigned surprise, turned around as if there were someone else in the kitchen and then turned back and waved briefly.
Mr. Merchant flicked a hand back. He pulled a cell phone from his inside jacket pocket and put it to his ear. he then turned and started up the stair to his front door.
Maggie puffed out her cheeks.
"Dirty bugger." she thought. "Has to have something going on the side."
She watched him retreat within his house noting the front door shut and then slowly swung open, creating about an inch of empty space. She could just make out the faux Venus statue in their front hallway from her spot behind her wide pane of glass. She "tsked tsked" to herself and glanced at the clock before the Merchant's front door slapped itself shut for good.
Maggie's eyes flicked outside and then back to the clock.
Little devil should be home soon.
She retreated from her picture window and moved across the kitchen toward the front of the house. She and her sons, it felt as though they had been there, in that house, for a lifetime. And she supposed as she mounted the bottom step heading upstairs, it truly had been a lifetime for her kids. So much time had passed since she'd been married to Thomaston. So many happy memories ... before ... well ...
Maggie wiped a sudden, single, tear from her eye as she rounded the landing and continued upward ... couldn't be helped.
"No." she muttered. Couldn't be helped. Nothing further could've been done. They did their best ...
"... but they just couldn't save him."
She balled her hands into fists and stood at the top of the stair, her eyes closed. She breathed. One deep in, one deep out.
She stroked absently at the pendant hanging against the nape of her neck. The heavy, smooth stone provided some small solace. But solace it did provide. Maggie took one last, lingering breath. She held it until she felt the sadness give way to strength. The she opened her eyes and shrugged.
Turning she snatched open the door to the upstairs hallway toward the back of the house. She passed the little sitting area where the boys used to play. Her rocking chair remained propped into the far corner where it had always been. The little couches lined their adjacent walls, one for each boy and each facing the little portable tv atop the low bookcase at the far end of the room. She could picture her boys, much younger than they were now with their dark-moppy hair poking every which way and their sock feet dangling over the ends of those couches, with their action figures at hand while obsessing over Saturday morning cartoons.
"Tommy?" she'd say, "Would you like some breakfast?"
And her youngest would pop up eagerly before he realized he was acting like a baby, and he'd settle back against his couch and cut cool toward his brother.
"Oh I dunno, Mom. Hey D ... what do you think?"
Devlin, seemingly oblivious, would just keep watching Collier Cat chasing Rooten Rooster up a tree (where he'd inevitably get brained with an anvil secreted among the branches - everybody knew it would happen - but to the Dev, it never got old)
"Huh?" Dev would say.
Tommy would grow impatient because he was hungry, but he'd want to impress his brother.
"C'mon doofus, Mom needs to know."
And Devlin would blink back to earth with his big sleepy eyes, so light gray, they were almost white.
"Shutup stoopid. I know." He'd say with a slight grin. "We got any Honeydew?"
"You want melon?" Maggie would ask.
"Yeah. Mom. C'mon. We're watching TV." and he'd turn back to Collier swaying, half-lidded, beneath a huge exaggerated lump on the top of his head with little birds flying around his face in a circle.
Tommy would watch his Mom apologetically. She'd nod, and he'd shrug. And everything would be ok. And then she'd head back down the hall ... but the part she really loved was the unfailing, eventual words that would cut through the cartoon music and fill her full of warmth ...
"And Mom?" Devlin would yell.
She'd stop before heading left to the front steps.
"We love you!"
"Yeah ... we LOVE you!" Tommy would parrot.
Maggie sighed, stood back from the now empty room, and headed down the hall to Tommy's room to be sure he'd made his bed before school. She'd have to drive over and pick Tommy up after baseball practice, and she wanted the house to be in working order before heading out. She cracked Tommy's door and kicked one of his bedroom slippers across the threshold. The room was a mess. Same as always. It was an organized mess with books piled up on top of shelves and video game cases scattered around the floor to the side of the room where his tv and his system were set up. Couple of button down shirts clinging to the backs of the desk chair, and an old magazine and a newspaper on the floor next to the bed. The covers had been pulled up to his pillow but not tucked in.
Maggie went around Tommy's bedside straightening the comforter and smoothing the sheets. She turned the blanket down and propped the pillow against the headboard.
Bending, she picked up the newspaper, straightened the sections and folded them into one another. She flipped the magazine closed and placed it on the bedside table beneath Tommy's lamp, and she was placing the newspaper there atop the magazine when the Local section headline caught her eye:
"Thieves Petrified by the Night" with the byline "Eldren Grabilen, arrested recently for burglary, afraid to go outside after dinner"
Maggie inhaled suddenly and stood staring at the headline. Something about it ... completely ridiculous, yes, but something ...
There was a stirring in the house. She felt it beneath the soles of her shoes, a slight tremor like after footfalls against hardwood but much heavier and more quick.
She folded the paper upon itself and slapped it on top of Tommy's magazine.
Grinning to herself, she bustled into the hallway to the top of the back staircase and descended to the playroom at the back of the house taking two steps at a time. She spun around the landing and threw herself toward the bottom of the stair. She grabbed the newel post, balanced herself, stood stock still and listened. The house was quiet, but she focused upon the far side of the downstairs den. At the far right corner of the room was a darkened doorway that led into a music room of sorts. It was actually a small library, but there was an old upright piano in the there against one wall. Through that room, opposite the main doorway into the long hallway leading out to the front door, there was another door. A heavy 9 paneled, metal studded, door of solid oak that remained locked a vast majority of the time Maggie had lived in the house since ...
Maggie heard a heavy latch 'clatch' upward and the creak of heavy hinges groaning against a slow but concerted effort.
She shot across the playroom nearly slipping as she rounded the corner into the music room or little library or whatever. The dark little chamber was dim enough in the daytime that the untrained eye was immediately drawn to brightness down the hallway coming from the front of the house. She noticed the glimmer but ignored it.
Because a figure was standing there. A dark visage with lanky black hair hanging over pale cheeks and lips. A shadowy silhouette adorned in featureless, dark clothing and a full overcoat hanging to just the tops of large, black leather boots. He was leaning against the piano, but as she entered the room, he straightened to a height a good foot and a half taller than she. He stood as if considering her a moment.
Then he wavered, almost stumbled. She rushed forward, caught him under his arms and held his weight just long enough for her to be able to pull the bench out and for him to sit. She brushed his hair away from his face. A stale, slightly damp, sweaty odor blossomed from beneath his overcoat. He turned his face toward her and stared with his gray eyes, so light they were almost illuminated against the darkness.
When she stood again, one of her hands came away wet ... viscous ... slightly sticky. She sighed; they'd been down this road too many times before. Again she reached gingerly under his arms and hauled him up.
"C'mon." she groaned in exasperation. "Get you to the sewing room."
"Mom." he whispered, exhaustion accentuating his every, rasping breath.
"Yeah hon, gonna make it all better."
"Thank ... you." he gasped, wincing and gripping the doorway as they moved down the hall.
... then a thought occurred to her as the hallway was growing ever brighter.
"Have you seen the headlines from the weekend?!" she asked between labored steps.
Silence was the answer ... but as they rounded the corner and began again to mount the front staircase, Maggie could swear he was almost grinning.