Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Two

Celia woke in the morning on Louise’s bed, wrapped in white sheets like a yawning ghost.  She turned over, reaching for her but Louise wasn’t there.  Celia could hear the radio in the kitchen and the crackling of something frying.  The smell of bacon carried through the flat.  She glanced absently around the indigo room.  Images from West-Side Story, Taxi Driver, and Alien dotted the walls.
     Celia swung her legs over the edge of the bed and pulled on her underwear.  She put on her bra, staring at herself in Louise’s mirror.  There was a bruise on her belly from where the bastard had punched her.  It was still a little sore.  She pulled on her jeans and buttoned her shirt as she wandered into the front room.  She sat on the edge of the sofa with her hands clasped between her legs, not wanting to think about last night.
     “When are you going to get me your manuscript, Lou?  I’m still waiting.”
     “Soon,” she heard Louise say from the kitchen.  “Come on, it’s ready.”
     Celia went in and stood behind Louise, kissing the back of her neck.  “If you finish it I can get Paulie to have a look…yeah?” 
     Louise chuckled and turned to her.  She looked bemused.  They sat at the table near the window.  “Unlike some people I can’t just sit on my bum all day thinking up stories.  You remember how tiring fourteen year olds can be.” 
     Celia nodded and tried a naughty smile.  “That’s what I’m saying – finish the script, get published and then sit on your bum thinking up stories all day.  Then you can leave Chainley behind.  Spend more time with me.”
     They ate in silence for a while.
     “It’s not that easy, Cee.  Plus, I don’t want to leave it behind even if I could, which I can’t.  I’m a good teacher.”
     “I know.  So am I.”
     “I want to finish it though…you’ll proof-read it for me?”
     “Sure,” said Celia, watching Lou eat her scrambled eggs.  Louise was only a year older, and at thirty-four she looked her age.  Celia had always looked far younger than she was.  In her early twenties people often mistook her for a melancholy fifteen year old.  She was attractive, she supposed, but not classically beautiful like Louise – strawberry-blonde with an hourglass figure, a wonderful face occasionally hidden by designer reading-glasses.  “You’re gorgeous, babes,” Celia offered.
     Louise frowned, changing the subject.  “So this guy, this man in black; he really gave you a scare last night, huh?”
     “Wouldn’t you be?”
     “Yes, I’d be fucking terrified.  You really don’t want to go to the police?”
     Celia laughed humourlessly, “So they could tell me what…to buy a dead-bolt and an alarm?”
     “Couldn’t hurt, babes.”
     “Screw that.  Let him come.”
     Louise raised an eyebrow and nodded.  “Was he looking for money, you think?”
     “Who the hell knows?  What time is it?”
     “Just gone eight.”
     “You’ll be late for work, Lou.”
     She nodded in agreement and rose to her feet.  “If you’re here when I get back we could go to the cinema or something?  Go see The Fortunate?”
     “I’ll go home, tidy up.  I might come back later.”
     Louise gave her a ‘don’t worry’ look and then kissed her, a little too quickly.  She left the flat and Celia was alone in the kitchen.  She pressed a hand across her eyes, thinking of cigarettes.

The house had been her sanctuary whether she liked it or not; a stark beacon in a confusing vastness, at least until her mum had left it.  She worked hard after that, to be alone, to make this house her home again.  Now her bedroom was in disarray.  The closet and the dresser had been disembowelled.  Clothes were everywhere.  She inhaled fully, trying to summon some resolve.   Her study was the same; papers everywhere, books knocked off their shelves. 
     He ransacked my mind.  It was then that Celia felt cold.  This man, this intruder, he must have known things about her life.  An obsessed fan?  No, she doubted her novels had impact enough to garner that kind of attention.  She wasn’t a celebrity.  But he might return.  He might glide back into her life like the shadow he played last night.
     She sat downstairs on the sofa, smoking a cigarette.  She’d have to clean up all that mess.  Her heart sank at the thought of it. 
     She spent the next few hours tidying; methodically folding and re-hanging her clothes, gathering and sorting her documents, re-shelving her books.  There had been nearly a hundred pounds folded in the demitasse on her dresser.  It was still there.  The intruder had passed it by.  Somehow that scared her more than anything.
     She didn’t keep a diary.  If mum had once kept a diary it was lost or destroyed now.  Fourteen years was a long time.  Maybe there was no diary, and he’d simply been in the house because he wanted to kill or rape her.  Maybe she avoided it because she’d scared him a little.
     On her way downstairs she wandered into the spare room, the room that had been hers as a child – the pastel blue and pink walls, the wide windows that opened outwards.  Celia knew that mum tried to make childhood a comfort – so many toys and clothes and books, to weave harmless stories that might distract her from the blackouts; the shadow in her daughter that Alice had been unable to exorcise.  You died just as I was becoming a woman…I never had a chance to compare myself to you.  God, it hurt.

The basement was large and dark with only a single low-watt bulb for illumination.  Her mountain bike rested against the nearest wall.  She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been cycling.  There were five boxes stacked against the far wall.  She got down on her knees and began searching through them.  She found teddy bears, ornate mini-ballerinas and broken music boxes, soft-bodied dollies in detailed Victorian dress, trinkets and costume jewellery, board games like Snakes & Ladders, Scrabble and Monopoly.  It took Celia back.  She could almost feel her youth when she touched these things.   
     There were books too.  Moby Dick, an early edition of Peter Pan that mum had found for her, some Virginia Woolf, an anthology of medieval fairy-tales with an interesting dust jacket; an illustration of a little boy glancing up at a dark, winged figure.  No diary.  She stuffed everything back into the boxes, stacked two together, and carried them up the wooden staircase.  She found places for the books on her study shelves; fairy stories nestled amongst all the psychology, history and literature.  It made her smile.
     It was while she sat on the sofa, distractedly watching a DVD of The Simpsons and looking through the boxes again, that she found something truly precious. 
     Lola was a small doll, bald, with night-black skin and two tiny white crosses for eyes.  It had been Celia’s favourite as a child.  Mum had owned it previously and told her that it was Italian and nearly a hundred years old.  Looking now it seemed odd, slightly sinister, but as a child it was strange enough to make Celia believe it was imbued with some kind of magic.  After mum died, after Celia’s melodramatic suicide bid, Lola was forgotten; a dead talisman. 
     She held the doll in her hands now, glancing at the television, watching Homer Simpson sail across Springfield Gorge on his son’s skateboard.

***

The Rising Rain had stirred him.  He’d finished Celia Gray’s novel, and it left him with a weird sense of connection.  He emptied the contents of his canvas sack onto the hotel bed.  He thumbed through the tattered paperbacks.  He didn’t own much more than this.  He had quite a few novels, mostly horror stories and thrillers, but also copies of The Bell Jar, Moby Dick and The Secret Garden.  He’d first read Francis Hodgson Burnett’s novel when he was thirteen.  Christopher had given it to him.  Burnett’s garden helped him escape, at times.  He loved these stories so much that he’d even underlined particularly evocative passages, so he could easily find and savour them again. 
     The fact that reality was much like a thriller or a horror novel, more than most people chose to admit, was never too far from his awareness.  The only salient difference was that a moral architecture was built into those universes, an architecture that seemed to be lacking in this one.
     Eventually he found the novel he was looking for.  Leaving Her.  Both of Miss Gray’s novels were published by Hades House, the small logo of an eye slashed with a red cross.  Real pain was veiled as fiction here.  He could understand the yearning; to make sense of the senseless, to make meaning from the meaningless.  Sure, he understood.  Death was hard, impenetrable to reason.  Only the human imagination could begin to deal with it creatively.  He knew this as a dealer of death.  Death was never evil though, only on occasion were the men that dealt it, and those that controlled the men that dealt it.  He didn’t consider himself evil though…guilty as sin, but not evil.
     He pressed Leaving Her to his chest and closed his eyes for a moment.    
     He had observed the twin worlds.  The world on television, reported on the news, was a mere illusion.  Beneath it lay the spirit realm – a hidden place of perpetual destruction and creation.  It was a world much like the stories he found fascinating.  Celia Gray had felt the presence of that world, he was sure.  He opened his eyes and studied the book’s cover.  A young girl half in shadow peered up at a tall silhouetted figure.  The image was atmospheric and sad.  He lit a cigarette and began flicking through the novel.  When he first learned of the spirit world’s legitimacy, he’d been filled with a paralysing mental terror.  But stories had saved him again.  They gave him a way to walk in that world, to place one foot in front of the other.   These twin planes occupied the same space, beneath the same Sun and Moon.  The truths and lies were actually the same world, where ghosts brush shoulders with the living.       
                                                                                                             

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