a former teacher took it upon himself to finish a partial story of mine after he’d read it on my blog.
by Vee Levene and I. Balvan
She began the story in a sinister way: “When I was a young girl those plants over there would jump out the window and eat passersby.”
I walked over to the window cell where the said plants were hovering ominously above the painted wooden pane. They weren’t really hovering but they kind of appeared to be. Actually, they didn’t appear to be at all; this visage was merely a manifestation of my brain’s reaction to the words just spoken by my great aunt.
“Oh, don’t be afraid my dear, they’ve been dormant for years. My fourth husband took care of them after the war. Brought them into the swimming pool and forced their leaves under-water until they promised to be good. But I’m jumping ahead. Let me start from the beginning.”
I backed away from the window–I couldn’t help it–and joined Aunty in the sitting room proper. I picked up my cup of tea and sipped cautiously as a misty look came over her eyes. Funny, a misty look came over her voice, too:
“They were gifts from the postman at the time, dear. We didn’t know he was mad until it was too late. This was before ‘postman’ became synonymous with ‘disgruntled homicidal maniac,’ you see. He was a nice old chap, always stopped by for tea like you’re doing now. He had this strange habit of crossing and uncrossing his legs, once one leg and then the other. I should have known. Such fidgety behavior is clearly a sign of insanity, of which we’re all well aware now. But not then, sweetie, oh no. Back in my day we didn’t think it strange for a man to talk to himself in the lavatory let alone fidget in the drawing room.
“In any case, he was over for tea one day–sitting just where you are now–eating a sticky bun–much like the one you’ve got on your tray–and he had one arm draped over the back of the chair–much like you’re doing now–and he was telling me about his experiences as a famous theatre director. He had that job before the recession hit–you’re too young to remember that one dear, but it was much like the last two if you recall–and afterward he was fired. There was an incident with a wig and a props chair that he wouldn’t discuss entirely, and it sounded sort of scandalous but he assured me he got sacked because of the economy.”
That old bitch was so bloody nosy. She knew I didn’t want to talk about the wig-and-chair scandal but she insisted. Upon my diligent attempts to back out of the conversation I glanced at the window. It was open and curtainless and the paint was chipped and smoggy air was pouring in uninhibited. I thought that maybe it was missing something when OH MY GOD! SOMEONE’S IN THE WINDOW! I gasped and leaped out of my chair–well not really out of it actually more into it–and my tea cup jittered in its saucer and fell to the ground. As I was noticing the large amounts of lukewarm brown liquid that were already on my lap and on the arm of the chair and working their way to the floor a voice called from the window. “Oi!”
A shuffling beside me and I looked up. Mrs. M was looking at me, apparently disgusted by the spill. “I am disgusted by that spill,” she said. She rolled her eyes and went to the window.
There a man’s head hovered above the painted wooden pane. I was a fool after all–she obviously knew him. They talked in hushed tones and eventually he was gone. She came to sit by me again as I was finishing cleaning up my mess.
“That was the gardener,” she said, not looking at me. She appeared to not remember the spill. Actually, she appeared to not remember I was there. She appeared to be talking to herself. “I didn’t know what to tell him. I’ve told him a hundred times that he should never–”
She didn’t finish the sentence and retreated into her own. She closed her left eye completely when she did that, the right eye always remained somewhat open.
I didn’t care a damn about the gardener, though I wondered where she had found a Brazilian. “Where did you find a Brazilian gardener?” I asked. She opened the left eye and through all the wrinkles managed to put a condescending face on. “In Brazil, where else?” I decided to drop the matter and began to calculate a polite and proper exit.
Mrs. M looked at the window and her mind was back on the plants. With that misty look voice she said, “I do think they eat an occasional chicken though.” She thought to herself for a while. “They leave many of the feathers on the ground.” Then she changed the subject. “I don’t mean to change the subject,” she said, “but I remember now, you knew the postman before he shot himself in the freezer, right dear?” I wondered if I could go back to the chickens.
“How did the plants pluck the feathers?” I asked–she ignored me. “Have some more tea sweetie.” And she slowly moved her right arm in the direction of the kitchen. I picked up the cup from the floor, happy for the break. The tea was cold on the stove, but I didn’t care. I considered briefly walking out the back door. But Mrs. M. was my only great aunt, and the only other person (now) who knew about the wig and the chair.
I figured if I didn’t talk it out with her, she might want to talk it out with others. The image of the gardener popped in my eyes–I didn’t know how to say wig in Portuguese, but I knew she would.
And then it happened again: the face in the window–this time “Oi, toda Bein?” My great Aunt didn’t even look in his direction. “Sit down my dear,” she said. “Mind your tea now!”
Before I could bring up the feathers again, she asked me, “What color wig was it again?”
“I was only ten years old,” I said. “I don’t remember–but it was red.” She closed that one eye again, I did some quick math, all in tens I do that quickly when it’s in tens. Depression 30s, postman 20 at the time, the “event” 80s, postman 80, me ten.
“How long was that freezer dear?” I looked at Mrs. M to see if she was toying with me. She was toying with me. I considered dropping the tea on my lap again, but I was still wet from the first time. “Six feet,” I answered.
“Yes,” she said, “The postman was not very tall. Were you towering over him when you were on the chair?”
“Okay I was higher than him,” I said. “That’s because the part called for the actress to sit on the back of the chair with her feet on the sitting part.”
“Yes” she said, both eyes open, “I read the play my dear.”
“Okay, Auntie, for the last time–” I managed to say. “He got on his knees and cried with tear all over his cheeks and said ‘I love you Rebecca, I love you Rebecca, please come with me!’ I’m not Rebecca, and the young girl in the play is Ramona, so I didn’t know what to do. I took my wig off, sat on the chair, straightened out my short skirt and then left.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. M. “That’s what I heard. Nobody opened that freezer for at least a month after that. Well, he had written ‘call 911 before opening’–he was in good shape when they found him, but the gun was full of frost. The gardener found him–I was very young then, maybe twelve, I have the wig and the chair in my bedroom. Did you know Rebecca was my middle name?”