Holly and Ivy
© Nicholas 2003
Chapter Two Holcomb Peabody Brasher
'Tis not that Dying hurts us so--
'Tis living -- hurts us more--
But Dying -- is a different way --
A Kind behind the Door --
I huddled in the blankets in my attic room and cried myself to sleep. What would I do now? Momma dead and gone. The undertakers came and took her body from the bedroom. I'd cried so many nights against her hand where it lay there on the coverlet. I didn't mind the cold, I had the windows open to her room, I knew it made it safer for her lying there. I shivered when I thought of how much I loved her and how suddenly she went away.
What was I supposed to do?
I heard them stomping on the porch, I raced up the back stairs. They hemmed and hawed and talked a bit and then one said, "Well sheriff? You going to open it up? The mailman says she hasn't touched the mailbox for a week. You know Miss Nellie never left this house these last dozen or so years! She's inside now I reckon, dead as dead, I bet."
I'd never left it either. Well kind of anyway. Yeah, I'd played out in the dooryard and walked back in the woods and brought in tulips and coal and stuff like that. I'd never been to the village, or met anyone else but Momma. She'd told me they would all point and laugh at me. Not because I was ugly or anything. She said I was a handsome boy. But because I was unnatural, a mistake, they'd say.
She always held me close and told me I was the perfect gift that she'd been given and that there was no mistake about it. I didn't understand, but I loved it when she held me and rocked me in her arms. Oh God, I missed her so, I should have died too. She'd rock me and hold me now in heaven.
She didn't know the man who painted pictures in the woods. He told me too that I was beautiful: a forest elf, a fairie in the flesh. I giggled when he said it and turned and ran the first time, but he came back again and again. I talked to him and he showed me pictures of the forest trees and flowers, he asked to paint me too. I stood and let me him draw a sketch and when he turned I disappeared into the shrubs. He came more times and soon I stood and let him paint me as I watched the deer and fawns at play. I liked him, but I didn't tell my Momma, I wonder if I should have?
My attic room had been a secret sanctuary. When people came a-calling I would fly up the back and lose myself in books and gazing out the window to the world. The woods were full of owls and flickers, calling birds and mourning doves and many would come right to my little shelf and speak with me as they would eat the seeds and bread I left them.
The ones below would drone and sip their tea and sit in Momma's drawing room and waste their time on talking things that never really mattered. When they would leave sweet Momma'd come and tuck me in and lay with me and read me poetry and sing me beauty of the woods and words inside the books about the sea and ancient elves dancing in the trees.
Oh God, I missed her so, what was I going to do? I'd gone to find the man who painted, but he hadn't been there for a long while now. I guess he couldn't make the paints work in the cold.
I heard the car turn down by the river bridge. The snow was bad tonight, I listened to make sure it went on toward the town. Momma always listened too, once she had put on her coat and gone to help when the noises sudden went crash into the wood. The people came and shivered in the drawing room. The sheriff found the car and drove up to the house. He thanked Momma for being so aware and took the people on to the village. Momma cried and cried beside me that night. She never told me why.
I woke from dreams and felt myself wet again against the sheet. Momma told me that all boys would leak at night and that it just meant I was growing up and soon would leave the nest. Oh God, why did you take her first? I don't want to grow. I don't want to leak! I just want Momma back! I want to talk to him at least, to find out what to do...
I trudged down to the kitchen, pushed the switch and nothing happened. Oh God, what now? The lights refused to work. I ran from room to room and nothing in the house would agree to turn on when I wanted it to. I tried to get a glass of water and nothing would come out. I sat down at the table and cried again for Momma. What was I supposed to do?
I must have slept there in my tears because I woke when I heard a noise out on the drive. A car was coming up and darkness just was starting to still the woods outside. I raced back up the stairs and flopped down near the window in the front part of the attic.
A new car, not one of Momma's friends, was slowly climbing up the hill. I looked, it wasn't the sheriff's car, or the grocery delivery man. Of course he hadn't come since just before Momma had gone. This car seemed black and big and dark against the gloom, as if it wasn't almost really there. The headlight's stabbing up the drive, the only sure sign that it existed.
I saw the doe raise up her head and stand so still and watched her tell the yearling fawn to be quiet and not to move. A raccoon ran out in the drive and stopped dead in the way. He seemed to tell the car to stop, to go away, to not bother us in the woods. The car listened, slowing down and creeping towards him standing there. Suddenly the headlights went off, the car quit moving, a small light came on inside and ding ding ding ding ding echoed through the woods. The raccoon ran for cover. A slamming noise, the dinging stopped, the doe told the fawn to run. The woods was full of crashing feet, then silent.
Except for the slightest rustling of the falling snow.
"God Damn!" I gasped to hear him swear. "A frigging bear! And what the fuck am I doing getting out of the stupid car! I must be as crazy as my doctor thinks I am!"
"Shit!" I heard a crunch as he stumbled on a stick. "Alright, alright, geesh, just let me get up on the porch and turn on some stupid lights!" I heard the jingle of some keys and then the scrape as the front door opened. I rushed from the window toward the topmost of the front stairs. I couldn't see down so far, but I could hear him there inside the house! "Damn light switch! How the hell do you work this thing, oh God, it's some sort of ancient button. Shit, nothing fucking works. God Damn electric company, said they wouldn't turn it off for another week." He turned, I heard the door scrape again behind him and he clomped down the front porch steps.
"Frigging bear better be long gone!" I heard him yelling as I rushed back to the window. "Shit! God Damn!" a crunch again as he found the same branch he had found before. I snickered that his cursing didn't seem to help him much. I didn't know what some of the words could mean, but I knew he was plenty mad! Momma would have tanned my hide if I had talked like that!
Ding ding ding ding ding was back again, the light inside showed him holding something to his ear. I wondered if he'd scraped it on a low hanging branch. Momma said we didn't need to trim the trees near the drive. If people wanted to visit, they could just avoid them, she didn't want to see the road down near the bridge.
He put his hand down from his ear and got back out of the car. The light went out, the dinging stopped, he seemed to take a breath and look around, "God Damn! No electric 'til after Christmas! Shit! I ought to turn around and go right back to the damn hotel! Fuck no, I better start a fire, maybe keep the fucking pipes from freezing! Executor indeed! God Damn handy man it seems!"
He clomped back up the steps and I heard him muttering beneath his breath. I raced back to the stairs, I saw a light beam hit the wall and move away, he must have had a flashlight in the car. Geesh, stupid me, I had one too! Oh Momma, why did you leave? And what was I supposed to do about this swearing man inside our house?
I sneaked down to the landing, Momma didn't know, but I had learned that people never looked up, so I could sit and peak down and see the coats hung on the tree and count the boots and hats and gloves and learn who came to visit. I could look into the drawing room and see the fireplace and watch their feet, but not quite see the chairs. I'd hear them droning on about their stupid stuff. When they started to leave I could see them coming and scoot back against the wall.
I peeked out now to see the man shining the light into the drawing room. He went forward to the fireplace and knelt down on the floor. I watched him shake his coat off, "God Damn, real wood!" I heard him say. "Has to be a match here somewhere! Shit, oh yeah, damn, the wooden kind, didn't know they still made these things!"
He set the flashlight down and I saw the flare as he struck the match and lit the kindling where I had laid it for the next time Momma had company. She loved a fire in the fireplace and told me it was just for me because it made my attic warm. I never figured out how, but she was right, when she had a fire my room was toasty warm. I shivered realizing that the house had been getting cold. Oh Momma! I'm sorry! I forgot to put the coal down in the furnace! How was I supposed to remember everything? I hurried back up to my room and grabbed my flashlight and some paper. I better make a list!
I felt my room warming up and knew the fire was going. I put down my light and list and sneaked back down the stairs. The man was sitting there, on the floor, just in front of the fire. He was looking up at the portraits above the mantel. He got up and went closer.
"Well Grandmom and Greatgrandmom! You old girls sure could pick a wild and lonely place to live!"
That was kind of funny, most people who came to visit usually told Momma that Grandmomma and Greatgrandmomma were lonely women and that she should move to town! She always told them she had too many friends out in the woods to leave. They usually shook their heads and went on to droning something else.
He stepped over to the picture of Momma nearer the window. "Nellie girl, you sure throwed me for a loop! What have you gotten me into? Funny, I don't remember you had such deep green eyes..."
Nellie! He knew my Momma's name! He knew Momma! And she had made him do something! At least that's kind of what I thought he said... Momma, oh Momma, why didn't you tell me he was coming? What am I supposed to do? Should I hide? Or should I make him tea, like you did for all the callers? Oh, no water, oh, Momma, I'm so confused...... tell me what to do!
Suddenly he turned, I froze, he walked into the kitchen. I could hear him opening cupboards and cursing at the sink. "God Damn! No water either! Not much food, shit, now I have to go to town again."
He came back out and grabbed a pillow from the settee and went again and sat down in front of the fire.
"Funny though, I remember sitting here. Sitting here and feeling warm and safe. Something here just feels good. Maybe you old girls knew something after all!"
I watched and giggled, he took the pillow that I always used to nap there beside the fire. He stretched out his legs and laid down and I could tell he was seeing the dragons and wizards and elves dancing, just like I did in the pretty flames. I stretched out too and watched him watch the magic.
I woke shivering a bit and opened eyes to see him sleeping there, the fire down and barely coals. Oh Momma, I'm sorry! You invited him and now I let him freeze there on the floor.
I tiptoed down and put some more logs on the fire. He snored a little and shivered too. I grabbed the crocheted afghan that you made and gently spread it over him. I turned and lit the candle in the window. Sorry Momma, I won't forget again, I'll keep it lit every night in case someone needs to find their way back home again.
I looked at the sleeping man. Maybe his cursing would shock Momma I giggled, maybe she would tan his hide! But sleeping there, he looked almost like he belonged. What had he said? He remembered sitting there? He remembered?
Oh Momma, what am I supposed to do?
This story is a work of fiction, any resemblance of the characters to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidence. Emily Dickinson's poetry is real. It is in the public domain. Comments should be addressed to Nicholas6996@hotmail.com.