Chapter 2 – Intruder

Read Chapter 1

It was a sound so familiar Lucas almost didn’t stop reading. Who was in the house? His eyes burned from deciphering the faint writing in fading daylight. He returned the book to the chest and then dropped down the through the trapdoor and hurried to the entry hall.

“Hello!” Lucas called. He was sure the front door was locked, but didn’t remember checking it.

“Hello?” A woman’s voice answered from the stairway. Lucas stopped at the foot. A stunning pale face peered down at him from the first landing. “Who are you?” she demanded.

 “Who am I? This is my house. Who are you?” Lucas rested one foot on the first stair, ready to climb.

The woman skipped down the stairs to stand in front of him. Her sleek black hair was sculpted like marble.

“I’m Sloan,” she reached out her hand. Lucas shook the tiny white hand that felt like a kitten paw inside his own rough palm. She smelled like ripe pear. “You must be Lucas. Hey, great! I’m so glad you’re here, now we can get things moving.” Sloan scanned Lucas’ tall frame. “You don’t look much like your brother.”

“That’s true,” Lucas agreed.

Sloan laughed and her eyes glittered. “I’d say so. You two are nothing alike.” She looked him up and down. “Hey, love the dreadlocks, Lucas, very ‘90s, very ironic.”

Lucas felt himself flush. His cheeks burned. What right did this stranger have walking into Nana’s house through the locked door?

“How did you get in?” Lucas gripped the bannister.

Sloan took a step back and held up her phone case. A keychain dangled from the ring attached to it.

“Mark hired me to sell the house. I’m the realtor. I work the coast market, usually Seaside to Cannon Beach, so this is a bit of a push. But what a great property! Cannon Beach can be very lucrative, but Astoria is a dice roll. This house will bring loads of offers.” Sloan studied the hardwood floors and original wainscoting, nodding her approval as she scanned the architecture. “I’ll need to take a look around, give it a walkthrough. Then I’ll work up comps.”

“Where did you get the key?” Lucas cracked his knuckles. Sloan opened her phone and started typing.

“I picked it up from the attorney’s office,” she didn’t look up.

“What attorney?”

Sloan glanced up at Lucas but kept typing.

“Your probate attorney, Chad Walker, he’s the one handling the estate. I’m texting him right now.”

Lucas realized there would be paperwork when Nana died, but didn’t consider there would be lawyers involved, or a trespassing real estate agent, however attractive.

“Look,” Lucas paused a moment to wonder how much authority a realtor might have over him. “Give me back the key. I’ll see the lawyer tomorrow. I’m here now. I don’t want you, or anyone else, just coming in whenever you feel like it.”

Sloan swung her chiseled hair and shrugged as she finished her text.

“How about this, Lucas: since I’m already here, you show me around. I need to take some photos. I can’t give the key to you. I signed for it at Walker’s office. I’ll drop it off there tomorrow. You can pick it up when you meet with him, although that will be inconvenient going forward for everyone. How does that sound?”

Lucas scratched at his chest.

“OK, I guess. We can start upstairs.”

The tour concluded in the kitchen at the back of the house. Outside it was growing dark and the windows mirrored their movements through the rooms. Sloan peered down into the cellar but didn’t care to descend the stone steps, asking only a few questions about its construction and whether it stayed dry in winter. She stopped at the narrow stairway leading up to the attic.

“Where does that go?”

“The attic,”

Sloan took hold of the doorknob, but Lucas stretched his arm across the jamb. Sloan tugged at the door.

“Lucas, I need to see it too. I need to check for leaks, see the view. I know there are windows, some potential, maybe renovated into a loft, or raise these ceilings.”

“Too dark, not tonight,” Lucas shook his head. “I need to replace the light bulb up there. It’s rickety.”

Sloan backed away to the center of the kitchen. She swiped through the gallery of photographs she’d taken.

“Okay, I have most of the shots I need. A few of these might need better light, but they’re mostly good. I already have shots from outside. Maybe I can come by tomorrow and check-out the attic?”

“Maybe,” Lucas wondered how he would keep Sloan out of the attic. He wanted to go back and open the chest, continue reading Verity’s story. He didn’t want Sloan prying.

Sloan waited for Lucas to say more, but he was watching his own watery reflection in the darkened window.

“Well, give me your phone number, Lucas, and I’ll give you mine. We’re going to be working together, so that would be helpful.”

“I thought you were working for Mark?” Lucas finally looked away from the window and back to Sloan.

 “Mark hired me, but technically, I work for you.” Sloan cocked her head and studied Lucas. “Your Grandmother made you executor of the estate. You make the final decisions.”

“No shit,” Lucas laughed and then shivered. He shook his head. It seemed a ghostly joke Nana was playing. He shivered again and thought of the chest in the attic he’d opened just hours ago.

When Sloan finally drove away in her black Escalade, Lucas rummaged in the mud room. He found a light bulb and climbed up the narrow stairs to the attic.

Moon Lamp

moonlamp

One hundred years ago my grandmother was a child when the Spanish Flu finally reached Nez Perce, Idaho.

The Great War ended. Uncle Non returned with a limp and a spray of shrapnel lodged in his back, shards sometimes found in the bottom of the wash tub, spit out by the wringer. Grandma called him Non, although his given name was Tom–she gave pet names to anyone she loved.

Grandma gave me Non’s moon lamp, the Art Nouveau style I admired, still fitted with the original frayed cord that sends moonlight rippling over the water when lit. Heat from the bulb turns the cylinder balanced over it to project behind painted glass. The iron base is sculpted with a gondolier and his passengers, The Lovers. It’s ingenious.

The family was as poor as all the other families in Lewis County, farm scratching in the panhandle, mending and re-mending brace and harness, hoping for rain but not too much. They lived in a small wooden house at the edge of town, a young father and mother with three children not yet of school age before the influenza epidemic arrived, a pale horse, pale rider.

The family was struck, along with many others, with the fever. Cows went unmilked, horses were set out to forage along the dirt roads of the town before a farmer became too weak to tend them. Alone in the silent mottled shafts of sunlight falling through cracks in the siding, my grandmother, Angela, did not succumb. She drug a chair to stand on from the kitchen table over to the crank telephone on the wall to call for help. Her own mother lie upstairs dying.

——

“How do you know this?”

She asks me twice after I read my response to the exercise to the group, then further: “How could you know this?”

I am in a workshop exploring the intersections of poetry and essay, the lyric weighting of nonfiction narrative. I’m taken off-guard by the unexpected question as response.

“My grandmother told me,” I shrug, as if it must be obvious. Yet, apparently, she doesn’t believe me.

“How is that possible?”

I didn’t understand the question. I spent my childhood in my grandmother’s company. I assumed other grandmothers told stories, shared memories, showed one how to take a cutting from a rose to grow a new plant. I shrug again and repeat my answer.

My grandmother is the only person who ever really slapped me, if I discount the offended young Spaniard in Salamanca whose blow I dodged. Grandma was trying to work a brush through thick tangles in my hair before we drove to town, hair just like her own, and I resisted each tug. I earned it.

River

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.”

–Norman Maclean

Thistledown

artichoke

“It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

–Ray Bradbury

“It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters that you do,”

–Me, to my teenage son

Walking out on the hill in the rain this morning  into that sweet earthly scent of rain on dry grass–petrichor, the blood of the old gods falling on stone–to shrug off the hood and let the drops burnish my hair.

Since the deluge in April, there was little rain, not the soaking female rain of spring that trickles to the root. Days have been warm and mornings spent carrying water in cans and hoses, swearing at sprinkler heads with stripped threads and leaking faucets forgotten in October, sprinkling, spraying, misting, playing the rainbow in the arc of falling water.

Zucchini seeds burst above ground yesterday, waiting until I was distracted, between morning watering and evening’s final tour. There are globes forming on the artichokes that are still small as thimbles. I let the thistledown bloom lavender blue and invite the bees to a buffet. The plums are red and hard as olives.

I gleaned wild asparagus with Grandma from the banks of irrigation ditches and pastures when I was a child, keeping a wary eye out for a bull or vexed mule. No two spears were the same shape, size, or color, as they are cultivated now. Some were thick and squat and purple; others willowy and pale green, with an occasional natural albino, a bouquet of spring phalli jutting from earth into the light.

Local asparagus is coming in season and to market, tender and firm (however disappointing in uniformity.) I buy a braces of it, while it lasts, to saute simply in a splash of stock and butter, a drop of white wine, and a drizzle of maple syrup, simmering off the liquid and shaking the pan to finish with a blister. The cure is always growing nearby.