Stories, Part 1:
When I returned to Ravenwood, it was May 1974, a Saturday, after another softball game. I sat at the top row bleachers behind home plate. Vree came to me and said, “I wrote a story.”
“I’d like to hear it,” I said.
She sat next to me, on my left, and told me this:
The best way to describe the room is it looked old—ancient-20th-century, single-bare-light-bulb, yellowed-wallpaper old. The room was small and square, sans any windows to clear away the smoky light that filled the place with nothingness. It smelled of dust and rotted upholstered furniture, but there was neither to be found. The black oak floor, warped in the center, held two high-backed wood chairs and was clean. It was always clean, yet no one cleaned here. Ever.
The pair of occupied chairs faced each other, their cheap wood painted oily black except where the paint chipped away like aging wounds. In one of the chairs sat a man in a dark gray suit, silver tie and black loafers. Gray argyle socks peeked from between the shoes and pants cuffs where his ankles crossed right over left. In the other chair, a woman sat upright, her hands folded elegantly in the lap of her black, strapless gown. Her hair was as dark as her dress and her skin glowed ivory.
“The prosecuting lawyers think Don Calloway killed his wife,” the woman said with a sweet and ever fresh voice. “Mr. Calloway says she fell down the stairs, but the lawyers think she was pushed. What do you think?”
The man drew his large left hand front to back through his short, spiky brown hair, down to the back of his neck where he stopped and rubbed away a kink. Behind him was a single door, closed and as old as the room, its round ivory handle smooth and polished and bone white. Below, neither light nor sound from the other side ever passed through the keyhole made for a skeleton key.
He reached for a cigarette from his shirt pocket, then remembered he had quit. He liked coffee and doughnuts with his smokes, but the room lacked anything to drink or eat. The thought evaporated when the woman spoke again, this time anxious.
“I think he’s guilty.”
“Only matters what the jury thinks,” he said. “Court is nothing more than a room of debaters, after all. Whoever presents the better argument wins. Or loses, should the jury be a bunch of morons.”
The woman brought a delicate right hand to the white pearl necklace around her throat. “Mr. Calloway grew up in the rich part of town,” she said with lips as red as scarlet. “He prospered in high school and college with the help of his banker father, and became prominent in TV as news anchor. I seem to recall he summered on the north end in that English brick house with sandstone trimmings and cast-iron fence, right next to the Methodist Church where their only child was baptized.”
“What’s your point?”
“He’s got money. He’ll go free. You wait and see.”
“But remember the circumstances,” the man said. “Calloway was seeing that New Cambridge shrink Maxine Green, and not on a professional level if you know what I mean. And the wife—well, suspicion turned for a while on the young man she was seeing. Police saw him hanging about the house after ‘the scene’. He gave them the slip and hasn’t been seen since.”
She looked past him at the door and he turned slightly. They waited as if anticipating someone’s arrival, but no one came. After almost a minute, the woman looked back at him. She asked accusingly, “You think the boy did it, don’t you?”
“Push Mrs. Calloway down the stairs.”
The man folded his arms and leaned against the back of his chair. “Nah. His tender relations with an older and married woman were harmless and easy to explain. But running like he did makes him seem he has something to hide.”
The woman nodded. “The fellow next door … Ted Jackson, I think his name was, said he heard a crash just before Mrs. Calloway screamed, yet no one found anything broken.”
“Just her neck.”
She looked at him and frowned. “Did you know their house has a tainted history?”
He smiled. “It’s been mentioned. Some story started years ago by some crazy writer.” He laughed and saw her scolding him with a sharp look. He stopped and licked his lips. Then, “It’s just a story.”
She dabbed twisted fingers to the corners of her mouth. “A Dr. Geddes lived there, back in ’59. He killed his wife Sarah in the kitchen … stabbed her to death after they returned from a party. He thought she had been having an affair.”
He waved impatiently and frowned. When he settled, she continued.
“In ’52, a family named Walker moved in and reported that the house was haunted by Sarah Geddes’s ghost. They moved right out and the place remained empty until Mr. Calloway bought it.”
He shrugged and their conversation stalled.
“Just a story,” he said. He yawned, closed his eyes, and looked ready to take a nap when the woman interrupted his slumber.
“She had on a black dress,” she said.
“Sarah Geddes. A black strapless evening gown like mine. Like the one in the newspaper article my mother has in her scrapbook.”
He coughed and shifted in his seat. “They let you go to your mother’s?”
She bit her bottom lip. “Just once. A long time ago.”
He nodded and sighed. “Me too, but I can’t remember why.” Then he shrugged and unbuttoned his jacket to reveal a blue vest. Except where black, inky color stained it, the interior jacket was three shades lighter than his suit. He pulled out a gold pocket watch and clicked it open.
“What time is it?” she asked.
He wound the watch by its stem until it was tight.
“Don’t know,” he said at last. “The damned thing stopped a long time ago.”
She looked at the door. “Do you think it will ever be our turn?”
“Someday,” he said and closed the watch’s cover. “It’s just a matter of time.”
To be continued.