CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, x-rays, all in five days … “I’m gonna glow in the dark,” I said to Mom while I looked out at the rain and soggy countryside zooming past us. It was 4:30 p.m. and New Cambridge was behind us. Ridgewood and home was less than an hour away.
Mom asked if I wanted to see Daddy’s grave. I shook my head, then sighed, leaned the side of my head against the window’s cool glass, and hoped the temperature change wouldn’t cause a seizure.
I shut my eyes from a patch of brighter daylight that picked at my headache, and listened to the SUV’s wipers travel at full speed across the windshield. Mom turned on instrumental music from her favorite New Age CD and said, “I told you that Grandma and Grandpa are living with us now. The sinkholes are swallowing more of their farm and we have the room, so…. Grandpa bought you some new canvases. And Grandma is fixing that Greek dinner you like.”
My stomach gurgled at the mention of Greek food. Though Mom and I had eaten before leaving New Cambridge—a fish sandwich for her and hotdogs and fries for me—my mouth watered at the thought of Grandma’s scrumptious moussaka casserole for supper and her melt-in-your-mouth kourabiethes for dessert.
I undid my ponytail and let my hair fall down my back. The rain let up then, and most of the trip was a peaceful one with soothing music playing inside Mom’s silver Sorento.
Then the SUV’s transmission made rattling noises. Ahead, a large, weather-beaten billboard sign read WELCOME TO RIDGEWOOD in large, black letters.
I clutched my new Dior handbag and swallowed at the panic rising in my throat. I pressed the bag to my chest. The multihued embroidered bag contained a new smart phone, a tablet, a wallet with one hundred dollars in it, some makeup, and medicine for headaches and nausea—everything I needed to keep from falling apart.
I inhaled and tried to look happy.
I really wanted to go home. But that would mean being where Daddy had died. Lightning had killed him because … because I was unable to push the lawnmower to the shed.
The road gave way to three sets of bone jarring railroad tracks. The tracks passed by a defunct steel making factory with lots of broken windows facing me. The broken glass looked like sharp teeth and the windows were like mouths wanting to devour anyone passing by. Below them, names and obscenities spray-painted on the concrete walls in a convoluted mess reminded me of Ridgewood’s seedy underbelly.
Past the factory and a block of typical, residential clapboard houses, the town came into view. Chipped and faded brick and cement storefronts pressed tight against each other on both sides of the street. Their big windows with names like Suzie’s Styles & Cuts, Jerry’s Discount Shop, and Coleman’s Sporting Goods in large fonts revealed no one shopping inside the stores. Even the wide, downtown street lacked cars and foot traffic.
New Cambridge had teemed with traffic. As usual, Ridgewood looked like a ghost town.
Mom stopped at a red light. Outside my window, a nondescript brick and mortar building with a green steel door belched two ragged looking men onto the uneven sidewalk. The men staggered past the building’s two grimy windows that had neon signs advertising ice-cold beer inside. The last window sported a black and white sign in it that announced fifty-cent wings on Saturday nights only.
The men disappeared around the building’s corner and a moment later, three girls on bicycles turned up the street. They shrilled and shrieked obscenities at each other as they raced by. Then the green door belched again and a dark-complexioned, white-haired woman exited. She leaned against the front wall of the two-story building and smoked a cigarette. She seemed to pay no attention to the chugging Sorento, or anything else around her for that matter while she inhaled deeply from her cigarette. Her lined face looked ancient and her plump body had on a tattered green Army jacket, a red sweatshirt, and blue jeans that looked brand-new.
A chill crossed over me as the beer joint’s exposed inner darkness pulled my attention to it. Past the door that the woman had propped open with a broken cement block, two large red eyes peered from within.
DOES IT SEE ME?
The words came to me in a shout.
CAN IT SEE BLOOD?
I turned away from the spooky eyes and shuddered from the voice’s ferocity.
Buzzing sounds followed, as though thousands of bees had flown inside the SUV and were now inside my head.
The air rippled around me like disturbed pond water and made me nauseous. I fell back against my seat, worried that I was going to lose my hotdogs and fries all over my lap, and closed my eyes.
“Wait,” I cried out when Mom started through the intersection. Something terrible was going to happen. A chill ran between my shoulder blades. “Stop the car. Please stop the car.”
Mom brought the SUV to a quick and white-knuckle stop, then turned in her seat. “What’s wrong?” Worry mixed with the exhaustion and sweat on her face.
The rippling air and buzzing noise stopped.
Beyond the hammering of blood rushing past my eardrums, the ticking and rattle of the Sorento’s engine relieved my anxiety with their familiarity.
“Are you okay?” Mom asked.
Outside the window, the white-haired woman still leaned against the wall and smoked her cigarette. The red eyes inside were gone.
“I got really sick for a moment,” I said, which wasn’t a lie.
“Do you feel like you need to vomit?”
“I’m feeling better.” I closed my eyes and tried to make sense of what had happened. “But I’m not fine.” I fumbled in my bag and found my pills for nausea.
The Sorento’s engine stalled for a moment before it roared to life and the SUV leaped through the intersection.
I grabbed the bottled water in my cup holder and washed down the pill. As I closed my eyes and tried to relax, my mind replayed the red eyes I saw and the words I heard. Does it see me? Can it see blood? What did that mean? What blood? Whose blood? Who had said those words?
Had something tragic happened back at the beer joint?
“Almost home,” Mom said after striking an open palm against the dashboard. The AC’s fan started working again.
The scenery outdoors became country again. Acres of second growth fields and pastures with old fences rolled past us. I wondered about my grandparents and if living with them would be a happy arrangement, or if they’d bicker as usual when they disagreed about something, which was most of the time.
Storm clouds remained threatening over Myers Ridge as we drove past fields of tall grass, barley and corn, and turned up a long gravel driveway that took us to our white Colonial house and two-car garage painted to match the house. Mom’s lush flowerbeds and rosebushes around the house were overgrown a little and needed pruning.
I looked up at the garage roof and thought I saw a white crow there. I blinked, but Mom pulled inside the garage. A chill ran down my spine. Something dark and unsettling lingered in the darkness when Mom opened the door and said, “Come on, Vree honey, we’re home.”