NOVELLA: FRANKENSISTER – CHAPTER 1 (FICTION)
- House Not Home
Grimwalt Place, top of Burrough Hill, eclipsed by weedy vine and long-dead ivy was never home. I never thought I would return. My taxi rolled past the rusted gate toward the circle drive lined with garish, oversize animal statuary. A faded plastic raccoon posed in the act of licking pinkish grapes. An eyeless fake deer couple frozen forever watchful. Humid decay hung thick in the air, This place was dead or should be.
I paid my fare, grabbed my small valise and stepped out into fog heavy with memory and threatening rain. I tripped on a rise in the cement and my eyes caught a figure screaming orange against the grey bushes and yellowed grass. Christ, Mother had painted the lawn jockey.
The house itself had not been changed or maintained since the night I left 15 years before. Nature encroached, leaks became pools, hairline cracks grew into fissures and gullies. It should have felt angry or sad, but my childhood home had always disgusted me anyway. I lingered on the porch.
I did not want to be here. I did not want to see her.
I pressed my palm against a cool pillar, got steady. A hairy spider skittered off behind the porch light to a web full of captured, forfeit lives. This is temporary. This is not my home. This is a stopping-off place. Halfway-house.
Half-way between new life and old life. Not my destination. Nothing of me will stay or reside here.
I will not die here. I am not my father, nor my brother. I am not Enid. I may not even be a Grimwalt. I scanned the yard once more. That unholy orange lawn jockey. He is out there with his ugly lantern to call all dead things home.
“Dahlia! Get yourself in here! Oh, you’ll be rained on and my floors will be muddy!
Oh LOOOOK at you!” Her little claws seized my shoulders and pulled me into the foyer. Fake nails and big jewelry, crepey skin and age spots. Little diamond-encrusted claws. First thing I see of my mother.
Enid Redding Shields Grimwalt. No relation to Otis, Brooke or anyone else of note.
A tiny woman, crow-like with her beady black eyes and addiction to shiny objects. Born in a hardscrabble tiny town and raised by loving people with nothing. I never knew my grandparents, but according to Enid they had nothing. “One piss-pot and a dirt floor.”
Enid was a pretty child and knew it. She had been married before she met my father. Poor Mr. Shields had passed on when she was only 23. He had had more than nothing, but not enough. Enid demanded both admiration and trinkets. She had just about exhausted Mr. Shield’s life insurance money when Dad met her and lost his mind.
I get it. She’s my mother. I came from that. I’m no better than that. Except I saw her greed then like I see it now. She may not have kept the exterior of the house up, but Enid was all about self-preservation. She has had work done, eyes and boobs and lip plumping. The long nails are her own, immaculately manicured and bright magenta. She’s tan without any lines. Her hair, a chestnut cloud with copper highlights. Rail thin and wearing white. She’s still beautiful–not genuine, not natural–but certainly a gorgeous, well-maintained shell without a single drop of love in her. Hollow as a cheap chocolate bunny.
I step through the door and into Enid’s Wonderland. She is using a hot pink Venus de Milo as a coat rack. Heavy moss green velvet wallpaper everywhere. Poufy furniture with giant aqua flowers. Zebra striped coffee table with purple legs. Deep red shag carpet. Orange pendant lights like teardrops. Snakeskin lampshades. Cheetah throw pillows. Willy Wonka and Ernest Hemingway in an abusive marriage.
“What are you drinking, dear?” Because booze must make this easier.
“I’m good. Really, Mother. I just want to get unpacked and lie down. If that’s okay?” I really just want to close my eyes to all of this.
She hugs me, squeezing to determine if she thinks I’m fat. “Of course, Dear. Dahlia, I’m so happy you’re home with me! Oh, I’ve told all my girls you’d be here. They’re dying for makeovers!”
She thinks I do makeovers. I have never corrected her. Maxillofacial surgery. That’s why I went to school in Geneva. That’s what I want to do. Help kids with cleft palates. Help burn victims speak. Help anyone who needs THAT kind of help. It’s not surface bullshit. It does not involve a contour brush or eyeliner.
“I just bet they are. I’ll do what I can.”
I head toward my old room down the main hall. She puts herself in front of me.
“We’ve changed the situation a little, dear. Would you mind staying in Louis’s room.”
We? New man in Enid’s life? Wouldn’t blame her. Probably several since Dad. No new names though.
Louis’s room. My brother had been my world. He called me “Dolly” since he could speak. Where I was curious about the inner workings of things, Louis wanted to explore the whole wide world. He drew maps of countries, peoples, resources, currencies. He made a list of inventions to take to different parts of the world to help.
His eyes, the color of a cadet-blue Crayola, would shine when he spoke about bringing water fountains to deserts or space heaters to Iceland. His room had been my haven. And here it was, untouched by most everything outside of it. The walls were palest blue, nothing on them. All of his toys and pictures had been put away long ago. A few of his favorite books, picture-heavy versions of Call of the Wild, The Island of Dr. Moreau and White Fang, were stacked on a shelf. The bed was freshly made with white sheets and a blue plaid comforter.
I would stay here with him when the parties got too loud or when Dad was out in the workshop in the woods beyond. We’d plot our escape from this place. From our icy mother, from our preoccupied artist father, from the party monsters, deadbeat relatives and hangers-on. They all thought our mother was a fabulous, swanky beauty and our father was a mysterious, tortured genius. And we were the product of both so people would molest and pinch us and try to grab a little “Grimwalt Magic”.
I came up here with Louis because we were safe together. We were the only real ones in a cartoon world where the pleasure of the moment outweighed any consequence. I broke a glass punch ladle over a man’s arm who grabbed my thigh once. I was punished for being dull and breaking the ladle. It stopped the party.
My father never attended Enid’s blowouts. He was always in his workshop. Enid saw us as extensions of herself to be petted and groped and adored. Her surface idea of love encompassed awkward situations, risking our bodily safety. Louis and I stood up for each other. We stayed together because we had to set the limits for the adults in our lives.
About a month after the ladle incident the same man, Larry Reising, tried to corner me again. I had been coming back from the bathroom at 2 a.m. He backed me into a dark portion of the hallway and grabbed my ears. He was fat and his sweat-soaked shirt had come up over his hairy gut. I grabbed two handfuls of fat on his sides and squeezed and twisted as hard as I could. He squealed and let go.
I ran fast as I could to Louis’s room. Louis was still awake. I bounded in and we slammed and locked the door against the bellowing beast on the other side. Larry pounded and cursed me. He threw his bulk against the door. It sounded like a massive wet sandbag whumping against a hollow tree.
Whump. Cursing. Whump. Louis and I sat in the corner of the closet trying to be silent.
Whump. Bellowing. Whump. In a steady rhythm, Louis began to clap quietly to match each time Larry slammed against the door. Then he began to chant quietly between the claps.
Clap. ”Dirty Pig Larry.”
Clap. “He’s nasty and hairy.”
Clap. “He grabbed my sister.”
Clap. “His ding-dong has a blister.”
Clap. Giggle. Shush ourselves. Repeat.
By the middle of the third round, Larry had passed out in the hallway sandbagging us in the room. Louis and I fell asleep where we lay in the closet among laundry and scattered toys. I awoke early, watching my little brother snore and smile in his sleep, thinking what a magical creature he was.
Louis’s room. If I had to be in this house, then I would stay in its heart.
- Daddy – Mad Artist and Shy Genius
Arthur Grimwalt was an artistic genius. He created the Grimwalt Monsters, the original puppets, the huge helium balloon characters, the subsequent animated series and related merchandise.
Dad started out as a primary school science teacher. Although the kids loved him, he was painfully shy and used an alter ego puppet, Gordy Grimwalt, to explain and illustrate scientific principles to his students. It worked wonderfully the first few weeks of school, but bored children can be full of cruelty. And poor Dad just couldn’t function effectively without Gordy by his side.
He had worked his whole life so far to be a teacher, to share his love of science with young minds. He neglected every other part of his life and his career was spiraling. It ended after the first semester the day before Christmas break, when Dad found Gordy face down in the teacher’s lounge toilet with “Gordy Eats Wood” written in red Sharpie across his forehead.
Arthur had not yet met Enid. Being alone in the world, he had decided to make new friends.
He made them from wood, polymer, string and fabric.
First, a revamped Gordy with a snappy lab coat and a can-do attitude. Then his creation’s creation made a creation and “Grimwalt’s Monster” George was born. George looked like Karloff’s Frankenstein creature, but was hungry for knowledge and always looking things up to answer “Why?” Heinrich the German Ghost was a tattle-tale and troublemaker. He was always haunting Castle Grimwalt and accusing George of malfeasance. There was Jellybean, the talking horse who loved puns. Wanda the Witch showed kids how to make fun “potions” at home; slime, modeling clay, and vinegar and baking soda volcanoes.
Arthur started doing free puppet shows at the community center and parks. The local cable access channel filmed his show and offered him a weekly spot. Seven weeks in, he was offered a move to Kids Network. Twenty-six episodes and good money. Dad and his Monsters ran the whole contract and kept going. Science and horse puns brought him fame and fortune. Arthur was not much on fame and he stashed the money in a rusty toolbox in his workshop, living off only what he needed. My father ate off-brand oatmeal for breakfast every day of his life. He hardly spent a dime. For interviews or public interaction, the network gopher would drag him from his workshop, hose him down and fix him up. On one star-crossed occasion, that network gopher was Enid Shields.
She was 26 and bulldozing her way to a comfy lifestyle. Arthur wouldn’t even look at her at first and when he did, he felt like his guts had been hit with a tornado. No living person he had ever met was as pretty or as forceful.
She manhandled him out of his overalls and into new clothes, fixed his hair and gave him a proper shave. She took him shoe shopping for shiny black patent leathers. She made him floss and attend to himself in all things surface-related.
Enid stood by him, awaiting his turn on the interview couch. He was shaking, dreading the spotlight.
“What’s wrong?” She brushed a hair from his shoulders.
“I hate publicity. Hate it. I look like that dumbass on the Yahtzee dice-cup. I want to go home.”
She quickly whipped out her compact and showed him his reflection in the mirror. “Do you see that dashing gentleman? Go be him. You don’t have to be Arthur Grimwalt for the next 13 minutes. Just be this guy. Pretend.”
The she kissed him.
It worked. Arthur’s natural talent for characterization took over and he suddenly was the Dashing Gentleman. Dean Martin and James Bond had a baby and it was Arthur Grimwalt. He was her puppet.
The network wanted a “pretty girl” character puppet in the mix. It seems Wanda the Witch with her purple skin and carrot nose, wasn’t pulling the 4-8 girls demographic.
Once again, Enid stepped up and got herself chosen to do the voice of lady geologist, Opal Earthquake. Opal was a pretty, blond expert on rocks and plate tectonics.
Arthur crafted the puppet lovingly, even pushed back network deadlines to make her just right. And just right looked a hell of a lot like Enid Shields.
I must give Enid credit for her effort in giving Opal’s lines meaning. She worked hard to understand the science and exude confidence as a behind-the-scenes starlet. Although what Arthur was teaching was geared toward children, Enid had never cared nor paid attention to her education. She found herself admiring this shy genius.
Arthur was on an upward trajectory in every way. And a year after Opal showed up, he made a last-minute script change and Gordy proposed to Opal right in the middle of a skit about the Earth’s core, crust and mantle.
And Enid, for the first time in her ladder-climbing life, was caught off guard and flooded with love for him. Opal said yes. And Enid said yes. And Arthur could not have asked her any other way.
He bought the sprawling ranch house and woods on the land that backed up to his work shed or La-BOR-a-tory as he called it. He gave her free rein to decorate and furnish and have people over.
She was happy. He had squirrelled away a lot of dough. He warned her, though, that he may still spend most of his time in the work shed. He slept there most nights and that did not change. Once, Enid said that he only slept in the house two nights during their entire marriage. That’s how Louis and I showed up.
And I spent most of my toddler years in the workshop with him. Aside from dressing me up and showing me off, Enid wanted little to do with maternal work. She named me Dahlia after her favorite flower. Arthur called me “Dolly Daisy”, his best creation.
And as soon as I could hold a saw or a screwdriver, he taught me to build and fix and help. Once, I saw the skeleton of Heinrich the German Ghost and began to cry. Dad hurried in and showed me how it was just a machine.
“Look, Dolly.” He flopped the legs about. “It’s just what holds up the mask and the sheet. His knee wasn’t bending, so I am fixing him.”
I was fascinated. It wasn’t scary at all. I never did like Heinrich, and in a way, it was like seeing him naked. He came from my dad’s imagination; that shadow place where all attention seeking bad behavior lives. And this was his physical body of polished wood and metal hinge wrapped in a skin of fabric and rubber.
Every puppet’s face was a complex build of sliding planes that worked together to copy human expressions. I could see the love that Arthur put into their creation. Oh, I wanted to be a creator like Dad.
“Oh Dolly, you will have more to do than this. You are so loved! The world is big, and you will not live in a shed with puppets like I do!” He smiled and winked at me, but it was clouded with abject loneliness.
“I love you, Dad. Louis loves you!” This was true. Although Louis was very small and very afraid of the puppets. He would not come out the shed unless Enid left him alone in the house.
“So many people love you, Dad.” I hugged him. Arthur did not like being hugged, except by his children. Preferably the ones not made from wood and metal.
- The Human Heinrich
Dad’s workshop was my bliss. Working alongside this gentle man who spoke softly and always patiently explained the why and works of things gave me inspiration and belief in myself. While Enid ruled her garish, neon manor house and played quirky, girlish hostess to gross, horny freeloaders, we would build and design and repair. While Louis, my treasure, hid in his closet and voraciously read all H.G. Wells, Jack London and Ray Bradbury, we drew up plans for new creatures.
“Dolly Daisy, my apprentice! Hand your Pa the small flathead. Gordy’s busted an elbow from his last show!”
I absorbed every detail, every inch of his environment: The squeaky cot with blue pinstripe mattress where Arthur slept nearly every night. The vice lined with foam to carefully cradle his creations while he nursed them. The white silk sheet neatly covering the Opal puppet.
“Why does she stay covered up? Is it to keep her clean?”
“Mmm. That. And Opal doesn’t always need to know what I’m up to out here.”
“Soooo, Opal can mind her own business?”
He nodded. Even then at seven years old, I began to understand the balance in my parents’ marriage. Arthur was doing what he loved. And Enid was not a part of that. Enid was wallowing in their success and living it up. And Arthur has no desire to be part of that. It was their bliss.
And one day into this oddly happy arrangement, Ignatio Ormonza arrived with his Salvador Dali mustache and long yellow teeth. Enid had hired him as a gardener or groundskeeper or something. I had suddenly started seeing him lingering around her window and drooling a bit. His hands were smooth and doughy as if he’d never held a shovel or rake. His fingers seemed unnaturally long like viscous caterpillars crawling toward the things he wanted.
What Ignatio wanted was Enid and her sweet, carefree lifestyle.
- A Ghost of My Own
I was jarred awake by the helpless sensation of falling. I was in Louis’s small bed, my feet dangling over the side. In my dream, I had been huddled in the dark basement with Louis, watching for signs of unnatural life from the Heinrich balloon. He had fallen asleep on my lap and I was humming to him.
The darkness closed around us and the floor dropped out from under us. Louis yelped and grabbed for my ankles as he fell below me. Then he was gone. No sound, no sight of him. Just me alone, falling through darkness, haloed by the white fabric skin of the evil balloon.
Awake. In Louis’s little bed. The tears hammered at me, losing him all over again. I headed into his closet, into the deep recess behind the shelving. I could hear his child voice “Dolly, come see my new picture. Dolly, come read to me.” This was his headquarters. Every inch of wall patched with drawings and little two-line poems. He had climbed up to the ceiling and taped a drawing of Dad and two angels. He said the angels were to protect Dad’s brain because he was always “up there” thinking.
Something happens to siblings who share trauma. Once “Uncle Ig” showed up, our peace had been shaken, our safety gone. We spent more hours together locked in that basement, without food or water or light. Dad would not know we were there. He was either at the studio filming or in his workshop. Enid was basking in the lavish attentions of the horrid man who put us here.
We only had each other. Louis feared everything. Although this may have seemed like a weakness, he truly could see the logical danger in situations, the deeper dark streak in people. He could read them and stayed away when he felt wrong about something.
In the black shadows, he shook and held on to me. So, I invented The Treasure Game to calm him.
“Louis, you are my treasure. You are shining and bright. You are my compass.”
He wrinkled his brow at me. “How?”
“Well, you point to something in the darkness and I will tell you what I see.”
He pointed to the dark corner behind us.
“Oh, I can see the rings of Saturn! They are bright silver and covered in sapphires and rubies!”
His brow relaxed. He loosened his grip on my arm and breathed easier. He pointed to another corner.
“It’s a floating pirate ship, spilling emeralds and galleons over the waves.”
Louis began to smile. My little game kept him happy and it kept me from drowning in waves of fear.
So, my little brother had been my treasure.
And now that I was back in his room, he was my ghost.
I sat in silence, wedged in his closet, breathing in the quiet.
Creak-suh creak-suh creak-suh creak-suh.
Damn, I knew THAT sound. Squeaky bed springs. Enid was getting some action.
I wasn’t quite as reviled or grossed out as I had been at that idea when I was a child.
The first time I heard that sound, Louis and I were sitting right where I was now.
Creak-suh. Creak-suh. Creak-suh.
“What’s that?” Louis looked at me, horrified.
“It’s Enid and Ig. They’re making a baby.”
“Ewww. Ugliest baby in the world.”
“We have to tell Dad. He doesn’t know. We have to make Ig leave Louis. He’s hurting us and he’s going to hurt Enid.”
So, we made a plan to banish Ig from our lives. We were children ready to set a chain of life-changing events in motion.
- The Children and What They Did
The coming dawn threw light between the closet door slats. I had fallen asleep ensconced in Louis’s art. The first thing my eyes focused on was one of his little “pomes”.
Lots of fake puppets, one Dolly that is real.
Lots of fake people who like to steal.
A big world someplace where I am not afraid.
Dolly and me will go there someday.
I moved carefully. My body had cramped up in the night and I didn’t want to wake anyone just yet. My plan was to head toward Dad’s workshop – or what was left of it. Ruins of a god who created monsters – my childhood happy place. The steel portion had survived the fire intact, but had not been touched. I knew there would not be much left, but I needed to recapture my memory of it. Closure is what some people call it. But to me it would be more like repair.
I had stuck a band aid on the hole in my memory where all things Dad and all things love had been blown to dust. From time to time, when I was in Geneva, all the little bits came together and chipped away at me. Sharp edges of remembered visions stuck together all wrong. Day long headaches and the inability to leave my apartment made me helpless.
The pills they gave me, Effexor, made me sleep too much. I was a surgical student and needed focus. I had suspended my residency at Clinique de Grangette. I was a solitary mess, collapsing in on myself, unable to move forward.
One morning, my hand mirror broke. As I was picking up the pieces, I caught a reflection of my face at an odd angle. I was suddenly Enid. I had her looks and her charming smile, and all of her brokenness underneath. I slammed the hand mirror on the floor repeatedly until all the glass was gone from the frame. I was Grimwalt’s Monster. I had to fix me.
Enid could gloss over and whitewash, add plastic parts, get injections. But I had my Dad’s honest drive to create and repair. I had to go back to Grimwalt Place after 15 years and set myself right with what we did.
What Louis and I did.
When I stripped it down, when I laid truth bare to the ugly, smooth skeleton underneath, it was my fault.
Our plan had four parts:
One: Tell Arthur what was going on – the whole truth about Ig and Mom and the possibility of an ugly baby and Catchers Keepers.
Two: Abscond with sharp tools from Dad’s workshop.
Three: Purposely get caught and put in the basement with tools and search for weaknesses to dig out.
Four: Option A) Manage to get Ig to chase us to Dad’s workshop for a confrontation with Arthur,
Option B) Kill Ig with the tools when he came to let us out of the basement.
Option C) Use the tools to dig out and stockpile items for our escape. (This would require several games of Catchers Keepers.)
Yes, it was extreme. We were five and seven and the concept of actually taking a life did not weigh on us properly. We were hopeful of a future – either with two parents who cared for us – or the two of us alone out in the big wide world. We were very determined children. We wanted Ig out for good. And Dad had be part of our intelligence for our own protection.
Enid could NOT know anything. Let her remain distracted. She could survive anything.
Part One: It was late October, the sky starting to darken. We made dinner for Enid and “Uncle” Ig. We served them spaghetti and offered wine. Cabernet Sauvignon because it had lots of tannins and tasted bitter. I picked up this nugget of information from Enid herself who mentioned it at nearly every party. It didn’t stop her from liking it at all. And the bitterness helped cover the crushed up sleeping pills I added to knock them out. I refilled their glasses most attentively.
“Why are you little creeps being so nice to Uncle Ig?” Ig slurred, his yellow teeth outlined in orange from the spaghetti sauce.
“We decided we like you.” Said Louis. Lying made him squirmy.
“We want Enid – Mom – to be happy.” I shrugged.
They were face down in their plates within 45 minutes. Ig rolled off his chair and onto the floor, smacking the back of his head on the foot of the dining table. He grunted and mumbled Big Bad Wolf style, “I’ll burn you little creeps down.”
I poked at Enid a couple times with the salad tongs. She was out and drooling.
Louis was reluctant to come with me to the workshop.
“You have to! I will be right next to you and Dad is there. You’re not safe if you stay here. You know that for a fact!”
He whimpered, but he went.
It was already dark, but I knew the path through the small grove. The lights were on and Dad was humming. We burst in, flushed with anxiety. I tried to be a grown up.
“Please. Arthur. We need to talk to you.”
“Okay. Spill it, my loves.” He continued working with his back to us.
“No. Put Gordy down and look at us. Please.”
He froze for a moment. I think he was afraid, as we were, that reality or the cozy ignorance of it could not go on any longer. He turned slowly, rubbed his hands together, and stared at the floor.
“Arthur. Dad. Things have gotten really bad for us. Ignatio – well he has been inappropriate with Enid.”
He did not look up. He nodded. “I knew it would go there. I’m not around to love her, you know. That woman needs a lot of…love…attention.”
“Dad! He locks us in the basement so they can-“
“Make an ugly baby!” yelled Louis.
Arthur jerked and looked up at us finally. We were pale, dirty and thin. Some of this was because we had been locked up a lot. Some of this was a bit of an effort on our part to look extra pathetic.
“Oh my loves! Come here!” He opened his arms out to us.
He hugged us and we felt safe. We squeezed Arthur as tight as we could, trying to wring every drop of potential love from him.
He was kind and a genius and magical to us, but he had let the world wash over him. He had let Hurricane Enid blow him around until he was barely tethered to a life of any kind.
I had come here angry and desperate and demanding. I had come to serve an ultimatum of protect us, or lose us forever. But I could barely demand anything else from Arthur. He was so fragile.
“Please, Dad. Please make him leave. Or send us away.” I spoke softly.
“I will speak to your mother tomorrow. I have never asked her to sacrifice anything, even for you. But Ignatio will have to go. If she leaves with him, then…” He looked at the floor again. Then he smiled. “Louis, my boy, you’ve never come out here before! Is it scary like you thought?”
Louis would not let go of Dad. “Not at all. Can I stay for a little?”
“Do you want me to stay too?”
“No, Dolly. I’m okay.”
“Go on, Dolly Daisy. Young puppet master apprentice Louis Grimwalt and I have some monsters to make!” Arthur winked at me.
I loved them. Louis was old enough to step into my shoes now.
I slipped a small pointed hammer in my pocket and left Louis there with Dad. I would go back to the house and move our small duffel bags to the basement. I stayed in Louis’s room that night waiting for him to come back.
The image I hang on to, after all these years, is Louis with his arm around Dad. And Dad beaming at this little man because he finally saw what I saw. Arthur finally discovered what a treasure Louis was.
- In The Darkness Between
I heard Enid bustling in the kitchen. My brain still felt raw from the barrage of memories and images of Dad and Louis. I was not ready to be a grown up with her just yet. So I changed quietly into jeans and shimmied through the bedroom window.
I headed up the path to warped ruins of Dad’s workshop. The distance seemed shorter because my legs were longer, and I was driven by the need for answers. The back yard was overgrown and weedy. I picked burrs off that had bitten into my shirt. I had just cleared the open path and slipped into the thick woods when I heard Enid.
“Dahlia! Dahlia, I made breakfast!” She made breakfast?! Like maybe a diet shake, half a grapefruit, and grainy coffee? I ignored her voice and ducked into the trees.
Forward. I am going back to go forward. The path was all but lost, but I knew the way. Due South through the jungle until you come to the shiny place. That’s what I told Louis the first time he went there alone. Dad had given him a compass and I made a map. I reminded him to play the Treasure Game and light his own way if he got scared.
And here I was now, standing on the bare earth of where the shiny place used to be.
The sliding door had been blown off the warped steel housing. A slanted, gaping mouth beckoned me into shadow and sorrow. I stepped inside. Little pieces, rusted hinges, screw hooks, broken tool fragments, bent table legs, so much of nothing. And yet, these useless bits are what held an empire together.
The Grimwalt Laboratory, vortex of creation, cauldron of hope, crux of my universe where science and magic were one, the physical housing of my father’s heart and brain, the only place where love lived for me – barren and naked bones – the fallen Colossus.
I sat in the middle of the cement floor, only moving what I needed to make space for myself. Closing my eyes, I let the dust and webs and shadows fall away. I slipped back through time, pushing back the oppressive dust and bottomless loss. I wanted to let go of this encompassing ache that I dragged through life like a rotted chain.
The rains came like I called them. And booming thunder and shocks of lightning. I stood up and climbed the rubble to push pieces of the roof open. Let it wash away the mantle of death, cleanse the skeleton of the sleeping giant. I grabbed a large flat sheet of ribbed metal and began to scrape away the debris.
“Mm. Mm. MNOOOO!” The voice came from the closeted recess on the back wall.
I froze. I did not just hear a person. A human voice.
I pushed again, scraping metal against concrete floor.
My heart dropped.
I turned to see a silhouette in the back corner, strobe-lit on and off by the approaching lightning.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…do you sleep here?”
The figure shuffled slowly into the obscure light.
The man was taller than me by a foot. Long, black hair hung over the side of his face. He was pale, translucent. He leaned toward the wall to steady himself on his oversized hands.
“I won’t move anything. I didn’t know anyone was here.”
He tilted his head and the light caught his eyes, the palest of blue and wide with fear. He was afraid of me. I wanted to run, but his face was so stricken.
I put a hand out slowly. “I’m Dahlia Grimwalt. This is my home.”
He stared back, saying nothing. Then he took the sheet of metal from me and threw it against the wall.
He pointed, “No.”
‘I get it. I won’t move anything. So have you been living out here?”
“It’s really dirty, not safe.”
He went back to the corner and pushed through shelving, ignoring me. I followed.
He sat down on a small nest of a mattress in the corner. He lay back down, curled up to fit and closed his eyes. As he pushed his hair out of his face, I saw that it was covered with burn scar tissue.
“It’s really not safe here.”
He turned his back to me. “Safe. I stay.”
“So then we are…neighbors.”
I backed away from him, watching him pretend to nap. A real sleeping giant. I had to return to the house, clean myself up, deal with Enid and any fallout. But I felt like I was moving through quicksand. I felt rooted here in this spot.
“Neighbors…” he mumbled. “Dahlia Grim. Dolly.”
I sagged against the bent steel, not believing what I heard. Not sure if I imagined his words, my name that only Dad and Louis used.
“I’ll bring you some food. Yeah. Neighbors.”
I dashed toward the house through the downpour, not sure how my legs were even carrying me forward.
When I reached the house, Enid was indeed cooking breakfast. The heavy, rich smell of bacon hit me as I hurried inside from the rain.
“Dahlia! You’re soaked! Oh come in and please eat, dear.” She bustled me into the kitchen.
There he sat. I saw him from the back first, but it was unmistakably Ignatio Ormonza at Enid’s table. His hair had gone white, his shoulders stooped, and the tendons at the back of his neck formed a prominent ‘11’.
“Uncle Ig?” He did not turn.
“Ignatio!” Enid jostled his shoulder. “Hey, Ignatio. Dahlia is here to see you. Isn’t that exciting?”
I sat to his right. “Hello, Uncle Ig.” Contempt washed over me and I shot Enid a venomous look. She shrugged. But the longer I looked at him, the more damage I could see. Time, a soft life, alcohol, meanness had aged him badly. He was feeble and maybe not all there. Certainly not the monster he had been. His rheumy eyes found my face and he struggled to connect. I felt an odd wave of pity rise in me.
Then a sharp glint passed across his face and he allowed a tiny, cruel smile to show.
“Oh. You. Li’l girl creep.” He almost giggled, but it came out as a dry cough.
He almost had me fooled.
I wasn’t there to see him. This was the last human being I wanted to see. I had imagined him gone or dead. At least, I had imagined that Enid had moved on. She had never spoken of him while I was gone. She barely spoke to me. But there he was a foot away, trying to grip a spoon with his long, creepy fingers.
Enid sat a large plate of bacon in front of us. Ig reached for it slowly, but I shot in a scooped up six slices. I was a guest now. This had not been my home for a long time. I was bigger. Ig was weaker. I no longer feared him. He would have to deal with that.
“I didn’t eat last night. I’m just really hungry.” And my new neighbor was too. And that freeloading skin bag Ig had eaten quite enough of my father’s bacon.
“Well…” Enid dropped her hands on Ig’s shoulders. He moved faster now, shoveling in bacon, oatmeal, and eggs. Runny eggs that stuck to his mustache and landed on his sweater.
I nibbled bacon slowly, smiling at him. “It’s good to be back, Uncle Ig. I really missed you.”
When Enid went for a coffee refill, I grabbed the rest of the food on the table. In grabbed the last piece of bacon from Ig’s plate. He raised his hand as if he would strike me, but I ducked out of the way.
I took a napkin and wiped his face brusquely. His eyes grew wide.
“It really is good to see you again, Uncle.” I winked.
That’s right, old wolf. Time caught you and Enid kept you. But you won’t be putting me back in the basement any time soon. Maybe Ig would enjoy a little basement time himself.
- The Grown Ups and What They Did
Louis and I had succeeded with Part One of our plan to rid ourselves of Ig. Arthur, who lived most of his life in his head nursing a creative dream, had chosen us. Tomorrow he would confront Ig and Enid and send Uncle Big Bad packing.
Louis believed that the moment Ig was gone, we would be a happy family. Like the family on the Life board game or eating together in Pillsbury crescent roll commercials. That we would start calling Enid “mom” and she would suddenly be a devoted mother. That immediately Arthur would stop sleeping in the shed and play with his human children rather than his wooden family.
I secretly hoped in my child’s heart that this miracle might happen too. If only to get Louis to let go of my hand a bit and stop being afraid. And yet in this world my parents created of avaricious, covetous adults, I was already a cynic. With Ig gone, there would be a hole in the stretched fabric of Enid’s life. She would not be filling it with maternal care. She would be looking for another source of adoration. And not from us, because she would know about her betrayal.
That night, I left Louis with Dad. I came back to the house and cleaned up the spaghetti mess. I helped Enid to couch to lie down. Ig was nowhere to be seen. There was a small spot of blood on the floor where he had whacked his head. Nothing more.
I had wanted to slip into the basement to hide the hammer I stole from Arthur, but I didn’t trust that Ig wasn’t watching me and waiting. I hid everything – hammer, clothes, water canteen, snacks, allowance cash – in a duffel in Louis’s closet. I showered quickly, put on my pajamas and locked myself in Louis’s room. I sat on the end of his bed looking out the window toward Dad’s workshop. Waiting for any sign of Louis or the coming dawn.
I fell into a fitful doze, still sitting up, dreaming about Heinrich capturing Dad and locking him away. I shook myself awake squinting at the orange dawn.
But it was not the sun coming up. Enid was pounding on Louis’s door. “Oh my God, let me in! Let me in! Louis, for GODSAKES!”
I opened the door. “Louis isn’t here.”
“What? What do you mean?! What?” She slapped me.
“He’s with Dad! Jesus!”
Then I knew.
The orange, the ambient glow was coming from Arthur’s workshop. The blaze rose high and caught in the dry pines near the clearing. I smashed the bedroom window and tried to crawl out, jagged glass cutting my legs. I had to save them! I had to get them out! Enid caught the end of my pajama pants and dragged me partially back in, driving one on the shards into my calf.
“NO ENID! NO!” I kicked her in the chest and crawled out. I ran, pain searing through my leg and slipping on the wet grass.
As I fell, a weight crushed me. It was Ig throwing his whole body on top of me to stop me.
“You’re not going anywhere. You’ll burn. You’ll die.”
“LOUIS!” I pointed. I screamed. I couldn’t get air in my lungs with his weight on me. I wailed, “Louis! LOUIS!” My eyes burned and the dam burst in my heart and brain. I could not see clearly. Black smoke, oranges and yellow flames, and darkness. Life stopped.
I heard the sirens wailing and Enid sobbing. I heard Ig answering questions. I heard firemen talking about an adult male and male juvenile age five.
I lay there in the night, silent, hoping no one found me. I gazed through the deluge of tears toward the dying fires in the distance. Maybe I was in shock. Maybe I was hallucinating. But I swore that I saw two figures. Two figures, a man with glasses and a small boy, silhouetted against the flames. They were holding hands and climbing away from the workshop. The shapes melted into the night. And everything fell away.
When I awoke, I was in restraints in the children’s hospital ward. The nurse, with iron grey hair and brown cat glasses, was checking my pulse.
“They said you broke a window.”
“I was trying to save my brother.”
“Well, you lost a lot of blood.” She snapped.
“I also lost my brother, you stupid twat.”
She tightened the restraint. I don’t know why I said it. I think whatever medication I was on was talking.
“That hurts! You know you have a big ass. Your ass looks like this overstuffed ottoman that Enid has. Boy. They’re lying. They burnt up my dad. Giant ass!”
She gave me a shot and all went quiet.
- Gerda ex Machina
I was medicated for a few months. I was talking to everyone about that night and what I saw. Enid wanted me to come back to her reality and wear black and grieve with her or FOR her. She was a rich, lovely widow who had also lost a child. Her attention-sucking vortex just got a lot bigger. Ig just wanted me to shut up. He would always manage to find a moment during their visits, usually when Enid went to cry in the bathroom about her insane little girl. He would squeeze my wrist or ankle hard and grit his teeth. “You shut up, girly. You saw nothing.”
Finally, I bit him, breaking the skin. “You burnt up my Dad’s place! But he’s alive! He got out! Louis got OUT! OUT! OUT!”
Enid came back to find Ig nursing the gash on his finger. I looked at her blankly and barked a couple times.
When the police, fire and insurance companies fell into agreement, the will was read. I was not there, of course. But Arthur was not a stupid man. He was a true genius. Although he gave Enid free rein, he managed to put aside money in a trust for Louis and me. With Louis presumed dead, his portion reverted to me. The real surprise was that the trust was to be handled by his sister, a woman I had never met. The will and trust called for immediate transfer of guardianship as well.
Gerda Grimwalt lived in Geneva, Switzerland. And at first, Enid balked that she herself had never heard of such a person. But there was Gerda’s heavy-handed scribble on the will and trust documents. Two weeks later, in the middle of yet another awkward hospital visit, there was Gerda herself.
She trudged in full of purpose, a fat lady in a tan corduroy pantsuit. She made a lot of noise when she moved and she moved very fast. Her hair was an unnatural shade of buttery blonde. Her face was a duplicate of Arthur’s, but much rounder.
“Holy Hell, Dahlia, get yourself out of that bed. Get your things. Our flight is in two hours.”
Enid jaw dropped. Ig tried to step in front of her, but she bulldozed right through as if he were made of paper. She bustled about with a large bag in her hand, collecting my things.
“My leg still hurts.” I said weakly.
“Well, tough titty said the kitty. You need to walk. And NOW!” She whipped the covers off me and handed me a clothing that she had brought with her.
“You are not taking my daughter anywhere, Lady!” Enid stood up.
Gerda turned and put her bulk right in Enid’s personal space. “Yes. I am.”
“My husband-“ Enid began.
“Is dead. And your boy. This child is not safe with you. And especially not with this greasy old leech!” She threw a hip forward and knocked Ig off balance.
Who was this person? A fairy godmother? A real aunt? A crazed stranger? A paid actress? A hallucination?
Hospital security was called. Police were called. But Gerda had all the papers. And all the right information. And me – more than willing – to be anywhere else but here.
She marched beside me as I was wheeled out to the hospital parking lot. I climbed into the taxi and turned to see Enid and Ig. She had collapsed to her knees, sobbing that she had lost everyone. Ig was still arguing with a police officer. I felt wobbly, but I wanted to go and never come back.
As soon as the taxi pulled away, Aunt Gerda pulled off her blonde wig. She was completely bald. And for the first time, she was quiet and still.
“Thank you.” I said quietly.
“Gratitude is good, kiddo. But you have got to understand something right up front. Your dad loved you kids more than life. We could get all buddy-buddy, but I’m not going to be around very long. The least I could do is get you sprung.” She drew in a ragged breath.
“Am I going to live with you?” I was afraid she might drop me off at the airport and leave me there.
“Yes. If that’s what you want. I’m crabby and I’m fat and I don’t like kids. And if you are like Arthur, you will drive me crazy.” She turned to face me and took my hand. As we passed the streetlights on the expressway, shadows found her face. “I don’t even know you. But these decisions are going to have to be yours. You’ll need to be a grown up. I’m here to sign my name for you. Be clear on what you want. And don’t whine if it turns out different than you expected.”
I didn’t say anything for a very long time. We boarded the plane and I slept the entire flight. A full seven hour deep slumber. Nightmare free. I was floating, but not falling. I could control how high I rose, fly and land safely.
When we landed, Gerda was still holding my small hand in hers. It was like my hand had been swallowed by a warm crescent roll. I smiled at her, still groggy. She raised one of her pencil-thin eyebrows. I noticed they had been carefully drawn on because she had no eyebrow hair either.
“Get your crap and let’s go, Sleeping Beauty!”
- Familiar Stranger
When I was sure Ig and Enid were settled in watching morning news shows, I headed to the shower. I locked the door and shoved a small cabinet in front of it. Ig wasn’t stealthy or quick anymore, but the doors in this house have a way of opening and closing on their own.
I stripped off wet layers of clothing, peeling away the damp and dirt, Enid’s perfume and Ig’s odd scent. He had always worn English Leather cologne, but the blend of it with his body chemistry and pomade made for a boiled egg with rubbing alcohol chaser.
One time, Louis had to sit next to him at a company dinner. Amid the loud, witty grown-up talk that floated above our heads, he kept looking at his plate and giggling quietly. Then randomly he would sing very softly, “He is the egg-man…he is the egg-man…” and never finishing the line. Louis was born into this world fragile and funny.
I turned the showerhead to the hardest setting and cranked the hot water. Yes, cleanse me. Blow a hole through my crazy life. Debride this gaping wound that I came here to close. I missed Louis. I missed my Dad, but Arthur had a life already. He got to grow up and create a world and have sex and buy a house and drive a car. Louis had just learned how not to be afraid of the dark.
I thought about him out with Arthur in the workshop that night. I had led him there, encouraged him, let him stay.
Suddenly, I thought of my new neighbor. I let him stay.
I remembered the way he curled his large, gaunt body into the corner. I was out of my mind. I should have chased him off, called the police. Something, though, when he looked at me through the strands of dark hair, shook me up.
Love at first sight with a dirty, homeless dude.
Kindness toward the actual ugly baby that Ig and Enid had. They made him go live in the old burnt shed. Parents of the Year!
I sat down on the shower floor with my head in my hands.
Maybe Louis. Maybe Louis that got out that night. Maybe grown up Louis who came home. Maybe my brother, scarred and damaged and feeling safe in a too small place.
My chest ached and my mind broke a little.
Whoever he was, I would help him. I would use my education and my skills and help him. It didn’t matter if he was Louis. He was more lost than I could ever be.
I dressed myself with purpose. I raided the first aid kit. Then I went to pack him a picnic.
- I Know Who You Are!
Life with Gerda Grimwalt opened more doors for me than I could have imagined. My childhood with Enid had meant being relegated to an inconvenience. Louis and I had been accessories to be trotted out to entertain company. I had literally no idea how we had survived infancy. My world was so painfully small.
Gerda treated me like a companion, an intellectual equal. She did not mince words or sugar coat anything. She never once dumbed down her conversations with me. She was frank about her perceptions of Arthur, Enid, Ig and me.
And she saw my world from the other side of a newly-open door. In my first week, we walked through the streets of Geneva. Everything was written in four languages! There were street vendors with balloons and ice cream. She bought me a single scoop of lemon glace. I thought it would be sour, but it was creamy and sunshiny.
We passed beautiful stores and ornate, jeweled shop windows. She noticed me eyeballing the chocolatiers. She took my hand. “Come on, that’s not what you want, Kiddo.”
She trudged on just toward the entrance of the Botanical Gardens where a tiny blue cart was parked. She greeted the small, chubby man with a big kiss on each cheek.
He returned the gesture. He circled his hands around her face, crinkling her silk head scarf. “Toute est belle, Mees Gerda!”
“Deux truffles, Maxim.”
He made a stiff little bow and took her money. He handed us each a large, multilayered piece of chocolate heaven. I followed her into the gardens and we toasted before indulging.
“Let’s toast to freedom, Dahlia.” She winked.
We bumped chocolates. That moment defined the concept of delicious for me. I was in the gorgeous center of a wide world, with a responsible adult who actually liked me, eating the most divine Swiss chocolate.
“I love this city. I love everything about it. It’s expensive as hell. I can go twenty miles toward France and live for half the cost. But I wouldn’t trade it.”
“It’s your favorite place in the world?”
“Mmm. No.” She became thoughtful. “I’ll take you there one day, though. It’s called Mer de Glace. Sea of Glass. Sea of Ice. It’s blue!”
Her head did this slight, jerky thing when she was excited. It was involuntary. And just in that moment, that angle, that profile – I KNEW who she was!
Aunt Gerda was Wanda the Witch! Arthur’s inspiration for the sassy spell-caster was his own sister!
I would never tell her that, but it made my heart smile. A little piece of her had been with Arthur and me all along in that workshop. Her voice and mannerisms were comfortable for me because they were already familiar. Wanda was kind and brilliant and helpful and magical. If Gerda had donned a curly purple wig, she could have done the show herself.
A gateway opened in my mind about the relationship between Arthur and his sister. She was older and he was her baby brother. Although she lived half-way across the world, they must have still been close. It dawned on me that Gerda and I were both grieving a little brother lost. But I never saw her cry or lose her composure.
She rented a Jet D’eau – a tour boat that took us around Lake Geneva. She pointed out Villa Diodati – where Lord Byron vacationed.
“That’s where Frankenstein was born. Mary Shelley was hanging out with Byron, and her crazy husband and that creepy Polidori.”
“I read about them, the Romantics with John Keats.”
“Smart girl. You can read anything in my library. Educate yourself. Round out that brain.” She patted my head. “Feed it with big, fat juicy stories. If you’re like Arthur…” she smiled, not finishing.
“What if I’m more like you?”
“Well. Hm. You’re not like your mother – although you look like her.”
We looked out at billowy clouds hanging over the water. She took out a handkerchief from her purse and wiped a bit of chocolate off my face.
“I’ll say this, Dahlia. We are the best of them. All that was good about Arthur and Louis, even that one, tiny good molecule of Enid – we are the best of all that. Let’s celebrate that every day. Deal?”
I put my arm around my kind and magical aunt. I thought of Louis seeing the world through my eyes. I couldn’t wait to show him the world. And the Mer de Glace. The Sea of Ice.
The Sea of Glass.
- The Measure of a Man
“I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant: I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.” – Hippocratic oath
“Do what you want – just don’t hurt anybody.” – Aunt Gerd
Do no harm. Not to Enid nor Ig. Not to the man in the workshop. And not to myself. The swirling pool of pity and doubt and connection I felt to this man must be pushed down out of my mind. The truth is I did not know who was living out there is the shell of my father’s destruction. Faces are all built on the same blueprint and there are only nine distinct facial types for the entirety of humanity.
My heart, my gut, the growing pulse of wonder and connection I felt for him – none of it was based in fact. Just feeling. I had to remove that from the equation in the interest of helping him without damaging myself.
So, I trudged out to the ruins and pounded on the entry with a rock.
He rose and shambled forward. He stopped, shielding his eyes from the sun. “Neighbor Dolly.” He said.
“I brought you some food and…” He reached out and took my arm and led me in. I was welcome.
We sat on the floor and I spread out a small towel with bacon, bread, peanut butter, apples and bottles of water and Gatorade. He looked at me questioningly. I slapped together a bacon sandwich and handed it to him. “Picnic.”
He smiled on the side of his face that bore no scarring. His dark hair covered his eyes, but a glint of silver-blue showed through. I smiled back. He grabbed the sandwich and took a bite.
“You never did tell me your name.”
He shook his head. He was chewing, mashing the bread around the bacon in his hand. He would not look at me directly.
“You don’t have a name. Okay. Well, I never liked my name. Dahlia is a flower and it was probably Enid’s idea. It’s pretentious. My dad called me “Dolly Daisy”. Louis never called me anything but “Dolly.”
“Louis.” He mumbled through food.
Was he saying that his name was Louis? Or was he just repeating so I would know he was listening?
“Louis is my brother. People tell me he died when he was little. But I don’t believe that.”
“Louis.” he nodded.
I could not look at him. I took out a small knife to cut an apple, but he flinched. He moved to crawl back to his corner, but I stopped him.
“For the apples. Not…not for you.” I picked up an apple, sliced it and dipped it in peanut butter. “Try this.”
He shoved the whole thing in his mouth, chewing furiously. His body began to relax. He came back to our picnic. Just two neighbors talking about not much. I opened a water bottle and handed it to him. He drank half straight down.
“Louis.” He said.
And every time he said it, he was heaving an invisible sledgehammer at my heart. But I could not let that show. I was here to learn, to help, to put him at ease.
“I’m learning to be a doctor, a surgeon. I came home for a little bit to fix some stuff. I came out here to fix this place. I didn’t know you were living out here. How long have you been out here?”
He shook his head. He wasn’t talking and I was trying not to get frustrated. I charged ahead on my mission anyway.
“Can I see your face?”
He stopped chewing. I reached out slowly and moved the long, dark hair away from his eyes. He grew very still, closed his eyes. Was he expecting pain or punishment? Was he learning that maybe I could be trusted? Nameless patient – case study – nothing more. Clinical assessment – a beating heart – a warm body.
The left half of his face, zygomaticus major to the mentalis, had deep scarring and restricted movement. It pulled the bottom eyelid down a bit, showing the red of the eye socket and making the eye look wide and frightened. He jerked away, but I touched his cheek very lightly and he leaned back into my hand. The scarring extended down his neck into the collar of his shirt. I followed it with my hand. He stopped my fingers by closing his hand around them.
I nodded. I put my hand on the other side of his face, smooth and unmarked. I drew a sharp breath. The planes of his face, the balance of his high cheekbone and straight jaw, the depth and curve of his eyes, put me in awe. He was beautiful. In the most cold and clinical measures of perfection, in the exact measures of divine ratio, he was perfect.
My fingers lingered on the vein pulsing beneath the white skin at his temple. And I pulled back from him. When I looked on his face, all at once both sides, he was a contradiction. He was the mask of all images we call good and evil. Hyde and a beautiful Jekyll. Fear and peace. A burnt angel.
I turned away from him to hide my own face. “I can help you, if you want. With…with the marks.”
He swallowed more water. He touched my shoulder and when I turned, he nodded at me.
“The food is all yours. I brought some wet wipes too. We’ll figure this out.” I emptied my bag of basic camping supplies for him and turned to leave.
“Louis.” He said. Enough. Please.
“You know, Mystery Man, keep saying that and I’ll start calling you that.”
He nodded again, pressing his fingers to the scars on his face.
- Hobbies and A Room of One’s Own
By the time I reached the house, I had made up my mind to somehow get this new Louis back into his room. Convincing my fearful new friend would take time and reassurance. I knew it was not healthy to compartmentalize all I felt for him, but I had no other way forward. There was no logic to explain who he was, from whence he came. I felt like I was being swallowed by a fog of wishful dreaming, creeping memory and hazy images.
He had looked on me without fear. And I seen something in his eye, and within him. He may have reached out before and been punished or harmed. But before today, I had been an option. I would help him. And that meant having him close and clean and safe.
He may be to big for Louis’s bed, but he curled up on that filthy mattress anyway. He needed nourishment and running water. I would read books to him as he recovered, White Fang and Treasure Island.
And my brain caught up with me. I would have to sleep in my own room.
My breath caught in my chest and I suddenly felt powerless and lost. I had not slept in my own room at Grimwalt Place since the night Louis was brought home from the hospital as an infant. My childhood was defined by being his protector, always by his side. I held him and rocked him and learned how to warm up a bottle of formula. I sang little songs to him and kept him clean. He was precious to me because I was no longer alone in the living desert between Enid and Arthur.
I hated my room. Enid had acquired and over decorated the space with every pink, lacy, ruffled piece of garbage she could find. There was no room for me on my bed because of doily pillows and ugly dolls. Dolls that I could not even play with because they were vintage and might break. I knocked one off and the face chipped, and then the eye would not quite roll back right. Her name was Jenny Lind according to the stamp on her trapezoid doll butt. But I called her Blinky Lou. I would lay her flat, but she still watched me as I tried to sleep.
My bed had a canopy. I slept face down because it made me feel claustrophobic. I would just drift off and then feel the fear of it dropping down and swallowing me. And then there were the window shadows.
My room in the very back of the house where no trees or bushes had been planted. In the daytime, I could throw the pink gingham curtains back to full sun. But at night, the shadows came. Shadows of trees that were not there. The vague outline of hands waving their wooden fingers across the panes. Voices chattering and sighing just low enough for me not to hear them properly. The curtains were closed and I clipped them together with safety pins. I would lie face down, my eyes wide. My mind would vomit up parts of Enid’s party conversations involving spirits in white noise and dummies that walk on their own.
I told Enid and Arthur about this phenomena, but they did not believe me.
“You shouldn’t eavesdrop, Dahlia. You take things out of context.” Said Enid.
“You’ve got a big imagination like your Pop, Dolly Daisy!” Arthur smiled and patted my head.
I rounded the hallway corner nearly colliding with Enid who was carrying towels and a gin martini.
“There you are! Now I’ve invited a few people over tonight, so_”
“Can I move back into my room?”
Her face twisted itself in awkwardness. She pressed her lips together. “That’s not a really good idea.”
“Why not?” I took the towels and began folding them on the kitchen table.
“Since you ran away- left with your aunt- we decided to make it a hobby room.”
“You have a hobby?” Enid being any kind of craftsman or creator was ridiculous. She never had a hobby. She never did anything on a small enough scale for it to be called a hobby.
“Uncle Ig uses it. He does…well…taxidermy.” She downed the drink.
“He takes apart dead things in my room. Ohhhhhh-” I felt nauseous.
“Well, it hasn’t been your room for fifteen years!”
“Like what? Squirrels? Dogs? Beavers? Jesus! That old ghoul!”
“It’s no different than what your father-“
“My father? Are you serious? Dad, my dad made a living creating puppets. Wood and metal and cloth. No carcasses or guts or blood or—” I turned and vomited into the kitchen garbage can.
Suddenly, I could smell it coming down the hallway. My childhood nightmare room had evolved into a seething abattoir of dead parts and glass eyes and sawdust. And evil, twisted Ignatio Ormonza was monster responsible for that transformation.
The ghost room was literally a graveyard. I slumped down on the floor. Enid hovered, trying to connect with me but I felt so disoriented. I tried very hard with my mind to make her stop moving and saying my name. I could hear his voice in my head, “Hey Little Girl Creep. You know where you used to sleep? I make dead things. Want to hear ‘em talk?” Then his hacking laughter.
“Dahlia! Dahlia! Honey are you okay?” She jostled my shoulders.
“Hear ‘em talk.” I muttered just before it went black.
- The Sea of Glass
The darkness only lasted a moment. I was sitting up against the kitchen wall wondering if it really was that shade of dank turquoise or if it just needed to be scrubbed. Enid was leaning over me, clutching my arm.
“Hear who? Dahlia? Who was talking?” She panted, putting her face very close to mine in an effort to connect with mer.
“No one.” I climbed into a chair. “We have orange juice?”
“Low blood sugar? Like your father. Hypoglycemic as they get!” Enid trotted off and returned with a coffee cup of orange mango something. It was too sweet, but I downed it.
“So my room is a slaughterhouse. Did you leave it pink?”
“There’s no need to be nasty.”
“I’m not the one cutting up defunct critters. That’s nasty. Does he just find them or does he kill them too?” I knew she wanted me to drop it, but I had locked eyes with the real Ig. The demon underneath the old man skin was capable of so much worse.
She sighed. “Ignatio doesn’t ask for much. I love him, but believe it or not, there are times when I want him to just leave me be. It’s a stupid hobby.” She ran her claws down her pantlegs, smoothing them.
“How stupid can you be?” I couldn’t stop. It was coming out. The fifteen year bullet of disgust and rage was out of the gun.
“How dare you.” Her facial expression, always carefully managed, contorted into a mask of anger and hurt.
“How dare you, Enid! You continue even now to sleep with the man who burned your husband and son to death. You tell me they’re not alive! Then HE did it! He said he would burn us down. You let him stay on Dad’s dime. On Dad’s life insurance. And oh when you tire of him, you send him to MY room to cut up corpses for a hobby?!”
I could not take it back now. I thought she would cry or shrink or apologize. But she dd nothing. She smoothed out her face until she was a 1970’s mannequin. She perched on the sofa with her own cup of orange mango vodka magic and looked at her nails.
“You don’t know anything, Dahlia. You never did.” She swallowed half the cup. “And Louis is dead. You need to grasp that. Your brother, your father, and your fat, bald Aunt Gerda.”
I needed to be in Louis’s room. I needed to be in his closet surrounded by his angel pictures and bits of scribbled words. I needed to be wrapped in the safety of what was left of him. I don’t know how fast I moved, but I was there suddenly, locking his door. Locking myself in safe, squeezing into the back of the closet. And I reached and touched and kissed and cried on his papers. Every time I grasped one, a small ghost atom of him vanished from my hand.
He was a ghost coming apart in little pieces, taking matching pieces of me with him. I was told so long ago that he was lost to me, but he lived still in my mind’s eye. I took him with me everywhere. He was with me every moment. He was the Sea of Glass. I carried all his missed life experience and sweetness for so long.
I could not find a stable piece of this life where he was gone.
Blind from tears, I tried not to breathe.
My heartbeat slowed.
She had lied to me so many times. How was this any different? Enid was adept at pinpointing weakness and twisting the knife. She was lying.
Otherwise, she was worse than Ig. She enabled him and profited from my father’s death. She was either the demon’s best match, or she was lying.
I opened the window, slipping through. I ran toward the path through the woods. To the place where the world could not enter. Through the twisted metal door. Back into the shadows in the corner. Back to the place where the man with the pale blue eyes lay waiting.
He looked up at me. He drew is hand over his face.
“Yes. I’m sad.” I was shaking.
He knelt down and wrapped his arms around my legs. He put his head against my hip and just sat there. I rested my palms on his shoulders because he was real. He was solid. He was not a lie.
Here was my burnt angel. Here was my truth, by whatever name he was given.
I sank down and rested in his arms. We stayed like that until the sky grew lavender and orange with the dawn.
- Swimming in the Sea of Glass
On the night of the fire, the night the whole of my small world burned down, I broke the window. The resulting scars lingered on my arms and legs for years, raised and smooth. Aunt Gerda said they were a road map to my past. I carried still the remains of that night.
I did not need a map to know my origins. My isolated life had only taken on meaning when Louis came into the world. I had given up my childhood at age three because it held no possibility of me being anything on my own except frightened.
Louis took on my fears.
In turn, I owed him my life.
The world outside had a glossy, happy image of my parents. The real Gordy and Opal. They landed on magazine covers and talk shows – always together on camera. Hosts would tout my father’s genius and Enid’s beauty. Then the cameras would go dark and the reporters would leave. I was never in the picture. I don’t know if anyone knew my name or heard of Louis until the night of the fire.
When Gerda rescued me, she was already dying. And she knew everything about us.
One Saturday in late August when I was ten, she woke me up early. “Wear walking shoes. We’re going.”
We boarded the train from Geneva to Chamonix. For three hours, she hummed and smiled and randomly spoke about life. And death. She took off her headscarf and draped it across her knees. Sunlight through train window prisms bounced off her shiny head and gave her little haloes.
“There are hard things we need to talk about when we get back, Dahlia. But today – today is ours. We own it completely. I will be in my favorite place with my blood, the only family I have.” She dabbed at her eyes.
“Are you sad?”
“I’m excited. There has never been anyone worth bringing with me before. But I know you will like the Sea of Glass. I know you’ll get the joke, my girl. We’ll ride up to the top, have some lunch, and then walk down. Here, check it out!”
She rifled through her bag and found a very worn tourist pamphlet on Chamonix Mont-Blanc and the Mer de Glace. I carefully accepted this holy relic and unfolded it gently. I read the facts and bullet points and studied the creased pictures.
“Oh, this is weird. See this?” She pointed to the map route that split off into a “y” near Les Houches. “Doesn’t that look like the scar on your leg? Same angle and everything. You were meant to come here.”
Gerda could be loopy sometimes when she was exhausted or hungry. But she was right. The scar straddling my right calf was indeed a match to the Chamonix map.
“You are special.” She mumbled and closed her eyes against the sun to nap for a bit.
I was special. My heart clutched at the notion. I had never been called that and I had never felt that before. I had been a shapeless blob, then ignored, then the other half of Louis. The tiny jolt of lightning in my chest woke me up – the theory that I could be a whole person by myself. Not because I was anyone’s daughter or sister. Not because I was a surviving limb of a half-dead family stitched together by the media desire for tragedy. Not because I was some cog in the wheel of Enid’s spotlight. Note because I was the creature-maker’s daughter. I could be solitary and still be worthy. Maybe.
I wanted those scars gone. I wanted Enid’s DNA eviscerated from my body. If I could only set my mind to believe that all my connections were burned away the night of that fire, I could be a whole new girl. I could be a phoenix rising from the immolation of my true family.
I had always thought I would grow up strong and avenge my brother and father. I would strap on a cape and take down the Enid and Ignatio supervillains. While they rotted in jail, I would demolish Grimwalt Place and build something good for kids. Maybe a library or park.
But now that I was special, I had a choice. I didn’t need to avenge anyone. I could just grow up and have a happy life and never go back. It would be as if I had never been part of them. As if I had fallen from the sky out of nowhere. I thought of the Greek Goddess Athena springing fully-grown from the head of Zeus. Yes, he was her father, but she needed no divine mother to take part in her creation.
I traced my scar and followed the map.
We passed the early afternoon at the top of Chamonix in shops and a café. I drank hot cocoa and Gerda bought some small trinkets. When we headed to the viewing platform, she waited for a quiet moment when we were alone.
“It’s gorgeous. Water did all that. Water is all that. A frozen blue heart in the middle of mountains.” She shook her head, smiling. “Dahlia, I have something for you.”
She produced a small leather satchel. “It’s all the letters Arthur wrote me. You should read them. There’s quite a bit about you. It might help.” She sighed. “Can’t hurt.”
“It’s a bigger map. Maybe a new map.” I said.
She raised her arms high and wide and took a full breath, drinking in all the sensations of her favorite place on earth. I copied her.
“You like it here?”
“Yes. I love it here.”
I woke in his arms. He had not moved in the night. He was dozing with the smooth side of his face pressed into my hair, drooling a bit. I stirred and his eyes opened. We disentangled our limbs awkwardly.
“I’m sorry. Last night was a bad night for me. People in the house down there can be mean.”
He nodded. “Bad neighbors.”
“Bad family.” I shrugged.
“The man is not.” He said, helping me up.
“What man? At the house?”
“Yes. The man is not family. The mean man.”
He shook his head. “Man at the house…”
I made a mustache gesture. “Ignatio. Ig. He is the man.”
He wiped his hand across his lip and nodded.
“Does he know about you? Does he know you are out here?”
He nodded. Then he tapped his chest above his heart.
“I don’t understand. You show me?”
He lifted his shirt. He was pale, ghost skin over ribs and muscle. Right above his heart was a scar shaped like a star burst. At some point it had been a third-degree burn. The tail of its comet travelled up his neck onto the burned area on his face. He would not look at me, seemingly ashamed of his mark.
I leaned in to touch it and he flinched away.
“No. No. Look, we match!” I rolled up my pantleg to show him the “y” on my calf. “See?”
“Oh.” He touched my scar gently. “Oh. You hurt now?”
“No. It’s old, but I’m not ashamed of it. Things happen. My leg still works.”
His slid his palm under my knee and straightened my leg slowly. I wanted to laugh, but I was struck with an odd, electric chill.
He took my hand and placed it on the lowest point of the star burst. “You see.” His eyes, the same blue as glacial rivers in Chamonix, were wide and trusting.
My fingers felt the edges of his pain, the braille of his skin raised red. How long ago did this happen? I traced up, following collarbone and jawline, over the bas relief of fear and shame. I pressed my palm against his skin and felt the pulse underneath. He exhaled, alive under my touch. Without thinking, I kissed the marked side of his face, then just below his neck, finally the source scar above his heart.
His hands lifted my face to and he pressed his open mouth to mine, stealing my breath. Any logic or distance I had was ripped away by my deep ache of longing for him.
I needed to stop. This needed to stop.
He gazed at me. Our hands fell away from each other.
A small idea began to burn at the back of my brain. This could not be Louis. If Enid was right, if the coroner and insurance companies and even Aunt Gerda were right, then Louis was gone. I was drawn to this man because of my own loneliness and disconnection. I had hidden myself and my scars, even during school, my whole life. The only people that I was still connected to were in the house. I was here to severe all connection and make things right, to fall into the abyss if need be.
But perhaps, I was not in the abyss alone.
He was already there this whole time. This man in the shadowed corner, with neither name nor home, had scars like me. His palest blue eyes were my mirror. And without pretense or doubt, I became a person of love. I was special.
“We need to go down to the house. My house.” I said quietly.
He backed away from me.
“Don’t be afraid. I won’t let anyone there hurt you.”
“The Maaaaannnnn!” He argued.
“The Man is done hurting anyone.”
- The Keeper Gets Caught
I led him down through the woods, keeping off the path. Louis felt safer that way. Even though he was tall and seemingly strong, he constantly feared someone or something would hurt him. And as with my little brother, I would protect him.
I had left the window open to Louis’s room. I used my body as fulcrum, ladder and lever to get him through and inside. He lacked balance and dexterity. And he was heavy.
“We need to surprise them. That’s how we win.” I whispered.
Louis looked around and his mouth hung open. He ran his fingers over the blue striped wallpaper and touched the books on the shelf.
“I’ll read to you if you like.”
“I know reading. I remember reading. I read. Thank you.”
I was not his Svengali – not his teacher. Not his mother. Maybe not even related at all. We sat next to each other on the floor at the foot of the bed. He needed a shower. He needed food. And we need free reign of the house to make that happen.
After a while, I heard Enid’s car pull away. I knew that Ig was alone in the house. Or at least, he thought he was. Then the music started. Louis Prima’s 1959 “Just a Gigolo” bounced out from the speakers of Enid hi-fi stereo cabinet.
Oh yes, Ig thought he was alone.
I crept down the hall to the living room to see Ignatio in a pair of worn, saggy briefs printed with flamingoes and black dress socks. He was not wearing anything else. There was certainly nowhere to hide his shame or any defensive weapon. He was bobbing about with his eyes closed, arms in partner dance position. I just watched him. This was the premier villain of my childhood, this animated bag of skin in his skivvies, still bragging to the world how his only useful skill was to satisfy the ladies.
Still, is his gangly flabby body, there was an odd grace about him. He was light on his feet and deliberate in his dance moves. When the chorus came, “I ain’t got nobody…” he dipped his imaginary partner with a flourish. I was struck by the economy of movement. Like when Arthur would pull the strings for the puppets. He said, only move exactly what you need to – what seems natural. It is all fake, but it has to look natural.
I stared hard at the back of Ig’s head, setting my intention that indeed, life would go on without him.
He spun to face me, off balance. His face grew red and contorted. “Creeping! Spying!”
He shook where he stood, about to cross the distance between us. The hairs on my arms stood up, waiting. Let him bring the fight to me.
He moved fast for an old man, but Louis was quicker. As Ig charged at me, Louis lunged forward and grabbed him by the shoulders. I had never seen Ig unguarded – the con man without an escape. HE panicked and flailed, but Louis had size and strength.
I opened the basement door and Louis pushed Ig into the darkness.
“YOU CAN’T DO THIS!!!!” Ig shoved his foot in the door jamb.
“I can do this. This is my house.” I kicked him in his bony shin and slammed the door, locking the padlock latch at the top.
“You can’t! You little bitch creep! You can’t!” His rage was muted.
I could and I just did. And now Ignatio Ormonza could spend a little time in the oubliette of his own creation. He was not prepared for this – no food or water or trips to an actual toilet. Maybe the bucket was still down there. Or maybe just shadows and a creaky furnace dancing with orange demons.
I empathized with him. Caught off guard, in his underwear, surprised and defenseless. Trapped for what could be a long time in a place of shifting darkness. I knew exactly what he was feeling. Good.
Louis sank to the floor breathless.
“Are you okay? Louis?”
“Yes. Thank you.” I helped him up. “How about a shower? And then I’ll make some lunch.”
He pulled in toward his body, wrapping his arms around me. My ear pressed into his heart just below the starburst scar. I heard his ragged breathing slow.
“I’m not afraid, Dolly.” he said softly.
- The Cabinet of Dr. Ig Ormonza
He stood shameless and naked, his filthy clothing wadded in a heap on the floor. There was no guile in Giant Louis. I ran the shower for him and gave him clean towels. I didn’t want to allow myself any sort of look or thought beyond him getting himself clean. I would burn the ragged pile and find him a pair of Ig’s sweats or something.
I had other work to do while Ig was serving his basement term. I heard him wail or pound distantly occasionally, but I ignored it. It clued me in to exactly how drunk Enid had to be to selectively not hear me let out my own childhood cries.
I needed to see my old bedroom. The insult twisted in my guts like live snakes. Curiosity was worse than even my anger. Of course, the door would be locked. I stood back and landed two solid kicks above the doorknob. It creaked open slowly.
The smell, Lysol and death and old blood, was heady and rich. The pink curtains that I once had closed against night time mystery shadows, had never been open since. Ig did not want sunlight to find this place. It was poorly lit, except for a magnifying architect’s desk lamp. A stainless steel table with a dirty trough edge and small dents in it sat in the corner. The mean chair was bent to the right after years of holding Ig’s leaning weight while he toiled away at his evil craft. My small twin bed was buried under used sheets and broken pieces of tools, an open bag of sawdust and chunks of misshapen dried clay.
There were two stuffed birds, an owl and a crow, perched on the table’s edge. Wired there through their legs, they measured me with black bead eyes.
Nothing nightmarish just yet. Fragments of a moments in a lost room where I had never felt at home. But I needed to see more. Something to justify my contempt. So I went to the heart of the room, the sacred space furthest away from prying eyes, the closet.
It was also padlocked, but I was already up for ripping the lid off. I grabbed a broken hammer from the pile on the bed and swung until the lock lay on the floor in pieces. As the sliding door gave in, other things hit the floor too.
At one time, this space had held tiny yellow dresses and hats and patent leather shoes. Enid would dress me up and trot me out for company. “Don’t stare at people, Dahlia! Smile!”
The closet, once pink inside, was over stuffed with creatures who had no way of being. Ig had fitted both sides out with metal shelving. It had been shiny at some point, but rust and dried fluids and time had made it a horror movie meat rack.
An old cattle prod leaned against the bottom rack. The tip was clotted over with rust, blood and hair. Every creature who ever met Ig suffered greatly. My child’s heart broke. We had never had pets and I had believed it was on Enid’s insistence that they would ruin the carpets. Animals smell. A small furry beast would destroy our lives.
But what about the beast she kept?
Ignatio Ormonza’s collection of atrocities and abominations could never have been curated by a man. Ig himself was the chimera. He was the real Heinrich playing hurtful tricks. He was the Big Bad Wolf who devoured Enid. The monster who made squeaks and groans in the dark. The jailer of innocents. The pyromancer who immolated my father’s empire and held me down to watch while it burned. And the mad doctor who worked once-living flesh into nightmare.
There was a mouse head sewn to a feline body. Something was part of a beaver, yet mostly a small Pomeranian. These were not works requested by hunters or pet lovers. This was the unseemly graveyard of every small mammal and nearby pet for at least the last fifteen years. A dark, bulky carcass dropped on me from the top shelf.
As it hit me and landed, two small teeth rolled out and into the shadow by the table. It must have been part coyote – a very fat coyote. But the head was wrong. My God, everything was wrong. The head had been reshaped and built to look almost human. It was snoutless with small ears and no teeth other than the loose ones that had escape. Something else fell immediately after it, skittering under the bed. I took a deep breath and reached my hand under the bed skirt. I knew the shape by touch even before I saw what it was. It was a pair of glasses. Black horn-rimmed, thick lensed glasses. Like my father used to wear.
I sat on the floor under the coyote chimera, telling myself not to let the room spin. I finally pushed the creature off me and crawled to the table in search of the teeth. I picked them up carefully. This might be all that is left of a child. This was a murder scene.
I backed into the shelving and an old brown Yahtzee dice cup tumbled out. The man on the cup looked like Arthur. The paper sticker of his likeness had been ridged and warped with moisture and time. A piece of disintegrating masking tape was stuck over the Yahtzee logo. “Dolly Daisy Baby Teeth”.
I held in my hand all that was left of me as a child. Ig’s voodoo had grafted former pieces of my own skeleton on to his abomination. His voice echoed in my head, “Wanna hear ‘em talk?”
I fought vomiting and pried open the single metal drawer within the shelving. I was not ready.
In a small glass container, connected to blue and red wires with long needles, was a finger.
It was an adult, human, male index finger. There was dark hair on the knuckles. The wires ran into an old, corroded battery cell. The finger was livid, purple and grey.
Louis had silently found me after his shower, dripping water on the carpet. I heard his gasp. “Oh. Oooooh.” I turned to see his face full of sorrow and shadow. “You found it.”
I could not respond. He put his three-fingered right hand on my shoulder gently.
“The Man took it. YOU found it.”
Just then the finger, as if recognizing its owner, jerked.
- In the Dust
I could not tell if I was truly crying. It felt more like my face was leaking – the way fear causes our eyes to water. I could not tell if I was crying because of all the loss and pain vibrating in this room. I was not able to move at first, just sit and stare at Louis, bare and dripping.
His blue eyes mapped the room, recording histories of pain. He knelt and picked up the old Yahtzee cup that once held my baby teeth. He offered it to me, “Yours. The Man stole from us.”
“Yes.” I was shaking.
His hands cradled my face. “Look at me.”
And I did. The odd blue light threw shadows over his bare skin. He was so pale. A beautiful man. A kind and gentle man. His wet hair was swept back and I could see all of his face. I had read somewhere long ago that every person has an evil side to their face and an angelic side. But there was no evil in him. Even in his glacial eye, stretched wide by scarring, there was only tenderness.
I followed the curve of his jaw, the hard, broad shoulders. I had seen beauty in art. I had seen bodies in books. I knew what men were supposed to look like, the ideal, the norm, the divine ratio and adherence to natural design. Vitruvian man and rolling images from Michelangelo’s sculptures. The perfection of David and a dissection of Hugo’s Quasimodo.
His hip bones, solid and defined, edged planes set high above muscled thigh. He was right in all things that prove beauty. The perfection of man, and perfection itself. At somewhere in my heart, I feared him. I truly knew nothing of him. And yet, there was no other choice but to love him.
I reached out, touching the red star burst scar on his chest, cool and white. As his heart quickened, my body folded into his arms. I sank.
“Out of here.” He whispered.
He carried me. I felt the floor go out from under me and the upswing of his forearm under my knees. My eyes closed and my head fell against his heart. We were gliding down the hallway toward blue sanctuary. Then, I was lying on Louis’s small bed.
My burnt angel was kneeling in the corner, watching me.
“No. Please don’t be far away. Please.”
He lay down, chest against my back, arms around mine. I took his damaged hand and kissed it. I pressed my lips against the knuckle where his index finger was missing.
“I am so sorry about your finger. How? How did the man take it?”
“No. Dolly.” He smoothed my hair back and kissed my temple.
“No answers, then.”
“Better not. No answers. Be still.” He smiled. “It’s our cloud.”
So, we lay together, pushing back the horror and dread. I felt gutted, tired and incredibly wakeful. My deus ex machina, the divine creature who carried me from the torture chamber, was right here. Naked, touching, unquestioning. And there were no answers, but connection.
When he breathed, little lightning shocks passed between our bodies. I sat up, away from him.
“My clothes smell like…that room.”
He nodded. I started pulling my shirt over my head, but he put his hand out. I thought he was stopping me. I thought somehow he could hear that screaming spark in the back of my head, that mad missing piece of logic and the damnation of “What if?”
But he was helping me. He slowly and methodically undressed me.
This time, I lay facing him. And let his eyes find any beauty in me that they could.
Now I was a living thing, and his hands moved softly over my back and hips. And he kissed me and I rolled up on him. And I left behind any idea of a name, either for him or for myself. Every time we moved together, it drove out fear. It destroyed pain.
We were one creature, in the rays of early dusk, affirming life.
I should have heard Enid’s voice coming down the hallway, but I was still in my cloud of bliss. My head felt full of cotton, my limbs heavy with spent desire. If I moved, the moment would change, the warmth would be gone. Louis might disappear.
I opened my eyes, wondering at a star shaped mole on his nape. I was unable to gauge time or logic because it did not exist for me outside this bed.
Enid burst in, “Dahlia, have you seen Ig- for God’s sake! Lock the door!” She looked away. “I didn’t know you were ENTERTAINING!”
I sat up groggily. “Well, I guess I am. Or I was.” I nudged Louis. “Was that entertaining?”
“Todd says it was.”
“Jesus! I’m looking for Ig!”
“Well, he’s not here.”
She just stood there, not looking. “Enid, Todd. Todd, Enid.”
Louis sat up, oblivious to his own nakedness. He smiled at her through the long hair covering his face. “Tahd.” He mumbled.
“For Chrissakes!’ She stormed out.
I felt a deep laughter grow within me. Louis looked at me confused. “Tahd?”
“I made it up. Besides, if I told her your name was Louis, I think her eyeballs would shoot out of her head.“
He laughed. “Is she mad?”
“No, not really. She’s probably relieved to find out I’m not a robot. Not perfect.”
“I’m not perfect.” His face grew serious.
“But you are. You are who I want in my life. I want a new life. Far from here. What do you want?”
“Peanut butter.” He said. “Dolly. Hot showers. Books. A cat. What do you want?”
“Okay. I really just want to be happy. Boring would be okay. No drama or mean people. Happy and boring.”
“Boring. I am boring.” He smiled.
“You are the furthest from boring.” I kissed his forehead. “But we need to get up now. We have to let the man out-“
“I have to deal with him. And I have to deal with her. I have to show her what he has done. She doesn’t know. She loves him.”
He looked confused.
“Enid loves him. I have tried to tell her before. But now I can show her.”
I pulled on my clothes and went after Enid. She was perched on the turquoise chaise dialing 911.
“Put the phone down. I know where he is.”
“Well, that’s just great! Now that you and Todd are all satisfied…” She slammed the phone down and threw her hands up.
“Pay attention, Enid. Or I won’t tell you.”
She raised her hand. “All your miserable life–“
“I will not tell you. Pay attention.”
Just then, Louis, still naked, appeared behind me in silent solidarity.
“YOU! What have you done with him?!” Enid lunged at him. He backed away.
I put my hand on his shoulder. “Stand your ground.” I said softly.
I raised his large hand up in front of her red, pinched face. “How many fingers, Enid?”
“What?! What do you mean?”
“How many fingers? Simple question.”
“Four.” I slapped her.
“Open your damn eyes. Try again! Don’t make me muss up your hairdo.”
She blinked, assessing Louis’s hand. “Three.” She shook off my slap. “Todd has three fingers.”
“Good. Now I’m going to show you where number four is.”
“Why would I care?”
“You want to find Ig? The real Ig?”
I corralled her thin shoulders and physically moved her toward the slaughter room. Toward the closet. She was too confused to grasp that I was moving her. Her little bird body was so light. But she clawed and fought at the doorjamb. “This is private! I can’t!”
“In!” I shoved her inside. She tripped on one of the carcasses and her left hand landed on Arthur’s glasses.
“This is private!” Her hands clutched her hair.
I gently helped her up and led her by the elbow to the metal drawer. I gave it a kick. There was a spark as the galvanic battery arced and the mummified finger twitched.
“It’s been there a very long time, Enid. Maybe longer than I have been away. But definitely as long as you have been in this house alone with him.”
She blanched and then dropped. Fully out, unconscious. Her face relaxed, her hands stopped clenching. She lay amid the shattered bodies of Ig’s dark imagination. Louis hung back in the doorway.
“Honestly, Louis. I was almost expecting a fight. I’m sorry my boyfriend hurt your boyfriend and all that. But maybe now when she wakes up, she’ll really wake up.”
He lumbered forward and picked Enid up like a rag doll. “Some place safe?”
He wouldn’t leave her there. We carried her to her bed, took off her shoes and covered her up.
“You need to put some clothes on.“ I threw him a pair of Ig’s sweat pants.
He laughed, “Todd has three fingers.”
“Yes. Yes, you do. And a giant schlong that scared Enid so much that she passed out. Gee, thanks Tahd!” His white face flushed, but he grinned.
“Dolly, we need a snack.”
“Boring peanut butter?”
“On boring bread.” Said the three-fingered love of my life.
- Maybe I’m Just Like My Mother – She’s Never Satisfied
I sat against the wall by the stove and Louis lay with his head in my lap, lazily chewing white bread and peanut butter.
I smiled down at him. I couldn’t help it. “Happy?”
“Goommd.” We both laughed.
“Actually, this is cheapshit peanut butter. It’s not great. When I lived with Gerd, she would buy this organic stuff from the Geneva markets. It had a ribbon of chocolate in it. Freaking amazing.”
“Dad’s sister, Gerda Victoria Grimwalt. She died when I was thirteen. She took care of me for a while.”
“Did the Man kill her?” Louis’s wide eyes looked up at me.
“God, no. I think Ig was afraid of her. She had a weird form of cancer. Gerd was a tough lady, smart and funny. I always wanted to be like her.”
“Pretty.” He reached up and brushed a strand of hair from my face.
“She was beautiful. Enid always said she was fat, but she was like this soft cloud of love wrapped around a hard center of common sense. By the time I met her, her hair had all fallen out. It didn’t matter to me. She wore these gorgeous head scarves and carried this giant purple purse. It seemed like whatever I needed was always in that purse.”
That was true. Losing Gerd had hurt me more profoundly than any other loss. I still held that image in my mind of Arthur and Louis climbing up away from the fire. To everyone else, it had been dismissed as childhood nightmare, hallucination in panic. To me, it was still accepted fact. But Gerd was really gone. She was a small box of ash sitting in a secret divot in Mont Blanc. I had put her where she wished, in her most favorite place. And I had never once doubted her realness or her love for me.
And there it was – the lessons of self-made women.
What I found out after Aunt Gerd died was the real shock. Men in expensive suits showed up at her home. At first, they requested meetings with me politely. Then they started demanding and threatening. I woke up one morning to find a living mummy standing over me.
The figure was bent, sloped to the right. What I could see of his body was bound tightly with gauze and beige wrappings. Over this, he was impeccably dressed in an Armani suit, Fedora perched on his unseemly head. As he extended his gloved hand toward me, a splint revealed itself from under his sleeve. He was a scarecrow, limbs bound to a wooden structure to hold him together. Just above his razor like cheekbones, two deep set eyes like burning coals, glared at me greedily. A loose flap of smooth skin hung over the neck bandage like a lizard’s dewlap as if it wanted to escape the rest of him. It wobbled as the mummy opened its mouth to speak.
I had screamed at reached for the phone to call the police. But the police captain and several gendarmes were standing with him.
“Please let Mr. Arjona speak.” Said the captain.
The mummy, an ancient man of well over a hundred named Felix Arjona, moved his beef jerky lips.
“Ms. Dahlia Grimwalt. Your dear aunt was working for me.” His accent was Spanish, gravelly Spanish spoken through dust and time. “Would you know anything about your aunt’s work?”
“No, I don’t know anything.” I sat up, pulling the covers around myself.
“Do I frighten you? I mean you know harm. I am just in need of an answer. You see, Ms. Dahlia, Gerda had not found an answer for me yet. I know she was close. It would behoove you to tell me anything you might know. Maybe where she kept her books or anything?” He reached forward to place a hand on my forearm, but I shrunk back. Before the mummy could even make contact with my skin, little needles of electricity shot through my body.
“All the books are in the library. All the ones I know about.”
I suddenly felt dizzy, like my head was full of sawdust. The lights in my room grew dim and flickered. My eyes were locked with the reddish black eyes of the speaking mummy. He was glaring at my forehead, raking a trowel through my memory. IT felt like all the blood in my body was being pulled through my skin. Felix Arjona was an ancient dark vortex, sucking the life out of the room, out of the gendarmes, out of me.
Then it stopped.
“The girl doesn’t know anything.” Felix said to the captain. “I am sorry to have disturbed you, Ms. Dahlia. I will trouble you no more.”
I dropped back on my bed, exhausted. I slept deeply and awoke wondering if it had been a nightmare. I never saw them again. Aunt Gerd had lived another life, away from our time together. By the time I came to live with her, she was a dying recluse.
Gerda Grimwalt had been a self-proclaimed alchemist. She was a member of several secret societies, a female mason, a favorite of occultists. Wanda the Witch for Real. In her twenties, she began combining parts and theories of different methods of divination. Kabbalah, tarot, mediumship and alchemy -she worked with heavy metals. Her methods had appeared to heal a few wealthy people.
The ridiculously rich and old Felix Arjona had noticed her talents. Gerda was unafraid. She would mix her own blood and mercury and some particle of spirit. And just maybe she could keep him alive. Maybe Mr. Felix Arjona, petrified of death, desperate to push Hell even further away, would live forever.
So, young Gerda took his money, convinced of her own abilities. And she researched and read, pulling in bits of ritual and pieces of legend. She experimented and charted stars. Every three months, she would inject Mr. Arjona with a serum, and at his insistence inject herself as well. He would speak to her, in his death rattle voice, about eternity alone is no fun.
And by her fortieth birthday, her own alchemy had leached into her bones. Her hair began falling out. Her conviction in magic and her faith in just about everything shattered. Mr. Arjona still paid her. And she kept going. Even when she knew the mummy would outlive her.
And yet, she had shown up to save me. Broken as she was, Aunt Gerd was my miracle. Her beautiful human heart had survived all the poison and decay. Despite her choices, she was capable of great love.
I carried the bloodline of two women, Enid and Getrude. Both ambitious and self-made. Both blind to the dangers and risks of power and excess.
I came from them, but I would not be like them.
I put the lid on the cheap peanut butter. I leaned down and kissed Louis, wiping off traces of it from his lips. He kissed back.
The more I touched him, looked at him, was around him, the more I was convinced he did not share my blood. There was no Enid in him and no Arthur either.
I was hungry for him, aching for the lost years of his life. I would no longer question his origins or the dark spaces he kept from me. We were together now.
I could not take back the pain or cruelty inflicted on him, but I could love him from now on. How arrogant of me, wanting to fix him. He was already perfect. I was the monster – made of parts from flawed, selfish people.
He kissed me again deeply, holding my face between his hands.
All I wanted was right here.
- Seven of Cups
It was so quiet. We lay there on the kitchen floor, spent and happy. The first moment I could ever remember being happy in Grimwalt Place. It was dark. Hours had passed since we put Enid in her room, since we had peanut butter kisses and made love on the bare tile floor and stopped listening. Stopped thinking.
Louis made me forget. That’s the danger of love. It clogs your senses with bliss. It masks any risk or ugliness with pleasure. It’s the Seven of Cups – the false Grail. Aunt Gerda had taught me Tarot. The Death card was only change – transformative change. But the Seven of Cups was the real death card. It’s an omen that all your illusions must fall away and you are left to despair. That which you believe is yours abandons you, is taken from you.
I was wakeful now. Aware of the mad gap of silence just before a coming storm. Brief bursts of lightning affirmed familiar shadows around us. Thunder followed, angry gods stamping their feet. The hairs on my arms prickled. I woke Louis.
Suddenly, I heard the splintering of wood, the flat metal bang of broken hinges.
Ig was out.
We pulled on our clothes and sat still, trying not to breathe. The hallway lights flipped on.
“Oh, you creeps!” he bellowed. “You dirty, dirty creeeeeeeps! Haha! I found your little hammer! I found it! Oh yes!” He lumbered toward the hall, his steps weighted by rage. “I’ll find you! Girl creep and her filthy gimp!”
My mind was racing for anything in reach to defend ourselves, kitchen knives, rolling pin…I had left the axe in my old bedroom when we moved Enid. My old bedroom, the slaughterhouse, the Cabinet of Dr. Ignatio Ormonza. The Death Hole that had once been an illusion of safety and innocence, the façade of my childhood.
Ig’s footsteps turned the other way, toward the end of the hall. I could see his contorted face in my mind’s eye. Pandora’s box was flung wide. His life’s secret work of torture and mutilation, handiwork of twisted nightmare, all exposed and brought into the light.
“Ah! Ah!” Ig’s high-pitched voice echoed. “Ah! You’re dead now, Girl Creep! You are finally dead!”
“We have to get outside.” I whispered to Louis. “We have to get out now!”
We navigated around the cabinets and across the open space, heading toward the sliding door. Just as we crossed the threshold into sheeting rain, Ig appeared around the corner.
Ignatio Ormonza, a grimy, rabid wolf, in his soiled flamingo underwear, black dress socks, and patent leather shoes, wispy hair drawn wild by static, eyes black and shining, raised his cattle prod above his head and grinned.
“This is for you, Girly Girl Creep!”
He lunged forward, but Louis pushed me into the wet grass and stepped between us.
“That’s okay, Gimp!” Ig brandished the cattle prod. “Remember your old friend?!”
My guts sank and I knew immediately where Louis had gotten his starburst scar. I pushed myself up from the grass, moving toward them. I had to put myself between my love and The Man.
As I dove toward him, Louis pushed me back again harder. “Stay there!” I landed on my face this time, my head grazing the doorjamb on the way down.
Ig lurched forward. Louis grabbed Ig’s head and flung him against the sliding glass door. At the same time, the cattle prod connected with the Louis’s heart.
His pale body convulsed and fell backward next to me. He lay motionless, glacial blue eyes wide, mouth open filling with rain. Death – the true death and despair – my burnt angel, my love, my hope. Lightning arced, illuminating his face, burning in my brain and freezing my heart into stone.
- The Hand of Death, The Finger of Life
Ig moaned, staggering toward me. Blood from the gash on his forehead dripped into his eyes, mixing with pelting rain. He could not see me clearly. I scooted back across the grass, away from Louis’s body, staying just out of his reach.
“Ooooh Girl Creep, you are DONE! DONE!” He gripped the cattle prod, using it to drag himself along, but it had come unplugged. Even if he reached me, there was no charge.
“Who’s coming to save you this time? No one! Your gimp is a dead doornail! HA!”
Clunk. “Umph!” Ig fell face first onto the patio cement.
Enid swung and connected. When I looked up, she was holding the hot pink Venus de Milo by the neck like a ball bat. Her face was blank, purple from crying, makeup running and crusting. Her teased hair and extensions, destroyed by the storm, hung thin around her gaunt face like an orange fringe. She did not make eye contact with me. Instead, she gazed at Louis’s motionless body.
“What are you waiting for, Dahlia?” She dropped the statue. “Go get the fucking battery.”
My mother was awake. My mother was finally protecting me.
I scrambled into the house, leaving mud and blood all over her carpets. I tore down the hallway and into the slaughterhouse. I grabbed a blanket and yanked the galvanic battery from Louis’s finger. I almost tossed the finger to the side, but I slipped it in my pocket.
I moved fast, clumsily hitting the walls, still dizzy. Enid took the battery from me, calmly.
She knelt gently next to Louis. “Okay, Todd. Hang on.”
She shoved one of the pins connected to the battery into his heart. She jammed the other into a hole in the metal railing. Then she gave the battery a hard kick.
“Enid. Please don’t do this to him.”
“Shut up, Dahlia.” She kicked the battery again and again, finally stripping off her shoe and beating at it.
The universe was collapsing in on itself. Grimwalt Place was the House of Usher. We were all mad or dying.
Enid was seething, full of rage and frustration. “Live! Live, Damn you! Fucking Todd!” She picked up the statue and slammed the battery, shattering it. “LIVE!”
And the angry gods heard my mother. A jolt of lightning hit the metal railing arcing to the base of the pin in Louis’s heart. He lit up, blue and white and brilliant. Streams of glorious static in angelic white travelled between his hands and legs and haloed his head. The wet grass around his fingers wavered and swayed.
“YES! YES! YES!” Enid threw her other shoe and jumped up and down.
I watched her in awe, my mouth hung open. Arthur had always called her a force of nature.
The sparks died away, and Louis moved. He groggily sat up and stared at the pin sticking from his heart. Then he slowly raised his eyes to me. “Dolly?”
“Don’t touch it. Just wait. Enid saved you.” I broke a small twig of a dead bush and slid it between his skin and the metal prong.
“Thank God.” Mumbled Enid. Her eyes found mine. “I did something.” She sank down into the wet grass. “I did something, Dahlia.”
- No Good Deed
Enid closed her eyes. Running mascara made her look like a tiny, exhausted racoon. Her eyebrows had washed away. Lipstick long gone. The skin between her cheekbone and jaw was tight and delicate. I had been very wrong about Enid. She had set her teeth against the world and fought for what she wanted. She won most of the time, but only temporarily.
Arthur abandoned her. I was against her for as long as I could remember – or at the very least we were never close. Louis was – well the small, scared boy with black hair and eyes like blue ice was lost to both of us. And now Ignatio had proven to be the monster that she could no longer keep in the closet. Enid was now the one thing that she always feared she would be – alone.
Louis stood up stiffly, still twitching a bit. He pulled the wet lanks of hair hastily away from his face. Steam rose in visible rays from the hole in his chest. The rain slowed to a gentle mist. He put his arms out wide and threw his head back.
“Welp. Todd’s alive. But I wouldn’t hug him just yet.” Enid brought a damp cigarette out and then a lighter.
“NO!” I knocked it away from her. “The spark.”
She nodded. I put my arms around her. “Let’s get you inside, Mom.”
As I lifted her, the sound of rattling metal on concrete split the darkness.
Ignatio lurched forward, dragging one leg behind him. One eye was swollen shut and a purple, egg-sized lump throbbed on the side of his head. The left side of his face sagged. He gripped the small axe in his bleeding fist. He was moving unnaturally fast.
“Yuh dunn grllll!” He swung the axe wildly toward us. The whoosh of the axe cut the air in front of my face.
“Louis!” I screamed. “Looouuuiiiis!”
“What the hell, Dahli-“ Enid was cut short. The backswing of the axe had caught her in full the face. Her wide, glassy eyes stared into mine. Her body slumped against me, so light, like a pillow full of hollow bird bones.
“No no no no, Mooom! Enid. Enid.” But the life had gone from her. “Loooouuuiiiiissss!”
Ig swung again and hit her in the chest, knocking her out of my arms. And he kept swinging as I backed away. His contorted face, looped by shadows, reflected by the blade of the axe, was stretched into a smile. He was Heinrich the German Ghost come to life.
Ig flailed and swayed, a demon windmill hell bent on ending my life. His elbow caught me in the chest, knocking the wind out of me. I gasped and sprawled back, digging in my heels and pushing away from him.
He punched my knee right below my scar. Darts of pain shot through my leg and hip. I fell flat, throwing my arms up to cover my face. I was dead. I knew I was dead. “Louis.” I whispered.
A dull, wet thud came from overhead. Then Ig fell on me full force.
I shut my eyes. It was the night of the fire all over again. Ig laying on me so I couldn’t move. The smell of burnt metal and sulfur and dying grass. In my mind, I saw the flames shooting from Arthur’s workshop. I knew that they were coming out – Arthur and Louis. Dad’s silhouette hand in hand with little Louis taking him to safety. I squeezed my eyelids together, wanting to leave my body trapped under Ig. If I was dead, I would go to them. I waited for their shadows, but this time they never came.
“Dolly.” Louis’s voice came to me through heavy cotton and fog.
I came back into my body, into my brain, in the present moment.
I was not dead.
Ig’s destroyed face lay against my cheek, a discarded rubber mask of the Big Bad Wolf. The left side of his mustache drew an oily, inky line across my field of vision. He was heavy. I suddenly needed to vomit.
Louis kicked Ig off me and his sandbag body rolled until he was laying prone, gaping up at the moonless night.
Next to Ig’s body lay the shattered remnants of the screaming orange lawn jockey. A fragment of the narrow, boyish face was smiling at him.
“I’m alive.” I sat up, blinking. “Are you alive? My Louis, are you alive?”
“Yes.” He knelt next to me. “Alive.”
I sucked in air, trying to breathe in the whole night. I pressed my feet hard into the muddy earth. It felt cold and real. My feet and hands tingled.
I put out my hand to Louis. Static arced between our palms. Every place I touched him, fiery little shocks jumped between us. I kissed him and tiny jolts of lightning ran through my heart and brain.
Grimwalt Place was finally free of monsters.
We hung from the crowd until the observation deck was clear. I wiped the hot cocoa from Louis’s top lip and he kissed my fingers. A few people on the train had stared at him, probably inventing stories about his scars. But those people didn’t know us or his beauty. They knew nothing of love.
As the sunset flooded the mountain with purples and oranges, we stood on the furthest outcropping. I breathed in, raising my arms like Aunt Gerd.
I knelt in the far corner and ran my hand along the underside of rock and ice. I found the gap, then the recess. Reaching as far as I could, I pulled out the rusted iron box.
I had placed it here when I was thirteen, the year Gerd died. Once she was gone, no one would stay at her house with me. Somehow the idea of a dead witch was much worse than a living one. After Felix Arjona showed up, I had to hide her ashes. And I could think of no other place.
Gerd knew the magic of this place. The Sea of Ice – where everything stands still, where magic is real and yet no harm can be done.
Gerd was ash and gravel and sealed tight in a pretty urn. The plastic bag next to her contained her alchemy diary, the priceless workings of her occult knowledge.
Folded inside the diary, were my father’s letters. I had never read them because I wanted Arthur and Gerd to be together somehow. At least for a while. With his science and her magic, maybe they could find a way through time and distance and death.
But now it was my turn. Monsters had all been slain so that I could stand here with my love, my Louis. The house in Geneva was ours now, sparse and clean and nothing like Grimwalt Place.
“What do you think of the view, Louis.”
His arms encircled me. “It’s boring.”
“Isn’t that what you wanted?” he smiled. “Boring?”
“Yes. Boring Sea of Glass. Boring Life. Boring Louis!”
He tilted his head at me, dark hair falling over his eye.
“Boris.” He said quietly.
“Well then. Boris it is.”
Appendix: The letters of Arthur Grimwalt
She’s here! This little red, squirmy monster of mine! I know I am supposed to feel paternal and gushy. I made her and Enid made her beautiful. She does not squawk or bawl so much – just looks at me with her wide, grey eyes expecting me to do something. I am just chuffed with pride to have a hand in making this little thing.
I can only tell you, Gerd, there is a something I can’t make sense of. Maybe it’s that sense of mortality any man feels when he sees his offspring. Life does move forward without us. Maybe it’s the feeling that Enid won’t be the best mam. She’s all about formula and letting the Little wail on her own at night. Progressive parenting, she says. I don’t agree. I won’t fight her on it because I can’t bring myself to pick up the Little either.
It’s wrong to make a creature and abandon it – that old chestnut!
Enid wants to name her Garnet or Ruby (like Opal, I guess).
But I watch this little thing. She is quiet and opens up like a flower – pink-white arms and legs and those eyes of dark grey taking in the world. Like a Dahlia flower. There is all light and angels in her hands and feet and yet something dark in her very middle.
You know those old pictures we had of crazy Uncle Victor? The ones we used to scare each other with? Oh, how you would chase me telling me that he would jump out of the picture and drag me away! I used to actually feel it, you know. That fear of the darkness all contained in the white edges of his photograph.
That’s the Little.
I hope to God she inherits her brain from Enid as well as her looks. Enid is a survivor, if nothing else.
Hope this finds you, Dear Gerd.
Love from your crazy Grimwalt sibling,
The Dahlia (Dolly Daisy) is walking about on her own! I am told this is early because she is not yet 10 months old. She is mighty and determined. She does not cry for things, but rather goes and gets them for herself. Maybe she does have Enid’s brain after all!
She is a pretty thing – intelligent and inquisitive. I am told she is supposed to babble, but she does not. She watches our mouths when we speak and I just know she is grasping every word.
Enid insists that I do “Father Time” now and the Little often comes to the workshop with me. I prattle on as I work, and she seems interested. I am less nervous around her when I focus on the other creatures I made. Haha!
I was working on Heinrich’s face and she reached out and slapped it! Seems he is not a favorite of anyone but me.
I smile and she smiles back, but sometimes I wish Enid would play with her. I don’t think Enid feels things the way we do though. She’s oblivious to darkness of any kind. Just charges ahead. She may leave me and Dolly in the dust yet.
I’m going to start sending you some money to put away for the Little. You’re a gem, Gerd. I wish you could meet her – I wish you were well enough to travel. If just to tell me I was crazy for all the things I think about my wife and this tiny girl creature.
I have to keep my hands busy with work! Idleness brings darkness.
I am in the dark cave now. Please write back or call and pull me out.
I’ve not slept a lot. I stay in the workshop most nights. I putter until I drop. I have my friends – the friends I made from wood and metal hinges. Sometimes, Enid brings out the Little. Dolly is talking now and asks me forever questions.
But I cannot bear to be around anyone else. Enid least of all. She is cloying and perfumed and less real than her puppet counterpart to me. I keep the Opal doll covered up with a sheet. My wife. The co-creator of the Little. I cannot endure her touch. I do not want to breathe her air. I have done my husbandly chores and given her a home and spending money and a ring and a child. And a third last name. She is so lovely and she repulses me.
The other day, Dolly grabbed my arm and I jerked away. I let her fall and she cut her knee. Somehow, I felt victimized by her touch. This little thing! I picked her up and cleaned the cut and bandaged it. She did not cry, but watched.
“What’s under that?” she said. “Pop, what’s under skin?”
“Why…it’s muscle, then bone and fascia holds it all together.”
“Fah-sha.” She tilted her little head! I nodded.
My world is very small, Gerd.
Enid and the producers have put me in a situation. They want children puppets. One of them spied Dahlia and thinks it would be genius. It’s folly. I already have the double darkness with Enid and Opal. I am in awe of the Dolly Daisy, but I can’t bring myself to make another of her. Her eyes already stare too much.
And they want a girl AND a boy! Can you imagine? It’s the only way to more episodes and then syndication. Enid keeps pressing me. She tries to seduce me and says maybe we should make a real boy. Then laughs her coy, grating laugh.
I cannot be seduced. I am already molested and trapped and afraid and very tired.
I have made the skeletons of the children. I pretend to work on them for show, but I just sit and weep when I try to do more. There is something wrong about all this.
I love you, my dear Gerd. My real family.
She brought him home today. He is tiny and squalls quite a bit more than Dolly. Oh, she is mad about him already. She says his name is Louis, although Enid and I had not quite decided yet. I guess everyone got a girl and boy after all. I can’t tell you from whence he sprung.
I know Enid needed him to be. But I live out in my workshop. And I have forbidden her to come here. She started coming at night, leaving Dolly all alone at the house. She’d try to make me drink, but I can’t. I need the focus. There are people at the house all the time now and I don’t know them.
I had to put my foot down. She must not leave Dolly alone with them.
And now the boy shows up. As if by her sheer will, Enid brought him into flesh. He did not grow in her body and he is not of my blood. Gerd, I shake sometimes because I am so angry and so afraid of what Enid may have done? Where did she get this child?
He has a great head of dark hair and the palest blue eyes. He looks around the world with a red furrowed brow and fusses.
I guess I know what colors to paint the boy puppet now.
I tried to show them to Dolly, but she wants no part of them. I thought little girls liked dolls that looked like them, but my Dolly (the real one) is not most girls. She said, “Put away my ghost, Pop.” So, I hide it when she is with me. She gets my heart, that one.
You get the rest of it, my Gerd.
Louis’s room must be blue. He must have books and a stuffed dog. He must have formula and crushed banana. And strangers must not touch him!
Dolly is a fearless dictator!
Enid has had three nannies leave now because Miss Dolly is running the show!
The parties have slowed to a crawl at the house. Less strangers. Only one or two hangers-on now. Dorothy, some lady friend of Enid’s, brought her mysterious Avon bag of samples and never left. And some rude fellow named Egg who is supposed to be gardening for her.
The worst Dorothy could do is put purple lipstick on my daughter. But this Egg fellow – well he is a Bad Egg.
I sit out here most nights and talk to Gordy about what must be done. If it were only my life, Gerd, I would fly to you and disappear. But there is Enid and there is the Little and now there is this boy thing. Seems I made more monsters than I ever cared to.
If I were gone, would it all go away too? Ah, but my heart breaks for Miss Dolly Daisy.
I have created a mess for my daughter.
I am in Hell, Gerd.
I’ve set up a regular wire transfer for Dolly Daisy. It will come to you the 14th of every month. I know you are unwell, but you must come get her soon.
I’ve destroyed the puppet children. And Opal – put her through a wood chipper. Poor Gordy looks at me sometimes very sadly and I can’t even tell him why. Why was he not enough of a friend for me?
They did a horrible thing, Gerd. Made plastic dolls out of my puppets to sell. Larry Reising, that filthy pig from the network showed up at the house with them. God, they are crass and cheap and ugly. I tried to get them to see that wood was once living, clay is natural, my friends are made with love and a bit of soul. And Larry – he lays out this tiny army of shit-made bits of plastic with crude ugly faces. “Merch” he calls it. Already done. I had no say in it. Enid signed it all away. For bits of shit plastic! Greedy woman!
Monsters beget monsters and she collects a fat check. “Merch.”
I am done, Gerd.
This is my last letter. Come get my girl.
My friends are all gone now, I have dispatched them with an axe. I spent a lot of time making them, fixing them, giving them a voice and a bit of soul. Dolly Daisy always says, “I wanna hear ‘em talk!”
I have been telling her lately that they need rest. They need silence.
Wanda is buried outside the window next to Louis’s room.
Heinrich is still in one piece, but he was never really a friend, now was he?
And yet he is helping me. Heinrich – the shiny ghost with all of his resin and his terribly flammable nature.
Tonight, this will end.
I love you, Gerda, my most magical sister.
If they find any piece of me, bury it with you.
Arthur J. Grimwalt”