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‘Who











































Copyright © 2017 by Victor Bade



All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher or author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.









































VERSE I: The base



Mrs. Jameson turned on the ceiling bulb and stepped into the garage.


She noticed that the place had gotten unusually dusty over the week. She had told Jenna, long ago, not to bother cleaning the garage (except for the car) unless she had actually done something major and messy in there. She didn’t actually use it much; thus, she had one day looked at Jenna and thought she was being too fussy with her cleaning routine and told her not to bother so much. Besides, it caused her to stay longer in the house than was necessary. And Mrs. Jameson was someone who liked privacy.


Still, she couldn’t help wondering why the place was more dusty than usual. Then she suddenly remembered the gale that had passed their neighborhood four days ago.



She had being sleeping that afternoon when it came,


Before she was awakened


By the sound of the pantry door


Beating heavily against its frame.



She remembered peering through the window of the living room at the empty street and watching, for some time, the spirally dusty currents sweeping along the neighborhood before she went back to bed feeling rather good about the wind. It had brought a cool and refreshing atmosphere of a bleak kind of serenity for her. An empty, grey atmosphere momentarily free of the annoying perks of everyday life. And, as she snuggled back into bed, the continuous flowing melody of the wind had soothed her like a lullaby.


Now, she was stooping over a wooden cabinet next to the wall at the right side of the door, looking through the items in it, shifting them aside and lifting things up, including the fusty books and magazines that were there. “Where the hell did she put it?” she muttered to herself. “I could have sworn it was here the last time I looked at this place.”


She caught sight of a magazine that lay in the pile in the large cardboard box next to the cabinet. It was one of the topmost ones and was partially covered by two other magazines that were above it. She bent down to pick it up and straightened back up. Her wrinkled face creased into a smile as she dusted it and stared at the front cover.


This was the last edition of Bantam magazine she had bought, which she had dumped here in annoyance and frustration almost five months ago because she had not seen the poem she had sent to them. Still smiling, she flicked through the pages, looking through the articles and ads while debating something in her mind.


When she got to page seventeen, she read a section of The Dog in All of Us, a nice little article about stray dogs she had read long ago and had almost forgotten about. She herself used to have a dog, a delightful scruffy St Bernard that had died seven years ago from accidental food poisoning. She had been too heartbroken to get another dog. (Or maybe the real reason she had not done so was because Bebo had always gotten jealous for her whenever he saw her with another dog; and, thus, she had decided to stay faithful to him by not getting another one. Who knows?)


Strangely enough, it made her feel like he was still there with her. She still had his pictures, and even the collars he used to wear, inside the house.


Yet, she had seriously contemplated getting a new dog after reading the article. But she had ended up instead donating some money to a foundation for homeless dogs.


She tossed the magazine back unto the pile, deciding that it was better that her poem had not been published. Then she crossed over to the other side of the garage where the custom-made shelves were and proceeded to search through them, again lifting and moving things around – cans, toolboxes, old newspapers, and so on.


Still not seeing the thing she was looking for, she stopped and turned to look around the garage. Her gaze eventually fixed upon the SUV that was standing about ten feet from her.


Could it be inside there somehow? Perhaps I had put it there and forgotten.


She knew that Jenna couldn’t possibly have taken it out of the garage; she had nothing to do with it. There are already better and more conventional ones inside the house - and even here in the garage, she thought. There is no reason for her to take this one. Yet, she couldn’t think what she herself could have taken it into her car for. It didn’t make sense.


Then suddenly, she caught sight of a small sliver of wood that was sticking out from behind a box next to the wall a couple of feet from her. She had previously ignored the box and not bothered to search it since it was full of bottled water. She walked over, bent down and pulled it forward and saw, to her delight, that she had finally found what she was looking for, lying behind that box all along.


She picked up the wooden-handled feather duster and straightened back up, looking at it, beaming and sighing in relief. Apparently, it must have fallen from the shelf accidentally. She flicked it and blew on it to rid the feathers off the dust on them.


She had had it in mind to use a paintbrush to serve her purpose if she did not find this feather duster. But she was glad she had found it for she considered it the most ideal thing to use for what she intended.


She turned and slowly walked back into the house, closing the garage door behind her.



***



The house was a medium-sized, four-bedroom bungalow (even though she was the only one who lived there), just like all the other houses on the street. The lack of an upstairs suited her quite well, especially at her age of sixty nine (nearly seventy). No need to be exerting herself going up and down constantly. She had had almost five decades of that, having spent most of her life living in the conventional duplexes of Hudson and Madesco.


She crossed the entry room, which was designed to lead into the house from the garage rather than the front door.


As she slowly walked past the empty chairs in the entry room, she began to playfully recite in her mind the strange poem she had sent six months ago, which she had titled: ‘Who’. As she did so, she imagined there was an audience of invisible people sitting in the chairs, listening to the rhyming of her thoughts. Her silent prosodies moved in harmony with the pace of her footsteps.



Knock knock knock


Who’s at the door?



Who’ sees the shape in the loins of the dungeon


Shifting through the aisles that pave the way


Into the depths of a dark morbid day


Whispering into the ears of the man of clay



Who’ feels the breath from the lungs of the dragon


Flowing past the leaves that dance and sway


Cold as a reindeer that has lost its way


And sleeps in a bed that is harder than clay



Who’ lies beneath the waters of the maiden’s tears



She stopped.


She had already passed the entry room and was now standing at the intersection path between the entry room and the corridor. She was looking at the windows of the living room and wondering whether to close them – along with all the other windows of the house - and turn on the air conditioner.


After thinking about it for some moments, she decided to go ahead and close them.


She shut all the living room windows and then turned on the AC. Then she shut the door leading into the entry room. She then proceeded to walk down the corridor, taking her time in the same deliberative and ponderous fashion (ponderous with thought; not any kind of physical hindrance). She decided there was no need to close the other windows in the house. It was enough that all the doors were closed. When she got to the end of the corridor, she turned right and continued until she got to the door leading down to the basement.


Then she opened it and went in.



***



The wooden stairs creaked slightly as she walked down. It was a curved staircase which led into a dimly-lit fairly large room. Her right hand slid gently along the bar while her left hand twiddled playfully the feather-duster it was holding. She was quietly humming a tune that she had heard long ago at an opera house. One that she had rarely thought about since that time. She stopped humming when she reached the foot of the stairway.


There wasn’t all that much in the basement and it was rarely used. Only those things that she knew she was unlikely to need were kept here. The only thing in the room that was actually used regularly was the gas tank that was near one of the corners, though there was rarely any need to operate on it. Along the walls were a couple of scantily-filled shelves with various mostly-old small items in them. Below the shelves, also at the side of the walls, were sparse assortments of larger items: buckets, boxes filled with junk (including old newspapers and magazines), unopened packs containing dog-food, old typewriters, vacuum cleaners, tools, chairs, and a few other items. Some of the stuff she kept around for sentimental reasons. Some she kept for the purpose of selling them or giving away to charity…whenever she found the time.



The rest of the room was fairly bare,


Except for a few buckets and trash cans


Here and there.



Oh yes, and there was one other thing:


Standing at the center of the room was a non-slate pool table which the previous occupants of the house had left when they moved out four years ago but which had hardly been used since then.


On top of the table lay a rather plump, bald man of nearly average height. He was lying face-up. His body was strapped around the table with ropes in a somewhat zigzag fashion. His hands were tied behind his back and he writhed occasionally from the pressure that the weight of his body placed upon his elbows. His feet were tied together. There was a long piece of cloth tied tightly around his open mouth so that he was fixedly biting on it, and his muffled voice could only come across in loud grunts and moans. He was wearing a white undershirt and khaki trousers. His feet were bare.


He had raised his head after hearing the footsteps coming down the stairs, and now he was staring at the woman as she slowly approached him, sweat pouring profusely down his face, his chest heaving up and down as he breathed large gasps of stale air.


Her eyes fixed on his, Mrs. Jameson slowly approached the helpless man with a look on her face that gave off a strange mixture of pain, resolution, anger and regret.


It was a facial expression that the man found incredibly baffling.


She was sort of resting the feather duster in her left hand while holding the wooden handle with her right one. And she was shaking the duster in a vibrating fashion in the menacing manner of a stern teacher about to give a stubborn pupil a little thrashing.


She stopped when she got to the middle of the table. She stood two feet from it, looking down at the man. Then she blasted at him:


Now, are you ready talk?…Uh?…Are you going to tell me what you are doing on my table and how the hell you got here?…Are you?…Uh?”


The man’s face contorted in utter bewilderment. At this point, he knew it was useless to try to say anything because she wouldn’t release his mouth so that he could talk. She didn’t even seem to be aware that he wasn’t able to talk.


Again, he looked helplessly around the room for any windows, only to be reminded that there were none. Then his eyes went back to the feather duster she was holding. The fact that she had returned with a feather duster only seemed to confirm to him what he had earlier suspected: that the woman was stark-raving mad. Yet, he had to feel grateful that at least she had not returned with a knife or anything really harmful.


“Alright,” she said suddenly. “It’s your wish.”


Upon saying that, she moved down towards the other end of the table and stopped just before his feet. Then she began to brush the soles of his feet, to and fro, with the duster.


As she was doing this, she had a bizarre expression on her face that made him turn cold. It was a dumb, pained sort of look. A look that spoke: ‘It pains me to do this, but I have no choice. I just have to.’


But it was particularly the dumbness of the look that caused him to shiver and to begin to wonder if he was even still on planet Earth or if he had been captured by aliens.


Under better circumstances, this so-called ‘torture’ she was carrying out would have been pleasurable, perhaps even somewhat erotic. But there was nothing pleasant about this situation at all. All he could feel was bewilderment and fear.


His mind raced, trying to figure out whether he should feign agony and pretend he was in a state of torture so as to satisfy her delusions, or whether it was actually unnecessary, or perhaps even counterproductive, for him to do so. Regardless, he found it hard to bring himself to engage in any sort of acting. He was simply too flabbergasted to do so.


But then, he suddenly realized that this was a perfect opportunity for him to scream as loudly as he possibly could and hope that his muffled screams would somehow reach someone out there. Thus, he would be killing two birds with one stone, so to speak: he would satisfy her delusions and let her believe she was torturing him, and he would also use it to try to alert people to his predicament.


It was, after all, the only chance he seemed to have. There was no way for him to free himself. If there was, he would have done so by now, for he had spent more than thirty minutes trying. If this batty old lady had done this herself, then she was pretty good. Perhaps she used to be in the army or the scouts or something when she was younger, before she lost her mind. Yet, from all indications, he seemed to be safe; for she seemed rather harmless. But one could never tell with such people. Who knows what she’ll do next when he still doesn’t “talk”?


He opened his stuffed mouth wider than it already was and began to scream aloud.


He broke momentarily and coughed. Apparently, the somewhat pretentious nature of the scream had caused some incoherence and friction in his vocal chords. After coughing, he resumed his screaming, this time gradually feeling it as genuinely as he knew that he was in this precarious and bizarre situation that he was in. He directed his scream towards the staircase hoping that the dull vibrations would bounce and ripple upwards to the main floor of the house and through the walls and windows and into the street where someone would hear it.


Who’ rides above the waves of his deep blue fears


Mrs. Jameson almost cracked a little devilish smile as she struggled to maintain the dumb, agonized expression on her face.


It’s all going according to plan. This guy is absolutely convinced that I’m insane.


Soon, the real fun will begin…


VERSE II: Through the narrow circular path



It was July, summer of 1996. One of those rare summer holidays the kids got to spend in their grandmother’s place, and the first one they were spending with her since she moved to her new house in Belleview.


Mrs. Louise Jameson was not under any illusions and she knew that it was unlikely that she would be seeing them again for a long time. She knew that her daughter, Diane, was merely dutifully coming round to check in on her in her new house. And, of course, it made sense for her to bring the kids along as well. Her son, Stephen, and his family, had come with her to the new house four months earlier when they helped her move in. But she also suspected that it would be a long time before she saw them again.


She was standing on the driveway just next to the lawn with her arms folded, wearing a sunhat to shield her face from the Saturday afternoon sunlight. Diane had just called from a nearby gas station, thereby letting her know they were almost there.


Occasionally, she glanced at the Correster guy two houses down at the opposite side of the road who was washing his car on his own driveway. She didn’t even remember how she knew that their names were ‘the Corresters’. She had only been here four months and had not had much contact with any of the people in the other houses on the street except the ones right next to her on the left. She figured she must have picked it up from them somehow without knowing it.


He was dressed in T-shirt and shorts and was busy soaping up his blue Sedan with lathered water from a large red bucket, and he was wearing sunglasses.


Her heart suddenly skipped a beat when she heard a car coming up the road and she turned to look. But it turned out to be just another one of the neighbors driving back to their house. She began to get really impatient, wondering what was taking so long; after all, the gas station Diane had called from was only a couple of minutes away.


She had just turned to go back into the house to wait when she heard another car horning as it made the intersection and entered the street. Soon, she saw the familiar red jeep that Diane owned coming up the street. Within a minute, the jeep was in her driveway and, soon, its engine stopped.


Two children burst out of the car through the front passenger door and one of the back doors and ran into Louise’s outstretched arms. The older of them was a thirteen year old girl and the other was her ten year old brother. She had not seen them since she visited their place in Auburn almost two years ago.


Sarah reached into the pocket of her shorts and brought out an exotic-looking necklace made up of little oyster shells and handed it to her. She knew that her grandmother liked things like that.


“Where did you get it?” Mrs. Jameson asked, beaming widely.


“I saw it in some Caribbean store two weeks ago,” Sarah replied, beaming back at her.


“It was me who saw it,” Richard said, eying his sister angrily. “I told Sarah about it and, the next day, she went to buy it.”


“See?” Mrs. Jameson said, smiling and tugging his cheeks. “Didn’t I always say you have a sharp eye for things?”


“Okay, come and take your bags.” Diane had just come out of the jeep and was opening the trunk.


As they were getting their bags, Mrs. Jameson looked over at the Correster guy who was in the process of spraying his car with water from a garden hose. He was talking on a cell phone.


Her eyes went to the fountain and then back to the nozzle he was holding. She began to wonder what it would be like if the fountain transformed and started issuing blood, and blood started gushing out of the hose instead of water. She wondered how long it would take before the guy who was absentmindedly rinsing his car realized that he was spraying it with blood.


She chuckled lightly at the thought as she turned to go and open the door for the kids.



***



“So you still have his pictures,” Sarah said, looking at one of Bebo’s framed portraits which were hung on the walls. He was wearing a cute bowtie around his large fluffy neck.


It was more of an expression than an actual question. Of course, it was to be expected that his pictures would be in the new house. She couldn’t help feeling a nostalgic pang of pain and sadness as she looked at it. The last time she had spent with the dog was when they visited their grandmother’s house in Madesco five years ago.


“Yeah, I still keep them around,” Mrs. Jameson replied nonchalantly while laying the dining table.


“Are you ever going to get another one?” Richard asked her.


He was sitting on the couch directly opposite the TV holding a glass of orange juice and looking at another framed picture of Bebo that was on top of the set. He too still had memories of the dog and of playing around with him, as could be seen in one of the pictures on the wall.


“I don’t know,” Mrs. Jameson said. “Probably not.”


“Why?”


“Maybe that was the only dog she liked,” Diane interjected. “Have you considered that? Perhaps she’s just not interested in another one.”


She had offered to get her mother another dog about three and a half years ago, shortly after Bebo had died, because she felt (no, knew) that she needed company, even though she wouldn’t ever admit it. But she had refused, saying it was okay and she didn’t want another one.


“Is that true, grandma?” Richard persisted. He didn’t seem to get his mother’s hint to drop the subject. “Bebo was the only dog you like?”


“I’m sure there are lots of other good dogs out there,” Mrs. Jameson replied. “But I’m just not interested.” Then, after a pause, she said quietly: “My heart was only for Bebo.”


Upon hearing that last utterance her mother just made, Diane couldn’t help but think about her father, Louise’s husband, who had died eighteen years ago, and the fact that her mother, Louise, had remained a widow since then. She certainly didn’t think the last sentence her mum just uttered regarding the dog was the same reason why she hadn’t married again and had largely remained single over the years despite being a very attractive woman. She knew that her parents hadn’t gotten along right up until her dad died. Therefore, Louise not marrying again or getting into another serious relationship couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with “my heart was only for” him.


She had always assumed that her mum had just gotten fed up with marriage and, later, with relationships in general. They had separated two years before he died, though they had not actually divorced. Both Diane and her older brother, Stephen, were in college at the time. They had gotten infuriated with their mum when she refused to attend their dad’s funeral or have anything to do with it. They had felt that no matter how strained the relationship between the two of them may have been, it was a despicable thing to do. Louise herself, for the most part, broke off contact with them as she moved to Madesco with a younger man who she later broke up with.


However, they had come to forgive her when she began to sober down many years later and started reaching out to them after they started having children. In fact, it was Stephen who had found this house for her, feeling that this quiet suburban neighborhood in Belleview would be a much more suitable place for her in her retirement years than the bustling atmosphere of Madesco, and that it would give her a greater peace of mind.


Yet, over the years, they had come to discover certain disturbing traits their mum seemed to have either acquired from nowhere or had largely kept suppressed when they lived with her as kids. And now, as adults, they didn’t feel comfortable about leaving their kids with her. Louise had certain odd habits that bothered them.


For one thing, she had a bad temper, even though she tried to hide it most of the time, especially when she was with the children (though even they occasionally felt her wrath). Sure, she had always being a feisty and tough woman when she was younger. But this was different. It didn’t take much to annoy her, and, in fact, she was often angry, though it was usually more of a general and philosophical kind of anger as opposed to anything that had to do with immediate happenstance. She complained a lot about things…that is, when she wasn’t exuding a menacing quietness, bottling up her frustrations within her, as she often did. She was usually very cynical and expressed irritation about much of contemporary culture, especially regarding arts and politics. One of her pet peeves was the things she felt were abominable changes in culture in recent times, like the kinds of music many people now listened to.


At first, they had thought that it was just a harmless nostalgic irritation that comes with maturity, but then it became clear that this was something quite unique to her. And how could it possibly be senility that was responsible when she wasn’t even yet sixty years old at the time?


It was clear that her cynicism and disgust with much of society had made her deeply misanthropic. And this was the most disturbing aspect of her character. She didn’t even watch TV much except for a few select programs. And she didn’t go out much, except to the store, the library and occasionally to opera houses. (Diane sometimes wondered if her mother’s taste for classical music wasn’t partly based on the fact that it wasn’t popular with most people.)


It’s true that Louise had always been an unusually bright person who wasn’t the type to suffer fools gladly. Yet, they didn’t understand how her general attitude towards life and other people had devolved to this state over the years. And they shirked at the thought of her misanthropic attitudes influencing their children who she liked to spend time with.


In fact, some of her odd traits and personality quirks had actually started to manifest in some of their children.


For example, some time ago, Stephen’s youngest daughter, Alice, who was Louise’s favorite grandchild among Stephen’s kids, developed a curious habit of deliberately avoiding popular films and soon practically stopped watching TV altogether, only tuning in on rare occasions for specific wildlife programs and documentaries. She also shunned popular books and narrowed her reading to obscure (usually foreign) literature. At first, to many parents, such a general distaste in movies or TV, on the part of their twelve-year old, might seem like a good thing, but it soon became clear that this unusual attitude of hers was becoming a problem. She stopped going out with her friends like she used to, and she oftentimes even refused to go out with the rest of the family.


Of course, it wasn’t hard to figure out where (or who) Alice had acquired this attitude from, even though she wouldn’t tell them. This habit had begun to develop during the last time Louise had spent with them at their house. Both Stephen and his wife knew that Louise often made insinuations (and sometimes outright statements) to the effect of: “If something is popular then it’s most likely stupid.” Alice had clearly contracted this syndrome from her grandmother, who she spent a lot of time with whenever she was around.


When they called Louise to complain to her about it, she denied deliberately inducing Alice to behave like that and insisted that both they and Alice had misunderstood her statements and even her attitude in general. They ended up connecting Alice with her on the phone so that she could talk her out of it.


“Hello grandma,” Alice had said after her mum handed her the receiver. She was delighted to be talking to her again after quite a long while.


“Hi sweetheart. How are you?”


“I’m okay.”


“Hold on a second. Stephen, please put down the phone on your end. I know you’re listening. I want to talk to her alone. She can later relay to you what I said when we’re done.”


With a smile of embarrassment, Stephen quietly hung up the phone in his bedroom which he had been using to eavesdrop.


“Alice, I need to clarify some things to you. You know your parents have complained to me lately, saying it’s my fault that you don’t want to do anything that most people like.”


“It’s not just anything. It’s just those things I feel are stupid.”


“Do you really feel they’re stupid? Or do you just think they are because most people like them?”


“Well, sometimes it’s one or the other. Sometimes it’s both.”


“Okay. The thing I want to tell you, dear, is that: even if we know that something that is popular with most people is stupid, it’s still generally a good idea to be familiar with it. In other words, it’s good to observe it and know about it.”


“Why? Because it might be useful?”


“Not necessarily useful by itself. It could be completely useless in and of itself. But it’s usually useful in terms of letting you understand what’s going on in the world and knowing how to influence other people. You understand what I’m saying?”


“Yeah. I guess I do.”


“Since I am old and I’ve already seen much of life, I can afford to avoid stuff I think is stupid even if it’s popular. But you are still very young and you need to expose yourself to things so that you can learn as much as possible about this dumb world in order to know how to survive in it. You get my point, sweetheart?”


“Yeah, I see what you’re saying.” There was a pause. “So I just have to force myself to watch and read crappy stuff that most people like.”


“Not necessarily. I’m not saying that. If there is something that you really honestly cannot stand, or have no interest in, there is no need to force yourself to have anything to do with it if you don’t have to. All I’m saying is that it’s generally a good idea to know about what other people are doing.”


“Okay. I get it.”


“And also, it’s not always the case that just because something is popular with most people, it is therefore stupid.”


“I don’t think it is either. But it’s usually the case isn’t it?”


“Yeah, but it depends.”


“On what?”


“It depends on a couple of things. I’ll discuss it with you next time I see you.”


“Alright.”


After a pause, “Okay, you know what? On second thoughts, I’ll go ahead and explain, ‘cause it’s not really that complicated. It’s basically three things: First of all, it depends on whether or not it’s something that requires people to think in order for them to appreciate it. If it doesn’t require that - if you can appreciate and enjoy it without really doing any thinking, then it doesn’t have to be dumb in order to be popular. In fact, it can usually be quite clever and sophisticated.”


“You mean like; things having to do with entertainment?”


“Yeah, though not always. But, sure, works of art usually fall in that category. Like music or paintings.


“For example, you don’t really have to do any thinking when you watch a movie. It’s a passive activity. All you just have to do is sit back with a bag of popcorn, throw your feet up and stare.”


Alice giggled.


“Therefore,” Mrs. Jameson continued, “movies can be both brilliant and popular as a result.” After a small pause, she said: “Can you think of an example of what I’m saying?”


“Yeah. You mean like Jurassic Park?”


“Exactly. It’s hugely popular. But you wouldn’t call it stupid would you?”


“No. Of course not.”


“And that brings me to another thing it depends on. It’s true that I don’t think much about most people, as you well know, Alice…but, to be fair, it is actually the case that most people sometimes get interested in pretty sophisticated things. It just depends on what it is and how it is presented. If something sophisticated is presented in the right way, it can actually be popular. You get my point?”


“Yeah I know.”


“So you can see that if you go about disregarding things just because they are popular, you’re going to end up missing out on some really interesting stuff, even some things that are pretty deep and sophisticated.”


“I understand. But you said there were three things it depends on. So what’s the third one?”


“Oh yeah. Finally, it also depends on whether or not the thing is popular for no reason other than the mere fact that it is popular. If that’s the case, then it is most likely stupid. And there are a lot of things like that.”


“But what made them to become popular in the first place?”


“Exposure. It’s that simple. It’s because too many people have been exposed to them. You just have to learn to tell whenever you see such things. It takes time and experience. Someday, I’ll talk more to you about it next time we meet, okay?”


“Okay, grandma.”


So that was how Alice got cured of that habit. But it did not allay Stephen and his wife’s fears about the consequences of the kids spending too much time with Louise. At one point, they even considered permanently disconnecting their landline and using only cell phones so as to be able to control and limit Louise’s phone contact with the children. But they couldn’t bring themselves to do it for they knew there was no way they could explain to Louise their disconnection of their landline and expect to fool her into not knowing their real reason for doing it, and they didn’t want to hurt or anger her unnecessarily.


It was particularly why it bothered them, as well as Diane, that Louise refused to get another dog. They knew that Bebo’s company had made her relatively self-satisfied and that it smoothed some of her rough edges. But ever since he died, her irritable temper gradually got worse, and her need to see her grandchildren became somewhat more acute.


As Diane thought about it, while she was serving food on the table, she began to suspect, with a heavy heart, that perhaps Louise didn’t want another dog because she suspected, and felt resentful at the thought, that they were pushing it on her as a way to get her to leave them alone.



***



Later that day, at about quarter past five, Diane and Louise were sitting at the backyard veranda of the house while the kids played pool with the pool table and set they had found down at the basement. Diane was reading a magazine and Louise was going through the crosswords section of a newspaper, and both of them were occasionally glancing at a little chipmunk that was feeding at the corner of the garden, which Louise had earlier alerted Diane’s attention to.


Now that she was retired, Louise could afford to only read things she actually wanted to read, and no longer had to fill her brain with all kinds of ‘garbage’ she had no real interest in, as she usually had to do during her career as an editor for various magazines. She had read all the articles in the newspaper she found interesting and was now playing around with the crosswords at the leisure section. She was holding a pencil and filling out rows and columns with considerable ease. On the rare occasion when she got stumped, she had a habit of slowly flipping through the other pages of the newspaper, looking for something else to take her mind off the problem for some time. While doing that on this occasion, she read through an article that she had previously skipped over.


After several repeated snorts, she turned to Diane, pointing at the article:


“Look at this: Federal Broadcasting Commission takes action on local radio DJs. The FBC has begun to set its sights on programs in local markets that allow the use of swearwords and other kinds of objectionable language on the airwaves. Fines of up to… blah blah blah.”


She dropped the paper on her lap and looked at Diane with a sneer indicating her disgust.


“Can you imagine such nonsense? With all the stuff we’re always seeing on TV and everywhere, that kids are constantly being exposed to, these idiots are busy fussing over cursewords on some stupid radio show! How the hell does merely saying the word ‘shit’ or ‘fuck’ harm anyone? What the hell is wrong with these people? Why are human beings so goddamn hypocritical?”


“I’m kind of surprised by your reaction to it,” Diane said looking at her mother. “I might have thought you’d probably approve of this kind of crackdown.”


“Then you obviously don’t know me very well,” Louise said, looking down at the paper. Then she added: “You call this a ‘crackdown’? That’s like ‘cracking down’ on roaches while your house is being consumed by flames.” She then muttered under her breath: “Words never harmed anyone.”


Diane heard that. “Oh come on, mum. But you knew when you worked in journalism that words do sometimes harm people.”


“That’s only if they are used deliberately as weapons of attack,” Louise countered impatiently. “Like knives, sticks, guns, spoons or even feather dusters, words by themselves do not harm anyone.”


Not wanting this to descend into another argument about the right to bear arms, Diane decided to change the subject.


“Speaking of words; mum, don’t you ever get lonely just living alone here all by yourself, not having anyone to talk to? I know you value your privacy, but there’s no harm in letting Jenna live here with you. I’ve noticed she’s quite reserved herself and she also has the adult classes she attends, so you’ll still have plenty of time to yourself.”


Jenna, who had an apartment in the same city, had been hired by Diane to take care of her mother’s housekeeping. Louise had rejected the idea of having Jenna move in with her. She insisted on privacy and that she preferred to live alone. Diane had not bothered to push the issue since she thought Louise was being sensitive about being treated as though she was too old to take care of herself. So, instead, Jenna only came in the mornings and evenings (8-10am and 5-8pm, including Saturdays). Though, on some occasions, she came in the afternoons if needed.


“No, I don’t feel lonely,” Louise replied. “I don’t usually get lonely being by myself. I’m not like most people.”


“You can say that again,” Diane said wryly. She wasn’t sure whether to believe her.


I only get lonely when I think people are deliberately ignoring or avoiding me.


Louise wondered whether to say that thought out loud. But she eventually decided against it.


Back in the garden, the chipmunk had finished eating the beet it had found and was now staring forward, turning its head sideways occasionally. It didn’t seem to take much notice of the two women that were looking at it, though they were no doubt within its vision. Finally, it squatted on all fours and disappeared through the tiny space under the fence that was nearest to it.


The two women casually resumed what they were reading.



***


Little Richard entered the kitchen and went straight to one of the bottom cupboards. He opened it, took out a trash bag, went over to the bin near the wall and spread the bag in it. He then went over to the counter next to the sink where his grandmother was working and rested on it casually by his elbows, watching her.


“Hey, wash your hands, you little worm!” Louise said. “You just took out the trash.”


“I know, I was just going to,” he said, smiling abashedly as he proceeded to wash his hands in the sink.


She was busy cutting and frying potatoes. It was Monday afternoon. Diane and Sarah had gone to the store. Jenna had been given the period off and allowed not to come to work during most the duration of their stay. So she and Richard were in the house alone.


“You want to hear the screams?” She asked him.


“Yes,” he answered enthusiastically.


“Alright, here goes.” She picked up a handful of sliced potatoes, raised them above the frying pan on the stove, letting her hand linger there tantalizingly for some moments. Then she began to drop them successively, spreading them in the oil, giving way to a harsh fizzing sound as they fried. She mockingly feigned screaming sounds and she and Richard began to laugh out loud in an affected villainous sort of way, mixing it up uncontrollably with actual genuine laughter.


After a while, she said: “Let’s eat some of these condemned ones on the scaffold,” drawing the dish that contained the fried pieces.


“This one is trying to run away,” Richard said, picking up a particularly long chip and very slowly sending it towards his wide-open mouth, making monster-like growls as he did so, eventually devouring it in a toothy sadistic fashion.


Louise picked up another crispy one and began sending it very slowly into the boy’s mouth with her own hand, playfully making screams and pleas for mercy on behalf of the chip, until he gobbled it up. Then they both laughed blithely.


They were playing a little game which Louise had initiated Richard into. A playful imagination she used to indulge in when she was a child while making chips for her mum: She liked to imagine that she was an enormous ogre, like the ones in the fairy tales, and that the sliced potatoes were human beings she was throwing into a gigantic cauldron to fry them alive, and that the fizzing sound was the sound of their screams.


When she was done cooking, she would later indulge Richard in yet another, rather more obscene, round of this fantasy by spraying sauce all over the chips pretending it was blood on dead people, and devouring them while still pretending to be villainous murderous ogres. Another version of the play-fantasy she used to indulge in when she was a child.


They were still giggling when Louise resumed her work and continued peeling and slicing the potatoes.


After a while, Richard looked up and asked her: “What game should we play when you finish?”


“It’s up to you,” she said. “What do you want us to play?”


There was a whole list of games they sometimes played with Louise whenever she was around, a few of which she had taught them: checkers, chess, bridge, go, scrabble, D&D and even poker.


“How about Dungeons and Dragons?” he said.


She smiled. She knew that was what he would say. It was his favorite among the games she played with him.


“Sure, no problem,” she said. “Maybe when Sarah comes back, she can DM for us.”


Sarah didn’t usually like to play actively. She just preferred to keep score and make the rules. Richard often felt conflicted because he knew that his grandmother was a much better dungeon master. She always came up with far more interesting plots. But at the same time, he also loved it when she played actively herself for she was really good at it and fun to play with. And Sarah was better at it still than their mother, Diane, who sometimes played with them.


He shrugged as he stepped over to the rack to get the large saucer Louise wanted to use to cover up the remaining chips.



***



Overall, they spent three weeks in Bellevue with Louise, which, incidentally was about three-quarters of Diane’s personal vacation time. During this period, they all went out together to places - something that Louise rarely did on her own. But she felt obliged to take them on a sightseeing of Bellevue, given that this was their first time there. They went to various tourist destinations, except for the types that Louise simply couldn’t stand (like beaches, for example), in which case, they went themselves while she stayed home.


They also attended a classical music concert primarily on Sarah’s request. She liked going there with Louise since she knew she liked them. And she herself had grown to like the music over the years as a result. She remarked that it had been a long time since she had last been to one – the last time they were with Louise. Louise was of course delighted to take them all to the Silver Theatre along Bellway Avenue that evening where they were treated to a series of Beethoven and Brahms symphonies and chamber music.


On the day they finally left for Auburn, while they were saying their goodbyes, Louise made Sarah promise to, at the very least, visit her again before she goes to college.


“I don’t know when you guys will be coming back, but at least promise me that you’ll come visit me yourself before you go to college.”


Sarah looked at her, astonished by her words. “But that’s way too long. Why wouldn’t we see you before then?”


Louise shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m only saying just in case.”


“But won’t you come and visit us yourself, grandma?”


“I might. I don’t know. But do you promise anyway?”


“Of course I promise. There’s no need to worry grandma; of course we’ll see each other long before then,” Sarah said cheerfully before they hugged and kissed goodbye.


Louise stood on the pavement waving and watched them head down the street until they turned left at the intersection and were gone. Then she turned and went back into her house.






Two years later (October 1998)



Mrs. Louise Jameson was sitting on the couch opposite the TV watching an episode of Jeopardy - one of those few shows she actually cared to watch. A framed picture of Bebo was standing on the center table just opposite her. He was sitting up in the picture looking straight at the camera with his tongue hanging slightly from his mouth.


She was wearing the exotic necklace her grandchildren had given her two years earlier. There were other strange or exotic ornaments and artifacts that decorated the living room at various places. For example: a Marajoaran figurine stood right in the middle of the center table; a large medieval Sican vase from Central America stood on the mantelpiece; a wooden two-foot West African Voodoo sculpture of a native god stood on a glass pedestal near the window; two Malaysian spiritual masks hung on the wall at her left; a native-Australian boomerang and a Samurai sword hung on the opposite wall above the TV; and on the cabinet near the TV stood an Inuit baleen basket containing a cactus plant. And this was just in her living room.


Mrs. Jameson had had a habit, when she was a child, of collecting strange items that she would pick up wherever she wondered, whether it was in or around woods, beaches or mountains. This habit had apparently never quite left her.


“It’s Arachnida. Come on, you idiot!” She said at the contestant on the TV. She said it, not because she was supporting him, but rather out of frustration that he was over there playing instead of her even though she was clearly far better than him at it. She usually knew the answers to most of the questions whenever she watched the show. The contestant, a chubby middle-aged man wearing a short-sleeve dress shirt, playing in the final round, proceeded to give the wrong answer (or, rather, the wrong question), causing her to shake her head.


The doorbell rang.


She turned her head to the door wondering who it could be. Then she got up and went over and peeped through the eyehole. She didn’t know who it was. But she opened the door anyway without bothering to speak through the intercom machine. The man said he was asking for Jim Randall. Louise replied that he didn’t live there. She didn’t even know the name.


“I don’t know anyone by that name,” she said. “Did he used to live here?”


“I’m not really sure,” he said. “I was given this address by a friend. We don’t know his new number so we can’t call him.”


“Well I’m sorry I can’t help you. No one like that lives here. Why don’t you try the other houses; maybe your friend got the number mixed up.”


“I will. Thank you ma’am.”


“You’re welcome.”


After closing the door, she walked over to the window to see him cross over to the Galetons’ house next to hers on the right before she went back to her chair to resume what she was watching.


A similar thing had happened six times already within the past two and a half years since she came here. The first time it was a young couple that came to her house ringing and asking for someone she didn’t know. Then next it was a lady in her thirties asking for the woman who lived here just prior to her. Then the next time it was a man looking for a friend she had never heard of. The fourth time it was a man asking for the woman who lived here prior to her. The fifth time was basically a repeat of the fourth, and the sixth was a repeat of the third.


Louise figured that the last occupants of this house had not actually lived here for long and that this house must have had a rather high turnover rate. She couldn’t help but wonder why, in this day and age, people were getting mixed up over other people’s houses.


The mystery was seemingly cleared up by the Rolands, her next door neighbors who she had the most interaction with, when they explained to her one day that the guy who lived in the house before the previous owner was a graduate student at the nearby college who usually had roommates, both males and females, not all of whom were students.


“But how can they not know that they’ve left long ago?”


“It happens sometimes.” Mrs. Roland said, with a shrug. “Sometimes people just have nothing but old addresses to go by when they’re looking for old friends.”


Louise was particularly irritated by the accidental visitations given that she herself had barely received any true visitations for more than two years. The fact that this was partly due to her habit of keeping to herself and not making many friends did not seem to concern her.


After the last time it happened, she had sat quietly in her couch (actually, sort of half-sitting half-lying) with her head resting in her left hand and her other hand flipping through a magazine, as she heard the man driving away in her car. She began to entertain a playful and mischievous (and spiteful) thought in her mind:


What if I pull a little stunt by actually saying, for a change: “Yes. ‘Blah Blah’ is in! Come on in.”


Then, while he sits there in the living room waiting for the person, she would just sit in her couch casually reading a magazine. The person he is looking for, of course, would never show up. It would be fun to see how long it would take before he realizes he is either being jerked or that – most likely - the woman is insane, and then gets up and leaves in amazement and annoyance.


She had laughed out loud at the idea. Of course, she had no real intention of actually doing such a thing. But it was a funny thought nonetheless.



Now she turned her attention back to the game on TV after returning to the couch.


She sometimes contemplated applying to take part in the contest. What a blast it would be if her grandkids, and even her kids, saw her on TV. And what a real blast it would be if she won. How much her kids would warm towards her more than they already did.


And yet, despite the seeming benefits of doing so, she hated the idea. It just felt too conformist and pandering to the general public’s tastes and sentiments.


Paradoxically, her misanthropic attitude wouldn’t even let her do something that would probably get her the very thing she wanted most: love and attention.







Five months later (March 1999)



It was a Tuesday afternoon. Mrs. Jameson was driving back to her house after coming back from an auction where she bought some exotic artwork. Bending into her driveway, she noticed there was a tall skinny man in blue t-shirt and jeans at her door. He had turned when he heard the car coming into the driveway. There was a car parked at the side of the road in front of her house which she took to be his. She rolled down the window as he came up to the vehicle and asked him what he wanted.


“I am asking for a Ms Jessica Robstone. I believe she lives here.”


Jessica Robstone was the woman who used to live in the house before Mrs. Jameson moved in. Mrs. Jameson knew her name from the Rolands. They had told her that Robstone was a divorced and single woman in her thirties who had three kids. During her time there, several men came to see her. She didn’t keep boyfriends for long.


“No. She left three years ago. She no longer lives here.”


“Oh, I didn’t know that. I’m sorry.” And, with that, he turned and walked back to his car and drove off.


Mrs. Jameson then entered the garage code unto the keypad at the top of the small pole next to the car, drove into the garage and parked. Then she came out, shut the door, went round to the passenger seat to pick up the bag containing the items she had bought, and went into the house.



***



An hour later, she was sitting at the backyard veranda doodling and scribbling on a padded paper on her lap as she tried to compose a poem as a way of expressing and relieving her feelings. It was an occasional habit she had had since childhood. She remembered how, as a young child, she would sob quietly in her room after locking the door and sit against a wall writing down prose or poems expressing what she was going through and how she was feeling. Who exactly she was writing to, she didn’t really know. Maybe God. Maybe a fairy god mother out there. Maybe herself. Who knew?


She was starting to get really angry about these ridiculous accidental visits. The fact that almost three years had gone by since she had last seen any of her relatives did not help her mood either. Every holiday season that went by without her receiving any visitation from her kids sent her deeper and deeper into a well of resentment and pain.


Yet, she knew that all she had to do was raise up the issue with Stephen or Diane during one of their occasional phone calls by rhetorically asking when they’ll be bringing the kids over, or why they haven’t come all this time (even though she knew the reason) and then they would be forced to come the very holiday. She knew that, as long as she didn’t say anything, they would assume that them not coming was okay. But due to her natural pride and stubbornness, she didn’t want to be the one to play the first card. She resented having to ask. She resented the fact that she even had to think about asking, and she almost hated them for it.


In December of the previous year – the December that had just passed, she had had a conversation with Sarah, who had long since turned fifteen, over the phone. Sarah and her brother had asked their parents if they could go spend the winter holidays with Louise only to be given an excuse that they weren’t able to take them there; they didn’t have enough time; maybe next summer. All they could do was send her gifts and postcards for her birthday.


“Grandma, why don’t you tell them to let us come, since they won’t listen to us,” she had asked Louise.


“I don’t want to make them do anything they don’t want to do, as much as I’d love to see you kids again. If they say they are busy, then they are busy. Just leave it at that. Okay?”


‘But I don’t believe them. I think they just don’t want to.”


“It doesn’t matter, Sarah. They have their reasons. I don’t want you to argue with them about it. Is that clear?”


“Alright.”


“Just keep sending me your beautiful pictures and postcards, alright?”


“I will,” she said, smiling. “Hey, grandma, that reminds me. Would you like to hear a short poem I wrote last week during Literature class? It’s similar to one you wrote that you showed me years ago. You know, the soul one.”


“Yeah, I remember it.”


“Like to hear it?”


‘Of course I’d love to. Let’s hear it.”


“Okay, here goes:


The river of my soul oscillates

Through the pearly gates

As it flows into the sea

Where it finds its destiny

A congregation of streams

Bliss in eternal dreams


That’s it.”


“Oh Sarah, that’s beautiful! I like it. By the way, it’s only slightly similar to the one I showed you. You deserve all the credit for this one.”


“I thought it’s a kind of short version of yours.”


“It’s certainly much shorter. But, like I said, it’s only slightly similar. I think the similarity is exaggerated in your mind because it was a long time ago I showed it to you and you only have a vague memory of it. You should think of this one as entirely yours. Well done, Sarah.”



That was almost four months ago. Now, as Louise Jameson sat in the veranda staring at the top part of the fence behind the garden, vaguely watching a pigeon hopping on it, she wasn’t feeling very blissful at all. Not in the least.


She began to think seriously about that idea she had entertained in her mind. She figured that carrying out such a prank was the only way for her to deal with this persistent irritation of people coming to her house and asking for someone else (instead of her) and maintain her sanity.


She made up her mind that, the next time, she would actually go ahead and do it:



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