20080529

Cecelia Chapman




Evie answered my ad for a quiet rented room: "$600 plus utilities. I work daytime, so that's great you work nights. There's a yard, dogs are o.k., I don't think I have dog allergies. I just leased the house, my girlfriend can't move in, it's available now."

I took the tiny 1920's beach house on the spot. My room looked out on deep yard, fruit trees, thick shrub, rabbits bounced around the planter boxes, shed and garage. They lived in the wild, berrybush-choked alley fringed by ferocious dune grass and bamboo running several blocks down to the beach.

Inside the cottage books were piled all over. Irish, Scots and rare British books; from herbs to history, politics to philosophy, mountain climbing to metaphysics. Lining the fireplace mantle were red-haired, fairy-queen dolls, angels, Hindu Goddesses. Romantic art prints of rose-skinned girls beamed. On the walls hung photographs of tough-looking relatives, political heavyweights, Scots castles, mountain climbers, radical writers, penned famous quotes, Tibetan mandalas, and Evie's children. Lace pieces, druid stones, tiny vials of herbal essences, chunks of hand-made soap for Evie's online herbal notions business, and crystals tangled with two IRS doll-boys in khaki's and climbing gear. Over everything lay strands of Evie's red hair that eventually broke the vacuum cleaner.

Her fiery hair licked out in streaming tongues as she walked. It curled up about her temples, then snaked down her neck. Her orange-red lips, polished nails and toes all glinted. She was a ruby dressed in green, a saucy, forest-queen of hearts. A man's tweed coat hung in the laundry room next to satin bras like rose petals and spider-web panties.

"We have a long-distance relationship" she told me, "he's in Edinburgh. All my friends are British. I have a daughter that stays over friday nights. We're good friends. Shannon lives nearby with her father and brothers. When she comes over we do girly things. I visualized this cottage." She spoke with a lilt. As if she was always asking me a question.


The relationship came for a three day visit shortly after I moved in. He looked feverish under his bush hat. Born in Africa, and now in the process of moving from Edinburgh to Geneva, Harry was a self-help instructor of a motivational 'boot-camp', as Evie called it and a real estate agent. Later he made fun of his freckled complexion and ginger hair, "When I was a child natives walked days to knock on our door and look at me. Then they burst out laughing." They never left her room that weekend when the weather was in the high nineties and the garden was a cool oasis like Eden.

When I came home at night Evie was asleep, leaving for her secretary job early in the morning. We didn't talk much. It was as if I had this little cottage in the woods by the sea, in some separate time and age. Until you walked out on the street, it wasn't apparent exactly where you were. It was my first settled 'home-life' in perhaps my whole life. Not a rented room or apartment. Glorious months of the most quiet I'd experienced in fifteen years. I produced a lot of work. I loved the solitude. And I turned off Evie's shattering answering machine and phone when I worked.

When I did arrive home to find Evie, her head was bowed over samples for her craft and herb business, stitching patchworks, knitting, and sewing, weighing and labeling. She might be dressed in pinafore, long skirts and lace petticoats or intricately embroidered smock, a kerchief or shawl. She favored hand-quilted skirts, pleated kilts, boiled wool dirndls and flowery chintz that fell to mid-calf over black-seamed, gartered stockings. Or she wore huge diamond-patterned stockings with dancing shoes and mauve velvet britches edged in four inch lace. I felt I'd time-traveled and landed in the British Isles centuries ago. Incense swirled through the house to Tibetan music, Celtic music, maybe Jethro Tull. She was always in front of her flickering laptop, like a tiny fire, her hearth, surrounded by elixir bottles, boxes of herbs, little bags and pouches of experiments everywhere. She mentioned she was four times published and I finally found a blurb for one of her books on the internet, "A Celtic love story from the Middle ages as told from the author's past-life recall..."

At night the garden and alley became jungle with loud animal noises, startled movements, rustling, grunting and screeching. Raccoons raided our yard. They rolled the trash can down the driveway and unraveled the bungee cord knot. Then an aggressive skunk moved in under the shed digging a big hole, throwing out buckets of dirt. I watched the racoons wait for the skunk to finish in the garbage can. One morning I found the dog leash hanging from high up in the tree, and every night the dog's water bucket was knocked over or the skunk sprayed him. So the dog slept inside that late summer, and we woke to wild, midnight, animal garden parties.

As winter deepened, the greatest drawback became the big lot of trees across the street. Blocking low winter sunlight, the house was in the shade, damp and cold. The ground was always wet on the north side in the yard, filled with slugs that crawled into the house. I found one in the dogfood, several making their way across the lower shelves, the floor, dozens crawling out of the bathtub drain. Evie was terribly sick for a long time. She said a slug had crawled into her kettle she kept on the counter and she drank from it several days until she discovered it.

Five months later Evie said, "I'm going to quit my job, Harry's going to support me. He says he has more than enough money to support us both. Then I can really do my business. We've been asked to write a book together. He's going to come visit for the holidays, he hates them."

"Well, that's a lot of changes. Do I have to worry about you moving out or Harry moving in...should I look for another place?"

"Oh no, " she giggled, "Harry's going to live in Geneva. I like it when they leave. I've always been a good girl and now..." she looked off.

She didn't have to say much, I couldn't imagine her married. Her three teenagers rarely visited. Two boys and a girl, all red-headed, long-haired giants with cars covered in tags like 'Celtic Warrior', 'Save Tibet', and 'Planet Earth'. As if she read my thoughts she added, "I never wanted children.."

"Oh, what's the book?" I felt ambushed.

"Metaphysical-philosophy," she breathed.


Three days after Evie's news I came home to find Harry. He was busy at work on his computer in our kitchen, his new office. "So nice of you to let me stay, thanks. I'll be here for three weeks. The kettle's on, would you like tea?"

Two weeks later I'd had the house to myself for two hours once. I was snapping from the lack of privacy. My waitress job had reached a screaming pitch in the holiday season. I'd developed a rare cold, hurt my knee and Christmas was a week away. Dragging myself home from work I desperately hoped to find them gone. But they were just where I'd left them at the kitchen table, at their computers, side by side, still in vestiges, layers, odds of pajamas. He talked in low tones, she listened, saying 'yes, yes, yes.' The door between my room and the kitchen was thick, but not thick enough.

Evie took care of him in every way; cooking, cleaning, bringing him quotes from one of her books, making phone calls, shopping for him, drawing his bath, soaking his ingrown toenail (that prevented him from going out) while they worked, fluttering about him like a butterfly in her chenille robe over froths of lace. She decorated the house for Christmas with beautiful hand-knit stockings on the fireplace, wreaths, ribbons on the walls, and a tree with hand-made hangings including the IRS doll-boys on their ropes, as if caught in a web.

"Look at this!" Harry called to me. I'd come from the beach with my dog, I felt wind-blown, clean, exuberant. The house felt imploded, the air thick and confused. It reeked of garlic for Harry's newest ailment and herbs Evie was experimenting with for her business. His computer screen was throbbing with gem colors, exploding with fractal patterns, ever deepening into slivers of themselves, splitting holograms folding their symmetry into infinity. Evie cooed, red hair and lace falling over him and the screen. "That would be a million dollar painting in the Museum of Modern Art. Have you seen this before? I'll give you this software."

"Thanks, I guess you're interested in the philosophical implications?" I tried to keep our conversations short.

"But what does it mean?" Evie asked.

"It means you can predict the future." I said putting away my groceries at top speed.

Harry said nothing.

At noon I cooked lunch around their chess game, by midnight they were playing poker, on Christmas Eve day Evie was tossing I Ching coins on a red pillow for hours and gambling online. Harry told her how to bet, what percentages, and when to stop.



After New Year's Harry left and Evie occupied the kitchen, her new office, 24 hours a day. I prayed to go home to an empty house. I was giddy when her car was gone from the driveway or the time she announced she was attending a self-help seminar for four days. But by then I 'd found another apartment, although the landlord, desperate to rent it, had lied to me. I found I had to wait 2-3 uncertain weeks for the other tenant to vacate. I wanted to give Evie 30 day notice, but I wasn't certain exactly when. I was prepared to lose some of my deposit.


It didn't matter. At the end of January Evie said, "I wanted to talk to you. You remember when you asked me before, well, about our plans. I wasn't sure until now... I didn't know then. I mean it wasn't planned, it just happened. Harry bought a house on Hawk Point. He had this vision and when we were walking out there in December he said the house was just like the one he'd seen in his dream. He recognized it from a distance and when we walked by the landlord was out sweeping and said did we want to buy a house as if it was a joke...and well, you should see it, it has beams like a ship. And then, well, everything just fell right into place. So I'm ..."

"Don't cry".

"...so I'm just going to turn this lease right over to you," she continued wet-eyed, "you deserve this house, and being here all those months before, alone, when I was working...and I know you love it."

"Well," I thought to lie fast, "A friend is moving out of his place, moving in with his girlfriend. He said he's going to give me his place. I've been uncertain myself and I'm waiting to find out when he's moving. When are you planning to move?"

"Four weeks, March first, Harry's going to come stay and help me move middle of February. "

"I guess things worked out between you two?"

"Yes," Evie laughed, "you were right, everyone else knew before we did."


During the time I waited to move I saw Evie was unhappy. She was moody, almost sullen. Twice I came home to find her crying on the phone. Later she told me she was volunteering her time at a home for unwed mothers as a midwife. "I knew, if I just called, they'd be so happy to have me I'd run the whole show." With this she kind of danced around the kitchen. A week later I asked how it was going but she turned the question aside. But she told me Harry wasn't going to come until April and she was handling the buying of the house, the moving, and all the details.

When I finally moved it had been raining for days. I was forced to turn a one day move into three days, waiting between storms to scurry across town, in howling winds, drenching downpours, carrying bits of my life. But I was delirious with privacy in the new apartment with an ocean view.


Months later I thought about Evie and looked her up again online. My browser hit immediately on 'psychics'. Below that were the four books written by her, "Life Forever Recipes And Herbals", "The Quiver And Pen", "Lost to the Mountains", "Living Many Lives; Fantasy For Life".


 
 
 
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