Thursday, April 05, 2007

Legacy -- Part II


by Renee Holland Davidson

read Part I


Bear didn't return until almost dark. He trotted through the door, small twigs and leaves embedded in his fur, a man's work glove in his mouth. Dropping the glove at my feet, he sat down, panting happily.

"A present for me?" I scratched the top of his head, and plucked a few leaves from his back. "Looks like you had quite a time out there, old boy."

I was up early the next day, having allowed myself a few hours of book browsing before starting work on my novel. I was rummaging through the bookshelves, when I spied a book entitled "The History of Stoddard Mountain." As I yanked it out, I dislodged the cookbook next to it. It flew off the shelf and landed on the floor, opened to a recipe for tuna casserole, a piece of cardboard sticking straight up from between the pages.

The piece of cardboard turned out to be a postcard--a picture of Butchart Gardens in British Columbia on the front. I turned it over. It was addressed to Rose Murdock in care of the Stoddard County Library. Written in a thick black scrawl was the one-word message: "Soon."

Soon? What was the meaning of this cryptic message? And why had the postcard been mailed to the library? Had my grandmother fled up north? Was she still there, living out her golden years with her true love?

Excited at this discovery, I began rifling through any books I thought might have been my grandmother's--more cookbooks, sewing books, romances. I raked through dozens of books before I found the letter in a slim volume about herbs. It had also been sent in care of the library, written in the same heavy script as the postcard.

Among endearments and vows of eternal love, were pleas to leave Elliot. It's time, Rose, time to start our life together. The letter was signed with only the single initial "M."

I thought of my own husband and the too-many tumultuous years we'd spent together. Paul had never been physically abusive, but he'd been cruel and controlling. What I had taken for love and concern in the early years of our marriage had only been his desire for dominance over my mind and body.

In sixteen years, he had run off most of my friends and shattered my self-confidence. I had become bitter and depressed. There were days when it had been difficult to climb out of bed, and, I admit, days when I understood Grandpa Elliot's final solution.

I slept fitfully that night, hearing every sound emanating from the mountain--raccoons scratching in the trees, coyotes howling, the hoot of owls. I thought back to my childhood, remembered many camping trips where the sounds of nature lulled me to sleep. That night, those same sounds blared like warning shrieks in my head.

Bear woke me the next morning, licking my cheek with his grainy tongue. The temperature had dropped drastically overnight and before I let him out, I shrugged into a thick pair of sweats topped with my down jacket.

"Need to make a fire," I said aloud. Two days out here and I'm already talking to myself. I laughed, but even to my own ears, it sounded hollow.

I grabbed my keys from the kitchen peg and made my way to the shed in back. Bear stood behind me as I unlocked the padlock and pulled open the door. I walked inside and sighed. Behind a small pyramid of wood, were mountains of Grandpa Elliot's junk, and crammed in a corner, the steamer trunk I still needed to empty. As I grabbed a log, I heard Bear barking wildly outside. I tiptoed to the door, holding the piece of wood as if it were a Louisville Slugger.

I peered out the door, but saw nothing except Bear running in circles, barking ferociously. "What's the matter, boy?" I knelt down and patted my thigh. "Come here, buddy. It's okay."

His barking shrank to a whine, but he refused to come. Then, with one final yelp, he turned tail and ran off into the woods.

I made myself a breakfast of tea and toast and ate on the sofa in front of the fire. Drowsy from lack of sleep and hypnotized by the flames, I soon fell fast asleep.

I dreamt about Paul--Paul in this cabin, in my bed, smirking as he pulled back the sheets to reveal Rose lying naked by his side. Paul becoming Elliot--drunk, wild-eyed, waving a shotgun as Bear flees into the woods. And I, watching from a darkened closet, wrapped in a blood-splattered quilt, too afraid to move.

I woke up shivering. The fire had gone out and the air was still and frigid. I sat up, pulling my wrap tighter around me. The cabin walls seemed to shrink; the ceiling spun in drunken circles. My breath emerged in frosty, shallow gasps. Never--not even as a child--had I believed in hauntings or evil spirits. I shook my head forcefully from side to side. No! I was not losing my mind--it was only the nightmares, the lack of sleep.

I stood up, trembling, intending to relight the fire. Suddenly I realized I had the crazy quilt wrapped around me. Screaming, I flung it to the floor.

Scratching on the door almost sent me into hysterics until I recognized Bear's high-pitched bark. I staggered to the door and opened it. Bear ambled in, something glinting in his mouth; I followed him to his blanket.

There, next to the work glove, a red bandana, and a woman's tennis shoe, he dropped his latest prize--a dirt-encrusted pair of reading glasses, one lens missing, a broken gold chain hanging from its arms.

I moaned and sank to the ground, fully understanding Grandpa's despair, much too aware of his blood coursing through my veins as my thoughts turned to the old steamer trunk hiding in the shed.

**The End**

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