We would walk on the white beach of Marco Island with stale bread wrapped in a recycled red and blue polka dot bread bag. We tossed hardened crumbs while droves of seagulls descended into my mother’s hands peeling shrills of joy.
“Jennifer, get a picture of these maniacs,” My mother laughed with complete abandonment. She would be encircled by seagulls eating right from her hands, like a Hitchcock movie.
I was always afraid of the enormity of my mother’s momentum for joy. I spent most of my life on the sidelines of her social dazzle and sparkle. Her smile and warmth ignited a room like the multitude of expressions from her big blue eyes that seemed to cast an open door into her heart.
People loved her and when she stopped reaching out and retreated; no one seemed to understand why. I found it painful that so many people were annoyed with her seclusion as if at eighty-two she owed the world to remain a star ever infinitely burning. She was burning out. She was afraid to hear about who she used to be.
Sometimes when I speak of a wonderful moment in our lives and the vacant stare is returned which tells me that soon the words, ‘If you say so’, will be uttered from her lips. There is now indifference where there once was a warm, vivacious, soul.
As I stood by her bedside watching her rest, I remembered that my mother and I took such pleasure in holding a stranger’s lilac bush hostage as she clipped away branches leaving them wet with scissor scars. Her laughter peeled through me. Then she would whisper, “Move it, let’s get out of here.”
She shoved me along grabbing hold of my hands as she ran through the yards with me in hysterics. We were lilac thief cohorts filled with glee as the house was fragrant with the smell of free, stolen, flowers. What more spelled spring then the wafting lilacs meticulously placed by my mother in a vase to represent our find.
Once, I had my own Lilac bushes the thrill of the memories seemed to bring a smile to her melancholic, aging face. Yet, this isn’t a story about stealing lilacs. This is a story about stealing the breadth of beauty from a soul. It is that place in between innocence and violation where beauty is plucked thoughtlessly from the legs and sanctuary of a young girls’ hymen.
Because of the pains that my mother experienced, I suffered from night terrors. It seemed to always happen when I was wickedly tired. The dreams rushed fast and furious like a tsunami of images. Some were happy and poetic flights of romance. Strangers and strange settings.
Tonight, was filled with night terrors. Dogs, dozens of them feral, ferocious and biting me. I felt no end to the small boxer like mouths with sharpened teeth like knives ripping at my flesh. I clung tightly to my snowy white toy poodle Adonis. I protected him with my arms wrapped tightly around his little Persian lamb body as the droves of dogs devoured me.
I screamed loud. Horrified yells of “no” escaped as a dark foreign man stood still and watched in disbelief, yet, with a sneer of contempt as I found no end within my sleep. My resolution was only to wake and startled to my dog snoozing with one eye raised at my nocturnal and apparently nonsensical commotion. It was always helplessness, this fury of conflicts literally biting at my legs and consuming me.
My dreams mirrored my inner turmoil. My mother woke in the same turmoil when I would visit and sleep in her bed. “Mom, I’m here, wake up”, I held her crow-like thin fingers and then her blue eyes would peer out at me in warm recognition. We believed we were safe with one another.
We never felt safe. Never.
Only moments in beautiful homes, wonderful trips, moments when we could steal away from the memories that held us hostage like the lilacs wafting in our hands. Sometimes what seems so lovely is filled with the undercurrent of the stench of a sewer.
He ruined my mother’s life. The dreams I had so often were just another legacy of pain passed down. Dreams that haunted me just as much as my mother.
I built my house as if in a dream with a bedroom that contained all the trappings of a spa, perhaps, a hotel suite with living room, sauna, and room to retreat and rest. Yet, I clung to nights of pure terror. I always returned to one thought. I never knew that paradise would feel like such hell. My life was easy in some respects, along with the diffidence. I wasn’t quite sure how being a lawyer was easier than being a poet.
When awake I found a refuge in my books. I felt a sorrow at times that she would never live long enough to read all the books in the world. Yet, my mother and like my wise aunt Dominica before her, she would read each day of her life, each book that she could find. A multitude of words pressed with images that rolled like old Kodak slides. It all seemed so romantic and luminous while the arid stench and steam of the New York subway jostled me awake into my next stop. Such is the life of an aging, melancholic, lawyer closeting a poet in her briefcase.
I sat at counsel table staring out the window watching the cherry blossoms shiver in the chill of the raw spring air. I thought about a poem I once wrote about the cherry tree charades. The judge’s ruling for yet another motion in my cryptic years of lawyering boomed in a monotone white noise back drop to the pirouettes of poetic thoughts. I played the words in my mind the cherry tree charades, milk white bark so bare, and words like I only know today what’s growing and is gone.
I was nineteen when that poem emerged. I loved the deep union of emotions with branches, bark that seemed to tell a story. Like the cuts of wood, a hieroglyphics tale while lawyers spit arguments at one another. Lizards of legal analysis spewing venom in the corridors.
“Counselor, counselor, Ms. Sloan do you have anything to add?” The judge bellowed.
I replied with grace and decorum, “No Your Honor.”
Another morning of tension, turmoil some form of conflict resolved by dumping the arguments into the judge’s lap for decision. I suppose I somewhat liked the idea of not being responsible. I liked the idea of blending in the dark as a lawyer, never quite making any true waves. Yet, my writing, my poetry screamed truth, dreams, life.
My poetry, my writing was mine. The words were my vibrancy.
I roamed through the old courthouse hall graced with marble pillars as large as a lion’s den at the coliseum. I spotted Jimmy, a sheriff’s deputy and my dear friend. He raced toward me with twinkling Irish eyes and flaming red hair.
“Jen, I need to talk to you,” Jimmy exclaimed half out of breath.
“Can’t it wait?” I proceeded down the hallway in my usual frenetic pace.
“No, Jen.” Jimmy grabbed my arm so tight my flesh throbbed. “Listen your uncle Harry’s death is being opened up for investigation and family members will be interviewed, I wanted to warn you.”
I stopped dead in the hallway and stared half in terror as if the snarling dogs were at my feet. I felt faint as if someone had stopped the air to my lungs.
“What the hell for, Jimmy, the old coot rapist died from a heart attack?” I almost yelled in a loud hysteria of terror as my panicked squeals echoed against the marble walls. I hated the way everything echoed in a courthouse; like a bag of dozens of marbles had dropped on the floor.
Overwhelming sounds of falling glass that seemed infinite and menacing.
“Apparently, Jen, some new information has come through that your family had some real issues with him.” Jimmy stared hard. “The old man had a nasty blow to the head and then had the heart attack.”
“Issues, he was no good and everyone knew the issues Jimmy. So what.”
“Well this is just shit wonderful.” I sneered. “My mother at 65 years old is a person of interest?”
Now I wasn’t bordering on hysterics. I was inflamed. Demonic, dead Uncle Harry still haunts us.
“Just keep your eyes and ears open, Jen. I wanted to warn you.”
“There’s nothing to observe, Jimmy. He’s dead. Period. Who cares if he was murdered, serves him right!” I ran like wildfire down the hall.
I sat waiting for Dr. Julian in my favorite café on Seventh Avenue. I stared out of the elongated front window watching raindrops slowly descend down the pane like newly formed tears dripping down a sorrowful child’s salty cheek. As Julian crossed the street I felt my mood lift a little.
“Well my dear friend, how are you?” She gave me a warm motherly hug.
“So, so, Julian.” I sighed.
“I suspect you are still sleepwalking or doing your night terror wanderings?” She asked with a knowing nod.
“Yes, it is even worse now at times, and apparently my mother is just as bad.” I looked down at carved initials on the table.
“I don’t know how to deal with this alone any longer and when I mention to my mother that I am suffering from dreams like hers, she dismisses it,” I said.
“You have a sleep disorder, certainly. You belong in a sleep study and I’m sure that any hint of such a course of therapy for your mother wouldn’t fare well with her.”
“Her dreams, Dr. Julian are always the same. It’s him. Harry coming after her. His awful, drooling face tormenting her for years even though he’s dead.”
“Sometimes I wake up out of bed in a room in the house and I don’t even know how I got there. I know my mother is doing the same thing at night. We are running away in unison.”
“Let me ask you this, are you at least recording your movements with the cameras that I suggested?”
“I am when I can. Not always, but when I have, it’s saved in my laptop saved,” I said.
“At some point, my friend, this has to be dealt with if you want to move on in your life”.
The conversations always ended in the same way that I needed to get further help.
How odd, that Uncle Harry was always kind to me and yet, he ruined my mother’s life. Harry was a woodworker in his spare time. An undertaker by trade. I believe he was involved in some black-market body part scheme. At least I pegged him for that type.
I would sit on an old wooden stool with paint and cuts from years of abuse while he worked on some creation. I was never alone with him. Aunt Domenica always smiled, half in terror with a shaky voice pretending to be interested in what her husband was doing. I didn’t realize she was watching him, being protective.
It was confusing. Family dinners of amazing Italian food, a jug of cheap red wine always next to Harry’s feet. It thrilled me that the whole family, including my parents, were together eating.
Then out of nowhere my mother and Harry would start an argument.
The last argument was a grand finale. Harry said, “Why don’t you go get yourself a quart and get out of here,” in a demonic voice.
The storm ensued and that was the last time they spoke.
He deserved whatever manner that ended his life.
My brilliant, beautiful mother had more than enough brains. She wanted to be the lawyer, but the money and opportunity didn’t exist.
She made sure I received an education. The sins that scorned and torched her like a California wildfire only blackened any trust in men.
My lone wolf lifestyle wasn’t all my fault. Aunt Domenica’s husband Harry was a familial rapist. He created from the 1950’s and on a lineage and carnage of “me too” souls in our family.
Aunt Domenica turned a blind eye and poked her nose into a book rather than kill the demon. She sang and hummed as she cut lilacs in her yard and planted petunias.
The humming may as well have been a mantra to ward his evil bellowing. The fragrant flowers masked the stench of his vile abuse.
He was the man in the dream the other night.
My mother was a brilliant, beautiful teenager who took the wrath of Harry’s menace.
At his funeral I stood next to her. We glared down at the dead man in the coffin.
“I should just spit on him, so long you bastard,” she said.
I swore I heard a spitting sound as I walked away.
Harry’s death was a mystery.
I thought it was a heart attack. Now after seeing Jimmy at the courthouse, I didn’t know.
There was a buzz of new evidence. No one deserved to know how this haunting affected me and my mother. How sad that this went on for an entire life span with no justice.
When I left Dr. Julian, I retreated like a lost puppy to my home. I was on edge, worried about why Harry’s death was being raised now. I settled in for the night and decided as I always did to take the Scarlet O’Hara approach and leave it for tomorrow. My life really was a series of stress, dreams, some joy, and then the same cycle.
Harry’s investigation was playing, haunting me just as much as he did in life.
Why did Harry’s death have to come up again now, a good five years later? I thought.
Harry, this black void of nothingness. A dead old man who spent most of his life terrorizing women and carting dead bodies for rich funeral home directors. Not to mention the body parts.
I remembered being in an elevator with my aunt, Harry and a dead body on a gurney. Harry taunted me when I was seven years old. He threatened to pull the sheet down for me to see the body.
I screamed with no way out hid behind my aunt covering my eyes.
A kindness came over Harry and he said he wouldn’t show me the body.
Out of nowhere the alabaster and blue veined hand like a Halloween hand fell out from the sheet. I couldn’t decide if I felt terror, excitement or wanted to laugh in hysterics.
So did my aunt, and so I joined in the morbid joviality.
Harry had big teeth like a horse and he almost drooled at times. His black eyes shifted from kindness to cruelty with the stroke of his temper. He was like a monster man in a De Maurier novel. A towering and lanky undertaker in a cheap white shirt with yellow sweat stains and an ill-fitted dark suit. Yet, he was paternal and kind at the same time. The mixed feelings haunted me always.
I drifted off to sleep and thought that I must check my lap top in the morning.
Adonis snoozed in the comfort of his luxury bed on the floor and I drifted into a wave of sleep that felt safe and comforting. As I lulled myself into the deep oceanic state of nocturnal bliss, that man, the dark, creepy, contemptuous man appeared from a dark alley. Rain surrounded him, torrential rain bounced off the brim of his Fedora as he leered from under his hat. He opened his hand half visible in the swirling mist of fog and showed me a small carving tool. The tool was carved with hieroglyphic letters and a bleeding heart and scarab drenched in black blood.
I reached to take the tool, but he pulled it away and disappeared.
Adonis’ rapacious snoring as he snorted for more and more air woke me in the early morning.
I felt haunted. I felt watched as I awoke to the dim morning rays that creeped through half open window blinds. The daylight felt daunting as the dream became like a brain worm in my head.
I pulled myself together and greeted the morning with coffee and a walk into the crisp morning air.
The police cars pulled into the driveway lights ablaze.
I saw Jimmy emerge his face a ghastly white and my lap top in his hand.
I snipped a lilac from a bush on my property and had only one thought, Who killed Harry?
Gloria Buckley has been published by Prometheus Dreaming, Red Hyacinth Journal, Sensations Magazine, Alcoholism Magazine, Chimera Magazine, Journal of English Language and Literature, Hermann Hesse Page Journal, Virginia Woolf Blog, Focus Magazine, Chimera Magazine and many other journals of poetry and prose. A self- published collection of seventy five poems is available on Amazon.com.
She is a practicing attorney for thirty years. She holds a BA in English and JD from Seton Hall. She has a Masters with Distinction in English Literature from Mercy College. She is enrolled in the MLA and MA in writing program at Johns Hopkins University.