1 | a victorian dwelling
If we die out here, would it even matter?
Our black Ford Explorer breaks down right before our grand introduction passed the Welcome to Oaks Hollow sign. And the cherry on top--gray clouds hovering above us turn black and raindrops trample over the car, the sound nearly mocking the gallops of a horse’s hooves.
“I understand, but this is a new town. They don’t have much on their website so you can see why I’ve reached out to you instead. Mhm. Yes. Okay, I’ll hold.” My mother’s name is Amelia Divine. Innocent. Kind. She wears it best when she uses her soft voice to get what she wants. She’s been on the phone a little over thirty minutes with a car serviceman and not once has a car driven by entering nor exiting town.
At this moment, getting what she wants doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
“This is ridiculous,” she whispers at me and shakes her head. Her curls are out today, not the best for kinky hair under a new storm’s calling. And this is definitely not the welcome to a new town I am expecting to receive.
“Just hang up and call someone else,” I say, twiddling my fingers over the touch buttons of my phone in the process of creating a new tweet. It’s how I promised I’d update my friends before we left our home in Mesa.
I insert a new image, a selfie of myself with no sense of emotion, trapped where the town begins and ends at the same time. The stain raindrops on my side of the window and the gloomy background on a Saturday afternoon with a line of forest trees are also in my picture.
Is this what it feels like on the highway to hell? Possibly, it’s a sign that we never should’ve left. I type.
My thumb sways over the blue tweet button and then I tap on it, only the effect is not what I’m expecting.
The word Retry keeps popping up in a faint gray tone and then the entire Twitter page goes blank, and in its place comes an internet mobile connection error.
“Heh--hello?” Mom pulls her phone back, her what the heck expression the same as mine as her thin arched eyebrows fall flat. “Great. No service.”
“Maybe this is a sign from God. Maybe we were never meant to move here.”
She sighs and her palm rests on her forehead. “Mara, we’ve talked about this.”
“I know. I just wish we didn’t have to move all the time.” It is the honest truth. Every house mom fixes up, we stay for months, a year even until a buyer comes through. Since houses aren’t selling the way she thought they would, mom is suddenly ready for a change of scenery.
“This is a great deal for us. A big house with great potential, and it’s already paid for.”
Only because she’s the one who paid for it. And need I remind her not to forget how old it is?
You guessed it, my mom flips and sells houses for a living, more so homes that people are too afraid to touch, then she puts them on the market. Like our new temporary dwelling that I’ve only seen in pictures. It’s enough to scare ghosts away.
According to the realtor she talked with on the phone a week ago says there’s still power and water provided by the town. Mom wouldn’t have to put any utility bills in her name for the time being. “Trust me, you’re doing us a favor,” the woman on the other end of the call says as her voice echoes through the speakerphone. Mom wanted me included, her version of inclusion meaning listen, don’t speak.
Sign number one indicating that something must definitely be wrong with that house.
“Hopefully, this town becomes a home.” She tiredly reels me back to the present. I see the exhaustion in her dark brown eyes, tiny crinkles of it linger beneath her light coverage of peanut colored make-up.
She reaches for the starter and takes a deep breath. “Let’s give this one more shot,” she says. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll just have to wait for someone to pass by.” Great, we’ve become hitchhikers, only, we’ll be hitching a thumbs up from the inside of the car. No one will ever pick us up, not if they have seen any of the movies I have when it comes to picking up strangers. It never ends well.
I lock dead on her painted black fingernails as they wrap around the key. Mom gives it a big twist, and lo-and-behold, the engine awakens. The rumbles vibrate up my seat and I get a little happy for her even though I’d rather stay here, underneath the wet gloomy skies than to enter Oaks Hollow. I mean, what kind of town name is this anyway?
The rain stops and hints of the sun try breaking through the pregnant ashen clouds.
We drive ten minutes on the sleek wet roads, passing gapped out forest trees and small buildings; a jewelry shop, a pastry shop, and deeper down I see a sign to an arcade place that I miss the name of, and a dainty Oaks Movie Theater. Tonight they’re airing, BEAUTIFUL CREATURES.
I study the people as we stop at a red light. Groups of kids my age, laughing and pushing each other around. Two ladies walk behind them, one with a purple umbrella and the other with a red--I’m sure just for precaution--shaking their heads at the delinquent nonsense.
“At least they have cute boys here,” mom leans over to tell me. I shake my head and as the green light alerts that it’s our go, I see what mom is talking about. A cute boy looks at me and too embarrassed to engage any longer, I praise the streetlight gods as we drive away.
The town is fine if you like retro-y things. We pass houses that have a vintage, victorian style yet simply modernized with their light-colored paints and fancy new windows. Then there are the houses one can simply note that are brand new. Clean. Yards are well kept, the gated community down on I think Peach Street--well, it’s safe to say the rich live there. The houses are dreams come true for people who I assume work hard to get there.
I wonder if there are any drug lords in town?
I checked the murder rate on the little website they have a couple of days ago. The last major tragedy was back two years ago when a boy went missing. The picture on the internet was copied from a wrinkled missing poster and the face of the kid wasn’t clear enough to see. His age, height, and weight may as well have been nonexistent as those too were hard to read. It almost seems like maybe the town erased him from their memory.
“And we are here,” mom sings, driving through an open set of black iron gates. A long dirt path stretches across from us, giant rosebush hedges on either side of us. We pull around a fountain, the statue in the center, defaced, large wings extending from the base of its back.
“Gosh, what is this place?”
Mom puts the Explorer into Park and turns the engine off.
I get out of the car slowly, hoping that if I move slow enough she’d get annoyed with my attitude and deem this is a bad idea after all, but it does nothing in my favor. All mom says is, “Help me bring this stuff in, Mar.”
I’ve never seen her smile so grand before. She grabs a box from the trunk and stands before the mansion--at least, in my eyes, as I’ve never stepped foot in a house this big before--of a place.
The house looks like it’s literally been through hell and back, the dark wood almost that of a burnt gray-black. The four steps up to the porch don’t look as sturdy as the nearly cracked cemented fountain and that’s saying a lot. The front yard is damp and I’m curious about the space around the side of the house.
Finally, Oaks Hollow is living up to its name as I spot the tip of an oak tree, the first oak tree, from afar on this overwhelming disgrace of a property.
I eventually grab a box and follow mom inside. “It looks like the house on Bates Motel spit up in here.”
“I love that movie.” Her voice is low. She isn’t focused on me, she just stares at the high ceilings. I can’t take my eyes off the lack of open space. The vibrant army green, ugly floral wallpaper is peeling and the staircase pushed against the side of the wall the second you walk in is just as mature and brittle as the front steps.
Vintage lighting hangs and is nailed in many places. The hardwood floor creaks as I follow behind mom into the family room which is covered by a giant rug with an opposite floral pattern than the barriers.
“Can you see the potential, Mar?” She’s still mesmerized, trapped in the beauty of her wonderland, turning in a half-circle with her arms spread out after placing the box on an aged clothed chair with thick and skinny lines stitched in as another hideous pattern that vomited in this house.
I shrug. “Not really.”
Mom freezes automatically. Then, as if a magician snaps his fingers, she reaches for the box I hold, places it on top of the box she had, and wraps her arm around my shoulders. Her smile is lasting longer than I could ever expect. She turns me with her, slow, caution in her subtle grip. “I want you to close your eyes and feel the house. Look beyond the wallpaper and old furniture. Picture vintage but Chic.”
I have a bad feeling about this, but I follow mom’s words. I picture, and I picture, and a little crease of light beams in the corner of my closed eyes. I think I’m finally getting it until a funny smell tickles the tip of my nose.
The light is gone.
I have no hope.
I must die.
“I see it, mom.” My voice comes out shaky, my nose carrying wrinkles as I can’t rid of the smell.
“Come on, Mara. Be serious.”
“I’m trying but--you don’t smell that?”
She was too involved with her dream-filled wonders, the horrid smell and the sudden clinking of the pipes hadn’t hit her as it did me.
She throws her nose into the crease of her elbow and gags.
“Skunk?” I wonder.
She rushes to her purse and pulls out her phone. I wait for a hopeful announcement and it’s exactly what mom delivers. “It looks like we have cell service again. I’ll call Samantha.” Samantha Greene, the realtor, the woman who got us in this mess in the first place.
I wait outside as the smell becomes overbearing. Mom paces the front porch five minutes later, and after sitting around for over half-an-hour, I decide to journey around the house, the true start of when my curiosity piqued of what else, besides the oak tree, rests on this side.
There, deep down my path, the grand oak tree is on my right.
Everything else is a blue-gray; it looks almost like a graveyard with its angel statues, withered flowers, dying grass, and wet soil.
Near a statuesque plaque, neighboring the oak tree, I follow the muddy trail as something red peeks from up under the moist sand. It has my full attention.
I kneel beside the plaque and tug at the red cloth. For all I know, I could be yanking on the cloth of a dead person. I also know I should stop as the tug and pull become a bit challenging. But instead, I try harder. I climb to my feet and with a deep inhale, I yank and tumble back.
My heart jolts in excitement as I clutch the item, but immediately I trip over my own feet, the ground below me caving in and I fall by the demand of gravity, obeying its law when I hit a new ground underneath a new level.
My right arm and neck pop, my head spinning as a hefty growl hovers over me, gold flecks blurring in and out of my view.
I sink into darkness’s lullaby and smile as I drown in its presence.