1956: A Prelude
The moon was gone. Nighttime clouds had swallowed it up. He did not know what that meant. A poet might glean some meaning from the imagery. For him the lack of light eased his nerves as he removed a handkerchief from his coat pocket, gripped the doorknob, and let himself into the house.
Shadows clung to the walls like ugly insects, big eyes staring, their judgment pervasive. He did his best to ignore them, moving swiftly between foyer and kitchen, standing over the sink—hulking over it, like Frankenstein’s monster after meeting young William. He nudged the tap on with one elbow, deposited the now bloody handkerchief inside his coat pocket, and ran thick-fingered hands under the lukewarm water. They were hands of stories. Each crease an anecdote, each bulging vein a verse, each scar a narrative. The water spilled over them, ran red and dirty into the drain, and was gone into whatever oblivion lingers under this beach-fringed section of the earth. Those storied hands were shaking, and Evan Harmont ordered them to still. After a moment, they did.
Light. Careening down the long road that served as an artery between the house and the rest of the town. A car. He crouched below the window, pressing his back against the cupboard, panting. No one would be looking for him. No one should be looking for him. He’d been careful. He was always careful. The best: that was what Tony had called him, and with good goddamn reason, though Tony wasn’t telling anything to anyone these days.
Evan passed a still hand over his face, a lined and grizzled face now, so unlike the face he wore when he’d first started in this business. That face had born the bland and meager curiosity of the killer. Now—now it was a father’s face.
His hand moved quickly to his breast pocket, ensuring what was there—the hard, oval shape pressed simultaneously against his palm and breast, chilling the skin, burning his heart.
He rose and moved upstairs, stopping into the first room on the left. Fresh flowers spread their hands and faces over the windowsill, almost greeting him. His eyes fell to the two figures lying on their sides in the double bed. He moved closer, pulled back the sheet, studied the perfect peach-cream contours of his daughters’ cheeks, kissed them, left.
He moved to the last door at the end of the hall, pausing momentarily at a harsh crick-squeak-crack. Just the house settling, he thought. Just that. He paused with his hand on the knob, half turned. Rebecca was on the other side of this door. Sleeping? Maybe. Hating him? Certainly. But what if she wasn’t? What if she was awake, reading McCall’s, waiting for him? His eyes dropped; there was no light bleeding beneath the door. But, just the same, he didn’t want to risk the possibility of facing his wife while this thing was still in his pocket and his shirt torn and bloody. He went back downstairs, cut through the hall to the cellar door, and descended.
The sweet, damp smell of oiled earth nudged at his face, plied at the nostrils like a knowing hand. He pulled the chain on the overhead and soft, yellow light shoved some of that darkness back, but weakly, like a drop of colored water on a paper towel. His eyes ran over the familiar space: his workbench, all the tools stored in their customary places on the rack above; the hand mower, freshly cleaned and oiled, ready to continue the battle against the high grasses of summer; the ceiling-high shelves, which Rebecca would soon begin restocking with her preserves. The workbench was a dear thing; he’d built it with his father back in the winter of ’47. Every drawer and cubby designed with purpose. A man needs a place to think, his father had said. And a man thinks best when his hands are busy. Well, Evan had taken that little maxim to heart, except he’d busied his hands in ways his father likely never dreamed.
The air was much cooler down here, and as he moved he noted that his breath was nearly visible. A summertime oddity, but not entirely uncommon. Still, Evan suddenly felt like an interloper in his own cellar. “Best be done with it,” he whispered and moved to the back of the cellar, behind the workbench. Here there was an old steamer trunk—a family relic dragged across the Atlantic when his grandmother was shipped stateside from the rural coast of southern Italy to marry an American doctor she’d met once during The Great War. He often wondered what that girl, who he could never really know (one can never comprehend the childhood of one’s elders), had felt, sitting atop the trunk, which was likely already battered, her legs crossed demurely at the ankles, staring out at a vast, gray sea, knowing the life she’d had and the life awaiting her would never be one and the same. Did she have dreams? Hopes? Or had she only felt a sense of duty? America the Beautiful. Land of opportunity. Would Nanna Jean (Americanized from Gianna in 1920) be proud of the opportunities her grandson had seized? Or would she look away in disgust, winking the evil eye at him like some gypsy wop?
Evan shook his head. It didn’t matter. What he wanted wasn’t inside the trunk. He slid it back, revealing a patch of earth much softer than the rest of the cellar. He’d loosened the dirt here when they’d first moved in, intending to secret a cigar box filled with old photos of Rebecca and the girls inside. He would dig it up years later, marvel at how time changed everything. But he’d never gotten around to doing it. He’d been busy.
He pulled off his coat, ignoring the pain that reared large and ugly in his shoulder, hung it on a nail he’d tamped into one of the support beams down here on the day they’d moved in, and took up the spade from its place next to his workbench. He started to dig.
By the time the hole was to his satisfaction, dawn was reaching pastel fingers through the small, rectangular windows bordering the upper walls. Evan knelt down, wiping sweat from his brow and leaving long, black smudges, and tweezed the small object from his breast pocket. At a glance, it looked like a sphere, but closer inspection revealed one concave surface opposite the convex, giving the object an oval, eye-like shape. Evan held the item in his palm, gazing at it.
Will she forgive me? Can the dead forgive? I don’t think so. I had to take it. I had to.
His hands were shaking again, and he let the little object tumble from his hand into the newly made hole and quickly buried it. The sensation of her last caress, the echoes of her cries, both burning in his memory with each shovelful of earth he dumped onto the spot.
The work done and the steamer back in place, Evan sat on the trunk, plucked a cigarette from his case, and smoked until the sun was nearly screaming through the windows.
“Please,” he said to no one, “Please rest in peace,” ignoring the tears that had streaked down his face.
But “no one” wasn’t listening.