Monday, May 2, 2016

Secret, Katy Comber

The Dream House Chronicles: The Roses
By Katy Comber

Mark peered through the kitchen window and frowned. He thought of the day an unknown Uncle Adam died and a lawyer handed him the keys. How fortunate they were to get a retreat away from the city. Away from the distractions. Away from people. Mark and Mona could finally focus on themselves, the work that they wanted to do, and the family they had always wanted.


Years went by without Mark or Mona aware of time. Mark wrote his novel and retired at the age of 27. The novel was his one thing. Mark dedicated the book to the farmhouse: To my retreat and the stories it whispers. Mona walked and wandered and thought. Somehow the chores were always done, the house maintained, food grown, prepared, and eaten. At one point, the couple vaguely noticed a baby girl had joined them.


And time went by…


When Mark and Mona woke up, or that's what they called it, Mona was nine months pregnant and baby Casa had grown into a lovely little lady. Mark stayed awake. He fought to stay awake. Then, an apple from one of the many trees outside, and--


Time went by...


Mark looked out of the kitchen window and frowned. Acres of beautiful farmland were obscured by a labyrinth of roses; the roses were out of hand. Precarious for the curious hands of his daring four year old boy and a potential ER visit for his awkward eight year daughter who seemed to fall over and into everything. Wild and thorny, they stood guard around the three-story farmhouse.


What makes those roses grow so well?


It’s what feeds them, my darling. Mona’s voice sighed in Mark’s mind. Mona loved roses. She planted them everywhere after the final waking. Toby was a few months old by then. It was a project. Something to keep her awake. Something to bring her out of the funk. Out of the murk. Then, she started saying those things. Troubling things. Things from the mire. Things from the dark. The roses are perfect aren’t they? Beautiful. Dangerous. Like me. A chuckle. A flick of red hair over the shoulder Mark loved to kiss. Something to remember me by… her voice swirled around in Mark’s mind. Something to see and remember. That was four years ago. Remember… Toby, so little. Troubling things. Things better to be ignored. Will you remember me? Things she needed space to work out. Troubling things. Something to remember.


Mark shook his head as if his thoughts were plastic strips of white in a dusty snow globe needful of refreshing. Not now, Mona. Go away. With one final shake of his head, Mark had made up his mind. He pushed off from where he stood; his hands loosening their grip from the rim of the deep porcelain sink. A salt shaker tipped and spilled; a pile of china plates on the butcherblock counter rattled in his wake. The screen door slammed with finality. Somewhere in the house, someone started at the sound and sighed.


Beads of sweat stung Mark’s eyes as he worked. The shovel seemed to work on its own as it dug deeply into the roots of the roses. Mark had not been able to find his work gloves and his hands appeared calloused and scratched, but he was unaware of discomfort. The work was good. The work was solid. The work needed to be done. What makes the roses grow? Remember… Rememb-- A quivering voice cried out behind him and shook Mark out of his reverie.


“Dad!” Mark whirled around to see a confused girl with freckles taking over the bridge her nose. Casa stood frozen, her feet planted in the ground, and her brown eyes were muddied with conflicting emotions but the two that stood out were curiosity and fear… and what was that? Relief? Mark looked down and away from those eyes. Mona eyes.


That’s when he noticed the blood. Drops of red on the handle of the shovel. Smears of red on his face as he swiped his brow. Blood! Sweat! HA! To Casa's horror, her dad let out a bark. It was a chuckle, deep and manic, dreamlike. Another giggle. Nervous. It did not come from Mark. It was a far away laugh. It reminded Casa of her mother. The giggles grew. Casa was laughing. Mark was laughing. They had both gone mad.


“Oh, Honey.” Mark gasped for breath, but felt no relief. The pressure on his chest had merely lightened as he’d begun to dig, but he had a long way to go. To laugh with his daughter felt especially good though, no matter what the reason. Even if it means you are losing your mind? Mark shook his head. “What’s up, Kid?”


“I’d been standing here talking to you for awhile. When I realized you weren’t listening, I started calling your name.” Casa's smile faltered. Why am I smiling? Why did I laugh? She shook her head. “I wanted to know why you’re taking out the roses.” I hate them too. The thought Casa would never say out loud screamed inside her mind. Something to remember me by, my little love.


“I needed to, Honey. It’s time. With Toby playing out here…” Mark’s voice drifted. Toby. The kid barely interacted with him. Casa understood Mark’s grief. Toby was an interesting kid. As a baby, he’d point and giggle at her. When he was a toddler, his pudgy arms would reach out for her. Up, up. Up! Now, he treated her as though she was invisible. He preferred playing with his trucks alone in his room. If she tried to play with him, he would just cry. Toby had a specific set of rules Casa had yet to figure out about which cars should move and which cars should not. Wordlessly, Casa picked up the shovel; father and daughter began to dig together.


The roses were a stubborn tangle of roots and thorns. The plants had connected to something deep inside the earth. With a final plunge of the spade, the something began to lift upward. Long. Heavy. Not dirt. Not a tangle of roots. Not… NO. Stop. The voice in Casa's mind began to panic. A lump caught in her throat as she began to remember. She coughed. Her hand was sprayed with dirt. Mark kept prying and settling his weight against the handle to levy the things up and out. It’s time. It’s time. It’s time.


The hands came first. They clasped each other and a root of thorns grew from their palms. A distant moan came from inside, and Mark could see Mona waking. Her glassy brown eyes beginning to focus, beginning to remember, and pounding down the stairs of the secluded farmhouse. Suddenly, Mark was everywhere. Mark saw his wife, his widow, awake and gazing down in horror at the unearthed secret. Her screams shook the sky. Her sobs, primitive. No one, but the house could hear her. No one would come.


Mark saw his son Toby, in a room filled with books and toys and other distractions. Toby, in a room and painted blue with a haphazard border of spongy dinosaurs. Dinosaurs that would occasionally scamper down and dance for their favorite little boy. Toby, hiding in his blanket fort. Toby, wondering if the funny people who moved his things and whispered in the dark would be able to find him. Goodbye, little man. Mark grieved. Casa wept beside him. Her goodbye silent. A flutter of his tent, a breeze ruffling his hair and grazing against his cheek, and Toby wondered.


Mark saw the past. Mona awake. Mona trying to leave the house. Mona fleeing this fugue-state life. Mark trying to stop Mona from leaving and abandoning him and their two children.


Mark saw the floor lift and tilt. Mona about fall. Mark pushing her aside and falling instead. Mark saw his body fly. Mark saw an eight year old hand reaching to save him. She flew too. The house wailed. The stone landing sighed and mourned as two bodies cracked on its surface. The house had not intended for this. Dolls were not supposed to leave.


Mark saw the town outside. People passing by the road that lead to the thing that was once the perfect retreat. No one would come around asking questions. No one would want to pry. No one knowing or curious about the long dirt road marked No Trespassing.


Mark saw his body swallowed into the earth. Dirt and rose bush saplings gently tucked deep around his heart. Around Casa's. Mark looked down. Mark saw his hands clear of the blood that made him chuckle before. The joke of knowing he could not bleed. The joke of knowing he could not sweat. The joke of knowing this could not be real.


Mark saw Casa, freckles fading into a pale blue pallor; her thick blonde hair hanging in muddy clumps and tangles, deep brown eyes always so curious, always so afraid. Mark brought the girl into his arms, and two appeared to Mona in a quiver of light. Mark tall and handsome. Casa, wide-eyed beauty. A flash of light over an uncovered grave. In that moment, as Mark felt his resolution and Casa felt her peace, Mark saw one more glimpse of the past. Mona weeping as house opened a long green mouth and planted her daughter into the earth.

And, time went by…

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