Whenever she returned, she needed several hours to determine how long it had been since her last appearance. Yet this time, she knew several decades must’ve passed.
She was near the brook, at the base of the rock staircase leading up to her family’s estate. Built by her parents while still British subjects, the staircase always blended into its surroundings. Yet it was now cluttered with dead leaves and encroaching foliage, moss clinging to its sides like acne. Without handrails, it now looked treacherous.
Spirits, though, feared no physical dangers. She ascended the stairs, eager to explore the estate again.
She didn’t accept help with cooking. Rather, she allowed others privileged access to her kitchen.
Her teenaged nephew knew to ask permission rather than forgiveness. “Do you know where I store the knives?” Second drawer under the mixer, yes. “Food processor’s in the cabinet. Peel the carrots first.” She returned to the skillet.
After finishing his assigned tasks he presented the cutting board to her, the prepared ingredients arranged in the precise symmetry of an art display.
“Clean the knife,” she commanded, taking the board from him. Her lack of criticism, he knew, was the only way she offered praise.
When upset, when her thoughts wouldn’t relent their onslaught, when her obligations both professional and personal bore down on her like an undeserved judgement, she found relief in a childhood pursuit.
The coloring books she bought were filled with black-on-white drawings; the ones containing trees and flowers were her preference (she didn’t enjoy coloring faces, even those of animals). With a set of 24 markers and logs gently burning in the fireplace, she would focus on enlivening the pages with color.
She specially enjoyed evenings when she fell asleep at this task, waking hours later to a fire long extinguished.
The building once housed community services run by the church. An artist who’d benefited from those services approached the church about painting a mural on the street-facing wall. The church eagerly agreed.
Yet the community services closed. The church sold the building to developers who reneged on their promise (not in the sale contract) of preservation. When the developer filed a demolition notice, the community protested.
Attempts to designate the building a landmark failed in city council. But days before demolition, the developers were offered a price they couldn’t refuse by an investor who’d also benefited from the church’s services.
“No way.” Jane spoke in soft tones of marvel, as if reading a message about a lottery win.
Michelle had been annoyed at her daughter for retrieving her phone on this sunset cruise. Their family had chosen a serendipitous evening for renting the houseboat, skies clear, the lake placid. Jane couldn’t keep away from her 3×6-inch screen for two hours? Didn’t understand how such behavior fed her isolation and depression? Yet admonitions would only make Jane withdraw further.
“Good news?” Michelle asked.
“Yeah,” Jane replied, face brightening as she looked up. “We still get reception all the way out here!”
They arrived first, eager to escape the exhausting banality of their careers. His church sponsored the retreat, and she agreed to go only if she could skip all the “God stuff.”
He rolled their carry-on sized suitcase across the brick courtyard, the evenly-spaced gaps causing the wheels to generate a steady rhythm. The ruddy surface was slick from overnight rain, and he swerved around several areas of dirt on the way to cabin 26.
As he heard her closing the car door in the parking lot, he entered the cabin. It looked rustic, but comfortable – for him, at least.
The greasy drumsticks coated in poorly-seasoned breading are as unappealing as the music. I finished eating out of necessity, not desire.
I’d walked past the cafe alone, as usual, and on hearing the acoustic guitar decided live music might abate my growing unease. Seats were readily available; I somehow didn’t notice that warning. I ordered beer and the least unhealthy appetizer on the menu.
The guitarist finished a Joan Baez song and chose “something more up-tempo” next. She definitely should stick with folk.
I’ll finish my beer and pay my tab at the bar. My search for relief continues.
Everybody knew the money had been paid, as surely as they knew gravity existed. Yet that common knowledge didn’t help with the investigation.
Sifting through the firm’s financial records was like unearthing a city buried under millennia of dirt. An exhausting amount of transactional detritus enveloped the illicit payments; painstaking excavation was required to find what everyone knew was there.
One byproduct of the investigation was a model of the company’s financial infrastructure, one the investigators admired despite that company’s misdeeds. A marvelous system had been constructed, and razing it to ruins seemed as unfortunate as it was necessary.