Chapter 5: I Hear a Voice

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: True Confessions  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 24

As you might have gathered by now, Uncle James specialized in collecting a lot of things that just “wandered in”. But there was one stray that had arrived that he hadn’t wanted to collect—and I was soon to find out more about this person: the reason why we had a Polish Nurse living with us, and the reason I was discouraged from going up to the third floor of the house.

The British “post”, as they called it, came twice a day: landing on the floor of the front hall in the morning—and then again in the afternoon.

When I saw it, I would generally pick it up and do a routine sort: separating the royalty checks from the subscription notices from the endless animal rights correspondence from the professional journals from the invitations to speak.

Since I didn’t grab the mail that frequently, I’d been living there for about a month when I noticed an envelope addressed to someone I was sure wasn’t living in our house. Not a solicitation, or bulk mail. Instead, it was an envelope of unusual proportions, in an unusual color, that I knew had to be a greeting card.

I protested this to Kelley as she was passing by: hustling back into the kitchen to dump pepper into something.

“Is it really such a mystery who lives here?”

“Is der a misdelivery, baby one?” She came over to look at the envelope. Then, in a blink, she’d taken it from me and tucked it into her apron. “I take care a’dis. Don’ worry da head.”

It was obvious that there was more to the story than she was willing to tell me.

“But ‘Christian Hope’? Is that even a name? And the address is right. And the right postal code. Who would have sent this?”

But all I got was a nervous smile.

“Don’ worry da baby head bouts it. Y’see sumptin like dis, you give dem t’me. I see dat dey go where dey needs to go.”

And off she went: as though deliberately trying to make me more curious than I had been before.

Not that curiosity mattered all that much. I had most of it figured out by then: putting together the various hints that there was a person living at the top of the house—who required skilled nursing care—who was named “Christian Hope”.

The reason I didn’t do any more detective work than that was: I didn’t think it was any of my business. I was making an honest effort to “fit in”—and hang on. I knew a good thing when I saw it, and Baskerville Hall was going to be as good as it got: even though my homework, and servicing the animals, kept me going almost every waking moment.

I had a home where people liked (or maybe loved) me. I had a horse who greeted me at his stall door by nuzzling my hands to discover which one had the apples—and I had dogs who possibly worshipped me as a god.

I wasn’t going to mess that up by asking any inconvenient questions.

I waited for the inconvenient questions to find me. Which they eventually did.

It was a night like any other night—just after Guy Fawkes Day—when my eyes popped open, in the middle of what had been a deep sleep.

I was sure that—before I was awakened—I had probably been hearing thumps, and bumps, and heavy traffic on the stairs for some time. But it was the screaming that brought my head up off the pillow. The soft glow of the clock beside the bed showed 2:51. Although, just then, one of the small plates dropped—and it was 2:52.

It had been quiet enough to hear the time change. Everything remained wrapped in the thickest kind of silence and I was ready to think that I had been dreaming.

When I heard it again. And, this time, it didn’t stop.

Definitely a man’s voice. But nothing like pain or fear. Just pure, unfocussed, toxic rage. The words themselves were filtered out by the venerable walls, so that just the emotion—just the fury—was coming through.

The tone was otherworldly, and seemed worth checking out: so I slipped out of bed, pulled something on and got as far as opening the door before I understood that it wasn’t just someone calling for help.

All of them were up there. My Uncle, Candace, and the Polish Nurse. They were trying to reason with the mysterious Christian Hope: and—as groggy as I was—I realized that I had nothing to add to that conversation.

After standing, for a minute or so, in the doorway I went back to bed: certain that there would be a lot less mystery in the morning. When everything would be explained to me.

~~~

My early arrival at the breakfast table caught everyone off guard: which allowed me to hear Candace talking mostly to herself.

“This has got to be the most helpless feeling in the world.”

And then my Uncle (not laughing now). “You can’t take anything of what he says seriously.”

“Part of me does. Part of me doesn’t.”

And then Kelley (who was in the dining room, too).

“T’would be a mercy t’him. Just t’perish.”

Candace let a sob escape and that put an edge in my Uncle’s voice.

“Kelley, that was completely uncalled for.”

“I stand up f’what I says now, Mr Professor. Better for him t’just go. Nuttin nobody can do.”

“Well, we’ve pledged ourselves to the end, and I intend to redeem that pledge. We haven’t exhausted the treatment options by any means.”

“But he hurts more from da doctors den from what was wrong in the first!”

“Kelley, I said that will be enough.”

And I heard her get up from the table. Which was my cue to step through the doorway, turn the corner and walk into a freeze frame tableau: with everyone suddenly looking at me.

I had questions galore. But they died, unasked.

Kelley strode off to get a breakfast platter for me that would be three times larger than anything I could eat.

Candace, who looked like she’d been ridden hard and put away wet, choked out “Good morning” and discreetly brought a handkerchief up to her eyes. She fervently wished me somewhere else for the time being.

My Uncle greeted me with a half-smile “Hello, my dear” and then started to memorize the Times of London.

The one question I was able to come up with sounded pathetic. “Is everything all right?”

My Uncle didn’t look up from his paper.

“We’ll talk about it later, Rebecca.”

Candace sniffed. “Tell her now. She’s an intelligent girl. No doubt, she’ll understand. How can we even pretend that she doesn’t know anything? Or hasn’t heard anything?”

~~~

But Uncle James chose his own time: motioning me outside as he got ready to leave for the university.

Outside it was a perfect English day. Only a few high cobwebs littered the sky and, standing in the right spot, I could have seen the coast of Norway, while—crossing the drive—Uncle James fully looked the part of the English eccentric. His pants were clipped tight around his ankles. He wore his floppy bicycle hat. And his cost-no-object brushed aluminum briefcase was securely strapped behind his seat.

I wished it was a day that we could enjoy more: but even the dogs sensed the mood in the house. They huddled around me, nervous about what would come next.

Of course Uncle James wasn’t going to pretend that nothing had happened.

“I assume that you’ve figured everything out by now.”

“That depends on what ‘everything’ is. There seems to be someone upstairs. He seems to be unhappy. I wasn’t able to get back to sleep by the way.”

My Uncle looked off into the distance.

“Neither was I. We made bold to suggest that he be moved to a place better equipped to care for him. Mrs Rzepczynski is in well over her head. She’s being very brave about it, but she feels we should start making the transition. What you heard was the reaction to our suggestion. Even Kelley heard it from her room. So now everyone’s had a sleepless night. Everyone’s disappointed and angry. And I’m going to be late for class if I don’t leave soon.”

“So this ‘Hope’ person? Has he been here since I got here?”

This was a question unworthy of a woman of my intelligence. He just waved it away, which irritated me. “I think you could have said something.”

“The National Health Service assured us he would be cold, and in the ground, six weeks ago. Each morning I expect Mrs Rzepczynski to knock on our bedroom door and tell us that his suffering has ended. And each day, every morning, he’s still there.”

“Is it catchable? Are we all going to get it?”

“Nothing to worry about. It’s extremely rare and might even be a gesture from an angry god: if you believe in that kind of thing.”

“And you still haven’t told me who he is.”

“He’s a viper in wickerwork—and the less you know of him, the better. Just remember how important it is not to make promises you don’t intend to keep. I made what I thought was a grand gesture in a weak moment. And now look where I’ve arrived. A parasite infesting my home!”

“Look on the bright side. Maybe he’ll croak today.”

“Maybe he will. In the meantime, I have a seminar full of inquiring minds.”

And, with that, he bounced away through the pure English light.


Submitted: September 14, 2021

© Copyright 2021 churchmouse. All rights reserved.

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