The Seance And Long Afterwards

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic


A seance has unexpected consequences for those involved.

Submitted: January 05, 2018

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Submitted: January 05, 2018

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I had the good fortune to grow up in Greenwich Village when it was still the bohemian heart of the city. My mother had a small brownstone which she had bought and renovated in which we lived. Money was often very tight, my father was a financial disaster of the highest magnitude both before and after the separation and eventual divorce So, in order to make ends meet we always had renters in one of the two apartments that made up the house. Some stayed for a few years some for only one or two and they were a diverse and fascinating group. Some were terrible, the soon to be famous actor who was drunkenly abusive to his live in girl friend, the Broadway producer so cheap that he skipped out on the last months rent and took all the light bulbs in the apartment with him. The house was not large, and by circumstance or inclination we became quite close with some of the tenants. There was the advertising executive turned novelist who shared his fascination with whales and whaling with me. I still have fond memories of a trip to Nantucket that we took with him and his charming British wife.  We camped on the beach one night and sitting by the fire I heard for the first time the terrifying tale of The Monkey's Paw. But this story is not about them but about a family who moved in not long after they had left. They were from Italy and were planning to stay in New York for a year, maybe two. The husband a steel haired man of about fifty I guess, (a child's estimate of grown ups ages is often flawed) and his wife who was somewhat younger although still old enough to have grown children. Two of those children had remained behind in Italy, both were sons, one in University and another working in the Italian Film industry. The only child they had brought with them was their youngest a daughter of about seventeen years of age. They were an interesting group the father, who's name was Maurizio was a journalist. The mother, named Giuliana worked at the United Nations. I gathered that her job was what brought them to the U.S. and that it was somewhat more important than her husband's who seemed completely unconcerned about almost everything. Their daughter's name was Serafina and she was a tall, quiet girl who spoke English far less well than her parents. She had long dark hair which I suppose came from her father, her mother's hair was auburn in color. Their last name was Farnese and apparently they were not too distantly related to the Renaissance Farnese's and their dukes and duchesses. Giuliana's family was apparently even older and also of some noble origin as once when Maurizio was holding forth at dinner about his illustrious forebears, she broke in. 

"Maurizio, you know of course that the Farnese were picking olives when the Aleramici were already ruling all of Piedmont?"  By this we gathered that Aleramici was her family name.

Maurizio took it in good humor, laughing and saying that the history of most Italian families was a bit like a rollercoaster ride, rising and falling with unexpected quickness. 

They were an attractive couple, not just in looks but temperament. They were lively and entertaining, which made their daughter seem a bit out of place in their company.  Not that Serafina wasn't attractive, she was in fact lovely but she was so much more reserved than her parents. Perhaps it was because her command of the language wasn't as good as theirs? 

Not long after they had moved in to the downstairs apartment, which consisted of two floors, a basement and a garden that my uncle Will also came to stay with us. It was just my mother, my younger brother who was still a baby at the time and myself, so there was an extra small bedroom that we kept for guests. My uncle was in fact my father's much younger brother, who was in fact only about nine years older than my self. He was a tall, skinny, brooding young man who was guilty of that sin which many young men are guilty of, he took himself far too seriously. I recognize this failing for it was one I fell prey to myself at about the same age. Thankfully time and experience have rid me of that one defect at least. 

At the time I was very fond of my Uncle and remained so, even after we grew estranged. He knew all the latest and best music, which he would happily play for me, diving into his extensive collection of vinyl that he had brought with him in the trunk of his tiny sports car. He could play the guitar although at the time somewhat indifferently and tried to teach me some chords with mixed success. I was often asked after he had found success as a musician if I had seen that budding talent in him and I would honestly answer, "that no, I had know idea that he had so much potential." I guess he was not a bad looking young man, but I have always been mostly unable to see attractiveness in men, except by seeing what society judges as handsome.

If Cary Grant is handsome, therefore men who look like Cary Grant are handsome? If Kieth Richards is attractive to women, alright… I'll stop right there. Later of course Will found some success with his band, "The Silent Wheel" which cut two gold albums and had three singles that made it to the charts before their typical rock band implosion.

When Halloween came that year there was a party at my Nana's house, only two blocks away. It was still in the process of renovation and mostly vacant, except for the small apartment that my grandparents kept for when they were in the city. My mother, grandmother and Aunt had bought out all the other family members who had owned shares in this house that had been in the family since the end of the Great War, and wanted to have a celebration.

The party was to be held in the empty apartment which occupied the first and second floors and could spill out into the garden if the weather would permit.  On the parlor floor the huge pocket doors had been opened to turn the two rooms that made up most of the floor into one. The stark emptiness of the open parlor was decorated with a few Jack O' Lanterns and garlands of fall colored leaves. There was one large round table and several straight back chairs and a sideboard from which drinks were served. The fireplaces were lit in all the rooms as the heat was not yet installed and there was a fall chill in the air. It was a lively affair, neighbors, friends and some family stopped by, ate, drank and mingled. The guests admired the restoration work being done on the house, gossiped about the goings on in the neighborhood and generally made merry. Guy, the gentleman who had so terrified me years earlier with "The Monkey's Paw", gathered the few children in attendance to the garden. There seated around a particularly evil looking pumpkin he regaled us with his version of "Room for One More." My mother fielded complaints from various parents for the next week.

Once evening had settled in and most of the guests had departed the party moved entirely indoors. It was only my grandparents, my mother, my uncle, myself and the Farneses left. The Serafina's older brother who was a painter had joined us. He had just gifted our family with a charming but odd painting. It was of a group of Monks who were apparently engaged in the sport of ballooning. It was eccentric and colorful. I liked it, but my grandfather eyed it suspiciously. We ate a delicious meal which my mother and Giuliana cooked in tandem. And then sated from the repast, we sat by candlelight around the table with our coffee. I was not allowed coffee as yet and had to make do with cocoa.

I'm not sure how the talk turned to the subject of ghosts and the supernatural in general, although it was probably my fault. I had always been fascinated with the strange and inexplicable; ESP, haunted houses, the Loch Ness monster and the like. Those things both frightened and attracted me and still do, although I am sad to say as an adult I have reached the conclusion that Nessie is in all likelihood a charming myth. Anyway, after a while it was suggested that we hold a seance. I don't remember who's suggestion it was, I only know it wasn't mine. My mother thought it might be fun to commune with the ancestors who had inhabited the house before us and my grandmother agreed. In fairness I think my mother actually half thought it might be possible, my grandmother probably viewed the whole thing as a party game with dramatic lighting. My grandfather was was a rationalist, who thought all superstition was bunk, and also possibly déclassé, gave his very reluctant approval. Giuliana and her son seemed eager as did her husband, Serafina as always was difficult to read, but made no objection as did my uncle Will.

Then disappointment struck. I was not to be allowed to attend. This seemed grossly unfair as I felt I was the most qualified person in attendance, having just finished Hans Holzer's book about haunted houses. I protested, but to no avail. My grandfather rather eagerly gave up his place at the table and volunteered to take me downstairs to the kitchen. There I was to be allowed to watch the battered old television, which seemed a poor exchange indeed.

In the kitchen the delicious smells that had been conjured as dinner was made, still lingered. The room was still bare and mostly unfurnished however. My grandfather claimed the only comfortable chair and I got an old folding contraption. The beat up old television was set up on the folding table which had been used as a sideboard when dinner was being served. My grandfather helped himself to another piece of pie and offered me one as well. I was in a bit of a sulk and refused. He made no comment but switched on the television and tried to find us something to watch. Baseball season had just ended so that eliminated that possibility. Eventually, after going around the dial twice we settled on a rerun of the old Batman TV show. Normally this was a favorite of ours. My grandfather found it endlessly amusing which did sometimes irritate me. "Couldn't he see that crime fighting was a serious business and that Batman was risking his life to protect us from 'dastardly criminals'?" Tonight though, I couldn't concentrate even on the perils of the dynamic duo. My ears strained to hear anything that might be going on upstairs. It seemed criminally unfair that I should be left out of such an important event. What if ghost appeared? What if I wasn't there to see it? What if they were doing the seance wrong? I was pretty sure that, even at my tender age, I was the most experienced when it came to the supernatural. This was of course completely ridiculous, but I was much surer about things then than I am now.

After minutes of listening intently trying to hear anything over the sounds coming from the tv, a noise finally emerged. My grandfather had began to snore.

I seized the opportunity and crept as quietly as I could from the kitchen to the stairway leading back up to the parlor floor. It was an old house and the stairs could be creaky so I took it slow. Step by step I climbed and as I did I began to hear the murmuring of voices from behind the parlor door. I drew as close to the door as I could without touching it. The hallway was dark, all the electric lights on this floor were off and only the dim flicker of candlelight made its way under the door. The voices were clearer now. I could hear my mother asking "If anyone was there?"

She seemed to be trying to contact the spirit or spirits of those who had earlier lived in this house. This went on for sometime without any signs of success. I could occasionally hear suppressed laughter, being shushed and other inaudible comments. Then a voice, a woman's voice.

"Fa così freddo."

A young man's voice. "She says she is cold."

"Ho paura… Alberto!" There were some other words that I did not hear.

"She cannot find Alberto and she is afraid."

I could hear a choked sob come from someone in the room and in response a man's unintelligible whispers.

"She says the water is dark." Said the young man's voice again translating something I did not hear said.

And then the young woman's voice came through again clear and cold as a bell.

"Annegamento…"

There was a loud cry and then the lights inside the room snapped on. I could hear a woman sobbing uncontrollably. Chairs were being moved, there was a bustle of frantic activity and my grandfather had somehow materialized next to me. He was very light on his feet for a large man. My grandmother a rather small woman you could always hear stomping about this house with staccato steps, but my grandfather had the unpracticed stealth of a jungle cat. 

He gave me a look that said. "I really wish you hadn't done this, but I probably would have done the same at your age." Then the door was opened and we could see the room and its occupants.

Giuliana was sobbing in the arms of her supportive, if somewhat befuddled looking husband. My grandmother was flitting about the room but exactly what she was doing seemed unclear. My mother was standing by the light switch on the wall. It was she who had apparently brought the seance to an end, bathing the whole room in the bright light from the overhead chandelier. Her eyes were fixed, as were most everyone's, on Serafina who sat stock still in her seat. Her eyes were open and looking forward at nothing in particular. A blank expression into which nothing could be read was on her face. Flanking her were her older brother and my uncle who were both looking at her. They both seemed concerned and curious as to her condition. Her brother spoke something to her in Italian and she turned to him. She looked like someone waking from a deep sleep, but a smile was on her lips and she must of reassured him in some way, for her returned the smile and standing kissed her on the top of her head. Giuliana had calmed down somewhat and sat in the seat that he had vacated and took her daughter's hands in hers. They spoke briefly, but what they said, I cannot tell, but Giuliana seemed relived after. Maurizio made some joke which I do not remember and there was some nervous, relieved laughter. The party was clearly over and coats were fetched, goodbyes and apologies were tendered. The older brother whose name was Alfredo lingered behind while the rest of his family were in the hall. Like most children I was an experienced eavesdropper and I was able to catch some of what he said to my mother and grandfather.

"It was her older sister… many years ago when my mother was a little girl. Snuck out at night  went swimming… a boy her parents had forbidden…the lake by the summerhouse…something…drowned…never knew how it had happened…strong swimmer." I grew as close as I dared. "The strange thing was." Alfredo continued. "The boy drowned the next summer at the same spot on the lake. Suicide, they said, but there was no note. It was very hard on my mother she loved her sister dearly. I just thought I should try and explain…"

"Do you think that is what that was? That her…spirit was speaking through your sister?" My mother asked. My Grandfather had a skeptical look on his face.

Alfredo responded. "My sister knows the story…we all do. I don't know, I am sure she wouldn't put on an act, she is not a…dramatic person. Who can say?"

Giuliana called from the hallway and that ended the conversation. As they took their leave the mood seemed to have lifted entirely. Serafina seemed to have recovered completely from whatever spell she had been under. She and my uncle were laughing together at something when her mother gently touched her by the arm and drew her away. The Farnese's all left and the adults began to tidy up.

"Where did all this water come from?" Asked my grandmother standing by the round table in the parlor. There was quite a large puddle underneath the table and chairs, but it seemed an unimportant thing at the time. After closing up the house we headed back home and that would have been that, except for what happened after.

Over the next few months my uncle and Serafina grew close. To me this was a source of annoyance, but also peaked my curiosity. I had occasionally felt those nascent pangs of longing and affection which are a source of joy and sadness for all humans. But children don't understand those things until they one day do, that is just the way of it. I was annoyed that my uncle had less time for me, there were fewer games of Stratego, fewer lessons on the guitar, and less time for listening to his copious record collection. At the same time however his mood had considerably improved. His countenance which had often seemed so dour was now rather sunny, so much so that I once asked my mother if there was something wrong with him. She found this extremely amusing, but I did not get a straight answer.

As they spent more time together Serafina's English markedly improved and she was teaching Will Italian as well. By the time spring came they were quite inseparable and seemed very happy together. I could see when the families were together Serafina's mother sometimes casting a concerned and guarded looks at both her daughter and my uncle. Could she disapprove? It was true my uncle on the surface seemed no great catch. No immediate prospects. Not unusually handsome. But he was a kind and intelligent young man all the same. It was hard to see what her objection would be? Giuliana hardly seemed like the mercenary scheming mother hoping to marry her daughter off for money.

"I don't like Maurizio… I don't like it." I heard her say one evening when we were all at a restaurant together.

"Don't like what? He isn't a bad boy and I think she has him wrapped around her little finger." He replied.

"I know…that troubles me too, its so unlike her…unlike Serafina."

"Weren't you afraid she would wind up in the convent?" He gently mocked her concern.

"I am serious Maurizio!" Giuliana's voice grew too loud and others turned to look. She laughed and made some silly remark and the conversation turned to other things.

Time moved on, as it does and weeks turned to months and still Will and Serafina were together. They seemed happy together and each in their own way had changed. My uncle seemed not just more cheerful, but more at ease, more comfortable in his own skin, as they say. The change was perhaps more extreme in Serafina however. The introverted young girl was gone and in her place was a strong and vibrant young woman. It was true that of the two Serafina was the more dominant personality. It was she who seemed to suggest what they would do as a couple, where they would go, who they would see, but not in a bullying way. She persuaded with an infectious enthusiasm and joy, no joy is the wrong word. Hunger, she had a hunger for the life and all the pleasures it possessed, both large and small. If she had had a motto it would have been "carpe diem." 

Oddly enough as spring became summer I was often dragged in to their activities by Serafina. A trip to Coney Island, where she insisted we ride the Cyclone three times. After she dragged us to the Aquarium where the dolphin show filled her with delight. She clapped and smiled all through the performance, her face lit up like a child. It was infectious, I must admit. My uncle who had only reluctantly agreed to the aquarium and me, a jaded New York City kid who had visited many times before, were swept up in her mood. We visited every exhibit, which all seemed new and wonderful, as if we were seeing them through her eyes. Afterwards we ate at Nathan's, savoring the hot dogs and greasy french fries as if they were a royal feast. 

As the afternoon wore on the sky grew dark as the clouds rolled in from the west. We walked on the boardwalk, looking at the various games of chance which were set up in stalls along the landward side. I unsuccessfully tried my hand at knocking down some clown shaped pins with three throws of a baseball. My uncle did better, winning a small stuffed lion which he presented to Serafina, who accepted it with mock solemnity. We continued along and it grew colder. I zipped up my sweatshirt and Will and Serafina walked with their arms wrapped about each other as couple sometimes do. They were whispering to one another and I, either through embarrassment or sensitivity forged ahead. 

There were kite fliers on the beach, some had the traditional diamond shaped kite, but there were others, box kites and hawk shaped kites, round kites with long trailing tails of circles in ever descending sizes. But the one I remember the most was the dragon kite. It was huge with great bat like wings and a long serpentine body. It was red and gold in color and the few shafts of light that penetrated the clouds shone on the metallic fabric that made up its body. It swam through the air beautifully at least eighty feet above us and I needed to see it closer.

I ran down to the beach, where the man controlling the dragon kite stood. He had a fairly complicated contraption that he wore like a shoulder harness that seemed to be controlling the kite. Two large spools with crank handles managed the lines of fishing wire that stretched up into the sky and made the dragon dance. The man smiled at me once, but then went back to work. He seemed quite intent on managing his kite's progress through the sky. I was mesmerized and watched the beautiful thing shimmer and twist as if the wind had given the life to this inanimate thing made of nylon, wood and string. I was so wrapped up in the sight, that I did not even notice when my uncle and Serafina arrived and stood next to me watching as well.

We must have all stood there for a few minutes looking at the kite or so I thought, when I heard my uncle call Serafina's name in an anxious fashion. I looked and saw her staring not at the kite as I had supposed, but out toward the ocean. The water was fairly calm but dark under the cloudy sky, it looked cold and somehow forbidding. Serafina stood there stiff and as unresponsive as a stone as my uncle took her by the shoulders and gently tried to rouse her from whatever strange reverie she was in. Her expression was unsettling. To describe it is difficult. It was a blank expression I guess, no obvious sign of emotion or thought. The eyes were focused on the dark water in the distance, but somehow I got the impression of great sadness.

It only lasted a few moments I guess before my uncle's entreaties seemed to rouse her, but it was very disturbing. I saw an epileptic friend have a petite mal seizure once and this was very similar. I wonder if that is what my uncle thought. By the time we got back to the car they were arguing, although it was unclear to me what it was that had started it. I squeezed into the tiny back seat of the sports car and we headed home.

Serafina was still angry at something and after a few short sharp exchanges we all lapsed into silence. My uncle turned on the radio. Tighter & Tighter by Alive N Kickin' was playing, the female vocalist doing an excellent Janice Joplin. Before the next song came on I was fast asleep.

When I awoke we were pulling up to the front of the house. Serafina was asleep in the passenger's seat in front of me. She awoke when he switched off the ignition and the gentle rumble of the engine ceased.  She smiled and seemed herself again as we made our way into the house. It must have been late or at least later than we were expected home, because her mother Giuliana was waiting. She was at the door so quickly that she must have been listening for the distinctive sound of the MG's engine. She looked at us all her expression going quickly from concern to relief. Serafina kissed my uncle lightly on the lips and went past her mother into her family's apartment. Before Giuliana closed the door behind them she smiled at my uncle, but it was a sad smile and her eyes held a message that I don't think either of us could read.

There were other excursions to the Natural History Museum and Planetarium, to the zoo in central park, among others. Mostly the couple seemed happy together. They fought, on occasion as couples will, mostly over trivial things, or at least things that seemed trivial to me at the time. In the end they always seemed to make up, but only I noticed, after Serafina had gotten her way. She had definitely changed from the shy girl we had met those months ago, perhaps it was just that she had become nearly fluent in English. Somehow it seemed more than that. There had been some fundamental change in her personality.

Giuliana's behavior over those months seems odder to me in retrospect. I was still just a boy when all this occurred, used to the annoying and often unwanted supervision that the older generations bestowed upon. I thought nothing of Giuliana's waiting for us to arrive home after every trip, nothing of her looks of concern. But now years later and after having become a parent myself, I see it differently. Giuliana's concern wasn't that of a mother worried about her daughter's first love affair. She seemed unconcerned that her daughter would sometimes spend the night in my uncle's room, or that my uncle had little in the way of money or prospects. She did not hector Serafina about returning to college or getting a job or any of the thousands of little things that parents nag their offspring about. But she was always there waiting whenever we returned from some trip or other as if she felt that there was some chance that we might not.

And when we were together, she was always watching, watching her daughter's every move, every motion of her features, every mannerism when she talked, or walked. And as the months grew on I saw a recognition in Giuliana of something she saw in Serafina.

Eventually summer became fall, as it does and Halloween grew close again. The renovations were finally complete at the other house and there would be another party. I was told in no uncertain terms that there would be no seance and that I was not to bring up the subject by my grandfather. He would not entertain any more such foolishness. This year it would be a costume party and that was enough for him, no need to summon any ghosts from the vasty deep.

In the early evening our house was astir with preparations. My grandmother was supervising the cooking in the kitchen at the old house, which meant that the cooks were mostly ignoring her, and thankfully so. Will was downstairs already dressed as John Lennon strumming his guitar and waiting for Serafina who was putting the finishing touches on her outfit in the upstairs bathroom. I had been wearing my Batman costume for hours now, running around the house yelling "pow" and "bam". I was especially fond of the black felt mask/hat that my uncle and Serafina had bought me. It was a huge improvement over the plastic mask that had come with the rest of the costume.

As I dashed down the upstairs hall, I saw Serafina through the open bathroom door. There was something odd in the way she was standing there looking into the mirror that hung over the sink. I paused in my pretend crime fighting and looked more closely. She seemed to be in that same strange state I had seen her in before. In her hand she held a lipstick, which seemed to have been forgotten halfway to her face. She was completely immobile, her face a blank mask staring into the mirror. I followed her gaze and saw to my shock, that the face in the mirror was not identical to the one gazing into it. The face was Serafina's, all right but the expression on it was one of absolute terror. I looked back and forth from the actual to reflected face to confirm what I was seeing was real. The vision in the mirror remained the same, but for a moment I saw a slight smile play across the actual Serafina's lips. Something about that expression filled me with fear as well, and it suddenly seemed very cold and lonely in the upstairs bathroom. I ran to the head of the stairs and called for my uncle.

He must have heard the anxiousness in my voice for he reached the top of the stairs in a flash. I pointed mutely at the bathroom door and he saw Serafina's frozen form.

"Fina?" He called out tentatively and the spell seemed to be broken. She turned to look at him and smiled, but I was not sure I liked this smile either. She came into the hallway and did a full turn showing off her lovely gown. It was an antique affair with big skirts that filled the narrow hallway.

"Gorgeous." My uncle replied.

"You look beautiful Fina." I found myself saying, unconsciously using the name my uncle used for her.

She laughed and kissed us both me on the cheek my uncle on the lips. I felt that undeniable frisson from that kiss. That feeling that is really indescribable even though we humans have devoted so much in time and effort into just that. Even so, I couldn't help but notice that her lips seemed cold. She breezed past us and down that stairs.

I didn't know how I could tell my uncle what I had just seen. I was beginning already to doubt it in my own mind when he spoke.

"That's odd." He said looking into the bathroom. "Look at all that water on the floor? I wonder if there is a leak? Run downstairs and grab a roll of paper towels and the mop from the closet." 

There was something about seeing that puddle of water on the white tile floor of the upstairs bathroom that seemed terribly wrong to me; something horribly out of place and somehow frightening. It was as if my uncle had told me there was a rattlesnake on the bathroom floor. I stared at the offending puddle, unmoving.

"Get going, before it drips over everything." 

I got what he had requested and together we cleaned up the spill. 

"I wonder where that came from?" He said when we were done. "I can't find a leak anywhere."

The party was bigger than last year and most everyone was in costume or at least wearing a mask. The weather was warmer this October and the backyard was crowded with revelers. I was sent off to trick or treat with my friends and one older sibling who was reluctantly sent along to chaperone and did not return to the old house until after dark. It was lit up beautifully with garlands of pumpkin lights wrapped around the ironwork on the stoop and gate. Most of the guests seemed to be downstairs in the kitchen and adjoining dining room or out in the garden. The buffet had just been served. I could hear the clink of silverware and china along with the murmur of voices coming from below. As I crossed the upstairs hallway I could see the parlors which were lit only by the light from the two fire places a few candles and a couple of strategically placed Jack O' Lanterns. They were occupied by only two people engaged in a private  conversation. It was Serafina and her mother Giuliana. Giuliana seemed to be the one doing most of the talking and since it was primarily in Italian it was impossible for me to know what was said. I could tell from the her attitude and the inflection of her voice that she was asking something of her daughter, no not asking, imploring. There was a desperation in the way she entreated Serafina, who in turn seemed unmoved by her mother's emotional appeal.

"No, penso che un anno sia abbastanza." Giuliana said finally. She looked both sad and determined.

"I think not." Serafina answered in English and smiled very coldly at her mother. She turned to leave with a contemptuous look but Giuliana grasped he by the shoulder and wheeled her about so they stood face to face. It was hard to see what happened next, but it looked like Giuliana opened her hand and blew some powdery substance that she had been holding into Serafina's face. The younger woman recoiled in surprise and tried to wipe away the offending substance. Giuliana was relentless however. She slapped Serafina open handed but with great force, not once, or twice but three times. Each time Serafina's head was thrown back by the force of the blow. While her daughter was still reeling from the attack, she  raised her two hands and made a strange gesture with them, thumbs, index and little fingers extended the others bent.

"Basta." She said her voice raw with emotion. Seconds later Serafina was collapsed in her arms weeping with her mother comforting her like a small child. The sound of the commotion had brought others to the room, but by the time they arrived it was over. My uncle was among those who showed up and approached Serafina and her mother with obvious concern. Giuliana tried to warn him off with a wave of her hand, but to no avail. As he approached Serafina looked up and saw him and such a look of horror came over her face that my uncle was stopped dead in his tracks. Serafina buried her head in her mother's shoulder and began to weep anew while my Uncle just stood there hurt and confused.

"Something has upset her." Giuliana tried to explain. "I need to take her home. Tomorrow. Tomorrow you can talk." She gathered her up and quickly the left the party. The party continued for most people I guess, but not my Uncle or myself. I was too troubled from what I had seen and he from what he did not understand. When the room had emptied I searched where the two had their confrontation for whatever Giuliana had thrown at Serafina. On the floor I found the remnants of a dry powdery substance. I gathered up what I could of it curious as to what it was. At first I could make nothing of it but when I brought it close to my face to examine it the smell was familiar. It was something I had smelled often when my Aunt was cooking, the smell of sage, a common herb.

Things changed completely between my uncle and Serafina that night and to a much lesser extent between Serafina and me. My uncle did not see her the next day or the day after that and when on the third day when they spoke, she told him that she was leaving. She was returning to Rome to finish her studies she said, but she could barely look him in the eye and her English was no longer as good as I thought it had become over the last several months. My Uncle asked her what was wrong and tried to take her hand, but she recoiled from his touch. He looked confused and hurt.

"Will I see you again?" He asked after a long silence.

She looked at him, this time holding his gaze and said. "No, mi dispiachi."  Which I took to be an apology of some sort. And without another word turned and left. We did not see Serafina again and the notes my uncle left for her went unanswered. She left for Italy within that week with her father and I did not see her again.

One day not long after I saw my uncle and Giuliana talking. She seemed to genuinely be trying to comfort him in some way, but eventually he stormed off. As he passed me I could see he looked completely devastated. Giuliana looked sadly after him as he left. I could tell that she was regretting something, perhaps the words she had spoken to my uncle?

"I'm sorry Serafina is gone." I said after awhile. "I'm going to miss her."

She smiled wanly at me and said. "Me too dear boy. Me too."

The Farnese family left after the New Year and another tenant moved in a journalist with a taste for safari style clothes. My uncle left for California a little later that winter, leaving me all his albums.  His demeanor had changed, he was again a dour and moody young man, but he also seemed more purposeful or at least less aimless. After my parents turbulent divorce we saw each other a few times even though relations between the two families were strained to say the least. I think he genuinely liked my mother who had always been kind to him and was not unaware of his older brother's flaws of character. Still we drifted apart, I thought of him when I would listen to the Rolling Stones, or the Beatles, grateful for the gift of music that he had given me.

He founded the band, The Silent Wheel with Jimmy Tracey soon after and though their first album made no impression, the second was a hit, two singles charted and it went gold.  The third album was also successful, going gold in its first week but during the tour that followed the band broke up. It was the usual cocktail of competing egos, artistic directions and drugs that doomed so many bands of that era. The music that they made was I guess a kind of progressive almost psychedelic rock. It was melodic but powerful, there were strong hooks and  exquisite guitar solos from Tracey. My uncle was the lead vocalist on most tracks and played rhythm guitar. Together they wrote all the songs or were at least so credited, but there was one song I knew my uncle had started writing before he had left for California. I had heard him play the plaintive sounding chords that winter after Serafina had left, sitting alone in his room on the top floor of our house; And so when I heard it on the first eponymous album, it was no surprise that he had named it after her. It was a slow, sad ballad that didn't get the airplay of their more upbeat work, but was released as the b-side of the hit "Actual Aardvark."

After the band broke up my uncle recorded one album with "The Unquiet". That album "Reluctant Revanaunts"  also went gold and is considered by some the high mark of that particularly ill fated band. My uncle left The Unquiet after one world tour, which is all for the best considering the mortality rate of members of that organization. He mostly slipped from sight and the public consciousness at that point, although I gather he was still in demand as a songwriter.

I saw him once or twice during those years, the most memorable time being in California when I was about thirty five years of age and he nearly a decade older. He was married then, to a backup singer he had met when on tour and had two children, who were both quite small at the time. His wife was a pretty little blonde woman who flitted around us as we had our coffee in the garden of their mission style house. She seemed sweet and very solicitous of my uncle and was quite friendly to me and I was sorry to hear that they divorced not too many years after that visit. My uncle was friendly but reserved with me at first, warming up when he realized I was not there to hit him up for cash. My father I had heard had borrowed a sizable sum from him at one point for some dubious financial scheme which had, of course, gone horribly awry. We talked about music and reminisced. He felt at the time that technology was changing forever the way music could and would be produced. We talked about Fripp and Eno and the production techniques used on the last Rory Music record. At one point he asked me in an oft handed fashion if we had every heard from the Farnese's, although I could tell the question had been on his lips since first I had sat down. I told him my mother had gotten a note from Giualiana, but I knew who he wanted news of, and I had none to give. We parted on good terms and said, as people do, that we should see each other again soon and not let so much time pass between visits. That was not to be the case. Life intervenes, as it does and within two years I was married and a father myself. My uncle visited us once after our daughter was born, I was in the haze of early parenting at the time and I must confess I have little memory of that particular visit. We did not see him after that, but each year on her birthday he sent his grand niece some bit of music. They were CDs at first but in the last years became iTunes gift certificates.

I heard that he had gotten divorced only when there was a retrospective on "The Silent Wheel" on television one evening. The 1990s were a time where music retrospectives were at their peak. It was the usual gossip fest, trying to make the most drama out of a not particularly dramatic situation as rock bands go. Tracey had been dead for many years and the show did talk about his untimely auto accident, but mostly my uncle as the sole remaining full time member of the band got to have his say. He was soft spoken and gracious as always and gave fulsome praise to Tracey and his other colleagues. At the end he hinted that he may be at work on some new material. It was also apparent that he had married again and was living somewhere in Italy with his new dark haired wife as the last shots in the documentary where of them together outside their villa in the countryside.

We visited him there only once, one summer when on vacation. It was a lovely time. I wasn't sure about his new wife though. She seemed pleasant enough at first, but something was not right between them, or at least that is what my wife told me. Men can be pretty dense about noticing such things. One night late, after everyone else had gone to bed we sat up by the fire and talked. It was always easy with my uncle to pick up a conversation even after a long absence. After the usual catching up on family news, we talked about my father, his brother, who had recently died and what a mess he had made of his lives, and for that matter the lives of those he was closest to as well. The mood grew a bit more somber and at one point he turned to me and said.

"I looked her up you know, when we moved here, Serafina."

"Really?" I said. I was intrigued but did not wish to pry.

"Yes." He replied looking not at me but into the fire. "She is living in Milan. Married. Three kids. We met at a cafe there just last month. She seemed reluctant at first but then, well, I guess she was curious."

"How did it go?"

He laughed. "It was strange. No, it was weird as hell. We asked the usual questions. Her parents are both alive, by the way, divorced and I think remarried at least twice over each of them. She was still a lovely woman, but not the girl I remembered, but how could she be? Its not like I am that boy either. When I asked her what had happened, why she had left all those years ago without an explanation or goodbye, she made light of it at first. 'We were just children, who knows why children do what they do?' She told me, but I don't think she meant it. I asked her if she had heard the song, the one I had written for her. She said that of course she had heard it and how flattering it was, how her girlfriends were in awe that she had a famous musician so smitten that he wrote a song for her. We talked a bit longer but I could tell something was making her uncomfortable and that she wished to go. So I asked her one last thing."

"What was it?"

"I asked her what she had thought of the song and she said the strangest thing. She said, and these are the exact words. 'It was a beautiful song Will, but it wasn't about me.'

With that she got up a left and I still don't know what to make of it.

I didn't either and told him so. We went to bed soon after and the rest of the visit went on without any remarkable occurrence.

I am no longer a young man and I have loved and lost and loved again. There is for some of us, I guess the pull of that lost love of long ago. They say the first romantic love we feel is the most intense and perhaps that is true. We grow more guarded as time goes on, unable or unwilling to surrender ourselves to the joy and helplessness of those feelings. But who can say that they have never thought of an old girlfriend or boyfriend and wondered. Wondered, what would have been different then or what could be different now? For some I think that is just an idle speculation, a pleasant daydream, for others it can have a more obsessive quality. 

I wish I could end the story there. At least I hope my uncle, had for a short time found happiness again. Only two or three years after the documentary had aired I heard from his ex-wife in California that he had passed away. She was making all the arrangements as he had apparently been divorced by his Italian wife. She had ran off with some musician who had been working for my uncle on his final project and could not be found.

The funeral was held in the small Hudson Valley town where my uncle had grown up. It seemed an odd choice as he had spent most of his adult life in either sunny climes of California or Italy. The choice was made odder still by that fact that it was a particularly bitter March day when we laid him to rest at the cemetery. Debbie, the ex-wife was there with the two kids, now fully grown, the son looking so much like his father had looked at that age, that it gave me quite a start.

"I know." Debbie said. "He looks just like him. Not much of me there. Certainly not the height!" She laughed but her eyes were sad.

I asked, as delicately as I could, what had happened?

"I'm not sure." She said, slowly, picking her words with care. "There was a lake near where they… he was living. And I guess…somehow he drowned. He wasn't wearing trunks, just regular clothes, so they think it could have been an accident or perhaps…"

"They think he could have taken his own life?"

"I can't say. Will wasn't a happy man by nature, but I'd like to think he cared enough about me, about the children to have a left a note at the very least."

We walked back through the cold afternoon air to where the long line of black cars awaited.

"He wasn't a bad father to them, you know." She said. "They loved him and then for a while they hated him. After the divorce… I suppose that's natural. But Will was always kind to them in his way, months would go by without a word, but he never forgot a birthday or Christmas."

When we were leaving she gave me a small box she took from the back seat of the car.  "He wanted you to have this. I don't know what it is, I hadn't the heart to look. If it is something…you know something that explains anything… will you let me know?"

I nodded and took the box from her hands. My name was written on the top in black ink.

"It is a terrible thing, to live in doubt." She said. We hugged briefly and then she was in the car and gone.

The box contained the the last recordings my uncle had made over the last four or five years. They were good some of the best songs he had every written and I plan on making sure they get the release they deserve. He had even gone so far as to get some art produced for the cover. It was painting in an impressionist style of a lonely vista, tall cypress trees stood against a bleak sky. A solitary figure, that of a dark haired woman in a white dress stood her back turned to the audience, gazing out upon the cold dark waters of a lake. The album's title was The Lemure as was one of the songs a mournful instrumental. It was all original material on the album except one cover song. It was an old tune by The Mamas & The Papas, "I Saw Her Again." It was a particularly downbeat version of the song and when I heard my uncle sing the lines.

" I saw her again last night. And you know that I shouldn't."  It sent a chill down my spine.

And then there was the title. Lemure?  I had heard that word somewhere before, and after a little research I found out where. In Roman mythology Lemures were restless spirits, often of malign intent. Ovid claimed that they were angry, insatiable ancestral spirits. They were usually unseen, feelings of cold and dread indicated their presence. They commonly haunted a particular place, often the place that had been their home in life, but sometimes attached themselves to a family member. The Romans had a holiday in May, called Lemuria where they propitiated or at least attempted to keep these spirits away. 

It made me wonder what had been conjured up in that seance all those years ago? It made me wonder what my uncle had seen by the shores of that lake? The troubled spirit of an old love or something hungry and evil that had pulled him into the dark cold water. I think, perhaps it is best not to know.


© Copyright 2019 E. J. Woods. All rights reserved.

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