The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
Short Story: Lace Peonies
Writer: Sarah Schwister
Illustrator: Vicky Leta
“What do you think, baby girl?” Jenna said as she shoved the parking brake up, grinning at the grand white house on the patch of garish grass. She stepped out of the car, gravel crunching as the wind messed up highlighted blonde hair. Hand cupped over her bright eyes and fair wrinkles, Jenna squished her face to get a better look at her new home. “Darling?”
Belinda emerged from the car, cradling a pink translucent ball impregnated with a hedgehog. Gray eyes blinked jaggedly to the hollow fields marked by the large, cerulean sky that wrapped her. Knee high socks twisted to their shorts epicenter, turning to the house behind her. A ribbon tamed the 60’s flair of her boy short chocolate hair, a cheap feather wisping in the breeze as she peered up the high windows of all three stories. Stormy tiles marked in cake layers on the white wood sidings, windows growing smaller and darker with every level. Belinda meandering gaze ended at the small porch that hardly wrapped to the other side, swallowing with a shiver.
“Mom, I don’t like it,” Belinda said, moving the ball to her chest, leaning back to hold Muffin’s ball in balance. “Mom, can’t we go home? I don’t want to stay.”
“This is home, baby!” Jenna said, putting her Coach sunglasses over her eyes and holding her daughter by the shoulders to guide her down the cobblestone path. “215 Gatsby Lane: that is our address now, my sweet.”
The moment the door slid open to the house, cool air washed over the pair and Jenna sighed, “I didn’t even realize it was hot outside! How wonderful it is in here!”
She smiled at the milky walls and pale carpet. The light from outside was drained through the simple glass, and seemingly no harsh color could pass. Belinda ventured on, wide eyes darting every corner and along the ceiling as Jenna blabbed on.
“Could you imagine such a house like this? And it was so cheap, too! I bet all your new friends are going to be so jealous, huh darling? Darling?” Jenna trailed off as she watched her daughter tread gently on the ashen carpet.
Belinda walked down the hall on her immediate left towards the whitewash staircase with stylized handrails going five steps to the platform tucked into the corner before the rest continued shallowly to the second floor, which was closed off with a door; keeping a high ceiling. Jenna noticed a door under the stairs. There was a visible change towards Belinda when she saw the door as well, making a beeline to it. Frowning, Jenna leaned against the doorframe as she watched. Belinda reached out her hand to the doorknob, slowly, and the moment she touched it her hand retracted quickly as if it had burned her. The child looked down at her stubby hand, and then back up at the doorknob.
“Darling, are you okay?” Jenna called over from her threshold.
“Yeah, Mom,” Belinda said, turning around but glancing over with a wild eye to the door before facing her mother. “How old is this place?”
“What do you mean?” Jenna said, leaning against the doorframe with her light, loose frame. She looked her daughter up and down, from her daughter’s queer, stiff posture to the bubble eyes.
“Baby?” Jenna said, looking over her shoulder only to see nothing. Belinda swallowed her spit and, within a breath of a moment, said, “I just wanted to know if the toilets worked in this house or will it be like the one house.”
Jenna grinned and said of course they would work.
“Absolutely ridiculous,” Jenna said matter-of-factly to herself, considering her husband’s conversation from a few nights ago. The speckled sun shone onto her crinkled face in the backyard. The earth she was digging up was clumped, a rich brown speckled with white roots and dingy twigs. The aroma of cut grass and hot sun mixed with the soil, making Jenna a little faint, which it normally never did. Sitting back, wiping her brow with her dirty forearm, Jenna straightened her head back as the cramp of bending over too long stung her bones. Frowning, the lime green grass and fire hydrant red brick fence that bordered her tablespoon backyard made her eyes water. Swallowing, she braced her arms behind her and dropped her head skyward; but even there the world looked artificially saturated.
“I’m just dehydrated,” Jenna said; her mouth a line as she hoisted herself back up and headed back to the house. Although, something caught her eye right as she turned away. Ponytail swaying from her quick double take, she scanned the area, but it proved fruitless. Straightening herself, and her dignity, Jenna waved it off with the thought of a dog in the future to ensure no more pests ventured into her yard.
The kitchen welcomed her back inside and seemed to feverishly close the door behind her. Inhaling the soft, cool air with a smile, Jenna tossed her hat on the side table and kicked her boots off onto the rubber mat. Disposing of the apron on the hook, Jenna unruffled her hair and let the heat escape from her head when she saw the mail she placed on the counter yesterday strewn on the floor.
“Again?” Jenna said to herself, brows displeased as she bent over to pick them up. Annoyed, she slammed the letters back onto the white counter and went upstairs. But, when she shot the door open to Belinda’s room, it was vacant. Right as Jenna was closing the door, she heard a voice; indistinguishable to be anything but a voice. Falling utterly still, utterly silent, Jenna’s face went tense in her concentration to eavesdrop the noise. Seconds seemed to be minutes, and again the voice spoke. A young girl’s, definitely; however, the contents were indecipherable. Another voice picked up, and Jenna almost sprinted down the stairs to the room under them.
Slipping the door open, Jenna saw her daughter bowed over a desk by the window. Her feather in her headband frantically panicked under her jagged methods, and her hands obscure movement was marked by the pencil jolting mechanically around. Despite the eccentric behavior that Belinda was exemplifying, Jenna’s eyes instead focused on three peonies in a glass bowl by her daughter. The flowers were baby white, gentle and seemingly unreal, as the heads nestled against the ends of the fat glass bowl; the green stems criss-crossed in the illusion of water.
“Oh Belinda, where did you get the peonies?” Jenna cooed, seeming to have forgotten the accusation she wanted to lay on her daughter. But Belinda whipped around, frightened as a rabbit caught in a bear cave. She bolted past her mother, who was so shocked she allowed it as the daughter sped up the stairs in quiet, ballerina steps.
Unperturbed, Jenna walked across the handful of steps to the desk and peered down and her eyes grew wide.
“No, Melissa, you should see what she drew!” Jenna bragged happily on the phone. “I dunno really. It’s pretty abstract.” Jenna pursed her lips as a gurgle came over the other line. “Well its color pencil and I think I see three girls in it, but that’s all I could tell.” Jenna tilted her head in her attempt to decipher the pieces she discovered her daughter created. The movements of color pencils were jagged, but left a hatching texture. Slipping through the papers, Jenna settled with a smirk as three young girls smiled up nervously to Jenna, as if she were their mother. Peonies laced the braids in their hair.
“I called the art academy alternative school; I’m just waiting for the application to be mailed to me.”
A faint conversation picked up upstairs, and Jenna smiled, thinking her daughter brought a friend home. “They say 5-10 business days. No, no he just started his job. Richard won’t be able to come home for another few weeks.”
The ghostly sound of a piano started to fill up the brief pauses where Jenna finished talking before Melissa knew when to respond.
“No, its ok dear, I’ll just call you back later. Mhmm, bye.” She clicked the red button on her Android. Looking up to the ceiling, Jenna headed back her usual trek to her daughter’s room. The music, still faint, grew more palpable as Jenna’s hand touched the doorknob.
The door swung open and discovered the room vacant and completely silent. Annoyed, Jenna frowned as she walked into the room, her hands on her hips. Her daughter was not in the room. Going to the window, Jenna flicked the blinds down to see her daughter on her stomach and playing with Muffins awkwardly in the front yard.
Belinda just left the computer on, Jenna told herself and turned to see Belinda’s laptop off and closed, with dust collecting on the top.
Days melted into a week that flowed into two. Jenna’s breathing felt slowed, as she stabbed the ground. The air was hot and stifling, and her body felt too weak to plow. A portion of her flowers hadn’t sprouted yet; something had to have eaten them. The course, crackled leather of her glove sanded her sweaty cheek put she ignored the sting. Swallowing tacky spit, Jenna kept jabbing at the ground as she tried to recollect her experience a few nights ago.
The sound of piano seemed to follow her like a shadow that she just couldn’t catch. Empty melodies woke her from the trances Jenna found herself in, and after awhile she just snapped. Following the music, she discovered an attic that she felt unwelcome the moment she came in, like a pressure growing from the very walls. As if the room itself was throwing her out. But, sucking up her chest, Jenna dropped the hatch to have it smack shut, a shadow of dust filtering up.
“What a disaster,” Jenna breathed, covering her mouth with her sweater cuff. The whole room seemed to creak from just the presence of her weight, and the steps were loud enough to shake the entire aged frame of the attic; picking up filth with each restless step.
The curtains covered the menagerie of the world, Jenna breathing the petrified air as she walked with eyes wondering. A bump abruptly ended her stroll, and wisps floated up as her hands braced on the piano surface.
Grinning, Jenna flipped up the guard of the old piano, feeling butterflies in her stomach telling her that she was right. But, as the ivory fingers showed their chastity from beating fingers, an unspoken tune raised the hairs on Jenna’s skin. She looked over the floor: and the dust, almost half an inch thick, sat silently. Swallowing, the eerie feeling settling in her thin core, Jenna wanted to get out of the attic right away. She whipped around too fast and fell with a thud. A fog of filth bloomed over Jenna’s body as it tingled with shock while she tried to blink the grime from her vision. A speck of white blossomed into her vision, and curiousity took Jenna to waddle over through the dirty clouds to discover an old portrait.
Tilting her head, Jenna tried to see through the haze of the aged photograph to find three girls of varying ages in white dresses sitting poignantly together. Peonies laced through their hair. A solemn look casted around their gazes like a heavy film, and an older man loomed over them; his face faded.
Jenna lifted the frame with her to gaze at the girls in a better light. They were all about Belinda’s age; or at least the middle girl seemed to be. Jenna flipped to read the back, but nothing but wood grain stared in return. With a slight sigh of defeat, she laid the frame back only to find a parched paper lying on the floor behind where the frame was.
Jenna picked up the letter and read:
The Last Will and Testament of Emmaline Brownings
Being of sound and disposing mind, do hereby make my three daughters (Mary, Rebecca, and Jane) all ownership of the estate and its earnings, as well as all my belongings.
As a final wish, I request my brother in law, James, to care for my daughters as if they were his own…
A horrific, shrieking scream broke through the thick air, seeming to make even the wood grains rot shook not only the whole attic into a tangible darkness, but Jenna herself. Dropping the letter in a disarray, Jenna nearly jumped down their stairs as her cried, “Belinda!!” Bolting, shaking shoulders occasionally meeting wall corners and turns, Jenna finally breathed again when she found her daughter, legs up and in a floral dress and cowboy boots watching “Adventure Time” with Muffins on her knees.
Her daughter turned to her, eye brows misaligned, “Mom, are you ok?”
“Did you scream?” Jenna gasped, her heart still racing, unable to take it all in.
“No…” Belinda said, shaking her head slowly.
Parting some of the loose dirt with her gloves, Jenna watched the earthworms wriggle frantically in their blind confusion and shock from the sun pounding it with alien heat. I need to get these flowers in before their season ends, Jenna thought. It calms me down, anyway. I just need to remain calm.
Jenna felt someone crawl into bed with her two nights before. The curve in the bed slowly growing back to its original flatness made Jenna shoot out of her bed. Hands shaking, eyes hard, she watched the bed. Her thigh bumped over the nightstand. A clatter and a smash, the light bulb puffed and shattered. The alarm clock bobbed on the floor for a moment and flashed the wee hours of early morning at her. Rubbing her throbbing head, Jenna decided to fetch vodka to calm her mind and help her get to sleep. Yet, when she opened the door she felt as if she had walked back into her subconscious.
Everything was milky and grey. Curtains laced the walls, watching the wind and following its imaginary sway. A slight sound and Jenna’s face shot to the source, although the rest of the world seemed to lapse through its delayed movements.
On the far side of the hall was a figure clad in white.
“Belinda?” Jenna whispered.
The figure’s face was blurred, and her head hung, hair dirty and clumped in tendrils over her face. “Baby?”
The head rose only slight enough to show the interest Jenna had gained from the girl, and it began to sprint towards her in a slow, unreal pace. Jenna froze in her spot, unmoving, in utter shock as the girl charged at her. Although, the moment the girl past Belinda’s bedroom door, she vanished.
And that damn mail, Jenna seethed as she slashed into the ground. Always on the floor whenever I come in from gardening! I swear, I’ll find out why that mail is falling on the floor.
And the mail box, she recalled, her flailing arm ceasing to pound at the earth. Fetching the mail seemed to hurt, the air smothering over her like a hot, wet quilt. The sun fired into her eyes, and the alien world made her faint. Jenna rubbed her brow, the groggy fog that settled into her brain that accompanied confusion as she told herself she was ok, and she didn’t need medication to fix it. She was off because she wasn’t on medication some would say, but she knew better. Doctors just tell you that to get more out of you. She wasn’t crazy. Best friends are there to support you, not ignore your calls and talk as if you murdered your child and buried them in the wall.
Then it caught her eye, and her whole body inflated with adrenaline and she felt she could float off into the sky with her hopes of getting as far away from it as she possibly could.
“Yeah, I found it in my garden!” Jenna stuttered in her kitchen, almost slipping on the mail on the floor in her rush to the phone. She threw the broken femur on the counter table as if it would bite her, “just send the police, the ambulance, the fucking fire department out here I don’t care!”
“But, ma’am, that’s an old house, they could have private graves in the backyard…” the woman on the other line went unheard as Jenna lowered the phone and looked around. Darkness shrouded the air, as if a storm began to settle into the room. Jenna glared about the room, feeling her hair rise all the way down her back like the hackles of a cornered dog.
“What do you want?” Jenna cried as it echoed dankly around the room, and the pressure shifted about. Screaming, Jenna flung her phone against the wall, its precise screen scratching and its battery popping out like an egg. Hair disheveled, Jenna slicked to the door under the stairs to find her daughter nestled around the peonies on the floor, trailing circles against the grain in the thin carpet.
“What is it,” Jenna breathed thinly, eyeing her daughter as Belinda rose like a wet cat, unsure and cautious.
“Mom—“ murmured out but was soon cut off
“What is it.”
Jenna dropped to all fours in a breath, causing Belinda to jump back and eyes to grow. Rubbing her head, Jenna’s tired eyes relaxed as she whispered, “What is it, darling. I know you know.”
Blinking hesitantly, Belinda averted her gaze and said, “You said they weren’t-“
“I know what I said!” Jenna pounded her fist on the harsh floor. A ripple of displeasure wrinkled the air of the house, and Belinda tucked her head into her shoulders.
“Can we talk about this elsewhere…” Belinda whispered, eyes fishing in corners hoping not to find what she was searching for.
“Because they’ll know…” Belinda swallowed, eyes darting around the room. A discomforting trickle ran up Jenna’s calf, causing her to jump as her right leg gyrated as she yelped.
“There are spiders everywhere!” Belinda shrieked, jumping on the table and knocking the peonies off with a clash. Water coated Jenna’s left side as she watched the spiders Dalmatian the floor and the single flower landed on her wet lap.
“Mommy…” cut through the air and a girl in a white dress was standing by the door.
Blinking, Jenna smiled and said, “You must be Belinda’s friend!”
The girl, however, just looked at Jenna with a meek smile. Her young face blurred at the lines, as if time was delayed, but the stark clarity of the rest brought unease.
“Mary…” Belinda swallowed, and the little girl with tawny hair smiled up to Belinda, but brought her attention back to Jenna.
Nearly in tears, Jenna watched as the girl bent over her and, with her eyes pried, felt a breath of cold. Shocked, she opened her eyes again to see the young Mary holding the peony, playing with its petals. The room darkened, and in an instant of pressure like that of deep water, a dark pillar shoved Mary into the wall, causing Jenna to scream.
The door slammed open to see Richard, wild eyed, in the frame as he nearly shouted, “What’s wrong?”
Jenna gasped, mouth stuttering, unable to form words while tears welled in her eyes. Richard dropped his suitcase and fell to his knees to cradle his wife.
“Ghosts, ghosts!” Jenna whimpered as her husband swooned down to his wife. She curled up against his chest, her hands balled up into tiny fists and she pressed them on her husband.
“Darling…” Richard said gently as his wife clung to his shirt like a toddler, sobbing.
“Dad, can we go outside,” Belinda whispered, crawled next to her mother. Hiccupping on sobs, Jenna turned and grabbed her daughter.
“Oh, darling…” Jenna murmured, shaking her head. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
#Unreal #ShortStory #Fiction #CreativeWriting #LacePeonies #OldHouses #MovingIn #NewNeighborhood
shop and subscribe. Sponsor us. Submit and become a contributor. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Comments are closed.