The Christopher Estate: Chapter 2

  1. Locked

Then Sunday came. The questioning boy hefted his newspaper sack and pumped his pedals. Whip, crank, crank, crank. Whip, crank, crank, crank. He delivered the news. He brought the facts. Laid out in achromatic ink and paper. Folded, rolled and circumscribed by a rubber-band. The truth, as it was said, was deliverable to your front door. No knocking, no seeking, even when you don’t ask for it, it comes. Sometimes under the spray of your sprinklers, sometimes between the teeth of your pooch. What was really happening. What was really there. It was printed in Times New Roman or Tahoma Bold, easy to read and quick to apprehend the senses. Ink was the medium of the educated, by which they would enlighten the pages and the minds of the neighborhooders, the bike-riders and the lawn-mowers. The ink (like the truth) never ran, but it was easily rubbed off, onto skin. It always blackened Heath’s hands. Always.

Rounding the corner this Sunday, it was just as the dawn was stirring under her sheets, about ready to yawn and rise. The silver light of morning was beginning to lift the chilly layer of night which had settled in, peeling back the shade from the tops of bushes and chimneys. The hum of engines moving in unison caught Heath’s ear and he slowed his wheels. Across from the white gate he parked and watched a row of ten or fifteen black Suburbans lean and turn, lean and turn, one by one between the brick pillars. With a steady pace like water flowing and the precision angles of a marching platoon they filed in, humming up the drive, under the branches of the angry trees and out of sight to the shack or the mansion or the something else that no one had seen. It was Sunday morning. Heath’s sack was still heavy with ink and paper and rubber and facts. His eyes and then his head turned to the row of homes awaiting their daily dose of tranquilizing truth. His eyes and then his head turned to the last stickered bumper disappearing around the bend of the cobblestone entrance. It stood open before him, singing and yet silent: not what you think… see for yourself… they’re all wrong… and you know it.

Flump. Newspapers spilt on the sidewalk. Ker-clank: his white, spray-painted bike on the edge of someone’s lawn. Pat, pat, pat, pat, pat… the shrinking sound of his running feet. Size five sneakers with a loose lace raced beyond the gates and out of sight, just as the morning sent a spark of light over the horizon, looking as if to set the tops of the houses on fire.

Two hours passed.

Men in robes looked for their rolled-up story pages. Women in slippers craned their necks left and right, wondering whose dog stole the paper this morning. Hawk walked. His chain broke yesterday, and he’s condemned to foot it. His mom went to the store for some eggs and he’s settled for a bag of gummy fruit snacks. His hand in his mouth and his head in the sky, imagining who knows what, he tripped. His gummies fell on newspaper and he discovered Heath’s bike. Pushing himself up on his hands Hawk twisted toward the white gate. No way! And up the drive he ran.

“It’s Sunday Heath! What are you doing!” Hawk whisper-yelled into the bushes as he tip-toed around the last cobblestone corner before beholding the mansion, the mountain of gold and white architecture, the windowed sculpture he never expected. His eyes wide and his mouth open, a gape with no lies in it, he whispered,

“Holy Damn.” He heard his aunt curse from time to time and was spending the summer honing his skills. It was a project for him, now that he was an adolescent: two years older than a decade and proud of it. His wit was quick to mark this moment with an experiment in linguistics. And that’s really how he thought of it, as if someone was listening. Perhaps a girl whom he might impress with his adult language and Caesar-style haircut. “Holy” and “Damn” being the only two words on his list for the week, he was happy to perform them for no one at all. Keeping his eyes on the house he shuffled sideways into the maze of waist-high hedges and sprouting flowers. Where are all the cleaning cars?

Around the backside of the garden, between shrubs and around trees, he snuck. Music from behind the place. Dancing feet and laughing echoed against the surrounding woods of the estate. Staying close to the tree-line, he slid behind sculpted plants made to look like animals and hunkered down behind a low garden wall divided in two by a few stony steps. Peering around the corner he beheld a party, some kind of festival, with flowery bouquets, flowing white canopies and long, long linens draped from the balconies to the trees. Paper lamps were hung in rows and waves of laughter drifted on puffs of barbeque smoke. There must have been thirty or more maids adorned in pale flowered dresses, some with sunhats, others with big bug-eyed sunglasses and more than two dozen menservants wearing tuxedo shirts with cream-colored vests, Egyptian cotton slacks and sandals. Everyone was wearing sandals. Everyone. One of Hawk’s eyebrows rose and he made the most perplexed face possible. Whose family reunion is this?

“Psssst!” from behind him, “Hey,” came Heath’s whisper. Hawk swung around and found his friend poking from behind a willow tree. With a flapping upturned hand, Heath motioned for Hawk to come. As the two spied together from the distant reaches of the garden, the crowd of strangers sang away the afternoon. But as they laughed and agreed with each other about the taste of the food, the pleasantness of the weather and which songs ought to be danced to, they spoke a language that the boys couldn’t understand. It resembled English but seemed rearranged and upside down somehow. Sneaking from place to place on the outskirts of the big yard, Heath and Hawk watched aproned men and women carrying platters from inside and saw men with bow-ties wielding enormous forks at the grill. Every table had a platter of fresh-cut fruit and as their aroma mixed with the sweet smoke it was intoxicating. Lifting their eyes above the chatter and gibberish they saw the bright curtained windows, all of them open and breezy except for one. It was on the third story, directly above the back porch. Something was smeared on the glass. The only ugliness in sight. A face appeared in the window and after lingering only a moment, it caught the attention of the entire assembly.

“Yawh!” Someone shouted. Faces turned angry and what fingers weren’t pointing reached for fruit. Whip! Whip! Someone chucked a tomato and it cracked against the brick. The face in the window didn’t move. Another arm swung and pegged the glass with a ripe kiwi. More shouting of foreign profanities and some of the larger men of the commune dashed inside, pushing aprons and pitchers of lemonade out of the way. The music stopped and the two hiding boys realized for the first time that it was actually being played by men with horns and violins seated just out of sight. The musicians rose and joined the raucous. In less than a minute, violent movement was seen behind the glass of that upper window and quiet fell over the white dressed crowd. Beef sizzled on the grill as they waited. An unwelcome breeze flapped one of the canopies. All eyes were stuck to that glass like the skin of the kiwi. Heath wondered. Hawk speculated. Neither boy dared to whisper his thoughts. Heath could hear them clearer than the breathing of the strange gathered family, unaware of his presence. Not what you think… see for yourself… their all wrong… and you know it.

Bang! An interior door crashed shut. Shunk… Shunk, shunk! Men inside slammed down the windows of the house and out came the largest man of the bunch.

“It’s over! Time to clean up!” English? Then like a hive of bees they burst into motion, each in his own direction, grabbing trays and plates and pitchers. Buzzing in and out of the doors with brooms and mops and rags. With an explosive hiss, several pitchers of lemonade were used to douse the barbecue and black bags plopped themselves near each table. Heath and Hawk ducked behind the tree, worried that in the frenzy, someone might venture to close and spot them. Or maybe smell them. They seemed like a strange enough pack that the possibility of bloodhound senses was not so farfetched.

“Holy Damn,” Hawk whispered, “What’s going on? Did you see that? What language were they speaking? What was up in that window? Why did they get so crazy?” He was beginning to sound like Heath and he knew it. But Heath, the questioner, now became the thinker and the plotter and with the same thrill that first carried him up the driveway, curiosity bubbled behind his eyes. As Hawk ranted about the strangeness of the cleaners and fidgeted on his knees making sure to stay hidden, Heath devised and deduced. The crowd cleared out and the tune in Heath’s head was irresistible now. Hawk’s questions and curses fell below Heath’s rhythmic breathing. In the distance, motors turned over and car doors clapped shut. A few screeches from tires taking off and the fading drone of the black caravan gave way to the squeak of his shoes on the dewy grass, as Heath jumped and ran. Up the stone steps to a plateau of grass (leaving Hawk alone in their hiding place) beneath low-hanging berry-burdened branches, up another step to the cobblestone terrace, under the white sun-brella canopies, gyrating between tables and chairs, past the barbecue and up to the door. He stopped. And slowly, very slowly wrapped his fingers around the golden door handle.


“You’re not about to trespass are you?” Hawk panted from behind.

“We’re already trespassing Hawk.”

“Oh… I guess you’re right,” he realized, with his hands on his knees, catching his breath, “…but I wouldn’t open that if I were you.” Heath kept his hand on the handle.

“Why not?”

“Well that’s a monster they got in there!”

“What?” Heath wined, unimpressed and unbelieving, “What makes you think that?”

“Didn’t you see the way they acted when it came to the window? Why do you think that guy threw a tomato?! Monsters are meat-eaters man. It was to deter it, to keep it inside…” Heath released the handle and turned to Hawk with a fed-up look.

“C’mon! Think about it! Dragons… eat knights. Vampires… hot chicks,” Hawk moved his hands as if they were scales weighing the evidence, “Think about it! Have you ever seen a werewolf munching on a celery stick?”

“Have you ever seen a werewolf Hawk?!”

“Dude. Movies…” he defended exuberantly, “are the modern mythology and all myths have roots in truth.”

“You wouldn’t know truth if it bit you in the neck and sucked your blood,” Heath rolled his eyes and started walking away.

“You’ll be sorry when it does man!” The boys tromped down the driveway, back to reality, Heath brick-walling Hawk’s jabbering tales all the way back to his bike before returning to his paper route, which he finished around noon.


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