There was a time when things were different. When Eleanor imagined she could still love Tom and three fingers of bourbon were enough to hurry muddled dream escape despite the coarse sheets and hot desert air.
But the stench of that morning coffee he brewed, the sight of his puddled levis on the floor, how he peered around her over fingerprint smudged glasses finally filled her with a fury so pure she found her dark hair streaked blanched white one cloudless morning and knew with certainty this day she was destined to pack her bags, book a flight east, and find a lawyer.
And so she did, in that order.
Later Eleanor decided leaving Tom had been the second best thing she’d ever done. Leaving the west for this house of hers, moist with swelling window sills, green tangled vines, trees, shrubs thick with fruit and flowers was most certainly the first. Where some complained of mold and damp Eleanor saw only blessed dust free life. Tall grasses, steel colored sky, salt tinged air; even the snakes writhing near Benson’s pond seemed beautiful: glistening black and green, slick to the touch, and oh how afraid Eleanor felt as they slithered over her bare foot. So fear and joy filled it was hard to believe she’d existed anywhere, anytime before the now.
She spent evenings alone at her own table, slicing into dense homemade loaves, gazing out the window as the moon rose, listening to the movements coming from the cellar without one bit of concern.
How frightened she would have been before. How fearful of knowing what heart beat in that cellar, had beaten for two centuries and continued to thrash in his sleep on full moon nights with a misery known only to the regretful and damned.
Eleanor’s mind was at peace in this place. The Shade in her home, (their home) as much a part of her now as the ripening plums and brooding ravens; somehow they’d settled side by side, nearly merged into one.
Then the urn containing Tom’s ashes arrived.
Naturally she’d had to sign for it, and naturally the pen sputtered just as it had the day she’d bought the house; as though the ink gods are tryin’ to tell me something and isn’t that a stupid notion.
She signed with the postman’s pen, sliced through the tape wondering, wondering. Skimmed the enclosed letter with horror; stared at the mud colored urn containing the remains of the most boring man to ever walk the face of this earth.
And what the hell was she supposed to do with them…
Her first thought was the trash. Pushed beneath tea grounds and used tampons even a man as irritating as Tom would leave her in peace. An urn belongs on a mantle! The words came unbidden though she pushed them away, ignoring them as white roots edged further along her hairline.
Throw the damn thing in the pond. His whisper trickled from beneath the cellar door. Weight it down heavy, chuck it in! And this from the shade of a man who knew what he was about.
Yet somehow she couldn’t; instead lugging it to the pond and back again; burying it in the woods only to find her barefoot self digging it up at two a.m., shoving it deep into the wood pile, under the parlor’s loose floorboard, wedged between two stones with a nice view of Jury River.
She considered leaving it at St Mary’s Bring & Buy, but knew she’d never last the drive.
Her hair turned pure white. Crow’s feet fanned both eyes, a back tooth fell out, a pain settled in her lower back. Every loaf sank in the middle, the savory soups tasted of salt, ash rained from the fireplace, leaving the east window sooty to the touch.
Obviously she had failed: turn over.
After all, who’d lived here longest…
His grime edged translucent hands broke the seal; slow scattering Tom through the orchard and into the woods. The rock filled urn sank without a bubble. And oh he became clearer; she could just make out the blue of his eyes, nearly smell his sweat.
So winter settled quiet; spring blossomed fresh.
And they entered the orchard, each in their own time. Doubtful eyes, dark and pale, noting the twisting, withered trees, cacti prickled sage scented path, and wasn’t that scrub-oak there?
Eleanor stood limp, slack mouthed as her Shade raged wild fury.
Knowing he had only himself to blame.