Here’s Part One. 3. of Soul Cages. When we last left off, Marian had been introduced to the Andervender family, John was getting ready to clean the swamp coolers, and Henry had just found a dead roach in the kitchen. ( PG-13 rating .)
Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore
Published by Osuna Publishing
This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Part One. Dreams in the Desert
Henry pointed out the roach, which lay on its back in the deepest recess of the cabinet. It was as long as my thumb; no wonder Henry wanted it.
I said, “Did you touch it?”
“Don’t. Just leave it there.” There was no garbage can yet, and no paper towels I could clean it up with.
The rattle of tools could be heard from down the hall. Dad rushed into the kitchen and struggled to unlock the back door’s double-cylinder deadbolt, then the barred door, and held each open so John could lug his toolbox through.
Henry followed after John and Dad.
I took the opportunity to pull out a tissue, wrap it around the roach, and carry it outside to shake the roach onto a patch of scraggly grass next to the concrete wall.
Dad went back into the house.
There was no back porch, just a cracked rectangular slab surrounded by dirt.
The house had a swamp cooler in each side yard. I was able to figure out which one John had started with, even though both coolers were out of sight, because I could hear Henry bellowing questions about tools. I hurried around to the side of the house where Henry’s windows were.
The swamp cooler rumbled and gurgled. When he caught sight of me, John called out, “Can you do me a favor and turn both coolers off?”
I ran back inside and searched around in the halls, until I’d flipped off of both sets of switches.
“Thanks,” John said when I made it back. Henry stood next to him, watching him poke at fibers through the side slits of the cooler. “These are too old,” John said, “see how brittle the filter fibers are? Someone needs to drive over to a hardware store and get new filters.”
He grabbed hold of a cooler side cover and yanked upward and out, taking it off, then doing the same to the other three sides.
The reek made Henry back up, holding his nose—the swamp cooler stank. Henry pointed in fascination at the gunk on the filter fibers and the bottom interior of the cooler.
John said, “Let me get the hose and bucket from the truck. I’ll let your parents know about the filters.” He disappeared back into the house.
We spent the time looking for spider webs in the cracks of the walls.
Then John returned, hose slung over his shoulder, with Dad carrying a bucket filled with gloves and scrubbers. He and Dad were in the middle of a conversation about the size and type of filters to get. John showed Dad the gunky swamp cooler parts, and then Dad left for the hardware store.
As John drained the stagnant water from the swamp cooler, he said to Henry, “So, what was it you helped the school janitor to find?”
I checked to make sure he wasn’t mocking Henry, but he seemed genuinely curious.
Henry puffed out his chest a bit. “A dead mouse was hidden underneath a bookshelf in the library. Helped him find out where.” He tapped his nose. “I can smell things that others can’t.”
“Huh.” John’s mouth twitched.
We watched John hook up the hose to the outside wall faucet near the cooler, fill up a bucket, and proceed to wash out and scrub down the swamp cooler interior.
I said, “How about I do that?” but he waved me back while saying “I’m already dirty from cutting up a dead pine this morning.”
I wanted to argue. I didn’t mind dirt, but he seemed determined to do the entire job. A helping-the-neighbor-as-a-welcome kind of thing.
Henry said, “Won’t be staying here tonight, but tomorrow I will search for the roaches.”
John leaned out of the swamp cooler interior. He raised his eyebrows at me while he said, “I’m sure your sister will enjoy that.”
“I’ll catch a few for you as a thank you,” I snapped back, and then wanted to bite my tongue, for Henry hummed in excitement and John began to smile. “Er, Henry, I was joking. We’re not actually going to catch roaches.”
“Jinkies!” Henry said, and stomped off.
John’s smile threw into sharp contrast just how melancholy he’d been when he entered the kitchen.
My brother was soon distracted from his disappointment by the anthills scattered all over. I watched as he squatted down, scuffing up a puff of dust, and pulled out his notepad; he’d be making a map of all the anthill locations.
John said to me while he scrubbed, “Used to do work for Habitat for Humanity. Miss it. I help some of our parishioners with their yard work a couple times a week.” He reached out a gloved hand. “Can you hand me the hose?”
I did so. “What happened with Habitat?”
“Stand back.” He frowned as he hosed down the interior of the swamp cooler. “A year back, Dad came to believe Habitat was too focused on material things, and not enough on saving souls.”
“And what you do think?”
John tensed, wary. He said in a neutral tone, “I support my Dad.”
Pastor Andervender struck me as the kind of man who would be hostile to differences in belief by his family. Or by his flock. I’m NOT going to like it there. I’ve got to convince Mom and Dad to let me go elsewhere by finding a church like Grannie’s.
John finished up with the swamp cooler. I helped him haul the stuff around to the other side yard. His wariness made me feel awkward, so I kept my mouth shut.
I got two of the swamp cooler sides off before he could stop me. It was easy, once you knew how to do it. Then I wandered off to look at the apple tree in this side yard; the tree was wedged between the yard walls (front and side) and the garage wall. A long thin drainage tube ran from the swamp cooler to the roots of the tree.
The apples growing were small and green, but the tree was twice my height. The cool shade of the leaves felt wonderful.
In the shade and quiet I longed to call Nicole and find out how her mom was dealing with that morning’s chemo, but chemo days were “don’t call me” days for Nicole.
And Dad had sworn if another texting charge showed up on our bill, he’d cancel my phone outright. Hmm, but pictures aren’t forbidden—yet. I could take a few pictures with my phone and send them to Nicole. Faster in describing this house than text anyway.
Instead of reaching for my cell phone, I fingered the tree bark. How I wished this move were just a bad dream, and that I’d wake up back in Alexandria any moment now.
I moved around the trunk and found a small carving underneath a low branch. I traced the letters with my fingers:
Sydney + Donovan
I called over to John, “Did somebody named Sydney or Donovan live here?”
John spun around from the swamp cooler. “How did…” He flung down the scrubber and ran over, dripping suds from his gloves.
He squeezed around the other side of the tree. When he saw the carving, I thought he’d be sick. He leaned against the tree for support. “I wish I’d been here, I might have been ab—” and clammed up.
“What happened?” I whispered. I glanced around and listened. Henry was mapping anthills too far away to hear if we spoke low. There was no sound of the car coming back—we were right next to the garage, so I’d know when Dad arrived back with the filters. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“We’re not supposed to talk about it.”
“Why keep a secret from my parents?”
“Your parents.” John grimaced. “They already know the full story. They and my folks decided it was too ‘morbid’ for you and Henry to know about.”
A red haze settled over my mind. “Do they think I’m stupid or clueless or something? No wonder Mom and Dad were so jittery this morning. And I could tell from the moment Matthew and you walked in that something was seriously wrong.” I looked him straight in the eyes (blue behind the glasses). “Will you tell me the truth, or do I go up and down this street pounding on neighbors’ doors until I find out what’s going on?”
He bowed his head in contemplation. Then checked to make sure Henry was out of earshot. “Better you hear the story from me.”
John tapped a gloved finger on first Sydney’s name, then Donovan’s. “Sydney and her dad started going to First Beginnings when she was in 7th grade. Your parents bought the house from her dad, Mr. Bauer—he’s living in Utah now.”
He scowled to himself as he stripped his gloves off and flung them to the ground. “Sydney would have been a junior this fall.”
I swallowed. Would have.
He ran a finger along the carving. “She must have carved this last fall. She started dating Donovan in October … he was a Unitarian who went to Juan Tabo High School. Our church, and Sydney’s dad, didn’t approve.”
Anguished, he added, “She said I was someone she could talk to. Perhaps if I’d been here, she wouldn’t have…” He drew a deep breath and looked down at the ground. “In December Sydney’s dad cracked down on her to get her to break up with Donovan. While I was in Texas at Uncle Fritz’s, I’m told she ran away from home for a couple of hours, then came back on her own.
“Mr. Bauer said—and Donovan confirmed it when the police talked to him—that she called Donovan before New Year’s to break up with him.”
Both of us jumped at the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. Dad was back.
John yanked his gloves on and went back to the swamp cooler.
“Wait,” I said, “is Sydney all right?”
John paused in messing with the bucket. “No.” He stared down, unseeing. “On January 4th she killed herself. Her dad found her body in her closet. Suffocated.”
I reached out to touch his arm, but he flinched away. He wants to be alone, you idiot. Give him some privacy to pull himself together. So I went to stand near Henry.
The memory of Henry’s rose-scented closet made my skin crawl. I struggled to compose myself. I don’t want John to get in trouble for telling me the truth.
The back door squeaked open, and Dad and Matthew appeared, carrying filters.
John must have gotten his feelings under control, for neither Dad nor Matthew seemed to realize anything was wrong.
While the last of the swamp cooler work was done (Matthew and Dad helping John as best they could), I wandered around the backyard searching for more marks made by Sydney.
************** End of Part One. 3. *****************
See you next week!