a Women Writers' Showcase
by Patricia Lanchester

Barefooted, she stepped onto the creaky wooden porch.  The sound of its weathered boards filled her ears with trepidation and she stood frozen.  Unlike the darkness of the woods in the distance that had become her home, this house brought fear and disconcerting memories.  Tilting her head to better hear whoever or whatever might lie beyond the door, she became startled at her own reflection in the moonlit window.  She was that ragged woman.  The wild haunting eyes shot back at her through tangled graying hair. 

It had been several days since the lights were lit in this house; several nights since she’d spotted the old woman who lived here alone.  Now her stomach ached with hunger and her heart cried out to see her, to come close to her, the one who left a plate of food at the foot of the porch each evening.  Understanding nothing more than these primitive desires, she took several steps to the door and turned the cold knob.

The house smelled of mothballs and cedar, just as she’d remembered.   Blankets exuding the same scent covered most of the tattered furniture.  She pulled away a throw and wrapped it tightly about her thin frame.  Thoughts and visions of years gone by, scents and images forgotten for decades, stirred her deeply.  Moaning softly, she tilted her head backward and danced across the living room floor.  She gave no thought to turning on lights; her eyes were accustomed to the absence of illumination.  She wandered from room to room, stumbling over chairs.  She touched pictures and smelled pillows.  She placed a comb to hers lips.  A strand of hair tickled hers nose.  It caused her to laugh, but the obtrusive sound bounced through the quiet space, vandalizing the clarity of silence.  

Moments later, wiping tears that had escaped unknowingly, she stumbled upon the kitchen.  Ravenous, she ate the cheese and pudding along with sausage that remained in the refrigerator.  One large swallow of tainted milk had her spitting-up all over the linoleum tile, but she conveniently ignored it, tossing the carton at the yellow painted wall. 

A shopping bag hung on the pantry door.  Grinning mischievously, she grabbed it and filled it with stale cookies from a jar, an open bag of sugar, the remaining sausage, and various canned items.  It was more than she could have ever asked for.  Again she laughed, placing a hand over her mouth as an afterthought. 

Moonlight filtered into a bedroom.  It was the room where the old woman slept.  Her bed was covered in soft colored pillows and pretty glass bottles lined the dresser.  The door to the closet stood ajar, beckoning her to venture forth.  She peeked inside, enchanted by the shimmering cloth and fancy hats.  A red velvet dress with white eyelet ruffles caught her attention.  She snatched it from its hanger, allowing several other dresses and boxes stored above to fall onto the floor.  She pulled it over her ragged clothes.  The back zipper was impossible to reach and the dress was 2 sizes too large, but she wore it just the same.  Among the shoe boxes and other dresses at her feet lay an oblong pewter container.  Timidly, her trembling fingers opened the box.  It was full of precious jewels and emitting the most glorious tune, one that her mother had played for her as a baby.  It was a song called Edelweiss. 

Hastily, she made her way back to the front door and down the steps.  Like a cat in the night, the dark figure scurried into the distant woods. 

“Because I’m the oldest living child, I should have first choice to Mamma’s things,” said Delores as they drove from the cemetery.  She’d complained for the better part of the ride, upset that her younger sister Michele had taken possessions from their mother’s home before she could get to them herself.

“Sidney, can you believe that woman!” she exclaimed to her husband.  “She even lied and said that she hadn’t had a chance to visit Mamma’s house yet, but I know better.  I couldn’t find Mamma’s jewels anywhere.  It had to be her!”

Sidney and their daughter Kayla sat quietly listening to her rantings.  Tired, Kayla decided to change the subject.

“I know you’re gonna think I’m crazy but I saw Grandma at the funeral standing behind a tree. ” She tossed them both an ambiguous grin and turned to stare out the back window. 

“That was a lousy thing to say, Kayla.  Watch your mouth,” said Delores.  Sidney glared at his daughter through the rear view mirror.

As their car sped ahead, a figure raced across the highway from behind.  Kayla watched from the rear window.  She wasn’t about to tell her parents that she’d seen her grandma again.

The family sat up late into the night looking at old photos of Grandma Constance.  There were pictures of her as far back as childhood and when she’d married Grandpa Louis at age 14.  Delores pointed out a picture of Grandma Constance holding a baby.  It was no mystery that Constance was an unhappy mother.

“That baby was your aunt Flossy.  She was the oldest. ” Delores sighed loudly.  “Flossy didn’t live long.  It was way before I was born.  They say she had a condition that affected her speech and learning. ”

They came upon recent photos taken at Christmas.  Grandma Constance sat proudly with her two daughters and their families.  She wore a red velvet dress with her hair pulled into a tall bun and sparkling jewels hung from her ears and neck.

“I sure wish Michele hadn’t taken those jewels,” said Delores in her frivolous way.  Sidney conveniently changed the subject.

It wasn’t long after Kayla climbed into bed that she fell asleep.  But her dreams were disturbing and caused her to wrestle fiercely with the blanket.

She sat straight up.  The bedroom was dark but a dim light shone from its open door, illuminating a path to the dresser.  Everyone was asleep and there were no sounds; not a creek in the floorboards or even the din of crickets from an open window.  Darker shadows lay draped across the wall behind a chair and along the side of the dresser.  In the farthest corner stood a shadow, taller and more disquieting than the other random smudges of dark shapes.  She couldn’t distinguish the source of its black form and squinted her eyes to narrow slits. 

Grasping the blanket around her chest for protection she stretched her neck and listened intently to the static sound of silence.  Several minutes passed.  Her eyes grew weary and the strange image seemed to alter its shape . . .  leaning, it seemed, more to the right.  She blinked and rubbed her eyes.  It was merely an illusion of motion, she thought.  Worse, the light that came into her room from the hall did nothing to comfort her but seemed poised to welcome something or someone.  This was also silly, she thought … all in the mind, remnants of the dream.  Kayla let the covers fall below her bare shoulders and took a deep breath. 

There was a feeling in the air, unlike a draft, which made the hairs on her arms prickly.  Had she closed the curtains before going to bed … or was it still open to let in a breeze? Glancing from the doorway to the corner of the room and now to the curtains drawn tightly, she lost herself in a confusion of questions.  It was all just too much to conclude.  Sleep lay heavily on her eyelids as she grasped the rosary beads under her pillow.  Lord, keep me safe, she prayed aloud and laid her head upon her pillow.  Sleep came, but she didn’t notice the dark shadow in the corner move one last time.  The curtains now stood wide apart.

At breakfast the next day, Ben, their dog, began to bark, showing no signs of stopping.  Sidney went outside, followed by his wife and daughter.  They watched the dog advance on the shrubs that stood near Kayla’s bedroom window.

“He’s about to hurt another stray cat,” said Sidney. 

A woman climbed out of Kayla’s window as Sidney grabbed Ben’s collar.  She wore an ill-fitting red velvet dress. 

“That’s the woman I was talking about mama,” shouted Kayla.  “Is it grandma?”

“No,” spoke the woman in a deep languid drawl.  “I’m Flossy,” she said.  “Lores,” she tried to speak her sister’s name.

Flossy smiled, took the oblong box from her pocket and stretched her arm out to Delores.

“It’s mine,” screamed Delores as she raced across the lawn.

The smile left Flossy’s face.  Before Delores could reach her, Flossy opened the box and pour the contents onto the lawn as the sound of Edelweiss filled the air.  Delores scrambled to retrieve the jewels, mumbling incoherently under her breath. 

Flossy, abandoned once again, strolled from the yard.  She touched the little box in her pocket and smiled to herself.

Patricia Lanchester was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her childhood was rich in cultural influences like music, art, dance and academics. She enjoys painting and throwing herself into a book of mathematical puzzles. On any given day you’d find her curled up with a cup of dark roasted coffee and a thick scary novel. 

She attended Tulane University as an Architecture major and Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. To date, she has had two careers spawned by a change in the economy. Above all, the education and work experiences have given her a broad perspective of creative consciousness.

Today she lives with her two children in Southern California. They spend a lot of time together doing things such as pitching storylines, drawing and reading. Being creative and recognizing creativity is very important in their household. 

At present, Patricia works for herself as a CAD Designer after spending 20 years in clothing design. Most people would say that the two careers are vastly different. But, she believes that creativity is relative. There’s little difference between designing golf wear attire and designing a cobblestone driveway. They both require an ability to unlock the door to the left side of our brain.  

Contact Patricia.