Wednesday, October 23, 2013

See, I Told You So

One of the small conflicts Leann and I had early in our marriage was due to the fact that she incessantly locks the front door. Several times she locked me out when I'd only stepped out for a moment, such as to take out the trash. I found this behavior to be excessive—especially on the night that she manage to lock us both out. We were both in our pajamas. I was forced to go to a neighbor's house and ask to use their phone to call a locksmith.[1] Leann learned this behavior (obsessively locking the front door) from her mother. Even though they live far out in the country she locks the door because she's afraid of weirdos 'out there'. All of that gave me the idea for this story.

NOTE: I've annotated this story, but I recommend you read it all the way through before reading the notes.

“I wish we could leave the door open at night,” my wife, Annie, pouted.

“Why is that?” I asked, looking up from the book I was reading, Romanov’s translation of Scènes de la vie de Bohème.[2]

“It’s getting cold out and the night air smells so fresh and invigorating. If we left the door open overnight, it would fill the house and I could smell it all day while you’re gone to work.”

Annie had a point. While the October days were still blistering hot, the nights were enjoyably cool. We’d already spent several pleasant evenings on the porch swing sipping cocoa and counting the multitudinous stars.

“Well,” I said, setting down Scènes de la vie de Bohème, “why can’t we leave it open?”

Annie looked away. “Oh, no. All the bugs would come in.”

It was true. Nights in Oklahoma positively swarmed with insects, not to mention the plague of eleven-year locusts that had fallen on this year. If we left the door open, we’d find that mosquitoes, flies, midges, gypsy moths, beetles, and a host of cicadas had taken up residence in our home—rent free.

“Well,” I countered, “why don’t you leave the door open and just keep the screen door shut and leave the porch light off? That way we’ll get the benefits of the cool air without the concomitant infestation.”

Annie pursed her lips. “But the screen door has a tear in it. Bugs could still get in.”

“I’ll fix it,” I said, blandly, waiting for the next excuse.

Annie turned to stare at the window. She seemed to shrink into herself. “What if somebody broke in?”

That was it. That was the real reason Annie was hesitant to leave the door open at night.

I smiled indulgently. “Dear, there isn’t a soul that lives within five miles of us. The Caldararis are almost six miles away and I can’t think of anybody that lives closer. There’s no reason why somebody would come here.”

“But what if somebody did?” Annie’s eyes were big and scared.

“That’s ridiculous,” I chided. “No one ever comes here except for us and your mother.” And sometimes I wished that even she didn’t.”

“I’m still scared,” Annie said in a small voice.

I ruminated on it for a few minutes. Finally, I hit on an idea.

“I tell you what, dear. How about I set up my camera with a motion detector. If any strangers are wandering around our house, we’ll catch them on film and then we’ll know not to leave the door open at night.”

Annie shivered. “But that would be even scarier! I’d rather not know.”

“Relax. I promise we won’t get pictures of anything except the cat. And maybe some raccoons or possums.”

Reluctantly, Annie agreed to the experiment. Satisfied, I picked up Scènes de la vie de Bohème and continued to read.

*          *          *          *          *

“I don’t think my digital camera will work,” I called into the house.

Three days had passed since Annie had agreed to let me set up the camera. I finally had some spare time and had decided to do so.

“Why not?” Annie’s voice drifted out from the kitchen.

“It doesn’t have a setting for motion detection,” I said, walking back into the house with it.

“Here, let me see,” Annie said.

I handed her the camera. While she fiddled with it, I stirred the potato cheese soup so it wouldn’t burn. Its rich aroma filled the kitchen and left me feeling quiet and content.

“I think you’re right,” Annie said. She handed the camera back with a crooked smile. “Looks like we’ll have to call off your experiment.”

She was trying to sound chagrined, but I could tell she was secretly relieved. But I was not to be so easily deterred.

“Oh, don’t worry, honey. I’ll just pull out my old Canon T1K-R. Who knows? I might even find a roll of film for it, too!”

Annie gave me a defeated smile as I bounded up the stairs. I pulled out a stepladder and climbed up into the attic. I rummaged through several boxes before I found my old camera. I’d bought it for a photography class I’d taken for fun while at the University of Chicago.

I blew the dust off of it and looked in the box for some film, but didn’t find any. I finally gave up and carried my prize back downstairs in triumph.

“Look what I found!” I crowed.

“Oh, great,” Annie said, unenthusiastically.

“I couldn’t find any film, though,” I lamented. “I’ll have to pick some up at the gas station, tomorrow.”

Annie finished setting out the dinner. We ate the hot potato cheese soup in sourdough bread bowls and drank mulled apple cider.

“A perfect meal for the season!” I appraised.[3]

“Thanks,” Annie said, smiling.

*          *          *          *          *

The next day, Friday, I spent several hours raking up the leaves in our tiny yard. With at least five miles of oak forest in all directions, the falling autumn leaves were difficult to stay on top of. When I was done, I drove into town and stopped at a gas station. They had no film, so I moved on until I came to a convenience store.

I looked around the store and again found nothing. Not to be daunted, I sought out one of the store employees. She was a Mexican with her dark hair dyed a garish orange. Several tattoos on her shoulders peeked out from under the blue vest that must’ve been part of her work uniform.

“Excuse me,” I said.

She turned around and I could immediately tell that she’d been having a bad day.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” I said soothingly, “but, do you carry film for cameras? I looked but can’t seem to find any.”

“I think we still have some. Just a sec.”

I followed the woman to the back of the store. She scanned a shelf and then stopped. She leaned forward and rested her hands on her knees. “Right there.” She pointed at a single peg with three boxes of Kodak film hanging from it.

I nodded, said, “Thanks,” and then she left.

I pulled out the three boxes and found, to my disappointment, that they were all thirty-six exposures. I doubted that we’d need more than twelve and was a little peeved at the extra expense. But I didn’t feel like extending my search to include another store. I wanted to get back to my wife and surprise her by tossing her into the pile of leaves. So, I took one roll of film, paid for it, and left.

When I got home, Annie watched anxiously as I mounted the camera outside, above the back door. “So that will take a picture of anything that moves?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Anything within ten feet.”

“Oh.”

“That means that you’ll have to stop using this door for the next week. Don’t get me wrong—you’re very beautiful. But we don’t want any pictures of you on this roll of film.”

Annie smiled at me, wryly. “Right.”

I smiled back and then picked her up, running for the pile of leaves.

*          *          *          *          *

A week passed. I was anxious for it to be over so I could develop the film and prove to Annie that no one ever, ever came around our house besides us. Annie, on the other hand, seemed to have forgotten about it completely. But I guessed that it was all an act since she never looked that way at all in my presence.

Finally, on Friday, I decided that it had been long enough. I rose early, leaving Annie asleep, and got ready for work. On my way out, I stopped at the back door and carefully turned off the camera. I didn’t want the last picture taken to be one of me—not since I’d teased Annie about not using the back door.

I took the camera down and was surprised to see that all thirty-six exposures had been taken. But upon reflection, I realized that it had been especially windy on Tuesday. We’d probably gotten more than a few pictures of debris being blown around on the wind. I decided to leave the door open, with the screen door shut. The brisk morning air was refreshing and I thought Annie would be able to enjoy it when she awoke. That, and I wanted to show her that I was right.

I dropped the film off at an Inkley’s and then went in to work. On the way, I sang along with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. I was quickly lost in the busy routine and forgot all about the film. But when quitting time rolled around, my eagerness was renewed.

Quickly, I drove back to Inkley’s and picked up the photographs. I walked back to my pickup truck and tossed them onto the passenger seat. I was tempted to look at them right away, but I thought my triumph would be more dramatic if I waited until Annie could look at them with me.

Half an hour later, I pulled up to our house and dashed into the house with the photographs.

“Annie?” I called out. “I developed the film! Come down and have a look at them with me.”

Annie didn’t answer. I waited a few minutes and then called out again. She still didn’t answer. Deciding that she must be in the bathroom or napping, I dropped the photographs on the table and went up the stairs. I searched around but she was neither in the bedroom nor the bathroom.

I went back downstairs. I noticed that the back door was still open, with the screen door shut. Maybe she was outside.

“Annie?” I called again as I went outside. I looked all around but still found no sign of her.

Starting to feel a little anxious, I went back inside. Looking at the photographs on the table, I started to feel loathing. With trembling fingers, I picked up the package and pulled out the stack of glossy pictures.

I began flipping through them. Cat. Cat. Possum. Cat. Cat. Cat. Several of tumbleweeds—from Tuesday, I was sure of it. Cat. Cat. I was flipping through them so quickly that I almost didn’t see it. I went back. One of the photographs showed an indistinguishable brown shape that seemed to be huddling against the door. I felt sickened.

What was it?

I scanned through several more pictures of the cat and then my question was answered. The next photograph was of a man in a thin brown coat. His stringy hair hung limply down the sides of his face and in front of his dark, bulging, angry eyes. His lips were twisted in a snarl and malice was plainly evident on his scruffy, unshaven face as he stared at the camera.

My heart lurched within me. I finished flipping through the pictures. A part of me died as I discovered each new image of the maleficent specter on my porch, glaring at the camera.

Finally, I threw down the vile stack of photos and ran outside again.

“Annie? Annie? Annie!”

I never found Annie. It’s been five years. The police never found a speck of evidence and they never identified the vagrant revealed in the photographs from my camera. I couldn’t stand to live in that house any more, so I moved into the city.

Now, I always lock the door. Always.


Notes:

[1] He wasn't a very good one, either. Even with the aid of a lock gun he couldn't get the front door open and he finally ended up drilling a hole in the sliding door in the back to get it open and then supergluing a piece of metal over it to hide what he'd done.

[2] There are several hints at gypsy-related terms. See if you can spot them.



[3] Potato cheese soup is one of my family's traditions for Hallowe'en. If you're curious, ask and I'll provide the recipe.

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