She didn’t want Carol to know that she was afraid to remember, so she said, “Oh, sure! It sounds fascinating.”
“I’ve got four patients scheduled for tomorrow, but I can work you in at eleven o’clock. You’ll have to spend a lot of time in the waiting room, before and after your session, so first thing in the morning, we’ll find a book for you to take along. Do you like to read mystery stories?”
“I guess so.”
“The name’s familiar, but I don’t know whether I’ve ever read any of her books.”
“You can try one tomorrow. If you were a big fan of mysteries, maybe Agatha Christie will open your memory for you. Any stimulus, any connection whatsoever with your past can act like a doorway.” She leaned down, kissed Jane’s forehead. “But don’t worry about it now. Just get a good night’s sleep, kiddo.”
After Carol left the room, closing the door behind her, Jane didn’t immediately switch off the light. She let her gaze travel slowly around the room and then slowly back again, her eyes resting on each point of beauty.
Please, God, she thought, let me stay here. Somehow, some way, let me stay in this house forever and ever. Don’t make me go back where I came from, wherever that might be. This is where I want to live. This is where I want to die, it’s so pretty.
Finally, she reached out and snapped off the bedside lamp.
Darkness folded in like bat wings.
Using a piece of Masonite and four nails, Grace Mitowski fixed a temporary seal over the inside of the pet door.
Aristophanes stood in the center of the kitchen, his head cocked to one side, watching her with bright-eyed interest. Every, few seconds, he meowed in what seemed to be an inquisitive tone.
When the last nail was in place, Grace said, “Okay, cat. For the time being, your license to roam has been suspended. There might be a man out there who’s been feeding you small amounts of drugs or poison of some sort, and maybe that’s been the cause of your bad behavior. We’ll just have to wait and see if you improve. Have you been flying high on drugs, you silly cat?”
Aristophanes meowed questioningly.
“Yes,” Grace said. “I know it sounds bizarre. But if it’s not some kook I’ve got to deal with, then it really must’ve been Leonard on the phone. And that’s even more bizarre, don’t you think?”
The cat turned his head from one side to the other, as if he really were flying to make sense of what she was saying.
Grace stopped, held out her hand, and rubbed her thumb and forefinger together. “Here, kitty. Here, kitty-kitty-kitty.”
Aristophanes hissed, spat, turned, and ran.
For a change, they made love with the lights off.
Carol’s breath was hot against his neck. She pressed close, rocked and tensed and twisted and flexed in perfect harmony with him; her exquisite, pneumatic movements were as fluid as currents in a warm river. She arched her elegant back, lifted and subsided in tempo with his measured strokes. She was as pliant, as silken, and eventually as all-encompassing as the darkness.
Afterwards, they held hands and talked about inconsequential things, steadily growing drowsy. Carol fell asleep while Paul was talking. When she failed to respond to one of his questions, he gently disentangled his hand from hers.
He was tired, but he couldn’t find sleep as quickly as she had found it. He kept thinking about the girl. He was certain he had seen her prior to their meeting outside the courtroom this morning. During dinner, her face had grown more and more familiar. It continued to haunt him. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t recall where else he had seen her.
As he lay in the dark bedroom, paging through his memory, he gradually became uneasy. He began to feel—utterly without reason—that his previous encounter with Jane had been strange, perhaps even unpleasant. Then he wondered if the girt might actually pose some sort of threat to Carol and himself.
But that’s absurd, he thought. Doesn’t make any sense at all. I must be even more tired than I thought.
Logic seems to be slipping out of my grasp. What possible threat could Jane pose? She’s such a nice kid. An exceptionally nice kid.
He sighed, rolled over, and thought about the plot of his first novel (the failed one), and that quickly put him to sleep.
At one o’clock in the morning, Grace Mitowski was sitting up in bed, watching a late movie on the Sony portable. She was vaguely aware that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were engaged in witty repartee, but she didn’t really hear anything they said. She had lost track of the film’s plot only minutes after she had turned it on.
She was thinking about Leonard, the husband she had lost to cancer eighteen years ago. He had been a good man, hard-working, generous, loving, a grand conversationalist. She had loved him very much.
But not everyone had loved Leonard. He had had his faults, of course. The worst thing about him had been his impatience—and the sharp tongue that his impatience had encouraged. He couldn’t tolerate people who were lazy or apathetic or ignorant or foolish. “Which includes two-thirds of the human race,” he had often said when he was feeling especially curmudgeonly. Because he was an honest man with precious little diplomacy in his bones, he had told people exactly what he thought of them. As a result, he had led a life remarkably free of deception but rich in enemies.
She wondered if it had been one of those enemies who had called her, pretending to be Leonard. A sick man might get as much pleasure from tormenting
Leonard’s widow as he would have gotten from tormenting Leonard himself. He might get a thrill from poisoning her cat and from harassing her with weird phone calls.
But after eighteen years? Who would have remembered Leonard’s voice so well as to be able to imitate it perfectly such a long time later? Surely she was the only person in the world who could still recognize that voice upon hearing it speak only a word or two. And why bring Carol into it? Leonard had died three years before Carol had entered Grace’s life; he had never known the girl. His enemies couldn’t possibly have anything against Carol. What had the caller meant when he’d referred to Carol as “Willa”? And, most disturbing of all, how did the caller know she had just made apple dumplings?
There was another explanation, though she was loath to consider it. Perhaps the caller hadn’t been an old enemy of Leonard’s. Maybe the call actually had come from Leonard himself. From a dead man.
—A lot of people believe in ghosts.
She thought about the strange dreams she’d had last week. She hadn’t believed in dream prophecies then. Now she did. So why not ghosts, too?
No. She was a level-headed woman who had lived a stable, rational life, who had been trained in the sciences, who had always believed that science held all the answers. Now, at seventy years of age, if she made room for the existence of ghosts within her otherwise rational philosophy, she might be opening the floodgates on madness. If you truly believed in ghosts, what came next? Vampires? Did you have to
start carrying a sharp wooden stake and a crucifix everywhere you went? Werewolves? Better buy a box of silver bullets! Evil elves who lived in the center of the earth and caused quakes and volcanoes? Sure! Why not?
Grace laughed bitterly.
She couldn’t suddenly become a believer in ghosts, because acceptance of that superstition might require the acceptance of countless others. She was too old, too comfortable with herself, too accustomed to her familiar ways to reconsider her entire view of life. And she certainly wasn’t going to contemplate such a sweeping reevaluation merely because she had received two bizarre phone calls.
That left only one thing to be decided: whether or not she should tell Carol that someone was harassing her and had used Carol’s name. She tried to hear how she would sound when she explained the telephone calls and when she outlined her theory about Aristophanes being drugged or poisoned. She couldn’t hope to sound like the Grace Mitowski that everyone knew. She’d come off like an hysterical old woman who was seeing nonexistent conspirators behind every door and under every bed.
They might even think she was going senile.
Am I? she wondered. Did I imagine the telephone calls? No. Surely not.
She wasn’t imagining Aristophanes’s changed personality, either. She looked at the claw marks on the palm of her hand; although they were healing, they were still red and puffy. Proof. Those marks were proof that something was wrong.
I’m not senile, she told herself. Not even a little bit. But I sure don’t want to have to convince Carol or Paul that I’ve got all my marbles, once I’ve told them that I’m getting phone calls from Leonard. Better go easy for the time being. Wait. See what happens next. Anyway, I can figure this out on my own. I can handle it.
On the Sony, Bogart and Bacall grinned at each other.
When Jane woke up in the middle of the night, she discovered she had been sleepwalking. She was in the kitchen, but she couldn’t recall getting out of bed and coming downstairs.
The kitchen was silent. The only sound was from the softly purring refrigerator. The only light was from the moon, but because the moon was full and because the kitchen had quite a few windows, there was enough light to see by.
Jane was standing at a counter near the sink. She had opened one of the drawers and had taken a butcher knife out of it.
She stared down at the knife, startled to find it in her hand.
Pale moonlight glinted on the cold blade.
She returned the knife to the drawer.
Closed the drawer.
She had been gripping the knife so tightly that her hand ached.
Why did! want a knife?
A chill skittered like a centipede along her spine.
Her bare arms and legs broke out in gooseflesh, and she was suddenly very aware that she was wearing only a T-shirt, panties, and knee socks.
The refrigerator motor shut off with a dry rattle that made her jump and turn.
Now the house was preternaturally silent. She could almost believe that she had gone deaf.
What was I doing with the knife?
She hugged herself to ward off the chills that kept wriggling through her.
Maybe she had dreamed about food and had come down here in her sleep to make a sandwich. Yes. That was probably what had happened. In fact she was a bit hungry. So she had gotten the knife out of the drawer in order to slice some roast beef for a sandwich. There was a butt end of a roast in the refrigerator. She had seen it earlier, when she had been helping Carol and Paul make dinner.
But now she didn’t think she could eat a sandwich or anything else. Her bare legs were getting colder by the moment, and she felt immodestly exposed in just flimsy panties and a thin T-shirt. All she wanted now was to get back to bed, under the covers.
Climbing the steps in the darkness, she stayed close to the wall, where the treads were less likely to creak. She returned to her room without waking anyone.
Outside, a dog howled in the distance.
Jane burrowed deeper in her blankets.
For a while she had trouble getting to sleep because she felt guilty about prowling through the house while the Tracys slept. She felt sneaky. She felt as if she had been taking advantage of their hospitality.
Of course, that was silly. She hadn’t been nosing around on purpose. She had been sleepwalking, and there was no way a person could control something like that.
THE focal point of Carol Tracy’s office was Mickey Mouse. One long wall of the room was fitted with shelves on which were displayed Mickey Mouse memorabilia. There were Mickey Mouse buttons, Mickey Mouse pins, a wristwatch, belt buckles, a Mickey Mouse phone, drinking glasses bearing the famous mouse’s countenance, a beer mug on which there was a likeness of Mickey dressed in lederhosen and a Tyrolean hat. But mostly there were statuettes of the cartoon star: Mickey standing beside a little red car; Mickey curled up in striped pajamas. sleeping; Mickey dancing a jig; Mickey with Minnie; Mickey with Goofy; Mickey holding barbells; Mickey with Pluto; Mickey and Donald Duck with their arms around each other’s shoulders, looking like the best of friends; Mickey riding a horse, with a cowboy hat
raised in one white-gloved, four-fingered hand; Mickey dressed like a soldier, a sailor, a doctor; Mickey in swimming trunks, clutching a surfboard. There were wooden, metal, chalk, porcelain, plastic, glass, and clay statuettes of Mickey; some of them were a foot high, and some were no more than one inch tall, though most were in between. The only thing those hundreds of Mickeys had in common was the fact that every one of them was smiling broadly.
The collection was an icebreaker with patients of all ages. No one could resist Mickey Mouse.
Jane responded as scores of patients had done before her. She said “oooh” and “aaah” a lot, and she laughed happily. By the time she had finished admiring the collection and had sat down in one of the big leather armchairs, she was ready for the therapy session; her tension and apprehension had disappeared. Mickey had worked his usual magic.
Carol didn’t have an analyst’s couch in her office.
She preferred to conduct sessions from a large wing chair, with the patient seated in an identical chair on the other side of the octagonal coffee table. The drapes were always kept tightly shut; soft, golden light was provided by shaded floor lamps. Except for the wall of Mickey Mouse images, the room had a nineteenth-century air.
They chatted about the collection for a couple of minutes, and then Carol said, “Okay, honey. I think we ought to begin.”
Worry lines appeared on the girl’s forehead. “You really think this hypnosis is a good idea?”
“Yes. I think it’s the best tool we have for restoring your memory. Don’t worry. It’s a simple process. Just relax and flow with it. Okay?”
“Well. . . okay.”
Carol got up and stepped around the coffee table, and Jane started to get up, too. “No, you stay there,” Carol said. She moved behind the wing chair and put her fingertips against the girl’s temples. “Relax, honey. Lean back. Hands in your lap. Palms up, fingers slack. That’s fine. Now close your eyes. Are they closed?”
“Good. Very good. Now I want you to think of a kite. A large, diamond-shaped kite. Picture it in your mind. It’s an enormous, blue kite sailing high in the blue sky. Can you see it?”
After a brief hesitation, the girl said, “Yes.”
“Watch the kite, honey. See how gently it rises and falls on the currents of air. Rises, falls, up and down, up and down, side to side, sailing so gracefully, far above the earth, halfway between the earth and the clouds, far above your head,” Carol said in a mellow, soothing, rhythmic voice as she stared down at the girl’s thick blond hair. “While you’re watching the kite, you’ll gradually become as light and as free as it is. You’ll learn to soar up and up into the blue sky, just like the kite.” With her fingertips, she lightly traced circles on the girl’s temples. “All the tension is leaving you, all the worries and cares are floating away, away, until the only thought in your head is the kite, the sailing kite in the blue sky. A great weight has been removed from your skull, from your forehead and your temples. Already, you feel much lighter.” She moved her hands down to the girl’s neck. “The muscles in your neck are relaxing. Tension is dropping away. A great weight is dropping away. You are so much lighter now that you can almost feel yourself rising up toward the kite. . . almost.. . almost. . She moved her hands down, touched the girl’s shoulders. “Relax. Let the tension fall away. Like blocks of concrete. Making you lighter, lighter. A weight is falling off your chest, too. And now you’re floating. Just a few inches off the ground, but you are floating.”