Authors: Sheila Connolly
Tags: #mystery, #genealogy, #cozy, #psychic powers, #Boston, #Salem, #witch trials, #ghosts, #history
“No, and that’s part of the problem. You know Leslie—you worked with her, before this whole mess. She’s smart and she’s efficient. She runs the museum well. But she doesn’t get caught up in the romance of history—I guess you’d say she has a limited imagination, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. She’s not fanciful. So hand her a problem like Ellie’s strange ability, and her first thought is to figure out a way to fix it. Not try to empathize, you know?”
“I do understand, George. But I’m not sure this is something that can be fixed, or should be, even if it was possible. I mean, if Ellie showed artistic or musical talent, would you want to squash that? This is just a different talent, and most likely a lot rarer.”
George was looking down at his hands, wrapped around his water glass. “I don’t know what to do,” he said, almost to himself. “I want to help, but I don’t know how. Some days it’s like there’s nothing I can say that’s right—either Leslie ignores me or she bites my head off. And Ellie just keeps watching both of us, but she doesn’t say anything. We can’t go on like this.”
“Oh, George, I’m so sorry. I didn’t ask for this thing, and I never would have involved anyone else, but when I met Ellie things changed. We can’t go back again to the way things were. I’ve stayed away because I thought once Leslie cooled down and started thinking rationally, things would get better. And I thought that she’d reach out to me, since as far as I know I’m the only person, apart from Ned, who knows anything about this. If she wants to help Ellie. I want to help you all, but I can’t just barge in and tell you what to do. I’m still trying to figure that out myself.”
The back door opened, in the short hallway off the kitchen, and Ned came in, clutching a couple of large bags with the label of a local home store on them. “I found you a . . .” He stopped when he saw George, who stood quickly. “George? Everything okay at home?”
“Yeah, sure, I guess. Well, no, not really. I’ve been talking to Abby here about this thing she and you and Ellie have got, and I guess I need to talk with you too.”
Ned glanced at Abby, and she gave him a small nod. “Sure, George,” he said. “I’m happy to help. Let me drop this stuff in the other room and I’ll join you.”
He was back in thirty seconds and sat down at the table. “So, what’s up?”
George cleared his throat. “Ellie wants to see Abby. Leslie can’t talk her out of it.”
So things are coming to a head,
and sooner than expected
. And it was Ellie who was forcing it? That was interesting.
George went on, “She mentioned it one day—something like, ‘When am I going to see Abby again?’ And Leslie kind of blew her off. I think we both hoped she’d just forget about it—about you. But she didn’t. She’s stubborn. And persistent. It’s been, what, a month since she saw you?”
“About that,” Abby agreed.
“She brings it up maybe once or twice a week. Leslie’s all but tearing her hair out—I think she’d rather Ellie never saw you again, Abby. But I don’t think that’s going to work.”
“Probably not.” She stood up quickly. “I’m going to make some tea.” She wanted something to do with her hands—and time to think.
Which left the two men alone at the table. Abby wasn’t sure where she fit in this discussion. She was the one who had uncovered this ability, and had opened Ned up to it, and had found that Ellie shared it. But Ned was Ellie’s biological father, and had apparently passed on whatever genetic element was involved to his daughter. It certainly hadn’t come from pragmatic Leslie. Abby wasn’t sure how much Ellie knew—had Leslie explained the circumstances of her birth yet?—but Ellie might well have sensed her connection to Ned, without being able to put it into words. Abby was pretty sure Ellie had already picked up on Ned’s receptive ability, just from touching him. Ellie was one very self-possessed and observant child, Abby thought. She probably knew more than she let on. And now she wanted to bring everyone together? Was that a good idea?
She puttered around with water, teapot, tea bags and the like, trying not to listen to the men’s conversation, not that there was much of it. No wonder most of the accused witches of 1692, as well as their accusers, had been female—they were more tuned in to feelings, more imaginative, more subtle. More hysterical? She tried to envision a group of men kicking around the idea of witchcraft on the home front, maybe over a mug of sour beer.
Guy one: Hey, man, the wife’s been acting weird lately. Guy two: Yeah, mine too. What’s up with that? Guy one: Got me. Maybe she’s pregnant again. One of my milk cows died. Guy two: Three of my hens stopped laying. How’s the roof coming along?
It was much harder to imagine the same guys saying, “Perchance she has been plagued by an evil spirit?”
Abby filled three mugs and carried them to the table, along with spoons, then fetched milk and sugar. After she had sat down, she said, “Okay, George, how soon do you have to be home tonight?”
“You mean, if I don’t want Leslie to know I stopped here on the way? You know when she usually leaves work, and the kids are in after-school care—she’s picking them up today. So I’ve got an hour, at least.”
“How much did she tell you, after we talked to her about Ellie?”
“Just the bare outlines, I guess. To be fair, she didn’t slam either of you, and she finished up by saying that she couldn’t deal with this right away, all at once, and she needed time to think. The trouble is, she hasn’t said anything else since. I didn’t want to bring it up because I don’t know much about it, and I didn’t want to tick her off.”
“I get it,” Abby said. “How about I lay out what we think we know, how we found out, what we’ve learned since? And then we can figure out how to deal with Leslie. And Ellie.”
“Okay,” George said.
This may take more than an hour,
Abby thought. “Why don’t I tell it, and you can fill in the blanks, Ned?” He nodded.
So Abby launched into her move to Massachusetts, and how she had met Ned, and how he’d encouraged her to explore what was happening to her, and how he’d finally admitted that he might have some of the same ability. And then she segued into what they understood about the genealogy of it, and whether it applied to non-relatives, and if Ned could find a scientific explanation for any of it. She ended with how she had made the connection with Ellie, un-looked-for, and how she had tried to explain it to Leslie. “I suppose I could have said nothing, but I was trying to make things easier for Ellie. Help her to understand what’s happening to her. I don’t think there’s any way to keep a lid on it, not now—she already knows too much.”
George had listened silently, without any questions. He finally spoke. “I can see why Leslie wanted some time to process this. It’s not easy when your understanding of the universe is suddenly upended. I honestly thought this psychic stuff was a load of crap, which I guess puts me right up there with your Brad, Abby. But Ellie is . . . special. She always has been. I think she’s always sensed things, but she’s never been the gushy type, you know? Sometimes when I’ve been worried or upset, she’s said something like, ‘You okay, Daddy?’ If I go back and add up all the times something like that has happened, I’ll probably see the pattern. I just never thought about it.”
“Most people wouldn’t, George,” Ned said. “The question is, what now? The rabbit is out of the hat.”
“I know.” George checked his watch quickly. “I’d better go. Look, at the risk of echoing my wife, I need to think about this. I don’t want to talk with her about it until I’ve got it straight in my head. But we’ve got to tell Ellie something sooner rather than later.”
“What’s going to happen when school’s out?” Abby asked.
“We’re still wrestling with that. Neither of us can take off a lot of time over the summer. Usually we plan a two-week vacation somewhere, and other than that, Ellie goes to day camp nearby, and Petey’s got a summer nanny, a local college kid, who drops Ellie off and picks her up. But I think I hear you asking whether there’ll be more time for . . . other things?”
“Kind of. It’s an opportunity, maybe.”
George stood up. “Well, I think we have to get you two face-to-face with Leslie before we start talking about anything like that. Or maybe just you, Abby, since you were kind of the trigger for all of this.”
Abby stood too. “George, I’m sorry if I caused trouble. I never meant to.”
“We know that, Abby. And I think we need you to help us through this. We’ll talk, okay?”
“I’ll see you out, George,” Ned volunteered, and the two men went out the front door. Abby didn’t follow, but sat down at the table and thought. What had she learned? That Leslie was still pissed at her. That Ellie knew that something important was going on, whether or not she understood it or could even put it into words, and she wasn’t going to let it go, not even to keep peace in the family. Abby tried to remember herself at age seven. As she recalled it—and her mother might have a very different view—she had been a fairly quiet, independent child. She had read a lot, even at seven. She had had friends, and they had amused themselves in a variety of ways, in those distant days before computers and electronic games took over. Sure, they’d watched television, but they’d also played outside, often creating stories to act out, or made things. And she had had no inkling of this ability that lay buried inside her. It had taken a perfect storm of emotions to awaken it, and she still felt like a novice. So how was she supposed to help seven-year-old Ellie to cope? Especially when her mother was resisting acknowledging the whole thing?
This was not going to get dinner on the table. She stood and confronted her stove, with two working burners and a wonky oven. “Look, I know you’re old and you probably haven’t been cleaned as often or as well as you should have been, but I’m asking you to help me out here. Just keep going for a little while longer, will you? Please?” The stove did not reply.
Ned finally returned. “You’re talking to the appliances? Do they have spirits?”
“I don’t think so. Think of it as praying, if you want to eat dinner tonight.”
“That’ll do.” He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her, and she leaned back against him.
Touching was always complicated between them, and she was struggling to control her immediate, visceral reaction to Ned’s contact. Under some circumstances, like in bed, it was great to just let go and feel everything, in all possible ways, mental and physical. Under other circumstances it was reassuring to link hands and feel the instant warmth of their connection. But when she was trying to think, the often-overwhelming rush of sensation when Ned touched her could get in the way of being rational. For now she gave in and spent several minutes being irrational with Ned.
When they finally peeled apart, Abby went to the refrigerator in search of food. “You were out there with George for a while. Anything I should know?”
Ned poured two glasses of wine. “Not really. George is a good guy, and he loves Leslie, and Ellie. But he’s really out of his depth here. He wants to help but he has no idea how.”
“I can certainly understand that. I am kind of surprised that Leslie is still so upset, though. Or in denial. I always thought she was more level-headed than that. You know, identify a problem, analyze it, then fix it. Do you disagree? Did I miss something?”
“I think you’ve got it about right, at least for most things. But this is her child, or maybe both children, so it’s really important to her. Here.” Ned handed her a glass.
“Thanks. What about Peter? Are you going to try to be part of his life? I mean, boys see and feel things differently than girls, don’t they? And don’t just blow me off and tell me he’s too young. I’ve got plenty of memories from when I was his age. They may not have made sense to me then, but they were very vivid experiences at the time. He’s got to be noticing things.”
Ned sighed and sat down at the table. “Abby, I don’t know. I’ve told you, I was probably closer to Ellie’s age when I first met Johnny, at our house. It was a long time before I realized he wasn’t real, or at least that no one else could see him. And then I started thinking about finding live friends and fitting in, so I kind of shut Johnny out. I guess that means that there’s some sort of control over it: if you don’t want to see, you can just look the other way.”
“Is that what you want for the children? Is it a good thing, to suppress it?”
“Abby, as I keep saying, I just don’t know. Before you protest, I realize we’re going to have to come up with an answer sooner rather than later, but can it wait a day or two?”
“Sure. I don’t have any answers either. It’s a lot to work through. Poor George. And Leslie. And us. Most people would look at all of us and think we live simple, ordinary lives. Little do they know!”
Once they were settled with dinner in front of them, Abby asked, “What’s in the bags?”
“The big one is a steamer for the wallpaper. They weren’t expensive, so I picked one that looked easy to use. It should make things go faster for you. How far did you get?”
“I made good progress in the front parlor. You know, the floor there is really nice, if we can get the later crap off. But please don’t race out and buy a floor sander!”
“I think I can restrain myself,” Ned said, smiling. “At least the days are getting longer, so there’s more light to work by. I can help after work now and then.”
After a few more bites, Abby said, “You know, I was thinking about how I want to approach this Salem research. Or maybe I mean Andover. Too bad there’s not a word for the whole area. I looked at a few maps, and I hadn’t realized they were continuous back in the day. And a lot of people with the same surnames lived in both of them. What should we call it?”
“Andalem? Salover?” Ned joked.
“That’s just kind of silly. But it creates false boundaries if we treat them as separate and unrelated places. I don’t know the area well, in the real world. What’s the topography? Is there a ridge running through both? Or a river? How about a swamp?”
“Not that I know of. As I understand it, things started in what was once called Salem Village, which lay between what we know as Salem and Andover, and then spread from there. Salem Village was about a quarter of the size of Salem as a whole, but they wanted their own church and minister, and that’s around when the trouble started. You have to remember they were still Puritans back then, and they had a lot of rules.”