Authors: V. C. Andrews
Copyright (c) 2007
ISBN-13: 9781416530824 ISBN-10:1416530827
As young girls living in a peaceful and relatively crime-free community, Karen Stoker and I should have had an adolescence full of hope, an adolescence of bright colors, sweet things, and upbeat music. No one season should have looked drearier than another. Winter should have been dazzlingly white, with icicles resembling strings of diamonds and the air jingling with our laughter at the crunch of snow beneath our boots. Spring, summer, and fall would each have its own magic. In fact, our lives should have been one long and forever special day protected by loving parents and family.
Ghosts and goblins, creatures from below or out of the darkness, were to be nothing more than movie and comic-book creations to make us scream with delight in the same way we might scream sitting on a roller coaster plunging through an illusion of disaster. Afterward we would gasp and hug each other in utter joy that we were still alive. Our excited eyes would look as if tiny diamonds floated around our pupils. Our feet would look as if we had springs in them when we walked, and all the adults in our families would cry for mercy and ask us to take our boundless energy outside so they could catch their breath.
That was the way it should have been; it could have been, but there was something dark and evil incubating just under the surface of the world in which we lived, in which I, especially, lived. I was in a protective rose-colored bubble, oblivious and happy, pirouetting like a ballerina on ice, unaware of the rumbling below and never dreaming that I could fall through into the freezing waters of sorrow and horror, the parents of our worst nightmares.
It was Karen who showed me all this, Karen who pointed it out, lifted the shade, and had me look through the window into the shadows that loitered ominously just beyond our imaginary safe havens. I thought Karen was like Superwoman with X-ray eyes, who could see through false faces and through false promises.
I wanted to be Karen's best friend the first moment I set eyes on her after we had moved into the Doral house, a house made infamous by its original owners, because the wife, Lucy Doral, was said to have murdered her husband, Brendon, and buried him somewhere on the property. His body was never found, and she was never charged with any crime, because she claimed he had run off, and back in the nineteenth century, it was much more difficult. o track people. No one could prove or disprove what she had said. However, the house had a stigma attached to it, and it remained abandoned for many years before it was bought and sold three times during the past eighty-five years. Each owner made some necessary upgrade in plumbing and electricity, as well as expanding the building.
My brother, Jesse, saw the house briefly when my father took a second look at it and brought him along, but Jesse went off for his college orientation in Michigan a week before we moved, so he didn't spend any real time in our new home until his holiday break at Thanksgiving, and he was too excited about going to college to really think about where we were going to live. Later, when he did spend time in it, I found him surprisingly aloof and disinterested. It was as if he was already on his way toward his independent life and we were now merely a way station along that journey.
Karen claimed she understood his attitude. She and I often sat upstairs in the attic of my house to carry on our little talks, because it was such a private place away from the newer, expanded kitchen and living room below that had been part of an addon. There was a short stairway on the south end of the upstairs landing leading up to the attic door. It had no banister, and the old wooden steps moaned like babies with bellyaches when we walked up. For me, and even more for Karen, the most interesting thing about our house was exploring it and the grounds around it.
"Maybe we'll discover the remains of Mr. Doral," she said, "or at least some important evidence. She could have sealed him in a wall as the character did in Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Cask of Amontillado,' " she whispered, and put her ear to walls as if she could still hear the poor man moaning and begging to be freed.
As soon as she laid eyes on the attic, she declared it was the most fascinating part of the house, because it was large and contained so many old things, furnishing, boxes filled with old sepia pictures, dust-coated lamps, a few bed mattresses and some pots and dishware that previous owners didn't care to take with them. There was even some costume jewelry. Karen thought they might have forgotten they had put it all there. She said everything looked as if it had been deserted. She almost made me cry with the way she embraced a pillow or caressed an old dresser, claiming all were on the verge of disappearing and were so grateful we had come up to befriend and claim them. She said it was a nest of orphans, and then she clapped her hands and declared that we would adopt them all and make them all feel wanted again.
"I know just what your brother is feeling about this place, this town," she told me after he had returned to college at the end of his Christmas holiday recess and I had complained to her about how indifferent he seemed to be the whole time he was home. He didn't care that we had to drive miles and miles to go to a movie or that there were no fancy restaurants in our village. He didn't care that there were no streetlights on our road or that our nearest neighbor was a half- mile away.
Karen and I were sitting on an old leather settee that had wrinkled and cracked cushions reminding us of an aged face dried close to parchment by Father Time. After only our second time up there, Karen christened the attic "our nest." Neither the stale, hot trapped air nor the cobwebs in the corners, bothered her. We aired it out and dusted as best we could, but it never seemed that clean. She told me we shouldn't care, because clubhouses, secret places, were supposed to look and be like this and we were lucky to have it.
The day we talked about Jesse, we both had put on old-fashioned dresses with ankle-length skirts and lots of lace, wide-brimmed flowery hats, and imitation diamond and emerald earrings we had found in an old black trunk that Karen said were like those that had gone down with the
I wore an ostentatious fake pearl necklace that had turned a shade of pale yellow. Karen wore a pair of black old-fashioned clodhopper shoes, too, and a pair of those thick nylon stockings we saw elderly women wear, the kind that fell in ripples down their calves and around their ankles.
"Oh, really? What's my brother feeling?" I asked, a little annoyed that she thought she could interpret him better than I could.
"It's simple. Don't be thick. You think I'd be here if I didn't have to?" she asked. "If I were in college like your brother, I wouldn't come back even on holidays. Not me. I want to live in a big, exciting city that never sleeps, a city with grand lights and continuous parties, traffic and noise and people, a city with so much happening you can't decide whether to go uptown or downtown. Don't you?"
Her eyes filled with such exhilaration it was as if she had the power to lift us and carry us off on a flying carpet to her magical metropolis. She held out her arms and spun around so hard she nearly fell over from dizziness, making me laugh. I had lived in Yonkers, which was very close to New York City, and didn't think big-city life held all the enchantment she thought it did, but I agreed with everything she said, because I wanted so to be her dearest friend and I enjoyed listening to her fantasies and dreams.
I was ever so grateful that I had this house, this attic, this stage where we could act out our imaginings or look at the faded sepia pictures of young men and women and make up romantic stories about them. This one died in childbirth; that one took her own life when her lover betrayed her or her father forbade her to many him. Karen never failed to come up with a plot or a name. All her stories were romantic but sad. She seemed capable of drawing these tales and the characters out of the very attic walls.
I did come to believe there was something magical about being in our nest, something that helped us mine our imaginations with ease. There were only two naked light fixtures dangling from the attic ceiling, casting uneven illumination, but Karen didn't complain about it. She said she rather liked the eerie and mysterious atmosphere it created, and I tried hard to feel the same way. Putting on the old clothes, sitting among the antiques, gave us the inspiration to fantasize and plan, she more than I, but I was learning fast to be more like her and let my imagination roam.
I told her so.
"Yes, why not?" she asked, lifting her eyes and looking as if she were standing on a stage. "After all, it's our imagination that frees us from the chains and weight of our dull reality. Come dreams and fantasies. Overwhelm me."
She could make statements and gesture with such dramatic flair that I could only stare and smile with amazement. I told her she should go out for the school plays. She grimaced.
"And be confined by someone else's vision, plot, characters? Never," she said. "We must remain always free spirits. Your house, our nest, is the only stage I want to be on."
Our new home was on Church Road in Sandburg, New York, a hamlet that Karen claimed gave credence to the theory that some form of sedative had seeped into the groundwater. Karen said there was a picture of Sandburg next to the word
in the dictionary.
"People here have to be woken up to be told they've woken up," she told me.
"Maybe that's why it's called Sandburg. They named it after the Sandman," I added, always trying to keep up with her wit.
"No, no one was that creative. It's named after the nearby creek. Speaking of names, I like yours," she told me.
"My name? Why?"
"I envy people with unusual names. Zipporah. It shows your parents weren't lazy when it came to naming you. My name is so common, my parents could have imitated Tarzan and Jane and called me Girl, and it wouldn't have made all that much difference," she said, the corners of her mouth turning down and looking as if they dripped disgust. I couldn't imagine how someone like her could be unhappy with herself in any way.
"It's not so common. I like your name. It takes too long to say mine."
"It does not. Don't let anyone call you Zip," she warned. "It sounds too much like the slang for zero, and you're no zero."
"What makes you so sure?" I asked. How had she come to that conclusion so quickly? I wasn't exactly Miss Popularity with either the girls or the boys at my last school. In fact, I had yet to receive a single letter or phone call from a single old friend.
"Don't worry. I have a built-in zero detector. I'll point out the zeros in our school, and you'll clearly see that I know a zero from a nonzero."
It didn't take long for me to believe she could do that. Anyone she disliked, I disliked; anyone she thought was a phony, I did as well.
Both Karen and I were fifteen at the time, less than a year away from getting our junior driver's licenses. She was two months older. With passing grades in the high school driver's education class, we could get our senior licenses at seventeen, which meant we would be able to drive after dark. We would also get a discount on auto insurance. This was all more important to me than to her, because I was confident I could eventually have a car of my own. Jesse had his own car, a graduation present, so I assumed I would, too.
We talked about getting our licenses and a car all the time, dreaming of the places we would visit and the fun we would have. Sometimes, up in the nest, we pretended we were in my car driving along. We'd sit on the old sofa, and as I simulated driving, she pointed out the scenery in Boston or New Orleans and especially California, shouting out the names of famous buildings, bridges, and statues. We used travel brochures and pretended we were actually plotting out an impending vacation.
We considered a driver's license to be our passport to adulthood. As soon as you got your license, your image among your peers and even adults changed. You had control of a metallic monster, the power to move over significant distances at will, and you could grant a seat on the journey with a nod and make someone, even someone older, beholden.
"Of course, it's obvious we don't need a car to get around Sandburg," Karen said. "It's so small the sign that says 'Leaving Sandburg, Come Visit Us Again,' is on the back of the sign that says 'Entering Sandburg, Welcome.' "
When I told Jesse what Karen had said, he laughed hysterically and said he was going to try to get a sign made up like that and put it on his dormroom wall. He was so excited about the idea that I wished I had been the one to say it, especially after he remarked, "Your girlfriend is pretty clever and not just pretty."
The imaginary sign wasn't all that much of an exaggeration. There was only one traffic light in the whole hamlet. It was at the center where the two main streets joined to form a T, and because this was a summer resort community, during the fall, winter, and spring, the traffic light was turned into a blinker, more often ignored than obeyed. If Sparky--the five-yearold cross between a German shepherd and a collie owned by Ron Black, the owner of Black's Cafe-- could speak, he would bear witness against threequarters of the so-called upstanding citizens who ignored the light. Whenever he was sprawled on the sidewalk, Karen and I noticed that Sparky always raised his head from his paws each time a car drove through the red without stopping. He looked as if he was making a mental note of the license plate.
We laughed about it. Oh, how we laughed at ourselves, our community, our neighbors, back then. There seemed to be so much that provided for our amusement, such as the way Al Peron, the village's biggest landlord, strutted atop the roof of one of his buildings with his arms folded across his chest, his chin up, as if he were the lord of the manor, looking over his possessions. We called him Our Own Mussolini, because he resembled the Italian dictator as pictured in our history textbook. We giggled at the way Mrs. Crass, whose husband owned the fish market, swayed like a fish swimming when she walked. Stray cats followed cautiously behind her as if they expected some fresh tuna to fall out of her pockets.
We laughed about Mr. Buster, the postal clerk, whose Adam's apple moved like a yo-yo when he repeated your order for stamps and wrote it down on a small pad before giving them to you, and we shook our heads at the way the Langer Dairy building leaned to the left, a building Karen called the Leaning Tower of Sandburg.
"If too many customers stand on one side, it might just topple," she declared. Mrs. Langer wondered why Karen and I shrieked and then hurried from one side to the other when people came in behind us.
Karen and I observed so many little things about our community, things that no one else seemed to notice or care to notice. I began to wonder if we indeed had a bird's-eye view of everything and floated far above our world. Whenever I mentioned something Karen and I had noted, my mother or my father would say, "Oh, really? I never thought of that," or, "I never realized it." Maybe adults see things too deeply, I thought, and miss what's on the surface. They were once like us and saw what we saw, but they forget.
"Time is like a big eraser," she said.
It was Karen's idea that we should write down all these insights and discoveries someday, because it was a form of history, our personal history, and we would become like our parents, oblivious, distracted.
"Years and years from now, when we're both married and have clumps of children pulling on our skirts wailing and demanding, and we look like hags with cigarettes drooping from the corners of our mouths, we'll remember all this fondly, even though we make fun of it now," she said. "That's why it's so important."
It did sound important enough to write down, but we never created that book together. We often talked about doing it. Later, when we had little else to do, we passed some of our time remembering this and that as if we were both already in our late seventies, reminiscing about our youth, looking back with nostalgia and regret.
It was lost for both of us just that quickly.