First in a series of fortnightly invitations:
I mentioned that familiar characters met me in the hallway. After the reception and reading. They were subdued. At first it seemed like fatigue. Then sorrow. Or anger. They had questions. We walked to the parking lot. Amazingly, we all fit into the car. The hour’s drive south was silent. Then, one small voice from the rear seat. “What next? Do we just ride? Or get out somewhere along the road?” So I told them.
“I wrote down some thoughts. Where the story might lead. We gather at Kathryn’s. She has a plan for Billy. Just some thoughts. Let me tell you. Then you tell me what you think. I feel very much like you do.” Another voice from the back seat. “Easy for you to say.”
Watcher at the Gate
Billy sat on the edge of Elizabeth’s bed. Kathryn sang softly in the kitchen. She apparently could not recall all the words, so it was mostly humming, a low whistling, too. “Memory Lane.” Billy smiled. The irony of her night music. And comfortable kitchen tones, coffee cups and spoons. Elizabeth breathed easily and settled in her sleep. Billy stood up, slowly and carefully. He leaned over Elizabeth and brushed wisps of silver blond strands from her face, then kissed her hair lightly, just above her ear. Faint reminder of shampoo.
“Good night, Elizabeth.”
“Night. Honey.” A soft murmur.
Billy stepped around the foot of the bed and went into the kitchen, leaving the bedroom door ajar.
“Yes. Leave it open a bit.” Elizabeth’s clear voice in the dark. Billy edged the door open, a few more inches of light. Kathryn put her cup on the table, stood and motioned Billy into the living room. A box on the sofa.
“William, can you take these things out to your old work shed?” His shed. He had often slept there, a folding cot, and done his homework on a table of boards and sawhorses. The shed was Billy’s home when his mother worked nights, during Billy’s alternative center stint. Miss Kathryn’s plan. Their stories. Hollister and Billy. The garden and shed had been safe havens.
“Sure. I’ll take them.” Billy hefted the box, folded towels and bottles of spring water balanced on top. Kathryn held the door.
“Put the things on the table. Come back in before you leave.”
“Okay, Miss Kathryn. I haven’t even had time to call Mom, to let her know I’m home.”
“She’ll be glad you’re back. She called a lot while you were gone.” Kathryn’s eyes softened. “Yes. You are home, William.”
Billy walked to the garden shed. At the door he balanced the box, one arm and his knee. The door’s easy latch had been replaced with a sturdy doorknob. He opened the door and sidled into the dark space. He flipped the light switch with his left elbow. The surprising brightness, a nearly empty room. Fresh paint. No dust. No garden tools or buckets of junk. Replaced by narrow bed, desk and lamp. A keyboard and wide monitor screen. Polished shelves with no dusty burden of jars and trays of rusty nails. No hardened paint brushes, hose clamps. No rakes and shovels in the corner. Gone.
Billy put the box on the desk. He stood, frozen in place. How to ask Kathryn about something so patently obvious? He glanced back. Over the bed, a painting. Orange yellow shafts of sunlight. Clouds. He looked closely. Signed, ‘Kathryn.’ He turned to leave. A hand painted sign above the doorway, between doorframe and ceiling. “The Gate.” He flipped off the light switch, stepped out onto the garden pathway, and swung the shed door shut. Its new lock clicked solidly, secure, certain.
“Miss Kathryn,” he said, to no one. “What do you have in mind? What in the world?”
Finished with my brief tale, I pulled the car to the side of the road and stopped. I put the car in park and turned off the ignition. I closed my eyes and imagined that I was alone. “What do you think? Tell me what you think.”