Still stirring hearts after 2013...
Stillwell: A Haunting on Long Island
by Michael Phillip Cash
aul turned from the dark window, twitching the drapes back in place. It was cold in the house; it had
the dank feel of being unused. It had only been empty for a week, and yet it held a stale feeling of overripe food and decaying garbage.
The kids would be coming home tomorrow. He had sent them to his sister’s place for the past week. It was too hard to have to worry about their schedules when he was sitting by Allison’s side. The funeral was yesterday, and he asked his sister to keep them one more day. He needed to have some time to collect himself. He’d spent the last twenty-four hours sitting in the dark, staring at nothing, his mind too numb to think.
Lisa had taken over with the brisk efﬁciency of the nurse that she was trained to be. Stella was eating once again and Jesse and his twin, Veronica, were able to sleep at night. His sister’s was the safe house, and while he desperately missed his children, he couldn’t deal with their everyday drama while he stayed with Allison for her ﬁnal weeks.
He played with the chain around his neck then placed the gold band that hung from it on his lips. He closed his eyes, feeling alone. It was his wife’s wedding band and it had never left her ﬁnger from the time he had placed it there almost ﬁfteen years ago.
Everything happened so fast. Too fast. His mind replayed the last six months in a montage of colors ﬂashing like an out-of-control merry-go-round. Only it wasn’t a happy ride. Well, he sighed, he had to admit that he did feel relief. It felt wrong to have this burden taken off his shoulders, but his wife didn’t have to suffer any- more. He admitted to himself that he was weary too. She had gone from bad to worse in such a short time. She had slipped into a coma. He held her skeletal hand for a solid week, watching hope die alongside his wife. His family had brought in food, but he felt no hunger. As he stayed by her side, nothing seemed important. Paul stared at her face, memorizing every curve, her deep dimple, the mole she hated above her upper lip. Every second counted, and he wouldn’t waste a minute on himself. His future yawned ahead in a great vastness of nothing that stretched endlessly before him. Alone, mute, and his thoughts jumbled in his head, he couldn’t ﬁnd words to say what he needed. Did she know how happy she had made him? Did Allison understand how much she meant to him? Could she know that his heart was so numb, he felt as though he were a corpse? Though he sat caressing her hand, could his wife sense the man next to her was spent, empty? It was that burnt-out feeling like after drinking so much that the liquor loses its taste and cigarettes burn with dying ﬁre.
The irony was that he was the smoker, even though he had stopped when the twins were born, thirteen years ago. Allison wouldn’t have it in the house. He cheated at work, chewing gum to disguise the smell on his breath. It had always been a huge ﬁght, and while she painted all kinds of devastating scenarios if he continued to smoke, they never expected her to be the one to fall victim to cancer.
The twins were a rare handful for them. Married for just over a year, they were unprepared for the incessant work. He was building his reputation as a go-to guy for the McMansions that dotted Long Island’s North Shore. The pull of work and two newborns tested their marriage. Allison breast-fed until utter exhaustion—or as he liked to call it “udder” exhaustion—made her stop. She always laughed at that.
Jesse, his son, was all brooding intensity, while Veronica, the elder twin by six minutes, was sweet, faithful, and resilient. They were golden children, kissed by sunlight, with blond hair, freckles, and odd silver eyes, like their mother. They communicated in a strange language that worked only for the two of them. A silent collusion between the twins created a special insight, and they knew exactly what the other was thinking. When words ﬁnally arrived, they could ﬁnish each other’s sentences.
While he was happy with his family, Allison had wanted another child. Reluctantly, he agreed and was shocked at his devastation when she miscarried. His despair turned to relentless hope, and although they faced a period of secondary infertility, he pushed for seven years, and they became pregnant once again. He called her “Stella Luna,” because she was the stars and moon to him.
With Stella, he had time to play. She was a fey child, ﬁlled with whimsy and a touch of an old soul.
Brown-haired and brown-eyed, she was the image of his older sister. Shut out of the twin’s world, he made sure she never felt alone. When she turned two, her soulful brown eyes induced him to give up smoking once and for all. God, he wished he had a cigarette. Right now.
The house screamed with silence, its heavy pall smothering any sense of light. It closed over him. The acid ache in his gut he’d been experiencing since she got sick made its presence known. Padding to the kitchen, he went in search of milk to put out the ﬁre. After he opened the refrigerator door, he stood for a minute staring at the empty shelves. He smelled the open carton of milk and recoiled at the odor. He never remembered buying it and could only guess how old it was. Well, the milk was plainly spoiled, as was the cheese. They had to be at least a month old. Maybe he should just eat the yogurt, let it kill him, and the kids would be done with mourning. Two for the price of one, he thought as he slammed the door. He’d have to go food shopping at some point. Yep, the kids were coming home tomorrow.
Paul slid on to the counter stool, holding his head in both hands. His skull ached as though there were a thousand hammers pounding behind his eyes. It pulsed with such intensity; he pressed his ﬁngers against his eyeballs until all he saw was an iridescent halo. He sighed deeply
and stretched backwards cracking his jaw as he yawned.
Dizziness assailed him and he gripped the granite counter with wet palms. “God,” he thought, “am I going to faint?”
Sweat dotted his forehead and he shivered involuntarily as a gray mist enveloped him, chilling him to the bone.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sensed a shadow dancing around him. He felt paralyzed and couldn’t move.
Suddenly nauseous, he rested his unstable forehead against the counter and said, “I gotta get some sleep.”
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