We took almost a week to surmise it was martial drumming in tattoo
twenty feet above their roof. We knew by month’s end other similarly apprised
domestic incidents: wedding service smashed plate-by-plate, sheets ripped off beds
at three am, keys whipped at heads, and faces pressed—mouths gaping, eyeless—
against the window panes in empty rooms. Phantoms, staring hard then gone, distressed
the heavy drapes, which dropped back to rest, much as we neighbors blanched but resumed
our shared surveillance of that uncanny family with whom we’d lived for years,
until these gross disquiets proved our fears that they’d been secret strangers through many
charades of intimacy. Unlike us, supernal evidence revealed,
they’d never been true friends, must have concealed—no, lied about—secrets. That we’d “liked”
them was betrayal of our highest trusts garnered sharing lawns and quiet streets
of quivering elms and mixers, neat floral plots and highballs. Disgust
competed with horror when we’d inspect their toppled chimney stacks, hedgerows flaming
in early morning frost, those shaming indictments cried out by their illicit
subletters. A beldam’s voice screamed us off their property, punctuating obscene
tirades with rattled gasps. Summer-serene banter on verandas choked off
once we heard their soldier’s moaned appeals to his “Darlene.” As promised, he’d got home,
had kept “pure” for her. What must become of him without his love, his soul? We’d feel
in time this family simply did not fit in—property values notwithstanding.
Clearly they noted our contempt’s sting. They turned furtive, went out when they thought
we wouldn’t see. They redoubled efforts in the first blush of being haunted
to make repairs. Specters gallivanted through their savings. The house became a fort
besieged from inside out. The man got old, grew jobless, haggard, unable to make payment.
A mortgage indeed, their long-term debts went not so much under-water as cold
and deep underground. Evicted, they’d haul their troubles with them. We were satisfied
and guilty. The fellows who occupied it next gutted the rooms, razed the drywall
to the roof beams. Redeemed, the house flipped to guileless clones, all smiles and mops of sun-
bleached hair. And still our black fascination with the jettisoned was held tight-lipped
but sacrosanct. When Father strangled in the asylum, Son absconded
to Mexico or Borneo or landed in some shallow grave, we whispered, tangled
in winding sheets of inference. Daughter hooked for heroine, then left the game
in silence for the Carmelites. The name she took was Catherine. Hereafter,
there was Mother’s death. Still so much untold, we gathered at the funeral home, pored
over her coffin’s box of matches, old board, a new planchette, to keep, she’d said, in touch.
Manny Blacksher grew up in Alabama, but has lived for long periods in Montreal and Dublin, Ireland. Over sixty of his poems have appeared in publications that include Poetry Ireland Review, The Guardian’s Online Poetry Workshop, Measure, and The Maynard. His short story, “Des Cruditees,” was published in Blue Monday Review. He is an editor for Light: A Journal of Photography and Poetry.
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