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Authors: Katherine Holubitsky

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BOOK: Hippie House
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Mr. Gillespie was cleared of any suspicion implicating him in Katie's death. On the night of November 9 he had closed the Dairy Bar at the usual time—ten o'clock—and was home by ten thirty. His wife and two neighbors confirmed this was true. Still, the Dairy Bar remained closed for a week following his confession. Mr. Gillespie moved his belongings from his home and made the empty apartment above the restaurant habitable. It had been used only as his office until then.

My mother and I passed Mrs. Gillespie outside the drugstore in Pike Creek shortly after news of the affair became known. She had been one of the worst offenders for stopping Mom on the street and grilling her with questions about the murder. What were the detectives working on? Had they made any headway? Why would the murderer have picked your farm? How could you have not heard anything that night? She was the reason Mom had almost lost it many times. Now she passed us with barely a nod.

“What's she so snooty about? We didn't have anything to do with it.”

“She's not mad,” Mom replied. “She's embarrassed. She's a proud person, Emma. This is very difficult for her.”

“She's a busybody.”

Mom smiled a little. “She's that too.”

It wasn't often we held the same opinion and I smiled at my mother for agreeing with me.

During the week the Dairy Bar was closed, Megan and I began to miss dropping by for chips and gravy after school. There was nowhere else to go. The only other place to get decent junk food was the Dairy Queen, and it was way out on the highway on the outskirts of town. By the time the restaurant reopened, Megan and I were well into withdrawal. It wasn't just the chips
and gravy. It was a warm place to hang out with our friends for an hour before going home after school. It was just too cold to hang around the outdoor bleachers or the smoking area unless we dressed like geeks and wore woolen toques and mittens, which we were not about to do. So when Mr. Gillespie opened the doors again, we were the first to slide into a booth. Only friends of the Russells and Mrs. Gillespie no longer came into the restaurant. We could see them through the picture window as they walked past the building with their eyes set straight ahead and their chins firm.

To a few of his customers, Mr. Gillespie became a sort of celebrity.

“Who would have guessed Lewis had it in him?” Mr. Fraser's farmhand guffawed. He elbowed the man seated next to him at the counter.

They both laughed in an annoying way.

If Mr. Gillespie noticed, he kept to his work. Very little seemed to distract him. He moved mechanically through the motions of slicing pickles, filling ketchup bottles and flipping hamburgers. Often, I noticed, people had to repeat his name to get him to look up. And when Doug McCrae made fun of Mandy Green's stringy shag haircut and fries flew across the table, Mr. Gillespie didn't react.

“Maybe they really were in love,” I said to Megan.

Mandy thumped Doug across the back of the head.

“Who?”

“Katie and Mr. Gillespie.”

Megan shrugged. It was already old news and we'd absorbed it. “I guess. We'll probably never really know.”

6

A
BOUT THIS TIME
, the dreams I had been having since the discovery of Katie's body took on a face. Not a real face, but some melding of their scattered segments. Until then the dreams were simply disruptive. I would wake up during the night anxious, but the reason why had already dissolved. I was left with the feeling that I'd been involved in an unpleasant situation, a minor accident or a problem that remained unresolved.

I now woke up from my dreams terrified. I felt fear long before I was conscious enough to open my eyes, and by the time I did, my chest was damp with sweat. I also did not forget these dreams.

Always, I was on the farm. In one I was doing my chores, feeding the chickens. In another I had gone into the workshop to call my father for dinner, but he was not there. There was never anyone else at home except me. I would be carrying out a regular routine when I suddenly felt that something (I couldn't even be certain it was human) had entered the room. I could not see it, but its presence was unmistakable. A shadow. I could feel it move about. At all times I knew exactly where it was in the room.

As the thing stalked me, I mentally prepared to escape. I sprang from its reach the second it lunged at me. And I kept on running. I had never run from anything the way it was necessary to run in these dreams. Behind me I could hear it breathing and feel its soundless footsteps. I took shortcuts, in the barn and through the fields, but whatever pursued me seemed to know them as well as I did. There was no place I could ditch it, where it would not follow. I would hide, but it was like an owl in the night and could pick me out wherever I went. I never got away. Cornered, with no way out, I woke up sweating and with my heart racing against my chest.

One night I awoke from one such dream where I was in the cellar, cringing behind the tall heavy cabinet my father had built to incubate duck eggs. The moving form had just stepped from the last wooden tread into the small concrete room. It knew I was behind the incubator. There were no windows in the old damp cellar. There was no alternate escape. The steps to the kitchen were the only way out. Trapped and terrified again, I woke up.

My bedroom was dark and still. I could only make out an outline of the ornaments on my dresser, and the large pink roses on the wallpaper were inky blots. The rest of the house was silent, and only the light over the stove in the kitchen trickled up the stairs. But from outside, below my window, I could hear voices. It was the sound of men talking on radios, the back-and-forth mumble of conversation, like on the night Katie's body was found. I tried to recall the day's events—what had happened that they would be there? There was no reason for it. I strained to catch a syllable of what was being said because they were speaking in very low voices. I could not decipher a word. When I realized they were working without the benefit of light, I became frightened. Perhaps these were the gas thieves Dad had set out booby traps for in the summer. Leaving my bed, I walked in bare feet down the cold hardwood hallway and opened Eric's door.

“Eric.”

“What?” his groggy voice answered.

It never took much to wake him up.

I stood next to his bed, shivering in my nightgown, and told him what I had heard. Without saying anything, Eric threw back his covers. He was wearing only pajama bottoms. He pushed a length of hair from his eyes and stumbled sleepily out the door. He was back within minutes. Jumping into bed again, he pulled the covers beneath his chin.

“There are no men talking. Go back to bed.”

“Yes, there are. You didn't listen long enough. They have radios. I heard them talking on car radios just like the police did the day Katie was found.”

“I listened. You were dreaming. There are no radios. Now go away. I want to go to sleep.”

How could he not have heard them? They were right outside my window. “Eric, they're there.”

He sat up again. “Okay, what were they saying?”

“I don't know. I couldn't understand them. Something serious. They were discussing something.”

Once again, Eric got out of bed. He dragged me by the arm and pulled me with him back to my room, where we stood just inside the door.

“See? Nothing. No voices. No radio. Now get into bed.”

He was right. There were no voices. There was no radio. But there had been. “No.”

“Emma—”

“If you leave they'll come back.”

“They won't come back because there was never anyone there.”

“Not now, but—”

And suddenly realizing what had occurred, a chill raced down my spine. “They were discussing me,” I whispered. My knees went weak.

Eric frowned. “What do you mean? Why would they be discussing you? Look, there is nobody there to discuss anything. I'm telling you, you were dreaming.”

“They found me. They were discussing my murder. I was dreaming, but I was awake. I keep dreaming about getting chased by something horrible. I get the same dream at least three or four times a week. I can't sleep here tonight. Not after the voices.” The sweat clinging to my chest had cooled and I began to shiver.

I half expected Eric to shove me into bed, but instead he took pity on me. As it turned out, he'd had one or two bad dreams of his own.

“All right, grab your quilt.”

Hauling my quilt behind me, I followed him to his room.

“You can sleep in the chair for tonight.”

I tried to get as comfortable as I could in the armchair by the window. When I was very tired I moved to the floor.

COCO CHANEL
, the fashion designer, died in January of that year. I was a little surprised when Mrs. Suringa told me. I guess I had just assumed that she had died many years before. Coco was responsible for bobbed hair, making suntans fashionable, the little black dress and her own brand of perfume. She was also the designer who got rid of that ancient mode of torture, the corset, which is why, I think, I was so surprised she could have still been alive. How could anyone still be alive who actually wore a corset? Women had been going braless for several years.

On an afternoon late in January I sat at my favorite Ber-nina machine in the sewing room. The company of
Oliver
! was rehearsing in the theater across the hall. Mrs. Suringa was hustling actors back and forth between the stage and the sewing room, where I was hemming cuffs, replacing buttons, adding trim to costumes and generally doing whatever last-minute alterations she deemed needed to be done.

I didn't think it was tedious work. It was actually the best part, detailing the costumes when the fitting and basics were already done. I especially liked doing it because Mrs. Suringa often sought my opinion.

She had recently brought in a secondhand store find: a brown satin dress with a simple round neckline. She suggested it needed something to date it to the nineteenth century. “A choker. With a gold brooch or cameo perhaps? Emma, what do you think?”

By then I had spent many lunch hours in the sewing room and was familiar with every spool of thread, every remnant and every unusual button in that room.

“There's a piece of black lace in the remnant box. I could make a standing collar and gathered cuffs at the wrist.”

Mrs. Suringa nodded. “Very Victorian. There's some suitable interfacing on the bottom shelf to the left of the door.”

She left me to my work and went back to the stage.

I found the lace in the remnant box and the interfacing where Mrs. Suringa had said it would be. I lay the fabric on the cutting table and trimmed the ends as I straightened the grain. I was smoothing it flat when I sensed a presence in the doorway behind me. I turned. It was Donny Russell dressed as Bill Sikes in a long black coat, leaning against the door.

“Hi,” he said, moving into the room.

Donny was a year older than me. He wore his dark hair layered and it fell to his shoulders beneath the top hat he wore. The hat gave him the appearance of being much taller than he was, and I thought he looked a little intimidating, a little evil, dressed all in black. Although that, of course, was the intended look. I wondered how it could possibly be improved.

“Great costume,” I said. “You look, well, like a real creep.”

He touched his hat and smiled.

He reminded me of somebody. “I know, you look like Roat in
Wait Until Dark
. Cool but creepy. Did you see that movie?”

“Yeah, I did. But I'm not like Roat. I may be cool, but I'm not usually a creep.” He swept the hat from his head.

“Yes,” I said, “I know.”

“Hey, look.” Donny pulled at his waistband. “Good job taking my measurements. My pants haven't fallen down yet.”

I laughed a little. “Well, let's hope that they don't.”

“No, I don't suppose I'd make a very convincing bad guy with them dragging around my knees.”

I laughed again. “Did Mrs. Suringa send you in here? You look great. I mean, I wouldn't change the length of the coat if that's what she was thinking.”

“No, it isn't. Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something else.”

My stomach tightened as I thought of the only thing that connected us outside of this play.

“Alright.” And to avoid his eyes, I began fussing with the lace on the table before me. I inadvertently knocked the small dish of straight pins on the floor. With a tinny sound, they scattered in all directions. I bent down to pick them up.

Donny bent down to help me. “Emma?”

I looked up. It was the first time he had said my name. I didn't even know he knew it.

“I've been wondering if I can come by your farm. I want to see where it happened.”

I looked at him a moment as I continued gathering the pins. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Leaving the rest of the pins, I stood up. “Just you?”

BOOK: Hippie House
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