Read The Tell Online

Authors: Hester Kaplan

Tags: #General Fiction

The Tell

BOOK: The Tell
5.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


For my parents and my sisters



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17



About the author

About the book

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About the Publisher


or weeks he'd waited for the wild lilacs arching over the carriage house to bloom. Then, back from teaching and a plodding swim at the Y that afternoon, Owen had spotted the first fat plume with its buds rising like a thousand fists. The driveway's pea gravel had protested underfoot as he broke off a sprig. He'd put the lilacs, delicate and strong-perfumed, in a pitcher on the sill over the sink for his wife, Mira, and saw now, as he looked up from his hands circling under running water, how their hue matched the lowering sky, the drooping sun. In the tinted early evening, Providence was washed with improbable color, lulled by a phony urban calm, the arterial whoosh of the highway and the digestive rumbling of the train moving out of the station down the hill toward Boston. Behind him at the table, Mira read in the paper about the city's boasts and failings, its crimes and peculiarities. His wife's head would be at that absorbed angle as though every story was interesting and in some way personal, but he understood that this sense of knowing her completely was wrong.

“Listen to this,” she said, and read to him a story about a man who'd beaten his neighbor's dog to death with a shovel because the animal had bitten a five-year-old girl on the face. “All it took was three whacks.” Mira banged the table in an echo of finality.

weiler,” she added.

Owen was so struck by her presence at that moment—the way she bent over the paper; how she spoke, emphatic and raspy; her engagement that kept her in the middle of things, sometimes incautiously—and by this prized evening routine of theirs that a palpitation rose from his chest in a cough. Some essential air flew out of him and left him breathless.

“You okay, O?” Mira peered at him over the top of her green almond-shaped glasses.

O: his name in her mouth. He slapped his ribs and nodded. But his pulse had been strangely rampant too during his laps in the sweet pool water earlier, and it had fluttered with a familiar beat of expectation. It was fortune reminding him of its moody balance, of chance's visit, and of how this house very recently had been atilt with apprehension. Five weeks earlier, they'd been broken into for the first time. They were asleep upstairs and then awake to hear the snap of the ancient lock on the kitchen door, the rummaging and banging around, the uninvited whispers that were gone in a minute as though a bat had flown through. Owen had rushed, terrified, to the window, saw nothing, but heard the sounds of escape down Whittier Street. Mira's bag and laptop had been taken, and shoeprints were left on the rug to discover in the light.

Owen leaned into the sink and gulped water, leady and lethal, from the tap. Then some movement of white, gone before he could fully detect or confirm it, drew his eye past the unfurling pleasure of the lilacs to the empty house next door. Its windows were violet mirrors. In the year since the place had been on the market, Owen had sometimes used the house to animate wisps of his imagination the way people used empty battlefields. Where they saw the fuming charge across the hard-packed earth, the clash, the fallen in the grass, the victorious mob shaded by incoming clouds, he pictured his future children on the oak stairs, bodies passing in front of doorways, and the motion of family life he hoped to have here in this house, someday, with Mira.

He'd been inside only once, after the ancient owner had croaked in her bed and the place had been efficiently emptied by her officious out-of-state children. The apocalyptic vacancy of the rooms, the fissured ceilings, the washcloth on the floor of the tub, the isopropyl chill in the air, had awed him. There was something about all those aristocratic details of leaded glass, inlaid floors, and lights hanging like distended organs that made him think of an old man, useless now in a threadbare suit and expensive shoes whom no one wanted to talk to anymore. He couldn't imagine who would want to take on the colossus—smaller and less elaborate than the one he and Mira lived in, but still daunting and ridiculous enough—who would want to coddle it and tend to its bounty of needs, its pickiness. Mira always reported to him when people came to look at the property. She imagined the narrow inhales of prospective buyers who would be unnerved to find their own reflections caught too often in beveled glass or their voices skittering into corners. They might have thought they were the right kind of people for a house like this—bold, quirky, dreamy, rich—but when it came down to it, they couldn't imagine themselves or their children, chairs, and collections living there. They had to admit that they liked clean lines and straight vistas better. Mira had lived in her house for her entire thirty-four years, even during her time at the art school that was just down the hill, which meant she sometimes overlooked the architecture's Victorian haughtiness and how it could make people wonder about their own ambition. Wonder about themselves. Last week she'd told him that there'd been a guy in a tan Windbreaker taking pictures of the house as he walked the perimeter with a clipboard and a tape measure, occasionally blinking up at the high peaks of the roof lost in the vaporous sun of a Rhode Island spring.

Owen saw now that what had been a flash a moment before was really a man moving by the low iron fence that separated the properties. He lost him for a second in the vines and rhododendrons, and then the white shirt winked through the lilac's heart-shaped leaves of rich green. It was hard these days to know who was harmless, who was an intruder, a buyer or a thief.

“Someone's next door,” Owen said.

Mira pushed back from the table and slipped between him and the window. Her shoulders drew up. The crime in their house had changed the way she kept watch; this was no longer the neighborhood of her past, the one she knew perfectly and benignly. It was a shock and disappointment for her to find that her goodwill in the world and longevity in the house had not made her invulnerable or earned her protection against the brutal side of city life. The crime had disturbed her and stolen her conviction, left her nights spiky, her days antsy. She took the break-in personally. Owen, eager to obliterate his own particular fear—the proximity of violence—had installed a heavy new lock on the door, security in the form of a glinty dead bolt. This man, though, with his lack of furtiveness, his leisurely step and crisp white shirt, didn't look as if he were anything to worry about.

“What's with the pacing?” Mira asked.

“Maybe he's measuring something. A lap pool, a dog run.”

“A batting cage,” she suggested. “A bomb shelter. Maybe he wants to park an RV there. He wants to buy the place. Tell him to go away, O. I like it empty.”

“You tell him. Tell him the neighbors are assholes.”

“Tell him how unfriendly they are.” She leaned back against him. “Tell him they won't take in his mail or water his plants or feed his cats. Tell him they'll never even bother to learn his name.”

“Tell him how the old lady died in her bedroom and wasn't found for five days,” Owen said.

At six-foot-six, he was more than a foot taller than Mira and had to bend to get his hands around her swooping waist, his pinkies grazing her inviting hipbones. She had spent the day at Brindle, the striving art school she owned and ran on the other side of the Point Street Bridge, and her dark, chaotic curls held the smell of clay and poster paints. This was her perfume—industrious, ambitious, alluring, the scent of best intentions. He adored her in a way that made his legs go watery.

“Tell him it was a horror show,” he whispered, and took another deep inhale of her scent mixed with the sweet lilacs. “The corpse with open eyes, the rotting body, the damp bed.”

As though this detail of death that Owen had spoken out loud, this notion of the old lady alone and undiscovered, was the one that finally caught his attention, the man in the yard turned to look at them. His face was a coin coppered in the last angle of the sun.

Mira pulled in her breath. “Oh,” she said. “O.”

“You know him?” Owen asked. He could be one of a number of former boyfriends, an old classmate, a friend of her dead parents. Rhode Island was a speck of land, and sometimes it seemed that Mira knew everyone on it—while he knew no one.

“For a second, I thought I did.” She rubbed her eyes behind her glasses and rose on her bare feet for a better look. “But now I'm not sure. I can't really see.”

“He definitely sees us,” Owen said, and raised his hand.

The gesture was ambiguous and Owen wasn't sure what had compelled him to make it in the first place, but it was all the man needed to lift his own hand in return and move to the scrolled gate as though he'd been summoned. Instead of opening it, he swooped one long, thin denim-clad leg over and then the other. He was wearing soft leather shoes without socks—not at all the style of the sloppy, sneakered natives. In a moment, he was at the back door they'd left open for the scent of spring, sighing in relief as though he'd just crossed a roaring highway.

He dragged his forearm across his high forehead. “Thank God. There are actual people here. I was beginning to wonder where everyone was.”

“Actual enough, anyway,” Owen said, moving toward him. The setup was amusing and the man definitely out of place and harmless, but he still tasted the sourness of suspicion. “Can we help you in some way?”

Between narrow, almost maroon lips, the visitor's teeth flashed like a ticker tape of good news. Owen had a feeling that he knew the guy in some distant way, that he'd sat next to him on an airplane or they'd waited in the same doctor's office or on a bench at the DMV. His face was half memorable in the way handsome, strong-jawed men sometimes were—they looked not so much like themselves but like others.

BOOK: The Tell
5.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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