Parhelion and Coelogyne
When I first saw the house it looked like a castle to me, because of how big it was, and because of the tower with a fancy top on one side. Later I learned the top of the tower was called a cupola, and the house was more like a monster's cave. Maybe I should have known it wasn't a real castle because of the peeling paint. In books, the hero always has a nice house, never one that's worn down and a little dirty, like someone needs to tell it to take a bath.
The top floor of the cupola is like a ship sailing across the treetops. I've spent enough time locked up here by my uncle during the past two years to know. This room is the highest place inside the Victorian. But the chestnut and oak trees in the yard have grown tall enough that the windows on those two sides seem, when the wind blows, to ride above their waving branches like the pirate ship rode above the waves in one of the pictures in my old story book. I wish I had that book now so I could see the picture again, but I lost it when my folks died.
Through the other two windows of the cupola you can watch the town and the front walk, but I don't like to look that way. There's nothing I want to see in that direction.
The room itself is empty, but it has nice wallpaper, and a pretty fireplace, with tiles and wood and stuff. The roof leaks a little, not because it has to, but because Uncle doesn't like to pay to fix things. Annie told me he sold the furniture that used to be in the cupola when his father died. Now there's just a bare floor up here, and the windows, without curtains.
I don't mind, most times. In the sunshine, I watch the birds and the squirrels. When the wind blows, I sail with the ship. It's best at night, under the stars, when the tall clouds cross the moon. They are all blue and silver. I pretend I'm sailing away, to some nifty place where I can do and say whatever I want: maybe a pirate island, or a circus. In winter, when it's clear, the room is cold, but I have a blanket hidden under the eves, so that's okay. Once I lit a fire in the hearth, but he didn't like that. It would have cost me an extra day without food if Annie hadn't smuggled me up some bread and stuff. That was before Aunt fired her, for not being a Christian woman. It did cost me an extra-hard caning.
I'm supposed to be contemplating the error of my ways, until Uncle decides I'm ready to take my licking in the spirit in which it's intended. I don't really like to think about that. It hurts, but worse, I don't like the look on his face when he's done. He gets red and breaths funny. Something's wrong, I know, but the one time I said anything he backhanded me, which really hurt.
There'll come a day when I'll be as big as he is, but until then, I have to wait. I don't have to contemplate the error of my ways, though.
Instead I read my dime novels. I hide them up the chimney. I have a peachy one just now, about a detective in New York City. It's almost as good as the one about Billy the Kid in Colorado. I can't read them after dark, but I wouldn't anyhow. He comes after dark, most times.
The only bad thing is when it storms. He likes storms. I don't like seeing clouds on the horizon, any more. It figures that they would come from the town side of the cupola, most times. When the storm gets close, the trees whip around, like the house is going to sink, and I can see the lightning striking all around the town and out towards the country. It's never hit the cupola, but I always think it might. It would be worth it, if he was up there with me at the time, but he wouldn't be. Nothing hurts him. Annie called Uncle the Old Devil, which just goes to show that Aunt was wrong. Only Christian people talk about the devil. Annie wasn't right, he doesn’t even have hooves, but he sure does like lightning, just like the devil in a stage show. Once I fell asleep, and woke up with him standing there above me, with the cane in his hand, all lit up by the flashes. That was about the worst licking I ever did get. Even Aunt noticed, before my arm healed up.
Ever since then, the storms make me nervous, like I was a baby, or a girl. I can hide it when I'm at school, but it's hard when I'm locked up alone in the cupola room. There's a storm coming now, I can tell. The horizon is all black and green, and I can see the flashes and hear the thunder rolling. The wind is starting to moan. The windows to his room are open, and I can hear him, real faint, speaking out loud. He's probably talking to the Lord, which is bad. I go to the other side of the cupola, even though I know I shouldn't, and look down at the walk. Aunt's going towards the front gate, wearing her hat with the fruit on top. She's going to the Lady's Prayer Circle at the church. She won't be back for hours. It's going to be a heck of a beating.
Now the clouds are right overhead, and the lightning's striking in the town. The rolls of thunder are like being hit. I catch myself making a noise, and I stop it. He likes noises. His face twists up. Downstairs, I hear the door open and, between the crashes, his footsteps coming up the stairs. He's talking to himself. I look around in the lightning, to make sure I hid everything bad, and then stand in the middle of the room with my eyes down. If I make him chase me, he hits harder. Then there's a real close crack, the room lights up, and the door opens.
In spite of him, a yell escapes my throat, but it is not the panicked scream of a small boy any longer. It is the voice of a young man that wakes me, and I realize it's my own only when I hit the floor tangled in my sheets. The room is stifling and I am covered in sweat. A horrible sense of dread grips my stomach when the lightning flashes outside my window.
The past and the present merge dangerously with the storm, and it takes all my effort to struggle to my feet. The sheets trail me over to the window. The rain is beating against the pane. I get a grip and heave the window open as far as it will go, and the rain spatters in. I lean out on the sill, breathing deeply in the humid air, sucking oxygen into my lungs. Water runs down my neck, soaking the sheets, my undershirt and my pajama bottoms. The heartbeat in my ears seems as loud as the thunder rolling over my head. I bite the heel of my hand to keep from crying out. It takes a full minute and a half before I remember where I am; not in Chillicothe but New York City, and my bedroom door has a lock on the inside for the first time in my life.
There are differences, though, and as the dream fades I can sort them out. This tower is no prison for me now, and the man sleeping in the next bedroom is not my uncle. In my dreams, my uncle still lives and breathes to terrorize me, but now, and I should not say it thankfully but I do anyway, he is safely in the ground in a cemetery plot in Chillicothe.
Lightning flashes again, and I jump. The sash smacks against the back of my head, as I pull inside and shake like a dog. The thunder crashes almost immediately, and my stomach muscles tighten. A sick feeling grows in my throat and the back of my neck burns. I am out of my room and halfway up the stairs to the third floor before I even realize I'm running.
When I reach the third floor, I keep going. Head up, to escape from danger. It's been eight years, but it could have been yesterday. One little storm and I'm back to acting like a kid again, a scared baby who hid up on the roof and watched the storms blow in.
It strikes me now that I never saw the storms blow over. My mind was occupied entirely with the flash and growl of the storms as they were present, directly overhead. I do not remember their receding movements, though they must have blown themselves out.
I know all too well the calm after those storms, when I would sit and nurse my wounds and watch the rain drip from the trees. Sometimes, the sun would come out. Sometimes it was night, and I would sit at the window until the sun rose.
The plant rooms on the roof look different by night. The ten thousand orchids, on their benches and shelves, reach up and cast strange shadows on each other; a sea of alien fingertips grasping at nothing.
The rain pours down the glass in sheets, and around me the lighting flashes, lighting the whole sky at once. The panes shake with the rumbling, louder than anything.
Rain is blowing in with the wind at one end of the cool room, where there are ventilation windows. I stop to take in air again. It is wild. My nerves are screaming out for something, and I can't stand still. I pace,
from one end of the room to the other, and when I get back to the wind and the rain, my muscles are jumping. Though the rain is cool, it does nothing for my body when my blood is up. My knuckles whiten when I grip the edge of the windows, holding on for dear life. Breathe deeply, Archie. Everything ends. Storms end. Lives end. Memories I hope eventually will end.
There is a pause, and then a crack of thunder so loud that I feel it rather than hear it, and a flash of light that illuminates the entire room. Then I hear the sound of a door opening, and whirl, snatching up a window pole from the concrete beach beside me. In the dark, with dazzled eyes, I still see him, silhouetted against the light of the open door.
I lunge forward, pole high. I hear myself shouting: what, I do not know. The huge form lunges and a hand as strong as iron grasps my arm and twists me around. A voice bellows, close to my ear, "Archie!"
A deep voice, with no buckeye accent in it: not Uncle. Wolfe. The pole drops from my fingers to ring on the floor and roll away. Wolfe says something sharp in a foreign language, probably something rude. I stand, his hand locked on my arm, panting.
Amazingly, when he speaks again, his voice is mild. "You are wet." He lets go of my arm and steps back.
I am surprised my voice works. "Yeah. It's raining all over the orchids."
He pauses. "Indeed. Shall we shut the panels?"
I don't say anything. I just grope around and find the pole, while he goes to turn on the lights. The lightning is easier to take with the lights on, and I manage not to cringe as it strikes. I really don't want to cringe in front of Wolfe. I wish the storm would move on. He lets me do most of the work, and then frowns at me. I give him a scowl in return. His lips push out, and he says, with a touch of petulance in his voice, "You are dripping." He takes the towel from around his neck and hands it to me.
Funny, I don't mind him being sulky. I take the towel and wipe my face. It smells a little of Wolfe: spices, maybe a hint of cologne. No one knew how to wear cologne in Chillicothe, or used much in the way of spices when they cooked. Breathing deep as I wipe my hair, I savor being in Manhattan, and free.
As I hand the towel back, lightning flashes and thunder roars, close, too close. I can not suppress my flinch. Neither can Wolfe. The towel drops between our hands, and our eyes meet. His pupils are dilated, turning his dark brown eyes into tunnels. Wildly, I wonder what he sees in my own face. I pant, and watch his fat chest's rapid rise and fall.
He speaks first. His voice is calm, his face still, but his eyes are deep, haunted. "I dislike lightning and thunder. They remind me of artillery barrages. I still tremble."
The sound of my own voice shocks me. "My uncle used to come up and beat me, during storms. I'm flinchy."
"Yes," he says, his voice dark. "I see."
"Yeah, me too." I look at him. He looks at me. Lightning, a little farther off, bleaches him white. Quietly, I go over to the lights and turn them off, and return to him. Without speaking, we walk to an empty bench,
and stand, side by side, watching the storm move away through the glass of the greenhouse roof. Something still twists inside me, and I hear him catch his breath, once or twice, when the strokes are too near. Between the flashes the room is dark, full of shadowed, growing life. Rain cascades down onto the panes of the roof. After a while, I put my hand on his shoulder. To my surprise, he lets it stay, and puts his own hand over mine. The storm marches away to torment others. When it is nothing more than sullen clouds flashing in the distance, he stirs. We move apart, and he turns to me. Before he can say good night, I speak.
"My uncle would hate you, a lot, and be even more afraid of you."
He chuckles. "A compliment to be cherished." He pauses, and adds, "You would have been good company in the trenches, but I am glad you were not there."
"Thanks. So am I. Good night, sir."
"Good night, Archie." I don't have to see him to know he scowls. "You should change and take a hot shower. You will catch a cold."
In the dark, I grin. "You, too."
He grunts, and goes into the elevator. I wait for the door to close behind him before I go to the stairs.
Storms do end, and so, too, do lives. But memories--well, even if they don't end, maybe they can be beaten. By someone stronger. Maybe. I still have the time to see.
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