Join us while we discuss the novel, racial ambiguity, and Matthew's menacing childhood recurring dream.
August O'neal has been performing stand up for 9 years, but has been an entertainer since birth. She's performed throughout the West Coast, the Midwest, and Walmart.
She has produced two comedy specials at The Funny Bone Columbus. Also, the Hotter Than July Summer Series, which took place at Stir Crazy Comedy Club and just finished Labor
August O'neal has been performing stand up for 9 years, but has been an entertainer since birth. She's performed throughout the West Coast, the Midwest, and Walmart.
She has produced two comedy specials at The Funny Bone Columbus. Also, the Hotter Than July Summer Series, which took place at Stir Crazy Comedy Club and just finished Labor Day weekend. She was nominated for Queer Ally of the Year for the 2022 Pensacola Comedy Festival. Follow her on IG, #beysenio, for her upcoming show dates.
Registered Nurse Bryan Adams gives his opinion on the novel and recounts creepy experiences from Vietnam to Maine.
Listen to renowned international music producer Jim Diamond and I briefly discuss the "mean nuns" in the novel, aging, and his ghostly experience with Leroy.
Mark Bowsher is a proudly dyspraxic writer and filmmaker. He made three award-winning shorts before going freelance in 2013 and has since created content for Unbound, the RHS, The Big Issue and Arrow films, as well as producing 17 documentaries for History Hit. His debut novel, YA fantasy 'The Boy Who Stole Time', was published in 2018.
Rafiq Richard is an award-winning writer and actor from South East London. He's the Writer of Walk Like A Black Man, a semi-autobiographical one-man show about meeting his black family for the first time when he was fifteen.
Stay tuned for Heather Simpson's truly terrifying and disturbing childhood visitor.
She is part of the "The British Are Coming" episodes even though she may not sound so British now, but she was raised there and I know where are heart is.
Director, writer, producer, and actor Royce Davis critiques My Vampire Novel Flesh & Blood as he finishes his latest feature film Vampire Strippers 2. And he offers some wild stories of his own.
Saxappeal shares his TERRIFYING recurring dream, a haunting experience, and he gives us the inside scoop on the GRAMMY NOMINATION process.
Join me as comedian Horace H. B. Sanders critiques My Vampire Novel Flesh & Blood. Also hear about his terrifying recurring dream about... vampires! I also have a recurring dream about vampires that I'll share. Weird...huh? I'm sensing a pattern.
The pills never worked on me.
I hate it when people ask me what I am. It’s not because it’s rude, or that I should be able to exist without being questioned. And it’s not the prying about my private life, or the value they put upon it. It is the fact that I don’t know anything about where I come from, and that has always been a source of great pain and immense sorrow for me. I have early memories "professionals" have told me not to trust. None of these memories include a parent of any race.
“You’ve been through a traumatic experience that you can’t quite remember, but all of the feelings are there, all of the fear is still within you. One day you may remember, but you also have to come to terms with the fact that you may not,” a white therapist with long mouse colored hair and kind brown eyes once said to me.
But I do remember. The emotions I felt from the people who were around me when I was a very small child. I toddled around for years, but I still could not speak very well and I could barely make my needs known. Some people were afraid of me, but it is their anger I remember the most. I knew that I lived in a church with tall nuns who would be visited by priests from time to time. They were always worried and they never smiled at me.
One evening, long ago, I was yanked by one leg and placed into a large rough sack. I ripped through the fabric and kicked out with all of my might. There was so much commotion. I heard loud boots on dusty floorboards and people breathing louder than they wanted to breathe. Someone beat me with something hard, but my bones refused to break and I continued to struggle out of the bag until I was finally free. I looked around wildly. I had never been so frightened and saddened at the same time. I was being physically assaulted by a priest and two nuns I recognized! They all stopped breathing and stood still looking down at me. Then they suddenly looked up. I felt something very hard connect with the back of my head. I fell to the ground and my eyes closed.
When I woke again, I was covered with dirt and the roots of a plant had tangled in my hair. A man came rushing up to me and I held out my arms so that he could lift me up. He hesitated for a moment before touching me then he grabbed me and held me to his chest and I felt safe again.
He put me into the back of his wagon, but the horse did not like it. There was a moment before he could calm the animal. We rode for a few hours and I realized that he was bringing me back to the same church where I had been beaten before. I started to panic as he lifted me and put me into the arms of a tall nun. I did not recognize her or anyone else at the church. I was relieved and they treated me well.
Years passed and they stopped calling our home a church and started calling it an orphanage. After quite a long time I grew taller and thinner, and I was able to speak. I told the nuns what had happened to me and again I was attacked. I remember sitting in a small child’s chair and suddenly being bound from behind. My arms were tied tightly to my sides and… I don’t want to think about this anymore. I want to jump forward many, many years.
My last therapist never believed anything I ever said about my life and what I remember to be true. I do remember the year 1945 though she said that it was impossible.
“You weren’t born yet, Andre,” she cooed.
“Do you know when I was born? Does anybody here know?” I asked her. “I remember when you first came here as a student. You talked to me. Don’t you remember me?”
“That was 10 years ago. That could not have been you,” she smiled surely. “You would be all grown up by now.”
She must have had a looked into my records anyway because I was confronted by one of the sisters.
“Your date of birth is wrong in the file,” a very young nun said to me. She was really flustered. “You are not 27,” she laughed. “Let’s see,” she said and turned me around and around searching for some anatomical marker. “Sister Margaret! Come here,” she shouted and Sister Margaret floated up to her side. “How old is this one?” She gestured towards me.
Sister Margaret stooped and looked me in the eye and asked, “What’s 12 times 12?”
“One, four, four,” I answered.
“He’s 9,” Sister Margaret said definitively.
I still had to see Dr. Goodman, a stern man who wore bowties and believed in the power of anti-psychotics. He spoke to kids like Sullivan who liked to hurt animals, and kids like Beth who could not stop crying no matter how hard she tried. He would invite them into his office for an hour to tease out why they did what they did and eventually they had to wait in the pill line.
So, now I had to stand in the pill line. I peeked at the side of my pill bottle it read 'for the treatment of psychosis'. I looked up the word psychosis in the big red dictionary in our little library and I knew that I needed to stop talking about the past.
It seemed as though I had been at the church for an eternity. The orphanage was now a 'home for children'. Nobody said orphanage anymore.
I got sent to a foster home where I had strange eyed foster parents who wanted to help, but also wanted the money. As I became older I had guardians, and care givers, but I was an orphan, and there was no getting around that. If you don’t have parents, or a family, wording the situation better does not make the situation better. And the process is pretty shitty. I was being loaned out, or fostered. The foster parents got to try you out as their kid, but you’re not really their kid, you’re just auditioning. You’re constantly on trial. If they like you, you get adopted. If they don’t like you, they make up some excuse as to why they can’t look after you anymore. I’ve had so many foster parents tell me that one of them had terminal cancer that I thought that I caused cancer in foster parents.
Did you know that there are many scholarships for orphaned children?
I decided to become a nurse after being pushed off of a building. I was lured onto the flat roof of the recreation addition of the care home. I thought I was finally being included, finally one of the boys. I was wrong.
At first we were throwing snowballs at each other, then I bent and turned to scrape up enough snow to make another ball because there wasn’t that much more snow on top of the building anymore. When I had found enough snow to mold into a nice icy ball to throw at Sullivan, someone picked me up and threw me over the edge of that building. When I hit the ground, all of the breath left my lungs and I struggled to refill them. The bone of my left forearm broke and ripped through my skin and coat exposing itself to the frigid air around me. I was so cold. I looked up and saw the other children looking down at me for a moment before they scattered. I was no better than a bug to them, I thought, no better than a roly-poly with its tiny feet in the air.
My body swayed back and forth like I was on a swing. I closed my eyes and let the ground swing me down into its coldness. When I opened my eyes again the sky was black and starry. I tried to count the stars.
When I opened my eyes again I was in a hospital bed with my arm casted and a young black man was standing over my bed.
“How are doing little man?” He asked. “I’m your nurse, Trevon. How’s that pain?”
I didn’t have any pain anymore, but I wasn’t sure how to tell him that. I could only think about how I had to get tougher, or the kids were going to try to hurt me again. I felt so ashamed of the cast. It was a white beacon of my fragility and proof that not only did they not like me, there wasn’t a soul who missed me or had any regard for my life.
There was something about me that the other children found inherently offensive. My ease with this orphaned life spurred them to remind me that my life sucked. They could have good times, but I couldn’t. Joy was a step too far for the likes of me. They berated me, my opinions were wrong, and anything I liked was mocked and deemed worthless. My presence made the other children uneasy all of the time. I wondered how long I would have to live with these horrible children. When would I grow enough to be set free?
“I have some pills here that will help ease the pain in your arm,” Nurse Trevon said. “You don’t have to be a hard man here. You’re safe. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
I opened my right hand accepting the pills that I knew would not affect me. Trevon
handed me a clear plastic cup of water. I popped the pills into my mouth and flicked my tongue from side to side like we did in the pill line back at the care home.
Trevon shook his head and laughed, “You really are instutionalized.”
I frowned fearing that he would be mocking like the others.
“It just means that you are used to how it goes,” he said. “Next time, let someone ask you to do something like that. I had actually trusted that you would take those pills. You could have learned a little about me, what type of person I was, by knowing whether I would ask you or not. You follow me?”
“Has the social worker been in here?” Trevon asked.
I nodded again, and this time Trevon frowned. “You need to speak. Use your words. Use your voice.”
“Yeah,” I croaked. “She’s sending me back there tomorrow.”
“Ok, then I only have 10 more hours to put you up on game,” Trevon smiled and pulled up a chair. “If you only remember one thing it’s this, educate yourself and get certified to do something. You see this?” Trevon held up his badge and pointed to the letters “RN” beside his name. “These letters mean that I can always eat and I can afford my own place,” Trevon started.
I took in as much as I could.
“Did you know that there are many scholarships for orphaned children?”
Early on in my career as a nurse I found the work difficult. Nursing did not come naturally to me, but the environment was perfect. I was often the only single man on my unit and it was like having a smorgasbord of mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and lovers.
For the past few years, the women stopped looking at me like a Men’s Fitness model and more like the potential father of their children. This was confusing at first because women had suddenly stopped pulling me into the med room or the bathroom for quick hot sex. Now it was, where are we going? And, let’s make plans. Everyone wanted to go for a hike, or waterskiing on Lake St. Clair, or plan some inane activity to complete before any sex could possibly be initiated. If I went in too hot, I was pushed back and reminded of the woman’s virtuous nature and church attendance record. It had never been this difficult for me to get a woman into bed, and it was years before I realized that these women were looking for rings. I had gone from being a “great guy” to becoming as one 36 year-old nursing student called me, “a massive time waster!”.
Time waster! I thought, how does one date and 2 weeks of sex equal a down payment on the rest of my life? I couldn’t understand it. Marriage and family life rarely crossed my mind. My years of living at the church and going in and out of a few foster homes never showed me a family life that I wanted. I crossed paths with many mother figures, but those mother figures were just that, figures, nothing real. They were women fulfilling a role, for cash, for 8 to 12 hours a day. There is no love in a figure. Barbie doesn’t love you back and GI Joe can’t really save you. They are figments of what you want propped up like fake nipples feeding an abandoned koala at a state run zoo. I still dream of women slinging soggy white paper plates at me while I sit at a long plastic table. I was fed a near constant diet of chicken nuggets and pasta done 3 ways: red, white, and orange.
I’m in control now, I live where I want, I wear what I want, and I consume what I want. I’m in my own custody. I am my own forever home.
One evening I coasted onto my floor noticing, but ignoring two suited men standing at the nurses station. For a moment I felt sorry for them because I was wearing gym shoes and pajamas and I imagined that their feet probably hurt. As I rounded the corner of the nurse’s station, just in time to get the computer station I wanted for my 12 hour shift, one of my former lovers, Christie, pointed me out to the suits. Indignant, I mouthed “what the fuck?” and Christie smirked.
The suits zeroed in on me and walked towards me. Something deep inside of my brain prodded me to flee down the emergency stairs, but instead I met the outstretched hand of suit one.
“Graham Cummings,” suit one said. “And this is my associate Paul Foxglove.” I shook his hand as well. “Is there anywhere we can talk privately?” Cummings asked me.
“What is this about?” I asked as I sanitized my hands and unconsciously insulted Foxglove.
“Did you receive any letters from Stokely and Bass Solicitors?” Cummings asked. “We’ve sent quite a few letters.”
“Yes,” I nodded, “I received your Nigerian prince letters and emails.”
“Did you actually read them?” Foxglove asked annoyed, he was repulsed by every facet of hospital life that passed them on foot, on gurneys, in wheelchairs, and incased in casts.
“Follow me,” I waved at them. I led the men down the hall to a door that read Conference Room 5, or as the night shift called it, The Love Shack.
The three men entered the small conference room and sat at the first 3 chairs of a long faux grained table that filled the majority of the room. There was a long silence which Cummings broke with almost a whisper.
“We do appreciate how uncommon this is,” Cummings said, “but it is absolutely real. Your DNA matched the DNA we released,” he smiled. “Even though you are a,” Cummings paused a second hoping he was choosing the right word, “a person of color,” he beamed and looked at Foxglove for approval. Foxglove nodded that this was indeed the correct term to use. “Your DNA is not purely from enslaved Africans brought to the Americas. You are also descendent from their captors.”
“Like most American Blacks,” Foxglove waved his hand casually.
“What is this about? What do you want?” I asked, annoyed now.
“We’ve been tasked with finding the heir or heirs to Redhart House,” Cummings said.
“A blood match,” Foxglove interrupted.
“Instruction was left in 1999 by Magnus Redhart that should he die, or become absent from public life for a total of 10 years a blood match should be sought before any heir could take possession of Redhart House. Mr. Redhart gave his own blood to be matched, which we keep in a private location. Stokely and Bass were tasked with managing the property and finding a true heir. It’s a substantial amount of money and property,” Cummings smiled. “You just have to claim it in person during regular banking hours. You can’t do it remotely.”
“Or with lawyers,” Foxglove sighed.
“That’s the only stipulation,” Cummings said.
“Quit this job,” Foxglove frowned.
“This is real?” I asked.
“It is,” Cummings and Foxglove said in unison.
“Tie your life up here,” Foxglove said. “How much money do you have in the bank?”
I narrowed his eyes, feeling the scam finally coming on. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Foxglove pulled two wrapped stacks of hundreds out of his breast pocket and Cummings and did the same. “Clear your debts, pay your rent, give your car away.”
London - Now
I sat in a large brown overstuffed chair in the waiting room of the offices of Stokely and Bass. I took the money that Cummings and Foxglove had given me and hired a lawyer, Melanie Tran, who hired an investigator, Ella Ross, to see if the offer was legitimate.
“It’s real,” Melanie said. “Ella says it checks out. You better get to London on the next thing smoking before they find someone who’s more closely related to this family. I don’t know English law very well, but I do know that you will need to take possession of whatever they want to give you before it is contested by someone else. You’re a pretty lucky guy Mr. Darnell. If there is anything else I can do for you, please let me know.”
The receptionist at Stokely and Bass, a white haired, but fresh faced young woman answered a phone that I did not hear ringing. She came from around her desk and motioned for me to rise and meet my fate.
“Mr. Bass will see you now,” she said.
Bass, who had to be pushing 90 years old, swung his office door open. “Mr. Darnell!” he said thrusting out his blue veined hand. “I am relieved. Absolutely relieved. This is a great pleasure! A great, great pleasure!”
“Thank you,” I said. I was a little taken aback by such high praise from a man I had never met.
“I'm Robin Bass. Stokeley is no longer with us as of last month," he said.
"Sorry to hear that," I said.
"He will be missed. I am so sad that he missed out on finding you," Robin said. "You were our final loose string before retirement. We searched for you for almost 30 years. I promised that I would find you before I retired. And here you are!”
“Here I am.”
“You were very well hidden,” Robin sighed. “Please sit.”
Robin's office hadn’t changed in 200 years. Only his computer, which was switched off betrayed the decade.
“Do you take tea?” Robin asked.
“No, thank you,” I said.
Bass pressed an old intercom button on the wall by his desk. There was a metal molding covering the wire that ran from the intercom, up the wall, and into the next room. “Tea, and water, please.”
“Yes, Mr. Bass,” the receptionist’s tinny voice replied from the intercom.
“Let’s get to business,” he said placing 5 documents in front of me. “This is your inheritance. Are you ready?”
“Cash, 80 million pounds, not dollars, pounds. That’s over 100 million US dollars as of today’s rate, don't quote me. There are 5 properties. There’s a flat here in London about 2 blocks south from here worth maybe 3 million pounds. There is one modest home in Herne Hill worth 1.5. There’s a large flat in the Golden Triangle.”
“It’s in a very exclusive part of Paris, like this area, just French, but that flat had a fire recently. You’ll still own the property, but it needs extensive renovation. Before the fire it was worth about 5 million US, I’m not sure of it’s worth now we are looking into that.”
“Ok.” I said, silently calculating. Maybe 10 million in property? 100 million in cash. I actually pinched my wrist hard enough to leave a bruise. If this was a dream, I wanted to wake up now before my hopes solidified.
“There’s a cottage in Devon, worth maybe 450-ish. And then there’s this.” Bass slid me an 8 X 10 arial photograph of an enormous estate. “Redhart House.”
“All of this?” I asked. Bass nodded.
“It’s listed,” Robin said proudly.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Redhart House is of national historic importance,” he said. “And worth maybe 10 million pounds, I wouldn’t take less than 8 for it.” Bass seemed to take great pleasure in handing over this fortune to me that I was convinced that he must have been getting a cut.
“I am officially overwhelmed,” I said.
“There’s a lot of work to do, but it’s pleasant work…”
“Where do I sign?” I asked and sat up straight.
“…as long as you meet the requirements,” Bass finished.
“Requirements?” I asked. I felt like the con was finally coming on. I suddenly felt angry, foolish and embarrassed. “I thought I met requirements with the DNA testing.”
“Oh, yes! You’re the one we’ve been looking for. You just need to be married…” Bass began.
The receptionist emerged with a cup of tea for Bass and a sweaty bottle of Volvic for me which she placed down with a little thud on Bass’ desk. Bass instantly produced a coaster, cut his eyes at the receptionist, then placed the bottle of water on the coaster.
“Sorry, sir,” she said. Bass waved her off and she closed the door behind her.
“This desk belonged to by great-great-grandfather, she abuses it every chance she gets,” Robin grumbled. “So, your stipulations are that you need to be over 21, married with at least one heir.”
“Heir?” I sighed. “I don’t even know if I can have kids.” I sat back in my chair.
“That would be a problem," Robin nodded. "In the meantime, you can live at the estate now. It is your ancestral home. You should at least have a good look at it.”
“Yes, I would like that,” I said.
“Until you have an heir, Stokely and Bass will have control of the estate. You will need to meet requirements by the end of next year to receive the entirety of the inheritance or everything goes to Battersea Dog’s Home.”
“Dogs?” I asked.
“Yes, dogs,” Bass said. “And they know it. Don’t worry. We’ll help you in every way we can. There’s a lot to do, especially since you’re a bachelor. We have a small stipend for you to live on until you get your affairs in order. You now have the problems everyone wants.”
I took a long deep breath and closed my eyes. I imagined the estate full of hundreds of dogs and myself back at the nurses station taking report.
“May I introduce you to a bank here in the city?” Robin asked.
“Yes, please. I don’t know anyone.”
Later that night, after a lonely and expensive dinner at the hotel restaurant, I sat on the side of the hotel bed in the dark staring down at the Lloyds Bank app on my phone. My 'small' stipend read £500,000 then after a few moments both the phone screen and the room went black. I saw a black on black shadow of a woman move within the darkness, and I tried to ignore it. I thought about how frightened I was the first time I realized that shadows didn't move that way for everyone. It’s because of all the changes, I tried to convince myself.
“Go away shadow,” I whispered. The shadow froze.
I touched the phone screen again and revealed my bank balance. I kicked off my shoes and lay on top of the bed with my phone face down on my chest like a newborn baby.
It was just a chance meeting, right?
London was loud. I never realized how much solitude and personal space I was afforded back in US. I got up, got into my car, drove to work, had a station to work at, and my patient’s had their own rooms. Everything in my life was safe and self-contained. This city was so communal, tactile, and brutal that I was foot to pavement walking to my next appointment. I had not walked to go anywhere of any importance in decades. This city was like the difference between buying meat and hunting it. I felt like a hunter on my own in a forest of walking commuters. Who were these people walking so purposely to unknown destinations? London left everyone exposed to one another, exposed to the elements, and somehow a part of an even larger organism. I felt like a single cell here to do my vital part to keep the place living. I loved that and I wondered if New York was like this, was California was like this?
I blindly followed the blue line on my phone; like a child holding his mother’s hand I had faith that it would get me to Christie’s Real Estate office. I passed mostly tourists for the first few blocks until I was lead into an enclave of living I had never seen before. The buildings were sandstone with clean rich lines. You could smell the wealth. I did not know that people lived this way. Maybe I could live this way.
The building was discreet. There were no obvious signs to reveal what was going on inside. They had posters in the window, but they were facing inward. These people did not want to be a tourist attraction nor did they want to discourage real buyers. Once inside, I marveled at the poster sized ads for multi-million pound private islands in the Caribbean, tiny luxurious apartments in London and one fairy tale-looking castle in Germany.
As I moved from one property to the next, a regal young woman with bobbing shoulder length hair closed an office door behind her and walked straight up to me. She was a cinnamon-skinned uncommon mix of humanity, like me. I could not place her anywhere in this world. She must get the dreaded question, ‘What are you?’ many times a day and I felt both ashamed and a strange kinship with all of the people who had angered me with this same question.
“Are you the driver?”
My face grew hot, but I tried to play it cool by not meeting her eye. I simply shook my head no and pretended to be engrossed in the description of a villa on Mustique.
“Celia,” she raised her voice and spoke slowly and pointed to her chest. “Celia Hamilton. Are you my car?”
“No, just a customer,” I said quickly, then I asked her, “do you work here?”
“Oh God no,” she replied. “I assumed you were here for me. Please accept my apology. I didn’t mean anything by it. That was mortifying. Really, sorry.”
“You’re fine,” I said, but secretly appreciated the apology. I had had enough of this type of misunderstanding. At the hospital I had endured years of being mistaken for the transporter or the cleaner while white male nurses and cleaners were routinely called doctor. Just once, could someone call me doctor by mistake?
“I’m not an asshole. I promise,” she said nervously. “Are you buying or selling?”
“I’m not sure if I want to sell, rent, or turn this thing into apartments or what. You?”
“Fantasizing,” she chuckled looking at an island for sale.
An attractive young man, who looked too young to be working in such a position of trust approached us from the same office Celia had exited.
I was getting used to people being excited to see me. I guessed this was what money did for people. It excited them. It tantalized their fantasies and emotions, and this place was one for ultimate lifestyle fantasies.
“Roderick Briar,” he smiled brightly and shook my outstretched hand. “Sir, it is a pleasure to meet you.”
I nodded in Celia’s direction. Our time together had passed. Roderick ushered me into his office and closed the door on Celia.
Roderick’s office was like the spiritual opposite of Bass’. His office space was bright and modern with floor to ceiling windows, a glass desk and a wall covered in growing plants.
Photos of the properties were laid out on Roderick’s desk with a stylish caption box on each listing market prices, square footage and a paragraph about the locale.
“The solicitors told me to pick your brain about the market here and in Paris. I’m not sure what to do with these properties, especially this one,” I tapped a finger on the photo of Redhart House.
Roderick picked up the photo and read, “The Redhart Estate and Redhart House sits on 22 acres of land ensconced on the edge of the Bellever Forest. It has been the eccentric and eclectic Redhart family home for the past 300 years and impeccably maintained by Stokely and Bass for the past 55 years. The main property Redhart House is 30,300 square feet and includes a separate coach house and lodge at 800 square feet and 1600 square feet respectfully.” Roderick looked up from the card smiling. “You’re a lucky man.”
“Yes,” I nodded. “It’s undescribable, man. I’ve never been inside of a house this size let alone owned one.”
“Well, you could sell it, or try to. Have you been there?” Roderick asked. “Have you seen it?”
“Just the photos,” I said.
“Oh, you have to go there. These pictures won’t do it justice. In the meantime, let me work my magic and I’ll have buyers before we need to resort to these explicit posters.”
“I need to know how much it will be to renovate the Paris property as well or if I should sell it as is,” I asked.
“I’ll tell you what,” Roderick said, “you should probably keep the Paris property no matter what. Rent it if you must, hire a caretaker if you aren’t there often, but keep it. You’ll never get anything like it for free. That place had offers on it the second the fire was reported. Everyone wants to live there. Keep this one and never let it go.”
We spent the better part of 2 hours going over each residence. The inheritance was mesmerizing. I was the luckiest man in the world.
“Thank you. I’ll be in touch.”
Roderick slid me a luxurious red leather envelope with Christie’s International Real Estate embossed in gold letters on the flap. We shook hands again and Roderick opened the office door for me. Before I could stride out of the office, I was met with Celia’s outstretched hand and brightly smiling face.
“Let’s start over,” she said. “I’m Celia Hamilton.”
“Andre,” I said. She’s soft, I thought, she’s never worked anywhere ever.
“I bet you don’t know a soul except for that killer of dreams in there,” she said loud enough for Roderick to hear.
“I don’t,” I admitted.
“Now you do!” She said. “We’ll have drinks.”
“Do I have a choice?” I asked playfully.
“No, you don’t,” she said.
She was hung, drawn, and quartered.
Celia and I sat at the ornate bar of the Hung, Drawn & Quartered pub. It was a Thursday, a popular day for working people in the city to go out. It wasn’t too crowded with weekenders or tourists, and had a lively atmosphere. It was the perfect place to take an American.
“Is this your first pub?” Celia asked me.
“It’s my first English pub,” I said. “What is this? This is great,” I said nervously looking at my glass.
“No, no, no small talk,” she said. “You’re going to tell me about your life. We’re doing life stories.”
I didn't want to talk about my past and I definitely did not want to expose myself as a grown man who still saw himself as an orphan. I didn't even want to admit to her that I had no idea who could have left me money, and that I didn't care. I just wanted it. How could I tell her that I didn't have the sense to question this good fortune because I feel like it was somehow due to me?
I didn't want to wake from the dream. I thought that I had finally fallen ill and I was fine with whatever was frying my brain. I didn't want to wake up from this fantasy to find out that I was still small, still at the church, still broken on my back staring at the light of dead stars. If I had to wake up to that life again, I would throw myself off of a higher roof this time.
“You said you didn’t have any brothers or sisters, right?” she asked.
“So your parents broke the mold with you,” she chuckled.
“I’ve never met my parents,” I said. "I grew up in care." Why does everyone assume that everyone has parents?
“Oh,” Celia was stunned. “You’re an orphan? Where did you live? I’m so sorry,” she said and touched my arm.
Two tables away, I noticed a man trying to stop a woman from rising from her chair. The entire party seemed to be arguing about something that felt as though it was directed towards me.
“I was in and out of many foster homes,” I said with one eye on the volatile table, “I don’t have a real birth date.” This was the line that usually melted the hearts of women. I used to bat by eyes when I said this and women would place their right hand to their hearts, but that table was getting more and more animated, and I missed this reaction in Celia.
“So, you don’t know your star sign? How do you live? You could be some cold Aquarius or some crazed Gemini. How am I supposed to know who I’m dealing with? Wait, do you even know how old you are?”
The angry woman finally rose from the table, but one of the men seated with her got up quickly and ushered her out of the pub like she was under arrest.
“How old do I look?” I asked Celia.
“I just assumed you were maybe thirty-something-ish. I don’t know. It’s hard to tell,” she said squinting at me.
“I don’t know either. Eventually a doctor just picked an age for me based on the length of my bones. Rumor has it that I was a baby for too long and the families kept bringing me back,” I laughed nervously. I shouldn't have said that.
Celia threw her head back and laughed as a boozey-faced man slid up to her on the empty stool to her left.
“It is you,” the man hissed. “Isn’t it? The audacity. The fuck-ing au-dacity! Why would you step foot in here?” The man was clearly perplexed by the site of her.
Celia whirled around and was face to face with the incredulous man.
“Mark,” she whispered, “I am so sorry, I couldn’t have imagined that you would be here today.”
“We’re all here today, Jing-jo,” he said everything slowly and menacingly as though she was slow to understand the gravity of her presence. “We’re honoring our friend Bertie who should be out with us, but he’s not. Is he?”
Celia shook her head no and stammered, “I’ve only been back 2 days and I am not staying. Please…”
Mark leaned over Celia pressing her hard into the back of her bar stool. He then placed a business card into the top pocket of my shirt and smacked it.
“If you find yourself fighting a bogus rape allegation give me a call,” Mark seethed. I rose to confront him, but Celia blocked me with her hands stretched wide as though blocking my view would lessen my anger.
“Let him go, let him go,” Celia stammered. “Please, Andre, please, let it go. This is me, this is my fault,” she said frantically. "This is me."
The bartender appeared with the mobile card machine. His face read, “Pay and take your drama elsewhere.” I quickly obliged.
“Walk me home?” Celia asked. I was intrigued. What had happened between these people? The angry table stared daggers at us as we left the pub and I prayed that they didn’t all rise and chase after us like angry villagers. Had I found a little monster?
The lights on the embankment reflected our path as we walked along the River Thames. Celia was silent for a long while, but she could feel my questions before I could form them. She looked down, sighed, and finally began to tell me her story.
“Those were my former classmates,” she said.
“I see you were popular,” I joked.
Celia rolled her eyes and laughed sharply shaking her head.
“Those people really really hate you,” I said.
“Yes, they do,” she nodded. “I had a really nice time with you tonight.” She was trying to blow me off now. She was clearly embarrassed.
“I thought we were doing life stories,” I said throwing her words back at her. I didn’t want her to give up.
“I was really starting to like you, too,” she sighed.
I stopped walking and leaned on a lamppost that had swimming dolphins at its base. I grabbed her hand. I could smell the life of the river and I could see the turmoil in her face.
“I’m still going to walk you home no matter what you say,” I assured her. She pulled away from me, but I held on for a second before letting go of her hand. “Sit next to me,” I reached out to her. She leaned on the railing next to me and I put my arm around her. She was so warm and I could feel her heart beating. Her hair smelled like coconut and vanilla. I was overwhelmed by her and said, “Kiss me.”
“I can’t,” she whispered.
“Yes, you can,” I smiled. I wanted to make her feel better. Even if those people hated her, I wanted her to know that I was feeling the opposite. She was beautiful sweet and funny and outgoing. I really liked her, and she was the instant answer to my prayers.
“I’d have to tell you why they hate me first,” she said, “and then you’ll hate me too.”
“I won’t,” I said. She grimaced and stared forward for a moment gathering her strength.
“When I was 15 my father wanted to be a Member of Parliament so he put me into a middle class neighborhood school to show that he was a man of the people. He bought us a modest suburban house where we had to live during school terms, but everyone saw right through us. They knew we had money just by the way that we dressed and the cars my parents drove. The kids at school hated me and everything my family stood for so they exacted their revenge.” The wind picked up and her hair covered her face as if to silence her for a moment; she let it.
“You don’t have to tell me anymore if you don’t want to,” I said, she was clearly hurting and I was sorry that I had pressed her. She waved me off. We were here now in the moment that I had created.
“I was dating this boy, Bertie. I really liked him and I thought that we had a lot in common. Both of our fathers were into politics and we had both moved to the city and had left our friends behind so our fathers could pursue their dreams. It was like we were the same person. I thought it was going to be me and Bertie against the world. I still believe that he liked me at least in the beginning. I know he did, but something happened, I don't know what, and he just turned on me.
We had had sex a few times. Then one day, he just stopped talking to me. I could not understand it. I thought that maybe he was seeing someone else. It was my first heartbreak, you know, but I was dealing with it. Tears on my pillow all of that! I even deleted his photos and his number from my phone. And then he started telling anyone who would listen that I was a horrible lay. He then moved on to showing naked pictures to people, explicit pictures, saying that they were of me. I never even took pictures for him like that. Well, I took some, but they weren't like that! He talked about my body saying that I got fat since the pictures, it was all pretty grim.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” I told her.
"Don't be sorry for me," she said. “Everyone at school looked at me like I was the whore of Babylon. One of our teachers made a comment like ‘I hope you’re being safe’. I was so mortified and angry that she believed the same rumors as the kids that I burst into tears. That had really surprised her and she put her hand on my back and asked, ‘did someone hurt you?’. I’m thinking YES, YES someone has hurt me. So, I nodded and said, 'he hurt me'. After that, it was like a run-away train.”
“Oh, no,” I groaned.
“The teacher told my parents, my parents immediately phoned the police and by the end of the day I had accused Bertie Morrison of raping me,” she said.
“You lied,” I exhaled understanding the fury of the angry table.
“I lied,” she repeated, “and I kept lying for nearly a year.”
She started walking again and I followed. Her pace quickened as though she wanted to leave me behind now and forget about this rare night when for a few hours she was able to forget that she was the most hated woman in London. She stopped and eyed the railing seeming to assess its height and how fast she could be up and over it before I could save her from being sucked down by the Thames' current.
“Celia,” I called. I jogged to catch up with her. I took her hand and held it in mine.
“We went to trial,” she said, “I had so many opportunities to tell the truth, but I wouldn’t. My mother really believed in me. My father used my story of rape as a campaign platform. ‘Protect our Children’. It looked like Bertie was going to get convicted and I was actually ok with that at the time. I wanted him to suffer, but he hung himself in his cell. He left a note stating that he never raped me, but he couldn’t take the pressure anymore and he couldn’t face prison. He even apologized to me for being a prick.”
“You were a kid Celia,” I said. “You didn’t know he’d kill himself.”
“He’s not dead,” she said. “If he was dead people could heal and move on. He’s brain damaged and drooling somewhere. He was found not guilty and I was found to be the lowest form of human life. I embarrassed my parents so much that they sent me away to a boarding school in Australia. Someone spots me every time I come back here, so I don't come back much.”
“Why did you come back?” I asked.
“My grandmother died and left me her flat," she lied. "I thought about living there. I thought enough time had past, but I clearly don't belong here anymore.”
I sat in the same overstuffed chair Andre sat in a few short weeks before at Stokley and Bass Solicitors. My hair was piled on top of my head in a curly brown afro bun hoping to disguise myself a least a little in case things went wrong I could pull my hair down and around my face. I crossed my too long legs at the knee and leaned slightly forward while a white haired woman summoned Bass on the phone.
I placed a pair of wireless headphones into my ears and spoke quietly. "He's been here."
Bass came out of his office a transformed man looking to be in his late forties or early fifties. The deep lines in his 90 year-old face were gone. He stood taller and moved quickly. The white haired woman gave no reaction to his transformation and ushered me into his office.
"Tea, please," I instructed the white haired women. Bass nodded.
"How can I help you?" Bass asked in the same manner that someone would ask a teenager at a Mercedes dealership. He sat back at his desk.
"I was wondering if you have seen this man?" I produced a photo of Andre from my purse and laid it in front of Bass. He smiled without looking down at the photo.
"No," he lied and leaned forward slightly. "I don't think you want to look for this man, or disrupt his life in any way."
"Really?" I was aghast. Galling! Galling! I thought, this amateur, this CHILD is trying to push my thoughts!
"You don't want this assignment. You will go home. You cannot find him," Bass suggested.
"You're right, you're right," I nodded and rose to leave just as the white haired woman came in with the tea, "he's not here."
"No," Bass said, "he never made it to this office."
I walked past the white haired woman, through the lobby and out of the door to the street. I walked quickly now until I was at the gates of Regency Park. I made a phone call.
"They have him," I said.
3 MONTHS LATER
Celia wore white oversized sunglasses as she steered my brand new white Range Rover down a verdant country lane flanked by the ruins of ancient stone walls. I was entranced by the countryside. Celia elbowed me as we approached an enormous open wrought iron gate that had the word “RED” on the left side and “HART” on the right.
“We’re here,” she said.
I sat up straight as Celia drove onto the property. Two 50 foot Rowan trees stood on either side of the drive like sentries. Overgrown boxwood shrubs lined a pixilated path to an imposing ancient Cedar tree on the right of the lane and just beyond that great tree was the gloriously gothic Redhart House.
“It looks like the mother of all boarding schools,” Celia sniffed and parked on the gravel drive that stretched the length of the property. I scrambled out of the car like a child in a Disney parking lot. I had to walk backwards until I could see the house in its entirety. I was transfixed.
“What is it?” Celia asked.
I had no words for how I felt. I stared up at the house taking in its beauty but its church-like architecture made me nervous.
“I’m…” I started.
“Yes, I do feel daunted. I love it when you speak English to me.”
“And I love you, darling,” Celia said and kissed me tenderly on the cheek. I didn’t think she meant it, but I was happy to let it all play out. If I could get an heir out of her, I’d pay her if I had to; if she was just going to be another mother for pay I would deal with those emotions in my own way. But this, I turned to her and wrapped my arms around her waist and kissed her tenderly on the mouth, this could be everything I ever wanted and more, a family.
I took the heavy ornate key I got from the realtor from my pocket and held it as though only its existence could open the door to my new life. I crunched across the gravel and took in the richness of the sound beneath my feet as my new mantra. The key fit inside the lock of the iron studded oak door, but I had to force it to turn. I pushed with my shoulder, but the door would not budge. I stood back from the threshold and looked at Celia. She shrugged and said, "Put your back into it."
Instead of pushing again, I looked around the enormous door frame and brushed away the dense white webs of unknown spiders until I felt another keyhole directly above my head. I removed the key from the lock on my left and placed it into the lock above me. I turned the key to its near breaking point.
"If you break that key, I'm going to climb through one of the windows," Celia said.
"I got it.”
Vacation - Then
After a decade and a half of banishment, I was summoned back to London by my mother. She said, "I demand you to come." So, I came. I had been remarkably obedient since the court case and my father's election defeat. I was used to the annual "stay in Australia for Christmas" speech. "Doesn't your boyfriend have a family you can have dinner with?" She wanted me to stay away so I would not bring shame to her lavish Christmas extravaganza with the rest of the family with whom she commiserated. I thought it was interesting that Buddhist woman would be so protective over a Christian holiday that she had never celebrated before she met my father. It was sacred to her now, so sacred that my presence would deconsecrate the event.
I never told my mother that I was more of a March to November girlfriend. My relationships typically began after Valentine's Day, were sexually solidified during the wedding season, and completely dissolved before Christmas and parents and complicated expectations. These were the darkest of times for me. I was too proud to join any of my girlfriend's family Christmases though I was frequently invited, but completely paranoid about being the topic of conversation. How could I ever get past the usual small talk without lying or dying of embarrassment?
'What brings you to Australia?'
'Oh, I nearly killed a boy with my lies and ruined my father's political career. My mother fell into a deep depression for 5 years that nearly killed her.'
'You don't say?'
'Yeah, and my father barely talks to me anymore. He hasn't told me that he loves me in 15 years.'
'You don't say?'
'Did you know that they picked my boarding school off the internet sight unseen. They never visited me or brought me home for the holidays. And I graduated alone. It's just been me and my credit cards for the past 15 years. I have survived here at the edge of the world, alone.'
I wasn't ready for that type of exchange.
This year I angrily booked a Mediterranean Sea cruise for myself that was dangerously close to the realms for which I had been banished. To hell with my budget and my proximity to England, I thought. I wasn't going to be alone again, and I refused to go to Bali again. The previous year I didn't go anywhere and I was spotted at the Woolworths market by my former friend Dottie Spiers. She told our entire book club that I was too good for her family's Christmas dinner. Fuck her. Though it did make me think more about pleasing myself since I was banned from the bosom of my family compound ten thousand miles away. What was the difference? I wanted to see Italy again and I would.
I focused on the cruise and imagined spending most of my time in the spa and sunning myself on deck. I fantasized about meeting another soul as lost as my own and falling in love with him under the Mediterranean stars. HA!
The cruise was a colossal mistake. There were too many families, too much laughter, and yes, I did gain the attention of all the old dads and granddads staring scandalously at me in my bikini. Not one man spoke to me who was not employed by the cruise line. Not one woman spoke to me who was not employed by the cruise line. Not a single child or baby even looked in my direction to offer a connection to the world. I was there only to be ogled at their leisure.
On the third night of the cruise I stood at the back of the ship wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants with the ship's name emblazoned on the front. It was the saddest thing they had in their gift shop. Who would be sad enough to wear something as bleak as this? Why did they make this outfit? Who signed off on this? Did they have the flu? Were they quitting their design job that day? Yet, it was perfect for me on that cold night.
Hadn't I tried to make a life for myself? March to November, like clockwork for the past 15 years of my life and always one Google search away from being ghosted for the holidays. Did I deserve this? Maybe.
I was completely unaware of my true psychological state. I marched on, I took every day as it came, but when I relaxed and looked around I knew that my life was infamous, lonely, and worthless. I climbed onto the railing at the back of the ship and balanced on the precipice of death with only the backs of my knees holding me away from the sea. One odd dip of the ship and I would have been tossed into the abyss without time to catch myself. I would let the sea have me, silently in the night. I folded my arms and closed my eyes when suddenly I was violently snatched back by my hair!
I landed hard on my left hip and a strong arm locked around mine. I looked up and a young sharp jawed Scandinavian man yelled unintelligibly into his radio. He looked down at me for a moment studying my face and my body. I wish I could have fainted like the ladies in Victorian novels so I could have saved face even if it was only with myself. I could no longer hear the sea. My heartbeat throbbed and my eyes swelled as we were intertwined. I felt his heat and his muscle as he held me. Was this how I would meet my prince? I smiled up at the Scandinavian man and he held my arm tighter; it was uncomfortable. What must I have looked like? Demented. He spoke softly into his radio and I heard the thumping of boots onto the deck.
The boots pulled me away from the warmth of the Scandinavian man and I wasn't warm again for a long long time. Two men were on both sides of me hurrying me through a metal door I had not noticed before. I craned my head back to see that the Scandinavian man was being comforted by a small brown woman with her back towards me. He was crying and she held him close to her and walked him out of my view. Shoot your shot, girl, I thought and laughed.
The men in heavy boots led me down a corridor of steam and giant pipes. Now that we were off the deck and away from any onlookers they were less careful in the way they handled me. They were rough and annoyed with me. It was only when one of the men sighed deeply and muttered, "I can't believe this" that I realized that I had caused a real problem for them as well as for myself.
The boots slowed down as we approached a blindingly white room with an examination table and a silver metal table. With his free hand, one of the boots lifted the metal table and placed it outside the room as though it was something dangerous. Then they both lifted me onto the examination table.
"What do we have here?" asked a woman who was about my age. Doctor, I thought, good for her.
"Kurt rescued her from jumping overboard," one boot said. His irritation was palpable.
"Charges?" the doctor asked.
"Oh yeah," the other boot answered.
"You're charging me?" I asked. "Can I just have a Xanax or something? I'll go right to bed."
At this point, another woman, the same small brown woman who comforted Kurt the Scandinavian man, came into view from behind the screen. "Yes," she said, "they have to charge you. And we will have to detain you here until we arrive in Sardinia. Can you please take off your clothes?"
"Why?" I asked.
"You just tried to jump off of the ship," she said, "we have to ensure your safety." She handed me a padded smock. "Put this on please. It would be better if you could do it yourself so that we don't have to make this night worse than it already is right now. I will stay with you and they can leave while you put it on. I don't want them to have to help me. Do you?"
I shook my head no.
"Thank you," she said, "I really appreciate that, Miss.”
The men went behind the screen and I slowly removed my clothes and put on the heavily padded bright yellow smock. It smelled like old clothes and was stiff as a board.
"Miss," she said carefully, "You will have to stay the night down here. Is there anyone you want me to phone?"
I shook my head no. I was numb and I let her lead me to a small white padded cell.
"May I have a blanket and pillow?" I asked. Surely, I could have that. I was ready to make a pallet on the floor and sleep off the depth of grief I was feeling.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I can't give you anything else while you're in the cell."
She shut the door and locked it with a heavy bolt. Then she turned out the light. I sunk into the smock and made it my tent for the night under the cold darkness of the room.
"I have fucked up," I said aloud.
The morning came quickly. A different woman, also small and brown, opened my cell and gave me a fresh pair of grey sweatpants and matching sweatshirt, no logo, white panties, bloomers, white socks, men's, a pair of orange prison issue sliders, too big, and a sports bra, also too big.
"Please get dressed as fast as you can," she said leaving the door open a crack as she stood by. I was more than eager to rid myself of the dreaded smock. I quickly dressed and presented myself. I tried to hand her the smock, but she said, "Leave it on the floor."
As I exited the room, a different pair of booted men, the Sardinian Police took me by each arm. I did not struggle. I was defeated in this monumental betrayal. I no longer cared what happened to me. The police helped me into their blue toy-sized vehicle. It was cramped and my knees were bent uncomfortably against the metal back of the passenger's side seat.
We sped away with a comical pink panther-like siren blaring eee-ahh, eee-ahh, eee-ahh, eee-ahh. I expected to be thrown onto a cold dirty stone floor and made to strip again. I imagined that I would die wherever they took me, and I thought so be it.
After a twisty-turny ride away from the port through the narrow old world streets we arrived not at a jail, but at a stuccoed 1960s vision of the future of apartment buildings. On the outside of the property an understated gold plaque read: Manicomio di Raffaella. I do not read Italian, but I had a good idea that Manicomio di Raffaella was not a day spa.
While the outside of the building seemed seedy and dated, the inside was relatively modern. I think they may have updated the decor 10 or 12 years ago. It was still passable as mental health chic with lots of light earth tones and non-breakable everything. The boots still had me by the arms and gently led me into an examination room. They motioned for me to sit on the exam table, and I obeyed. After a minute or two a 40-ish man in a short white lab coat blazer said something to them in Italian. They said something back, nodded their heads and left the room.
"I'm Dr. Zollo, Nicola Zollo."
"Celia," I said. I was feeling removed from my surname at that moment.
Dr. Zollo held up a finger to shush me. There was a little desk with a phone across from my exam table. He put the phone on speaker and dialed.
Che lingua devi tradurre?
"Inglese," he said decisively then turned to me realizing that he had made an assumption, "English?"
"Yes," I said nodding eagerly.
We had an awkward back and forth conversation with the translator. I was as honest as possible and Dr. Zollo decided that I was not going to make it back to the ship. If I wanted, I could stay at what he called their "retreat" for a few weeks before he was comfortable with me flying back to Australia alone. I agreed. I would allow myself to be led through the treatment. He told me that his secretary would ensure that I had a psychiatrist before I returned to Sydney. I could only nod, I had become a nodder, a wet noodle, a woman not in control of her faculties; I was now a ward of Sardinia.
For the first week, I had convinced myself that I was in love with Dr. Zollo and that he was in love with me too. I imagined that he was fighting his heart to stay professional with me. I could only see the good in him. His grey hair was no longer grey, but salt and pepper. His dad belly, well, how could he resist the food here? The overwhelming amount of body hair: masculine. His generosity of time and caring for me, a lonely left-over girl, had warmed my heart in a way that I had never felt before coming to the manicomio, which I quickly learned meant mental hospital .
After that week, I didn't see Dr. Zollo as often. I would only see his nurse, Infermiera Ricci. She was not at all taken with me. She saw through me, as most women do. I just wanted attention, she thought, so she was sure not to give me any. Infermiera Ricci would bring me medication, watch me take it, nod in affirmation that I wasn't any trouble and she was out of the door without even asking me how I was feeling. I was never sure where she was coming from except that she treated me like a house guest instead of an in-patient. It seemed that the language barrier was a barrier to everyone. Nobody wanted to call the interpreter to communicate with me so I was left mostly alone to convalesce and to ponder my life decisions.
I knew what my problems were. I needed a time machine to stop what was happening to me and to stop the pain I was in. How could these people even begin to help me? I spent most of my time in the gardens languishing on ancient marble benches. The grounds were meticulously kept and someone was mowing, clipping, and pruning something every day. I loved it and thought, could I spend forever here in my pajamas reveling in the scent of Italian lavender. I no longer had plans. The cruise was my last planned activity and my life was now wide open.
"What would you do if I discharged you?" asked Dr. Zollo.
"I would go back to Australia and find a good therapist in Sydney," I lied.
"We can help you to do that," he said. "How would you get home?"
"I have credit cards," I said. "Do you have them? If not, I could get one sent here if I could have my phone."
"We have your things," he said. "Do you feel able to take care of yourself? Are you feeling like you want to hurt yourself or anyone else?"
"No," I said. "I don't feel that way anymore."
"Wonderful," he said. "I will discharge you."
He seemed a little abrupt, different than before, not as friendly. Maybe he had Googled my name. Usually, that's how it goes; people are normal and nice, then they do a Google search and then I'm the devil. Or, they noticed that I was enjoying my stay. I probably smiled too much or took too many strolls in the gardens for someone who was in need of a manicomio. Did it look like I was extending my holiday at a mad house? I wanted to leave, but I also wanted to be well. About 5 minutes after Dr. Zollo left my room Infermiera Ricci rolled my luggage into the room and handed me a white garbage bag with my purse inside.
"Thank you," I said. I ripped open the bag and pulled my phone out of my purse. It was dead.
"Going now," Infermiera Ricci said from the hallway.
"I need the Wifi password," I said.
Infermiera Ricci pointed to my flip flops, then pointed to my bag, then pointed to the door.
"Now," she said.
I grabbed my bag and phone and went with her. To my surprise, there was a cab waiting for me outside with Dr. Zollo standing beside it.
"This cab will take you to the airport," he said with a butler's gesture for me to enter the cab.
Without a word, I threw my bag in the backseat and closed the door without saying good-bye. Dr. Zollo's back was to me before the cab pulled away. I looked down at my phone for comfort, but it was black.
The cab let me out at the airline terminal and took off quickly. He wasn't about to entertain any of my English questions. I stumbled inside the terminal and sat by an outlet so that I could charge my phone. There weren't many people there and the ITA desk had one lone exquisitely neck scarfed gate agent behind the counter. Her hair was bluntly cut above her shoulders making her seem like Cleopatra in an alternate universe. She looked up at me once, and then back down at her screen. I thought I better have a good look at myself, but I had to wait for my phone.
I must have fallen into a deep sleep because the glamorous gate agent was gone and the sun was shining through a different window now. I sat up and straightened out my clothes. Then I noticed a man in a grey suit approaching my direction from far down the terminal. I hoped that he would bypass me, but he seemed to be on a mission to rouse me from my spot.
"Miss Jing-jo, Jing-go, Jingjo?" the man asked, stumbling across my government name.
"I go by Celia," I said. How did this guy know my name? It's like school all over again.
"Really?" he asked, relieved.
"Please, I said, "it really is a ok."
"Thank you," he said. "I'm John Halifax, I'm with the embassy. I can help you get home." He produced a card from his pocket and handed it to me. "You can call the number on the card, or look it up on your phone and then call that number to verify who I am if you're worried about being trafficked."
Trafficked? I rolled my eyes.
"Are you ok?" the man asked me.
I stared at the card. I couldn't read it. Too many drugs were floating around in my system to allow my eyes to focus on the teeny tiny letters on his card.
"I understand that you were unlawfully detained by the Santorini police and incarcerated at one of their mental health facilities," he said with a pitying voice.
I nodded. I was still a nodder.
"I'll take you somewhere safe," he said and held out his hand. That was when my mother rang to tell me to come home.
Andre - Now
Red Hart House
Inside, the foyer was empty and cold. The walls were made of a sandy colored stone. A strip of faded wine colored tiles snaked around the room. Each tile was embossed with a different medieval stylized flower. Celia ran her finger over the tiles and noticed that there was no pattern. Each tile was unique.
Red and black tiles checkered the floor and a worn path ran from the door to somewhere beyond the darkness of the house as though someone had paced back and forth for 1000 years.
“This foyer is bigger than my apartment,” I said. “How old is this place?”
“Old,” Celia said.
“Look at these floors,” I said running my foot along the worn path.
Celia removed her sunglasses and looked at the floor. “Nice,” she said sarcastically.
I looked up and admired a stained glass skylight. “This place is so big.”
“Yes,” she said. “We’ll fill it with your heirs, and spend obnoxious amounts of money on furnishings. How much is the inheritance?”
Nice try, I thought. “A couple million in property and a couple million in cash.” I was not about to get specific with her especially since she asked, but I still pulled her to my side and gave her a squeeze. “Let’s look around.”
Celia and I wandered into the oversized kitchen that had last been updated in the 1950s. There was a wood-burning stove in the corner and a large silver refrigerator taking over one wall. She opened it and gasped at the stale air that escaped. She shook her head, “Anything could have been in there. Someone must have cleaned the house a few weeks ago.”
There was a white wooden door at the corner of the kitchen. Her eyes fixated on the door and she felt compelled to walk over to the door. In fact, nothing could have kept her from that door should something had stood in her way. If I had been between her and that white door, she would have shoved me aside and headed straight for it. She had to open the door. It was strange.
She opened the door and we were faced with its inky darkness. She stepped inside and waved her arm around until she found the pull string for the light. She pulled and the pantry was illuminated. I stood outside not wanting to crowd her. There were empty white wooden shelves from floor to ceiling and an ancient stone floor.
“Boring, she sighed, but as she turned to leave, her ankle buckled and rolled painfully on a shoebox sized stone.
“Ow!” She screamed. “Andre!”
I rushed to her side.
“I’m right here,” I said.
“I stepped on a loose stone,” she whimpered.
“Are you alright?” I asked. Celia pointed to her ankle.
I was going to kneel and kiss her ankle better, but she pointed to the stone and my attention went there instead.
“I think there’s something under there. Let me out of here,” she said brushing by me. I let her pass and accidentally stepped on the stone myself; then I knelt down, stuck my fingers between the missing grout and pulled up the heavy stone.
“What is it?” Celia asked from the doorway.
I lifted out a book that was about the size of my hand and about an inch thick. It was covered in a coarse yellowed fabric that tore and fell away as I tried to unwrap it. I came out of the pantry and opened the book on the counter. A few pages fluttered to the floor and a large red centipede wound itself around my hand. I instinctively flicked it off of and Celia jumped back two feet.
“It’s only a bug,” I said.
“Bloody venomous creature!” She shouted and clip-clopped out of the kitchen.
I opened the book to the middle. “It’s a diary!” I called after her.
“Fascinating!” Celia called back.
I gently turned a few of the pages and tried to make out the writing. It was faded and likely hundreds of years old.
“Look at this!” Celia called. I closed the book and placed it on the counter. I walked down the long cheerless servants hallway and emerged into a formal dining room that had a fireplace so large that I could walk into it. Celia was standing under an enormous crystal chandelier.
“I want to have my first…” she started.
“Our,” I corrected her.
“I want to have our first Christmas right here in this room. I'll practice every year until its perfect. We'll fill it with our new friends, and our own family,” she said.
"Or we could sell it," I said.
"We could raise our baby here. Like a little prince or princess," she said.
I pulled her close to me and looked into her eyes, “I don’t know how to live here, Celia. I can’t do this without you. We do not have to live in England to fulfill the terms of the inheritance. We can sell all of this and live in the Caribbean, New York, or wherever your heart desires.”
“I want a life here,” she pleaded.
“I don’t want you to feel isolated. What about Australia?” I asked.
“No,” she said quickly. “Australia has always felt like a…”
“A punishment?” I asked.
“- a hiding place. I don’t want to hide, but I also don’t want to stir trouble every time I go to London. I can’t be blindsided like that any more.”
“Then we won’t go to London. We’ll make a life here in Devon. We’ll decorate and procreate,” I said.
“Then collect,” she rubbed her thumb against her index and middle finger, “and reject that side of the world.”
“Agreed,” I kissed her on the cheek then knelt and kissed her belly.