This post is part of the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, wherein participants blog throughout the month according to the letters of the alphabet. For more on the challenge, click here.
Note: If anyone wondered, I tagged the blog as having adult content due to a few factors: one, strong language; two, the possibility that excerpts I post may have graphic descriptions of sex or violence and therefore unappealing to some readers. Never fear, though, I’ll be sure to warn y’all if a post of that nature comes up! In the meantime, feel free to read on!
Second note related to the first note: The excerpt with this post, though not using strong language or mentioning sex or violence, may be upsetting for some readers. It’s also lengthy, to the tune of some 750 words or so. Apologies, but I really wanted to share it all.
Cheers and happy ABC’ing,
James and Beatrice Crawford died years before Darcy’s story began, and yet decisions they made while alive nonetheless have an impact on present-day events. You see, they each worked for the Lawson family, the area’s most well-known residents in 1914. James worked as the gardener, caring for the house’s extensive lawns and gardens, while his wife Beatrice held the coveted position of lady’s maid. More than that, though, Beatrice was a friend to Charles Lawson’s doomed wife, and the Crawfords had a young daughter of a similar age to Mariah Lawson, who was two years old when her mother died. It’s that link between the two mothers and the two daughters that manages to get something stuck in Grace Crawford’s brain decades later, when her parents are gone and she herself has late-stage Alzheimer’s. She is one of the first people whose warnings Darcy takes seriously, and that makes her important.
“Do you remember anything about the Lawsons, Grace? I know you were young, but…”
“Young remember well,” she says in a startlingly clear voice. “It’s old can’t remember anything.” She blinks and looks pained, squinting at Gage. “Sterling?” she asks, her voice trembling. “Is it time for us to go out? I’m not ready.” She parts the blanket she’s wrapped in and reveals what she’s wearing: a nightgown with a navy skirt hem peeping out from beneath it and a blouse misbuttoned over the bodice, the nightgown bunching up against her thin chest. She’s wearing no stockings, but her feet are in low black heels that are too big for her, possibly not her own. I realize the smell mingling with the familiar scent of age that discomfits us all is hairspray, and for some reason that sign of the effort she made makes me want to cry.
“No, Gram.” Gage’s voice is quiet, level, and I wonder if he’s done this often enough that maybe he’s hardened to it. “I’m Gage, your grandson. Your husband’s name was Sterling. He died twenty-five years ago.”
To my surprise, Grace’s face, previously hopeful, contorts and she spits on the floor in front of him. “Liar!” Her pretty young girl’s voice from moments before is gone, replaced by an ugly snarl. I look to Gage, but his face stays blank.
“I should’ve known,” he mutters, looking at me while Grace begins to cry, choked sobs from a dry old throat. “This was stupid. Asking about the Lawsons—”
“Lawsons,” Grace repeats as if amazed, and both Gage and I fall silent, looking back to her. I keep one eye on Gage, the other on his grandmother.
“That’s right,” I agree carefully. “The Lawsons. Charles and Eliza. What do you know about them?”
“She died. Off the bridge and broke into pieces!” Her speech is the child, but the cackle as she hugs her blanket around herself is the old woman. “At least that’s what people thought. Mama never believed it, no, did you Mama?” she asks soulfully, staring off into the unlit corners of the room. In the next moment her voice is softer, deferent in a way people aren’t anymore: “Missus Eliza would never have done that, not with Maria. Maybe she wasn’t happy, but she wasn’t unhappy, either.” She stops talking, eyes gleaming like a bird’s as they slide slowly over to focus on me. “Eden now for Missus Eliza. Miss Mariah’s gone too, but me, I’m still here,” she confides slyly. “Funny, isn’t it, how Mariah rhymes with ‘pariah,’ but it was me the outcast, and her the graceful one? Our mamas named us wrong.”
Gage is making a little growling noise in his throat and I can tell he’s about to yank me out. I scribble what Grace is saying as fast as I can. “But if people thought she killed herself—”
“Nope, nope, nope,” Grace protests happily, shaking her head so vigorously I worry she’ll hurt herself. “Eden for Missus Eliza, Eden coming for you too. One by one by one,” she chants.
Eden, I write down, adding beside that: Paradise?
“Duty or love, love or duty? Missus ‘Liza went for love, and her girl went for duty, and I married because I loved him and it was my duty, but look what it did for us!” She heaves a huge sigh, fixes me with a beady-eyed stare. “You best pick the right one, or it’s Eden for you. And then it’ll be the same damn sad story, over and over. We need a happy one and it won’t be me. Nope, nope, nope.”
She freezes and I wait, pen hovering above the page, for her to add more, but the rush of words seems to be blocked off for good and she shrinks back into her chair, gradually withdrawing, until she speaks next and her voice is small and old and fearful again. “Who are you?” she demands, looking wildly from me to Gage. “I don’t know you. Help!” she cries shrilly, looking around. “Burglar! I’m being robbed!”
“Gram—” Gage starts towards her and she flinches violently back, flinging her arms up in front of her face.
“Don’t hurt me!” she screeches, and he’s as motionless as a statue. Grace is whimpering and sobbing, and I’m caught by the sudden shift in the room, uncertain until Gage turns his head to look at me. His eyes freeze me to the bone.