A Haunting Love by Emilee Harris
The sharp claw of an icy autumn breeze caught the edge of Adele’s translucent black veil, whipping it about her in corkscrew fashion. Mother Nature’s attempt, perhaps, to make good on Adele’s unspoken desire to be rid of her misery, though this was not quite the route she hoped for. Not that she’d formed any definitive plan, which served as part of the problem. Gripping at the mass of tulle with semi-effectual fingers ensconced in their own midnight cotton sateen gloves, she wrestled with the encumbrance until the elements took pity on her and redirected the breeze, no doubt diverting their attention to a more agreeable playfellow.
Adele, now the widow Monroe, continued to rustle and fidget a moment longer before settling into her accustomed pose, mimicking the statuary interspersed amid the headstones. When seen through the open-minded lens of modern thought, one might imagine the cemetery as truly picturesque and peaceful, reminiscent of the impressionist landscapes so well received only a few decades prior. Soft light suffused the expanse before her via the brilliant palettes of late-season foliage. Summer flared in a phoenix-like death blaze before an early autumn, every leaf a second’s worth of brush stroke on the greater canvas before her. Alas, Adele’s thoughts could fathom no such depth of meaning. Too many earthly concerns clamored for her attention, manifesting sharply through the same surroundings that provided her only source of private calm these days.
No conveniently situated bench sat in the vicinity of her husband’s grave. The quilt-block of earth appeared out of place, no longer fresh but not yet homogeneous with the more established surrounds. The effect unsettled Adele enough to keep her gaze continually swaying from side to side. Her legs ached with prolonged stillness, but she feared straying too far from the site might somehow send alarms sounding in the home of her in-laws, on whom she now found herself dependent. Shifting from one frozen foot to the other, she rubbed her hands together in front of her and stared across the gray-cobbled field. With a guilty blink, she remembered to send a cursory glance down toward the stone in front of her, a gaudy expression of what her mother-in-law considered understated elegance befitting an architect, however unrecognized he might have been.
Her mouth bobbed in an unfamiliar manner, her conscience prompting her to unburden her soul to the life partner who never once asked about her dreams and ambitions during his time on earth. As a husband, one might describe him in similar fashion to his architectural legacy: sufficient and unexceptional. A chastising breeze ruffled her black crepe hem and she shivered, nodding her acknowledgment. One must not think ill of the dead.
He met the demands placed on him and Adele never thought to encourage him toward anything greater. Her current predicament therefore stemmed as much from her doing as his. Turning toward the packed dirt of the walkway, her knees creaked as they hefted their slight burden, buried in dismal fabric, toward the cemetery gate. As much as it pained her to admit even to herself, these daily sojourns were less the proof of a grieving widow and more the only allotment of privacy for a woman crushed under the good intentions of family.
“It’s not something one is ever encouraged to consider,” she muttered, eyes dragging along the dirt, picking out the tiny triangles of her boot toes blinking in and out of sight beneath her hem. “A wife might die young in childbearing, but a husband ought to live into old age.”
Yet here she stood, widowed after only a decade of marriage and still in the relative bloom of youth. At thirty-three, Adele exuded a child-like quality which she at times suspected hindered her independence. The meager wealth of her husband, acceptable in terms of modest beginnings meant to grow over time, stood no chance of supporting a widow and two children, the eldest barely nine years of age. Even after selling the house he built for them and nearly all their possessions, she was left with next to nothing and forced to endure the charity of her mother-in-law.
That charity weighed heavier with each passing day.
“It’s unseemly,” Mrs. Monroe, her mother-in-law, would cluck from the corner of the stuffy parlor where no light had been allowed to enter through the thick mourning drapes for weeks. “The widow Evans was out at a charity bake just last week, her poor husband not even six months in the grave! Can you imagine? And wearing navy! One would think she’d never cared for the dear man a day, and they were married twenty-five years!” Piteous sniffling generally ensued, accented by dabbing a starched black handkerchief to dry eyes.
Adele stretched her neck against her high collar, sucking in a deep sigh and regretting it instantly when her veil clamped over nose and mouth with suffocating force. Puffing out small mouthfuls of air and pinching the material away from her face long enough to breathe properly for the span of a few heartbeats, she exited the cemetery through a permanently ajar gate.
While not technically part of Boston proper, Newton sat close enough to provide most of the city amenities and claimed a rail route that allowed easy access to the city if desired. More often than not in recent days, Adele found herself tempted to board the rail, but not for an excursion to Boston. She wondered how far the tracks might take her and if some small cove existed along the shore which might provide a quiet retreat for herself and her children.
The wind let out a breathy laugh, propelling her along the path into town. Much like an unobservant child, it tugged at her skirts with enough ferocity to force her movement while swerving direction often enough to impede that movement with the subsequent tangling of layers. She hardly noted her entrance to town, focusing instead on maintaining an upright position while battling both veil and skirts in an attempt to slow her momentum. Luckily, not many locals chose that blustery day to linger about the streets.
Through thoroughfares and byways the wind carried her, directing every step and pushing from behind when her legs threatened to slow their pace. By the time she found refuge in an alcoved doorway, she’d quite lost her breath and leaned heavily on the exterior paneling of the building. Several moments of deep breathing ensued, one gloved hand monitoring the rise and fall of her chest and ascertaining the frantic rhythm of the heart therein before Adele declared herself sufficiently stable to take on the task of yet again rearranging the layers of crepe and tulle encasing her.
With her person set to rights, now several minutes past her initial entry into the recess, she blinked in the direction of the street, distrustful of the calm now blanketing the landscape. Hesitant to venture forth, she diverted her attention to her rescuing bower, noting the faded green quarter-sphere awning protruding out into the street from where it met the building wall above her. As she stood now underneath and further back from the protective fabric, the wording on the front evaded her. The walls beside her, sporting dark windows looking in on nothing, proved more helpful. Round about the edges like an internal frame wandered crisp lines of gold, matching the lettering slightly north of center which read: Alderman & Son Realty.
Brows ticking up, she leaned in closer to the window, spying on the other side a small collection of picture frames. One hung from the next in a vertical row, each encasing small sketches of homes. Beneath each sketch ran a short, typed paragraph with information pertaining to the number of rooms to be found in each and various additional details which might be thought to entice a future resident.
Biting her bottom lip, she glanced toward the door as though someone might charge forth at any moment and chase her away. Straightening, she purposefully recalled thoughts of life in her mother-in-law’s house.
“Surely it wouldn’t do any harm to inquire,” she mused, leaning down to read the description of the home near the bottom of the window.
You can’t afford it, a voice responded from the depths of her self-doubt.
“There’s no way to know that until I ask, is there?” She asserted into the empty niche surrounding her. “Didn’t mother always say ‘for every pot there is a lid’?” Granted, the phrase had more to do with romantic matches in her mother’s recitation, but the sentiment seemed relevant in this case as well. A brief stab of doubt returned, barely noticed as the wind, taking note of her interest in the interior of the building, gave an angry howl and asserted itself again. This show of temper, along with Adele’s lack of enthusiasm to return to the house which currently acted as her home, encouraged the newly rooted idea to swiftly sprout and bloom. With a nod to herself and the addition of a smile to her features, she straightened and turned to face the door, reaching out a hand before her thoughts found an opportunity to revert to their earlier qualms.
* * *
A small bellabove the door announced her entry as Adele stepped over the threshold, holding tightly to the handle to prevent the heavy wooden slab from slamming against the wall. Turning to shield herself behind it, she leaned her slight weight into the wood, wrestling it back to a closed position. Once she succeeded in her endeavor, she paused in place to perform the ritual of concerted breathing and disentangling from the mummifying effects of her veil. She found little reassurance in the movements swiftly becoming a staple of her existence.
“May I help you?” came a small voice from the interior of the room.
Spinning around, her eyes darted from one side of the room to the next, over stacks of paperwork, around file cabinets, between desks, and back again until they came to rest on a figure all but hidden behind several stacks of catalogs and ledgers on a desk far too small to support them. “Oh, ah—”
“I take it you are searching for housing in or near our fine town?” The figure continued, without rising from his post.
She blinked, momentarily rendered speechless by the unnatural amplification of dull brown eyes sparsely lashed and shielded behind thick glasses. Eyes which now surveyed her top to bottom. The effect proved similar to watching a fish maneuver back and forth in its bowl. “Ah, yes, that’s exactly right.”
The man hopped to his feet, remaining in the space behind the desk, and held out a hand indicating she should take a seat in the chair on the other side of the workspace.
“Wesley Alderman, the son portion of Alderman and son, at your service. We have a fine selection of homes here, ma’am, I am sure we can offer you something perfectly suited. Will the space be occupied singly?” He slid a sideways glance toward her head-to-toe immersion in black as he turned slightly to pull a large catalog from its place mid-way through the stack beside him.
Her eyes widened as the tower of tomes swayed ominously, but a moment later the catalog sat in front of him, the other books rested in practiced boredom, and those brown eyes behind their twin fishbowls waited expectantly.
“Er, no, it will be myself and two children, plus a housekeeper.” She narrowly prevented herself from cringing, knowing very little chance of maintaining her housekeeper, Bessie, existed but even less willing to contemplate such a plight as to admit her grave lack of funds. To rely upon her own talent alone to feed her children and maintain a home might be tantamount to a death sentence.
“Wonderful. In that case a minimum of three bedrooms… he mumbled to himself, having opened the book and begun flicking through pages.
A ticking from a side wall caught her attention. The clock, with its dull brass pendulum and fogged-over glass nevertheless reported accurate time on the sickly ivory expanse of its face. Beside the clock, giving off a much smarter appearance in gleaming polished oak with brass fittings, preened a barometer. This apparatus shone in true naval fashion, reporting air pressure and humidity with sleek, sharp pointers easily visible through a clear glass covering. Adele wondered at the odd piece. Not odd in its existence, perhaps, this was a suburb of Boston after all, but odd in its stark contrast of appearance to every other surface and item in the office.
A subtle glance around her confirmed her first impressions: dull. Every colored surface from wooden desks to wallpaper emitted the tiredness and pallor of time. The desks themselves, replete with nicks and scratches, looked ready to creak and groan on cue. Only the barometer shone with misplaced vitality. She contemplated asking about it, but Mr. Alderman chose that moment to announce his findings.
“Let’s see…” He mumbled, pursing his lips. “Emery house. Four beds, large kitchen, fine garden, sea view, close to all amenities… One thousand two hundred dollars per annum. He paused in his recitation, head bobbing up and one eyebrow questioning.
Adele gave a small shake of her head, willing her cheeks not to flare. “It sounds lovely, but rather large for a widow. For maintenance purposes, you understand. Also, I can’t see needing the additional bedroom at present.”
“I see,” he dipped his head again toward the catalog in front of him, showcasing a balding portion of his crown as he flipped to the next dog-eared page. “Well, there’s New Harbor, three bedrooms, no sea view, but conveniently located near the schoolhouse, which I imagine would be of importance… Nine hundred dollars annually.” Again, one caterpillar of an eyebrow crawled its way atop the frames of the man’s glasses.
Her heart sank a bit and she swallowed. “It sounds lovely, but I’d hate to make any decisions in haste. I prefer to exhaust my options first. Perhaps we could compile a list from which I might choose after seeing the properties in more detail?”
He gave a quick nod and returned to the somewhat brittle ivory pages. When next he began to murmur, the sounds emitted via more subdued tones, indicating personal perusal rather than intended vocalization. “Three bedrooms, furnished. Seaside, large garden with patio, outmoded but functional kitchen… One hundred fifty dollars yearly…”
She perked up, but at the same time the man’s eyes widened, which hardly seemed possible given their already magnified state, and darted up to the top of the page. “Coral Cottage. Oh, forgive me, that one won’t do.” He ducked his nose toward the center fold of the catalog, fingers fondling paper corners with excessive interest.
“Why not?” Adele questioned, mind already settling on the incomprehensibly low asking price. And furnished! That would save her a considerable amount of cost in outfitting a new home. In fact, she could sell most of what she’d kept from her marital home and come out ahead in the wager. It sounded too good to be true. On that note her shoulders sank. “What’s wrong with the place?” She questioned outright. “The foundation? The roof? The pipes?”
The Realtor cast her a profoundly pained expression, the musculature of his features moving in a dramatic play of some hidden turmoil. “It’s outmoded and in need of some minor repairs, I’m sure you won’t care for the hassle of all that. Why don’t I take you out to New Harbor, I’m sure that one will be far more to your liking. I can even take you by Emery house, I would hate for you to settle on something smaller and then decide after all you could use a spare room for guests…”
“Minor repairs, but nothing major?” Adele sank her thoughts into the statement which addressed her concerns, ignoring the rest. “Coral Cottage sounds quite reasonable, and I’m not opposed to a bit of cleaning and repair. Internally, she shuddered, but if it meant gaining her independence, she was willing to uncover whatever hidden strength she might possess. Her eyes wandered back to the barometer as she thought. The instrument seemed to gleam now, though she could ascertain no source of light which might cause the effect.
“Truly, ma’am, it would be a waste of your time to—”
She snapped her attention back to Mr. Alderman. “You said the kitchen was outmoded, but is it functional?”
“Well, yes, but—”
“I should like to see it.”
“Oh,” his shoulders slumped. “Truly, I’m sure it’s not a good fit for you.”
“I’d like to be the judge of that myself.”
“Perhaps if you don’t care for Emery house or New Harbor—”
Adele stood, drawing herself up to the extent of her small frame and jutting out her chin. “I believe I saw there were two realty offices in town,” she hoped her guess based on newspaper adverts proved correct. “If you are disinclined to show me the place I’m curious about, perhaps the other office has Coral Cottage on their books as well.” She began to turn her back on the realtor, moving as swiftly as she dared in her traitorous garb.
“I’d be quite happy to take you, ma’am,” Mr. Alderman’s pained voice rang out behind her as she reached the center of the office. Turning, she noted he looked anything but pleased about the state of affairs. His rounded eyes bobbed with an unspoken plea of reconsideration. “We can start with New Harbor—”
“I wish to begin with Coral Cottage, it sounds the most suited to my needs.”
The Adam’s apple at the center of his thin neck dipped dramatically before swinging violently toward his chin. A moment of silent battle ensued between his imploring eyes and her determination, ending when his chin drooped toward his chest. “Very well, as you like. I’ll bring my car around.”
Her eyes followed him as he maneuvered around the desk to precede her to the office door, wavering only once in their sentinel duty as he passed by the clock and barometer. The barometer practically shimmered now. What on earth would cause such a play of light? The hues danced so gaily across the brass she could almost swear it was some inanimate form of a chuckle.
“Ma’am?” Mr. Alderman stood at the door, holding it open for her, pale as death as he followed her gaze to the barometer.
“What a peculiar piece,” she noted, turning to join him with a shake of her head. Lovely, but peculiar.”