A Silence Kept
After the breakup with Dave, there was no way I could face Fire Island for the summer, so I made a bold move and headed off in the opposite direction. "Some place isolated," I told the realtor, Cindy Miller. "Not too expensive but with obvious charm and seductive views."
"I have exactly the right property for you," she oozed. "Only ninety minutes from Manhattan and very affordable. Will it be just you?"
I clenched my teeth against a surge of anger and pain. "It will. When can you show it to me?"
She picked me up on Sunday morning and drove northwest to New Paltz in the Hudson River Valley, and then north on 32. I'd never been there, but it was away from everything familiar and everyone I knew, so immediately, it had my vote. While my friends partied on the island, I would be here...partying with the trees.
I looked out the car window and frowned. "There's a lot of green."
Cindy grinned, giving me the patented salesperson shtick. Why did they always sound like they'd sell you their mother if the price was right? "You wanted isolation, and you will love this place." She turned left onto Shivertown Road. "It was a farmstead back in the late 1800s, but it has been updated, renovated, and made available to rent by the current owners." She cut her gaze to him. "It's a beautiful place. Lots of wildlife, within walking distance of a small lake, and you could have it immediately."
"Uh-huh." I slumped in my seat. Why the hell was I doing this again? Oh, right. Because it was summer, and no one with cash or brains stayed in the city over the weekend. As I possessed some of the former and much of the latter, I was compelled to seek a place to escape to come Friday night. This would be good for me. I could spend long hours strolling through verdant woods, communing with an impossibly beautiful nature while secretly lusting for a couple of good stiff drinks and wondering how my life suddenly fell apart and whether or not it would eventually go the way of Humpty Dumpty.
She left Shivertown for Old Kingston, and I had to admit, the scenery was awe-inspiring and a little frightening. Living and working in Manhattan, I didn't have much to do with what people call "the country," but I did appreciate the unvarnished reality of it. When she turned onto Gun Club Road, I realized we were deep in the middle of nowhere. I saw nothing but trees: no houses, no roads. "Who owns all this?"
She laughed. "Can I ask what you do for a living, Mikal? You look familiar. Are you in entertainment? Or maybe you model."
"Uh, no. I'm in the food industry." I was tall, thin, and dark, and I'd been told more than once I should trade my good looks for money, but instead, I joined the catering business belonging to my estranged lover, Dave. What would happen to that now? The headache I'd woken up with made a splashy return, and I winced as my temples pounded.
She didn't notice. She was leaning forward over the steering wheel, squinting at the woods. "The turnoff is hard to spot... There!" She rolled a little fast into a gap between the trees but managed to stay on the road, though the wheels skidded on the gravel. "Sorry. Almost missed it. I suggest you install fluorescent drive markers so you see it coming."
The trees had grown over the driveway, giving the impression of traveling through a dark tunnel. I liked the effect, even as it sent a chill down my spine. "When does the headless horseman ride?"
"Who? Oh!" She giggled and steered through a curve which abruptly opened onto a large grassy yard in need of mowing, and behind that a single-story house made of stone and wood. A shallow porch offered a swing and rocker, and potted geraniums added color to the steps. To the right was a tidy barn, painted the ubiquitous red and also boasting stone half-walls. Attached to it was a small corral made of white-board fence.
She parked, and we got out. The first thing I noticed was the quiet. Birds were not singing, and there was no breeze. Midday heat settled on me like a heavy coat. "It's air-conditioned, right?"
"Central air, yes, but I doubt you'll use it much. The stone keeps the house cool, and those large maples shade the roof from the sun."
"People use the barn?"
"I don't think anyone's used it in years, but it's kept in good shape. A trail behind it leads to the lake. I'm told there are fish in it. There is a dock and canoe which you may use."
"Who takes care of the lawn?"
"Someone comes out from town every week or so to mow, but if the flowers look thirsty, you might want to water them."
We went up the steps to the glassed front door. "This seems kind of small for a farmhouse."
She dug in her voluminous purse for keys. "Two bedrooms, one bath with whirlpool tub, a large living room and eat-in kitchen. They didn't build McMansions back in the day. Found them!" Rattling the keys, she grinned at me and then unlocked the door, pushing it open onto a nicely decorated room. "There's a library in town that may be able to tell you more, and of course there are newspaper archives. Just look at that fireplace! Isn't it gorgeous?"
She gave me the tour, and I oohed and aahed in the appropriate places. It was clean, comfortable, and well-appointed with the necessities of modern life, i.e., it had a flat-panel television in the living room, DVD player and stack of classic movies, books on the shelves in the guest room, and stainless steel and granite in the kitchen. "Internet?"
She shook her head, her lipsticked mouth a moue of disappointment. "Too far from everything, and the owners haven't yet installed satellite. This place truly is for those who want to get away from it all."
I could live without email on weekends; I'd already checked my cell and discovered this was a no-service area. "Land line?"
She pointed to where a trim black phone sat on a small table near the door. "So, do you think this will suit your needs?"
I dropped onto the sage green couch, bouncing experimentally. "Two questions. First, why is it still available in mid-June, and second, why is it so cheap?"
"It was booked at the start of the season by a lovely older couple from Queens." She self-consciously straightened the embroidered pillow on the overstuffed chair. "They left suddenly, after two days."
Something in her voice put me on alert. "And why did they do that?"
She sat, hands on her knees, gazing at me earnestly. "They said the place was haunted, and they could no longer take the disturbances."
"Haunted. Right." I burst into laughter. "And that's why it's so affordable?"
She colored. "No one stays here longer than two weeks before packing up and leaving. Apparently, the ghost is...boisterous." She leaned toward me, a crease appearing between her brows. "Do you believe in spirits?"
"No. Think that will keep me from hearing it?"
"I honestly don't know." Sitting back with a sigh, she searched in her purse before pulling out a sheaf of papers. "There is nothing else available, and certainly not at this price. Sign these and it's yours, Mr. Gray."
We'd left the front door open, and at that moment, a hummingbird appeared, hovered for long moments while seeming to look right at me, then turned and flew off. I'm particularly fond of hummingbirds, and this was the first one I'd seen in years.
I stretched out a hand. "Gotta pen?"
* * *
When I got to work Monday, Dave was there, making up menus for an upcoming wedding. He's the cook, I'm the business end, and we've been together professionally five years. The personal relationship came after and might become the biggest mistake of my life.
"I will not be available on weekends, so schedule accordingly," I said, sweeping past him into my office and slamming the door. After weeks of tiptoeing around each other, I'd had it.
It opened immediately. "What do you mean, you're not available? Most of our events occur on weekends, you dick."
I opened the laptop and booted up. "Work around me. Hire your nephew. Close. I don't give a shit."
He glared down at me. "Are you quitting, then?"
"I'm giving it serious thought. I'm not sure I can continue working with an asshole like you." I said this in an even tone, as if I was discussing the weather.
"Grow the hell up, Mikal. Learn to separate work from the rest of your life."
"That's pretty hard to do when I catch your assistant fucking you on a table in the kitchen." Calmness gone, I snarled at him.
"We're not married, Mikal."
"But we were exclusive," I shot back. "We were together three years, and you threw that away for some twink who can't even make radish roses. Are you insane?"
"I'm in love with him. It happens."
I had some money saved. I didn't have to put up with this crap. Standing with such force the chair rolled back and banged into the wall, I closed the laptop. "Stick it up your ass, Dave, if you can find any room up there."
Marching to the front door, I paused, hand on the knob, looking back at him. "That was me quitting, in case I didn't make it clear enough. Better hire a replacement fast. Insurance premium is due next week, and the health inspector is coming around on the twenty-sixth."
I walked home quickly, eyes burning with unshed tears. I'd lost Dave and thrown away my job. My life in ruins. Yes, I was feeling sorry for myself.