III. The Basement
Sharon’s chinchilla coat was twisted around her body in some strange fashion. She held it closed with one hand and the other clutched the neck of the wine bottle. I exhaled, noting that I could see my breath. It was very cold down here.
“So we gotta deal, right?” she asked.
I smiled, and this time it reached my eyes. “Of course, cousin.” I extended my free hand so we could shake on it. Our fingers were two inches apart. Of course I could step closer and finalize the deal, but if Sharon elected to rise from her seat, she could easily take my hand.
She twisted and tried to stand, at which point I took two steps back. Sharon looked at me as I put my empty wineglass on the floor.
“Why can’t I get up?”
She twisted again and pressed her feet against the ground in a vain attempt to stand. “I’m stuck. Can’t…get…up.”
“Is that right?” I asked. “How are you stuck?”
Sharon tried again, and the bench, firmly bolted to the ground, did not move. She wiggled and twisted but could not rise.
“I can’t get up!” she shrieked.
“If it is your coat that is stuck, then take it off.”
“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Sharon, I am not the one stuck to the seat. Try to get out of the coat.”
She struggled, writhed, twisted and wiggled, but she was so wound up in the chinchilla that she struggled looking for the buttons. I chose that moment to remove my gloves. It was cold, but I would be warm soon enough. I removed a pair of latex gloves from my coat pocket and quickly put them on.
“Octavia, I caaaaan’t get ouuuut of this coat. I don’t know how…how I buttoned it up, but I’m turned and it feels like my ass is stuck to the seat as well…how did this happen? I mean, I felt somethin’ wet when I sat down, but I thought…it was just the cold. Is there gluuuue in this chair?”
She looked at me and there was something in her eyes that I’d never seen before: fear.
“What? Why? Whyyyyy is there glue in the chair? Whyyy am I stuck?”
I couldn’t help but to smile as I removed my coat and carefully put it out of the way. I was warm enough; I wore several layers underneath my sweater and slacks. Quietly, I walked a few feet over and picked up one of the boards that lay against the wall. She clearly didn’t understand; a genius she was not, and her level of cunning was in no way comparable to mine.
“Sharon, there is glue in the chair because I put it there. It’s a nice, wonderful adhesive that one of my chemist friends developed, and the patent is pending. You’ll have a nice place to sit and think about things.”
I popped the board into place and then retrieved another, repeating the action.
“Whaaaat? What are you talking about? Octavia???”
There was a tube of the adhesive next to the boards. I picked it up and sealed the two boards together.
“Octavia! What are you doing? What is going on??”
Another board went up, as did a fresh runnel of adhesive. It really was a wonderful concoction; once the bond was in place, it was decisively permanent.
“Octavia, what are you doing?”
I put another board in place and sealed it. There were three boards to go. She started screaming at me; a river of nasty adjectives spewed from her lips. I was not deterred. This was the culmination of thirty years’ worth of physical and emotional abuse. There was no law that could punish Sharon for her crimes against me, but I could see to it that she would never hurt me or Christine again.
“Octavia, what are you doing? Is this a prank? Is this a joke? Stop it, let me get up and go home. It’s freezing down here. It’s cold. I’m drunk, I got a headache…quit playing.”
“You would think this is a game, Sharon. For thirty years I have endured your version of games. I have had to tolerate your jokes, your insults, your arrogant attitude and your irresponsible tongue. Your words have caused me pain from the moment we met; you have made me cry, you have shamed me, you have done everything short of pulling the trigger to drive me insane or to hurt me…and you never apologized. No, my pain was of no import; I was nothing more than the butt of your jokes. I was not strong enough at first, and it was my dear mother that stayed my hand, but she has gone on to glory and I need not worry about hurting her now. Would that you had that same consideration for your precious “Aunt Cora” when she was alive. But no, my mother had to hear all of the trash those loose lips spewed, had to defend my honor and innocence, had to sacrifice her own integrity just to save mine. You hurt her, Sharon. You hurt her, and that is unforgivable.”
“Octavia, you bitch! You bitch! You crazy lesbian bitch!!! Get me out of here! She tried to throw the wine bottle at me, but it, too, was stuck to her hand. I wondered if she would use it to cut her throat once she ran out of oxygen.
I put another board in place and sealed it with the adhesive. There were two more to go. “It’s always the same with you, Sharon. Could you possibly come up with another insult? Because “crazy lesbian bitch” is not de rigueur these days. I am not crazy and I am not a bitch. If you feel that I am behaving as such, then you have no one to thank but yourself. You do know that there are consequences for your actions.”
“Octavia, please! You know I was just kidding with you! Please stop! Please! What did I ever to do you that you feel you have to do this? I never meant any of what I said and did! It was all in fun! Please! Please stop!”
“If you expect for me to recount thirty years of bullying and abuse, then you truly are ignorant. You are not a complete idiot, cousin. You are perfectly aware of the many times you have hurt me, harmed me, shamed me, and ridiculed me. Many days and many nights my pillow was drenched from tears. I put up with you for a long time, and when I was able to get away from you, you continued your attacks on me from afar. Then you went after Chris, and that…that, dear cousin, could not be tolerated. But no more. No more.” I put up another board.
I could see comprehension in her eyes and then the tears began to come in earnest. I could see memories unfolding with each tear and I hoped that she would feel at least one-tenth of my three decades of agony as she sat in the closet. I hope that she remembered every single thing she did to hurt me, my mother, and all of her other victims. I knew that I was not the only recipient of her evil temperament, but I was often the target. But Christine didn’t deserve her inexplicable wrath and I was going to see to it that Sharon would never torment us again.
“Octavia, please! You really can’t still be mad about that! Chris knows I was just kidding! He—“
“She!” I said, and for the first time, she heard the fury in my voice. “Christine is a woman!” My hands were quivering in rage.
I angrily put the last board in place as she started screaming. “OCTAVIA, PLEASE! PLEASE! I’m so sorry, Tavia! I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I’m sorry. Yes, I know I was wrong to do what I did, but you aren’t seriously gonna leave me here…are you, cuz? Come on, cousin! We used to play together as kids…we were gonna rule the world!”
I took a long, deep breath and waited for the tirade to end. I needed to say this last thing, and I was perfectly fine doing it through a wall. “Instead you made those years hell for me. And why? Why? What did I do to make you hate me so?”
“’Tavia, please! PLEASE! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I don’t hate you; you’re my cousin, my friend…please! PLEASE! Let me out! I’m sorry; I won’t ever ridicule you or Chris ever again! I’ll keep my mouth shut! I promise I’ll stop! Just LET…ME…OUT!”
I took another slow, deep breath. “It really doesn’t matter anymore, Sharon. What you did you meant for ill, but God won’t let any weapon formed against me prosper. Please do not concern yourself with thinking that I will let you out or that someone will come for you. Ryo has taken a well-compensated doppelganger to the airport. People will think that you have gone to Rio, looking for artists and designers for your boutique, and then to Asia and Europe, doing the same. Where you go afterwards…well, I shall leave that to your imagination.”
She began screaming like a lunatic. I heard the bottle crash into the wall and shatter as she banged on it with both fists. “Octavia, please! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Please let me out! I’m sorry if I hurt you! I didn’t mean to hurt you! We were just having fun! You know it wasn't true; you know it was all lies! I was just mad that you always made such good grades!!!”
A memory of seventeen girls wearing straitjackets at a birthday party flashed through my mind. Sharon was the alpha female and her crew of sycophants always followed her lead.
“Octavia, please…” Her voice was a squeak. “I’m sorry. It got bigger than I intended! Please, Octavia! For the love of God, please!!!!!”
I had nothing else to say, as I still had work to do. There was a pair of work gloves sitting on top of a bucket of cement, and in the next storage compartment were bricks and mortar and other supplies. I ignored the banging, the screaming and the crying and set to work quickly. The space was not that big and the bricks were of a good size. I laid some mortar, and then neatly lined up the bricks parallel to the wall. I repeated my actions until the wall was complete.
Then I heard her scream one last time: “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, OCTAVIA!”
Yes, I thought. For the love of God.
I stepped back and looked around. My hands hurt and I was tired, but I was pleased and my heart was alight with happiness. I put the bucket and tools to one side, and then placed the work gloves on top of the bucket. I took off the latex and put on my coat and my leather gloves. The entire brick wall was now complete.
When I got home, I was exhausted. Christine had a bath waiting; a tub full of voluminous pale green bubbles scented with eucalyptus. She helped me undress and kissed my shoulders before helping me into the tub. Chris took my hands and kissed my knuckles and fingertips. I smiled at her.
“Nothing that a few manicures won’t fix, baby,” I said.
“I’m going to give you a massage when you get out of the tub. You’ll be sore a few days, Octavia. I could have helped you. I would not have minded helping you. You know I would have happily shared this burden with you.”
“Chris,” I said, linking my fingers with hers, “the burden was having to continue living with Sharon and pretending that I was strong enough to persist putting up with her behavior. I am not worried about the property being bought and unearthed; the Tanith-Drake group has owned that entire region for over ten years, and with the economy the way it is, I am in no position to sell it even if I wanted to.”
She removed her clothes and got in the tub. For a long moment, she methodically rubbed my feet. Then she looked at me, her eyes full of love. “You did that for me.”
“I did it for both of us.”
I love Christine. I have loved her for years, ever since we met in high school. We were supposed to go to the prom and then Sharon happened, but as I said before, all things that were intended for ill God turns into blessings. Chris returned to me later in the way she was meant to be, and then it was just us. We were going to grow old together.
A/N: This is a pastiche that I attempted to compose in the style of a famous Gothic writer, long dead. Anyone care to guess who the author is and what story “Connoisseurs of Memory” is derived from? I would love to have some constructive feedback and chatter. Did I do a good job? Did I do a shit job? Feel free to share your opinions.