The house was bigger than Allison could have dreamed, more suitable for a visiting prince than a small business owner and his new wife. She had no idea how they could afford it and even began fretting before ever laying eyes on the place. But her husband, Fredrick, assured that everything was taken care of: The property was all paid up, work was booming, and there’d be nothing for her to worry about except how to pass her time while he was off earning. And of course, she believed him.
What else was there for her other than belief in this man who had chosen to sweep her away from that tiny life she’d known prior to his large dreams? What, but that deep-set panic she first found all those years ago, which taught her to run just before the danger came. For even that ever-present sense of looming dread was cowed by the house and stricken into silence. So, there was nothing to prevent her from walking in, nor to pull at her and scream, turn away and never look back!
But she would remember this moment, at times clearly, other times in fractured and twisted ways. Wondering how she—or anyone—could ever be so naïve, as to be led by hope?
Allison stood before the house in awe, much like Fredrick did when he first saw it as a boy, having snuck onto the property with two friends. The three of them egged each other onward to see if the many horrid rumors surrounding the long-abandoned home had any merit. To a boy, however, the answer was irrelevant. What mattered was whether he believed it? And Fredrick had believed. So, as a kid, the house that no one in the neighborhood dared to go near was a towering marvel of terror.
But as an adult, far removed from childish superstitions and lured by a bargain-bin price for the mansion on the hill, Frederick purchased what he thought would be a dream-house for his wife and future children.
He looked over to Allison, standing just beside the still-open door of their sedan, clutching her purse while staring at the grounds of their new home. As if at any moment she’d be required to pay for it all. She appeared nearly as scared as he felt back when he and the boys lost their nerve about going inside. It took them four trips before one of them finally did, which was effectively the end of their friendship. For although the boy had turned up alive—after missing for almost two whole days—his family left town, never to be heard from again.
At that time the entire ordeal seemed a big to-do, but eventually people tended to forget all about those awful days, including Fredrick. While he was awake, at least. For in his dreams, he often revisited the scenes of his friend smeared with dirty blood and heaven knew what else, when neighbors spotted him wandering—blank eyed and wild-looking—down the middle of a busy road. Frederick only learned about it after-the-fact, but the papers and even television had run those images for weeks. Providing him with nightmare fodder long after the buzz had ended.
He threw his arms around Allison, and she felt so small against him, despite being taller than any of her friends. Allison had moments of such docility, when it was like she could disappear if he were to so much as speak too loudly. It made him want to give her everything.
“What do you think Love, honestly?” He asked, glancing at her saddened yet brilliant eyes. Which seemed to always be in search of something that she would perhaps never fully grasp, or something that she’d lost. Frederick liked to believe that they were only ever seeking him. And every time she turned those radiant orbs his way, he felt found in such a manner he couldn’t possibly formulate into words and would stammer or have to shift his sight away if she held his gaze too long. However, he knew no amount of time would ever be enough to quench the desires of his heart.
“Oh, Fredy, it’s wonderful. But is it too much for us, you think?”
“Not at all, daring. You know I’d give you the moon if you asked.”
“I know. But I’d have nowhere to put it.”
He melted before the softness of her smile. “Come on, Love. Time to stake your claim inside these grand walls.”
There are forces which linger in those objects used for or around horrific acts; malignancies of cruelty, depravity and hatred that are trapped inside the tools of malice, and the places where it occurred. Allison had been aware of this for most of her life, so the instant she stepped into the house and each minute thereafter, she wished for nothing more than to turn back and not ever return. But Fredrick was so happy and eager to share the home with her that she rationalized away the warnings, doing her best to just live in his joy. Something that even on her best days didn’t come easily.
Allison spent much of her childhood and teenage years amid doctors, at home and on hospital wards, subjected to a carousel of medications and remedies to try and solve or at least explain the causes of her great sadness.
“Such a beautiful child should not be so disconsolate,” She’d often overhear her mother saying. That is, before the woman had virtually given up on her and left the details of Allison’s care to the professionals. None of whom took the girl’s claims of what she experienced seriously; some even believed that Allison didn’t want to be happy. But she really did; and tried. Yet, her dejection came in unpredictable tremors that filled her with a heartsickness which so quickly and utterly devoured her every hope and thought of goodness. Those episodes were so severe that more than once, even her doctors feared she would simply die of a broken spirit.
Then suddenly, when she was sixteen, there appeared a light and Allison started to get better. She ate more, took an interest in her studies and family, even made a few friends. Everything seemed to be falling into place for her to have a good, normal life. But such pain as hers was not so easily displaced. It had created fissures and deep scars inside her and out, that left her brittle, awkward, and overly cautious. Especially when growing close to any other person. Until Fredrick entered her life and showed Allison the extent her mind, heart and body could experience joy, and the many pleasures that transcended the restrictions of her melancholic world. And for that, she gave herself over completely, because Fredrick represented all possibilities beyond her past troubles.
A month prior to moving into the house, Frederick had hired a decorator to design their home’s interior to Allison’s liking. Although he advised her not to worry about expense, Allison was very careful about budgeting while still putting together a home he could be proud to live in. Those four weeks were a rush of excitement that Fredrick carried over to their first few months in home ownership; an exuberance she simply couldn’t match, despite all her desire to do so. Because the house was weighing on her. There moved a presence in it that singled Allison out and infected her with its malevolence.
At least, that’s what she tried expressing to Fredrick in one way or another once the arguments began. He just couldn’t fathom why she was so down all the time, so unhappy with all they had; and, “Blaming the house is ridiculous. If you didn’t want to move in, you should’ve said so before the ink was dry!”
But he’d never asked her, just went and bought the place; yet she didn’t bring that up. Because Allison didn’t want to fight. It’s just that sometimes words got away from her and she wasn’t sure how to describe the plethora of emotions that boiled up inside of her soul at every single moment, made even worse by all the awful feelings emanating from the house night and day, and the far-off yet rapidly approaching belief that there were instances when she could hear—somewhere inside her—those dark feelings and forces becoming manifest.
For Allison, events sometimes got jumbled, and Fredrick or someone would have to help unconfuse them. While she was alone, it became all too easy for her to get lost and forget where or when she was; episodes that left mere minutes or whole hours unaccounted for. Early in their relationship, this wasn’t much of a problem, yet, as the lapses became more frequent in occasion and duration, so too did the strife between her and Fredrick, along with accusations of lies and infidelities she couldn’t bear even thinking of committing.
Where did she go? Why was she late? Why couldn’t she keep a story straight? And so on.
However, through it all, Fredrick forgave and accepted her, whatever. Because at those moments she’d be so quiet, so fragile, that he’d lose all anger and just hold her. Assuring Allison that everything would be alright.
“There now, don’t worry. We’ll figure this out together.”
Other times he was different, arriving home agitated from work, or an outing with his friends. In those instances, if he didn’t believe her, Frederick could be mean in his demanding of truth she couldn’t provide. Using the lapses to confuse her further, bending reality so she would be more compliant, making it even harder for Allison to know what was actually true. In this way he controlled her.
At least, that’s how she sometimes remembered it. Either way, all that changed when Fredrick learned she was with child.
One night after supper, while she regaled him with some frivolity, the truth burst from her lips as if of its own accord. She froze, shocked and nervous, wanting to change the subject but unable to do more than hold her breath.
“Pregnant, you say?” He paused, ruminate and dark. Sitting there on his plush armchair parked before the fireplace, cigar tipping from the corner of his mouth, he seemed to her every bit the lordly magnate in his mansion, exuding power even in his nightclothes. And much older than the man she fell for.
He had become all smiles. “That’s wonderful news, darling!” Jumping from his seat to lift and embrace her.
She laughed and exclaimed, “Really? Oh, I’m so happy!”
“Lissy, what’re you doing there?” Frederick asked as he walked over to Allison, who stood at the kitchenette counter, knife in hand, before partially chopped carrots.
Daytime had come again suddenly. Its gray light cast in through the tiny high-set rectangular windows above the sink and stove, sliced by the feet waltzing by on the sidewalk. She had never gotten used to the inner-city views of their apartment, that often made her feel like she was looking up from a grave.
Allison turned her attention to him, then down to her hand, immediately stunned by the blood.
“You’ve gone and cut yourself,” He tried not to shout. She dropped the knife and Fredrick took her injured hand, guided it to the sink.
“It isn’t deep, I think,” She claimed.
“Just keep it under the cold water a minute, so I can see the damage.”
“You fuss over me too much.” Allison chided with a warm smile. Looking not at her hand, but at her beloved.
He tore his attention away from the wound to return her smile. “Does it hurt?”
She nodded with a pout, “Terribly so.”
“Sweetie, you’ve got to be more careful. Keep it elevated now, while I get a bandage. Fortunately, you’re right, and it’s not deep enough to require a stitch.” While he applied an ointment then a bandage, Fredrick reminded her, “We agreed that I would be handling the sharp objects from now on.”
She shifted her eyes toward the floor. “I wanted to be useful.”
“You are.” He motioned to their little studio, “You keep all this together. Our lives would fall apart without you.”
“Fredy,” She grabbed both his hands, stared into his eyes with an intensity that made it hard for him—for anyone—to look directly into for more than a few seconds. Which, had always enthralled and scared him. “Would you be happy if I were pregnant?”
“Liss, come now. You know you shouldn’t talk like that… How about we go out for a meal tonight, ey?”
She ripped away from him. “But I want a baby!” Then much more softly, perhaps because of the hurt that flashed across his face, “You promised.”
“Enough! Now I won’t have you talking like this dammit!” He looked around hopelessly between heavy breaths. Allison had cowered away from him, but he was the one rightly afraid. “Liss dear, would you please just come and eat with me? Fresh air will serve us both well.”
Allison put down the knife she hadn’t realized she’d picked back up. It clinked against the countertop, pulling at her attention and suddenly her head hurt. The whole apartment was too bright, like high noon in their home’s sunroom, with light glaring off every surface. And the house was so big — “Too much space for us alone” — she would complain to him,yet she felt completely trapped. Consumed by its enormity, like Jonah inside his whale, the house was a beast she couldn’t escape. And Allison just wanted to breathe, to sever herself from their stifling little life.
“Come on, Love.” Fredrick was saying as he led her across the apartment to the coatrack beside the front door. There he helped Allison don hers, along with a scarf and gloves. “Don’t want you catching cold,” He smiled while putting on his own gear.
She was quiet, watching, regaining her bearings. Only a moment ago, she’d been lost. But Fredrick, as always, was there to lead her back home.
Alli had been sick all morning. This was the first of her pregnancy pains, and she hated every bit of it. Yet, she was also exhilarated. Life was forming inside her; she was not the wretch many thought her to be but a bearer of life, a vessel for growth and goodness.
She looked down without disgust at the vomit smeared inside the toilet bowl, for it was the sign of her great burden; a first of many trials before the joys to come. Sadly, she flushed and cleaned everything away, for Fredrick would be home soon and she couldn’t allow him to see, to know. At least not yet.
Lately, Allison had been testing the waters, dropping little hints to gauge his reaction. Most of the time he answered like he didn’t want kids, but she believed he would nonetheless be pleased. Because the baby — unborn as she or he was — kept the other thing at bay.
Alli had only spent a week at hospital, having left against staff recommendations because Fredrick couldn’t be away from her another minute. And she went along despite feeling so lost that their house seemed just as bad an option as that miserable hospital. Because no matter where they put her, she could not escape the torment of dejection, nor the utter displacement and indifference which ate away at her any place she went. Her hopelessness felt beyond the ease of death itself, filling whatever room she was in, so malignant and contagious that even the other patients had avoided her.
But not her Fredy, no. He came to pick Allison up, smiling at the sight of her despite the pain she’d unloaded on his life and the mess she had become. Standing there without a lick of makeup, hair unruly as a lightning storm, deep sleepless sockets where her hopeful eyes had been. He simply wrapped his arms around her, told Allison how pretty she looked and took her home.
Not to their house, rather to a little apartment in the city. Informing her, “We’re gonna stay here awhile, darling. A change of pace will be good for us.”
She wanted to agree, but the street was noisy, smelling of diesel, burning foods and wet dog. Much as she had loathed the stifling quietude of their house, in that moment outside a sublevel apartment he expected to be suitable for them, Allison would’ve gladly welcomed that countryside isolation.
Yet, not too long ago, Allison supposed, she could have reveled in taking on city life before she had changed or became simply too restless even for this busy urban neighborhood. Still, where else was she to go, and what would it matter anyway?
Allison nodded, eyes downcast when she asked, “Where’s…”
Fredrick stiffened and relaxed so quickly it was almost imperceptible. But Allison noticed. “She’s with my parents, dear. Until you’re feeling a little more settled.”
Allison only nodded again; a tirade of sorrow trembling on her steady face, ready to erupt with the slightest provocation. Making her look so vulnerable, small, pathetic yet lovely that Fredrick was filled with her all over again and found himself hurtling down into her depths wanting nothing more than the ability to take away her every ache and pain and bring out the joy she was once so full of. He wished to lift and kiss her till the hurting stopped and profess with certainty that everything was now okay, and she would soon be better! Only, he couldn’t know that to be true. When it came to his wife the absolute surety was how much he Loved her, and that she was beyond certainties.
“Let’s not worry about anything else now,” He coaxed, while leading her inside, “Except for sitting in front of a fire, and me making us something to eat.”
She turned her doe-like eyes, ever on the brink of tears, up towards him and whispered, “Okay,” with heart shattering tenderness.
They were quiet at first, cooling dinner sitting before them on the tiny Formica-topped table. Fredrick had pulled Allison onto his lap, rested his head upon her breast. In affection, sure, but more so she wouldn’t see his teary eyes. He tried often to shield her from the worst in life, though of course there was no point. Allison knew all the pain of what was wrong.
She ran her hand through his hair, not as lush as when they first met. He worked too much to stop and care for it. Perhaps her tears would help; they fell upon his head as she hummed his favorite tune.
“You know why I like that song so much?” He asked, looking up to meet her eyes. She sheepishly shook her head. “It played the first time I saw you.”
“You’re just trying to butter me up.”
Fredrick slid her down so that their faces nearly touched. “I swear it. That day, this song, they’re locked in my heart.”
Jokingly, she swooned, “When did you become a poet?”
They kissed, brief at first, then longer. Trying to hold on, trying to forget, in love yet marred by what had been done. Their actions lingered among them like stale air from an abandoned cigarette, burning too close.
But what remained to them other than Love? What could possibly change or improve what they now felt? Short of breath they pulled apart. Not quite able to see each other’s eyes, or not yet willing to. He tried laughing, which sounded only a little forced, then pointed out, “It’s sort of funny. If anyone saw us now, they’d think we were a new couple.”
Allison tried hard to listen, but her thoughts and heart were elsewhere, on the thrilling, terrible truth that she was pregnant. Hadn’t meant to be, didn’t know she could be. Yet, this fact was simply unavoidable. A baby did grow inside her each and every day, and a baby would come in due time whether she acknowledged it or not. Well, if she allowed it to. For it was her choice, no matter what anyone might argue. And though she believed motherhood to be a good thing, the reality of all that responsibility was terrifying. Nearly as frightening as the prospect of someday telling Fredy.
Her dear Fredrick, who worked so hard to get the two of them by. Having another soul to worry about might just kill him.
Then there was the other thing. The true reason for his rapidly-graying hair, the thing that kept him up many nights with worry and sometimes outright fear. The thing he never blamed Allison for, though it seemed everyone else did.