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November 29, 2004

Chapter 12 ... in progress

Katelyn downshifted, felt the engine slow, the tires crunching over the icy roads, and tried to make her heart match it. As soon as she had seen the sign at the crossroads and turned down this road, it had gripped her, the panic, and she had to fight to move her hand to the stick shift. She kept it there, holding onto the knob, feeling it vibrate, secure in the knowledge that she could still manipulate it, slow down more, even stop if she had to. She felt the tired loose their grip on the road again and tensed up, easing off the gas. Why can't they just sand this road?? Paving it had been an improvement in the old, rutted dirt road but, now that it was paved, no one came to maintain it in the case of severe weather. How the state could build a road and then not maintain is was ridiculous to her. Then again, in this area, usually ice and snow melted almost as soon as they hit the ground so there wasn't a need to do anything but wait for the sun to come out. It had been unusually cold lately, though, and, with the sun blanketed by the thick cloud cover, it looked like the ice would be here for a while. Just my luck. I'm stuck in this God forsaken place and there is no escape.

The road became darker as the overhanging trees robbed it of what little light there was. Luckily, the branches had stopped most of the ice from covering this part of the road and Katelyn could relax her grip on the wheel. This had always been her favorite part of the road when she was a little girl, like a magical portal to another world, where time loses it's meaning and nothing ever got sick or died. Her father would always slow his truck to a crawl as they went through here, pointing out unusual plants and places where animals had trampled down the grass to cross the road. Occasionally, they would encounter a family of ducks or a turtle crossing the road and they would always stop the truck to let them cross. Whenever her father did that, her mother would lean across the front seat and kiss him over Katelyn's head. It broke her heart to see dead animals on the side of the road and, in that respect, in their intense love of nature and living things, Katelyn was very much like her mother. Her father had always been more interested in botany, what plants grew where and why, but he knew what made his girls happy.

Remembering this now, Katelyn could feel the tears well up. She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand and slowed to take a look at a shape in the shadows on the side of the road. It was a deer, a young doe it looked like, her belly distended, her legs straight and stiff, her chin pointed straight up toward the sky, the opposite direction that her legs were pointing. It was hard to tell who long she had been there but it didn't look like any animals had gotten to the body yet so it had to have been recent. Katelyn felt a sadness deep in her chest as she looked at her delicate chin, her open, glassy eyes, the bones protruding from her chest. She'll rot here before anyone else notices.

Katelyn shifted, needing to be out of the tunnel, to be in a safer place. As she emerged, she noticed that the sky was lightening a bit. Still overcast, there were breaks along the horizon that should be widening before long. Here the road was icy again so Katelyn took care, very aware of the familiarity that was surrounding her. "Our own piece of heaven" her father had called it and, for a moment, Katelyn understood what he meant. She came out of a turn and gasped as she caught a glimpse of the cabin. It remained just as she remember it, the lot proudly jutting out over the water, a cement retaining wall supporting the front yard leading to the dock, an open hand invitation to boaters and neighbors. Katelyn took a breath, almost afraid to get any closer, knowing that from this distance, it looked perfect, knowing that this was what some her father on the place.

Katelyn still remembered how the cabin looked when they first came here. It was dressed in pure white with blue trim, a crisply painted sailor suit replete with crossed oars and a life preserver decorating the chimney, Adirondack chairs and the American flag flying on a pole. The bright face of the cabin was set off by a frame of pine trees, part of the dark woods across the street behind the house and a stand of birch trees that leaned over the back of the house, protecting it from the road. AS she drove closer, she realized that nothing was the same as it had been. 30 years can certainly take its toll.

From this angle, the bare birches reached up over the house, long bony fingers bright against the dark pines. The house was no longer white, the paint on the clapboards long ago peeled, the wood weathered, warped. The dock was still there but it, too, had lost its welcoming face, subjected to years of neglect. The boat house was still standing, but just barely. Even from here, Katelyn could see that there was a large limb across the roof, collapsing part of it, breaking out the front window.

As she got closer, the cabin disappeared behind some trees and Katelyn took the chance to look at the other cabins in the neighborhood. Their cabin was always the prettiest one on the lake and, even in its present state, the surrounding cabins and trailers looked like poor cousins gathered amongst the trees. They all looked as though they had been abandoned, some for many years. One or two looked to be closed up tight for the winter, showing that someone actually cared for them but, for the most party Katelyn knew that the families that came here when she was a child were probably all long gone. That could be a blessing. Maybe no one would remember her and what had happened to her family here. Maybe the rumors were finally dead.

Katelyn pulled up to the mailbox, which was leaning precariously to the left. Though the paint was peeling, she could still read the sing. The McKennas. The name on the sign was the same, but the family was gone, leaving only Katelyn, The McKenna. She had a brief thought of taking a pen knife and scratching off the s, or maybe adding an apostrophe. The McKenna's. This place, belonging to Katelyn, the last McKenna. It was hers. It was all she had.

Katelyn felt nauseous, took a deep breath for a moment and pulled out her cigarettes. I'll need one for this, she thought. She pulled into the driveway, behind the cabin, flanked by the birch that, in the summer, would form a canopy, a kind of natural carport. She sat still for a moment after she turned off the car, letting the silence grow, lighting her cigarette and taking a long drag before opening the door to step out.

The drive had cramped her muscles and Katelyn found she had to stretch for a minute or two before she could walk around the property. She took her time, knowing already what she was facing. She had come this far, though, and she didn't want to turn back. Who do I think I'm fooling? I can't turn back.

Katelyn dragged her feet through the thick layer of leaves in the yard, still touched with ice here in the shade. As she rounded the corner of the cabin, the lake came into view and Katelyn felt a catch in her throat. She remembered the first time she saw the lake, remembered how she thought it was the ocean. She had run to the rope fence that ran around the perimeter of the yard and looked down into the lake. The water was shallow, brownish, with tiny minnows and crawdads moving about. Her mother had called to her and, having run after Katelyn, she pulled her away from the edge, lecturing her about how dangerous the lake was, how she could fall in and drown if she wasn't careful. Katelyn had looked back down into the water and realizing it would only come up to her knees, looked at her mother's terror stricken face and said "Don't worry, mommy, maybe we can learn to swim!" Having grown up on a farm, only used to seeing wide expanses of crops, the lake seemed to her to be endless and amazing, full of promise. She was eager to get into it, to feel that much water around her, to catch some of those crawdads. It wasn't until she drove to the outer banks in college, much later, that she realized just how small the lake really was.

She stood undecided, not sure which way to go. TO the left stood the cabin, the back door to be precise, the door that led to the kitchen. She didn't know if she was ready for that. To her right stood th boathouse, the two room storage area for the cabin, something that her father always talked about renovating as a guest house for the kids her parents would never have. She chose the safer path, walking toward the boathouse, wondering how much was salvageable, if the canoe had survived. Though it was too cold now, she wanted more than anything to be able to get out on the lake again. The stairs still looked sturdy, so she carefully stepped up and pulled open the wooden screen door. It made the same creak that it made 30 years ago, she noticed with a grin. Amazing how some things resonate. She tried the handle of the inner door but found it locked. Suddenly she realized that the key she had was only for the cabin, that there had been a different one for the boathouse. It was hidden here, somewhere. Her father had believed in locking the boathouse and leaving the key somewhere outside. She turned, trying to remember, and her eyes fell on the storage shed next to the back door. Ahh, yes, that's where it was. She dropped her cigarette on the ground, crushing it under her boot, and pulled her gloves out of her pocket, noticing how much colder it was here next to the water. After putting on her gloves and buttoning up her coat, she opened the storage shed, startling a family of mice that were nesting in the pile of life preservers. Katelyn jumped, not expecting the movement, and then laughed at herself. Just mice, they were just mice. They were probably more scared than she was.

Katelyn looked on the right wall of the shed and found the key hanging on a cup hook, just as she remembered. It was rusty but it should work. Before closing the door, Katelyn made a mental note to come back and go through this shed. Much of the stuff in here was rotted from age but some of it might be able to be salvaged, even the chewed through life jackets.

Going back to the door of the boathouse, Katelyn tried the key. With just a little struggle, it turned, and Katelyn was able to push the door open. Immediately, she heard scurrying and squeaking, louder than anything the mice thought of making, and she shuddered, wondering what was making the noise. She stepped onto the room carefully, not sure what she was going to find, expecting the worst.

From the outside, it had looked impossible to save, with the tree lying across the roof and the broken window, but the inside wasn't nearly as bad as she had feared. It was cold and clammy and there was a layer of dirt and leaves that had blown in but, as far as Katelyn could see, there was no major structural damage. She could still hear a scrabbling sound coming from the shadows at the back of the boathouse and decided, after her scare with the mice, she would wait until she had a flashlight, and maybe a shovel, to really explore.

From the door, Katelyn could see that her father had been working on converting this to a second cabin at one time. She had always heard her parents talk about 'the kids' sleeping out here, or , rather, her father would talk about that while her mother would, for the most part, be silent. Katelyn had always felt guilty for being born a girl but, truth be told, when they talked about 'the kids' like that, she felt even worse for being an only child.

This place has potential, Katelyn thought. It would take some work but she could see her father's vision, why he loved this place. It was a small 2 room building but it already had plumbing, a bathroom and a kitchen area. The front of the building, looking out over the lake, had a picture window that allowed plenty of natural light to flood in as well as spectacular views. The lake gently lapped at the shore underneath the floor, adding a soft ambient sound that was very relaxing. This would make a great studio, thought Katelyn.

Suddenly she remembered she was supposed to be looking for the canoe. She locked the handle, making sure she had the key in her pocket, and pulled the door behind her as she walked down the stairs. She let the screen door go and delighted that it made the same, strong bang that she had always loved as a kid. She could still hear her father. "Katelyn, do you HAVE to slam the door?" and every time she did that, probably for the rest of her life, she will still hear him scold her, an invisible Jiminy Cricket in her ear. Outside, she walked around to the front of the boathouse. There was a mini dock here, one that was no wider than a step, that allowed boaters to tie up their boat and then store it under the boathouse. The water here was shallow but Katelyn wasn't taking a chance on getting wet today, Instead of stepping down, she crouched on her hands and knees to peer underneath the boathouse, in the 'garage' as she used to call it, and she saw that the canoe was on its side on a ledge, safe and sound, if a little rusty. There was also a fiberglass rowboat that had a small motor on it that seemed, from this position anyway, to be in pretty good condition. It amazed her that this stiff was still here, intact, after all these years. If you left things out in the open where she lived, they would be gone in a heartbeat yet, here was this cabin, with boats and tools out in the open and a key for it all hanging in a pretty easy to guess place and no one had touched it for a good 30 years. Amazing.

Not able to put off the inevitable any longer, Katelyn walked toward the cabin, dragging her feet, trying to stop the visions that kept swimming in her head. She imagined she would find all sorts of horrors behind the door, the worst being her mother still on the floor with the table turned over on top of her. As she began ascending the stairs, she sniffed for any tell tale traces of natural gas, knowing how irrational this all was but not able to stop herself. She felt the panic starting it's now familiar grip, tightening her shoulders, making it almost impossible to reach for the doorknob. She leaned heavily against the railing that went up the stairs, trying to breathe, focusing on the details around her, hoping to distract herself. There was the dinner bell her mother used to ring, weathered, draped in a cobweb, but still looking functional. She forced her hand to reach for the knob, forced herself to take another step up. She tried to look through the window but the curtains that her mother had sewn blocked the view. She would just have to go in.

She put the key into the lock, turned the knob, and let the door swing in from the top step. She tried to peer in the gloom, tried to see if everything was alright, but it was clear that she would actually have to go into the cabin if she wanted to see anything. She took a deep breath and stepped up onto the last step crossing the threshold into her past.

The faded linoleum floor creaked in protest as she walked across the room, running her fingers along the edge of the kitchen table. It was the same floor, the same table. She looked down and almost expected to see peas scattered across the floor. Most of the kitchen was the same, pink Formica countertops, knotty pine cabinets, ceramic toothpick dispenser on the windowsill, next to the silly dunking bird that Katelyn could watch with fascination for hours when she was little. The old breadbox was on the counter next to the sink, there was even a towel hanging over the edge of the sink and plastic cups in the drying rack. The refrigerator had been long ago cleaned out and shut off, it's door hanging open, dark. The only thing that was different was the one thing that Katelyn was trying to ignore. The stove was newer than anything else in the kitchen, clean, electric. Dad must have done that, thought Katelyn.

Katelyn leaned back against the pantry wall, pressing against the knotty pine paneling. Her fingers found a niche, one of the secret fingerholds that allowed access to the cabinets behind the paneling. She was concentrating on a spot on the wall, just above and to the right of the stove, where there hung the cast iron match dispenser. The pressure was starting in her chest and she was fighting hard not to turn and leave, to drive away and not come back. Maybe this had been a mistake. Maybe she wasn't strong enough yet. Breathe, just breathe.

When Katelyn could move her fingers more, she pressed them against the wall, letting the ridged in the wood be memorized by her skin. The pantry had been one of her favorite things about the cabin when she was little. Katelyn was forever opening the doors and climbing inside, playing hide and seek. It was her favorite hiding place, especially the boor closet, where she would stand up and be still as one of the brooms inside, the mingling smell of Pine-Sol and Pledge filling her nose.

Katelyn forced herself to turn away from the stove, to look in the cabinets to distract herself. Nothing much was left in them, just some old papers in the cabinet closest to the phone, ancient cans of cleaners, mouse poison and a broom. It looked like no little critters had gotten in while the cabin was closed, though, and that made Katelyn feel more at ease. She walked toward the small bedroom off the kitchen, the one that had been hers. Memories flooded in as soon as she stepped into the doorway of the small room. Her iron bed and its twin were still there, still covered with the tatted chenille throw that she used to love so much as a child. The curtains that Katelyn loved, thin delicate pieces of lace that threw soft dancing shadows across the floor, still hung in the windows. Her mother had put them up for her and Katelyn had always loved how they let the morning sunlight into her room to wake her up. She had always loved lying in bed when her parents thought she was still asleep and listen to them talking quietly in the next room. If she sat in her closet, she could hear them better, though. Their closets were back to back and the wall was very thin. It reassured her to hear them laugh together, to make love, as Katelyn knew that they had been doing while they thought she was asleep.

There weren't many things left here of Katelyn's but something on the night stand caught her eye. Just under the edge of the base of the lamp was a ring and Katelyn moved the lamp to see it better. As soon as she saw it, tears welled up in her eyes. It was her mother's claddagh ring, the one that she had given Katelyn their first trip up here. It had been too big for Katelyn but her mother promised they would get a chain so that she could wear it around her neck until she was bigger. Katelyn picked it up, trying it on various fingers until she found the one it fit on, the ring finger of her right hand. Perfect, thought Katelyn, it's a perfect fit. She tried to remember what her mother had told her about the ring, what the different symbols meant. She knew the heart stood for love and the hand for friendship ... she thought the crown stood for loyalty but she couldn't be sure. It had been a long time since she had seen one of these. She made a mental note to look it up as soon as she got back to her computer.

Her computer. She still had to go back to the house, to face the emptiness without Michael there. She hoped he would be gone by the time she got back. The last time she talked to him, he had tried to apologize again, asking her how long she would be up at the cabin, when she was going to come back so maybe they could go out to eat and talk. After the way he had talked to her the last time, she was suspicious, but only for a moment. Michael was so changeable it was hard to tell what he was going to be like from one minute to the next. Katelyn tried to keep up but sometimes she just got tired of trying to guess how he wanted her to behave, how to make him happy, especially when, so often lately, he had seemed unhappy with anything she did. And this was the guy that she thought she was going to marry and have kids with? I'm so glad I didn't make THAT mistake.

Katelyn turned to walk out of the room, her left hand twisting the claddagh ring on her finger. She wasn't used to wearing jewelry but this felt solid, safe, as if it belonged there. Somehow it made her feel closer to her mother. Outside her room she turned to the left to walk through the archway into the living room, touching the place on the wood that her father had marked to show her height. It seemed impossible that she had really been that small at one time.

Stepping into the living room area, she noticed how most of the furniture hadn't changed. There was a space next to the hearth for something and Katelyn tried to remember what had been there. She walked to the empty spot and turned to take in the other furniture in the room, to try to make a complete picture. The smoking table was still there with her father's pipes, the utilitarian green couch, the console TV with the doily on top, the rocking chair with the needlepoint seat. AS Katelyn turned back toward the fireplace, it suddenly struck her. His recliner, the one he sat in every night on the farm to watch TV. He must have brought it from here because Katelyn distinctly remembered sitting in it with her father. On especially cool nights, he would build up the fire and stretch out in the chair, patting his lap. Katelyn could climb up into his lap, stretching out with him, with her head on his chest, listening to his rumbling voice reading aloud or talking to her mother, counting his heartbeats. Sometimes they would watch TV like this but, most often, it was a book or a story he would entertain her with until she fell asleep, which was never long after she climbed in his lap, especially if she had spent the day swimming.

Where were all these memories coming from, Katelyn wondered? She hadn't even realized that the missing recliner had been anywhere BUT at the farm until she stood here and now she even remembers listening to her father's heartbeats? That would have been something she would have liked to remember especially when she and her father weren't speaking.

Katelyn stepped toward the front bedroom, hesitating at the doorway. She had lost her mother so long ago, she barely remembered who she was, except for a few vivid details. Katelyn remembered her hair, her red curls that Katelyn would wind around her tiny fingers and make bounce back like a spring. The color was like a shiny copper penny, almost lit from inside and lightning in the summer to a color closer to fire. She remembered her eyes, silver gray with darker flecks, like granite, but changeable, like liquid. They reflected whatever color was near them, becoming metallic blue or green, like a chameleon's skin. She remembered most her mother's eyes when she cried, when they became a light watery green at the first hint of tears. Her mother could never hide her mood for her eyes, one thing Katelyn definitely inherited from her.

In the bedroom, Katelyn found everything was exactly as she remembered it. It was as if she walked out of this house when she was 6 and no one touched another thing until she walked back in. Her parents' bed, brass, now tarnished by years of neglect and humidity was perfectly made and piled high with pillows and coverlets. Her mother had loved this bed, often calling Katelyn to climb into it with both of her parents to watch the sun rising over the lake or a hummingbird at the window box.

Walked around the perimeter of the room, Katelyn lingered at the dressing table. She pulled out the stool and sat in front of the spotted mirror, almost startling herself with her own reflection. She had lost weight but her face was flushed. Maybe the fresh air out here was doing her some good. I definitely needed to get away, she thought, looking herself over in the mirror. It had been quite a while since she had really looked at herself and now she understood why her mother would spend so much time sitting here, brushing her hair or just staring at her skin. Katelyn touched the bottles on the tabletop, leaving clean fingerprints in the dust. One bottle stood out to Katelyn and she picked it up, gingerly holding it up to the light. There was hardly anything else in it, the chemicals long ago evaporated around the stopper, and the bottom of the bottle was discolored, concentrated perfume. Katelyn took out the stopper and cautiously put the bottle under her nose and she was immediately awash in memories, of her mother, her laughter, her embrace, her love. This had been her mother's favorite perfume and, in a small thing, suddenly she remembered so much.

Katelyn didn't notice when the tears had begun falling, all she knew was suddenly she was sitting there crying as she ran her fingers over the bristles of the soft hairbrush. She turned in the seat to look at the rest of the room, deciding not to look in the closet, not today.

All these years she had been afraid of this place, afraid of facing her mother's death but really, what she found in here was her life, much of which she had forgotten. She crossed the room to the bed and sat heavily on the edge closest to the bay window, suddenly tired with the weight of remembering it all.

From where she sat, she could see the lake and how, where the clouds had broken, the sun glinted off the steely gray water. She always loved the lake. She loved being out on the water. She loved fishing with her father. She loved jumping off the dock and swimming back to shore. She loved lying in the inner tubes that they kept in the storage shed, floating on the lake for hours, letting the sun warm her skin, the smell of the rubber sweet in her nose. She loved this place as much as her father had yet she had turned her back on it, refusing to come back all these years.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Prosemonkey published on November 29, 2004 8:51 AM.

Chapter 11 ... in progress was the previous entry in this blog.

Chapter 13 ... in progress is the next entry in this blog.

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