35 • Enchantment
“Hey, you’re going to have to lighten up on the dance steps, ” Will said, doing awkward pirouettes into his room, wine bottle in one hand and two long-stemmed glasses in the other. He stopped in the middle of the floor. “Cameron?”
Will rushed back into the hallway. “Cameron?”
She was gone.
“Damn it, ” he said softly. “She didn’t want wine. She wanted to go.”
He set the bottle and glasses on the dresser and sat on the bed, dropping his face into his hands.
I tried too hard. Should’ve just gotten the glass of water like she asked, and I’d be sitting with her on the roof right now.
A loud creak make him jerk his head up, and Cameron stepped out from behind the door to the dressing closet. “Will?”
“Damn, you scared me.”
“I’m sorry, ” Cameron laughed. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Guess it’s my night for it.” Will shifted on the bed. “I see you’ve been off exploring. I suppose you’re the sort who looks in people’s medicine cabinets when you use their bathrooms, too?” he asked, a slight annoyance taking over his embarrassment. “You won’t find much in mine though, just toothpaste, Listerine, and a shaving kit, though even at 50 years old I can still go days before someone like Pearl thinks I need a shave.” Will got up and walked over to the dresser.
“Aw, ” Cameron said. “Come on. A 5 o’clock shadow would ruin your boyish charm.”
“Boyish charm, my ass.” He took the corkscrew out of his pocket and peeled the gold foil off the bottle.
In the mirror he could see Cameron leaning a shoulder against the closet door, her arms crossed over her chest, watching him. He quickly turned to position his back facing the dresser.
“Let’s leave my boyish … charm … out of it for a second.” He fumbled with the bottle and corkscrew. “You’re an expert at this—maybe you could open this damned thing.”
“You’re not a wine drinker?” Cameron crossed the room. “Give me that.”
“I know a beverage worth drinking by the sound of the hwuut-clink of the cap coming off. Wine? More of a pop-thwunk. Not the same.”
“If that’s so, how do you explain bourbon? And where’s your beer?” Cameron took the bottle from Will’s hands and set it on the dresser.
“I thought it would be nice to join you, ” he smiled.
In what looked like a single fluid move, she twisted the corkscrew into the top and pulled it out with a pop-thwunk that made Will jump.
“Goodness, you are jumpy tonight, ” she said.
“It was Pearl. Scared the shit out of me downstairs, and I’m still getting over it, I think.”
“She was up?”
“Yes. Met me in the kitchen. She’s like a cat. An old, arthritic cat. Anyway, she picked out the wine and insisted I drink it instead of the beer.”
“So you’re not just being sociable.”
“Well, of course I am. It just wasn’t my idea.”
“And then you popped out of the closet and gave my boyish heart another start.”
Cameron poured the two glasses and handed one to Will. “Yeah, I’m really sorry about that.” She raised her glass and took a sip. “Curiosity got to me. I wanted to see the other room. But I got caught up with the dresses. Have you seen them?”
“The dresses?” Will swished the wine around in his glass.
“Yes. There are old dresses in that closet. One looks like it could be a wedding gown.”
“Dresses are … not really my thing.”
“I’m not asking you to wear one. Just appreciate them. Come see.” Cameron walked to the closet and opened the door. “Look at this, ” she said, handing Will her glass so she could pull Pearl’s wedding dress down from the rod. It was covered in a lightweight plastic cover from the dry cleaner. “See this beautiful beadwork down the back?” She pulled the plastic cover up. “It’s exquisite. Must be from around 1950. I can’t believe she hasn’t done more to preserve this. It’s an heirloom.”
“Probably that she kept it at all is a lot for Pearl. Her wedding is not likely one of those things she’d like to revisit.”
“Oh?” Cameron let the plastic fall back down on the dress.
“She doesn’t ever talk about it. But I hear things from time to time, ” Will said. “People talk.”
“And what do these people say?”
“Pearl lost her husband when her kids were still pretty young. She raised them alone, which it sounds like she was doing even while he was alive. He married her for the Butler family fortune but never managed to hit it off with her father, so the father wouldn’t let him into the lumber business. He made his way selling insurance on the road, and had women all over the state. When he did come home, he was pretty awful to her and the kids. Never laid a hand on them, I’m told, but they were just as happy to have him leave again.”
“How did he die?” Cameron asked, her glass poised.
“Drove off a cliff.”
“You’re kidding.” Her eyes widened.
“Nope. Had a 1954 Buick Skylark (it was cherry, I’m told) that was his pride and joy. Loved it more than his kids. Wouldn’t let them ride in it unless he was trying to prove to someone he was a family man. And even then he made them sit on sheets of plastic. Anyway, he was making a sales call out in the Black Hills and lost it going around a curve. Went right off the side. Folks say the brake line had been cut.”
“Was someone trying to kill him?”
“Seems not. The story is he cut it himself, trying to concoct himself a George Bailey moment and convince himself the world needed him. But Clarence the guardian angel apparently already had his wings and never showed, so the car went over the cliff and Ed Jenkins died in the arms of his first love, sheet metal and all, convinced the world would be better off without him, a notion some people around here consider very much to be true.”
“Oh, Pearl doesn’t believe that. No. She despised him, of course. He took her life away long before he took his own.” Will leaned his back against the wall and slid down to the closet floor. “But Pearl would never wish someone over a cliff. She always saw something in him, even if she couldn’t ever bring it to the surface. Even so, I don’t think she has any interest in working to preserve that dress. It’s an emblem of that certain kind of death she experienced with him while he was alive.”
Cameron smoothed the plastic cover down the sides of the dress and hung it back on the rod. “I knew she was a remarkable woman. I had no idea how she’d achieved that.”
Will set Cameron’s glass on the polished oak floor board next to him. “Do you want to sit? I’m sorry I don’t have much for furniture up here.”
Cameron turned and sat cross-legged next to him and picked up her glass. “How’d we end up in the closet instead of on the roof?”
“Someone went looking in an enchanted closet for Narnia and discovered there were no fur coats at the back of the wardrobe.” Will smiled and stared into his glass.
Cameron laughed. “I guess I did sort of take us off course. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I have always loved closets. When I was a kid, we had this long narrow coat closet in the front entry between the den and the living room where my mother stored blankets and sleeping bags. There was a light with a pull-string, and I would go in there to read. Sometimes I got so comfortable on all the blankets I’d fall asleep.”
“In the closet? Why not just go to your room?”
“You’re very practical, aren’t you. My room was …” Will paused and looked up at the dresses. “At the time, I shared a room. Hard for a guy to get the kind of space to himself that he might get in a closet.” He winked.
“Ah, ” Cameron said, taking a sip from her glass. “Are you going to drink your wine tonight or just swish it around?”
“I suppose I may as well drink it. I thought that maybe if this was really an enchanted closet it might turn into a cold lager.”
Cameron laughed. “Enchanted closet, eh? I thought we already decided there were no snowy woods behind those fancy old dresses. Just another bedroom that you could get to through the regular door in the hall.”
“Sure, but there are different kinds of enchantments. And a closet that has a secret passageway to another place—even if it’s just another bedroom—feels enchanted to me.”
He ran a finger around the top of his glass.
“Do you like fairy tales?”
Cameron wrinkled her nose. “You were right, that I am very practical. It doesn’t seem like fairy tales do much for grown ups. I don’t quite believe in enchantments any more.”
“Ah, ” Will said, suddenly feeling like he was channeling Joe. “Maybe that’s because you’ve never read the right fairy tales.”
(to be continued)