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Once there was a fire
by Katerina Charisi
2016-02-15 11:35:59
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“Come, I wonna show you ‘round,” said Michael and stood up. Bradford just told us that he had to go to Jacksonville to deliver a car and Marianne was going with him.

“I drive our car when Brad needs to deliver, so we can drive back together”, she said and again I felt pride in her voice for driving and driving well (while I didn’t). Michael took me by the hand and we walked to the back side of the house and up right the hill. Soon it would get dark. I had no fear for darkness, but this place was totally unknown for me, every shadow looked creepy and every sound sounded weird.

“Back there, are the woods”, he said and showed me the pines; tall, thick and dark, with the last light of the day giving them an unfriendly look.

miy01_400“People used to walk through the woods all the way to Jacksonville”, he added next. “It’s not that hard. There’s a trail and a couple of houses, but no one lives there anymore. We go sometimes there for hunting.” Hunting? I imagined bears and wolves and any kind of forest creatures but Michael interrupted my thoughts. I guess he noticed my frightened look.

“Just birds, Jenny, don’t look like that”, he said and laughed.

“Why is this part burned?” It looked like a fire had once burned this land, cut the place into half. The east part was all burned and nothing grew there. Just yellowish grass and short, dry bushes. I could imagined children playing soccer up here, or even ride their bikes, that straight and empty it was. Michael lifted his shoulders indifferently.

“I don’t really know what happened here, but whatever it was, it happened long before we were born. Grandma knows all about this place. Sam might do also.”

“Didn’t you ever ask?”

“They don’t really want to talk about it, Cornelia was left all alone because of it”, he said. “As far as I know, the fire killed Cornelia’s mother, her three siblings and the workers- it destroyed the plantation too. That was 80, maybe 90 years ago.” I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t repair the house after all these years. But I didn’t ask Michael about it. Long history I thought, big family. I felt a little ashamed for my family. Only my parents and I- and I had lost track of my father, long time ago, anyway. Soon I would find out that the things separating me from Michael were much more than the love that was keeping us together. I would wonder many times if love was enough for two people to stay together and survive through the years and life itself.

“See, the plantation was at this part of the manor, while now it’s right at the other side. Anyway, Cornelia was just too little back then, and she was left alone with an old Cajun woman who took care of her and raised her as her own child; she didn’t have any children of her own.”

So, that’s why Marianne finds her creepy, I thought and I wanted to laugh. It makes sense. But so many people died around here, so maybe that’s why the whole place felt like it had its own ....power. Stupid me, if I started thinking about dead people and spirits in my first day here, how am I supposed to make it all the way to the end? This is our home now, I forced myself to believe.

“Marianne mentioned Cornelia already” I said, avoiding to tell him about the spells she told me about. He waved his hand and made a funny face.

“Oh, I’m sure she did just that. I bet he told you that she is an old weirdo, wandering through the house in the nights, casting spells in nonexistent spirits and ghosts of the past. Bullshit”.

miy02_400Well, yes, that’s what exactly she had said. I just nodded. Michael took my hands and looked me in the eyes. “Don’t say too much to her, baby. She is not to trust. Everything you say, can and will be used against you”, he said and laughed out loud. “She just talks too much, and most of the things she says are just chitty chats, just so she has something to talk about and show off herself like she knows everything. Just saying, be nice, hang around, but don’t really pay attention to her words. Cornelia is an old woman, she grew up all alone without parents, survived a big fire that killed almost everyone - including all of her family and was raised by another old and superstitious woman. So it’s normal to have mixed her beliefs and act a little weird for us. Give her a break. My parents aren’t Cajun-ish at all” he added with a funny look, “except maybe a little for my mother. After all, she is Cornelia’s daughter”.

“Didn’t Cornelia have a father?” Michael picked up a rock and threw it, and birds flew away. We were too close to the woods now, and the air felt cold. It was almost dark and I didn’t want my first impression from this part of the manor to be fear, so I tried to make Michael change his interest to some other part, by indifferently pulling his hand towards the house.

“Her father had died when... oh Jenny, I do not know all the details. Why would you want to know all these, anyway? This is an old house. Families lived here before us. Families will live here long after we are gone. Its land, its life. It goes on and leaves behind trails of the past, for the new ones to come and have stories to tell and scare their children. But if you insist to know more of the Oleander Manor’s history, we should ask Cornelia someday. I really doubt if we can make any sense, but doesn’t matter trying. She is too old now, and most of the time she likes to be alone. I wish you had met her earlier, she is amazing! Well, she was. Or is. Anyway. Let’s get back, it’s going dark. We’ll still be here tomorrow, you know”, he said and pulled me close to him and his kiss tasted like dust and pines and chilly, clear nights.

“I can tell you that Oleander Manor wasn’t always the name of this place. People call it like that now but I don’t know why, I don’t even know since when. But it doesn’t matter, does it? It’s a small town, people around here love to give names to everything; sometimes is easier that way. It’s easier to say down to Oleander’s or down to the Myers’, than “where the old plantation uphill was”. Bradford works at Sonny’s and now he went to the Swedish, to deliver his car. See? It’s easy.”

I wondered how they would call me later on. The Myer’s new girl? The Myer’s bride? Nah. Maybe the city girl? The Orleans’ girl? The stranger? Or just Jenny?

Later that night, I was trying to get used to all the sounds of the house that kept me awake. Michael next to me was sleeping like a bird. Of course he would sleep like a bird, I thought, this was his house, the house he grew up, the room he lived all of his life and the bed he slept on every night. I was looking out the window next to the bed, to the moon and the tree tops far down, trying to imagine the shape of everything in the morning light, waiting to go to the lake, wondering if I could find my way back. I loved this place. I liked the Myers. I even liked weird old Cornelia, though I haven’t met her yet. I even enjoyed my new nickname, for I was sure that soon Jacksonville’s people would stick one for me. If I had stayed a little longer to the window and hadn’t turned to the other side to put my arm around Michael and force myself to get some sleep, I would have faced the shadowy shape of an old, carved face and deep brown eyes, shining like burning inside, staring at me.

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