On the drive up to Maine, she forced herself to talk about
it. If they were going to spend the year at the farm, she
might as well clue Andy in right now. Then if she started
to freak out later, she wouldn’t have to explain from
So she described hurrying across the lawn that hot August
night, being bundled into the car, and the long drive south
along this very road. It had been hotter than usual for
Maine, the heat like a blanket, muffling the landscape except
for the chirping bugs.
“Your dad never wanted to come back?” Andy said.
“Never. We just stayed in Cambridge every summer,
except for a few weeks on the Cape.”
“Poor guy. On his own with a little kid. . . .”
“He survived.” Cordelia--her father had been
a Shakespeare scholar and named her after the sweet daughter
in King Lear--let
her eyes drift from the road to the pine forest. It rose
and fell as the car glided down one hill and up the next. “He
got married again a year later. Kind of weird--he was usually
so uptight about his image.”
“Did it last? Love on the rebound and all--”
“They already knew each other,” Cordelia said. “And
besides, his new wife was closer to his age. She almost
seemed like a grandmother to me.” They were at the
top of a hill now. In the distance Cordelia could see a
patch of forest made darker by the shadow of a passing cloud.
“You never saw your mom again?”
“Never. My dad said Katherine wanted to stay in Maine.
I was only a little kid. When you’re little, you don’t
know what’s normal. Anyway, we weren’t normal.
We lived in Cambridge, for God’s sake, and he was
“You called your mom by her first name?”
“Like I said, we weren’t normal.”
Andy glanced at her. “Wouldn’t you think a mom
would want to see her child again?” he said. “Just
to know how things turned out?”
They had been there two months, and Cordelia had made peace
with the hollyhocks.
She’d hated hollyhocks ever since she could remember--hated
the hairy stems and the leathery flowers and the gaudy,
obvious colors. But with her writing going well, and she
and Andy settled in like the farm was their place now, she
wanted to make things pretty. She wanted flowers to be somewhere
where she could see them, not stuck behind the barn.
In fact, she was digging them now. That talkative, bosomy
woman down the road--kind of boring with her doll collection
and descriptions of her husband’s arthritis--had said
October was the perfect time to move hollyhocks. You clipped
away all the bristly stuff that the frost had turned from
green to brown, and then you dug till you found the roots.
“Yes-suh,” the neighbor woman had said in that
tight-jawed Maine accent. “Nothin’ to it.”
Cordelia had already moved three or four hollyhocks to the
sunny spot by the kitchen door. She was looking for another
patch of them when she noticed some at the edge of the field
where the hippies had lived.
Maine had been full of hippies that summer. Her father had
thought they were silly, and he said if he wanted to see
hippies he’d have stayed in Cambridge. But when Eric
and Swallow asked if they could camp behind the barn in
exchange for doing odd jobs, he said he’d give it
Eric had been in and out of the house constantly. He did
all kinds of chores that her father, who spent all his time
in his study, never got to.
And Eric gave her mother someone to talk to. Between projects,
he’d sit in the kitchen, and they’d chat while
she worked on the elaborate meals she loved to cook, stuffing
rump roasts or deboning chickens. One day Cordelia even
came in from the yard and saw them leaning against each
other and whispering. And Eric was cute, despite his shaggy
hair. Even Cordelia’s five-year-old self could see
While Cordelia thought about these things, she loosened
the dirt around the patch of hollyhocks by the hippie field.
Then her shovel hit the first bone.
Of course she didn’t know it was a bone then. She
thought she’d encountered a big rock, or maybe a tree
root. She lowered herself to her knees and felt in the chilly
soil until her hand came upon something solid. She tugged,
but nothing happened, tugged again till she was sweating,
despite the chilly day. She was still grappling with the
thing when she heard Andy’s voice calling across the
“How’d you get back so soon, babe?” he
“Back from where?” She eased herself onto her
heels and pushed her hair out of her eyes with a grimy hand.
“The village.” He leaned down and kissed her. “If
I’d known you were going, you could have ridden in
with me. That’s a long way to bike.”
“I wasn’t in the village. I’ve been here
the whole time digging.” She pulled herself to her
Andy lowered two grocery sacks to the ground. “Coulda
fooled me,” he said in the Maine accent he’d
been cultivating. “You’ve got a double then.
Same curly red hair, and just your size and shape. I followed
her for a block or two. Good thing I didn’t catch
her . . . because I was going to swoop down on her and--”
Cordelia laughed as he grabbed her in a bear hug and planted
a sloppy kiss on her lips.
“Did you put the sign up?” Cordelia said.
“Ayup,” Andy said. “Hardware store guy
said we shouldn’t have any trouble finding a painter.” As
she squirmed out of his grasp and reached for the shovel,
he surveyed the project. “Looks like it’s coming
“It was,” she said, “but there’s
a rock or something in the way.” She pointed toward
where she’d been struggling with the reluctant thing.
“Let me give it a try. Andy lifted the shovel out
of her hands. When he’d stomped the blade nearly all
the way into the ground, he leaned on the shovel’s
handle till they heard scraping.
“That’s some rock,” he said, and repeated
the procedure a few more times, making a circle around the
thing. He stooped, grubbed with his hands, and pulled up
a long dirt-encrusted bone.
“I think, my sweet,” he said with a grin, “that
you’ve discovered a femur.”
“You mean, from a human?” Andy nodded. “No,” Cordelia
“You’re talking to an anthropologist. I’ve
seen a bone or two.” He rubbed at the bone till he’d
freed it of the biggest chunks of dirt, then held it against
the leg of his faded jeans. “Check out the joints
at each end. It’s a small femur, just about your size.” She
jumped away with a yelp as he attempted to measure the thing
against her leg.
Within a few minutes, he dug up more bones and begun to
arrange them on the ground as if assembling a skeleton.
“Don’t!” Cordelia put her hands over her
eyes and turned away.
“No point in letting the cops have all the fun,” Andy
“Sure. We have to call the cops. Who knows what’s
gone on in this house since your family stopped coming.”
“You can’t tell the police.” She was trembling,
and her face, pale anyway, with a light sprinkling of freckles,
had become even paler.
“Babe, babe--” Andy grabbed her by the shoulders
and tugged her toward him. “I didn’t mean to
“We can’t call the cops.”
“I don’t know why. We just can’t. Put
them back. I’m sure they’re really old. They
have anything to do with anything.”
She waited long enough to see him nod and pick up the shovel,
and then she headed up the sloping lawn toward the house.
Later, sitting in the shadowy kitchen with a bowl of Andy’s
homemade stew and a glass of wine in front of her, Cordelia
Andy gazed at her across the table. “That girl in
the village wasn’t nearly as gorgeous as you,” he
said. “She had your hair, but--”
He was interrupted by the scuffle of steps on the front
porch and a knock at the door.
“I’ll get it.” He caressed her shoulder
as he slipped past.
Cordelia heard the door open and Andy say, “That was
quick. I just put the sign up a few hours ago.”
He returned to the kitchen leading a worn-looking woman,
about sixty, with a kerchief over her hair. She was dressed
in shapeless, colorless jeans and a down jacket so ancient
that the down had formed into clumps. Once in the room,
she glanced around, stared at Cordelia for a minute, and
pulled her eyes away.
“So,” Andy said, after he’d settled the
woman at the table. “Think you can handle the job?”
“I thought you were here about the painting. We expected
a guy, but that’s OK. We’re equal-opportunity
“You need a painter?” the woman murmured, then
nodded slowly. “I can paint.”
Poor thing, Cordelia thought. Looks like she’s never
used anything decent on her skin.
“You’re up for it?”
“I can paint,” the woman said again, but looking
at Cordelia, not Andy. “I could work for you.”
Odd, Cordelia thought. She looks like these Maine people,
but she doesn’t sound like them.
“Let’s give it a shot then,” Andy said. “So,
babe--” He stood up. “Why don’t you show.
. . .” He paused and the woman filled in the word
he was looking for.
“Kay,” she said. “People call me Kay.”
“Great. You show Kay the job and I’ll rustle
up some coffee.”
“We want to start with the bedrooms,” Cordelia
said. She watched as Kay headed not for the main hall, but
the door that, in the farmhouse’s peculiar layout,
led from the kitchen directly to the sleeping wing.
“It’s weird,” Cordelia said later, snuggled
up next to Andy in the iron-frame bed that she remembered
her childhood. “She totally knew her way around, like
she’d been here before. Spooky. Maybe we shouldn’t
use her.” Andy let one arm drift over Cordelia’s
shoulder and began to stroke her neck. Cordelia went on. “I
don’t think she really saw the ad you put up. I think
she came here for something else.”
“Probably going door to door looking for work. She
looks like she needs money. We can’t back out now.”
A scream pushed itself up from Cordelia’s lungs, then
got stuck in her throat because her lips wouldn’t
open. Frantic as she was, she knew she was only dreaming.
But in the dream, someone had grabbed her, and a huge hand
was clamped across her face. “What did you see?” an
urgent voice was asking in the hot darkness as bugs chirped
in the background.
She shook her head, trying to say “nothing, nothing” but
it came out “ump-um, ump-um.”
But really she’d seen a lot. Four shadowy people moved
among the hollyhocks, coming together and then changing
partners like an urgent dance, until finally one of them
“What’s happening?” she asked when the
hand--it turned out to be her father’s—finally
“Go back to the house and wait for me,” her
“Why do you have a shovel?”
“The hollyhocks are overgrown. We’re going to
Then they were in the car, just she and her father, driving
back to Cambridge.
First thing in the morning, Cordelia drove to the village
to get the paint so Kay could get started. In the hardware
store, with its pleasant smell compounded of old wood flooring
and bins of nails and rubbery things like sink plugs and
gaskets, she pondered paint samples, settling on a creamy
“Truck runnin’ OK now?” said the store’s
proprietor as Cordelia handed him the paint sample. He was
a rangy white-haired man with the slightly stooped posture
of somebody who’d always been the tallest person around.
“What truck?” Cordelia said.
“That warn’t you I helped out with a jump t’other
day?” He pushed his glasses up onto his forehead and
gave her a long stare. “No,” he shook his head
at last. “T’wasn’t.” He settled
his glasses back into place on his bony nose. “It’s
the hair. I took you for someone else.”
“Who?” Cordelia asked, remembering the woman
Andy had seen.
“Lady I helped with her truck. Not from around here.” He
turned and got busy with the paint.
“I really do have a twin,” she announced to
Andy when she got home. He was rubbing lemon oil into the
“Umm,” he murmured, too absorbed in his project
to look up. “Gorgeous, this old wood.” His hand
was guiding a scrap of cast-off T-shirt over the table’s
worn surface. “Probably older than both of us put
together.” He looked up. “Do you remember it
from when you were a kid?”
“Sure,” she said. “We ate here every night.
We kind of huddled at the end closest to the stove, because
the table’s so long. I sat here.” She pointed
to a spot on one of the long benches. “And my dad
sat across from me, where you’re standing, and my
mom . . .” She stopped. For a second, hovering over
the table like that, Andy wasn’t sweet, comforting
Andy. He was her dad, and the place where her mom usually
sat, next to her, was empty. Her dad was yelling and her
mom had pushed the bench back from the table and jumped
up, nearly toppling Cordelia onto the floor.
“Babe? What’s wrong?” Andy was staring
at her, alarmed.
“I said, I have a twin.” She didn’t want
to try to explain the sudden memory, but that’s what
had upset her.
Andy thought she was angry at him. “Sorry.” He
pretended to cower. “I know I wasn’t listening.
It’s one of those insensitive guy things I do.” He
tossed the T-shirt scrap aside, stepped around the table,
and pulled her to him. “You’re shaking,” he
said softly. “What’s up?”
“Just now, when you asked about the table, it reminded
me of the night we left. We were eating, but they started
My mom said someone else wanted her if he didn’t.
He came lunging around the table, and she grabbed a knife.
But then she ran for the door.” She pointed to the
door that opened from the kitchen onto the lawn that sloped
down to the barn and the hollyhocks beyond. “He ran
Kay showed up so early the next morning that they were still
in their pajamas, and she worked so steadily that by mid-afternoon,
the first bedroom had been spackled, sanded, and painted.
At four o’clock, Andy made a pot of coffee. Lured
by the smell, Cordelia emerged from her study to find Andy
and Kay chatting in the kitchen.
She’d barely tasted her coffee when they heard someone
knocking at the front door.
“Want me to go?” Andy turned from the sink,
where he was chopping vegetables for a pot of soup.
“No, I’ll get it.”
Cordelia opened the door to a fading autumn afternoon and
Joanne, the talkative woman from down the road. Joanne was
carrying a strangely shaped bundle wrapped in newspaper.
“My husband got a deer,” she said, offering
the bundle to Cordelia. “We’ve already got a
freezer full of meat.”
Cordelia took a step backwards and her eyes got big. “There’s
a deer in there?” she said.
“Not a whole one.” Joanne laughed, and the sound
gurgled up from her huge bosom. “Just a haunch.”
“Come in.” Cordelia motioned toward the kitchen. “Andy,” she
called ahead. “We’ve got a deer--part of one
at least.” In her mind she wondered what they were
going to do with a deer haunch, whatever that even was,
but Joanne seemed so pleased to be making such a gift, that,
once the bundle had been deposited on the table, Cordelia
“I’d love some,” Joanne said, looking
around with unembarrassed curiosity. “It’s nice
to see people in this house again.” She reached out
a hand for the coffee and nodded at Kay. “Of course,
we didn’t really get to know the other ones. We’d
just moved here and all of a sudden they were gone. And
the hippies that had been hanging around left too. Everybody
disappeared at once, even though it wasn’t the end
of summer. Just as well about the hippies--they made Ed
nervous. The girl hippie went back to Canada where she was
from. That’s what we heard anyway.”
Cordelia glanced toward Kay, wondering if she should try
to bring her into the conversation. But Kay seemed happy,
staring into space and smiling slightly.
Joanne blew on her coffee and took a sip. “Such a
nice couple, the professor and his wife, even if he was
so much older. For awhile we thought maybe there’d
been a problem with the baby.”
“They had a baby?” Cordelia said, puzzled, picturing
her five-year-old self.
“Not yet.” Joanne laughed her gurgling laugh. “They
had a little girl, cutest thing, strawberry blond curls.
But there was a baby on the way.”
“His wife told you that?” Cordelia said.
“No, no, no. But that was the gossip. Can’t
go to the doctor in a little town without everybody finding
Kay jumped to her feet and mumbled something about washing
paintbrushes. Joanne was still chuckling as Kay disappeared
through the door that led to the sleeping wing. “How’d
the hollyhocks turn out?” she said as the last chuckle
“I got a few moved.” Cordelia nodded toward
the kitchen door. “I put them right out there.”
“Could you spare some?” Joanne said. “Mine
been coming back like they used to.”
They crossed the yellowing autumn grass, and Cordelia turned
off toward the barn in search of shovel and a box. She tugged
at the latch that held the sagging door secure, and stepped
into the dark interior. The garden tools were lined up along
the wall just past an old table. Glancing that direction,
Cordelia expected to see the familiar jumble of flowerpots
and half-empty bags of fertilizer.
Instead, as her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she felt a jolt
that left her momentarily frozen. Arranged on the table’s
surface was a collection bones, neatly laid out to form
Her skin felt empty, like most of her had torn loose and
bolted for the house, screaming for Andy, which was what
she really wanted to do. Except she hadn’t done it.
Instead, she’d stood there suffocating because the
smell in the barn was no longer just moldering hay and dust
and old wood. As she came back to herself, she realized
that her forehead and underarms were prickly with sweat.
Back out at the hollyhock patch, the hole was much larger
now, with cast-off nubbins of hollyhock root strewn among
the mounds of excavated soil.
“Looks like you’ve been busy,” Joanne
already gathered a pile of the most promising roots. “No
boxes?” Her eyes dropped to Cordelia’s empty
hands, and Cordelia realized she hadn’t even picked
up a shovel.
In a daze, Cordelia lifted her hands and examined them.
Joanne slipped an arm around Cordelia’s shoulders. “Are
you OK, hon?” she said. “You look like you’ve
seen a ghost.”
Cordelia felt like maybe she was a ghost, kind of disembodied,
but she shook her head and said, cheerfully she hoped, “Fine.
I was just distracted for a minute. I’ll run up to
the house for some bags.”
But back in the kitchen, she couldn’t tell Andy about
what was in the barn because Kay was there. Kay and Andy
were hovering over the haunch of venison, a grisly spectacle
now surrounded by swathes of bloody plastic wrap. Cordelia
leaned on the counter until the whirly feeling that had
suddenly overtaken her passed and the black speckles dancing
before her eyes vanished.
“I need bags,” she mumbled, stooping to rummage
in the cupboard.
When she returned to the house after seeing Joanne off,
Cordelia was relieved to see that the haunch had been wrapped
“Kay’s going to take it,” Andy said. “She’ll
turn it into manageable pieces, keep some for herself.”
“That kind of work never bothered me,” Kay said
as she scooped up the bulky parcel and headed for the door,
Andy following after.
Cordelia waited for the click of the door latch and intercepted
Andy in the hall. “Please hug me,” she moaned,
snuggling against his chest. “Someone dug up all those
bones and put them on the table in the barn. It’s
the most horrible thing--”
“I couldn’t help myself,” he murmured
into her hair.
“You did it?” She pulled away.
“I couldn’t help myself, babe,” he repeated
with the trace of an embarrassed smile. “I’m
“You’re a nosy busybody. You knew I was upset.
Why couldn’t you respect that and leave things like
they were?” The last sentence came twisting out of
a throat that suddenly felt tight and raw. A hot haze was
behind her eyes.
Andy’s smile seemed to get larger even though he was
biting his lip now. “What’s the matter? It’s
nothing to do with us. Who knows how long they’ve
been there? It’s cool though, like a mystery. But
we really should call the cops.” He wasn’t managing
to make the smile go away. “It’s a woman, by
the way. But I had the devil of a time reassembling her.
Whoever did it was really an expert butcher. They dismembered
the corpse so they could fit it into a tiny hole.”
Cordelia let her head sag forward into her hands, but they
seemed to have a smell on them, so she lowered them to her
sides. “You idiot.”
“Sweetie.” He reached out a hand, but she pushed
it away. “You’re overreacting.” He watched
her while she sniffed at her hands and let her head fall
into them again, gulping and sobbing at the same time.
“Wait a second,” he said. “I get it. That
story you told me the other night . . . your dad yelling
“He wouldn’t.” Her head popped up and
she almost screamed it. “He’d never do that,
especially chopping her up like you said. He was the most
person in the world.”
“But you never saw your mom again--”
“Andy, don’t.” Now she really was screaming. “Just
The next morning Kay showed up carrying a newspaper-wrapped
parcel like the one the haunch had come in, but smaller. “I
turned it into roasts and chops,” she said, a pleased
smile lighting up her worn face. “And I made some
venison sausage. I stayed up half the night.”
“You made sausage?” Andy said in amazement.
“You’ll like it,” she said, stealing a
glance at Cordelia then turning away like she wanted to
but somehow felt she shouldn’t.
“We’ll have it for dinner.” Andy snatched
the parcel up and stowed it in the refrigerator. “And
you’ll stay and eat with us. OK?”
So that night they sat together at the end of the long table
closest to the stove. Andy had fried the sausage links while
a pan of sliced potatoes roasted in the oven and a pot of
green beans steamed on the stove top. Now their plates were
almost empty and they sat in the candlelight almost groggy
from the food and wine.
“The painting’s going great,” Andy said
smiling across the table at Kay, who sat next to Cordelia. “The
day you turned up was a real stroke of luck for us.” Kay
smiled modestly and looked down at the table. “We
don’t know anything about you, really,” he said. “What
else do you do besides painting?”
“Different things,” she said, in the voice that
sound like the Maine people. “I get by.”
“Hey, you know--” Andy had gotten a little boozy.
Two wine bottles, one empty and the other nearly so, sat
the serving dishes. Now he was squinting at Kay and Cordelia,
side by side on the bench. “You two almost look alike
in the dark.”
“I don’t know.” One of Kay’s hands
rose to finger her ravaged skin.
“No, really, you do,” Andy said, caught up in
the idea now. “If your hair was the same . . . but
you always wear that scarf.” He stood up. “What
if I took it off?”
Cordelia studied Kay’s face. She couldn’t tell
if Kay wanted the scarf to stay on or come off, and thought
maybe Kay didn’t know either.
Andy scooted around the end of the table, and as Cordelia
watched, plucked the scarf from Kay’s head. A wiry
mass of curls came free, faded to gray of course, but gray
with the slightest hint that the curls had once been red,
just like Cordelia’s curls.
Now the look on Kay’s face seemed to be daring Cordelia
to say something.
“Katherine?” she whispered.
“I heard there were people in the house again. Jennie--she’s
my other girl--and I don’t usually come around this
Cordelia wanted to say lots of things. But the first thing
that came out was, “Who are the bones?”
Kay reached for Cordelia’s hand and squeezed it, too
“Swallow didn’t want to give Eric up,” she
I had to get rid of her. And your father--” She laughed. “All
he could see were the headlines: ‘Harvard Prof’s
Wife Slays Love Rival.’ He had the hole done even
before I finished getting her ready to bury.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peggy Ehrhart is a former English professor now writing full time.
She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and treasurer of NY/TriState
Sisters in Crime. Her fiction has appeared in Crime and Suspense,
Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, and Flashing
in the Gutters. Her
writing awards include first prize in Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine's
2005 Flash Fiction contest. Visit her website at www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/PeggyEhrhart/
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2007 SPINETINGLER Magazine - All rights reserved