We find inspiration in the death of things. In the failure to thrive, in loss and heartache and pain. He wiped his tears and stood against a blushing sky. The song in his heart was a dirge, but his hand ached to write.
When Sophia was a girl, her laughter filled the stairwells of 1416 Tillwell Lane. A tinkling, musical sound, he imagined, that left winking lights behind its hearers’ eyes.
The day she stopped was the day Mr. Blessing dropped by. He delivered newspapers and fliers to the street, on foot, his sack slung across his rounded shoulders. His was a kind face, but Sophia had always been frightened of him. Mother often invited him inside for a glass of sweet tea, or in winter, a hot toddy.
The last day Mr. Blessing was in their house, Mother was out. Everyone was out except Sophia and Rosali. Rosali lived next door and came to sit with Sophia when Mother had errands.
On that last day, Sophia left her dolls on the stairs, engaged in their afternoon tea; Rosali was supposed to bring warm water for the tiny cups. But she must have forgotten.
The sight in the kitchen when Sophia went looking was the sight that took her innocence and deadened forever her tinkling laughter.
His pen stilled. He looked at the brown gunk under his nails, and his heart chilled. He wondered if what he wrote he wrote for Sophia. Or was it to feed his own foolish narcissism, so he could hold his beautiful words up to the world and feel good about mediocrity? Did he tell a story?
Or did he tell the truth?
The truth was too hard. The truth would show the foul Blessing’s fat hand on Rosali’s pale and bruising throat as he stood between her naked legs, ass pumping. The girl’s lips were already turning blue, and a drop of blood oozed from beneath one tightly shut eyelid. The sounds he made were vile, animal. The kitchen reeked with the vinegar and beer odors of his acrid sweat.
And Sophia’s tiny face peered around the door frame, cherubic, pale as talc, and framed in flax.
The house at 1416 Tillwell Lane stood silent after that. For many years after the fourteen-year-old girl was found stripped and lifeless on the gold linoleum, Mr. Blessing continued his deliveries. Sophia grew up. From a pale, silent child into a pale silent woman, her charge the secret that lived behind her eyes.
They left the house, finally, shortly after a third fourteen-year-old girl was found strangled and nude beside her family’s pool just down the street; also shortly before Sophia’s own fourteenth birthday. It was apparent Tillwell Lane had a predator with a lucky number.
He laid his pen aside and wiped his hand over his face. The story to tell ended here.
He looked over at her, sleeping amidst the rumpled sheets of their bed, her face peaceful. It was the only time Sophia looked peaceful, when her nightmares left her to rest – when Rosali left her alone.
They would find the old man’s body, eventually. And they might even tie it to the thirteen dead girls on and around Tillwell Lane. The only proof he had lay locked inside the mind of his young wife- as safe a secret there as in any bank vault.
But when he told her, when she awoke today and he confessed what he had done, maybe Sophia would laugh again. And maybe it would be all he’d always imagined.