|The Trunk dee|
I see Kelly. She is in Gillian’s bedroom, sitting on her bed.
She is in Gillian’s kitchen.
She is on Gillian’s porch.
Kelly has not been so pervasively present since she died. I have to believe this is tied to Gillian’s death. Nothing of this nature occurred when my father died. Unless....unless...
I don’t want this thought to enter my head, but it is there before I can slam shut the door.
Unless, it is related to Carl.
I wrestle inwardly with this idea. Trying to think without words is a tool I use to slow down the steady, relentless parade of paranoid thoughts. I try to jump between emotions, skimming the surface like a smooth, flat stone across the face of the sea.
Moving on, I button up the denim work short and slip on my sneakers, no socks. I can’t bear to pull on my soggy, sweat-drenched underwear -- so I go alfresco. A bit risque for the Head of an elite boarding school, but the one thing I can claim about my ascendency to the Head’s position is that I have not compromised who I am along the way. I have capitulated and finessed and sometimes compromised, yes, even my principles, but not who I am. It gives me some small satisfaction, like I am owner of this make and model of Julia Dickinson.
The shirt falls to mid-thigh. I stand on the edge of the tub and peer in the small medicine cabinet mirror. My legs are passable, even as the years creep forward to a final accounting, my legs are withstanding time. Maybe not so much my face...
My eyes are swollen from crying. I finger-comb my hair into its blunt-edged page boy cut. A few wispy bangs hide my high forehead. My face, according to every magazine I have ever trusted, is an oval shape. To my mind, that’s as boring as oatmeal. A lot of people have told me my face has symmetry that is “pleasing,” that I am “attractive.”
Superlatives are not wasted on me. Especially after an hour crying jag submerged in water. My fingers have the white, wrinkly appearance of a child’s skin after spending too much time in the pool. When I open the bathroom door, I am assaulted by the smell from that god-awful trunk.
Carl appears at the top of the stairs with two mugs of tea. The teabags are artfully looped over each handle so as not to fall completely into the water. I sniff and catch myself thinking, “How metrosexual of him.”
“Are you ready for this?” I gesture toward the room with my chin.
“I am, if you are.”
“Thanks for the tea. Chamomile?”
“Chamomile with lavender.” Metrosexual.
“I have a Hefty garbage bag.” He holds it and a pair of gloves up for me to see.
“Then, again, I was thinking I could carry the whole thing outside and we could open it there, instead.”
I walk into the room and find I gag a bit.
We both step back into the hall and shut the door.
We go downstairs, pass Kelly in the hall and sit in the living room.
“Let’s have our tea. Then, there’s Vick’s in the bathroom, we’ll rub that under our noses. The trunk has handles. We’ll carry it outside together. Whatever is in there does not belong in the house, no matter what.”
“Okay. I like that. No wonder you run this place.”
“Be real, you suggested it.”
“I’m just brown-nosing. You are the boss, after all.”
We sit quietly and drink our tea. Kelly settles on the stool at my feet.
If Carl is aware of her presence, he is a mighty good poker player.
When we enter the room housing the trunk the next time, we are prepared. We have tied cloth napkins around our faces after dapping some Vick’s Vaporub under our noses. We are both wearing work gloves; Carl’s are yellow, rubber dish gloves and mine are ancient, leather, gardening gloves. Years of wear has molded them into the shape of Gillian’s hands. I am conscious of my breezy state of undress every step of the way as we wrestle the foul-smelling trunk down the stairs.
Outside, the trunk lid opens readily. Before I look inside, I notice Kelly sitting in a cherry tree with prominent, gnarled limbs. From her vantage point, the trunk’s contents are readily visible. Her expression gives nothing away.
Stepping forward gives me a better view. Carl suddenly bolts behind the cherry tree. I can't see him, but I can hear him retching.
The trunk is packed, literally crammed, with road kill. The animals themselves are indistinguishable from each other. They are in various stages of decomposition. Maggots are rolling and sliding over each other in a sickening feeding frenzy.
The lid has words branded into the wood. Gillian must have used a soldering iron or a similar tool to etch the words, “Now I lay me down to sleep.”
I think those words told the whole story. Gillian was a huge fan of animals of all kinds.
She must have gone out early every morning, scoured the roads of Whately for maimed and killed animals. With a shovel, she would dispatch the survivors,
I turn away from the horror of her collection.
Stiff-jointedly, I walk to the other side of the house. My legs buckle just as I reach the porch,
Night has fallen. I hear the slam of the trunk lid falling shut. Carl must have pushed shut the lid. He appears by my side. “Let’s get out of here,” he says. Lacing his fingers in mine, he pulls me to my feet, Together, we lock the front door. I drop his hand before we step back onto the main campus.
“ Will you have your guys throw the entire trunk in to the dumpster? I don’t have it in me to me to follow through on this one. I need to go home." I stop and turn, forcing him to stop walking, too.
"It is important that this thing - whatever we call it - between us, remains just between us. You get that, right?
Carl half-smiles, a sad grin. “I do.”
I walk home alone, touched by his willingness to let me go.