Want a taste of BROODING before commiting to a purchase? I have decided to post the first few chapters online to better whet your appetite. I will provide links at the end of each to the next chapter, and to Amazon and my e-Store. Previous chapters can be found here.
Susan Davis was well into her teens before she began to suspect that her home life wasn’t typical. These suspicions were not born from frequent contact with other girls – always home schooled, Susan didn’t have contact with other girls. Since her mother also saw to her religious training (they never again attended any church on a regular basis after Eddie was murdered at Trinity Methodist), Susan had no other examples by which she could compare her existence. Not even TV. Grace was as phobic regarding the negative influence television might have on Susan as she was with the public school system, and controlled what the girl viewed with her trademark dictatorial fervor.
Susan’s first suspicions that her life wasn’t normal were the result of the one real window to the outside world her mother did eventually allow: books. Yet even these were obsessively monitored; God forbid there be any profanity, violence, or – the ultimate taboo – sexuality in these stories. Only works by Grace-approved authors were allowed in the house. It was in this area that Susan committed her first act of rebellion. The only reason she did was that after so many years, even Susan, who coexisted in this vacuum, had to admit that her mother’s mental elevator might not go all the way to the top floor.
Grace Davis may have started to lose her mind before her husband’s death, but after, the woman’s oft-demented behavior increased exponentially. In the wake of Eddie’s murder, Susan never saw her mother shed one tear for him. Given the fact that he had been unfaithful, Grace’s feelings were best summed up by the manner of funeral arrangements she made for him: pine box nouveau.
By the time Susan’s suspicions regarding her mother’s mental health began to kick in, serious damage had already been done to the girl’s psyche. For too many years, by word and by deed, Grace had tattooed Susan’s soul with the assured belief that she was as inconsequential as … well … as one of her dolls.
The Davis home was more lovely than any dollhouse Susan had ever seen. For all of her life – but especially after her father’s passing – Susan saw her mother spare no expense in residential restoration. Even Susan’s room was like something out of a fairy tale or a dream. It was bright, cheery, bursting with dolls, toys, games, and other colorful distractions, and contained a four-poster bed as massive and fluffy as a Neverland cloud. ‘Twas a room fit for a princess. It was many years before the façade began to tatter and fray, but even when Susan was little, she had glimpses of the ugly truth behind the carnival tent.
Once, in her last year of single digits, Susan was playing with one of her dolls in one of her royal dollhouses, when an adult thought occurred to her, so fascinating, she couldn’t wrap her intellect around it. She realized how easy it was to make the plastic angel do her bidding: she could make her skip, play, kiss, hide, sit, get dressed, she could even lock her in her room if she so desired.
She was the one manipulating the little doll. Cocking her head as the insight flirted with her, she realized that her mom was doing the same thing to her. Mommy has got a dollhouse, too, she thought. And … I’m her dolly. She became quite upset after that, and proceeded to punish the doll she held by beating it against her dresser until the head popped off. “Bad, bad dolly,” Susan said. “You’d better put your head back on before people see you. What kind of person will everyone think I am if they see you walking around with your head off?” Susan had laughed at that … but for some reason it sounded like she was crying.
When Susan turned sixteen, Grace took her to a local Driver’s License center so she could get her first license. It wasn’t so Susan could have free reign to come and go as she pleased. Rather, it was so the girl could run errands when Grace didn’t feel like leaving the house; which was much more often as the years passed (Grace was fifty-seven the year Susan got her license).
On Fridays, Grace allowed Susan to drive her Cadillac to three approved places: supermarket, drugstore, and library. Grace knew precisely how many miles this round trip took, and regularly checked the mileage on the DeVille’s odometer before and after Susan’s libertarian jaunts.
A few months later, after Grace realized that her daughter had never once varied from the approved destinations on her errand runs, she allowed one more stop to be added to the previous three at Susan’s request: a used book store between the grocery and pharmacy. Susan could have stopped there without asking, and Grace would have never known the difference. The fact that Susan did ask her, informed Grace that her control over her daughter was complete. Grace told Susan that, yes, she could stop at the book store if she so wished; provided the girl show her what books she’d purchased while she was there.
And that’s where Susan’s first act of defiance took root.
Grace didn’t punish Susan often. She didn’t have to. She’d molded the girl to her whims and fancies from birth, without the nuisance of outside influence, and was capable of manipulating her daughter with naught more than a raised brow or a single tear. If every once in awhile the girl needed to be chastened, Grace found that an afternoon or night locked in the attic usually did the trick. The first time this happened, Susan had cried and cried, begging to be let out of the dark and spooky room. Yet, it wasn’t so much the space that scared her, as it was an utter lack of external stimuli. Grace had taught Susan many methods of disassociation, and the fact that the attic was without anything to distract her from her mind – and the horrors she had stuffed in it since she was little – was the most unbearable part of her punishment. Susan vowed to never again let this happen, and thereafter began secretly stocking the attic with books.
There was a tall bookcase in one corner of the attic, slender enough to fit between two wall studs. It was also illusory because it was two-sided; only by pulling it out did one realize it could hold twice the amount as the front. Susan put Grace-approved titles (Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew) in the front of the shelf, but as her love for reading grew, writers of a decidedly darker bent began to fill the veiled backside. Having had a fascination with thrillers ever since the preacher’s son at Trinity Methodist led her away to The Lux to see North by Northwest on the day of her father’s murder (by far her clearest memory of that day), Susan loved any story laden with suspense. The Nancy Drew adventures had their share of thrills, but as she grew older, Susan wanted stories that appealed to her ever maturing tastes.
As she frequented the used book store, Susan could usually be found sitting cross-legged on the floor in the MYSTERY-HORROR-SUSPENSE aisle, enclosed by paperbacks. While the first titles she added to her secret library were anthologies edited by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Richard Matheson, she quickly became enamored of two authors whose stories so oddly mirrored her own existence that she could not read them fast enough: namely Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Susan would read – nay, devour – these books at night, in secret, by flashlight, under the covers, and then stash them up in the attic. Being the most blatant deception she’d ever committed, she actually got quite a kick out of it.
After reading King’s Carrie, The Dead Zone, and IT (all of which featured religiously wacky mother figures), Susan realized her plight wasn’t so unique. Others had suffered under the reckless rule of parents with loose mental screws, and had thus ended up with poor self-images and other psychological defects. Amazingly, these flawed characters were not bad guys, they were the heroes; worthy of empathy and love. When, as adults, they would face down monsters (often metaphors for emotional demons), Susan found herself caring about them, rooting for them. She started to believe she wasn’t the mousy, worthless, ugly duckling her mother made her believe she was. Maybe she mattered, after all. Yes, the Bible told her that Jesus loved her, but … years spent under the twisted rule and warped theology of her mother had rendered such scripture debatable. That brand name “horror” authors could help restore the certitude of her worth as one of God’s beloved children was hilariously ironic, Susan thought.
After she turned seventeen, Susan began to grasp the terrible extent of her mother’s madness, as well as that of her own intrinsic value. Yet even with this recently confirmed wisdom, she wasn’t nearly aware of all the psychological damage that had already been done to her. If she had been, things might have turned out very differently after the carpet layers showed up at the house.
During the first week of September, Susan was eating lunch (grilled cheese and tomato bisque soup) in her mother’s room, when a knock came at the front door.
Grace hadn’t been feeling well today. Though the meal that Susan now ate had been prepared for her mom – to Susan’s dismay (and relief) – she saw upon entering that her mother had knocked herself out. Susan didn’t know what combination of pills Grace had taken, but the drool running out of the side of the woman’s mouth and wetting the pillow below, told Susan all that she needed to know about how long her mother would be unconscious. Grace likely wouldn’t rouse until late afternoon. It was now pushing 12:00.
Susan put down her sandwich, went downstairs, and answered the door.
The man standing on the veranda couldn’t have looked more out of place. The Davis house received few visitors, but those who had previously come had never resembled the rough character standing before her. He looked to be in his mid-forties, with long blond hair tied back in a ponytail, a short beard, tattoos on his arms, and a clipboard in his hand. His attire was simply a clean white tee shirt, blue jeans, and black boots. Yet despite his unpolished exterior, Susan detected no animosity in his eyes, and so inquired, “Can I help you?”
With a disarming smile, the man asked, “Is this the Davis residence?”
“My name is Ty Morehouse,” the man said. “I’m the owner of Carpet Diem.
I have an appointment to re-carpet a room in this house today.”
“I thought that was next week,” Susan replied, recalling that her mother had briefly mentioned she was having the carpet in the parlor replaced. “Nnnooo, it’s today,” the man said, showing her the date on the invoice.
“If this is a bad time, I can reschedule you for another …”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Susan interrupted. Looking behind Ty, she saw a white van parked in front of the house with the words CARPET DIEM writ on the side. With a small smile, she added, “Clever name for your company.”
“Thanks,” Ty said. “It doesn’t quite translate as seize the carpet, it’s more like carpet the day, but I’m glad you got the reference. Too many clients don’t.”
“Did you make it up?” Susan asked.
“No, my nephew did. He’s also my partner.” Ty turned toward the street and called, “Hey Al, hurry up.”
“Coming!” cried the stocky young man retrieving a toolbox from the back of the van. As he came up the walk, Susan saw he was younger than the man on the step (likely only nineteen or twenty), but was dressed in a similar fashion: faded jeans, motorcycle boots, white tee shirt, and a fitted black leather vest. In addition to his long and wavy brown hair, he had well-shaped sideburns, a chopper mustache, and a soul patch under his bottom lip which Susan thought looked both handsome and cool. As he pranced up the porch steps, she also saw he had sensitive hazel eyes which reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t place who … until she recalled what Ty had said his last name was.
“Hi,” the young man said to Susan, stepping next to his Uncle Ty. “I’m Al.”
As Susan’s eyes shimmered a bit, Ty and Al were taken aback. Al cocked his head at the sweet, petite, and familiar girl. He knew her from someplace.
“Al?” Susan asked, trying to stanch her emotion. “Al Morehouse?”
“Yes,” Al began. “Wait a sec. Davis? Are you … Susan Davis?”
Susan nodded, and – far too emotional to question the decorum – went to Al and wrapped her arms around him. Al hugged her back, also fighting tears.
Ty watched this tender exchange … and smiled. He didn’t know what their previous relationship had been, but it had obviously been important.
Al and Susan held onto each other for almost a full minute, neither saying a word. Finally, Susan pulled away and wiped her face. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know why I’m crying. I hope I didn’t embarrass you.”
“Of course not,” Al replied. “I’ve thought about you a lot over the years.”
Tongue planted in cheek, Ty said, “Let me guess … you know each other.”
“A little bit,” Al told him, unable to take his eyes off of the lovely girl.
Suddenly remembering something that could ruin this tender reunion, he asked Susan, “Is your mom here?”
“Sleeping,” Susan replied with a little grin. “She’ll be out for hours.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Ty spoke. “Susan, kindly point us to the right room if you would. Al, help me to move the furniture out and the new carpet roll in … and you two can visit to your heart’s content. Deal?”
“Deal,” Susan and Al replied at the same time.
Thirty minutes later (as Ty was laying plush white carpet in the parlor), Al and Susan sat next to each other on the front porch swing, sipping iced tea.
“How long have you worked for your uncle?” Susan asked.
“Since I was seventeen,” Al replied. “I’ve lived with him since then, too.”
“You don’t live with your parents anymore?”
Al shook his head. “That’s kind of a long story. I haven’t gotten along with my folks since they booted my uncle out of our basement years ago. He lived in our house for awhile when I was a kid. Come to think of it … it was the night before we went to the movies that day.”
“I love that day,” Susan sighed. “I mean, it was horrible what happened to my dad, but up until then you made me feel …” Susan blushed and looked down at her lap.
“What?” Al gently asked. “I made you feel what?”
“Safe,” Susan answered. “And special.”
“I’m glad,” Al spoke. “Uncle Ty didn’t live with us long, but his influence on me was pretty profound. He’s the one who made me fall in love with movies. I used to get mad that my Dad’s church took such a self-righteous stance against popular entertainment. Hollywood Babylon, you know? They never went so far as to smash records, or CDs, or videos – which to me is way too close to Nazi book burnings – but their attitude was no less sanctimonious. The church board didn’t want my father attending R-rated movies, so Dad – somehow convinced he was being extra super holy – basically forbade his family from all of them. His condemnation of the medium was absolute. When that’s all it is: a medium. I mean, when Jesus wanted to make a point to His disciples, how did He do it?”
Susan thought for a moment, then said, “He told stories.”
“Exactly. Filmmaking is just a medium for storytelling. And when my dad would pronounce his supreme judgment on it from the pulpit, church turned into a place where I couldn’t even be myself. And if you can’t be yourself at church, what’s the point? My parents laid down such autocratic standards, the only escape I could find was at the movies. Then they condemned me for that, too! After awhile, I couldn’t take it anymore. It all came to a head when I enrolled in a film class during my senior year of high school. The entire grade was dependent on a short film we were supposed to make. My little movie got me an ‘A’ for the course, but also cemented my estrangement from my parents.”
“My film was a montage of images depicting religious hypocrisy through the ages. Some of my examples included the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Bakker and Swaggart sex scandals, molestation in the church, the shooting of abortion doctors, purported Christians at pro-gay rallies holding hate signs, bling-flashing, money-grubbing televangelists, etc. All this set to the strains of They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love. I knew it was controversial. That was my intention. I thought juxtaposing those disparate sights and sounds would make a potent statement about the sorry state of the modern-day church, and how far it’s fallen away from Jesus’ teachings, preachings, and beatitudes. It was absolutely meant to be seen as irony. My parents didn’t see it that way.”
Susan had never heard anybody express so clearly something she’d vaguely felt for so long. She already held a special place in her heart for Al, but the more he spoke, the more fascinated she became. For some reason, Susan didn’t think her mother would hold the same opinion. “Is that when you moved out?”
“Yes. My folks sent my brother to medical school in New England, paying for his tuition out of an account they had built up for years for our education. Around this time – just before graduation – I expressed my desire to attend film school in either Los Angeles or New York. Long story short, they refused. They told me this vocation had too much corruption, sin, and Godlessness – fast cars, hard drugs, and loose women – for them to pay the tab on what would surely be their son’s moral downfall. It was the last straw. So I left. I showed up on my uncle’s doorstep with a duffel bag, and I’ve been living with him ever since.”
“Are you still going to go to film school?”
“Believe me, I’d love to. But I don’t know how I’d afford it. Or even retain what I might learn, given some of my current extracurricular activities.”
Not understanding, Susan was about to ask him to explain, but …
“Besides, I am in film school,” Al went on, “and have been since I was ten. In fact, I’ve got a class tomorrow morning. I’d be honored if you would join me.”
“Join you? Where?”
“Why, The Lux, of course. They’ve got a James Dean fest playing this week. East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. Uncle Ty said I could have the day off. Care to accompany me?”
As gears whirred and meshed in Susan’s mind, she saw how it could work. “Tomorrow’s Friday,” she replied. “That’s the day I run errands for my mother. I might not be able to watch all three films, but could I come for just one or two?”
“Sure,” Al grinned. “Meet me there a little before eleven o’clock. It’ll be just like … old times.” His voice cracked with emotion on those last two words.
Susan heard it, and – realizing there was a tenderhearted man under this rough exterior – simply took his hand, leaned over, and placed her head on his shoulder. It might have been awkward with anyone else, but the bond between them was as powerful as it was old. They sat that way for a good little while, silence speaking volumes. Al knew he had something he needed to tell Susan, but perhaps this wasn’t the right time.
When Ty came outside, Al and Susan quickly resumed their former posture.
Looking at Susan, Ty had a brief-but-powerful flash in his mind of two simple words: borrowed time. Whether this was simple intuition, or some sort of Godly insight, this was not the first instance of such. It was not unusual for Ty to get feelings about people (and their motives), or events (and their meanings), that were usually as reliable (and eerie) as they were inexplicable. He didn’t talk about it much. Truth told, it made him more than a little uncomfortable. He didn’t know what the words borrowed time had to do with this sweet girl – couldn’t be anything good – but rather than brood on the mystery, he simply said, “All done. Al, will you help me with the furniture?”
“Sure, Uncle Ty.”
After Al and Ty replaced the parlor furnishings, Ty asked Susan what she wanted done with the old carpet (which was still in good shape). Susan asked if they would mind storing it in the attic. They agreed. Going to the second floor – ensuring her mother was still out cold – Susan led Al and Ty to a door at the front end of the house. A narrow staircase, between inner and outer walls, led to the garret. As the men placed the bulky roll against the wall opposite Susan’s bookcase, Al noted, “A person could make a pretty cool studio up here.”
“I concur,” Susan told him.
Later, outside, Ty gave Susan a copy of the invoice he’d shown her before, and said, “Don’t worry about paying us now, I’ll just send your mother a bill.” Susan looked extremely relieved at this. Ty didn’t know why, but Al did.
To Susan, Al said, “Tomorrow. Eleven. The Lux. Yes?”
With a little nod and a sweet smile, Susan replied, “I can’t wait.”
After bidding the lovely girl adieu, Al and Ty hopped in the CARPET DIEM van and drove off to their next appointment.
Smiling more broadly than she had in years, Susan waved vigorously after them, then went back inside the house.
Grace woke up a few hours later. As she came groggily down the staircase in her robe and slippers, she found Susan reclined on the floral-print sofa in the parlor, reading a book. The room was so resplendent with its new white carpet that Grace was nearly blinded by it.
By now Susan was cognizant of her mother’s mental and emotional games, and had only recently begun playing them herself. It could be dangerous, but she figured anything she could do to get her mother’s focus off who actually laid this rug, and on the fact of its undeniable beauty, was a plus. She had staged this scene carefully and – spotting her cue – Susan smiled, put out her arms, and exclaimed, “Taa-daaah! Notice anything different, Mother?”
Grace’s eyes danced confusedly around the room, but … as her lips slowly grew into a smile, she enthused, “Oh my goodness! This is absolutely gorgeous!” She took off her slippers and walked around barefoot on the luxuriant carpet. “As soft as it is pretty,” she practically sang. “I didn’t think the carpet people were coming till next week, but oooohh, what a wonderful surprise!”
“They were quick, courteous, and extremely professional,” Susan explained, wanting to answer the question before it was asked, while her mother was still within the throes of wall-to-wall ecstasy. “The invoice is on the kitchen table. They said they would mail you a bill.”
“Worth every penny!” Grace exclaimed, curling her toes in the plush nap.
Susan breathed a big sigh of relief and began to relax. She didn’t like to be so deceitful and cunning, but – after all – she learned from the best.
WELL, THERE’S THE FIRST 9 CHAPTERS OF BROODING. ONLY 118 MORE TO GO. HA!
(SINCE I HAVE MADE A FEW MAJOR REVISIONS OVER RECENT YEARS ON BROODING, IF YOU GO TO MY AMAZON PAGE, TO ENSURE GETTING THE LATEST VERSION, ALWAYS BUY NEW. THANKS!)