by Claudia Smith Read author interview June 15, 2007
When I was twelve, someone called our house. He talked to my brother and to me. He called three times. He said he knew our names. He said he knew where our parents worked. He said he knew how to find us, and that he would kill me, Louise Hennessy.
I had not thought of this in years. My mother called to ask me if I’d received a package for my son, containing a book about animal babies and a videotape about a little boy who wears magical Wellington Boots.
“How are you?” She is moving to the country, changing her phone number for the first time in twenty years. She said, “Remember the last time we changed our number? It was when that man was calling.”
“The man who said he was going to kill you. Don’t you remember?”
“No. How old was I?”
“You were twelve. We’d just moved to Paddlesack Road. He talked to you, and he talked to Jeffrey, too. Don’t you remember?”
“You said it wasn’t a voice you knew. And we called the police, and they told us to change our number.”
She is renovating an old house, and she talked about the inventory of things that need repairing; shutters, painting, shelving, shingles, staining. I asked her again. “Are you sure that happened?”
“Of course I’m sure. Changing our number seemed to fix the problem. Nowadays, with the Internet, it’s different. You know I don’t even use credit cards, Louise. I read an article the other day about identity theft. And do you know, people steal babies’ social security numbers? So don’t you be giving out your baby’s social security number to just anybody, now.”
I hated the Paddlesack Road house, the way it smelled of old pee and the tree roaches that took up permanent residence inside our walls. Our father was gone. I pulled my hair back with rubber bands and knocked the back of my head with the hairbrush every morning, staring at my fierce face in our silvered mirror.
I told my brother I suspected I was a wizard, and he half believed me. I told him when I concentrated hard enough, I could move time backward and foward by thirty seconds. After enough practice, we might go back a significant ways, to our babyhoods, maybe even the womb. His question was, if we go back that far, will we remember now?
I used to tell him that at night I lived another life, as a figure on the prow of a ship. In this other life, I was hardy and buxom, with emerald eyes, traveling the oceans. In waking life, the ship was somewhere sunken to the bottom of a faraway sea. I told him water stories a lot that summer. It was hot, our air conditioning window unit was breaking down, and there was a drought.
He called and he said, Louise Hennessy, I know where you live. I know your brother, Jeffrey John Hennessy. I know your mother is a library assistant at Carver Branch off Madding Road. I know that your father, Jeffrey John Hennessy Senior, is collecting unemployment. I know he once worked for the state. He has a mullet. Your mother drives a white Rabbit.
I remember these words, but not the voice. The voice was not unpleasant. But I can’t hear it. I remember hanging up the phone, and smelling something awful, something burned. Burned toast? My brother was playing Atari, or watching television. He could tell you the time by what was on television, on all four channels. I can see the pantry, filled with rice cakes, which were new on the market, and pop tarts, and jars of marachino cherries, and canned vegetables.
I am inside the pantry, with the door locked. My brother is saying, Louise, maybe we should call the police.
He talked to Jeffrey. But, it is possible I told Jeffrey he talked to Jeffrey. No, he talked to Jeffrey.
I’m loading the dishwasher. My son is in his bed, listening to seabirds call from the sound machine.
Tonight we’re going to a barbeque down the street. I’ll put on my husband’s favorite dress, something I am getting a little old for, a brown dress scattered with cherries that look like polka dots from a distance. He likes the dress because it makes my breasts look huge. I won’t talk about what my mother said, and I’ll drink the Shiner Bock we’ll bring, and my son will bring his harmonica and make everyone clap.
I can see it now, a beautiful face eroding in salt water. Covered with barnacles, seaweed hair moving in the dark. I can’t hear the voice. But I know it will call. It’s only a matter of time.
About the Author:
Claudia Smith's stories have been anthologized in W.W. Norton's The New Sudden Fiction and So New Media's Consumed: Women on Excess. Her flash fiction collections, The Sky Is A Well And Other Shorts (reprinted in the book), A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness and Put Your Head In My Lap are available from Rose Metal Press and Future Tense books, respectively. Her new collection of stories, Quarry Light, is now available from Magic Helicopter Press.