Sippican Cottage

Close this search box.

Some Enchanted Place — Chapter Eight, Part Three

To read Some Enchanted Place from the beginning, click here and start at the bottom

I turned back from the lack of Immaculada and gave my nemesis a good, hard stare. He’d delivered his line, but there was no mirth in it. His expression never changed. You could have put him in a window to sell a suit. He was a snake with a conspicuous bulge in the middle — not hungry right now. Still a snake. Always a snake.

I crossed a line just there. Angel was right; this place was some sort of mundane house of horrors. Not quite right. They tore the tags from mattresses, or were cannibals — or something in between, most likely. You could smell it on the breeze in the dooryard, a whiff of padlocked orphanage ablaze over the horizon somewhere. But Pecksniff had gone beyond the beyonds. He’d gotten familiar.

Pecksniff was a toady, no different than me. He had trotted out the one-way camaraderie to shame me a bit. He was wearing another man’s boots, but it was still on my neck. If we were any other place, I would have had to throw hands with him. Face.

My father told me he’d met Roosevelt once. Father was an old school Tammany Hall Democrat. He was slaving away at some defense plant and Roosevelt breezed through. Roosevelt clapped him on the back and called him by a singsong nickname, and told him what a swell job he was doing, asked him a question, turned his back on him without hearing the answer, and then disappeared in a cloud of flunkies.

Mom would always tell the story and the neighbors would ooh and aah and pop would glower. Once his friend pressed him on it, and I thought he’d explode. “No man has the right to treat me like a horse in a stable. I’ll not be given a joke for a name and patted like a beast by a stranger. No man. Why in the hell did we drag our sorry asses halfway around the globe? Not for this. Not for this.”

I knew the one-way familiarity when I saw it. Condescension masquerading as bonhomie. If my father had slapped Roosevelt on the back and called him Frankie in return, he’d have had his taxes reviewed twice yearly by J.Edgar Hoover, forevermore, while he was tied to a chair in Hoover’s office, probably. I learned a long time ago to beware any authority acting like your pal. It rarely is. Pecksniff was poking me through the bars. I was the fly and he was pulling off my wings. It was no less than that, and I knew it, and he knew I knew it. We came from the same place, he and I. So it was fight or flee — or grumble and take it, which is the most malignant kind of fleeing. Pecksniff knew there could be no fighting. I couldn’t even raise my voice or I’d never work another job within driving distance of this pile of bricks again.

It was a contest now. Angel was smarter because he wouldn’t play from the get-go, but I was in for a penny, so I had to go in for a Pound now. You’ll not chase me out of here, you creepy drudge. I’ll outlast you, you bastard, even if you call every person in every portrait on every wall in here back from the dead, and they climb down from the picture rail to pull at my sleeves while I work, and fill my dreams with dread.

I’ll pull up to the front door, Pecksniff. The front door. And I’ll take Immaculada out of here. I’ll spray you with peastone and we’ll wave to you like Roosevelt from a car. And someday, when you’re dead, we’ll come to your funeral, and Immaculada will wear a red dress, and I’ll throw rice in the hole you’re fitted for.

Some Enchanted Place — Chapter Eight, Part Two

To read Some Enchanted Place from the beginning, click here and start at the bottom

I don’t know who the Secretary of the Interior is. I don’t know how to hit a curve ball. I don’t know how to do differential equations. I’m not sure exactly where Sri Lanka is, or why they didn’t want to be called Ceylon anymore, either. So maybe in the vast scheme of things, I don’t know very much — but I’m dead certain that if Pecksniff The Amazing Human Cattle Prod sends one more dose of his electricity through me, by turning up behind me unannounced, they’ll be able to bury him in a sponge.

I turned to face him and noticed my mistake right away. Never waste your time out in the prison yard by turning your face from the little blue tent of the sky. Pecksniff was the dripping stone walls, and the keeper, too; the moon, the stars and the sun were behind me now.

Pecksniff knew how it worked. I was powerless. If offered a chance to wrestle a rabid tiger to get a lottery ticket with a one in a hundred shot at winning a picture of Immaculada Doyle wearing a burlap sack, I’d have jumped at it. But no one was offering anything. The customer’s representative was speaking. I was unable to look away from him.

The Montessori kids would never understand this. They’re born and bred to go after everything in this life the way piglets go after the teats. Me first, second, and third. The rest of us go to Catholic School and line up and learn which cog in life’s machinery we might be, if we stand quietly in line long enough. It was a dark thing, and ancient. You might talk all sorts of treason in a pub, but you tipped your hat when the patrician passed by. It was involuntary, really; a rubber hammer to some kneecap in your head.

People would point to some preening Fitzgerald, and say: See? The Irish are just like the WASPS now. But they weren’t the same breed as us, really. Put us in charge and we just end up stealing the spoons from our own house. We were all born to be James Michael Curley, running for alderman from a jail cell. We won’t deny our crimes — if caught dead to rights — so we say “I did it for a friend,” instead. We can’t ever claim any privilege, just wallow in a kind of magnificent stubbornness. Refuse to be bloodless and your blood will never turn blue.

So Pecksniff knew he was no better than me, but that as long as he embodied the voice of who’s who, I was going to stand there listening to what’s what. Manners are a dreadful thing.

“The bannister leading down from the butler’s pantry shall want an additional screw in all of its brackets…”

Stop talking stop talking stop talking

“…the previous mechanic sent by your patron neglected to fasten it properly…”

…Oh God stop talking like that and stop talking stop talking stop talking

“… and although the master of the house has no truck with these stairs they are a constant necessary for we who labor here…”

if you don’t stop talking right now I’m going to kill you with my hands I swear it

“… and Miss Doyle has often remarked to me of her concern…”

Bingo! Rumpelstiltskin had uttered Rapunzel’s name for a change, the iron grip of decorum was lifted, and I turned back to see — the dining room door swinging back and forth in the frame.

Just then, Pecksniff did the unthinkable. He said something funny.

“Oh; you seem to have dropped your spear, Sir Lancelot.”

Some Enchanted Place — Chapter Eight

To read Some Enchanted Place from the beginning, click here and start at the bottom

What is cowardice? I dunno. My father said it was a kind of vanity. Every coward thinks they’re special. That they’re the very first one to feel afraid. They think that if brave people felt the way they did, they’d never do anything heroic. They figure intrepid people are simply too dumb to be as frightened as they should be. It’s a great way to claim to be superior while cringing in the corner.

Well, I always fancied myself smart, too, after a fashion. I went to school, but not enough to do myself any harm. I was never that into it. But my predilection to read everything put in front of me had an ugly step-sister: a sort of detachment, even from my own affairs. Daydreamer. But thinking wry thoughts is no substitute for action sometimes. Can’t help it.

I had a moment one could mistake for amusement right there. Benedict Arnold Dracula was lurking at the bottom of the stairs somewhere, the wildest thing my imagination could conjure up was snuffling and snorting in the kitchen, and I was practically zoned out, my mind filled with trivial absurdities.

Trying to make some sense of it all,
But I can see it makes no sense at all,
Is it cool to fall asleep on the floor?
I don’t think that I can take anymore

It’s not fear. Fear doesn’t make you stand daydreaming in a little mixing-bowl room like some Hamlet in overalls. Fear’s easy. Fear’s a monster doing bad things and you run away or don’t and he eats you or he doesn’t. This place would be simple if it was plain old fear. There was just something disquieting about this joint; metaphysical termites were gnawing at the entire rotten substance of the place, leaving only a veneer to look at. It straddled some line between awake and asleep, or past and future; maybe man and beast. Something. Innocuous enough to make you fear looking foolish if you didn’t play along, strange enough to keep you looking over your shoulder all the time. It wasn’t a machine-gun nest to be charged or anything. If he was a werewolf, Pecksniff was a mundane kind of werewolf. As far as evil goes, I could picture him doing Jack The Ripper’s taxes, but I couldn’t picture him owning a knife. Something makes a noise. Big deal. Man up.

Hanging on a hook on the wall was an implement that would confound a million people who’d never been in an old-money house. The closest they’d come to it was mistaking it for a boathook. It was a long, smooth, slender shaft of white oak, with a little brass cap with a curlicue like an “S” on top. The oak was harder than Chinese arithmetic, and worn perfectly smooth by the touch of a hundred thousand hands. Big houses had tall ceilings, and the servants needed something to reach up and cock the transom windows open and closed. The shaft wasn’t much thicker than a pool cue, but I knew I could beat a charging rhino to death with the thing and it wouldn’t break. I grabbed it off the wall, not afraid mind you, just … prepared. I kicked the door that led into the kitchen, and it swung into the room, and then back on the double hinges you’ll find on all the doors a servant has to pass through to put food on a table in a mansion.

At first, there was a massive blast of sunlight. The sun had reached some magic point in the sky, and transformed the dim morning light I remembered creeping through the wall of windows in the kitchen into a blinding sheet of white light. My eyes were gulled by the basement and the windowless room, and my rods and cones rebelled. I saw all sorts of things that weren’t there, and missed the very real door as it hit me square in the face.

Anger, or pique, or whatever you call the shitfit you throw after the application of a door to the beezer and God’s searchlight right in your eyes, is the sure cure for all fears. If a monster rings your doorbell at two AM, you feel like running away screaming. If a monster rings your doorbell at two AM and tries to sell you encyclopedias, you feel like punching him in the face. Rage beats three beers, money, and a medal for ginning up courage. I kicked the door back hard, whacked the oak stick against it to hold it open, and went into the room like a prizefighter coming off a stool.

Between the tears in my eyes from the blow on the nose, and squinting from the sunlight, everything in the room was gauzy and indistinct. It didn’t matter. There was someone hunched over the sink on the far side of the room. A hand reached for the faucet, and the hissing noise from the spray head suspended over the sink stopped, and the drumming of the water in the bottom of the big copper basin slowed, and then ceased altogether.

The door was swinging wildly in a back-and-forth half-moon through the doorframe, and I was standing a few feet in front of its arc with my feet apart and the staff held forward like some misplaced Quixote confronted with a real-life Dulcinea; without question, exaggeration, or any other embroidery, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on turned from the sink and looked at me.

No, not Dulcinea. Or Helen of Troy. Cleopatra? Uh Uh. Marilyn Monroe? Pfft. Pikers. This woman wasn’t attractive; she was literally awesome.

We were both dumbstruck, if for different reasons. I was frozen by the unexpected appearance of some sort of Aphrodite; she was left to figure out the buffo arrival of a strange man, puffing like a marathoner, ready to joust, all the while being fanned by the languid breezes from a butler’s door.

“I. I…”

I lowered the stick and tried to look somewhat more nonchalant. Unsuccessfully, I’m sure.

“We’re… I’m… I’m the carpenter. For the fixing. Of things — stuff. I… Do you… live… um, work here? What’s your name?”

There was a pause, and she drifted across the floor towards me. She was even more stupefying close up. Almost tall, but not quite. Delicate and athletic, if that’s possible. Her skin was so fair she appeared to glow in the sunshine, without the slightest hint of pastiness, and the effect of it was multiplied by the frame of her hair, lustrous black, thick as thatch, and cut straight across just above the shoulder. She had no hint that anything about her was massaged to perfection by the touch of a human hand. She must have been kicked out of Olympus without her purse for showing up the second-string goddesses. I began a weird sort of visual Easter-Egg hunt, trying to find some flaw, something asymmetrical, any little blemish anywhere on her face. It was a fool’s errand. I followed the line of her nose around the perfect curve of her eyebrow, a savage eying another tribe’s totem and wondering if I should steal it or worship it, until I settled on the striking green of her eye and ran out of gas.

There was a long pause, and she pursed her lips as if to say something, hesitated, and her eyes widened to a look almost like surprise. A clock ticked loudly somewhere.

“Miss Immaculada Doyle is our housekeeper,” Pecksniff said, as my makeshift lance clattered to the floor.

Some Enchanted Place, Chapter Seven

If you just stumbled in, I’m apparently writing a book or something. Start here: Some Enchanted Place
Then here: Some Enchanted Place, Part Three
Then here: Part Three, Episode Two
Then here: Part Three, Episode Three

Then here: Episode Four
Episode Five
Chapter Seis

Chapter Six Second Part
Chapter Six Part Three

A man chained to an oar is not responsible if the ship runs aground. Hell, if you run aground, the guys in loincloths and shackles riding in involuntary steerage should get a raise the farther up the beach you end up. It just means they’re pulling hard.

I was way, way up on the beach at this point. Standing in a dank cellar with a weirdo, abandoned by Angel and the angels. I looked at old Pecksniff, and knew any small-talk approaches to smooth things over I had left in my bag of tricks were going to stay in there. I had stuck with the program long enough. Angel was a coward, but he wasn’t wrong. The place was creepy, and the weird waxwork dude running the place was getting creepier by the minute. Time for action.

But it’s an interesting kind of “action” you’re allowed in this life, at least if you’re born into the traces. You can’t just do whatever you want. Life for me and my friends was something of a lark, it’s true. We felt we were lucky to be spared a real career. Upward mobility was a term of art for us. The nuns would turn and point to the picture of Kennedy they all kept on the wall, and intone: “See, children, anyone can be president if they want to.” Yes, we all have the right to be born rich and well-connected. Or shot in the head. Or something. They might as well have told us we could all have a baby because we were all human.

“Action,” for people that drift through life with a boss in their ear, a Guinness in their bellies, a song on their lips on a Friday afternoon, and ten cents in their bank accounts at all times, consists of cooperating as little as is required, bumping along, and only actively dragging your heels when things have gone south already. No frontal assaults on the established order ever pay off. “You’re not the boss of me” doesn’t work when the object of your scorn most decidedly is. And most everyone is, in this world — or knows the judge. So you learn through painful experience not to telegraph your punches. What did dad call it? Keep your own counsel. Talk all the time; say nothing.

Well, this place had gone south to the Goddamned equator as far as I was concerned, but I wasn’t dumb enough to tell Pecksniff that if he was planning on making an oil portrait of me, he should hurry up because he was going to be doing it from memory from here on in. I was going to fib as little as necessary to get to the property line and never darken this already stygian doorstep again. If I even gave him an inkling I was abandoning my post, he’d be on the phone to young Charlie in an instant, the receiver would be handed to me, and I’d have to hold it two inches from my head or go deaf. And stay. I had to do unto others as Angel had done to me. Tag is an Olympic sport in the building trades.

“This area is fine for setting up shop.” I backed toward the stairway leading up. ” I’m going back to the shop and help my friend with gathering… um, gathering the materials for the list.” Halfway up the stair now, Pecksniff standing at the bottom, looking like he’s not believing a word of it, but, who cares? “Someone from our office will call to… to… confirm our… us… when we’re coming back.”

I was home free at the top of the stairs now. I couldn’t picture Pecksniff running up the stairs to catch me in the driveway. I’d call in sick or find some other nonsense to tell young Charlie, and he wouldn’t believe me any more than Pecksniff would, but so what? He’d have to send someone else, and the deed would be done.

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly…

I froze. Something was not right. That’s really saying something, in a place where nothing was right. I was in the little roundabout room, and I looked at all the doors leading out, and recognized the kitchen in an instant. There was a noise in there.

I looked back down the stairs, and Pecksniff was gone. Back to his shrine, to atone for my intrusion? Who knows? Maybe he was tired from a long morning of tormenting contractors and needed to hang upside-down for a while to refresh himself. The noise couldn’t be him. It was a sort of drumming sound, down in the bass register, and a nasty, high-pitched hissing, muffled and indistinct, and it was coming from the kitchen.

Some Enchanted Place – Chapter Six, Part The Third

If you just stumbled in, I’m apparently writing a book or something. Start here: Some Enchanted Place
Then here: Some Enchanted Place, Part Three
Then here: Part Three, Episode Two
Then here: Part Three, Episode Three

Then here: Episode Four
Episode Five
Chapter Seis

Chapter Six Second Part


History is just tribes. We’re all in great big tribes now, and belong to all sorts of smaller ones simultaneously — you’re in a bowling league and the National Guard and a book club at the same time; stuff like that. The importance of the original race tribes are waning fast now, and the fellow-traveler voluntary associations are nearing their place on the meridian. You’ve got more in common with a Mongol on your dart team than a professional golfer you saw on television that looks like your brother.

But don’t let it fool you. All sorts of vestigial tails accompany you into the bassinet. Later maybe you pick up more obscure signals through osmosis, or more directly. Dad might make an offhand comment at the dinner table, or maybe goes the point-blank route and just beats it into your head with a belt. Maybe the preacher slips it in your head when you’re not looking. Maybe your country hands you a rifle and tells you it’s A-OK to let it rip over there, but not over there, and you do the math. Perhaps someone looks at you funny in the schoolyard, and you really don’t know what or why it was funny, but you’re shirtless and throwing hands in no time.

People that live close enough to the railroad tracks to have their dishes rattle always come up with a variation on the same bit of bosh: I’m the descendant of kings! The black kids in high school would talk about the proud Ashanti warriors they had falling out of their family trees, and of course we dumb Micks claimed Kings as thick as poison ivy all over our miserable half-remembered patch of the Ould Sod. In your heart of hearts you never believed a word of it, even as you were saying it, and knew a king in Ireland was probably the king of this rock here to that pile of dung over there anyway, and even that was only because no one was around to claim otherwise. Your semi-notable surname just means your great-great-great-great grandmother got knocked up by a slightly better class of lord that happened to be passing through. We’re all nobodies or we wouldn’t be talking — or fighting — over nothing much. The somebodies are always elsewhere.

The sum total of my inculcation into the Irish tribe hung behind those damp towels in the bathroom. Dad could tell you, chapter and verse, the difference between the Fianna Fail and the Fine Gael, and many of his drinking buddies would go home angry from some party because someone said De Valera couldn’t hold a candle to Collins — or vice versa, depending on how many drinks they had. Me? It seemed very far away and trivial. The Polish and Italian girls in my High School class tested the limits of their blouse buttons, and I plumbed the depths of diversity peeking at them.

But still. Angel went a little overboard, but Pecksniff certainly did exude something creepy; radiated it. His little disclosure pushed me past wanting to wet myself and around the bend in a way it was hard to explain for someone that really didn’t give a fart about being Oirish. But this was beyond the beyonds, as my grandmother used to say if you dared swear at the dinner table, which you didn’t.

I don’t know the Royal Black Knights of the Camp of Israel from the Apprentice Boys of Derry, or any of the dozens of clubs my father would mention with his eyebrow lowered and set on stun. I don’t know one from another, or any particular one from a hole in the ground. But that vestigial tail of my race, the faint imprint of my ancestors left in my bones, told me that all my squabbling tribes forget everything between them in an instant, then coalesce into one big angry Green tribe, whenever the Orange tribe shows up.

Pecksniff was standing there in this gloomy hole in the ground, beaming with pride to announce that he had turned his back on his brethren, and gone to carry water for the Orange team.

Some Enchanted Place – The Second Part Of Part Six

If you just stumbled in, I’m apparently writing a book or something. Start here: Some Enchanted Place
Then here: Some Enchanted Place, Part Three
Then here: Part Three, Episode Two
Then here: Part Three, Episode Three

Then here: Episode Four
Episode Five
Chapter Seis

Similes are hard.

You must have had someone you cared for — maybe even loved — sneak up behind you and put their hands over your eyes and say: ” Guess who?” in a playful sort of a way at least once in your life. They figured you’d realize they were there long before they touched you, but occasionally a person can be concentrating on something, or distracted somehow, and be truly startled.

OK, now imagine a leper does it.

A man has to be careful in these situations. A real man, I mean, not the entirely gelded variety. A man who has not sublimated every aspect of the animal instinct we’re all born with. Most of us get plenty of it to start; too much, really. The organized world draws it out like venom or beats it out of you when you’re little, fitting you for a lifelong wardrobe full of little mental jackets with sleeves that tie in the back. Civilization tries to replicate itself again and again from the born anarchy of the little boy. But the dirty little secret of the civilized male is that we’ve squandered more than controlled our essential nature. Nothing particularly important was harvested from us; we just go to seed on our own after a while. But there’s still fast-twitch muscles available if you’ve got the urge, and if your hand is a little too slow to twist the lever on the rattletrap governor we all keep in our heads, you can still get in a lot of trouble in a hurry in this world.

I was in luck. Maybe one of Aesop’s Fables I’d be hard pressed to name came halfway to mind; some ignored and leaden homily delivered in a dreary church that leaked into my head anyway crept back from its oblivion; some little tidbit of a juvenile aphorism my dear mother whispered into my childish ear while my knothead straddled the line between awake and asleep reappeared; perhaps a vision of a nun, now long dead, hovered over my shoulder with a ruler ready to strike one more time — something kept me from spinning around in a fit of awkwardness, embarrassment, mortification, or maybe just plain fear, and putting my fist right in Pecksniff’s face.

I flinched and restrained from flinching at the same time, like a man in the electric chair. I felt as though I was a volcano, just warming up, and a giant had sat on me. I emitted a little something from every aperture imaginable, and then it all slammed shut. My thoughts ran across my eyes like a ticker tape, and I wondered absurdly if Pecksniff could read backwards, like Leonardo da Vinci, or a gypsy calling for Beelzebub in the mirror. Think fast, talk faster, the ticker came up with much too slowly.

“I, um, er, a Shriner maybe?”

“My dear boy. A Shriner is a Freemason.”

I liked this line of country. Pecksniff was off the scent.

“So what club is it that your boss belongs to, exactly?”

He cleared his throat in particularly weary way. It’s better to be thought stupid than up to no good. I figured I was home free.

“He does not belong to clubs. Many clubs, however, belong to him. The handbill that has caught your fancy is mine. I am a Deputy Master of The Royal Black Knights of the Camp of Israel. Though I am Irish descent, as I infer you are, they have graced me with their trust and fraternity.”

Light dawns over Marble Head, as they say. Now I get it. Pecksniff didn’t just throw off a metaphysically creepy aura. He had something else going on. He wasn’t a snake in the bathtub. He was a snake in the grass.

Some Enchanted Place, Chapter Seis

If you just stumbled in, I’m apparently writing a book or something. Start here: Some Enchanted Place
Then here: Some Enchanted Place, Part Three
Then here: Part Three, Episode Two
Then here: Part Three, Episode Three

Then here: Episode Four
Episode Five

Old Pecksniff gave me one of those little chuffs that won him his nickname, spun on the ball of his foot, or his cloven hoof, or whatever he had in his shoe, and went back up the stairs. I made a quick pact with myself, promising to immediately cut my own throat with my putty knife if he switched off the light out of habit or malice when he got to the top of the stair, and so save myself from suffering at the hands of whatever pack of chimeras or gorgons or rabid minotaurs they kept down here. The light stayed on.

When I was little, my father sent me out to the woodpile, alone, at night. It was the middle of the winter, clear, cold, and moonless. Dad lied like an accountant and said the flashlight was dead. I hinted I’d rather not go. He hinted I’d better.

“Just keep looking all around and you won’t be afraid.”

The door clicked shut behind me, and the wan pool of light at the step didn’t reach very far. I ignored the advice and tromped out through the windscoured drifts, my footfalls squeaking in the perfectly dessicated snow, to the big pile of oak and maple splits out by the edge of the trees. By the time I had gotten there, I had accumulated an enormous retinue of monsters, cutthroats, spectres, werewolves, and a herd of kelpies strung out behind me — or so I imagined. I stood there a long time, stoopshouldered and shivering, the wind whispering odd things into my ear and watering my eyes, neither of which needed any encouragement at this point. Your mind can conjure up anything in a place like that. It took all my strength to look over my shoulder. Nothing. I learned my lesson; never save up cowardice hoping for a courage dividend later.

So screw Pecksniff. I walked around and shook all the doors and looked around. I’d tell him I was looking for a place to plug something in or get a pail of water if he came back.

Most of it was padlocked, or nailed or painted shut. I found a pail and stood on it and looked through the lattice here and there. If Sotheby’s did flea markets, Luxor could fill the tents. Old creels and bamboo rods, leather suitcases left in the damp too long, paintings of crabby great-uncles, a fiberglass fish. There was one locked paddock that had a sort of oversized Dewey decimal system-looking bank of drawers against one wall, trailing off into the gloom.

On the back of one of the doors that swung freely, there was a posterboard with an odd assortment of symbols on it. It was a club coat of arms, I guess, but looked like a doodle designed by a schoolboy that ate paste when the teacher wasn’t looking. Noah’s Ark. A skull and bones. What looked like a pyramid fringed with candle flames. Everything in it was familiar, but didn’t add up to anything much arrayed on the same page. It put me in mind of my father’s membership certificate in the Ancient Order of Hibernians — or as my friends and me who also had dads in the AOH called it: The Real IRA; Irish Republican Alcoholics. Our dads were all supposed to be mowing the lawn, but they snuck down to the hall and passed a hat to cobble together ten bucks to buy dynamite for Ireland. Nine-and-a-half bucks of which was used to buy a round to celebrate the solidarity of the thing. None of them had ever set foot in Ireland, and never would. We left all that shite behind. Mom hung dad’s Hibernian membership on the back of the bathroom door, forever to be obscured by damp towels.

I had a bad habit of reading everything that was put in front of me. My first boss learned the hard way not to give me old newspapers to use as dropcloths when I painted the inside of cupboards. Obituaries, racing results so old all the horses were dead, bridge columns, didn’t matter; all typefaces and topics were like waving a red rag in front of a bull to me. It’s not my fault. This poster was worse. It was a puzzle.

A rooster. A beehive. A trowel and a sword together, of all things. Alexander, the Great Bricklayer?

Oh for pity’s sake. The compass and the square. The all-seeing eye. Like a little boy that can’t wait for the teacher to call on me, bursting with the answer, I said it out loud: “Lord of the Manor is a Freemason. Figures.”

I was the kid at the woodpile again.

“He most decidedly is not.”

Some Enchanted Place, Chapter Five

If you just stumbled in, I’m apparently writing a book or something. Start here: Some Enchanted Place
Then here: Some Enchanted Place, Part Three
Then here: Part Three, Episode Two
Then here: Part Three, Episode Three

Then here: Episode Four

So I’m out in the driveway again, alone, with the house glowering at me once more. I looked right back at it.

I wasn’t afraid of being observed. No danger of Pecksniff pulling back a curtain and watching me. A dragon just sleeps atop his pile of gold and jewels. He doesn’t worry himself overmuch over passersby. No matter what Angel thinks, any true Irishman knows his dragons. Cuchulain was pulling dragon hearts out and showing them to the brutes as they died before Cape Verde was a twinkle in a Portuguese slave-trader’s eye. And after they lit out for America and the cranberry bogs, too, now that I think of it.

When Pearse summoned Cuchulain to his side,

What stalked through the Post Office? What Intellect,

What calculation, number, measurement, replied?

We Irish, born into that ancient sect,

But thrown upon this filthy modern tide

And by its formless spawning fury wrecked,

Climb to our proper dark, that we may trace

The lineaments of a plummet-measured face.

Angel should know better than to make the Old Money mistake of lumping everyone outside your tribe together. They figure we all sit in the same Papist pews, and they can just file us all under: garlic eaters and save some trouble. The WOGs begin at Calais, they used to say, and pronounce it like callous to multiply the contempt intended. Doesn’t matter if Dover has white cliffs or the Charles River next to it. Guys sipping gin and quinine in Peshawar said the same thing.

Irish garlic eaters. That’s a good one. Dad would have gotten a kick out of that.

The house. Might as well have a real look at it since I’m out here. Around the side, the place has a fountain, too, left dry for the freezing season fast approaching. There’s a date, incised deeply into the stone or concrete or whatever it is.


L is fifty, right? X, ten. Been a while. I just let the movie dates roll by in the credits.

No, not a number. That would be mundane. The house has a name. These people always name their houses. When they were still pestering whales and had seaside shacks, they’d put a board on the side of their house with a name on it, same as the boat had, and the habit stuck. And the V’s not a V. It’s an incised U. Luxor. Odd way to write it. What the hell does Egypt have to do with anything around here anyway? Well if that loon Hearst can have a Xanadu, I guess a blueblood here on the other coast can have his Thebes.

Jayzuz again. It’s probably nine by now and nothing’s done. I lied of course; there’s no way I’ll rat Angel out to young Charlie. I’ll cover for him until the list is done or he comes back, and he knows it. I’ll finish it all myself if I have to pull Pecksniff’s heart out and show it to him.

I went around to the door again and paused for a moment, wondering if I should start a passion play all over again by knocking, thought the better of it and opened the door myself and went right on in. It’s always expected that once the the factotums let us in, they were no longer at our service. We weren’t being accorded respect, exactly. We were supposed to be invisible. That’s different.

Just when I thought old Pecksniff couldn’t get any creepier, he doubled down by reappearing at the corner of the big table in the kitchen, as if he hadn’t moved an inch since Angel and I had fled to the relative safety of the driveway. By god, this guy is a daisy.

“Is there some difficulty?”

“No, nothing’s wrong. Angel… my partner went to pick up some stock we might need,” I lied like a Turk in a bazaar. “We’ll just need a spot in the house to keep our tools and where we can work a little without worrying about hurting anything. Or a garage or something.”

He did it again. Said nothing, just listened intently to me like I was a lost foreigner mis-conjugating strange verbs, and then turned on his heel and walked off without saying anything. I hesitated a moment, and then realized he was giving me a second chance to make a fool of myself by standing there waiting for an invitation. I hustled to catch up, and he led me to a dark, wainscoted anteroom, a kind of hub for him, I think, but out of earshot and view of the lords of the manor. He clicked an old-fashioned switch to make a light, and you could almost hear the lightning jump across the terminals when he closed the circuit. Nothing ever gets replaced in these places. The light revealed a staircase headed down. He descended the treads in his peculiar way, and I followed him down, picturing in my mind’s eye him holding a torch over his head, entering a catacomb.

There was a door at the very bottom of the stair, a no-no in any modern house but common in these old shacks. The door was locked, but he produced a key immediately from thin air and opened it. It took every ounce of courage I had to follow him in there, and I immediately wished I hadn’t.

The place smelled of worms and corruption and the grave. I knew the peculiar smell of lime underground, from all the patched parge coats of mortar on the rubble foundations to the nasty ropy calcimine whitewash everywhere. It makes you think of Tom Sawyer if you’re out in the sunshine, and a pauper’s grave down here. There were pens or rooms of some sort sectioned off and sort of caged in with lattice and rude doors fashioned from whatever lumber was unsuitable for anyone but the most menial help to look at. There were ancient hasps and padlocks on everything, which suggested keeping things in as much as out, which didn’t improve the mood any.

“The old laundry. You may make whatever noise you like down here. No one will hear it, and it will cause no trouble.”

I thought it would be considered bad manners to run screaming out of the house and into the woods, so I resisted the urge. I used to think I was smarter than Angel, but I got over that right then and there.

Some Enchanted Place – Chapter Four

If you just stumbled in, I’m apparently writing a book or something. Start here: Some Enchanted Place
Then here: Some Enchanted Place, Part Three
Then here: Part Three, Episode Two
Then here: Part Three, Episode Three

Jayzuz, not the Portuguese.

Angel would get this way every once in a while when he was really loaded. He’d start in with the rat-a-tat dialect that doesn’t signify much to anybody that was born even one island away from his family’s stony portion of Cape Verde. His people had lived in the US before it even was the US, I think, but his mother still spoke that weird creole mess that’s officially Portuguese, but sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard. Angel learned it backwards and forwards from her. It would probably sound the same backwards or forwards, now that I think of it. Even the Brazilian guys couldn’t understand him. I’d just tune it out, order another round, and wait for him to slur out something I could understand: Te vejo segunda-feira — see you on Monday — and then I’d head on home. Lapsing into it sober, in broad daylight, was a bad sign.

“Look, Angel, I admit that guy looks like a voodoo doll made from a dragon’s earwax, but let’s be adults for a minute. All these places give me the willies, to tell the truth. There’s always a stack of corpses in their bank accounts somewhere. Slave traders. Opium wholesalers. Bronze age arms dealers, for Christ’s sake. I don’t much care, as long as some of the corpses’ dandruff ends up in my bank account eventually. Get a grip.”

He gave me an odd little look, like a guy that had put a frog in your lunchbox and was waiting for noon for the payoff.

“You don’t know jack about dragons, you stupid harp. I’ll tell you about dragons.”

I looked back at the blank face of the house. There was no sign of the butler from hell, or anyone else for that matter. These people are never home. They’re like royal retinues, squatting in their own possessions now and again and then leaving a few of the help to keep pedaling while they go off to another of their haunts. It’s like the whole world is their tram and they get on and off on a whim. The hell with it.

“OK, you little troll. What the hell are you on about?”

“Listen, I know you goddamn Irish. You’re always bowing down in front of anybody with an English name. You shoot up barrooms full of Protestants at night and then shine their shoes the next day. Well, my people were here taking Nantucket sleighrides and humping Indian broads when the WASPs you hate and worship were still kissing King George’s ass for a handout. “

I thought the animated corpse that answered the door was kinda creepy, and Angel was one of my best friends, but he had a look in his eye right there that made me want to go in the house and sit in Pecksniff’s lap.

“Dragons? You talking to me about dragons? The dragon tree is on my island, you stupid jerk. My people humped under the full moon in the shadow of the dragon tree. They’d cut the bark and smear themselves with the red goo that came out, dragon’s blood, and make their deal for a baby. They’d pass that stain on down, oh yes. When my father died before I was born, my mother knew I’d come out touched, man. She put her coat inside out over me in the crib, put the ivory finger around my neck on a ribbon, and lit candles in church for my dead drowned daddy, but that shit’s no good. I got the second sight, brother. O mau-olhado. The evil eye. It works coming and going, and I’m telling you that guy, that house, and whatever demon owns the whole mess is bad, bad, bad.”

Angel was practically snorting and pacing back and forth like a panther in a zoo at this point. My morning’s gone from trying not to break any hummels while I’m attempting to scratch out a living, to choosing between working alone with a second-class vampire watching over me or dragging a guy that thinks he’s a fifth-generation witch doctor kicking and screaming the whole time. I had to think fast. When in doubt, dangle money.

“I’m not covering for you. You bug out on me, and I’m telling young Charlie you didn’t show. You need the money even more than I do.”

Angel took another look at the house, then me, and seemed to calm down a little.

“Money? You expect me to go in there for money? Si tchuba tchobe, morre fogadu. Si ka tem tchuba, morre di sedi.

Angel walked past me, climbed into the cab of his pick-up truck, turned the key in the ignition, and slammed the door. I went up to the window and glared at him. His hand hesitated over the gear shift lever, and he rolled down the window.

“What in the hell does that mean, you little pygmy?”

“If it rains, we drown. If it doesn’t, we die of thirst.”

He turned his head away, murmured, “Good luck,” and sprayed me with gravel.

(To be continued on Monday)

Some Enchanted Place, Part Three, Episode Three

I looked over at Angel, half expecting to see a little puddle form under him. His knuckles were white from gripping the table, his interest in staring at the paper had morphed from grabbing hold of a life preserver to clinging to the last piece of flotsam in the ocean. Pecksniff — this whole place — had gotten to him. I had to think quick or I was going to be working here alone for the rest of the week.

“Listen, er …”

I realized right then that I didn’t know his name, and was never going to. He wasn’t going to offer, and I wasn’t going to ask. Lord knows what would happen if I said it three times.

“We’re … going out to our truck and make sure we have all the tools we need for all this. We’ll be… right back.”

I picked up the papers and grabbed Angel by the arm. With the papers gone, he turned and looked up at me like the flotsam had gotten away from him and a big dorsal fin had arrived.

“Right back.”

I gave Angel my best it’s-almost-last-call-hurry-up look and pulled on his arm hard enough to hurt him. He ended up beating me out the door somehow. The driveway seemed like quicksand now, and we swam over behind Angel’s truck.

There’s a certain poise you gain from being summoned endlessly to fix things that are beyond the capacity of others to do for themselves. You can be dressed in rags, little ovals appearing on the worn bottoms of your old boots, unshorn and bedheaded, and people are still a little in awe of you if you can make a toilet flush. Doctors sit atop this totem pole of hidden knowledge, I guess. You sit there, shivering and shirtless, and wait for them to come in and scrawl a few runes on a scrap of paper and save you. They shake your hand and leave and you know they touch a flower in a pot the same way. A lawyer’s a little farther down, head filled with arcane tidbits that can pull your chestnuts out of the fire after your check clears. But we thumbsmashers make it way up the pole too. The townsfolk stand around waiting for you to fix things. You’re Clint Eastwood with a hammer.

Well, whatever mojo we brought had evaporated entirely, and we were just two schoolboys without our homework again, out in the playground, afraid to go in. Observed dispassionately, Angel and me must look a little absurd together. I’m a six-foot-three Irishman, rangy and pasty-faced to the point of borderline Ichabod Crane, and Angel was little more than five-foot tall, a little heavy, and swarthy. Four-foot-fourteen, I called him. We must have looked like Mutt and Jeff with callouses to Pecksniff, who was no doubt inspecting us from the window.

“There’s no way I’m going back in there.”

Oh boy, here we go.

I should point out here that Angel was no bedwetter. If you work shoulder to shoulder with a guy for years, in the trench and the tavern alike, you get to really know a fellow. He never acted silly, but he had a sort of bonhomie and self-assurance that made him a lot of friends and avoided unpleasantness with strangers most of the time. But like many of my friends, Angel was what we termed ” a serious man.”

I remember some guy in his cups running his mouth at Angel in a barroom one time. The guy was a foot taller than Angel and had a big man on campus athlete look to him. Angel finally told him to shut his pie-hole or he’d shut it for him, and Joe College surprised us all and pulled out a knife. Angel had five friends right there, including me, that would have killed that guy for a nickel, and lent Angel the nickel too, but we reflexively burst out laughing. The only question was where Angel would stick that knife after he took it away from the guy. Somewhere embarrassing, not fatal. Children shouldn’t taunt serious men.

Serious man or not, Angel’s fight or flee instinct seemed to be missing half its urges, and I started wondering just how silly we’d appear to old Pecksniff if I had to tackle Angel when he headed for the driver’s side door.

A merda do diabo!“he sort of hissed under his breath. “I’m outta here.”

(to be continued, if you can stand it)

Tag: Some enchanted place

Find Stuff: