The Truth has come and falsehood has vanished, for falsehood by its nature is bound to perish.
- Mohammad, (570—632 C.E.), The Qu'ran 17:18 al-Isra
[Translated by Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik]
Dan froze, gazing up at Trixie standing on his grandmother’s porch. She looked good, he thought. She’d be forty-two now. She had the red hair she’d always had, but now it was streaked with grey in places. Or perhaps it was silver. It looked like the fire in her hair had started to fade. But it still seemed to glisten in the moonlight. She had on jeans and a thick jacket, so no other clues about how she looked were visible. She was holding a key in her hand, which Dan thought was surprising. He couldn’t conceive of any reason why she’d have a key to his grandmother’s house.
“Hi.” Dan said, as nonchalantly as he could.
“Hey.” She replied. “I though you’d be home already.”
“I went out to get some food. To the Peanut Bar.” Dan explained, as he walked up the three large stone steps to the back porch. “Do you have a key to Chulkie’s house?”
Trixie hesitated before answering. “Um. Yeah, I do.”
“Why would you have a key to my grandmother’s house when we haven’t spoken in two decades!” Dan’s voice was getting excited and even a little angry. This was not going as he’d expected.
“Look, let’s just go inside and I can explain.” Trixie said calmly.
“Yeah, okay, sure.” Dan said apologetically. “Sorry about that. I’ve had a few drinks. I think we got off on the wrong foot, or rather I did. I saw you with a key and for some reason it struck me the wrong way.”
He opened the door and let her in. She took off her coat, revealing a pale blue sweater with a v-neck. Trixie was in pretty good shape. She looked like she’d taken care of herself. She wasn’t skinny, but looked fit. As she removed her scarf, he noticed the sweater showed off her modest cleavage quite well.
“Here, let me take your coat.” Dan fumbled, reaching for her jacket. “Let’s go in the living room. I’ll start a fire. Do you want anything to drink?”
“How about some port?” Trixie suggested. “I gave your grandmother a nice bottle of port a few years ago.”
Dan’s mind should have zeroed in on why she was exchanging presents with his relatives, but instead he was remembering how he and Bill had murdered a bottle of port Monday night. “I think I may have drank that already?” he said a little sheepishly.
“By yourself?” She sounded accusatory.
He couldn’t very well tell her about Bill, so he figured all he could do was try to not sound like a drunk. “Well not in one night. I finished it over a few nights. It made a good nightcap. That was a really great bottle, 1977 was a great year for port. I don’t think I realized you knew so much about wine.”
“I didn’t before, I mean when we were together.” She explained. “But I worked at the state store a few years back and learned quite a bit. I thought you only liked beer?”
Dan realized that over the last twenty years they had both accumulated a lifetime’s worth of experiences that neither of them knew anything about. “I still prefer it. But I have learned to appreciate other things, too. It’s hard not to in California, they have some incredible wines there, of course. But I’m sure you know all about that, if you worked at the state store.”
“Yeah, we got a lot of the bigger ones here.” Trixie said.
“Have a seat.” Dan suggested. “Anything other than port?”
“What have you got?” She asked.
“Well beer, of course.” He laughed, a little uneasily. “I got a bunch of liquor for mixed drinks, mixers, soda, some box wine. Like that. I stocked up for the wake tomorrow night.”
“How about a gin and tonic.” Trixie requested.
“That we can do.” Dan replied, excusing himself into the kitchen. Bill was waiting for him when we got to the kitchen. He handed him the gin and a glass. Dan grabbed the tonic water and made the drink. Then he grabbed himself a beer, pouring it into a pint glass.
“What are you doing?” Bill asked sternly.
“What do you mean?” Dan whispered. “How do you think it’s going?”
“Are you kidding?” Bill roared, holding his thumb and forefinger about a quarter of an inch apart. “You’re this close to talking about the weather. You’re just making chitchat. You’ve been waiting for this moment for twenty years. Don’t talk about nothing.”
“Okay, okay.” Dan replied forcefully. “We just started. I was working up to it.”
“Sure you were.” Bill rolled his eyes, as Dan returned to the living room. He handed Trixie her drink and set his down to start a duraflame log in the fireplace. He grabbed the matches from the almost empty mantle and lit the fire.
“Thanks.” Trixie said, accepting the drink. “What happened to all the photographs that were on the mantle?” Then as she looked around at the blank walls, added. “Actually, where are all the photographs?”
“I shipped them home.” Dan explained, sitting down in the chair opposite the sofa where he and Bill had talked earlier in the week. “I boxed up all of the stuff I wanted to hang on to. The rest will be auctioned off by Pennypackers before they sell the house.”
“You’re not keeping the house?” Trixie sounded surprised. “But your father and your grandfather built this house. How can you get rid of it?”
“This isn’t my home any more.” Dan reminded her. “I don’t mean this house, I mean Dutch Wonderland. Shillington. My home is in California now. I’m sorry. Here there are only reminders of …” He stopped himself.
“Of what?” Trixie demanded. “Reminders of what?”
“Lots of things. Everything. Well, not absolutely everything, obviously.” Dan stammered, trying not to say the wrong thing. “You know what I mean.”
“I’m not sure I do. Do you mean me? Us?” She asked point blank.
“Well, yes. That’s part of it.” He admitted. “A big part. But it’s more than that. This place reminds of me Rick, my Mom, so many unhappy memories. Just being here this week has been very difficult. Everywhere I look something reminds me of something bad I would rather have forgotten.”
“So there was nothing good here?” She challenged.
“I didn’t say that.” Dan answered testily. “Yes, there are some good memories here, too. A few. They’re just overwhelmed by all the rotten ones, that’s all.”
“So if your grandmother hadn’t have died, would you have come back here?” She asked.
“Not if I could help it.” He answered quickly, without thinking. “I mean, it was inevitable that she would die. She couldn’t live forever. Although she came closer than the rest of us are likely to, didn’t she? So I knew at some point I’d have to come back here and … and …”
“Find closure?” Trixie finished for him.
“No.” he cried. “I hate that term. It’s too new age bullshit.”
“But you live in the capitol of new age bullshit.” Trixie chided him.
He heard Bill laughing from the other room. “I do not.” He said petulantly, eyeing the kitchen for a glimpse of Bill. “Well, it’s not all like that. There are plenty of normal people there, too. Anyway, I wasn’t going to say closure. Something more like” — he paused to think about it — “a way to put it all behind me, to deal with it, to move forward without it being a dead weight around me.”
“Closure.” Trixie repeated, to additional laughter coming from the kitchen.
“Alright.” He sighed. “Whatever. Why do you still live here?”
“I don’t. I live near Lancaster. For me, it’s far enough away but close enough to my family and other people important to me.” Trixie told him.
“How are your folks?” He asked.
“Well, mom died a few years ago, in 1998. Cancer. It was a long, slow death. They diagnosed her about two years before. I spent a lot of time taking care of her during that time.” She sighed now, too.
“I’m sorry.” Dan said sympathetically. “I didn’t know. Sometimes people send me news clippings but I never saw one about your mom.”
“I thought about calling you, because you two used to be close.” She admitted. “But in the end, I just didn’t know what I’d say to you so I decided not to call. Too much time had passed, you know what I mean? It was just easier to not talk.”
“Yeah.” Dan began, sighing again. “I do know what you mean. After that last time we talked, I thought about calling you almost every day. Then after a while, it was every week, then once a month or so. Eventually, so much time had passed that it would have seemed more awkward to call than not call.”
Trixie nodded her head with recognition. “Exactly. That’s exactly it. After a while, I just needed to get on with my life. So eventually that’s what I did. It was hard at first, but little by little it got easier.”
“So what have you been doing with yourself for the last twenty years?” He asked.
“Getting by.” She said, a little sadly Dan thought. “I went back to college and got a teaching degree. It made my dad happy for a short time, but you know how he is, it didn’t last. But I found I really like teaching. I felt like I was doing something good in the world. I liked that about it. Of course, the pay sucks.” She laughed.
“What grade are you teaching? And where? Dan asked.
“Oh, elementary school mostly. This year I have sixth grade. A great bunch of kids. I’ve been at Warwick now for, geez, what is it, ten years. I’m in Lititz. That’s where I live there, too.”
“I think I remember Warwick.” Dan said. “Didn’t we play them in football back in high school?”
“Yeah, I think we did.” Trixie explained. “But we don’t anymore. Something about restructuring the divisions throughout the state a few years ago. I don’t really pay attention to sports.”
“So, I hope this doesn’t sound accusatory, but why do you have a key to Chulkie’s?” Dan asked, changing the subject.
“Well …” She hesitated again.
“Well?” Dan repeated.
“Now don’t get mad, Dan.” Trixie warned. “Let me finish. I stayed in touch with your grandmother ever since you left. I came to see her, I don’t know, probably something like once a week.”
Dan choked on his drink, and started coughing. “Once a week. Jesus Christ. You’ve seen her more than I have. That’s like, I don’t know, twenty times 52, a thousand times. She never said a word to me. Nobody did. What the hell?”
“Calm down, Dan.” Trixie soothed. “The first couple of times, I just stopped by to see if she was alright. Although in reality I was just fishing to see if she’d tell me anything about you. That way I could still know how you were doing without having to suck up my pride and call you. Anyway, what I though was going to be the last time I came to see her, she sat me down and asked me if I’d keep coming to see her. You now how she was, you couldn’t say no to her. She was always so sweet, such a giving person. And she really missed you. I think I may have been a kind of substitute for you in the beginning.”
Dan stopped being pissed, and just listened.
“But after a little while, we just developed our own relationship.” She continued. “I’d take her shopping sometimes, and to church every once in a while. Just us girls; it was really nice. I never knew either of my grandmothers so this was exactly what I needed after the trauma of that day at your house. She was a rock; she was always there for me. I loved her, Dan. It was like she was my grandmother, too. I also feel like I just lost a dear member of my family.”
Dan had to fight back the tears. That sounded exactly like Chulkie. It’s exactly the sort of thing she would have done. She always did fight for people. She gave people her time and treated them like they were the only people who mattered. She would have made a great politician. Chulkie made everybody around her feel a little better. It was a gift. “Sorry.” He said finally. “I had no idea. Nobody said a word to me.” Dan was shaking his head.
“We decided from the very beginning not to tell you.” Trixie explained.
“What do you mean we? Why?” Dan’s anger was returning.
“Well, okay. It was Chulkie’s idea.” She admitted. “She said we should just keep this to ourselves. I don’t know, maybe she was protecting you. Maybe she thought you wouldn’t like it.”
“Well you have to admit it’s a little weird.” Dan remarked. “No offense, but she wasn’t actually your grandmother. She was mine, and you dumped me twenty years ago. I didn’t keep up a relationship with your mom.”
“Hey.” Trixie interrupted. “I didn’t dump you. You left. You went to California. You dumped me.”
“I did not.” Dan said defensively. “I wanted you to come with me. I begged you to come along. It’s not like I was trying to get away from you.”
“No, just everybody else.” Trixie said. “This was our home. My family was here. Our friends were here. I like this place. I didn’t want my kids to grow up somewhere else, some place I didn’t know. I wanted to stay here. You never did understand that.”
“I couldn’t stay here. My life was in danger. Did you forget Rick had threatened to kill me. And you know as well as I did that not only was he capable of it, but he had plenty of lowlife cronies that would have done it for him. So it was definitely not safe for me here.”
”But did you have to go so far away. Did you have to pick California? Why wasn’t the next county far enough, or the other side of the state, or even New Jersey or Maryland or New York? Why did you always have to be so extreme? Trixie countered.
Bill could still be heard laughing in the kitchen. It wasn’t helping Dan’s mood any to be heckled by a dead guy. Dan was thinking there must be some way to beat up a ghost when this was over.
“I don’t know.” He replied. “I felt like I had to get as far away as possible, just to be safe.”
“You were a coward.” Trixie accused. “You never did well with confrontation so at the first sign of real trouble you cut and ran.”
“At the first sign of real trouble?” Dan was getting angrier still. Trixie really knew how to push his buttons. “You don’t count years of beatings to myself and my mom as real trouble?”
“Of course I do.” Trixie sounded exasperated. “But compared to murder, those things aren’t nearly as severe.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about.” Dan retreated into his old line of defense. They’d had different versions of this same argument many times before.
“Let’s not do this.” Trixie begged, hanging her head low.
Regaining his composure, Dan replied. “Okay. You’re right. We should be able to move the arguments from twenty years ago. I felt that I had no choice but to get out this place. It was killing me, figuratively and then almost literally. I needed a fresh start so badly I can’t even tell you. And yes, I though about places closer than California but they just didn’t seem far enough away to guarantee a fresh start. If it was easy to get home from, I figured that’s what I’d do as soon as it became difficult there. I was afraid I’d retreat back home with my tail between my legs. Plus if I could get home fast, Rick and his cohorts could get to me too easily as well.”
“And I thought I deserved a fresh start, without all the baggage that’s littered around this place. I wanted a new start for us, too. I thought we also deserved one. It never occurred to me that you wouldn’t come with me. I really thought you’d stay with me no matter what. It was very hard on me that you wouldn’t.” Dan continued. “But by the time I found that out, all the plans were set and you weren’t talking to me. I couldn’t get to you at all. So I couldn’t even tell you what I was doing what I was doing. When I got to California I never felt so alone in my whole life, and I think I blamed you a little bit for that. I know it wasn’t fair, I mean I know that now, but at the time I had these big ideas that we’d be able to be together without fear, without the pull of the past, and without any responsibilities, except to one another.”
“When you put it that way.” Trixie admitted. “It doesn’t sound half bad.
“So why wouldn’t you see me?” Dan asked.
“I don’t know.” She sighed. “It seems silly now, but at the time I wasn’t thinking clearly. I mean, I’d just been shot by my boyfriend’s stepfather and witnessed him killing your mother. I just went into a kind of shock. Not the shock from the wound, but a mental shock. I just shut down. I locked myself in my room and wouldn’t talk to anybody. My parents didn’t know what to do, but they thought by respecting my wishes they were doing the right thing. In retrospect, they should have ignored my shock-induced coma-like behavior, and forced me back into life. That would have been the best thing for me. I figured that out eventually and got on with my life. One day a few weeks after you left, I got a big wake up call, of sorts. And I picked myself up and got on with it. It was too late by then for us. And I know you won’t believe this after what I’d told you on the phone that day, but it was really hard on me, too. I still” — she paused — “cared for you a lot. But I couldn’t follow you. I knew that much. As much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t.”
“No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see myself in California. I think I’m more attached to this place than you are.” Trixie hypothesized. “This place is in my bones. I’d feel like a fish out of water any place else.”
“How do you know?” Dan demanded. “Have you been anywhere else?”
“What do you mean?” Trixie sounded defensive.
“Well I’m not trying to pick another fight, but how can you say you wouldn’t feel the same way about another place if you’ve never lived anywhere else? Don’t you think at some level, that’s just a convenient cop-out? I mean, be honest with yourself. How can you be so sure?”
“I’ve traveled a bit.” She said, still sounding defensive. “I went to Europe a few years ago and the Caribbean before that. And I’ve been up and down the East Coast antiquing. I love antiques now. It’s a hobby of mine. So I’ve gotten to see other places.”
“But you haven’t ‘lived’ anywhere else, have you? That’s the difference, I think.” Dan explained.
“Okay, maybe I haven’t. But I know what this place means to me. I love it here. I can’t conceive of being anywhere else. I don’t want to live anywhere else, isn’t that enough?” Trixie sounded exasperated.
Dan could see he wasn’t getting anywhere. No matter what he said, she wasn’t going to budge. This has become an intractable position for her. Perhaps she needs to believe it because it makes her decision easier for her in the end, Dan thought.
“I guess so.” He offered, though he obviously didn’t believe it. “At least you’ve traveled a bit and thought about it. That’s still more than most people have done.”
“Thanks.” She said at last, visibly relaxing and sinking back into the chair. “I really love this room.”
“Yeah, me too.” Dan agreed. And they finally stopped accusing each other and just talked about nothing. Not laughably nothing to amuse Bill in the kitchen, but just talked like old friends who hadn’t seen one another in a very long time. After several hours it had grown quite late and Trixie said she needed to go.
“Are you coming to the funeral tomorrow?” Dan asked.
“Yeah, I’ll be there.” She said. “I was hoping to come to the wake, too, if that’s all right. I mean, if I’m invited.”
“Sure. Yeah, of course you’re invited. It’s right after the service at the cemetery but it will probably be going all night. I talked to a few old friends and a number of people you know will be there, too. Adam, John Weaver, Brian and Jeff. Oh, and I ran into Kathy Zook on the sidewalk. I think she’s coming.”
“Do I know her?” Trixie searched her memory.
“I sort of went out with her the year before we started dated. She went by KZ, most of the time.” Dan explained.
“Oh, yeah.” Trixie remembered. “I know who she it. I don’t really know her, I mean we weren’t friends but I don’t have anything against her either.”
“I don’t know who else is coming.” Dan added. “I only talked to a few people and they agreed to spread the word since I didn’t know how to get a hold of anybody anymore, at least no one around here. So it’s anybody’s guess. If there’s anybody you want to bring, feel free.”
“When are you leaving?” She asked as she reached the back door.
“Sunday morning I have a flight out of Philly.” He told her.
“Ah.” She replied. “So tomorrow is pretty much it then.”
“Unless you want to visit me in California?” Dan suggested.
“Maybe.” She reached out and gave Dan a long hug, then was out the door and down the stairs without another word. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she called back. “See you tomorrow.” She waved and then was gone in the dark night. Dan shut the door and turned around.
Bill was standing directly in front of him. “Well I liked her. She was nice.”