This is Part 1 of a 3-part story. Part 2 will be uploaded on April 19. Part 3 arrives April 26.
“For who knows what magic takes place in his world…”
Tuesday, March 13, 1979
This attic was the only place Horace could find to hide. There were so many people out there, but here, in this empty room, he was alone with the full moon whose light was slipping feebly through the tiny window.
He couldn’t imagine what he had been thinking when he’d accepted Bob’s invitation. It had been so entirely unexpected, though, there was nothing else he could do. The star quarterback of the high school football team had invited him to a party… at the home of the single most beautiful cheerleader who had ever graced the halls of Poe High School. And Horace was the head of the Poe Nothings. Horace knew himself well enough to know that Rhiannon would never actually talk to him, but there was that Glimmer of Hope. Just a little Hope can make the heart beat a bit faster. Horace enjoyed the feeling, so he accepted the invitation. And now he was in the attic, hoping he could find a way out of here.
All of these people were light years beyond his social class. None of them had ever seen an episode of Star Trek. He knew absolutely nothing about the sports that they discussed with the precision of scientists debating quantum mechanics. They were all well built, outgoing, attractive people. Horace was thin, gangly, socially inept, and unattractive in any conventional sense. He was the only virgin in the entire house. What had Bob been thinking?
He didn’t belong. He wanted to leave, but it was awfully cold in March, and it was a 17 mile walk from Wells back to Biddeford. Hiding represented his only chance to survive, and he couldn’t get away with the bathroom for more than about 5 minutes at a time. There were way too many people, drinking way too much, and they all required a restroom. Every bedroom was occupied by a couple insisting on privacy.
But this room looked like it was hiding, too. It wasn’t even a full-sized room. It was accessible only by a narrow, winding staircase at the last corner of a very dark hallway. As his eyes adjusted, he was able to perceive that against the wall to his right, there was an old, worm-eaten wooden table filled with what Horace decided must be an artist’s supplies. There were notched candles. There were cloves. There were strangely shaped bottles filled with various colors of oils. When he walked to it he observed seeds, matches, and a shot glass.
He turned around when he heard the door open behind him, and he moved as quietly as he could out of the light. Rhiannon backed into the room, a round candlestick in her hand. She turned and glided silently across the room, and when she crossed the moonlight, the room seemed to glow with her.
She went to the table, and lit the notched candle using the tall thin one attached to the holder. She mumbled something, but Horace couldn’t make out what it was. He could see her silhouette moving her hands up the bizarrely shaped candle, bottom to top, 9 times. He counted. She sighed confidently.
When she turned around to leave the room she saw him, and they were both startled. Horace, already in the corner, tried to back away, but just smashed his body awkwardly into the wall. She dropped her candle, and it rolled, lit, across the wooden floor toward him. He knelt, nearly falling over, and picked it up. He stood up, and found her standing directly in front of him. He handed it back to her. “I’m sorry,” he whimpered.
Rhiannon smiled compassionately at him. “Me too.” She looked briefly over her shoulder at the strange candle, and disappointment tinted her blue eyes.
Horace couldn’t look at her. He noticed his shoelaces didn’t match.
“I really am trying my best.” She looked back at Horace. “To be a decent person I mean. I know a lot of people think I’m stuck up, or whatever, but, really, I’m not.”
Horace said nothing.
“Okay?” She whispered.
He looked up. “Okay.” His stare, while entirely unintentional, was almost rude in its intensity.
There have been, throughout human history, quite a few women renowned for their beautiful hair. None of them, however, had anything on Rhiannon. Lady Godiva and Rapunzel, for example, were each known for the lengths of theirs. Rhiannon’s didn’t come close to such a ghastly stretch. It fell, seemingly effortlessly, down her neck and covered her shoulders as a quiet brown river lightly licking its banks, or a blanket under which the slender shoulders snuggled greedily.
Helen of Troy and Lucretia Borgia were sufficiently beautiful that they seemed almost to be able to cast a spell on men simply by looking at them. They were Anti-Medusas. Horace was as inspired as any Trojan.
When she saw Horace staring through his hormone haze, she smiled shyly and brushed her hair slowly back from her forehead. Then she nervously moved her fingers through it like a tide stealing sand from a moonlit beach as it slides up and down.
“I mean, do you ever ask yourself if it’s even possible to make everyone happy without hurting someone?”
“No… not until just now.”
“If you ever figure it out…” her eyes shimmered in the candlelight. They both smiled. Rhiannon, he decided, was a girl who knew how to run her fingers through her hair. They were having a moment.
The banging on the door made them both jump, but Rhiannon held firmly to her candle, and Horace slithered back into his dark corner silently.
“Rhiannon? You in there?” Horace recognized Bob’s tenor voice.
She took her hand away from her hair. “I’ll be right out.” The moment was over.
“There’s a party downstairs, and you’re being a lousy hostess.”
She smiled, almost tenderly at him, and left the room, the notched candle burning. Horace was alone in the dark.
“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety…”
“She’s married?” Rhonda asked as Horace lit his little glass pipe.
He held the hit a moment, squeaking in an unflattering way, exhaled, and then looked up at Rhonda.
“Your secret internet girlfriend. She’s married?”
“Yes, she is.”
“So, she’s cheating on her husband?”
“Certainly not. She’s entirely unaware that she is my girlfriend.”
“How stoned, exactly, are you?” Rhonda asked. She lit a cigarette. “To be your girlfriend would require that she has some part in the relationship, wouldn’t it?”
“She does. She accounts for nearly 3% of it. The other 97% exists exclusively in my mind.”
The metal screen door from the house opened, and Rita sauntered into the backyard.
While Rhonda was only in her mid twenties, Rita was in her 40s. They had been together for quite a few years before Horace had stumbled into their lives, and they had, essentially, adopted him.
When one of them was in the hospital (which happened far too frequently; all three of them had health problems. Horace was nearly deaf, Rita had chronic Lyme Disease, and Rhonda had genetic cardiac problems.), Rita and Rhonda identified each other as wives. For Horace, they were roommates.
Rhonda looked up at her instantly, and said, “Your roommate is a weird stalker dude.”
Rita sighed, and sat down in the nearest patio chair. “Where are the cigarettes?”
“I’m nothing of the sort. I shall certainly never see her again. I am, however, allowed to have whatever thoughts I choose, thank you Miss Orwell.” Horace picked up Rita’s cigarettes from the barely standing bedside table they had put on the patio to hold their accessories, and he tossed them unceremoniously to her.
“Who are you calling Miss Orwell?” asked Rhonda, flipping her dark hair off to one side.
“You’re being the Thought Police,” said Rita, opening the pack. “Let the man think what he wants.” She lit a cigarette, and then opened the book she’d brought outside with her. Her blonde hair fell in her face when she looked down at it, and she pushed it quickly out of the way.
“You want to live with a crazy man?”
“I want to read my book.”
Rhonda, unobserved, rolled her eyes at Rita and turned back to Horace. “What’s her 3%?”
“She likes my posts on Facebook sometimes. Once in a while, she even comments. She says she likes my writing.”
“So she’s messaged you? That could be construed as cheating.”
“Oh, heavens no! Nor have I ever sent her a message. That would increase our involvement, and that would ruin it. 3% gives birth to hope. 10% gives birth to hassles.”
Without looking up from her book Rita muttered, “100% give birth to children.”
“So how do you know she likes your writing?” Rhonda glanced back at Rita. Her eyes seemed to be losing focus.
He took another hit, and then, holding his breath, said, “She clicks like.”
“Lots of people like your stuff.” Rhonda seemed a little annoyed.
Horace exhaled. “Yes,” he said as he emptied the remainder of the pipe into the little red measuring cup in which he kept his supplies. He covered the carb, and blew into the pipe to remove any clogs. He began gathering bits from the bottom of the 1 ¾ cup container, and loaded them gingerly into his pipe. “I’m not, however, secretly in love with lots of people.”
“So, what’s the other 97%?” Rhonda watched Rita’s eyes begin to droop.
“The other 97% consists of messages unwritten except in my head, enjoying the intimacy of my thoughts connecting with hers, even if only for a few hundred words on my page or my blog, and vague leftover fantasies from the last time I saw her nearly 40 years ago.” He smiled nostalgically. “She was burning candles in her attic.
Rita’s head fell to her chest.
“Get her cigarette,” Rhonda said. “I don’t want her to burn herself.”
Horace reached for the cigarette dangling loosely between Rita’s fingers, and her head snapped up quickly. “I’m fine.”
Horace watched her another moment to be sure she was coherent, and then he turned back to Rhonda. “And I get to experience great joy when she says or does something nice. I don’t, if you hadn’t noticed, get a lot of joy.”
“You get to live with me. How much joy do you need?”
He picked up the clipboard, pulled the pen out from behind the clip, and began to cross out something on the printed paper. “More than that,” he said without looking up.
“I’m going to throw something at you. And it’s going to hurt.”
“I would very much prefer if you didn’t. That would decrease my joy.”
Rhonda threw nothing. “What’s her name?”