This Great Society - Writing

 


Illustration: Joel Bentley

Allison Quiller: Cinnamon and Orange
Illustration: Joel Bentley

 
 
 

Jill's eyes kept drifting back to the address scribbled on the sticky note on her dashboard. “202 Paintbrush Avenue.” The name echoed in her head as she drove down the cracked residential street. The oak trees were ripe with autumn color, the reds and oranges vibrant in the misty day.

Two-oh-two Paintbrush Avenue, 202 Paintbrush Avenue.

The day before, Dr. Moore had handed back the term papers from Jill's Advanced Psychology class. “Protest, Despair, and Detachment: A Study of Grief by Jill Newmeyer.” There was no grade, only the note and the address.

There. A two story maroon Victorian with a full garden and widow's walk.

Jill pulled into the driveway and checked herself in the mirror. Mousy. That's the only way she had ever been described, but whether it was because of her looks or because of the pinched and nervous expression around her mouth, she never knew.

She summoned up her courage, gathered her things and walked down the flagstones to the front porch. Red vines curled around the railings and several empty birdcages rocked in the breeze above the porch. The garden was rich, colorful, blooming. Jill glanced up at the tall house. Upstairs, a curtain swung shut.

What could Dr. Moore want with her? She wasn't the best in her class, but she wasn't the worst, either. Her work was always tidy and on time. She never complained or interrupted class. Jill kept to herself.

Her heels clicked, hollow as she ascended the steps. She stopped before the peeling front door, straightened her skirt and her glasses. Before she could reach for the bell, the door opened.

Dr. Moore’s eyes behind her small round glasses were the first thing Jill could see. Then came her wide smile as she stepped out of the doorway. Her clothes billowed, and her grey hair spiraled past her shoulders. Several scarves hung around her neck in a spectrum of color.

Jill contorted her lips into an unfamiliar smile. As Dr. Moore shut the door behind her, a slight, sweet smell swept onto the porch. It reminded Jill of the holidays.

“Jill Newmeyer. My dear.” The doctor beamed. Her teeth were very white, almost a transparent blue.

“Dr. Moore.”

“We aren't in the classroom. Please, call me Ellora.”

“Ellora.”

“I have tea for us, but the water is still boiling. Let us sit outside for a bit. It's an appropriate day for that sort of thing, don't you think?”

“Oh, sure. That's fine.” Ellora ushered Jill over to the porch swing and sat in an eddy of flowing material. Jill lowered herself beside her.

The doctor sighed. “I am completely enamored with days like this. There is something romantic about it.”

“I suppose.”

There was a brief silence then. Ellora's eyes closed as she breathed in the cool air while Jill sat straight, her fingers toying in her lap.

“Um...” Jill ventured. Ellora's eyes opened. “I brought the copy of my term paper.” Jill started to rummage in her bag before Ellora's rich laugh cut her off.

“I'm sorry,” Jill stammered.

“Your paper is impeccable, dear. You approached the subject with a certain freshness that I haven’t seen in years. But that's not why I asked you here.”

“Excuse me?”

Ellora stood and walked over to the railing. “I'm afraid I let my garden go this summer.”

Jill looked more closely at the garden. Weeds grew through the blooms, and the flowers bent their heads towards the soil. A mouse lay stiff beneath a rosebush.

“I must have been confused,” said Jill, “I thought you wanted...” She trailed off. She didn't know what she thought Dr. Moore had wanted.

“My dahlias are wilting.” Ellora turned back to Jill. “I took a liking to you well before your term paper.” She shook her head. “I'm a bit embarrassed why I brought you over. I would like you to meet my son.”

The sound of a whistle pierced the air, making Jill jump. “That will be the tea,” Ellora said. Jill looked again at the mouse beneath the rosebush. A few feet away there was another, on it's back. And by the dahlias, there were two, facing each other, their tails curled around their noses.

“Are you coming, dear?” Ellora asked.

“Yes.”


Ten minutes later, Jill sat in Dr. Moore's cramped library, her hands cupped around a mug of tea. The room was warm and windowless. Dr. Moore had a photo album open to pictures of her son, Silus. He was dark and thin, and even as a child there were few photos of him smiling. He was handsome, though, so Jill continued to humour Dr. Moore.

“Who's that?” Jill said, pointing to a tall man standing beside the sad-eyed boy.

“My late husband,” Dr. Moore said, and her eyes lingered on the photo a moment before she flipped to the next page. “I hope you like your tea. Cinnamon and Orange, Silus's favorite.”

Jill smiled weakly and nodded. Inside the house, the sweet smell that had reminded her of the holidays was thick and oppressive. Underneath it there was something else.

“Where is Silus now?” she asked.

“Just upstairs, dear. You'll meet him in a moment.”

“He's here?”

Ellora nodded and flipped to the next page of the photo album. “You'll meet him in a moment.”

Jill stood up and shook her head. She wished there were windows, or at least a picture. Books pressed down on her from all sides.

Dr. Moore took her glasses off and smiled. “You could have written your term paper about anything at all.”

“I think I need some fresh air,” Jill said.

“What made you choose grief?”

Jill sat again. Maybe if she sipped her tea. “It's... it's fascinating.”

“You're more than fascinated. You're familiar.”

“I lost my parents early on.”

“After my husband, I wasn't ready to let go of Silus. I didn't want to be alone.”

“I understand,” Jill said, although she did not. She put a hand to her forehead. “I should probably get going.”

“Don't be silly. Come upstairs and meet my boy.”

“If it's only for a moment.”

Ellora put a hand on Jill's elbow and guided her from her chair.

They came to a narrow stairway. Stiff, dark oil paintings covered the walls, shoved together in irregular patterns. Jill had to squint to see, and kept her hand on the wall to steady herself. The sweet smell was stronger now, and the odor underneath became more foul with each step.

Ellora opened the door at the top of the stairwell and motioned Jill inside. As Jill’s eyes adjusted to the light, she suddenly placed the odor. The bloated body on the bed stared at her, disinterested.

It was dressed in a suit, it's arms lolling open as if to accept an embrace. Cinnamon sticks and dried orange peels littered the body and the bed like autumn leaves.

“Companionship is the key to happiness. You two will be spending much time together in the future.” She looked at Jill, still smiling. “How was that tea, dear?” Jill’s fingertips began to tingle, and she heard her cup shatter on the floor. She backed toward the door, but she was already feeling light-headed.

Dr. Ellora Moore padded over to the bed, and stroked the body’s hair. She looked lovingly into it's eyes, “This is the girl I was telling you about, Silus. Would you like some more tea?”

 

 

 
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