“The annoying bedside alarm pierced the air, rousting her from the deep depression-induced sleep Odessa found herself in. She was sprawled across a small twin bed in an empty, forlorn room. She blindly reached over in the direction of the sound, her hand connecting with the alarm clock and silencing its frantic electronic yelp. She rolled back from the edge of the bed and slowly opened her eyes. It was the same depressing sight she had seen a few hours before when she had fallen asleep. She let out a sigh and wriggled her way out from under the pile of blankets she nested herself into the night before.
Her attic room wasn’t unkempt but it was sparse, and the old Victorian house was beginning to show it’s age. Her Aunt Babette had always kept her house in tip-top shape, but much like the house itself, Aunt Babette was beginning to show her age. Odessa told herself that’s what really drove her to move back to her forlorn sea side village off the coast of Maine, to take care of her aging Aunt, but in reality, she had nowhere left to turn. She had left behind a prosperous corporate job, a husband of twelve years, and two children in Colorado when she figuratively and literally lost her mind.
She was sitting in a board room listening to one more proposal for the same tedious client, they had been working with for eight months, and something inside of her just snapped. She quietly picked up her attache, walked calmly to her office, packed her few personal belongings, clocked out for the day and never returned.
Trying to explain what happened to her husband didn’t go over well, to say the least. It was a nasty, although relatively quick divorce. They split everything 50/50 aside from custody of the children. It’s not that Odessa didn’t love her children, but whatever wires had gotten crossed in her head had also severed the connection she felt to them. It wasn’t truly upsetting leaving any of it behind, which is what worried her. After the divorce was settled she sold her remaining possessions and bought a one-way ticket back to her home town.
At first, her plan had been to live with her parents, but to say they were less than thrilled with the divorce was a polite understatement. When Odessa arrived on their doorstep, they didn’t even answer her. It was hurtful to see the warm, previously welcoming glow of the soft living room lights turned against her. Watching her mother and father close the blinds and head upstairs hoping to not be seen. Wishing, hoping that their disappointment of a daughter would just go away instead of hovering around like a stray cat. Eventually, she did, which is how she ended up living with Aunt Babette.
The alarm sounded again, bringing her out of the thoughts of her past and into the present. She had a job interview today. It was something she desperately needed, but she still lacked the motivation. Rolling over to silence the alarm once again, she continued to roll until her bare feet landed on the cold cedar wood floor with a loud snap and long creak as she shifted her weight out of the bed. She rose, stumbled across the floor into the small upstairs bathroom, knocking her forehead on the angled ceiling.
“Ouch!” She yelped rubbing her head. “So much for old-world charm.” She mumbled to herself as she slowly turned on the tap which let out a loud squeal and shutter before a small trickle of water spewed it’s way out of the spigot and splashed into the bottom of the antique clawfoot tub.
She wasn’t accustomed to taking baths, but considering how old the house was she was thankful to simply have indoor plumbing on the third floor at all. She wasn’t going to complain. Besides, it would be a nice change of pace, requiring more time and effort for herself. She wasn’t a fan of waking up nearly two hours before she had to leave for the day, but she did enjoy how it made her slow down a little bit. Her life had become cluttered in modern convenience. She was always running from one assignment or errand to the next for herself, for work, for her husband, or for her kids. Somewhere in the bustle of it all, she had lost herself. Taking the time to slow down was something that she hoped would lead her back.
The water finally filled to a sufficient level and she shed the baggy tee-shirt and sweatpants she had adopted as her pajamas, kicking them into the growing pile of dirty laundry and slowly slid into the tub. She took a moment to let the water seep into her pores and her dry skin become accustomed to the temperature of the water. It wasn’t so hot as to burn her, but it was far from cool. After several moments she pulled the hair tie out of her tangled mess of dark chestnut curly hair closed her eyes and dipped her head into the water completely submerging herself as long as she could hold her breath. Down at the bottom of the tub, there was a moment when she considered instead of returning to the surface, that she wanted to quench the fire beginning to burn in her lungs not with the cool musty air of the attic space, but instead with the warm fragrant bubbly bathwater. She opened her eyes watching everything distort around her beyond the water and opened her mouth letting the water flow in, but before she could take that fatal breath she noticed movement out of the corner of her eye. A shadowy billowing movement that startled her straight out of the tub and sent nearly all of the bathwater sloshing over the tiles.
She gasped for breath, as her eyes darted back and forth from one corner of the room to the other searching for the mysterious shadowy billowing specter that had startled her. She saw nothing, aside from the mess she had made across the floor. Sitting there catching her breath she heard the door at the bottom of the stairs creak slowly shut.
“Aunt Babette!” She bellowed, practically loud enough to wake the dead., which was necessary since her aunt was nearly ninety years old and hovering on the edge of the death. “Were you in my room?”
“What?” A small voice called back from the first floor echoing up the stairwell. “Are you okay, Oddie?”
“Yes, Aunt Babette! I’m fine! I’ll be down in a moment for breakfast!” Odessa replied, still a bit flummoxed. Surely her aunt hadn’t been able to make her way down four flights of stairs so quickly, but the door had closed, and her Aunt was currently on the first floor. Perhaps she had?
Shaking off her curiosity and concern Odessa quickly finished her bath, cleaned up the mess she’d made in the bathroom and made her way downstairs. She didn’t bother getting dressed just yet as her bath had been rudely cut short. She would take her time and enjoy her breakfast instead. She bounced down all four flights of stairs and slid to stop in the pristine small kitchen where Aunt Babette was patiently waiting to enjoy her ritual of strong black tea and plain buttered toast with Odessa.
“Here, darling. I made some of that fancy coffee drink you enjoy, and I saved you a few silvers of butter for your toast.” Aunt Babette said gesturing to an empty place across the small dining table.
“You made me a latte?” Odessa asked just a hint of surprise in her voice.
“Why, of course, dear! I may be as old as the sea, but I can still learn a new trick or two.” Aunt Babette laughed.
“But we don’t even have…” Odessa began, as she took a sip of her coffee. “Oh, my. Wow!”
It was all she could do to keep from gagging and spitting the coffee back into the cup, but she managed to keep it together and politely take another small sip. Whatever Aunt Babette had done thinking she had thrown together a latte, did not work out very well at all.
“Well, that’s certainly something Aunt Babette. I think I’ll just stick with regular coffee in the morning though. Trying to cut back on some calories and sugar. I do appreciate the thought.” Odessa smiled, before sitting down and desperately trying to drown out the taste of sour milk and burnt coffee from her mouth with a slice of buttered toast.
“No really, it’s no trouble at all dearest. I kind of enjoy trying new things from time to time, although I’m not sure why anyone would want steamed milk and coffee. It smells sour to me.” Aunt Babette replied, gracefully sipping on her tea.
Odessa only smiled and continued to eat her toast.
“What did you need, a moment ago dear? You called my name, but I couldn’t hear you very well from all the way down here.” Aunt Babette asked.
“Oh, were you up in my room while I was in the bath?” Odessa asked. “I was washing my hair and thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It startled me and I splashed water all over the place. It took me quite a while to get it all cleaned up.”
“Oh good Lord, no!” Aunt Babette replied with a hearty laugh. “I haven’t been up to the attic in ages! Nearly twenty years I’d say. I have enough trouble climbing one flight of stairs to get into my own bed at night. It was probably just a figment of your imagination. Or it could be a bat. We had a bat infestation back in the ’40s. I thought we were never going to get them out of there! We sealed it up so tight you wouldn’t think anything could get in, but it’s been… however many years that’s been. It’s possible. I’ll give Richard a call this afternoon and he can come to take a look for us.”
“Okay. It’s not super important. It just startled me is all.” Odessa said while she shuddered a little bit about the attic being infested with bats. She wasn’t fond of the little creatures in general, and she certainly didn’t want to be living with them in close quarters.
They finished the rest of their breakfast in comfortable silence. Odessa loved that about her Aunt Babette. She knew all of the appropriate times to be silent without making things awkward or uncomfortable. Conversations just seemed to follow their natural flow with her. It was refreshing compared to the facade put on by most others in society. The glitz, glamour, and noise that others saw as friendliness or polite conversation which was really more of an annoying dance than productive connections with fellow human beings. With Aunt Babette everything was genuine, and it was refreshing.”
To read more about Odessa you can purchase a copy of Novelties: A Collection of Unfinished Short Stories available now.
Copyright R. MacCeile 2019