Celeste, p.1Part #1 of Gemini series by V. C. Andrews
Copyright (c) 2004
The Voices Mommy Heard
I cant exactly remember the first time we saw
our mother stop whatever she was doing, look out at the darkness, smile, nod, and softly say something like, "I understand. Yes. Thank you," to no one we could set, but every time she did it. I felt an eerie excitement, a pleasant chill like the quiver I might feel sliding down a hill on my sled or leaping off the rock to splash in our pond. When I was very little, seeing and hearing Mommy speak to her spirits was simply scary fun, and no matter what I was doing at the time. I would stop and listen and watch her, and then Noble would stop playing and listen, too. Sometimes we would hear Daddy talk to himself and Mommy as well, but this was different, and only Mommy did it.
I would look at Noble to see if he made any sense of it, and he would look at me with a confused expression, the dimple we both shared in our left cheeks flashing prominently, his eyebrows, like mine, raised and twisted. Neither of us understood, but neither of us asked her about it.
I knew in my heart that in time, she would tell us. And yes, one day she pulled us aside and hugged us to her, kissing both our foreheads and cheeks, perhaps kissing Noble a little more because she always seemed to think he needed more of her kisses than I did, and then she told us everything with great excitement in her voice, as much excitement as someone learning what she was going to get for Christmas.
"I am going to let you both know a great secret," she said. "It's time for me to tell you. Do you know what a secret is. Noble?" she asked.
She didn't ask me because she knew I knew. I was a far better reader and listener than Noble was, and I had twice the vocabulary. He nodded, but not with any real confidence in his eves, so she explained.
"It's something you must not tell anyone else, something you must keep locked up here and here." she said, pointing to his head and his heart. "It's a very bad thing to tell a secret after you have promised not to do that. Understand?"
Noble nodded firmly now and Mommy relaxed, took a deep breath, and continued.
She told us she heard voices no one else could hear, not even Daddy, and she could see people -- spirits, she called them-- that he couldn't see. "Who are they?' I asked.
She said they were the spirits and the voices of all her dead ancestors, and then she drew up a ghostly melange of men and women with distinct and interesting personalities, girls who still whined about their lost lovers, men who were stern but wise, women who were beautiful and women who were plain, even disabled. like Auntie Helen Roe, who had polio when she was very young and was in a wheelchair until the day she died. She told us they buried her wheelchair with her and she was still in it, even in the spiritual world. She made it sound as if they were actually in the room with us, sitting there, smiling and watching her tell all about them. I kept looking around, expecting to see someone.
Whether they were all true ancestors or merely inventions of Mommy's imagination didn't matter at the moment. I wanted them to be as real as the occasional visitors who came to our ancestral home, a large three-story Queen Anne house first built by my mother's great-grandfather William De Forest Jordan, who had laid claim to acres and acres of rich riverbed land in an upstate New York valley nestled almost in camera by Mother Nature.
His portrait hung in the living room over the fireplace. He was stocky, with a thick neck and heavy shoulders that looked like they were straining the seams of the suit jacket he wore. When the portrait was painted, he had a neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard and a full head of stark white hair brushed back with a part in the middle. His skin was dark and leather because he spent most of his time outdoors in the sun.
I didn't like looking up at him often because his dark brown eyes seemed to follow me about the room, and he wasn't smiling in the portrait. In fact, he looked angry, I thought. When I asked Mommy if he was alloy or upset about having to sit for a portrait, she told me that people took their pictures and portraits very seriously in those days and believed smiling made them look frivolous. To me, he always looked like someone who was incapable of smiling, even if he had wanted to smile. He was one spirit I wasn't all that anxious to meet.
Family legend had it that he was hiking alone in the famous Rip Van Winkle Catskills and turned a corner to behold this stretch of land comfortably set between two slopes where once the Sandburg River had run when it was free to race along, unchecked by dams upstream. Now it was more like a creek, albeit often a raging one after heavy spring rains or a winter of particularly heavy snowfalls.
"Your great-great-grandpa Jordan's heart pounded the way a man's heart pounds when he sees a beautiful woman," Mommy told us. "Fie fell in love with every tree, every blade of grass, every rock he saw, and just knew he had to live here and work his farm here and build his home here, and yes, dear children, my sweet dear and precious twins, die here."
On the north side of the house, he was buried along with our -rent-great-grandmother Elsie and a child of theirs who had died in childbirth, an unnamed creature of misfortune who had the door of life slammed shut before she could sound a cry, take a breath, behold a color or her mother's face. The three granite tombstones were in a small square created out of fieldstone about three feet high with an entrance. Their stillborn child's gravestone reads INFANT JORDAN and her date of death. There was, of course, no date of birth. Her stone is smaller, with two baby, hands embossed in a clasp above the inscription. Mommy says that sometimes when she touches the hands and closes her eyes, she can feel them moving, feel their softness.
The vivid way she described it made me think that the dead reach up through their tombstones to see and hear and even touch the people who come to visit their graves. Mommy's great-grandmother Elsie died before her great-grandfather. Mommy said her mother told her she often saw him hugging the stone as if he was actually hugging his departed wife, and he would kiss it. too!
All of our other family members lay at rest in church cemeteries, except they didn't lie at rest, according to Mommy. They rose almost immediately from their cold, dark graves and began to walk the earth, eager to speak to our grandmother, our mother, and now eagerly waiting to be able to speak with us. That was the prediction Mommy made to us.
"Soon, children, soon, you too will see and hear them. I promise. They've promised. When they feel you're ready, they have promised they will," she told us that day, and she looked out the window with her beautiful angelic smile softly sitting on her full and perfect lips and nodded as only one who had heard the voices would nod.
How could we not believe it would all come true?
Our Family History
We sat on the chintz sofa originally bought by
Grandma Jordan. Every stick of furniture in our home was pristine and cared for with love and affection, for every piece seemed to have its own history, whether it be Great-Great-Grandpa Jordan's hickory wood rocking chair or Great- Grandpa Jordan's homemade stepladder. Nothing could be discarded or misused.
"Personal possessions that are cherished hold the spirit of the owner in them," she said. "Sometimes. when I sit in my great-grandfather's rocking chair. I can feel him in me," Mommy told us. and I'd be fascinated by the expression on her face as she rocked herself. Her eyes seem to grow darker and her lips tightened. Folds formed in her forehead suggesting she was filling with heavy thoughts, and for a long moment, she didn't hear us or see us. Then she would blink and smile. "My grandfather spoke to me," she would say.
It was an idea that took seed in my mind. Everything
I touched in our house had power. I thought. Perhaps some day I would
On the sofa Mommy put her arm around Noble and made me sit close. Through the open living-room window, we watched twilight begin and night seep in through the maple. oak, hickory, and pine trees and over the long, wide lawn and meadow that surrounded our house and the barn. Sitting here after dinner was something we often did now, especially when Daddy was out late working on one of his big jabs. Mommy thought our time to "cross over," as she put it, was getting near. and I was very excited.
Even when we were very little, playing with our toys at her feet. Mommy would sit quietly and look out the window for hours and hours. I would glance up at her from time to time, especially when I would catch her eyes widening and narrowing like the eyes of someone listening to another. Sometimes, she would smile as if she had heard a funny story, sometimes she would look sad. Noble never seemed to be interested in her looks. He was always too wrapped up in his playing.
Occasionally, she would catch me looking at her and she would tell me not to stare. "A lady doesn't stare. Its not polite," she would say. "Staring in, politeness out." she recited.
When we began to sit with her at twilight on the chintz sofa, it was late spring of our sixth year and the aroma of freshly cut grass flowed in over us. Noble was restless and squirmed a lot more than I did. but Mommy kept him close to her breast. And he took deep breaths and waited, glancing at me occasionally to see if I was behaving or if I was as bored as he was.
I barely looked at him, afraid to take my eyes off the approaching shadows for fear I would miss the sight of one of Mommy's spirits. I so wanted to see one of our ancestors. and I was not at all afraid of ghosts. Mommy had spoken so long about them and how they would always protect and watch over us. Why should I have any fear?
You must never think of them as ghosts anyway," she once told me. "Ghosts are fantasies, storybook inventions meant only to haunt. They are silly. When the day comes that you see one of our family spirits, you will understand just how silly ghost stories are."
Noble was always impatient when we sat on the sofa. Tonight, before it became too dark to see anything, he wanted to go out and explore the anthill he had discovered. Mommy knew that. She knew he had far less patience than I had, and he wasn't as intrigued about the possibility of seeing one of her spirits. but Mommy had been a grade school teacher before she married Daddy and so she knew how to keep Noble attentive.
"Stop worrying. Noble. Well take your flashlight if we have to. and I'll go look at your anthill with you," she promised him. "But only if she added. "you watch night fall with me and perhaps see them come in with the shadows. They ride shadows like surfers ride waves. You must see them. You must understand and feel what I feel," she told him, and me of course, but she always seemed to want Noble to feel it more and to see them before I did. In fact, sometimes it seemed to me she was talking about the spirits only to him or to me through him.
It wasn't something she talked about in front of Daddy, however, not only didn't he believe in her spirits, he was upset that she spoke about them to us or in front of us. At first he told her she would frighten us, and then, when he saw we weren't exactly frightened and rarely, if ever, had any nightmares because of her talking about spirits, he began to complain that she was distorting our view of reality and making it impossible for us to be social.
"How will they get along with other children their age in school if they have such weird ideas. Sarah? It's all right for you to believe in such things, but wait for them to grow older before you tell them these stories. They are just too young," he pleaded.
Mommy didn't respond. She often didn't when she disagreed with something he said, which could make him angrier or just send him mumbling off, wagging his head.
"Your father means well," she told us afterward in soft whispers. "but he doesn't understand. Not yet. Someday he will, and he won't be as unhappy with me. You must not let it bother you, children," she said. "And you must not let it blind you to the wonderful visions that await you."
Noble didn't understand the disagreements anyway, and again, all this talk about invisible people and voices only Mommy could hear was something boring to him. He was far more interested in his insects. I didn't want to make either Mommy or Daddy sad and favor one over the other. but I didn't know what to do.
"Listen to me. Celeste," Daddy would say when he pulled me aside or when it was just me who was with him. "You and Noble were born the same day, practically the same minute, but you're brighter than he is. You'll always be smarter and wiser than your brother.
Look after him and don't let Mommy make him crazy with her strange ideas.
"She can't help herself," he explained, speaking about her as if she were someone with a terminal incurable illness. "It was how she was brought up. Her grandmother was out there somewhere all the time, mumbling chants, finding magical herbs, and her mother wasn't much different, often worse in fact.
"Don't misunderstand me." he said quickly when he saw me curl my eyebrows toward each other. "Your mother is a wonderful, very intelligent and loving woman. I couldn't be happier about being her husband, but when she talks about seeing and talking to her ancestors and spirits, you have to listen to her with half an ear," he said.
He loved that expression: half an ear. I knew that he meant to pretend to pay attention, perhaps to take in what was said, but not to let it stay long.
"Sometimes," he said. "words just rent a space in your head. They don't stay forever, and lots of times there are words you don't want to remain even for a minute. And then," he said with a sigh. "there are those words you want to be permanent residents, especially words of love."
When Mommy and Daddy weren't arguing about her obsession with spirits and the forces of the other world, they were truly a loving couple and the handsomest and prettiest daddy and mommy that could be. I was sure they had just stepped out of a storybook to become our parents.
Mommy was the most beautiful woman I knew or had seen, even in the magazines or newspapers Daddy brought home. She kept her soft, rich hazel brown hair shoulder length and spent hours and hours brushing it. Daddy said she had a figure and a face that belonged on the front covers of magazines, and sometimes he would just stop, look at her, and say. "Your mother moves with the gracefulness of angels. She sheds her years like a snake sheds his skin. She'll never look old."
I thought she wouldn't either.
And Daddy never looked his age. Of course to me, thirty- two sounded very old back then, but he was athletic and strong with raven black hair he kept swept back and eves the color of rich wet soil. He always had a tan, a light almond complexion, even in the winter because he worked outdoors as a building contractor. He wasn't very tall, maybe just a few inches taller than Mommy, but he had wide shoulders and never slouched. He told us that his mother always made posture important.
"When I was your age, children," he said. "my mother made me walk around the house with a book on my head, and if it fell off. I had to stand in the corner with it on my head for twenty minutes. I hated doing that, so the book never fell off, and you can see how that helped."
"Should we walk around with books on our heads. Daddy?" I asked him.
He smiled and said no, because our posture was fine. We never met our grandmother, his mother. She had died a year before we were born. He made his mother sound like an army general sometimes, describing how she shouted orders and marched him about his home to do chores. but Mommy told us he liked to exaggerate.
"The truth was, your father was a spoiled brat," she said, and she said it in front of him. He would pretend to be any at her, but they would always laugh about it.
So many things were heard with only a half an ear in our home those days.
I had vet to hear them. but I knew Mommy was right in saving I would. I could feel it in the air. Their voices were almost in my tars. There was a faint whisper here, a faint whisper there, maybe waiting in a closet, a cabinet, or behind a closed door. I'd stop and listen hard. but I didn't hear anything really. or at least nothing that made any sense. I wasn't quite ready yet. I guess.
None of the spirits came from Daddy's family, only Mommy's. Mommy said that was because her family was special. They were people born with mystical talents and spiritual gifts. Some could read fortunes: some could see the future in sins in Nature. Some had healing powers and could stop disease with just a touch of their hands, and one, it was said, even rose from the dead and returned to his family. Daddy said he must have been a sight to see and a smell to smell.
Mommy didn't get angry at him when he made fun of her stories. Instead she made those light brown eyes of hers small and tightened her lips as she gazed at him. Then she put her hands on our shoulders and leaned down between us.
"He'll see someday," she whispered in both our tars, but kissing Noble's. "Someday, he'll know."
Like Mommy. Daddy had no brothers or sisters. He had cousins and uncles, of course, and a father who was still alive, but was in a home now for very sick elderly people. All we knew was he couldn't remember anything or anyone, not even Daddy, so there was no point in our visiting him. Daddy did visit whenever he could. but Mommy said our grandfather was already gone. He had just left his body behind for a while like some statuary. "a living tombstone," she called him.
If he was kind, he would take his body with him," she muttered.
Her own mother had passed away when Noble and I were only two. I had no real memory of her or of my maternal grandfather, because he had died ten years before we were born. He had fallen off the ladder when he was repairing a leak in the roof of this house, and he had died almost instantly when the fall broke his neck.
Daddy told me he remembered Mommy's grandmother well. If he talked about her, he usually spoke with a twist in his lips, since as we knew he blamed Mommy's interest in spiritual matters on her and Mommy's mother. Daddy said her Grandmother had come from Hungary to marry her grandfather, and besides her two suitcases, she was laden down with a bag of superstitions, many of which Mommy still believed. To this day Mommy wouldn't let Daddy put his hat on a table because that would bring death or tragedy. He couldn't whistle in the house because that was calling the devil, and if a knife fell, she would predict we were getting a visitor.
Celeste by V. C. Andrews / Horror / Young Adult have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on50 votes