The Tirewoman Gabriel

We were expected to enjoy Debussy, cucumber sandwiches and discreet affairs.
by Rob Hunter

The Tirewoman Gabriel

“Is that me? Ohh... I am beautiful!”

Harry Hirshberg, my surgeon, swims into a fragile focus. Harry’s face grows huge and menacing, then dissipates to scuttle and scamper in an array of miniature whirlpools. Harry picks up the phone and the whirlpools are sucked down a hospital drain. A potted begonia nods knowingly from the bedside table.

Scree-click. Harry has the nasty habit of exercising the metal spring on his clipboard as he speaks. I am in a tubular white hospital bed cranked at 45 degrees. Harry still has his gloves on; his mask dangles by its strings. He tells me he is keeping me in for a couple of extra days for some tests. Scree-click. He goes on to speak of an enlarged prostate and bladder problems. He had taken a tissue sample while I was under the anesthetic and sent it off for a biopsy. “If it is cancerous, we can operate and save your life, as it is early.” Scree-click.

“What are my chances, Harry?” I ask, watching my urine flow through a catheter.

A pause, then the verdict. Total loss of sexual function or a lifetime on the bag. “Maybe nothing and you go home Monday. But won’t it be good to know?”

Pain and inconvenience. My future.

Heavily sedated, I slide into a trough of lessening expectations.

*  *  *

Twice a year and regular as clockwork, when Barbara’s School of the Dance trots in the latest corps of majorettes and ballerinas, the classic backdrop—Mediterranean hillsides with Raphaelite shepherds and shepherdesses discreetly about their distant businesses—was always requested. In addition to shepherdesses on their backs in the grass under fluffy clouds, there is a backdrop of a convent garden at dusk. Giant bumblebees prowl thick wisteria, vines knot to frame a lovers’ bower. Before the foreground, hogging the floor, lies a toppled faun, his lips curled in a sneer of passion. At his side is a sawed-off fluted plaster column with a shattered capital nearby suggesting old ruins. I could not bear to throw the stuff out. Some day someone would want to be immortalized with a leering, panting satyr.

Thirty-two pairs of eyes stare into my lens with a migraine intensity. The Gumdrops have come to pose for my camera. A woman stands naked at the kitchen sink, gently crying. I do not know her but she has a maimed beauty that makes me wish I did. That and, of course, her nakedness. A flush of acne scars blends with freckles on her high cheekbones and swoops to the bridge of the nose where eyebrows almost meet. A bizarre effect. Tears roll down her breasts and over her belly to shimmer on her freckled thighs.

I have hurt her, as always never quite sure of what I have done or said, if anything. Are her tears for me? In my anesthetic delirium I name her Gabriel. A name is who you say you are, the gift that, unasked for, forms you. To her ethereal, blemished beauty I have given her the gift of a name.

As I reach to comfort her, I see a pool of blood widening at my feet; it is my blood. The Gumdrops giggle: silly man, bleeding on the floor. They do not notice Gabriel’s nakedness. The Gumdrops are a troupe of bandy-legged girls, skinny and pre-pubescent: the lineup for Barbara’s School of the Dance yearly group portrait. They are early, the Gumdrops. I must check my appointments calendar.

Helen, my daughter, arrives barefoot and in her pajamas and we kneel and hold each other. Thirty-two pairs of eager eyes look on expectantly as the blood puddle widens. From the front hall a telephone is ringing. It will be Barbara, of course, asking after her Gumdrops.

The flowing faces of Gabriel, Helen, the Gumdrops, scuttle and scamper through a drug induced euphoria. Sin and Death will have to wait for future ripening Gumdrops ready to kneel for the reaper. This is a metaphor, for Sin and Death flourish far from the neat yards of cautious Richmond families with the extra income for dancing classes. There is a military ambience and the clatter of the Gumdrops’ toe-taps. This is not a metaphor, as the girls’ glossy headgear imitates dragoon guards’ high silk tasseled helmets. I seem to have survived Harry’s procedure and I struggle up and out of the ether. A palette of smiles from rictus to smirk ripples across the Gumdrops’ doughy young faces.

The phone rings and I awake to discover I have lost an entire day to Harry’s medicaments. It is Sunday and Helen has caught up with me in my white metal bed after months of silence.

Helen says she is going to die.

I tell her so am I. I sleep peacefully. The call is a release. As it turned out, Helen, my wife, did die.

*  *  *

Barbara Langerhans of Barbara’s School of the Dance had struck a deal with a costumier for epaulets in bulk. Cellophane-wrapped lavender plaques with orange yarn dangles arrived to be mother-stitched to the shoulders of bolero jackets. Each child carried home a package and a note: “Please, please make sure that Jenny wears these for our Gumdrop Parade number in the Pageant.” Barbara bustled about draping her nymphs into wooden poses before collapsing, glasses pushed back on the top of her head, into a canvas director’s chair. The chair creaked as it accepted her 250 pounds.

“Roy,” says Barbara, her tone suggesting that I had joined with the furniture in a lost battle for her attention, “You are the best. You have such patience with the girls.”

I ignore her in return.

But Barbara is speaking.

“That one over there, the coy little minx in the spangles. What do you think of her, Roy?” The Gumdrops all wore spangled outfits, home sewn. “That’s Melissa Bradley... one of the Bradley girls...?” I am hoping to get them all in the shot without squeezing them together.

“A piece of work, that one. But talent...? You better believe it.” I nod agreement: she has succeeded; she has broken my train of thought. Barbara is in charge.

“People... People! We’re on stage. This is the real thing. Attention!” The Gumdrops freeze into snappily dressed lines. Barbara runs a tight ship. We are approaching the terminal perimeter of when the kids still think this is great fun. Soon they will start to fidget. They will take their turns in the tiny lavatory and, having wasted half an hour, reassemble refreshed but looking arch, stiff, and posed. These fair-haired moppets posing for my camera and one another are oblivious that they may be an enticement. “Steady, old goat,” I whisper to my fallen satyr. “Don’t bite.” He leers back at me.

There is an abrupt crash. We have lost a Gumdrop in the last row, knocked offstage.

Barbara addresses the missing Gumdrop. “Dorothy Mead? Dorothy!” Gumdrop Dorothy struggles back up.

“I dropped my baton, Miss Langerhans.” Gumdrop Dorothy extracts a wedgie and squirms standing on one leg.

“Well, pick it up.” Dorothy is left to fend for herself. Barbara keeps on talking.

I am the home town boy. I am safe and reliable.

*  *  *

But ah, my two Helens. I shall tell you about my late wife as though she were a naughty, petulant child who, playing the piano or giving a recitation from memory, has done something precious, inadvertently achieved beyond her years. In life nobody would have patronized Helen. She was brilliant, attractive, and painted technically adept watercolors that, while sufficient to make her a glittering phenomenon in the artistic firmament of Richmond, Indiana, had the style and emotional depth of hotel wallpaper. Helen might shine, but not rise.

But now our daughter is performing for company.

Helen, my daughter, really plays quite well and has presented us with this week’s lesson, a divertimento she had by heart in less than the allotted time. But one lacuna, a brilliant improvisation with hardly a hesitation, and she is through.

No one has noticed. Helen would like to leave but stays seated at the piano.

“Sooo...” They turn to me.

The guests have lost their places in the predictable flow of a Sunday visit. “Soooo... Roy, that’s quite a kid you’ve got there.”

The Sunday visitor swirls his empty drink. He is waiting.

George followed me out to the kitchen for refills while Sylvia and Helen talked about school. Helen missed an older woman in the house and the thought of the girl’s missing mother, distant and near death, got George’s wife dewy-eyed and deep into a discussion of my daughter’s sixth grade social studies project.

While I wrestled with the handle on the ice cube tray, George let out a whoop from the back porch where he had strayed glass in hand to admire our Indiana Sunday afternoon. He had taken a skid on the wet, soft boards but caught himself and had his arms wrapped around a corner post at the head of the steps to the yard.

“Roy, that porch of your is as slick as a Rush Street hooker,” said George, referring to one of Chicago’s seedier districts, supposedly unknown to the citizens of Richmond, Indiana. He held out his glass which had survived the skid intact. I gave George four fingers of scotch over his ice and he studied the drink appreciatively against the light.

“Ahh, that’s just the ticket. Shall we join the ladies?” He did a pantomime suggesting a carpenter driving a large plane down a board. George is a sketch.

We joined the ladies.

His wife’s gaze is trailing absently after the departing Helen, diminishing over the patterned linoleum and through the kitchen door to where backyard baseball was forming up. Sylvia’s eyes have the forgetful, misty glaze of a childless middle age. Helen goes out to raise hell with the neighborhood kids.

“Sooo...” Sylvia synthesizes. Thesis, hypothesis, synthesis: a flicker of genius has been indulged and left to gutter under the blanket of patronage. Her half-turn on the velvet sofa reveals very much of her very marvelous legs. Sitting all day on a high stool at the cash register is what does it.

George and Sylvia own the hardware store.

“Sooo... Simply marvelous, Sylvia. You must spread them for us more often.” The words are not said. This was an absent-minded lapse for Sylvia. Conscious of her husband, her knees snap together, the tramway to the Promised Land temporarily out of order.

This, of course, is a conversation we did not have. The fiction is that my wife has gone to paint. To the Sandias, which is where the thin air seems to be in Santa Fe, the thin air so clear and pure you could spit and hit Albuquerque, sixty-five miles downhill. And for her lungs—her health, the shadow of tuberculosis. We are children of the 19th Century who in late middle age have not yet accepted Roosevelt or the germ theory although our reason tells us otherwise. For The Consumption, a trip to the mountains.

“But seriously George, I’d really love to screw your wife.” Not said.

“She’ll be back healthy as a horse and rosy as a pippin.” Sylvia really says this. She means my wife. Horses and apples speak of health.

Sylvia’s veiled promise and Helen’s distant death are not to be spoken of.

“...and there are these injections I hear about...” She means antibiotics. Streptomycin and mountain air. If Helen were tubercular and gone for the cure, they would have had her back in six months.

Helen the child. Helen the child’s mother.

*  *  *

The call from Albuquerque has the ballooning effect of many miles and many connections to make the circuit.

“Hello, Roy. We had snow here overnight—two inches, it’s so clear I can see Santa Fe. Imagine! Sixty-five miles straight up almost—in the mountains, and the air is so clear I can see all the way.”

Helen is calling to say she will die. Not right now but someday, and she requires appropriate consolation, person-to-person collect. Helen Hilliard calling Roy Hilliard in Richmond, Indiana. How many operators had it required to complete this call from New Mexico to Indiana?

Helen found it hard breaking away from us. “I want you to know how difficult this is for me, Roy. Roy...?” Leaving behind a twelve-year-old daughter named for her makes her a regular caller, running up fabulous phone bills as one Sunday each month she rattles out irrelevancies.

Natural laws overcome even the momentum of the Bell Telephone Company. Order begets disorder and the resistance in the wire turns Helen’s long silences into the spattering of distant stars. I have to shout into the phone.

“Helen, you have all that money out there and I have all these bills back here. Would you kindly ring back the operator and tell her you will be paying for the call? I can’t afford collect calls from New Mexico.”

We had only one such incident. After that, she picked up the tab for the calls.

“We are talking about our daughter...”

“Helen...”

“Roy...?”

“Helen, I will listen to you pre-paid, but I’m afraid I can no longer accept collect calls from you.” A pause, then a bloom of dial tone and a disconnect drilled through the ear.

Her trip to New Mexico, like our marriage, was uneventful. Her painting, my photography. We were the artistic elite in Richmond, Indiana and we were expected to enjoy Debussy, cucumber sandwiches and discreet affairs. Twenty years in place and none of this had happened. Helen had been showing watercolors in Chicago when a wheelchair-bound tycoon fancied her and bought all her pictures. Helen had looked her delectable best in a floral print silk dress and high heels—her gallery uniform. She followed him to New Mexico. The difference in their ages she found a comfort and Jeffrey’s lack of mobility was less pronounced where the houses were all on one level and his powerful seventy-year-old shoulders drove his wheels in passionate pursuit of Helen across the terra cotta tiles of his sprawling ranch bungalow. That the pursuit was passionate, I heard in graphic, panting detail when Helen was feeling particularly bitchy or particularly guilty about abandoning us. The whir of ball bearings and the flash of nickel plate from Jeffrey’s discarded trolley as the legless tracker cornered her in some adobe niche and powerful biceps held her squirming on the tiles as they writhed their consummations western style. Particularly when she had been drinking, Helen laid out their trysts in the no-holds-barred, blow-by-blow style of Don Dunphy announcing the Friday Night Fights. At last she would become tearful. At those times her monthly call became a catalog of my inadequacies, Jeffrey’s prowess. They were, however, apparently not tireless, for she always found the time to call.

Once a month, without fail, Helen would call. The knowledge that it was costing Helen and Jeffrey hundreds of dollars to call and turn my guts inside out, for what satisfaction it gave them, gave my small demon of spite room to grow and breathe in distant Indiana. I realized the telephone bills were small change to them, but since it appeared that small change was all I was destined to get out of this, I should be content to come away with anything at all. At the feast of the gods, one eats what is placed on his plate and is content.

Helen was a hometown girl and, aside from putting the screws to me one Sunday a month, she kept up her old associations in Richmond. Helen wished to be thought well of by these women, the homebodies, the flower-arrangers—the women who from their fortresses armored by a husband’s daily drudgery in insurance, medicine or dentistry, pursued bohemian careers in literature or the arts and drove to Chicago for the symphony. But where were they in this scenario of hers, the stay-at-homes? This required a delicate positioning, for by implication, Helen was doing while they were still pretending. Clearly, she had it while they did not—the self-realization that comes from confronting Nature one-on-one armed with but a wet brush. A barrage of regular correspondence, weakly-but-bravely-facing-the-inevitable in tone, fortified her standing with the old coterie in Richmond. Helen had to tread softly for Helen basked in her perception of their esteem.

“Sorry for the shortness of his note, but...” Implying that she was saving her strength for painting sunrises on the mesas.

The notes were on Jeffrey’s letterheads, paper handmade in Taos, and usually accompanied by a pencil sketch.

For the first year of Helen’s calls I lost weight, saw my graying hair thin out, and rode a teeter-totter between diarrhea and constipation. The big blue bottle of Phillip’s Milk of Magnesia on the nightstand, replenished weekly, had become an anchor for my sanity. My visits to the drug store gave a needed sense of continuity and purpose to my life. Ed Sanders, the pharmacist, took me aside one day like a Dutch uncle.

“Roy, that stuff’s going to kill you,” he was referring to Phillip’s Milk of Magnesia. Ed spoke with the same depth of concern an AA sponsor might use on a postulant discovered with a quart of bourbon under his arm.

“Forget Helen, Roy, she’s never coming back. Get a girl; get laid. Going on like this is doing no good for you or for your daughter.”

I was long-suffering Roy Hilliard, abandoned by a woman who didn’t know how good she had it, bravely raising a child on the cusp of puberty and facing life unbowed.

*  *  *

Our old, comfortable back porch was springy with the wet of an Indiana summer all the year. A thin film of slippery green permanently colored the boards and made them impossible to paint. It was Helen’s route to play with friends—skip rope, cowboys, dolls. A deeply worn shortcut like a game trail ran diagonally through the vacant lot behind the house to where lay the bigger world of a twelve year old—school and the Five and Dime. Since Helen’s mother left us, the springiness had become more pronounced and I no longer trusted the porch with my weight. It was the property of Helen and the cats. No one passed our porch unannounced. In the winter the ever-wet porch modulated from the sklitch sklitch of summer to a skree-chick sound of deal pine turned stiff as freezer beef. This reminded me of Harry’s, my surgeon’s, practice of playing with the clip board springs of his patients’ charts. I had to fix the porch.

Between the thought of porch fixing and the deed there was a winter of Sunday calls then silence on the long, long wires from New Mexico. That Helen might finally be ill enough to die far from home, I had viewed as a fond fiction by my friends and neighbors who were uncomfortable having daily dealings with an abandoned, impotent Roy Hilliard.

When Helen at last did stop calling was hard to tell. Her calls became sporadic and the gaps between them extended. The business of portraiture flourished. At least as often as Helen had once called, Richmond’s merchant princes shepherded their wives and little ones through my doors to be defined for future generations.

It was a busy time. I went into the hospital for my prostate and parts of me were removed. In my anesthesia dreams I again saw the Gumdrops, my two Helens, and the naked woman who wept at the kitchen sink. I had given her a name once, but it eluded me. Names are given to baby chicks and kittens. Kittens are drowned; the chicks arrive yellow puffballs, are adored, pampered, thinned by cats and foxes, then eaten by Sunday visitors. Harry Hirshberg, my surgeon, slapped me on the back and fiddled with the spring on his clipboard. Scree-click.

One afternoon of the following summer as I was finally fixing the porch, Gabriel came home with Helen. I recognized her at once as the woman from my ether dream: a dislocated remembering of shadows within shadows. The two approached me across the deep path in the vacant lot, then our yard, a delineation marked by sweat and beer as each summer I pushed the mower ever farther into the no-man’s-land of an uncontested boundary. They held hands. Helen was proprietary; her bearing said, “She’s mine, but I will share.” I sat on a sawhorse, smoking. Since her mother left there had been no one between my daughter and me. Now, it appeared, there was.

I felt that I must perform some act of welcome. “Name?” I held out my hand.

A name—the gift that, unasked for, forms you—was her only possession. Gabriel had been named Caroline Evangeline by a disappeared mother. She shed that name at the schoolyard, age thirteen: “Caroline Evangeline... will tell us the long thin country in South America that ends in Tierra del Fuego.”

“It is Chile, Miss Prescott, and they give us olives and tin. And I am Nikki.”

Everyone was pleased.

Helen stepped back. The girl stepped forward. She stood up straight and gracefully through her awkwardness, arms at her sides, a slight curve to the back. I was a middle-aged householder with his official paraphernalia—wide pencil, hammer, saw and two pounds of flooring nails, she, a knobbly-kneed, gangling girl, at first glance not much older than my daughter. Seventeen, eighteen, perhaps. “Nikki,” she took my hand.

“An Alianora, that is what you are.” Helen, my daughter, looked earnestly, first at the stray she had brought home, then at me. Our approval was important. “Alianora whom people called the Unattainable Princess...” This name was from the books Helen and I read together. We spent hours together lost in tales of chivalry and romance. And from the tales of knighthood, druidic spells, Jurgen The Pawnbroker, The Silver Stallion, The Worm Orobouros, the Morte d’Arthur, came a name for Nikki—she was the Tirewoman Gabriel.

“Alianora? That is hard to say. I like Gabriel,” said Gabriel. “You are who you say you are; everybody knows that.”

“Gabriel? Dad, is there a Gabriel anywhere in our books?”

“There is now,” I said. We had given her a name.

Helen pouted but Gabriel put her arms around her for one of those energetic hugs that lifted Helen off the ground. “I am so a Gabriel. Say it.”

“Gabriel,” said Helen.

We three agreed that it would be an excellent name. We shook hands gravely and it was done. Mundus Vult Decipi, I thought, the world wishes to be deceived. This was the motto of a princely hero of one our books. And so began our life together—Gabriel, Helen my daughter, and myself—as long as could, should, or would be, Gabriel said. With the addition of Gabriel we became a family, for in the days of Helen, Helen’s mother, we had not been. We carried a collapsible day bed down from the attic and Gabriel bunked in Helen’s room. Within two weeks she moved across the hall and slept with me. The first night, Gabriel and I made love in the dark.

I loved to watch her, lithe and limber, with the flexibility and curiosity and energy of her youth. “Why? Why me?” I asked. Her arrival in my life and the life of my daughter was a surprise, although not precisely unannounced. I considered her a blessing. Ed Sanders, my purveyor of Phillip’s Milk of Magnesia, would have approved.

“If you have to ask why you’ll ruin the surprise,” she said with tears and a smile as she coiled herself around my body.

“Surprise? What surprise?”

“If I told you it would spoil it all.”

“You don’t know.”

“No. And if I tell I’ll never find out.” She dug her face in against my chest and wept to shake off her paradox. She laughed as the tears flowed. “As long as could, should and would be,” she said again. “I hate surprises.”

“Me too,” I said, accepting her gift.

*  *  *

The telephone rang from its recessed niche in the front hallway. From the ring, a local call. But then with Helen dead, it would be a local call.

“Roy...” It was Barbara, her voice a theatrical tremolo not unlike a musical saw.

“Barbara?”

“That thing! There is a thing in there with my girls—the Gumdrops.”

“A thing.” She had seen the leering satyr.

Being the last to know was not a happy place for Barbara. And she suspected the satyr, tongue lolling and with a hankering after prepubescent girl flesh, was a projection of myself. Roy Hilliard, goat-man. Huh! Now we all knew. Or, if she did not know for sure, Barbara had her suspicions—that I had been playing some dirty joke. I was a dangerous type. I held the potential for embarrassment.

None of my clientele—Richmond’s merchant princes, their wives or daughters—had ever complained about the satyr. Somebody had snitched. Barbara had been called immediately. Our local calls come through clear and sharp with none of the atmospheric spattering of Helen’s Albuquerque ravings. I heard Barbara set down the receiver and walk away from the telephone, answering a distant knocking at her front door.

Footsteps returning. Barbara. “Roy?”

“Yes.”

“Roy, we have to talk.” The receiver was firmly replaced, call over.

*  *  *

“Is that me? Ohh... I am beautiful!”

She was beautiful and so was my daughter, who sometimes joined her. The tensions between the two, the child-woman and the woman-child, the fair and the dark, made them perfect objects. Their posing was so unforced, so natural, that this was a tacit fiction we all accepted—that when I held the camera, I disappeared.

There was the fear of a bad experience. A panic of blurry, unauthorized prints circulated in the boy’s gym, the lurking suspicion of treachery at the drug store where the amateur photographer took his film. The thought of a drugstore clerk with suppurating acne and a hand in his pants thumbing my Gabriel, my Helen, all the while passing pills and poultices over the counter gave us some chuckles and no small titillation. I processed all my own film. The pursuit of fame beyond my Wednesday night bowling league and the plaudits of my clientele did not excite me.

Watching a print coalesce in my darkroom tray, I knew that Helen, my daughter, and I shared Gabriel. This seemed in the red of the safelight a natural continuation. It was not strange that these two women whom I loved should love each other. The surprise was that I had not seen it through the camera: the two young women, gently touching, the briefest of kisses.

*  *  *

I awakened to Gabriel curled into a tight ball, her knees under her chin, sobbing uncontrollably beside me in our bed. I knew I could have beaten on her, hammered at her for attention, and gotten no reply. As the spasms passed, I fell back to sleep stroking her hair. I watched her relax into innocence, a ruined child, so vulnerable, drying to a sticky mess. The child with a child’s fears so much more real than actual horrors.

In the morning Gabriel stood before the mirror combing at the tangles of her sweat-damp hair dabbing at a smear of little girl snot, red-eyed with a puffy face. “What? I did? It must have been a bad dream.” These were secrets she meant to keep.

We were two again, Helen and I, with Gabriel growing between us. I often slept alone. When the loud and frantic scrambles of copulating mice grew too much—our room, our house, where I slept alone across the hall while the mice frolicked in the walls—I would reach out for Gabriel and find no one there. It was not an episode of madness I feared, but of an overwhelming unhappiness.

My daughter and I had become distant, formal. We communicated with silences. I finally just asked her about our Gabriel’s nighttime horrors. My daughter was unconcerned.

“People are sad sometimes. Last night she was sad.” That night Gabriel moved back in with me.

“I love you both but cannot have you both. I am driving you apart and will make you both hate me. Or me you. And sometimes I want just to run away.”

“Why?”

“Because I am afraid of losing you, of hurting you and having you send me away or making me want to leave.”

*  *  *

I awakened in the middle of the night with the painful urgency of a middle-aged bladder. Moonlight and the well-worn habits of years guided me down the stairs. The engineers who designed the Richmond water supply had been content to get the privies out of the yards. They were railroaders, not city planners. When your knees gave out and your eyesight failed and a final illness left you confined to an upstairs bedroom, it was assumed there would be a dutiful wife or child to empty the chamber pot.

Gabriel stood naked at the kitchen sink, gently crying, her arms deep in the suds. She must have heard me directing my grateful stream in the bathroom, so I knew I would not frighten her.

“Gabriel?” I put my arms around her waist and, kissing her neck, felt the smoothness of her belly and moved my hands to cradle her breasts.

“As long as could, should, or would be. We said that, didn’t we? About us—the three of us?”

“Gabriel...” I was going to lose her. Helen was going to lose her. Waking in the night, this one time her dreaming fears had not left her. She turned in my arms, so close, and kissed me, still sobbing. Her words were a torrent. About loving and about loving the both of us, Helen and me. And about the nights when, after lovemaking and full of me, she would cross the hall to Helen’s room where they would make love as I slept. There were too many of us, it seemed. We had taken all she had to give. We had emptied her.

With a heartbroken cry, she plunged her arms into the steaming, soapy water and came up with our carving knife. I watched the knife in Gabriel’s hands, the big, sharp chef’s knife we kept for shaving thin, red slices from our Sunday roasts, glide into my body. We regarded the hilt protruding from me, just below the sternum; there was just the slightest trickle of blood. It was as though we had been summoned here and were now waiting for further instructions

“Why?” All I felt was a mild curiosity: so little blood for such a big knife. I was distantly aware that I was going to die. I was interested, but not very interested.

Gabriel tried to put her arms around me, but the knife was in the way. “Oh, Roy...” Her tears were dry.

My knees were loose and I followed them to the floor. There was a twinge of pain and I felt very tired. “Huh... Old Spaghetti-legs. Can’t take me anywhere.”

“Helen!” Gabriel screamed and knelt beside me on the kitchen floor. I reached out a hand to pat her shoulder.

*  *  *

From the front hall, the telephone is ringing. It will be Barbara, most likely visited with a fresh complaint. How word got around; one good leer deserves another. Barbara will soon stand armed with but a clipboard and a whistle, her Gumdrops a kneeling phalanx before a charge of leering, prurient satyrs.

“Why?“I ask again. This is beside the point; it is all going to be my fault. Helen’s telephone silences from New Mexico might have told me if I had bothered to listen between the spatterings of the stars.

“If I told you then it would ruin the surprise, wouldn’t it?” That the Tirewoman Gabriel might be just another Gumdrop I can not just now accept.

“I hate surprises.” A name is whoever you say you are. I am not so surprised, after all.

I shake my head to clear my eyes. Helen, my daughter, arrives barefoot and in her pajamas and we kneel and hold each other, we three. Our words are gone.

The phone is still ringing and there are no words for Barbara either. Barbara will have to improvise. True grenadier parade majorettes, Barbara’s Gumdrops will have the determined look of a retail cadre standing firm for the January White Sales as they repel the satyr’s charge. Will the Gumdrops miss me?

copyright 2010, 2015 Rob Hunter

The Tirewoman Gabriel was first published in the February 2010 Necrology Shorts—an anthology of horror and the macabre. Gabriel was reprinted in James Ward Kirk’s Indiana Horror Anthology 2011.

Home | Sitemap | MP3s | Print | Audio Version

All content on this website, unless otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons license