Calvin’s Ghost: A Novel / 12 / Hell Night

Calvin’s Ghost: A Novel / 12 / Hell Night October 31, 2019

Previously in Calvin’s Ghost11 / Good Night My Rabbit

Eli turned into his own driveway shortly after 1:00. He switched off the engine and sat motionless in the car, drifting gently back to earth, illuminated and cosseted by a honeyed happiness he’d not before experienced. Heavy footfalls hurrying up the steps to his house finally claimed his attention, Eli suddenly cognizant nearly every room in his house was alive with light and movement, now also aware of the police car pulling into the drive behind him, red and blue strobe spitting its unwelcome blessing.

Tobias drove with Eli in the police car, cadaverously silent and withdrawn, staring at his reflection in the rear window. Eli shivered in his corner of the car, his tongue thick and dry. More police cars and an ambulance awaited them at the house on Hodge Road where Jasper lived. Possibly twenty people – members of the Jasper household and neighbors – milled outside under damp, tissue-soaked streetlamps. Two cops, detectives, met them at the car and led them into the house. In passing, Eli’s hand brushed the leaded paned windows of the front door and came away greasy with egg.

Lawrence had been tight-lipped about Jasper’s family. He’d usually biked across town to the Hodge Road home. He sometimes allowed his parents, and occasionally Eli, to drop him at the house, but never left an opening for them to accompany him to the front door, hooded beneath the gingerbread porch, or to meet Jasper’s parents. “They’re old and boring,” Lawrence said. “You don’t want to talk to them, trust me.”

Eli did speak once with Jasper, when the younger boy had been waiting on the steps of his house as Eli piloted the car into the circular driveway. Despite Lawrence’s protestations, Eli exited the car and got his word in with Jasper, who evaluated Eli with languid confidence at least partly explaining Lawrence’s idolatry of his younger friend. Here was a boy with standing in the world, who knew what was going on, who knew how to make things happen. Here was a boy with these qualities who liked and valued Lawrence, who understood Lawrence, with whom Lawrence felt safe.

The house was beautiful, a late 19th-century Victorian costumed with fabric, heavy draperies, rampant upholstering, vast wool rugs, silk wall tapestries, broadcloth dinner napkins. They traversed the kitchen to access the basement and through the far door Eli saw two police officers talking to Jasper in the day room, his red pigtails unfurled and dank. An older man with white hair and a cajoling manner, whom Eli assumed was the father, spoke into a phone nearby. Both Jasper and the older man looked up when Eli and Tobias passed, their eyes blackened stones, a charitable interpretation, Eli decided later, being that both father and son were in their own way as cold-cocked as Tobias and Eli.

The basement was more comfortably and informally accoutered than the public rooms upstairs, with the stairwell releasing them into a vast Center Room clearly designed to the recreation and entertainment specifications of an entitled young teenage boy. The darkroom opened to them from a doorway at the far end of the Center Room, although it was no longer (and would never again be) dark, was indeed ablaze with light, the only darkness attached to three shadows bustling in the one part of the room not visible through the doorway.

Lawrence lay in the middle of the darkroom, on his back, lacking shirt and shoes, face turned toward them leached of color, eyeglasses neatly folded by his head.

Tobias staggered mutely toward the floor, landing upon his knees, Eli folding into him, with bearlike strength wrapping his arms around his father, pulling his father’s head against his shoulder, smoothing his hair, Tobias’s eyes empty, his breath shallow. After a time – Eli never knew if he and Tobias knelt on the floor before his brother’s body for 30 seconds or 30 minutes – one of the detectives helped them to their feet. Speaking for his father, Eli confirmed the boy on the floor, foam dancing on his lips and nostrils, knobby knees and elbows, mole on neck, crooked left pinky finger, acne pitting back and shoulders, confirmed this boy was his brother Lawrence.

Two men and a woman approached Eli and Tobias from the darkroom sink. The woman, who was apparently leading the technical side of the investigation, spoke quietly about Lawrence, as if she wanted to be sure he did not suddenly awaken and sit up and point his finger and shout J’accuse.

Sometime around 9:30 that evening, she said, Lawrence ingested a beaker of potassium cyanide. He had been alone in the darkroom at the time of his death, Jasper apparently having left for 45 minutes to purchase cigarettes. He had probably lived for only a few minutes with the cyanide in his system, which Eli assumed meant far longer. His death had probably been uncomfortable, she said, which Eli assumed meant agonizing and terrifying.

Lawrence’s pants cuff and boots looked to be coated with fresh mud. The woman said the police were still looking into the background of the mud. She then said she needed to show Tobias and Eli something else. She escorted them into another room adjacent to the Center Room, a cell with high barred windows and a faint smell of dope and rotten fruit. A small refrigerator lay on its side, the door canted open, molding melon slices and strawberries spilling on to the carpet.

The police investigator flipped the light switch and pointed Eli and his father toward a far corner of the room, where an array of rag dolls coupled promiscuously. Eli grabbed his father’s hand. The dolls belonged to Evangeline, and now in the defiled basement of Jasper from Hodge Road they lay askew, twisted and compromised, a few conventionally satisfying their urges via missionary postures, but most probably more accurately befouling each other, in dyadic and triadic tableaus featuring doll-sized whips, cuffs, masks, boots, and ropes. Several dolls hung from a floor lamp by their necks, hands tied behind their backs with thread. Cameras and film and photographic paper littered another corner of the room. Eli stepped over to retrieve Lawrence’s Rollei, the telephoto lying beside it smashed and cracked. Truly, this had been Jasper’s and Lawrence’s Hell Night.

Next in Calvin’s Ghost12 / Tobias – Letter 1

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