Come to my Window
When Sabella arrived at her new home on the evening of July 10, 2020, she was surprised to find a package on her porch. She supposed that it must have been delivered to the wrong house, but it was addressed to Miss Sabella Laaksonen. She recognized the blocky script, and there were hearts with tendrils branching off them drawn at each corner of the recipient’s address. The tendrils entwined with one another. Sabella took the package into the house, set it on the coffee table, and opened it with trembling hands.
Sabella felt Uriel’s etheric touch on her shoulder, but even an archangel could do nothing to alleviate the flood of sadness that washed over her as she read the letter at the top of the box, which was written in the same blocky script as the address on the envelope.
I hope you are likeing your new house. I maybe can come to visit som day.
Shacky and me was hoping to come and visit.
I am sad to say that Shacky’s cancer got real bad and that is why I had not wrote you my regular Sunday letter. Cause I was helping Shacky.
Shacky died at ten o’clock at night on 4th of July. I payed for special delivery so you would get this package soon to welcome you in your new home from me and Shacky. I am sorry it will probaly make you sad. Shacky tole me things will be ok but I am still crying a lot coze I cant help it.
I wish we could of got together all of us one more time but he just got too sick.
I love you Bella my old friend and I hope we can see each other again before it is my time to leave and be with Shacky and all my folks in Heaven.
Love always from your friend Dion
Hot tears spilled down Sabella’s cheeks as she unwrapped the final picture taken of Dion and his twin brother Shaquille. Shacky, always so robust, was a gaunt, grey ghost, although he was smiling as he stood with his arm around his brother’s shoulders.
“I understand the medical reason for his death,” Sabella’s voice quavered as she addressed the archangel behind her. “Prostate cancer that metastasized took up his entire digestive tract. I know all things die, and I know that 61 isn’t exactly young, but Shacky still had so much left to give the world. Why did it have to be him, Uriel? Why couldn’t it have been me? He gave back to his community, and everyone loved him. I’m an unsociable old bat who ran off to hide in the backwoods of Vermont. Uriel, please let me trade! You could do it, couldn’t you? It’s the least I could do for him after I went and broke his heart.”
Sabella gripped the picture to her chest and curled up on the couch as excruciating sobs racked her body. Not even an angel could take away this earthly anguish, so Uriel led Sabella on a journey behind the walls of sleep.
Bright as Diamonds
Sabella and her friends went to Shack’s Famous Chicken Shack every Friday after school following the restaurant’s opening on January 2, 1972, and sometimes on other days as well if they had the money to do so. She found herself gravitating to the family that owned the place and forming a friendship with the owners’ hardworking son, who was just a year older than she was.
When Shacky told Sabella that he was having trouble keeping up in class and was looking for a tutor, she quickly volunteered, citing her solid 3.5 GPA at Jubilee Catholic Preparatory Academy for Young Ladies. Her parents were pleased with the generous $5 per hour that Shacky’s family offered and gave Sabella permission to take the job on the condition that she keep her own grades up and continue excelling in track and field.
Sabella’s grades were better than ever when she started tutoring Shacky and his brother Dion. She never quite managed to hit the 4.0 mark, but since her scholastic performance easily allowed her to get into her parents’ alma mater, Texas A&M, her father was well pleased. He said that tutoring the “less fortunate” seemed to have helped her own academic performance.
Sabella sighed at her father’s assessment of Shacky’s family as “less fortunate” but decided that it was best not to argue with him as she didn’t want to risk losing her tutoring job as punishment for being sassy. She realized that her father’s thoughts encompassed both polite racism and polite class bias. He didn’t dislike Shacky and his family, but it was evident that he saw them as lower on the social strata although the Sanders household brought in a comparable income to the Laaksonens.
Shacky’s twin brother Dion had Down syndrome and Sabella adjusted her teaching methods to suit his learning style. She never talked down to him and it bothered her when other people did.
“Dion’s smart as a whip, he just learns things different,” Shacky advised Sabella.
The three teens learned well together, and Sabella started feeling guilty about taking money from Shacky’s family. She eventually convinced Shacky’s parents that having dinner with them was more than payment enough for her services.
“Well, we think of you like family, Darlin’,” Shacky’s mother declared, kissing Sabella’s cheek. “My boys are doing so well in school since you came along.”
When Shacky and his family moved into a house half a mile from Sabella’s family, the men of the house always walked her home. El Paso nights warmed up in the late Spring, and in the wee hours on the first Sunday morning in May, Sabella was startled by the sound of pebbles tapping at her window. She looked outside to see Shacky standing in her yard.
There was a small balcony near Sabella’s window, and she motioned for Shacky to join her there. The exuberant young man hurried quietly up the deck stairs and climbed onto the balcony.
“Shacky, what the heck are you doing here?” Sabella demanded. “If my dad catches you here, he’ll murder us both!”
“Couldn’t sleep,” Shacky said with a shrug. “If my daddy finds out, he’ll help your daddy murder me. We had some leftover lemon cookies from The Shack, and I reckoned we could share ‘em.”
Lemon Cookie Smiles
Sabella snuck down to the kitchen and prepared a quart of dry milk for herself and Shacky to drink with the cookies. She apologized for not bringing regular milk.
“Ma would read me the riot act if I used up the last of the milk,” she explained. “She says that at my age, a girl needs to be careful how much fat she has in her diet if she doesn’t want to end up with a lardy backside.”
“I don’t mind the dry stuff,” Shacky said. “Heck, it wasn’t like you were expecting a guest in the small hours. I’m glad you were awake.”
“Me too,” Sabella agreed. “I wish I could invite you in, but my folks would have a fit.”
“Yeah, I reckon they wouldn’t take too kindly to findin’ you with a black boy in your room, even if we was just playin’ checkers.”
“They wouldn’t take kindly to finding any boy other than Alex in my room,” Sabella countered. “Little brothers don’t count. I’m friends with lots of fellas, but I wouldn’t be allowed a sleepover with any of ‘em. My folks have dirty minds.”
“Well, I don’t suppose my folks would let you and me share a bed if you stayed the night, but it ain’t because they have dirty ideas, it’s more because it wouldn’t be proper. If you stayed the night, we’d make up the sofa bed for ya. I’d give you my bed, but me and Dion share the room. My family really likes you, Bella. They think of you like you’s one of our own.”
“Aw thanks, Shacky, that’s sweet! My family likes you, but I can’t say they think of you like you’re one of us. Only Laaksonens and Fields are family. I like the way your family does things better.”
“Except that we-all gonna work ourselves into the ground, I like how my family does things too,” Shacky agreed. “I ain’t afraid of a little hard work, but sometimes it feels like the work ain’t never done. Maybe I’m kind of lazy at heart. I like havin’ my time to rest.”
“You ain’t lazy, Shacky. I never seen anyone work as hard as you and your family. I’m real glad you come over. These cookies are so good! They taste just like sunshine. I’m gonna have to run extra in the morning though, so they don’t end up on my butt.”
“You ain’t supposed to sit on ‘em, you’re supposed to eat ‘em!” Shacky teased.
“My ma would say I’m gonna end up sitting on ‘em if I eat too many of ‘em,” Sabella said.
“Well, I think it’s silly to worry about things like that. I’m gonna enjoy my life, and if I end up getting fat, then I’m gonna be a happy fat man.”
“You’re right, it is silly,” Sabella agreed. “I wish I didn’t have to worry about it. But Ma says that fat girls don’t get good-looking boys, they just get jealous of thin girls.”
“I don’t wanna say nothin’ bad about your ma, Bella, but that don’t seem like a very nice thing to think. I don’t know if my Cousin Tana’s husband Walter is the handsomest guy, but he’s a really nice fella, and he loves her just how she is. Heck, I know I ain’t the handsomest guy, but I’m gonna get married to the girl that I like best, and it don’t matter if she’s thin or fat or in between. If she don’t make me smile like I’m eatin’ lemon cookies on a balcony with my friend in the small hours of Sunday morning, she ain’t the gal for me.”
Soothing Sounds of Sunshine and Long Forgotten Days
On the Fourth of July, the local churches cooperated in a multi-faith fundraiser to earn money for the victims of Hurricane Agnes. There was music, food, and a variety of entertainment, including carnival rides. Naturally, Shack’s Famous Chicken Shack was among the food vendors.
The other food stands included Chia’s Italian-Korean Fusion, Kanta ‘n’ Manoj Vegetarian Nirvana, Thora’s Danish Delights, Richard’s Legendary Greek Cuisine, and Kuhn’s Mexican ‘n’ Mongolian, as well as a variety of traditional carnival fare such as corn dogs and funnel cakes.
Sabella’s heart fell when she saw Shacky and Dion chatting excitedly with Devi Guliyev, the young cousin of Kanta Gui and niece of Manoj Wallis. Manoj and Kanta were an uncle and nephew from a big Indian family who had started their restaurant last year after Kanta graduated from culinary college. Devi went to school with Shacky. She was dainty and exotic, and the Sanders boys seemed very taken with her.
Although she tried to hide her disappointment, Sabella’s friend Margaret Leavitt noticed the quick change in her companion’s mood.
“What’s wrong, Bella?” Margaret inquired.
“Uh…nothing,” Sabella hedged. “I was just hoping that we’d have a chance to talk to Shacky and Dion, but it looks like they’ve got better things to do.”
“What could be better than talking to us?” Margaret pressed, poking Sabella in the ribs, hoping to make her smile. “C’mon, let’s go talk to them. And let’s get some food. I’m starving!”
“Margaret, they’re talking to Devi Guliyev.”
“So? Do you think she wouldn’t want to talk to us? She always seems nice enough when we go to the veggie place.”
“It just seems like maybe Shacky likes her, you know. I think they’d make a good couple.”
“Okay, well, let’s find out. Come on!”
Margaret dragged Sabella to where Shacky, Dion, and Devi were engaged in an animated conversation. Shacky was praising the Rajma Dal that Devi had given him and Dion to taste.”
“See now, this ain’t fair, Dev!” Shacky moaned. “This stuff is so good, and I ain’t got nothing I can offer you that’s comparable ‘cause you don’t eat meat.”
“Yeah, you do!” Devi retorted. “Potatoes, corn, beets, collard greens, fried okra, red beans and rice, biscuits, and sweet potato pie to name a few things. I expect repayment, Sanders. Oh, hey, Margaret and Bella! What are you girls up to?”
“Listening to the Soothing Sounds of Sunshine,” Margaret replied as a band began to play. “So, what’s this stuff you’re swooning over, Shack? I’m hungry enough to eat a bear. I might have to get me some.”
“This is called Rajma Dal, Margie,” Dion explained. “It’s lentil and red bean stew. It’s real good with sour cream. Also, you gotta try this spinach stuff with the cheese. But you gotta save room for our peach cobbler for dessert.”
Golden and Glistening
Forty-eight years beyond those halcyon days of youth, an older and sadder Sabella Laaksonen heard the clicking of pebbles against the front window of her new house.
“Sabella, come to the window,” a familiar voice called.
Sabella opened her eyes and rose from the couch. She supposed that she must have slept into the next day. The room was blindingly bright.
Sabella opened the front door. The world outside was awash in light as if the sun had come down to land in Dark Lake. Shacky stood before her, clad in a white robe trimmed with gold embroidery. There was a halo of light above his head and great white feathered wings sprouted from his shoulders. Shacky opened his arms and Sabella fell into them, weeping.
“Oh, Shacky, it isn’t fair!” she sobbed. “This shouldn’t have happened to you.”
“It’s all right, Bella,” Shacky soothed. “We all have to return home sometime. I wish I had some lemon cookies to offer you like I did the first time I came tapping on your window. Do you remember that night?”
“I’ll never forget as long as I live,” Sabella promised. “You were such a good friend to me, Shacky, and you were so much more, but I was afraid. If I could go back…”
Shacky pressed a finger to Sabella’s lips.
“Things happen for a reason, Bella. Ana and I had Eligia and Domitilla, and you had Fionn. I don’t think you could love anyone more than you do your son. There would always have been an emptiness in your soul without him. Please don’t beat yourself up anymore. Things were difficult for interracial couples in the 70s, especially in the South. I was mad at the world for a while after you turned me down, but I forgave you right away. I always understood.”
“That’s because you were always an angel, even before you had wings,” Sabella said. “I wish I could have seen you one more time, Shacky. You and me and Dion, we were a real good team.”
“What would you think of having Dion come here and live with you?” Shacky inquired as he and Sabella strode along the path by Dark Lake.
“You know I’d be thrilled,” Sabella replied. “But I don’t think your older daughter would agree to it. She doesn’t like me very much, and I don’t blame her.”
“Domi’s a bit of an inflexible personality,” Shacky agreed. “But I think Eli will make her see the light. Domi doesn’t really want to spend the rest of her life taking care of Dion. She’s worn out from helping me and her mother at the end of our lives. She needs to be able to travel and have some time to herself.”
“It’ll be a bit of an adjustment for Dion,” Sabella mused. “Having lived in Texas and Mexico all his life and coming to Vermont where the winters get wicked cold. Are you sure he’ll like it?”
“Dion will like being anywhere that he feels loved,” Shacky replied. “Do you know that my brother never had Down syndrome, Bella?”
Sabella grinned at Shacky’s old joke.
Light Shining In
“Nope, he always had Up Syndrome,” she laughed. “Dion’s always loved making people happy. There’s just one thing, Shacky. This house is kind of haunted.”
“I know. I wouldn’t be suggesting that my brother should come live in a house that was haunted by evil spirits. The ghost in this house is friendly even if he tends to be a bit cranky. Don’t be afraid of him. He wants to work with you. And don’t be afraid to open your heart, Bella. You and I will always be friends. It’s okay for you to make new friends too.”
“I guess maybe I need to let myself be open to new possibilities. Oh, Shacky, thank you for coming to see me. Don’t be surprised if you hear me calling on you for help. I’m going to start exploring this house and I have the feeling that it’s filled with mysteries that I’m going to need a spiritual connection to understand.”
Shacky embraced Sabella one more time. He stepped back, and the light around him shone so brightly that she could soon see nothing else.
Sabella awoke and nearly tumbled off the couch. She set the picture she had been clinging to on the coffee table.
“I bet I won’t be sleeping for the rest of the night,” Sabella mused. “I may as well go up to the attic and start working on finding out who’s haunting this place and why.”
Shacky stood outside the house beside a small, spectral Caucasian man with shoulder-length brown hair who wore a purple zoot suit and a wide-brimmed hat.
“She home at last,” the sharp-dressed spirit said.
“Yep. Now we need to work together to make sure that history don’t repeat itself,” Shacky replied.