“Come in!” came a distant shout. “The door’s open.”
It was a sunny day with singing birds and sailing clouds. Gia turned the rusted handle and shuffled inside with her trunk, suppressing her surprise that people anywhere would leave the door open. This was the rumored safety of the countryside. Everyone knows everyone, they said. Her eyes struggled to adjust to the dimness inside. Only a narrow hallway with a set of French doors at the end awaited her behind the door. The light that came in seemed to leave the space in more shadows.
She hoped the rest of the house wouldn’t be as dreary, or claustrophobic. Then, again she was only staying for a week and the outside full of greens and chirping birds, unpolluted air and natural noises and not of yelling people made up for it. It would be good she hyped herself.
Footsteps thundered in the floor above her as she stood, pulling off her jacket. A silhouette of a head popped up at the end of the hallway.
“Is that you, Cuz?”
“Yea--, I mean yes.” She squinted, trying to make more of the shadowed form. This must be her cousin. “My name’s Gia.”
“I’m Lei.” Her cousin approached her, stepping into the light to reveal a round-faced, large eyed girl, or woman, about the same age as her. The similarities started in their large eyebrows and ended in their skin color. Her cousin was considerably fairer than her, un-tanned one could say.
Awkward pleasantries exchanged, ending with a gift from Gia from the city, they headed inside. The gift of wine, she hoped, would endear her to an aunt she’d only met once and had no recollection of. Her mother hadn’t liked her sister, and the feeling was apparently mutual. Her mother hadn’t liked the country either and never said much about it. Yet, here Gia was.
The walls were covered in floral wallpaper. There were visible cracks and areas where it was peeling, revealing the wood underneath. She sniffed. The place was dusty too. The house was old. It probably triggered her mother’s allergies.
At the end of the hallway was an arched opening on the right leading to the sitting room and dining room and on the left was a set of stairs leading upstairs. She heard a muffled cough and peered into the sitting room. At a corner sat an elderly woman.
“Hello,” Gia said. It startled the tiny woman.
Lei placed a hand on her shoulder. “Come on. That’s only Grandma, and she’s senile. You won’t get a word out of her.”
“Oh.” Her insides did that weird unnamed thing it did anytime she was disappointed but not surprised. Out of all her parents’ parents, her mother’s grandma had been the only one she had positive memories of. Of course, by the time she could see her again over a decade later since they’d last met, her grandma was no longer capable of communicating. Her life was like that. So much for reconnecting.
“My mom’s out right now,” Lei said, as they ascended the stairs. “She’ll be back later. Or not.”
Gia frowned, but didn’t feel like pressing further. Her relationship with her parents wasn't exactly the smoothest either.
The upstairs was much better lit and her mood lifted considerably. The windows were browned with age and dust and cast the entire area in a golden glow. From the wide windows in the room she would be sleeping in, she could see a pond outside. Whites danced on sky blue, as clouds went by over the silent water. The pond was a pond’s pond. Round the way you’d see in an illustration and surrounded by golden green grass.
“You like it?” her cousin asked.
“Hmm?” She turned to see her cousin poking her head in from the doorway, studying her.
“The pond, you like it?”
“Sure.” She liked the beautiful, haiku-esque pond as much as anyone could like a beautiful haiku-esque piece of mass. Sadly, she had the attention span of a city dweller, and by the time her cousin led her outside to it, she’d lost interest.
On the way to the pond, Gia had pointed out a massive misshapen tree. Its trunk was fractured at the bottom and the top half lay on the ground, decaying. Lei had glared at it with the kind of passion country people must have for natural masses.
“I hate it, ugly thing. Glad we busted it,” Lei had said.
Gia couldn’t understand hating a natural mass that much.
At the pond, she stared into the waters half expecting something to pop out. She didn’t know why, but she expected to see something. But nothing came up. It was just water doing watery things like laying still or rippling when the wind disturbed the surface.
“Do you want to know what’s at the bottom,” Cousin asked.
A giggle followed by a shove to the back and Gia was stumbling toward the still surface. Her heart raced in her chest, her shoes soaked in the shallows of the pond.
“Don’t do that!”
Her cousin looked unremorseful. “Don’t do that,” Lei mocked. “It’s just a dumb pond. You’re not gonna disappear if you fall in. Baby.”
The scowl on Gia’s face must have matched and surpassed the scowl Lei had when she’d stared at the broken, busted tree. After that, Gia couldn’t see herself liking her cousin. Neither, could she imagine visiting again.
Evening came, cloaking everything in the red ambience of sun set and the orange light bulbs that were used inside the house. Cousin did not like to cook, Gia was told, so she had to get dinner ready. But there was nothing in the pantry or the fridge. No bread, no eggs, no milk, she was confused. Luckily, she brought soy milk, bread, raisins and cookies in case the wine failed to win her aunt over. A little deconstructive cooking and they were eating raisin bread for dinner.
Grandma cried during the meal, shedding silent tears. Gia had wanted to ask why, but Lei had explained it was normal. Grandma simply doing senile Grandma things.
It had been a long day and Gia felt the fatigue weighing down on her shoulders, so she went to bed early. Later as she lay in bed, she heard the soft click of the door somewhere and assumed her cousin had gone to sleep as well. Her aunt had never come home.
They say weird things happen in the time between midnight and dawn, weird things worldly creatures simply could not comprehend.
Gia awoke sometime in the depth of night, hungry. She had been a night binger before and the sad dinner had awoken the bad habit. She tiptoed out of bed and stalked down stairs. When she got to the bottom, she noticed the door was open. Had someone broken in? Chills spread along her arms, and she suddenly felt small and weak, and alone. She went to the door, but saw nothing. As she was about to close the door, she spotted a shadow from the corner of her eyes. It was Grandma.
The old frail thing sailed slowly in the direction of the pond, her white gown wafting in the wind. Gia tried to call out, but her voice died in her throat, so she followed instead. The night air stood frozen still not a sigh or a murmur of leaves. Everything was quiet, all eyes, no mouths. At the edge of the pond, Grandma started to pick up pebbles and stuff them in her pockets. When the pockets were sagging with the weight, Grandma walked into the pond.
Gia, who’d been hiding and watching from afar, walked to the edge, shaking. She felt trapped like a person forced to witness an unavoidable event.
As Grandma waded out to the middle of the pond, she turned back to Gia. Her hollow gaze sank into Gia’s body and she felt cold in her heart.
“Come back,” Gia screamed in her head, voice failing to materialize. “Please stop.”
But no one can hear words unsaid. And Grandma disappeared into the waters, silent as the night air. Gia’s chest fell and rose as she struggled to breathe. Pressure built behind her eyes as she cried, confused. She was so confused. Her mind refused to work.
How long she’d stayed there, standing and watching the still surface she didn’t know. But when the sun’s rays peeked from the horizon, her senses came back and she ran inside to find her cousin. But Lei wasn’t in her room. She was nowhere in the house. Gia searched and shouted, but she wasn’t there. Then she called the police, and they told her they were on their way, but the voice had sounded skeptical and condescending as if Gia was crazy.
Gia ran outside and waded into the pond. It was the dry season and she could reach the middle with the water only reaching up to her chest. The water rippled around her as she disturbed it. She dived in, kicking up layers at the bottom, layers of history, of silence.
When the police finally showed up, they found Gia sitting with her knees to her chest, staring at the sailing clouds with a human skull and several bones beside her.
Her mother had scowled when she’d found out about Gia’s stay in the country from the Police . Her mother had blamed her for not asking before going. If Gia had only asked, she would have known her cousin and aunt were already dead, having died in a car crash. Aunt had been driving at night when she had hit a tree near the house.