Author’s Note: Please refer back to the previous postings if you want to know about how Eliza finds herself her in Part Five.
Eliza walked into the house that afternoon and called to her mother. She called again.
“Momma? Momma, where are you?” Her small voice seemed to echo through the house, bouncing off of the colorless walls and dusty hardwood floors. Silently, she waited for a response. She heard a soft hissing coming from the kitchen. She patted across the floors, the damp soles of her second-hand Reeboks squeaking with each step.
Weekah. Weekah. Week—
Halfway down the hall, she realized her folly and quickly stooped to pull the shoes from her tiny feet. She quickly backtracked, trying to erase the damp marks from the floor before she was discovered. She paused again. Nothing. Pheww.
Entering the kitchen, she located the source of the hissing. The kettle was shuddering, purging itself of the last bits of steam. Rising on her toes, she reached for the kettle.
“Don’t touch that,” her mother ordered from behind her.
“I was only trying to help,” Eliza protested, jerking her hand away.
Her mother had still been Angela Jackson back then. But she hadn’t been the Angela Jackson she had been before the death of her husband. Eliza saw her mother’s cold stare. In times like these, when her mother had been suffering from one of her spells, Eliza wondered how the woman could seem both frightened and angry at the same time. Grief had transformed a once warm woman into a stranger. And it was getting worse. Her mother’s eyes seemed to bulge from their sockets during the worst of those spells. They were bulging today.
“Don’t back talk me, child. Now go upstairs to your room. There will be no dinner for you tonight.”
She clambered up the stairs, almost stooped onto all fours. Her feet feet peddling and hands pushing, driving her upward. She flung open the door to her tiny bedroom and began to sling it shut. Before she released the knob, she caught herself. Slamming the door would only bring more of the darkness out of her mother. Better to suffer in silence.
Later that night, as she hoped sleep would relieve her hunger, she heard a tapping at her door.
She saw the doorknob turning slowly and feigned sleep.
“Liza? You awake? I got you something.”
Jason pulled something silver from under his shirt, producing his offering. Something hastily wrapped in aluminum foil. Hidden inside the foil was a cold piece of sausage, wrapped in an overcooked biscuit. It was the best thing Eliza had ever tasted.
“I can’t stay long. She will be up in a minute.”
Liza nodded, stuffing the food into her already full mouth.
“Slow down. If you cough or choke, she’ll hear us. Then we’re both dead.”
Eliza muffled her assent and obeyed.
“She’s getting worse,” said Jason. “Just try not to upset her.”
Tears welled at the corners of her green eyes. She had called to her mother earlier wanting to tell her about the voices. To tell her that she wasn’t imaging things. She was glad she hadn’t.
“Don’t worry,” said Jason. “I’ll take care of you. Just try to get some sleep.”
When Jason closed the door behind him, Eliza climbed into her bed and under the covers. She fell asleep listening for the sound of her mother climbing the stairs. Tomorrow, she resolved, she would tell Jason about the voices.
The funeral was a gothic bit of theatre. The pastor had reminded the dozen or so mourners that the wages of sin is death and that their dear sister Angela was now with the angels. Liza wondered how the man could move from tears to fury and back again to tears all within the course of twenty minutes without his head exploding.
Mourners came to offer their assurances that Angela Goddard was in a Better Place and that her mother was a Good Woman—a godly, if a bit peculiar, servant of the Gospel and the Kingdom. Jason and Eliza shook accepted their embraces and willingness to be called upon if there was anything they could do. When it was over, Jason turned to his sister and proposed they go have a cup of coffee.
The man approaching them must work for the funeral home. He hadn’t been a guest. Or if he had, he’d been sitting in the back of the chapel and somehow had gone unnoticed. Instinctively, Jason stepped just ahead of his sister, placing his body slightly between the man and Liza.
“Good afternoon. I’m Eli Paxton,” said the man, offering his hand to Jason.
“Did you know our mother?” Liza asked. It sounded like more of an accusation than a question.
“Indeed. Indeed, I did. Not well, mind you. But I did know her. I knew your father better, though.”
Both Jason and Liza were startled by the man’s confession. They had almost managed to forget Jeremiah Goddard. Almost. ButFor too many years he had made their lives miserable. Yes. He had helped mother pull out of some of the darkness that haunted her. But the price had been high and paid mostly by the two of them.
“You knew Jeremiah?” challenged Jason.
“Oh, no. I didn’t know him. Your father. I knew your father, Ben. Ben Jackson.”
After a few moments of polite conversation, Liza invited Eli Paxton to join her and Jason for coffee.