The House of Discarded Dreams

Page 16


“I couldn’t take the stairs,” Vimbai said. “I was attacked by the shrubs, and didn’t have a knife. I called, but no one came. There were prickly shrubs chasing me all the way to my room, and they smelled like a hospital.”
Maya arched her eyebrows. “I haven’t seen them, but if you say so. It was still a stupid thing to do.”
“I know,” Vimbai said. “But it’s not like there were other options.”
“There are always other options,” Maya said. “Come on, I’ll take you to your room, and I’ll show you a workaround for the stairs. And then you’ll go to bed and sleep and feel better, okay?”
“Okay,” Vimbai agreed and stood up, still shivering, clutching the warm blanket gathered at her neck.
The chipoko picked up Vimbai’s t-shirt and skirt off the floor. “Don’t worry, I’ll dry your clothes and bring them to you. Go rest now.”
Vimbai followed Maya, sulking a little—how come everyone but herself knew about this workaround? Then she remembered sitting by the window while Maya explored, but didn’t feel better for it.
Maya led them into the living room and opened the doors of the cabinet that housed assorted plates, dishes and knickknacks they didn’t quite have a place for. The knickknacks were gone now, subsumed by a path carefully marked in white sand, leading into a copse of tall and narrow trees—they lined the path like columns, and their branches twined overhead, creating a filigreed tunnel, black against the pale grey sky.
“Where are we?” Vimbai asked.
“Pantry,” Maya said, and shot her a smoldering look. “You really need to get to know the house, you know. It’s getting bigger every day.”
“But why?” Vimbai whispered, overwhelmed with the weight of accumulated disbelief. “What is happening to us?”
“Who knows?” Maya shrugged. “Who cares? Enjoy it while you can, why don’t you? There will be tons of boring shit in your life, okay? I promise.”
“Okay,” Vimbai sighed and followed along the path, next to a very clear and very fast brook that silvered between the trees. The path turned into a doorway Vimbai did not recognize, past a few skinned couches and a folded ladder dripping fresh white paint. Vimbai decided not to ask, since the questions were likely to yield only additional frustration instead of answers.
Maya grabbed her hand and squeezed hard. “Look, Vimbai,” she said. “It doesn’t matter why or how, don’t you understand? Back home, girls like us, we’re nothing. We work hard and make good, and sometimes someone might compliment you for it. But we don’t run things; they are run by white guys and rich people. And here, now . . . we make the rules, see? It’s ours. Maybe the house will grow bigger, and we’ll get some milk from ShopRite and come back here. We can be queens here, queens of all we see, of crabs and ghosts and oceans. We can float like this forever, and no one will ever tell us what to do.”
“What about Felix?” Vimbai said.
“What about him?”
“Nothing. Just haven’t seen him in a while.”
Maya shrugged and let go of Vimbai’s hand with one last squeeze. “You can be the queen of Felix if you want, I don’t mind.”
Vimbai wished Maya would hold her hands just a bit longer. “I don’t know,” she said. “I mean, it sounds nice. But we’re going back, you know? This feels like make-believe. A pretend world that doesn’t really matter. Wouldn’t you rather matter in the real world?”
“The queen of New Jersey,” Maya drawled, and laughed. “Maybe.”
They rounded the last outcropping of furniture and rock covered in what looked like fur, and Maya pointed at the mouth of a cave that yawned at them from between two striped signposts. “See? Can’t miss it.”
“Where does it lead to?” Vimbai asked.
“The hallway by Felix’s room,” Maya answered. “It’s interesting, both Peb and I noticed it—no matter how much this house changes, the paths stay constant. So you can’t get lost. Well, you could, but not really, not for long.”
“You spoke to Peb,” Vimbai said. Not really a question, just a statement of fact heavy with implication.
“Well, yeah. You were either staring out of the window or on the porch with your face in the water and butt in the air. What was I supposed to do?”
Vimbai shrugged, pleased that Maya was so willing to have this argument rather than dismissing Vimbai’s words or denying her any demands on Maya’s time and attention. “I’m just surprised. Where are your animals?”
“Roaming somewhere.” Maya entered the cave, swallowed by the darkness, and only her voice reached Vimbai, strong and clear. “Funny thing how they always come when I call. I wonder now if everyone has a secret animal army.”
“Then why doesn’t everyone know about it?” Vimbai asked, and followed.
The cave was utterly dark, but just before Vimbai was ready to get scared and start flailing in search of a wall or anything solid, the darkness opened up before her, and she glimpsed the familiar walls with studs incompetently hidden under layers of paint, and the ‘Keep Out’ sign on Felix’s door.
Maya waited for her in the hallway. “You’ll be all right?”
Vimbai noticed that she was no longer shivering and nodded. “I’ll be fine. I’m just going to go lie down for a bit.”
“Okay. My dogs and me, we’ll go roaming for a bit, but I’ll check on you later.”
Maya laughed. “I know, but I have to call them something. They act like dogs anyway.”
Vimbai headed to her room, pushing aside the familiar curtain of dangling vines, bromeliads, and occasional orchids, their white roots twined like tortured fingers. It was pretty, she had to admit, and the shortcut from downstairs Maya showed her made her mind swell with possibilities. Maybe it was time to let the crabs do what they were doing…. And then she remembered the undead giants again and cringed.
Vimbai lay down on her bed, pulling her blanket over the one her grandmother wrapped her in. She squeezed her eyes shut, chasing away the gruesome images that crowded her retinas as if tattooed there. Funny, Vimbai thought; she was perfectly fine with the spirit of her dead grandmother making coffee in the kitchen and sometimes talking on the phone that was once again full of static and whispers, yet she refused to contemplate undead creatures. Spirits seemed cleaner to her, uncontaminated by rot and flesh. There was purity about the ghost, a creature of mere spirit, with its human flaws falling away, leaving the clean burning fire of the soul. The vadzimu was above and beyond her razorblades and her belief that politics was only relevant when it interfered with her vegetable garden.
Warmth came gradually, and Vimbai did not notice the exact moment when she no longer felt cold. She snuggled into the blankets as if they were a nest, and smiled. Tomorrow, she thought, tomorrow she would feel better and she would go roaming with Maya and her dogs, and would not think about the terror that dragged their house along, crawling across the sandy bottom on rotten broken legs. She would forget the aggressive shrubs and the hospital smell that still lingered in her room.
“Wake up, Vimbai, wake up, wake up.” The voice droned as if from a great distance, and for a while it was possible for Vimbai to pretend that the voice was a part of her dream. Then a hand shook her shoulder unceremoniously, and she opened her eyes, annoyed.
Felix’s hair had grown restless since she last saw him—it reared up and guttered like flames in the wind, reached out to lap at Vimbai’s pillow. One especially long and hungry tongue stretched toward her face but Felix batted it away, his hand disappearing momentarily.
Vimbai pushed herself up on her elbows and yawned widely, too tired to care. “What?” she said. “Why’d you wake me?”
“I am troubled,” Felix said. “We are out of beer.”
Vimbai sat up, awake now. “Are those separate statements, or are you troubled because we are out of beer?”
“Separate.” Felix sighed, miserable. “Although lack of beer doesn’t help.”
“What’s the problem?”
“There are things happening . . . up there.” Felix pointed upward to his hair, in a small gesture as if afraid that the hair would notice. “I don’t know what to do. There were things . . . crawling out of there, and I didn’t know anything could leave there.”
“What sorts of things?” Vimbai asked.
Felix shuddered. “Dead things. With legs and long spiky tails, just last night. I woke up and almost died, I swear.”
Vimbai swallowed and hugged her knees to her chest to ward off the chill thrumming along her spine. “They are the ones pulling the house now. But what were they doing in your hair?”
“I dunno,” Felix sobbed.
“You said your hair separates things,” Vimbai said slowly. The hypothesis was starting to form in her mind but lacked shape, and Vimbai hoped to coax it into proper expression by verbalizing it. “So there were crabs, undead ones, separated from their lives. In your hair. So I assume they crawled in there first, without you noticing.”