A short story by
Edward Crosby Wells
© COPYRIGHT 2001, 2011 EDWARD CROSBY WELLS
ELECTRA DEVLIN AWOKE bright and early Easter Sunday morning. Easter was late this year, according to her mother and to their neighbor, Missus. Kearney, whom she had heard yesterday arguing over whether or not there had ever been an Easter Sunday later in April than this one.
“Once, when I was very young, it came in May.”
Never,” said Ada Devlin with a ready smile. “You must be thinking of Mother’s Day.”
“I know what I’m thinking,” said Missus Kearney, as though speaking to someone quite beneath her, “and what I’m thinking is Easter Sunday once came in May.
It most certainly did! Mind you, I have better things to do today than stand over the laundering and argue with you.”
“I’m sure you do,” sighed Ada Devlin, not quite resigned. “However, if Easter ever came in May, it came for you and you alone. It cannot come that late because of something about a full moon after a certain date in March. It all has to do with the sun and the moon, Missus Kearney.”
“The stars. It has something to do with the stars.”
“The sun and the moon. It cannot come later. It’s as fixed as the sun that rises like Jesus in the east,” said Ada Devlin, feeling self-satisfied while making a conspicuous display of blessing herself.
“Nonsense and be done with you,” sneered Missus Kearney. “You can cross yourself till kingdom come for all I care, but it won’t change a thing.”
“I am thinking of the risen Christ and, after all is said and done, isn’t that what Easter is really all about?” The masterful blend of the sanctimonious and the rhetorical left a vicious, thin smile on Ada’s otherwise melancholy countenance.
“I believe in the vernal equinox, my dear. It’s been around far longer.”
"Then you believe in Satan himself!”
And on and on it went, back and forth across the crumbling, decaying picket fence separating the women, neither of them really knowing nor caring what they were actually arguing about. It was strictly a diversionary tactic to avoid what was really buzzing and burning to be spoken outright, but would have to wait until the appropriate time; although there never really is an appropriate time for betrayal and death, only for mourning, Ada Devlin would have told herself had she not taken self-protective precautions to obfuscate her ailing mind with meaningless thoughts and trivial concerns.
Electra never much cared for know-it-all Missus Kearney, who always gave off a faint odor of peanut butter mixed with sweat, with her pig’s nose and definite dirty-gray mustache, her salt and pepper hair held back with plastic headbands and silver bobby pins, and her seemingly endless assortment of cardigan sweaters and every one in need of mending; and so she silently withdrew, taking her leave to gather some lilacs for tomorrow’s Easter Sunday celebration from the only tree in their backyard overgrown with dandelions blooming helter-skelter through brave patches of grass in need of mowing that rose above the sandy soil of the Colorado plains.
“Now, Ada,” cautioned Missus Kearney while watching Electra pulling an old, rusting metal lawn chair over to the lilac tree where she climbed upon it and began to carefully snap off the branches of blossoming flowers. “I hope you don’t mind my saying, but don’t you think it’s time you told the girl?”
“Yes. I do mind your saying. I mind very much.”
“It’s already been on the local news. I saw it myself; talkin’ ‘bout his proclivity and all, right there on the television for everybody to see and hear.”
While trying to hold back a whole galaxy of emotions, Ada said through clenched teeth, “I’ll tell her in my own good time and in my own good way.”
“Better be telling her soon, before someone else does it afore you. ‘Tis a tiny town filled with tiny minds, if you know what I mean. News spreads like prairie fire around these parts. Especially news so gruesome as all that.”
Electra could already feel the yellow sun of Easter morning warming her room as it filtered through the lace web-work of the dingy beige curtains from where it rose over the Mooney farm and the rock to the east — which never looked much like a castle to her — from which Castle Rock, Colorado nonetheless took its name.
She quickly jumped out of bed, her little feet hitting the glossy-green painted floorboards, and gingerly tip-toed over to check on Patrick, her baby brother, where he slept soundlessly in the very crib she herself had occupied till seven years ago when, at the age of five, she had gotten her very own bed, white enameled metal foot and headboard, and the crocheted bedspread with its delicate floral design that came all the way from Ireland and Aunt Kathleen.
Later in the morning, Electra would put on the sea-foam green Easter dress with its white lace overlay and embroidered collar and hemline. It came only last week in a big box covered with stamps she would save for many years to come from an aunt she’s never known and from an island she’s only seen in postcards. Just now, however, Electra stands staring at her awkward reflection, with wide and emerald-eyed wonder, through the maze of black holes where the magic paint that turns glass into mirror has worn away in the passage of time and neglect. Her hair, the color of fire, blazed round her pale face, flared over the freckles on her bare waxen shoulders before spreading like wildfire into thick waves of shimmering vermilion, terminating waist low.
And, then there was the matter of the blood. Did she appear differently somehow. Older perhaps? More like the woman her mother said she was becoming; all of a sudden, overnight, just days ago, last Friday, Good Friday, wasn’t it? If there was any change she could not, or would not see reflected in the old oval mirror of her dresser. It was Easter Sunday morning and there were more important matters to consider. Today was her father’s every-Sunday visit. Every Sunday since the crying and the whispers and the banging doors, before the divorce, he would drive down from Denver in time to take her to church, then to an all-you-can-eat brunch in Denver or sometimes in Colorado Springs; sometimes dinner in the loveliest and most enchanted of places and, always, far from Castle Rock; sometimes a day trip all the way to Boulder and, once in a very great while, all the way up to Estes Park for fudge and chocolate covered jellied orange sticks.
Still, there was so much to be done. There were the eggs to hide for little Patrick to discover in the hunt she had planned. There was the angel’s throne to decorate for the Easter Sunday photograph her father promised to take of her. Then, of course, there is her entire Easter wardrobe to lay out, but not to be put on until the very last minute; the new dress from her father’s sister in Ireland, new white mesh stockings, and a beautiful pair of bright cotton-candy pink mousseline de soie shoes with matching ankle straps from the Salvation Army thrift store, and barely worn.
Electra was giddy from visions of the enchanted day ahead. Her tiny trembling heart felt as though it was about to explode from the intoxicating mixture of anticipation and joy. How she loved Sundays and her father! Her imagination filled the room with the scent of him; tobacco mixed with the musky spice of drugstore cologne. Like a ballerina, Electra rose onto her toes, carefully leaned into the mirror, gently raised her chin and brought her lips to the glass. From his crib, Patrick sounded a little cry in his sleep.
“Electra,” her mother said in a loud whisper, appearing suddenly in the doorway. “What on Earth are you doing?”
“Mind you don’t break that mirror. ‘S Patrick asleep?”
“Look at yourself—naked as a jay bird. Put some clothes on and come down to the kitchen right away.”
“Just do as I say, Electra, and don’t be asking so many questions. Things are bad enough as they are.”
Electra watched as her mother turned and disappeared. Something was wrong. Something had happened.
The kitchen clock said seven forty-five. Ada Devlin would not have to leave for work this morning as she did most Sundays at this time. The truck stop diner where she waited on tables was closed two days a year—today, and Christmas was the other. She sat at the table, sipping coffee, her almond eyes carelessly gazing at the basket of boiled eggs she had helped Electra color for Paddy’s first hunt. Since he would be two in June, it would be the first of which he might be aware, although doubtful he would remember much of the Easter ritual beyond tomorrow.
Ada tried, in the nearly two years since her divorce, not to let the bitterness she sometimes felt spill out into the atmosphere of their children. She told herself that she would not be one of those mothers who poison their children to avenge the inexplicable pain of disillusioned love. For reasons of her own—perhaps, not consciously known—she could not bring herself to sever the invisible cord that bound Ada to her former husband, the father of her children. He would forever remain a part of her drifting existence, completing her life, her thoughts, her being. Perhaps that is why she hasn’t taken back her maiden name.
So, how could she tell her daughter? How could she make her daughter understand what she herself could not? She would never understand the reason for their divorce. “Never,” Ada whispered, contemptuously, into the Easter Sunday morning silence of her kitchen. How could Electra possibly understand her father’s preference for the company of men? Ada could not understand it herself. How could he do this to her? How could he do this to their children, to the family? How could he be so selfish, so inconsiderate and so weak as to give in to that abominable proclivity of his? And, certainly, she would never understand the senseless horror of his inopportune death. It was his most glorious achievement. One more blow at the sanctity of their fraudulent marriage, the final and most painful entry on her long and regrettable list of itemized betrayals; the last thorn in her lamentable crown.
How did the voice on the phone put it? Gay bashing, was it? What in hell was a gay bashing? The two words didn’t even seem to go together, to make sense. No, Ada Devlin could never understand nor would she ever be able to explain to her daughter, or later to her son, how their father had found his way onto the television and into the newspapers by getting himself beat to death outside a bar frequented by homosexuals in downtown Denver on the evening of Good Friday. It was a strange, enigmatic smile that tortured her face as she realized the incongruous irony of it.
“Morning.” Electra said, entering the kitchen. “I’ve got everything laid out and ready, but I can’t find my new shoes.”
“They’re still in the bag in my room.”
“May I go get them?”
“You won’t be needing them just yet. You’ve a world of time. Sit down and have your cereal.”
“Well, I’ve the eggs to hide before little Paddy wakes up and then there’s all there is to do in time before daddy gets here and takes my picture. Do you think you could take one of the two of us together?”
“Can I use Grand’s old metal chair in the back yard for the angel’s throne?”
“It’s nearly all rusted out.”
“I can cover it with something. Can I, please? Can I?”
“I suppose.” Ada sounded resigned and distant.
“Mother, what’s wrong?”
“I wouldn’t count on your father coming today, Electra.”
“Don’t be silly. Of course he’s coming.”
“He may not. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Why? What did you do, mother?”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“You did something. You did something terrible to daddy, didn’t you? What did you do, mother? What did you do?”
“I said, I didn’t do anything!” The pent up galaxy of emotions seemed about to explode.
“You did!” Electra screamed. “You couldn’t make him happy and now you don’t want me to have him, either!”
“What on Earth are you saying?”
"You weren’t woman enough for him! I hate you! I hate you!"
Electra didn’t see it coming and Ada couldn’t control its coming but, in either case, it came and it came loudly as Ada slapped her daughter with such force both she and the chair on which she was sitting fell backwards, hitting the floor like a terrible thunderclap. Electra lie there motionless, her dry eyes fixed, motionless, on her mother. Something had died in both their hearts and yet not a single tear was shed; except by Patrick who was suddenly awakened and frightened by the terrible, crashing sound of galaxies of emotions exploding into violence realized. Something, indeed, had happened.
The remainder of the day passed in relative silence. Electra, dressed in her Easter Sunday finery, took her little brother on his first Easter egg hunt. Although she had to direct him to where most of the eggs were hidden; beneath the lilac tree, in among the lilies-of-the-valley, behind the ball he quickly tired of playing catch with, under the angel’s throne she erected of Mamaw’s old rusty metal chair in the center of the backyard and carefully covered with ribbons and flowers and the crocheted bedspread that came all the way from Ireland and Aunt Kathleen—a fitting place for any angel to have her picture taken.
Then, too quickly, day tuned into dusk.
“Better be snappin’ the heads off them dandelions ‘fore they go spoilin’ other people’s yards.”
“Don’t you be worrying about other people’s yards, Mrs. Kearney. Yours ain’t exactly fit for croquet. Now, is it?”
“Don’t know. Never played the game myself. Did you tell her? Did you tell the poor little girl?”
Electra sat on her angel’s throne holding little Patrick while Ada slowly turned her back on Mrs. Kearney, walked quietly into the house, found the rope with which she had been meaning to replace the old clothesline, went upstairs to her room and hung herself.
Daddy will surely come for his little angel, Electra said to herself in the silence of her being as she sat with her back towards the setting Easter Sunday sun and the Rocky Mountains rising through a purple mist to the west. Suddenly, just as evening thoughts began to chill the air, Electra was certain she heard the gentle fluttering of an angel’s wings from somewhere nearby where she sat waiting, waiting, waiting for daddy.