UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
JO NEACE KRAUSE
The Dunwoody's Door
The doorbell rings. It rings once at the far end of the hallway in the old farm house. The woman looks up from what she is doing in the kitchen and sees the man at the end of the hallway just outside the
The woman reaches for a towel and dries her hands, twisting her head slowly as she again peers down the dark hallway to the sunlit porch. She is startled by the bold outline of the man, or actually by the broken outline of him since only part of his body stands in view with the early light striking his odd cropped head. Yaller headed fellow,she says to herself, turning the damp towel in her hands. She has not seen him before. A stranger. A stranger at the door this early in the morning. Behind the man and across the road, sunshine falls upon the green misty field of corn dripping with dew.
“Can I help you?” she calls out. “Are you looking for someone?”
“Yes. I’m looking for Mr. Dunwoody. Bob Dunwoody. Is he home?”
“Yes. He lives here,” the woman answers slowly. “I’m his wife. He’s still sleeping.”
She takes a few steps forward. She is old, with an old woman drive to explain. “He has trouble falling off at night, and of course he has to get up before daylight and do a little work around here, then he goes back to bed, so I let him sleep late . And he’s crippled up with arthritis, takes him a long time to get down those stairs. But if it’s important……Is it important?”
The man stands on, then he speaks. “It might be important.”
“Are you a relative? Or something?” the woman asks, knowing the question might sound foolish, but she has her reasons. She stands back nervously fingering the damp towel. She is dressed the way old farm women in this area dress, in a cotton house dress that comes down to her ankles, with an apron over it. The apron has a damp shadow where her belly rounds out.
“I think so,” the man answers bluntly, turning sideways, and the woman thought he kicked mud off his shoes. He must have been walking.
“I’ll go get him,” she says in a dutiful way. “I didn’t hear no motor. So I guess you didn’t drive. Walked down off the highway, hu? Sit down in the swing out there. He’ll be down directly.
“No. don’t! That is---- I’ll come back later! Some other time,” he calls out after her hurriedly and awkwardly, as if he had come there after much argument with himself and was glad to call it all off. “Let him sleep!”
“It’s no trouble,” Mrs Dunwoody cries. She is on the stairs now. It hurts her neck to move her head around, but she turns to see the man leaving the yard.
He is hurrying , running as if panic stricken, in a good suit of clothes. I’d better go tell Bob now, she thinks. Before I forget it.
Only a year ago she told her husband everything soon as he came in the house, everything that happened on the farm that day. Now her mind holds information for days, until she happens to remember. It is her age. She is seventy-three. Her husband is seventy-seven. She is his second wife.
“He said he’d come back, so what could I do, run after him? Oh, yeah, ol’ trigger heel, after him, that’s me. Turning into big trigger foot and after him! In that old dress? How would that have looked?”
The woman is seated before the dresser mirror, combing her hair and looking up at her husband who walks in nervous agitation back and forth before her. Her face follows his crab like pacing. With each step he holds his hand against his hip which pains him. When he takes his hand away he hits his fist into his palm, and although he is talking to her, he never once looks at her. He seems to be miles away from the upstairs room in the middle of the corn field which now lies fallow. The stalks lie in the frozen snow where the machine had flattened them like a flooded river might have flowed over them then receded.
“Tell me again what he looked like. And how’d he talk? Like us down here, hu? You say a good suit of clothes? Summer clothes? How tall was he? How close did you get to him? Just walked up and rang the bell, hu? Like he had been studying us? That’s why he came in the morning…….he wanted to find me home, right? Why can't you remember anything but his hair! Which you said was dyed? Kind of blond? Yellow. Like mine was. Did he look like me? Why didn’t you step out after him!”
“I told you I couldn’t see that well, couldn’t go after him. I didn’t even have on my walking shoes. Just those old half worn out house slippers,” she says pleadingly. “I had no idea he would cut and run like that!” She makes a twist of her thin hair and tucks it behind her head with a hairpin, then she keeps slicking it back over her skull with her flat hand.
“That’s what his mother said too,” the man shouts in utter bitterness, “when she came out of that store and found him gone out of his stroller. ‘Oh, I had no idea someone would steal a two year old child!' The ignorant muddle headed bitch!’ Oh, I only left him for a minute! One minute!’ She kept saying. Even the cops wanted to choke her. It’s a good thing she left cause that’s just what I would have done to her.”
“But I’m not her. Bob. I’m not Louise, so you shouldn’t take it out on me this way. I love you. God, I love you! Besides he’ll be back. I just have a feeling…….”
“ Oh, that’s exactly what she said too. But he didn’t come back, did he? It’s been fifty years and still we haven’t seen him. So it must have been him who came here three months ago, rang the doorbell, and missed me. Missed me! One ring. After fifty years! Hey, where’a you going? You just get the hell back in here! Come back here. Sit down, down there. Now, let’s go over it all again. He rang at what time? Are you sure he had on a suit? Could it have been a raincoat? I always wear this light coat myself, it’s a rain coat but it looks dressy. Dark. Taste in clothes is inherited.
“But you don’t know it was Robby who rang the doorbell that morning back in July! It could have been someone else!” she screams, terror moving in her eyes. “You’ve got to stop expecting him!”
“ If he wasn’t Robby, who was it? He said he was a relative, so if it wasn’t Robby…then who could it have been? Who was it? ”
“ I’ll tell you who," she says, “Another one of those nuts. You know what kind of nut I mean, those crazy guys who hear about us in the news then just start thinking they’re the one……the missing one. The big missing thing in our life! They all say they’re relatives! We’ve been through all this ---- how many crazy people like that have we seen! Every time there’s a new story about Robby in the papers they rise and stir … just like the river coming up over its bank and right into the house, room to room, feeling around for us. I’ve cooked and fed them, let them try on your clothes! Then that one who got in your billfold , took your I.D. and money, stole your watch! And you thought each one of them was Robby, didn’t you?”
The man sits down and lowers his head. They are each quiet now. The woman puts her hand on the man’s shoulder which is shaking. Her hand is old and crooked but her nails are strangely filed and polished bright red and under her hand the man’s shoulder is hard and humped, damp with sweat. He has begun to cry and she hates it.
“Oh, God, I wonder who has it," the man cries aloud sobbing into his hands, “ Oh, god, I wonder where its at and who has it,” he weeps.
The old woman pats his shoulder and after a while her husband stops trembling. But just as he settles down and grows completely calm, and the woman leaves him alone, they hear the doorbell sound from the front porch.
The woman is on the stairs when she hears and stops. She is on her way down to the kitchen to make coffee, but as her husband calls out to her, she turns and slowly mounts again to see what he wants.
“Did you start the coffee yet?” he asks.
“No.” she says. Then she sees what he is holding. He holds the gun out to her. He nods his head towards the front of the house where the doorbell has made its lonely teasing call. “It’s just as you say,” he whispers. “We’ve had enough of them. You’ll have to start in on them. Thinning them out a little.”
The woman does not answer but takes the gun and conceals it in the folds of her dress, where its weight is pleasing like the weight of a jar of coins. She holds it tightly, stoically, a message she might be carrying across enemy lines. Her feet in pink fuzzy house shoes, big as two dust mops, carry her silently back down the stairs, on through the old damp shadow hung hallway. At least she has the gun away from him, so she doesn’t need to be afraid of that anymore.
She will find a good place to hide it--- after she addresses the question at the door and gives it her simple, final answer. All this identity crap and nonsense has to stop.
“Who are you?” she calls out with force even before she reaches the screen. She puts the pistol up in view, like a small round nose. “And this time I want the truth. This time you better know!”
“Well, I let him in, yes. And I let him talk,” she tells the old man her delicious big made up tale as he sits before her with his wild blood shot eyes rolled expectantly towards her, his ears out like two cabbage leaves.” This one, this one just now handed me the best line of all: ‘You see. I was never stolen,’ this imposter said. He said his mother wanted to leave his father, Bob Dunwoody, who was vicious and abusive, but she knew Bob would find her, hunt her down if she had the boy with her. ‘So she pretended I was stolen away from her in town. Pretended someone took me from the stroller.’ He said. ‘ Then when my father, old Dunwoody, threw her out, as she knew he would after half choking her to death, she went to where they had me hidden and she, my own mother raised and brought me up.’
“Shit, I said to him, and shot at him."
“You shot at him!” Dunwoody begins to chuckle.
“Yes, shot right over his head. Scared the shit out of him too. I said to him,'You come back out here telling your pack of lies and I’ll drag you down to the cellar and throw you right on top of the others!’”
The husband roars with delight. “ Boy, what real wild liars show up at our door!” Then he stops laughing “ Hey, how come he knows I hated Louise? Somebody in town tell that to him? Must have. Maybe somebody wants to start something. Maybe try to take the farm. I’m glad I put the gun in your hands. All liars need to be shot at, driven off the property. ”
“Well, not all of them!" the wife laughs. “But you are right, he could start talking more trash about your beating up Louise, accusing you of stuff. Who knows what a person like that might drag up once they get the police listening to them. Nobody really knows what Louise died from, do they? “
“Yes, they do know. Heart attack.”
“Well, still those town people could start something. It’s best we keep our mouths shut, not talk or go on about it." the woman says softly, her voice smothered with secret hilarity, pleased at last to force her husband into silence--- so it might be weeks, even months before he starts in with that crazy moaning again.
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