The next day I went to the library. I had a paper to write for my Food and People class that required some research, and I needed to immerse myself in something mundane. All the talk of dreams, visions, druggings and rapes was starting to get to me. I felt like I was living a Gothic novel.
The dark hue that fell over my days was preventing me from doing any homework. I didn’t even know what material we were studying in Astronomy, and Probability and Statistics was so far over my head I’d given up on it. I no longer bothered with labs and incomprehensible jokes in Japanese. I felt guilty, and I felt a need to ground myself, to do something constructive.
So I went to the library and entered the stacks.
There’s something comforting about the smell of old books. Rows and rows of hardbound books in dimly lit corridors. All written in English. Or mostly, anyway. The feeling that they’d been there, reliable, sanctioned, cared for by the establishment, was reassuring to me. I was someplace safe, surrounded by books that had endured school year after school year, ministering to young minds, accounted for in the library’s catalogue. I breathed deeply, trying to absorb the smell into my pores, my eyes, my hair. I had always loved libraries, from my earliest memories of the brightly lit children’s room with its low shelves and colorful picture books right up through my travels in reference, fiction, and eventually nonfiction.
I had a short list of call numbers, and all the books I was looking for were on the same floor. I began my hunt.
I walked along the corridor, reading the call number labels. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move behind me, into one of the corridors. A faint rustle in the air. A breath, perhaps.
I continued and found the aisle for my first call number. Good. I turned right, saw something move behind the stack to my right. I turned and glanced across casually, expecting to see another student there. No one, though. Sure I’d seen something, I stopped and bent my head forward to look over the books into the aisle there, but I couldn’t see anyone.
Feeling a chill and taking a breath to steady myself, I looked down at my call number and began hunting along the shelf, squatting to read call numbers one row up from the bottom. As I did, a breeze came up from behind me, accompanied by the sound of rustling paper. This time the movement seemed to be in the aisle behind the left side stack. Again, I peered over the books, through the shelf, trying to see the source. But there was nothing.
Suddenly, it was beginning to feel cold. The lights in the ceiling flickered. Determined not to be spooked, I continued my search for the first book on my list. Finding it, I pulled it from the shelf. It was hardbound in burgundy leather binding with white Courier style typeface on the cover. I opened it, the smell of an old book reaching my nose. I breathed it in, closed it, and ran my hand over the cover, my fingertips pausing over the title painted in white on the hard cover. Then I tucked it under my call number list. One down.
Leaving the aisle, I continued along, looking for the second book.
I caught a glimpse of someone passing at the other end of the stacks, no doubt whoever I’d been seeing out of the corner of my eye. Continuing along until I came to the next aisle labeled with the call number range on my list, I turned, and hunted along the shelf for the next book. The pleasant feeling of being among these old books began to give way to a feeling of anxiety.
I looked around. No one there. I told myself the chill I was feeling was silly. All the same, I was ready to leave the stacks. Finding my book I pulled it from the shelf, stacking its blue cover over the red one. Feeling the weight of the books I decided two was enough. These would occupy me for an evening. I hadn’t intended to leave with just two books, but my mood had shifted. I put the call number list in my pocket.
I would come back for the others.
Turning to exit the aisle, I found I was blocked.
Eva stood in the aisle before me, preventing my exit on that end. Not again. Why? Why here? I felt the cold that seemed always to be there when the apparition appeared surrounding me. Instinctively I turned to reassure myself that the other end of the aisle was clear.
I started to back up, but she advanced. “Rowan.”
“Eva, please.” I felt short of breath, still instinctively afraid despite her repeated appearances.
“It’s okay, Rowan. It’s okay,” she whispered, holding her hand out to me.
The ring. She was wearing her ring. I stopped, felt my own ring against the books, which I held crushed against my chest, a kind of shield. I stood looking at her, wondering if I should run. But I didn’t.
“Rowan, remember the dream. What you saw was the truth. Remember what you saw!”
She stopped advancing, looking sad. Sad and intense.
“It isn’t over,” she said.
I looked at my friend. She was incongruous standing in the library stacks with her cutoffs and guard shirt. She still wore the clothes she’d worn every day of the last summer of her life. Here, in the library stacks at UNH. I wondered if she was aware of that. Aware, as she’d been of the ring I’d left in her casket with her.
“Eva, I don’t understand what you want,” I said. “Do you want me to accuse your father? I don’t have any evidence! Nothing!” Tears sprang to my eyes at the sight of her. I missed her so much.
That realization brought me face to face again with the unfairness of it all. I was attending school here alone, without her. The sight of her here in the library that she would have used gave me pain in my chest, made my throat tighten. I felt robbed.
Our exchange was cut short by the sound of someone entering the stacks at the end of the hall. Turning to see another person intruding on our privacy, she disappeared.
Eva’s appearance impressed the urgency of the matter upon me, and I realized that I needed to help settle whatever was disturbing her. Or I would continue this way. My life and mind disrupted, effectively shattered. Unable to accept, much less embrace, my grief. Wasting time and money in a place that could never be anything other than a ruined dream, drowning in disappointed expectations.
Another trip across campus, this time unannounced.
She’d lied to me about being at the party. For all I knew, Celeste and Venus were dealing drugs. Meanwhile I was tormented with the possibility – or rather, a ghosts’ insistence — that my dream of Eva’s abuse had been real. What, if anything, did Eva’s abuse have to do with date-rape drugs?
I was missing something. Some answer. Some link.
Ghostly visits by my bed and in the stacks were taking my mind over with shadows and realities that weren’t tangible. It seemed whenever I tried to reach for a concrete idea, it disappeared. I was a stranger in my own world; Eva’s visitations had taken over the landscape. There was only one other person who had a place in the dark world I was traveling in. Celeste.
I had to see Eva’s sister to find out the truth.
I knocked with determination on Celeste’s door. She was at home, clad in sweats, hair in a bandana, gold-rimmed glasses on. I didn’t know she wore glasses; I’d never seen her wearing them.
She invited me in, her surprise at seeing me so soon evident in her expression. A biology book lay open on the pink ottoman in the living room. I didn’t sit, my voice spilling out ahead of me as I paced the room. “Celeste, I’ve just seen Eva again.”
Celeste’s eyes widened in surprise as she followed me into the living room. I didn’t pause, charging on with what I had to say. “And I had a strange dream last night about her. And your father. Maybe it wasn’t a dream. I don’t know. Maybe it was Eva … I didn’t know who else to talk to about it,” I said in a rush, hopeful that the truth, however confused, abrupt, and straightforward, was the right avenue.
She looked puzzled, seated herself, and waited for me to continue.
“The dream was about Eva,” I repeated deliberately, “and your father.”
Her eyes flashed. She picked up a book nervously. Opened it. Closed it. “I don’t see what this has to do with me,” she said, getting up.
“Celeste, please. I need to know what happened.”
“Don’t you think this is horrible for me?” she demanded. “She was my sister!”
“Of course,” I answered, wondering if coming had been a mistake. But it was too late. I had started this, and I had to know if the dream was true. “But I feel like something happened — something bad … ”
“Yes, something bad happened. Eva is dead. Isn’t that bad? Really, Rowan, what could be worse?” she demanded, anger flaring in her voice.
I wasn’t getting anywhere. I had to be more explicit. “Celeste, I need to know what was going on between Eva and your father.”
“What do you mean, nothing? Nothing was going on between them?” I asked.
She looked at me coldly.
“No, Rowan, nothing was going on between them.”
I stared, not sure where to go next. “Abuse. I dreamt your father was sexually abusing Eva,” I said, going for broke because she had risen and was walking toward the door.
“That’s disgusting.” She turned to glare at me. “I can’t believe you would suggest something so … ” She broke off, shaking her hands in frustration, her jaw clenching. “Especially with everything else I have to deal with!” Her voice was rising. She stopped, stopped talking, seemed to stop breathing. And then I watched as her anger turned the corner to grief. The hostility disappeared as she gathered a great breath. She filled her chest, held it there, her face contorting as she tried to hold it, whatever it was, in.
I watched, transfixed. She was transforming. The cool, beautiful veneer I had grown so accustomed became a mask of pain as the muscles in her face tightened, drawing the corners of her lips down toward her jaws, her forehead into a crumple. Her eyes were like the ocean during a storm: turbulent, angry, wet. Celeste’s pain. A silent eternity passed, she remained frozen, her face contorted, holding her breath and whatever was behind it, in. The breath finally expressed itself from her chest in a wail. As I stood there, I watched and listened to her crying escalate to the kind of keening tears you hear on recordings from the east. She slumped against the wall, holding herself.
I was stunned. Guilty and ashamed of exposing her, full of fear, regret, and remorse at the sight of her. Her pain was scary, hard to watch, even ugly. Lost, I tried to touch her shoulder, looking for a way to bring back the Celeste I knew. But she shrugged my hand away violently. “I’m sorry, Celeste, I … ”
“No! You don’t know what happened!” she spat, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Crying violently, now.
“You would never understand! You have no idea what it was like growing up like this!” She was sliding down the wall to the floor. “With a mother that never protected us. She left us there, with him, all those years, one night after another, he did these things to us! She knew … ”
Huddling there, crumpled, she cried piteously. Shocked at her sudden disintegration, I started to cry, too, kneeling down next to her. Both of us were now awash in tears, mirrors of each other’s pain.
“Celeste, I’m so sorry …”
But it wasn’t enough. What had I done? Exposed an already suicidal girl’s source of pain. Sorry didn’t begin to touch the truth of the situation. Suddenly I could see how Celeste truly felt, what her world was really like.
“I am sorrier than I can ever tell you …” I began again, reaching out to touch her shoulder. She didn’t throw my arm off, but just continued to cry, her shoulders shaking. Her face streaked with tears, her expression wrenched with pain, she continued. “He raped us over and over. Since junior high school he’s forced us — made us do things — sometimes to each other. His own father did the same things to him.”
She looked at me then, awash in silent tears everywhere.
“She knew, Rowan. My mother knew.” She looked at me, her face laid open with frustration, pain, anger.
“Please. Come sit with me in the living room,” I said, consumed with shock, wanting to regain dry land, bringing my own crying under control. I had opened a Pandora’s box for Celeste and I had to try to calm her down, comfort her, help her if I could.
I led her back to the couch and sat down next to her. We sat there for some time, Celeste crying, me watching helplessly. “I’ve tried killing myself,” she said between sobs. “Once I took some pills but Eva found me and they rushed me to Emergency.”
I sat there, disbelief taking me captive.
The elasticity of my mind had been stretched to its capacity and here it was stopping, contracting, perhaps. Her father abused. Abusing. Eva had never let on. How could I have imagined I was so close to her?
Celeste’s last suicide attempt was not the first. The girls had all been sexually assaulted by their father. For years. It ran in the family.
Poison in the soup.
“Celeste, what can I do?” I asked, wanting to help, but not knowing what she needed. “Eva never told me. I didn’t know,” my voice trailed off.
I felt impotent and stupid.
Who did I think I’d been in Eva’s life? And who could I be to this girl? Celeste peered at me, her eyes dark pools of still water. Haunted.
“Can you help Eva? Can you help her rest? Can you take away everything that he’s done? Go back in time and wipe away the ruin and filth?”
I went cold, stared silently.
Realized that Celeste and Eva were linked, attached, to each other by the family, by their common experiences. Their lives stolen from them. Together in the despair of ruined hope, ruined innocence. A ruined childhood.
Eva was haunting Celeste in vain.
Celeste was capable of doing that for herself, to herself. She didn’t need the reminder from her dead sister of what was wrong, unfinished, unpunished. For Celeste, hell was right here on Earth. And the devil was at large.
“I don’t understand how your Mom,” I started to say, and thought better of it. She looked at me miserably. “I’m sorry, Celeste. I never knew your father did this. Eva never gave me the slightest indication,” I let the sentence hang there unfinished.
“Rowan, my father controls everything. My mother, my sister, me, his clients, business associates. Everyone. Before him, it was his father. That’s all.” She turned away, then, trying to compose herself, wiping at her eyes delicately and taking deep breaths.
I paused, wanting to say something encouraging but realizing that was probably a futile inclination. Especially now. I decided to try anyway. “You are beautiful and brilliant, Celeste. Don’t leave the world. I don’t think Eva would want that.”
She smiled, an ironic, tragic smile. “I think, Rowan, it’s too late for that. But I’ll think about what you said.”
“Promise?” I asked.
“Promise.” She took a deep breath then, seeming to realize the weight of what had been said for the first time. Her hands came up to cover her face. She sobbed, taking several deep breaths. Back and forth, I could see she was trying to regain control.
“Oh God, I shouldn’t have said anything,” she said, looking at me with red eyes. “Rowan, please don’t say anything. Please,” her voice was imploring. “My father, Venus … they’ll kill me.”
She looked at me, fear evident in her wide-eyed expression. “Venus would kill me, never forgive me.” Her tear-streaked face was a mask of dread, misery.
“For telling?” She nodded, sniffing, tears resuming in a trickle.
“Okay,” I said, defeated. “I’ll keep this to myself. But Celeste, do you want things to stay the way they are? When you go home –” Ghosts flitted through my mind. Horrible whispers of what it must be like for her. A reality that had endured generations.
She looked up at me. “We don’t have to go home anymore. We support ourselves,” she said, her voice almost a whisper.
“Support yourselves?” My voice raised to make the words a question.
She nodded emphatically, sobbing.
“How?” I asked, the question of dealing drugs springing into my mind like a nimble cat. She looked at me, her eyes almost black with the weight of everything. This was all too much for her.
Too much for us both.
I decided to back off the question.
“Please,” she whispered. “Just forget your dream and this discussion. Forget all of it. Please.”
I gave an exhausted nod of consent. “I promise,” I said.
“I’ll come and see you again. Will you be all right?”
She nodded. “I’ll be fine.”