Inside, the fire is lit. The space where they played CUE looks particularly empty. On the wall, Oliver’s ancestor still might be smiling, might not.
The ceiling creaks. She looks up, waiting for a familiar voice. A Rodney cackle. A Connie burst. She looks to the kitchen. Nobody there.
Without glancing at the French doors and the fields beyond them, she heads back to the stairs, suitcase still in hand. Someone is up there. She hears a second creak. The sound of someone standing up. Maybe.
Could be Baum. Rising from bed. Maybe it’s Karen, confused, lost, hearing a familiar voice from downstairs.
Tracy climbs the stairs. She wants to howl her arrival, break this quiet, get it over with. I’M BACK FOR FUCK’S SAKE! But she doesn’t. Because a voice inside (not even Old Tracy; just whoever she is right now) is telling her hey hey, you might wanna keep the advantage of surprise. But what does that mean? Tracy can’t seriously be worrying about getting hurt, right? She doesn’t have to be careful about… violence, right? It’s unfathomable to be worried about one of her friends, unrecognizable now, suddenly erupting from a bedroom, kitchen knife in hand, a mind to slash her.
She opens her mouth to say Karen’s name but doesn’t. Another creak. Down the hall. Tracy looks to the room she shared with Ever, the room she woke in, the room Oliver guided her to the night he violated her core.
She takes the hall that way first. Gripping the case, she suddenly wishes it was heavier, that there was an anvil inside, something she could use to protect herself.
The room is empty. She turns, passes the head of the stairs, passes the room Oliver said he’d readied for Karen and Baum. Nobody inside. At the far end of the hall, shadows. But not necessarily the kind made by an object obstructing light. This particular corner looks like it’s made of the same stuff regret is made of. That same shade of black.
She breathes deep. Because, despite her newfound confidence, or perhaps because of it, she’s sure the creaking was made by an old man sitting in a green chair situated beside a bed in the room she approaches.
She looks inside.
But somebody. Somewhere.
She looks up.
She takes the hall back to Karen and Baum’s bedroom. Inside, against the right wall, is the door to the walk in attic. Baum told Oliver he was lucky to have it. Called it rare. Most attics are stuffy crawlspaces that can hardly be used. But a set of stairs? Hell, that’s almost a third floor, Baum said.
To some people, that’s enough space to call home. You could fit a whole room up there if you wanted to. A whole life. You could even fit a person who no longer knows themselves, a person with a sudden, confused mind to murder up there.
Tracy steps back from the doorjamb.
She needs to get into the fields. Needs to put herself back together again. Has no idea what that means. How that’s done.
She takes the stairs back down.
In character, case in hand, she’s trying hard to maintain an expression that Old Tracy would’ve worn. Just in case one of her friends is waiting at the bottom of the stairs.
But nobody is.
Where are they? As she crosses the living room, she recalls Karen on the phone, Karen telling her she saw Baum kneeling in the fields, stuffing his face with dirt.
It strikes her that she hasn’t gone into the kitchen for two reasons. First, this is where it happened. This is the room where Old Tracy last sat. Last drank. Last ate. Like a murder scene, she can see the outline of her friends, the seven of them seated around the kitchen table, bottles of wine, forks and knives, salad. And second, the kitchen leads to the deck. And the deck to the fields. And it’s out there in those fields that she will find what she’s looking for, what she needs.
But is she ready to look?
She looks through the glass.
Are they out there now? Her friends?
The old man, too?
What to do…
She can’t bring herself to look at the barn. She’s not ready for that. She needs to be in control of her faculties, Full Tracy, before she can think about doing anything else.
She opens a French door. She listens.
Wind ripples the willows that stand just out of range of the flood light tacked up to the back of the farmhouse. It’s almost like Oliver was instructed to allow the light no further jurisdiction. It’s not hard to imagine him testing it out, angling the light until it fell just shy of the closest limb.
Are they out there? All of them? Digging? Jarring?
Tracy hears nothing. She turns back inside. On the counter, close to her elbow, is a jar labeled:
She hadn’t noticed it on her first pass through but here it stands. And from its image comes the recollection of the jar Oliver fed her from at the end of the night.
She looks to the pantry. Where people keep jars.
Through the slats is darkness, like the color of that corner of the hall upstairs.
Case in hand, Tracy crosses the kitchen and opens the pantry door.
She half expects Oliver to blow a horn in her face, for an old man to scream SURPRISE!
But the only things in here are jars.
Tracy doesn’t set the case down. She drops it.
It clangs to the floor and she brings a hand to her chest because it feels, momentarily, like she’s going to pass out. Like she’s seen the face of God and it’s going to drive her mad.
The shelves are full of labeled jars:
So many. It would take an hour to read them all.
One particularly catches her eye:
Because she needs to eat the contents of this jar and she needs to eat it now.
Tracy can’t stand here like a damsel in distress as her friends lose themselves in the fields beyond the willows on Oliver’s farm. She came out here to act. To take action. To extricate her friends from the hands of…
“Shit,” she says.
Before she can stop it from happening: she’s forgiving Oliver again. Standing before seemingly infinite possibilities, endless people she could be, it’s impossible to stay in character, the character she needs to be.
“Just shut the door,” she says. Because why not? She likes herself. She’s confident. She’s strong. She broke off her relationship with Ever just days ago and she drove all the way out to Michigan without telling a soul. These are the hallmarks of an independent person. A person who does, indeed, act.
Why change that? Whatever formula Oliver employed, whatever recipe he’d decided she needed… well maybe she did.
She doesn’t close the door but takes a step back.
Some of the jars are half-empty. Others have very little remaining. Still, others are full. On a different night, she might find this interesting, might spend some time taking notes, what personality traits people desire, which ones they don’t.
She hardly realizes she’s stepped all the way back to the sink, the pantry doors wide open like the flap on a giant paper invitation, a date and time set long ago, a place she’s supposed to be, right here, right there, amongst those shelves, inside that pantry, choosing the characteristics she’s always wanted to have, become the person she’s always wished to be.
She grips the edge of the sink behind her.
This is overwhelming. The pantry floor is littered with flakes, leaves, crumbs that indicate somebody has recently eaten.
Will she know her friends when she sees them? Will they know her?
She looks to the jar of decisiveness again.
Do it, she thinks.
But why stop there? What about the bravery sitting right here beside her? How about the flakes of tenacity that have fallen to the floor? And what of a little wit for good measure? Why not scarf some inner strength if she’s going to be forced to endure the loss of great friends? Why, who in their right mind wouldn’t eat a little recovery, a little healing, a little bounce-back?
The front door to the farmhouse opens and shuts.
Tracy moves quick to the pantry, closes the doors behind her.
She didn’t plan on hiding, thinks she should’ve announced herself instead. Why is she trembling in the dark as friends enter the house? What is she doing? She doesn’t even know what state they’re in. She hears them. More than one. What is she afraid of? What does think they’ve become?
Someone is on the stairs, climbing.
Someone else is in the living room.
Do they know she’s here? Did they see her car parked on the road? Why is she hiding from her friends?
Enough kitchen light enters through the slats for Tracy to read the labels closest to her.
It’d be so easy to unscrew a lid and swallow some.
But how much?
With drugs, a little can go a long way.
Is that true with this, too?
One thing in here sounds particularly good right now.
Seemingly frozen to the spot, too scared to stand still, too scared to move, she takes it from the shelf and removes the cap.
A creaking upstairs.
Life in the living room.
“No,” Morris says.
It’s Morris, but it’s not. He’s here. Her friends are here. She must leave this pantry and face them.
She swallows the courage.
The liquid courage.
The brandy in the pantry.
It burns on the way down. Fuels her.
She puts the alcohol back on the shelf and opens the pantry doors.