Dog Days at the Weir Farm
K. S. Karshna
Dog Days at the Weir Farm
Thank you to my parents, Judi and Skip, who gave me everything, and to my writing group, Kim, Kristin, Mike and Steve, A.K.A. The Desperadoes, whose motto is: “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent desperation.”
Copyright©2008 by K. S. Karshna
For Alex, Leah, Savannah, Francesca, Ezekiel and Ella.
The Weir Farm
I wanted that blue rose. It was right there, just inches from my fingertips. I stood on my toes, balancing on the thin wooden slats of the trellis. If I could just get a little bit closer, I could complete this silly dare, and ride my bike the four miles back to Riverwood to prove to Charlotte and the rest of the Nymphs that I belonged in their club. I didn’t know how high I’d climbed. I refused to look down. All I saw was that rose. I stretched my body as if my life depended on it, and when I thought I couldn’t stretch any further, I lunged and grasped at a thorny stem. Screeeeech! I jerked my head up toward the starlit sky to see what sort of mythical beast was screaming at me. The trellis slat gave way under my foot and time stretched out. My life didn’t pass before my eyes. For some reason my brain conjured up a memory from two months ago. 1
Dog Days at the Weir Farm “Meg, that’s the ends of the Earth!” my best friend, Melissa wailed when told her I was moving 400 miles away to a small town in northern Wisconsin. I’d always liked that phrase—ends of the Earth. It sounds so remote and dangerous. Just the sort of place I thought I could lose myself and forget everything. Even the name– Riverwood– it sounded like a fairy tale sort of place. I’d imagined myself walking through a sun-dappled forest with deer and bunnies prancing around beside me. The force of my body hitting the ground knocked me back into the present, and I felt like someone had sucked all the breath out of me. A large-sounding dog barked from somewhere nearby, but I couldn’t move. As I struggled to breathe, I wondered how I ended up so far from that ideal vision. Here I was, only a week into my new life, and my plan was already unraveling. What was I doing out here by myself at this strange farmhouse? This is not what happens to normal people. I remembered what the Nymphs had told me about the people who live here. 2
Dog Days at the Weir Farm “The Weird Sisters hardly ever come into town, and nobody knows what they do for a living.” “There are rumors that they aren’t really sisters, that they used to be part of a circus, and are fugitives from the law.” “I heard that they are pagan, and that they don’t have a car.” So now I was about to get busted for trespassing and theft by the sketchiest people in Riverwood. What would they do to me? Calling the police would probably be the best thing that could happen to me. Two huge black dogs tore across the yard and hovered over me, barking so hard I could feel and smell their breath. I was paralyzed with fear. They looked like they could take off a whole limb with one snap of the jaws. I was afraid to look and afraid to close my eyes. A porch light clicked on and saved me from either choice, as I was temporarily blinded by the glare. I had just enough time to secondguess whether I wanted the owners to come out, when the barking stopped and I heard a screen door creak open and slam shut. A woman’s voice called out “Iota, Flotsam, what’s going on?” The dogs sat obediently and wagged their tails. I finally found my breath and let out a huge sigh of relief. 3
Dog Days at the Weir Farm Two young-looking women came around the corner dressed in vintage suits and pillbox hats, wearing short white gloves. They looked startled when they saw me. “Kitty, looks like we have ourselves a real live cat burglar!” the one with short blond hair and cat-eye glasses said, as she picked up the incriminating rose lying next to me and twisted the stem in her gloved fingers. Nobody but the Nymphs knew I was here. What if these women decided to kidnap me? How long would it be before anyone told Mom that I didn’t return from my initiation? For the first time I almost wished I was back in Chicago. The red-haired one looked at me for a long moment, her dark red lips pursed and eyes narrowed. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen and wished I could evaporate into the night air, or be plucked into the sky by that still squawking bird. Finally, she said in a low, slow voice, “Yeah, but she must still be in training, ‘cuz she isn’t very quiet or graceful.” They both looked at me as if inspecting an insect specimen. I squirmed under the scrutiny, but didn’t say a word. The night air was pierced by their laughter. They crouched next to me, the second one holding the dogs. 4
Dog Days at the Weir Farm “Are you okay?” the first one asked. “I think so,” I replied, embarrassed beyond measure, but relieved that the dogs were now under control. “Hey,” said Kitty, “seeing how you’ve been through quite an ordeal out here, would you like to come in for a cup of tea?” I took my first real breath since hitting the ground. Incredible. I was just caught trespassing and stealing and now I was being invited in for tea by a woman wearing white gloves and a pillbox hat. Did I drop down a rabbit hole when I fell off that trellis? I remembered the Nymphs warnings about the Weird Sisters. Maybe all of those stories were true and they really were as crazy they said. Whatever the case, the only hope I had of getting out of there in one piece was to go along with them. “I’m really sorry,” I said, gesturing at the broken trellis as I stood up and favored my good ankle. “Ah, forget about it” Lola said, “we were just having our own little Alfred Hitchcock film festival, and we appreciated the real life scare during the end of Vertigo.” “So that explains the outfits?” I asked. “Well, yes, that,” said Kitty, “and you just don’t know 5
Dog Days at the Weir Farm when you’re going to have company, so a lady should always look presentable.” Lola snorted at her sister’s explanation and turned to me. “Are you okay? You look like you’re limping,” she said, giving me her arm for balance, “you should come inside and we can take care of that.” It was probably not a good idea to go into a strange house on a dark night in an unfamiliar town, but I didn’t want to give them any reason not to let me go, and my ankle wasn’t up to the task of running away, so I let them lead me to the house. They helped me hop up into a screen porch that opened into a yellow kitchen with brightly colored artwork covering almost every inch of the walls. An old dim light fixture dangled above the sink, barely making a dent in the darkness. A broken piece of slate chalkboard hung near the doorway to the living room, with one word scrawled on it—“stridulations.” It sounded menacing. I wondered what it meant. “I’m Kitty Weir” the red-haired one in pink said to me “this is my sister, Lola, and you’ve already met Flotsam and Iota—don’t worry, they’re big sweeties.” The dogs were now lying under the table, panting from the excitement. Each sister shook my hand and I introduced myself.
Dog Days at the Weir Farm “I’m M…Margaret Myers,” I almost said Meg, when I remembered that I had decided to use my full name for my new life. “Margaret Myers,” Lola slowly repeated, “I’ve always liked alliterated names.” I didn’t like my name at all, in either form, but I didn’t say anything. “I’m glad you like our rosebush enough to risk your life, Margaret, but all you had to do was ask,” Kitty said, as she scratched one dog behind the ears. “It was a dare,” I admitted, “an initiation rite for a club I wanted to join.” “Ooh,” said the blond one “is it a secret club “I guess so,” I said, “I just moved here from Chicago, and I’m trying to make friends with the girls in my class.” I was still nervous, and in situations like this, I couldn’t keep myself from talking. “They thought this was a good initiation because, well, there are all kinds of rumors about this farm and your rosebush and I think they’re sort of afraid of you—and your dogs.”
Dog Days at the Weir Farm Kitty smiled and looked at her sister. “Well Lola, I guess we’ve finally found our role here—we’re the crazy ladies in the scary old farmhouse,” she patted the other dog, “with a couple of vicious guard dogs to boot!” “Oh, we could have so much fun with that!” Lola laughed. I looked around the kitchen. They had no modern appliances. Even the fridge looked like it had been there for 40 years. “What kind of tea would you like, Margaret?” her sister asked as she opened a cupboard filled with exotic-looking boxes and tins. I wondered if they were all filled with tea, or some other mysterious potions. “I don’t know,” I said, not sure if I should accept drinks from strangers, “I usually drink coffee.” “Since this is a special occasion I’ll make some white tea,” she said, “white tea is rare and delicate. It’s made from the flower buds of the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, not the leaves, like regular tea. It’s from the Fujian province in China, and has been around since the Tang Dynasty, way back to about 700 A.D. Have you ever been to China?” She spoke so fast my mind was barely able to keep up. I shook my head as she took a tin out of the cupboard, opened it, and handed it to me so I could smell it. “Neither have I,”
Dog Days at the Weir Farm she said, while she filled a teapot and put it on the stove, “but I like to think I’ll get there someday.” It didn’t look like tea at all, but like silvery flower buds. I didn’t know what flowers tasted like and I was afraid I wasn’t going to like it. But, I thought I should be polite and try it, since she was obviously doing this for my benefit. “Let me see your ankle,” Lola said, pushing her glasses up on her head, as if getting them out of the way would help her to see better. I put my leg up on a chair to get a look at it. It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. “It’s a little puffy,” I said, “but I’ll be okay.” “Keep it elevated,” she said, and opened the freezer. She took out a clear bag full of blueberries and laid it on my ankle. “How’s that?” she asked. “Thanks,” I said, “I’m so embarrassed. I interrupted your movie, got your dogs all riled up, broke your trellis…” A drop of blood dripped down my arm from a nasty scratch as I gestured. “And now I’m bleeding all over your kitchen.” Lola grabbed a towel from the counter, ran it under cold water, and handed it to me. “Well, at least you know how to make an entrance,” she 9
Dog Days at the Weir Farm said. “Tell us how you ended up in Riverwood,” Kitty said, settling into the chair across the table from me, “the town that gives life to the term ‘off the beaten path.’” I didn’t tell them the real reason we moved. I didn’t want to talk about the accident and losing Jason and how I couldn’t stand to wake up in the morning, knowing that I’d have to live with that story for the rest of my life if I’d stayed in Chicago. “My mom worked in a big law firm for as long as I can remember,” I said. “She was the first female partner at Gibson, Straw, Clark and Myers. But one day I guess she realized that life was passing her by. Ever since sometime around Christmas, she stopped talking about class action litigation, 401K’s and billable hours, and started using words like consumption, materialism and mindfulness.” “Be careful,” Lola said, “you could get yourself in some serious trouble using 50 cent words like that around these parts.” “I’ll take that under consideration,” I said, and nodded toward the chalkboard, “looks like you would know.” Lola glanced sideways at her sister, who smiled as if she was in on a joke. 10
Dog Days at the Weir Farm The teapot whistled. Kitty poured the water over the tea and let it sit for less than a minute before she dumped the leaves into a bucket on the counter. “Compost,” she winked, “one of the secrets of our buxom roses. Just don’t ask what else is in there.” “Kitty,” Lola scolded, “that’s exactly how the rumors get started.” Kitty laughed and poured us each a small cup. I waited for them to drink first, and then took a sip from a lopsided handmade mug. The tea tasted very light and delicate, just as Kitty had described it. “So where were we?” Kitty asked, “Oh yeah, consumption, materialism and mindfulness...” “Mom called it downshifting.” I continued, “Apparently this required finding a cheaper way to live and letting go of the stuff she thought was unessential to our happiness.” “How’d that go?” Kitty asked, looking at me with intense green eyes. “She started getting rid of things—her BMW, weekly manicures, stuff that she said didn’t really add to her quality of life, and eventually, when there wasn’t anything else to purge, she 11
Dog Days at the Weir Farm put in her resignation and called an old family friend up here in Riverwood—Burt Frankhopfer.” “I’ve seen him in town,” Kitty said, “he seems like a character.” “Yeah, he’s going to retire in a couple years, and wanted a partner so he could pass his practice on to someone he trusted, and Mom was all over that. Her partners at the law firm questioned her sanity and accused her of becoming a ‘tree hugger’ and getting ‘all new age-y,’ but she brought out spreadsheets and graphs to show them how much sense this made financially. Before I knew it, we were packed and waiting for my school year to end so we could come live the simple life.” I didn’t want to answer the inevitable question of how I felt about the whole thing, so I kept talking. “You guys seem different from the rest of the locals,” I said, “how did you end up here? And why Riverwood?” Lola looked at Kitty, who smiled and gave her a little nod. “How very astute of you to notice that we aren’t from around here,” she said. “We grew up in Fairfield Minnesota.” Kitty interrupted, “Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it, because most people haven’t.”
Dog Days at the Weir Farm Lola nodded. “Like most kids growing up in a tiny town, we couldn’t stand the boredom of Fairfield. We wanted to escape the small town life, and experience the big city, so I moved to Los Angeles, and Kitty ended up in Boston. After ten years of air pollution and hour-long commutes, we both wanted something a little more peaceful, a little slower, like where we grew up.” “Ironic, I know,” said Kitty. “And, we missed each other, and wanted to reconnect. So, a couple years ago we bought this farm,” Lola said, handing me a bandage. “I guess it was our attempt to recapture a little something from our youth.” “We were both at a time in our lives when we needed a change” Kitty said, “so we made a pact that we would work together to find the perfect place, and here we are.” “I feel like we’ve gone full circle,” Kitty said, making a big ring in the air with her gloved finger. “What about all the stuff in the small town you couldn’t wait to get away from?” I asked. Kitty tapped her head, “All that stuff was really in here.” When I finished my tea, I looked at the clock on their ancient stove and couldn’t believe that it was already almost 10:30. I wanted to know more about the sisters and why they chose Riverwood, but the Nymphs were waiting for me back at 13
Dog Days at the Weir Farm the shed. I stood up and pushed out my chair. “I have to get going.” I said, “You’ve been incredibly nice to me, especially considering the circumstances…” I looked outside toward the trellis. “Don’t worry about it—really.” Kitty interrupted and then paused as if she was formulating an idea. She glanced at Lola and then back at me, “But, if it would make you feel better to do something to make up for it, we could use an extra person for our capture the flag game on Friday, provided your ankle is better by then.” “Brilliant!” said Lola. “I think the last time I played capture the flag was in fourth grade,” I said. “Us too,” said Lola, “that’s why we’re organizing the game on Friday.” She smirked. “If things go really well, we may even form a league.” “I can see it now,” Kitty said. “The Greater Hornbeam County Capture the Flag League. What would our team be called?” “Oh, let’s see,” said Lola, “maybe the Riverwood Ravenous?” I laughed at her play on the name of the high school mascot. Lola stood up and put her hands on her hips. “But, Margaret, you can’t go back empty-handed.” She grabbed a pair of scissors off the counter and waved them, as if inviting me to 14
Dog Days at the Weir Farm come with her as she walked through the doorway to the living room. I glanced at Kitty, who was piling our teacups in the sink, and she motioned with her head for me to go after Lola. I followed her through the living room past a worn velvet loveseat, and a big old record player like my grandma used to have. Lola noticed I’d stopped to look at it and said, “Oh, the Victrola. Cool, isn’t it? A friend found it for me in an old barn in Iowa. I need it to properly play my 78’s.” She continued up the stairs, and I leaned heavily on the railing to keep up with her. She led me into a room with light blue walls covered with a curling vine of handwritten text. I could only make out the word “bluebird” before she walked to the window and opened the screen. “How many do you want?” she asked, cutting flowers from the trellis outside the window. “Oh, you don’t have to do that” I said, as she continued to cut. “Okay, okay, that’s enough” I pleaded. “Are you sure?” she asked, “I want to make sure you pass the initiation.” I laughed. “I’m sure this will be sufficient proof for the Nymphs that I completed their challenge.” Lola shut the screen, handed me the bouquet and extended an arm to help me back downstairs. On my way back through, I noticed the living room was lined with overflowing bookshelves 15
Dog Days at the Weir Farm and glass cases full of random objects. One case held super balls, rocks, eggshells and acorns. In another case, something caught my eye that looked like a tiny skeleton. I wished I could stay and look around some more. The Nymphs secret club had nothing on this. I walked through the kitchen and took one more good look around before going out the back door. Kitty held the dogs by their collars and I patted their heads to say goodbye. They didn’t seem nearly as threatening now that they were sitting calmly on the porch. “You know what has four legs and one arm?” Kitty asked. I thought about it for a second. “Noooo, what?” “A Rottweiler!” She and Lola both laughed. I smiled and gave the dogs another pat before limping across the lawn to find my bike where I left it in the ditch. “Don’t forget capture the flag on Friday” Kitty yelled, “be here at five, and wear blue.” I waved goodbye and got on my bike to head back to town, flowers stuffed in every pocket. Riding the bike hurt my ankle less than walking, so I nearly forgot about my injury as I glided off toward Riverwood. 16
Dog Days at the Weir Farm I was glad Mom had made me put a light on my handlebars. There was no moon and the darkness was like black velvet. Peeper frogs sang in the nearby swamp and I could make out a large swath of the Milky Way overhead. It never looked so clear to me before. Tonight I could see how it looked like a stream of milk. I pedaled faster and faster until I lost the sensation of my legs moving. I just wanted to get back to the safety of the light, but all I could see was the flash of eyes reflecting my bike light back at me. I’m not sure what happened, but I don’t remember the whole ride back to town. My body was there, but my mind was somewhere else. I roved the recesses of my memory and tried to picture Jason’s face. I didn’t want to forget what he looked like. I imagined his curly brown hair and irresistible grin. I wished he could be here with me, riding my bike through the night, but if he were still here, I wouldn’t even be in Riverwood. Soon a huge illuminated billboard announced the home of the Riverwood Ravens. I couldn’t believe I was there already. A smaller sign read: Population 2953. When I passed Riverwood Greenhouse and Gardens on the edge of town, I thought about the old madhouse that the Nymphs had told me stories about, and I wondered if it was possible for ghosts to linger on after the buildings they inhabit are razed. I pushed on faster, my quads burning. I tried to keep my eyes focused on the road but couldn’t help but imagine hundreds of eyes peering out from the bushes. 17
Dog Days at the Weir Farm By the time I reached Main Street I was relieved to see the blinding flash of the old theatre sign, blinking in red, white and blue, R-I-T-Z, and then blinking off and starting over again. I rode directly to Georgia Farley’s house and propped my bike against the garage. The windows of the shed in back were faintly illuminated. The girls were gathered around a candle, talking in hushed tones. I hid some of the flowers in my back pocket, under my shirt. I didn’t wan them to question why I got so many. When I appeared in the doorway, holding three roses, they all gasped as if they’d just seen a miracle. I laid the flowers on the table next to the candle and said, “Mission accomplished,” and walked back outside, ignoring their barrage of what’s, why’s and how’s. I was halfway to my bike before Charlotte managed to get up and run outside. “Wait, Margaret,” she said, “How’d you do it? Why were you gone so long? What about the dogs?” “It’s late,” I said, “I’m sure my Mom’s wondering where I am. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.” I hopped on my bike before she could say anything else, and rode home.
Dog Days at the Weir Farm I wasn’t trying to be mysterious, I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to tell them about the Weir farm. Besides, I didn’t want them to think the initiation had been too easy. I needed the Nymphs to help me achieve my new life. I rode through town, under streetlights that I could tell really were old, not just the new-old, like the ones in the suburbs. I turned off Main Street and tunneled through a canopy created by enormous boulevard trees. The street was lined with grand old houses. I looked in awe at each of them and couldn’t believe one of them was ours. I turned into the driveway of a blue and white three story house on the corner with an ornate porch and towering turret. Mom said she’d always dreamed of living in one of theses houses. She called it a “painted lady.” The yellow glow of porchlight illuminated the numbers 411 above the heavy wooden front door. I was home. It was strange to associate that familiar word with this place. As I long as I’d remembered, home had been our one story townhouse in Chicago. Before the divorce, we’d lived in a twobedroom rambler an hour from the city, but that was when I was still a baby, and I only have the faintest memories of the white front door and wide green lawn.
Dog Days at the Weir Farm Mom was asleep on the couch when I got home. I turned off the TV and went upstairs to do a little writing before I went to bed. I already knew which creaky steps to avoid. I loved this house the minute I saw it. It felt huge and solid and ancient. I imagined there were secrets stored within the walls. My bedroom was the best spot in the house, and I think thatâ€™s why Mom wanted me to have it. She was doing all she could to get me out of my funk and this was just another one of her generosities that she hoped would cheer me up. The walls were painted the faintest tint of violetâ€”a color I would never have chosen myself, but somehow it felt soothing to my soul. The curved windows of the turret looked out over the corner of River Street and 4th Avenue. I stood in the circular room and felt like a princess in the castle tower. I remembered the roses in my pocket and put them in the water glass beside my bed. I cracked open a brand new journal and wrote: simple, happy and normal. These were the three things I wished for my new life in Riverwood. I was sick of whispers behind the lockers. I wanted to erase my memory and make a new identity for myself. I craved genuine friendship, not just awkward
Dog Days at the Weir Farm sympathy. I wanted to know that the guilt and fear that lingered from that awful September day could not follow me here.