2015 Story of the Year Award from FictionMagazines.com
MR. GARRET’S INTERVIEW
David J. Gibbs
Garret watched her shift in the chair, apparently not liking the way the arms embraced her. Gladys took off her glasses and let them dangle from the chain around her neck. The elderly woman didn’t want to be here.
“Can you tell me what you remember from the other night?”
“Oh. You mean my spell?”
He nodded, hoping she would just naturally start talking. He didn’t want to coax her too much. It would make the interview look unnatural and forced.
“Well, I awoke on the nightstand.”
She paused for apparent effect. He motioned for her to continue. After clearing her throat, she spoke.
“I honestly don’t know how it happened. I’ve been paralyzed from the waist down for over a decade. I’m not a young woman anymore. The only thing still spry in this body of mine is my bladder and my mind. And I’m here to tell you neither could move this bag of bones up on top of the nightstand.”
“Interesting,” he said, tugging his earlobe. “Were you prone?”
“Was I what?” Gladys asked, the gray halo of hair picking up the camera’s light making it appear almost golden.
“Were you lying stretched out across it?” Garret asked, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees as he looked at her. It was just the two of them in the small room. In his experience, the fewer people present during the interview the more comfortable and therefore confiding the subjects were.
“No, I wasn’t. I was standing on the small table.”
“But, you just said-,” he began.
“I know what I said and I certainly didn’t stutter young man,” her words were an icy whip cutting through the quick of his resolve.
“I wasn’t suggesting you had, Gladys.”
“How did you manage to get down?”
“I didn’t. I stood on wobbly legs and had to wait for rounds to find me. I was so terrified I’d break something again so I just waited. Besides I was too shocked to try and do anything.”
“Of course,” he agreed.
“It’s when I noticed the boy in the reflection.”
“What can you tell me about him?” Garret asked with arched brows.
“He looks like someone I knew a long, long time ago. Far too long ago.”
That was the opening he was looking for and he took it.
“Who might that be Gladys?”
“You already know this. We’ve been over it already.”
“No, we haven’t.”
“Well, you got the reports from the staff,” she spat sharply, a bit of spittle glistening on her upper lip.
He continued, “Yes. Yes, I did, but I want you to tell me again so we can record it with the cameras.”
“And what good would that do young squire?” Gladys asked, her voice holding an underlying bit of laughter.
“I’m not sure. But, would could it hurt?”
She fixed her eyes on him and never once looked away, not even while she picked up the glass of water beside her and took a long drink. It was a little unsettling the way he looked at her.
“Can you tell me who he was?”
“You know I can, but you’ll call me mad and have me committed.”
“That’s not why I’m recording this and you know that.”
“He was my brother,” she said quickly as if the words were burning her tongue and wanted to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
“You never had a brother Gladys. There are no records of any siblings.”
“Of course not,” she said, her gaze fixed on some unseen point on the wall.
“How do you explain that?”
“Which part?” Gladys asked, this time in a coy tone of voice. He imagined her suddenly as a schoolgirl on the playground talking with the boys.
“How can he be your brother if you never had a brother?”
“When I was young things were different you see. If children were born and were unwanted, they simply were carted off to children’s homes or orphanages or reformatories. Left there with no explanation and cut off from the world to fend for themselves.”
“I see,” Garret said, not sure exactly why.
“Don’t placate me, Garret. It doesn’t fit very well on you.”
Garret couldn’t help but wonder what kind of a ball breaker she would’ve been back in the day. There were men all over the county that probably bore the scars of those days. He didn’t envy them at all.
“I wasn’t trying to. I was just trying to say that I understood where you were coming from.”
“How could you? Did your parents send your brother away before you were two years old? Mine never told me a thing about him until I stumbled upon the shoebox in the back of my mother’s closet when I was ten. I never even saw a picture of him until then. I had no idea.
“It’s when I found that box that he started showing up in places. He’d show up at the end of the aisle in the supermarket or on the opposite of a busy street. I’d see him but could never get to him. That bothered me at first.”
Her face faltered for a moment before tumbling down into a sea of wrinkles. It only lasted for a few seconds before the controlled façade was back in place again. He felt cold, not reaching out to her to comfort the poor woman, but he didn’t want to interfere. It seemed like she was right on track with the material he wanted her to talk about.
“It wasn’t until my twentieth birthday that he started to get closer. Instead of being across the street, he would be on the same side as me. Even so, he kept his distance, staying on the other side of a crowd of people at a crosswalk or in an elevator car. His pale face looked at me, his skin beginning to turn.
“I didn’t start getting scared until somewhere in my thirties. I found him outside my bedroom window standing in the bushes. Waking up to that face pressed against the glass, those fingers gently raking against the frosted glass. Still gives me shivers thinking about it.”
She took another sip of her water and Garret sat upright, using his hands to smooth out his worn jeans. It was hard not to let the excitement of the moment take over and start making his leg pump up and down. He couldn’t believe he was catching this all on video.
“Then by the time I was fifty he would be next to me and I could feel his cold breath against my face. It only took once opening my eyes to catch him staring intently at me that my heart would clench inside my chest. I had to turn away from him keeping my eyes closed before getting out of bed so I wouldn’t see him.
“The accidents started happening in my sixties and everyone thought I’d started to go soft upstairs, but it was him. He started to grab the steering wheel while I was driving or pull the cord to lower the garage door while I was standing there in its path. He lit one of the burners on the stove and even left the gas on all day once. Thankfully, I noticed the smell when I came home and aired out the house before starting dinner.”
Her eyes had that faraway look in them. It seemed as if she were in that time reliving what she was recounting from memory. Garret thought she looked decades younger in those few moments.
“I wasn’t quite seventy when the first serious accident happened.”
Garret folded his arms and started to nibble on his thumbnail, the excitement overtaking his resolve.
“He pushed me down the stairs. I could feel his quick breath just behind my ear and almost make out the words he was trying to whisper to me. I broke my hip and eventually needed surgery to repair it. I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning I think. It was the beginning of my understanding as to what he wanted. I suppose it was then I realized that he would eventually have his day.”
“What do you mean Gladys?” Garret asked, almost before he realized he spoke aloud. He didn’t want his voice to break the spell. Thankfully, it didn’t.
“It was getting worse, but I knew then what he wanted. He wanted a playmate. All that time. Those seventy-odd years he had no one to play with. He was waiting for his baby sister to come and play with him on the other side. He was lonely. It broke my heart that realization.”
For the second time, he wanted to comfort her and held back his hand. He didn’t want to dare break the spell she was under while telling her tale.
“That sympathy, or empathy I suppose, changed the night Charles died. He didn’t believe me any more than any of you do that something was happening. My sweet Charles shared my bed and my heart for the better part of five decades and even he didn’t believe that I saw my brother. He didn’t believe in any of it, not even when the ladder shifted beneath him while working on the eaves of the second story. I doubt he even believed it when his neck snapped against the driveway, but I’m sure he saw him. I know I did. He stood over my Charles as I sobbed, his hideous likeness a beacon to the other side.”
The stern mask held this time, Gladys’s face a steady bit of stone this time. Only her eyes hinted at the turmoil raging inside her.
“Well, it wasn’t more than a week later that my next accident happened and I tumbled to the bottom of the basement stairs. Along with the pain of a broken pelvis and three broken ribs, I spent a day and a half crumpled, unable to move from where I lay, having to smell the fetid breath and feel the chill of my dead brother. I made myself the promise if madness didn’t take me that night, it would never have me. He came so very close to having his playmate then.
“I was in the hospital for almost three months and though the doctors did their best to repair the damage, I was in my eighth decade on this earth and I was forever hobbled. The canes and the walkers seemed to sense this and began showing up beside my chairs and couch at the ready. I didn’t like them much at first but eventually realized that without them, I wouldn’t be mobile at all. Chilling thought it was, I knew I had to keep moving or my brother would finally take me.”
She grew quiet and Garret stopped gnawing on his thumbnail now a wet red mess. He moved in his seat as quietly as possible.
“It wasn’t until the bus depot that I realized the inevitable. I had just come back from visiting my sister Ida Mae in Copper Toffey, Indiana. I hadn’t been paying that much attention to things, but I know I didn’t walk out in front of that taxi. He pushed me. His little hands at the small of my back. He pushed me and the taxi clipped me. Broke two vertebrae in my back and paralyzed me from the waist down.”
Her breath was coming faster and her eyes were a little wider than before. One hand clutched near her throat. He wondered what she was seeing or reliving.
“He stood there and tried to hold my hand. I honestly think that he thought he had done it this time. He was almost giddy the little bastard.”
Garret realized her breathing was even more labored, but he didn’t want to stop recording because this was the best interview he had ever done. He could see himself giving interviews about Gladys and what she said to him. This was going to be his big break. He could taste it.
“Well, he was wrong. I lived. I lived and he was still alone. And, that brings us to tonight. It’s taken him almost three months to build up his strength, but I know it won’t be long now. If he can move this tired old body and position it the way he did on the nightstand, there won’t be any stopping him. He’ll have what he came for and what he’s waited so long for.”
Gladys seemed dazed for a moment and blinked a few times slowly. Her ragged breathing continued to sound even more labored. Jaw lax momentarily, her hand balled itself up into a fist over and over again.
“I figured out how to beat him at his own game though. He won’t have a playmate after all. He can’t have me. No, he won’t have me. Not this night. Not any night.”
That snapped Garret out of his daydreams about television interviews and his imminent fame. He realized something was wrong.
“Gladys, what do you mean?”
“I took the liberty of taking some meds before you came Mr. Garret.”
“You took some meds.”
“Let me correct that. I took all of the meds. Every last pill. As you notice there are only empty pill bottles on the table,” she said, her words coming with more and more effort, a noticeable slur beginning to creep into the tone.
“What did you do?” Garret shouted.
“I know my Bible Garret. Do you know yours?” she asked, an odd smile crossing her lips. “He does too. He won’t get to play with me since I’ve committed suicide.”
“You haven’t committed anything. Gladys!” shouted Garret standing up and coming to her side as she slumped over the arm of the chair.
“I’ll be in purgatory forever. Not even his reach is that strong. No sir.”
Garret stumbled over the edge of the rug as he shouted for someone to help. The nurses and doctors rushed in but it was too late. She had ended the game.
A few minutes later a gurney was brought in and she was taken away. He reached for the button on the recorder to rewind the tape when something in the viewfinder stopped him. He blinked a few times and looked more closely at it. The blood ran like chilled molasses through him as the image of a small boy sobbing appeared in the corner. His face was covered with his hands, apparently sad that his game had ended, sad that he didn’t have his sister back as a playmate.
Garret felt a pang of guilt work its way through his chest until the boy dropped his hands and looked right into the viewfinder at him offering a chilling smile.