GERMINATION III

I found Castile’s account of the funeral. It was torn in half and stuffed under a loose floorboard next to an old bookshelf. I never would have found it if I hadn’t tripped over an overgrown root and ploughed into the floor right beside a little corner of paper sticking up between the cracks in the board.

It doesn’t answer all my most pressing questions, but I think I’m going to need to buy an axe.

December 23, 1917
Sunday

I did not attend the service. I slipped away as proceedings began and took it upon myself instead to wander the Lawley house. I had not been there in many years, as leaving the estate takes a great toll upon me and I begin to feel ill if I even set foot beyond the bounds of my family’s land. But for Hazel, I might never have left it again.

The Lawley family is old money. They were the richest family in this town before we arrived, owing in no small part to their Confederate connections during the war. There was money to be made in turning over Union sympathizers, draft dodgers, and deserters.

Since then, they've made their money in apples. Hazel and I spent many a summer afternoon wandering through those white orchards when we were growing up.

Inside the Lawley home, everything is pristine. Everett’s servants keep every surface so clean that it may as well be a home abandoned, bereft in every way of spirit and life. How Hazel lived here without going mad, I will never know.

Of course, she never could understand how I lived in my own house without losing my mind. Not even when I told her I was already mad, and have been since childhood. “I have lost all feeling,” I told her once. “Sometimes I think I am already a ghost and there is only a hollow where my insides should be.”

Hazel took my hand. “There are no ghosts,” she said, and kissed my cheek. “Did you feel that?”

I told her I felt it on my skin, but not in my heart. I could not feel anything on the inside, I told her. I feared I was an empty shell. A mannequin. I told her when my mother died I could not shed a single tear. I only stared at her porcelain face as she lay in her casket, and that after she was in the ground, I hardly thought of her ever again.

As I wandered the Lawley home, I climbed the stairs and walked along the second floor until I stopped at a closed door near the end of the hall. I swear I did not know whose room it was at the time. I can only say I felt a compulsion to reach out and touch it, and that without thinking about it I turned the handle and went inside.

It was Hazel’s room, of course.

I think I was searching for the grief I had not found at the funeral service. She lay there in her casket, just as my mother had, and yet she was not there. Hazel was my only friend. What sort of man was I if I felt nothing at her death?

I did not realize it, but I was starving. Ravenous. I hungered for the hitch of my own breath, the tightening of my chest, my own tears or laughter, for something, anything that would prove all of this was real. That I was real.

That was not what I found in Hazel’s bedroom.