A VISIT FROM PAULIE by KaRylin +quot;My niece is coming for a visit,+quot; Jennifer commen
A VISIT FROM PAULIE
"My niece is coming for a visit," Jennifer commented to Roger as
she put away the last of the dishes.
"Oh?" Roger was in the process of cleaning his hands, which were
covered with blood. He did this by licking them, rather like a cat.
Jennifer, convinced that he did such things for the sole purpose of
offending her, ignored him.
"Could you toss me something to wipe my hands with?" He asked at
length, having reached the point of diminishing returns.
"Wash them in the sink. I don't need you getting that stuff all
over my dishtowel."
Roger, disdaining to rise from his seat on the kitchen table, wiped
his hands on his pants.
"I expect you to behave yourself while my niece is here, Roger. I
do not want you frightening her."
"Oh?" Roger said noncommittally, and infuriatingly.
"She'll only be here for a week. All that I ask is that you sit in
a chair, for instance." She snapped the damp dishtowel at him.
"Do that again," he challenged. Instead, she hung the dishtowel up
to dry. Roger extended his two sharp, retractable fangs and began to
use them to clean underneath his fingernails.
Jennifer began to grow angry. "I hope you don't intend to do that
while my niece is here. She is also bringing her ten-year-old son with
her. I hope you will set a good example for the boy."
"You didn't think to ask me if you could invite your niece and her
brat. Why should I show any consideration for our feelings?"
Actually, Jennifer had not exactly invited her favorite niece.
Paulie had called earlier that day, and asked her for directions. "If
it's not too much trouble, Aunt Jen. Mark and I are having some
problems." Jennifer had long since made it clear to Paulie that she was
welcome to visit at any time. Although that was before she had moved to
the big old house in the country, which was reputed to be haunted. When
Jennifer figured out the truth about Roger, she found the cubbyhole
under the stairs where he slept in the daytime, waited for him to wake
up, and suggested (with her mother's silver crucifix tucked into her
shirt and an oxyacetylene torch in one hand) that the house was big
enough for both of them. It was an arrangement that worked out well
enough-- most of the time.
"Roger, please. They will only be staying here a week or so."
"Or so. You expect me to behave in a fashion which is unnatural to
me for 'a week or so' for the benefit of our relatives. What do I get
out of it?" Roger looked at her with calculation. "Supposing you were
to buy me a couple of rabbits, though. Nice fat ones..."
The day of Paulie's arrival came. Jennifer's niece looked haggard
and thin, and Timmy looked as if he were about to explode into one of
the temper tantrums for which, Paulie had said, he was becoming famous.
"Come on in," Jennifer said warmly. "I've fixed some cookies, and
there's lemonade in the 'fridge."
"I don't suppose you've got any beer." Wearily, Paulie pulled a
suitcase from the back seat of her car.
"No... whiskey, but it's only noon."
"I'll take it. It's been a rough drive."
Jennifer took the suitcase from her niece, lifting it easily with
one hand. She was a big woman.
"Got any candy?"
"Timmy," Paulie remonstrated without any force.
"I told you, I made cookies. Chocolate chip." She ruffled her
grand-nephew's hair affectionately.
"I don't want anything you made. I want a Hershey bar."
Jennifer subdued an urge to cuff the boy's ear. "Come in the
house, Paulie. You look like you could use to sit down."
"I want a Hershey bar. My grandma always has Hershey bars. And
Coke and Doritos. All you've got is cookies?"
They had reached the door of the house. "Timmy, why don't you play
in the yard while Aunt Jen and I talk."
"I don't want to. I want to come in the house." He smiled; it was
"Please? I'll buy you a Hershey bar in town tomorrow."
"Timmy, I may not be able to get into town tonight. I'm not sure
how late everything is open. Now play in the yard."
"Two Hershey bars?"
"All right, two. Tomorrow." Jennifer was suddenly reminded of
In the kitchen, Paulie collapsed in a chair. "Thanks for letting
me come out here, Aunt Jen, just thanks a million. I don't know what I
would have done if I hadn't been able to take a break from everything at
"Things are that bad, then, with Mark?"
"And Timmy." Paulie lowered her voice. "I don't know how I can
take it, sometimes. He's just unmanageable."
Jennifer had never been a mother, and wasn't sure what advice she
could offer her niece. She stood up. "Paulie, why don't you try some
of these cookies."
Roger usually came downstairs shortly after sunset to sit in the
living room for awhile, but there was no sign of him that evening. The
next day, Jennifer and Paulie went into town for groceries. Jennifer
stopped at a nearby farm and bought two healthy rabbits, and Paulie laid
in a large supply of Hershey bars.
Back at the house, Jennifer put the wire cage containing the two
rabbits outside on the lawn. She figured they might as well enjoy the
outdoor air and munch on the grass a little. But when she came back to
check on them a couple of hours later, Timmy had set them free, and was
frightening them by waving a stick and running back and forth.
"Just what do you think you are doing, young man?"
Timmy looked up, guiltily, and one of the rabbits made a break for
it. Jennifer caught the rodent by the scruff of its neck, carried it
back to the cage, and put it back inside. When she went to get the
other one, Timmy began waving his arms and yelling, "Run! Run!" The
rabbit froze, making it easy for Jennifer to scoop it up and put it in
the cage with the other one. She closed the top and secured it.
"Do you have some explanation for all of this?"
"I was just giving them a chance," Timmy said obstinately. "I
figured that if they could get past me, they deserved their freedom."
Jennifer looked at the boy with an emotion that was close to
affection. "Those rabbits are tame, Timmy. I don't think they could
survive in the wild." Although it would be better than their chances if
Roger got hold of them. "Besides," she made her voice sterner, "They
don't belong to you." All she needed was to have to go and buy a couple
more rabbits. She had a finite amount of money, and Roger coaxed her
into buying his dinner often enough as it was. "Now come in the house
and have lunch."
Jennifer expected Roger to put in an appearance the following
evening, but he did not. Jennifer had not really thought he would find
having strangers in the house so distressing. She felt a little guilty
about it-- it was his home, too, after all-- and she realized, with some
surprise, that she would miss Roger if he were to disappear. God knew
he had his character faults, but at least he didn't talk her ear off
about his personal problems. He was good company.
She put Timmy to bed, while Paulie sat in the living room smoking.
Jennifer sat down, sipping at a whiskey-and-water (she didn't usually
drink, except on social or very trying occasions, but Paulie did, and so
Jennifer joined her to be companionable).
Paulie did most of the talking, and Jennifer, who could not think
of much to say, nodded and made pro forma noises of encouragement,
breathing shallowly in an attempt not to cough from cigarette smoke.
Suddenly, there was a frantic hammering on the back door, followed
by an incoherent scream. Paulie leaped up.
"Careful! Don't answer it!" Jennifer was cautious at night; she
had lived in the city most of her adult life, and the rural darkness
still spooked her. Sometimes, especially after eating rich foods, she
had nightmares in which Roger's victims-- usually rodents and stray
dogs-- came back to life in vampiric incarnation. Attack of the
vampire voles. She smiled at the fancy in the daytime, but at night,
she kept the door locked. Besides, if people such as Roger existed,
who knew what else might be out there?
But Paulie was fumbling with the chain Jennifer had installed on
the door. She unfastened it, and turned the key in the deadbolt. "It's
Timmy! It's my baby!"
It was indeed Timmy. He stumbled into the house yelling for his
mother, ran past her, then came back and clung to her waist, babbling
incoherently. Jennifer relocked the door and secured the chain.
"Timmy, Timmy what is it, oh darling, it's all right, Mommy's
here." She looked at Jennifer. "I thought you put him to bed?" She
went back to comforting her offspring, so relentlessly that, if Timmy
had anything to say, he would have had a hard time getting a word in
edgewise. He contented himself with snuffling into the crook of her
Jennifer went into the room she had prepared for Timmy, where she
found the window, as she had expected, open to the night air. She
closed it, and went back into the kitchen. "I did put him to bed," she
told her niece. "He crawled out the window."
She pulled the boy away from his mother and asked, in a low,
intense voice, "Why were you yelling? What did you see?"
"He t-t-t, he, he," Timmy began to sob.
"There, there. You're too old to cry. You sound just like a
little baby." She disliked herself a little for using this ploy, but
she wanted to know what Timmy had seen.
"He tore the rabbit's head off," Timmy sobbed. Jennifer was
relieved to hear this, but Paulie found it rather alarming.
"Who? Who did you see, baby boy?" Jennifer did not think that
Paulie's shrill tone, and the way she was shaking her son, were very
conducive to calmness.
"A-- A man. I didn't know him. He smiled at me, and told me he--
he'd kill me if I didn't go back to bed. He hurt my arm."
Jennifer frowned. "Let me see."
"He twisted it." Timmy sniffed, but was too involved in his
narrative to engage in any more serious crying.
"And what were you doing out of bed in the first place?" Timmy
looked at his great-aunt in disbelief, shocked that she would chastise
him in his moment of drama. "Well?"
"I was going to let loose the rabbits," he said defiantly.
Jennifer repressed a smile, imagining what must have happened.
"He tore the rabbit's head off!" Timmy recapitulated. "He said
he'd do the same thing to me if he ever saw me again! There was blood
all over the place, and he started licking it up! And then he, oh,
gross, I think I'm going to throw up."
"What did he do then?" Jennifer was curious, despite herself.
Paulie shot her a look of outrage.
"He smushed it. He squished it all up, and one of the eyeballs
came out. Then he threw it, like it was a baseball."
Paulie looked worried. "Jen, do you suppose someone really did
threaten Timmy out there? Do you suppose he really saw something?"
"No, I don't. And if he did, it must have been one of the
neighbors. Let's forget about it, and go to bed." She shielded her
nose discreetly from Paulie's cigarette, which the younger woman was
waving about in her agitation.
"Forget about it! My little boy does not make up things like that.
Well, I mean I'm sure he made up some of it, or misunderstood what he
saw, but he must have seen something. I think we should go out and look
Jennifer thought that if Paulie really believed her son, this ought
to be the last thing she'd want to do. It seemed like a poor bet either
"If there is something dangerous out there, aren't you worried we
could be hurt?"
"I don't really think there's anyone out there. I just want to
check. I won't be able to sleep, otherwise."
Against this illogic, Jennifer could say nothing. She hoped Roger
had cleaned up after himself. Knowing Roger, he probably hadn't. The
two women ventured out into the back yard, armed with only a flashlight.
Jennifer shone it in a semicircle, and saw nothing out of the ordinary.
"Satisfied? Let's go back inside."
"No, I'm not. Give me that flashlight." Jennifer surrendered it
reluctantly. This, she thought, was a hell of an inconvenient time for
her niece to develop a backbone.
"Where did you put that rabbit cage?"
"Where? Oh, I see it..." Paulie walked toward the cage. "Jen,
there's only one rabbit in here!"
"Timothy," Jennifer suggested wearily, "probably let it loose, and
made up that story in the hopes that he wouldn't be blamed."
Paulie laughed. "Yeah, you're right, of course. The little devil
had me going. I never dreamed he had such a vivid imagination. A shame
about your rabbit. I'll pay for it, of course... Cute little things,
aren't they. Hi, there! Come here, I won't hurt you. Oh, my God!
Blood! Jen, there's blood here!"
Two hours later, Jennifer finally managed to get her niece calm
enough-- or drunk enough-- to go to bed. It had been a long day, and
promised to be a long week. Damn him! He had promised.
The next day, both Paulie and Timmy were quiet and subdued.
Jennifer thought, with a sinking sensation, that they would probably
leave; she would not have minded if they had gotten tired of visiting,
and left, but she didn't want them driven off. For years, Roger had
used scare tactics to make it impossible for the owner of the house
which Jennifer now rented, to find a tenant; she wondered if he was
trying to use the same strategy to get rid of Timmy and Paulie.
That night, as she was getting ready for bed, she heard a timid
knock at her door. Assuming it was Paulie, she opened it.
It was Roger. She grabbed him by the arm and drew him into the
room. "There you are," she whispered. "Where have you been?"
"Around. Do I have to whisper?"
"Well, you are liable to wake up Tim and Paulie. They have already
had quite a scare."
Roger looked abject. "You have no idea how sorry I am about that."
He hung his head and looked up at her through his long bangs to see her
reaction. It was difficult to remain angry with him; he had such a
"I can understand what happened, Roger, but I wish you could have
had a better introduction to my relatives. Where have you been for the
last few days, anyway?"
"I have been here. I've just been very quiet."
"Well, you could come downstairs and meet my niece, you know. You
don't have to hide under the attic stairs the whole time they're here."
"I'm very bashful around people I don't know. But I have been
watching your guests."
"Come down and introduce yourself sometime, then."
"All right, I will do that." He smiled at her and left.
"It's him! Mommy, it's him! He's the one I saw!"
"Oh, so you're the one that threw such a scare into Timmy!"
Jennifer was astounded at her own boldness in taking this tack. "You
wouldn't believe the story he came up with."
"Well, I'm afraid I did speak rather harshly to the lad," Roger
said, equally brazen. "He was setting loose the rabbits you got me."
Jennifer wished one of them had thought of something to explain the
"But Mommy, he tore its head off and then he--"
"Hush, Timmy." Paulie's cheeks flushed with embarrassment, and she
smiled apologetically at Roger.
"Paulie, this is my neighbor, Roger. Roger, my niece Paulie and
her son Timmy." She smiled at Timmy; she felt a little sorry for the
boy. He had told nothing but the truth, but because of his age and the
implausibility of his story, he was being ignored.
To her relief, Roger not only sat in a chair and kept his shoes on,
but did his best to charm Paulie and even Timmy. Timmy wasn't having
any, but the evening passed pleasantly, and ended uneventfully, which
suited Jennifer just fine.
Things went uphill from there, by Jennifer's estimation. Timmy
seemed better-behaved, possibly due to Jennifer's constant threats that
she would tell Roger on him if he displeased her. Timmy was still
afraid of Roger, which did not seem to bother the vampire; Jennifer
caught him baring his fangs at Timmy once, and gave him a dark look.
Roger looked apologetic, but Jennifer suspected he went on doing the
same kind of thing when her back was turned.
But Roger was very polite when Paulie was around, and it was her
niece's opinion that really mattered to Jennifer. The days and nights
passed peacefully, and Jennifer began to relax. Roger seemed to be
keeping his promise, which he usually did, after a fashion.
Then, early one morning, Jennifer woke to hear Paulie calling her,
frantically but at some distance. She shrugged into her housecoat,
wondering irritably why the girl couldn't come to her, if it was so
urgent. It was scarcely dawn, and she was not accustomed to rising
quite so early.
She followed Paulie's voice out into the hallway, and heard a
whisper of disquiet within her half-awake brain. Her niece's voice was
coming from upstairs. By unwritten agreement, that part of the house
belonged to Roger. What was she doing up there?
She mounted the stairs slowly, becoming more alarmed with each step
she took. Paulie's voice was coming from behind the door that led to
the attic stairs. She opened it.
"Aunt Jen! There you are. I can't get out of here. Help me,
Jennifer stood in the doorway, frozen with atavistic dread. In the
darkness, she could see Paulie's face only as a pale blur, but it was
clear that the younger woman was trapped in the tiny space beneath the
attic stairs. And there was no way that she could be. The one time
Jennifer had been under there, she'd had to pry up three of the steps
with a crowbar. She bent and felt the steps; they were solid,
undisturbed since she had repaired them with three-inch patio nails.
Paulie's hand came out from between the steps and grabbed her wrist.
She flinched. At that moment, Paulie seemed to Jennifer like a ghostly
and inhuman presence, crouched in the darkness beneath the stairs.
"Can you pull me out of here, Aunt Jen? I can't seem to squeeze
through, by myself."
"The space is much too narrow. I doubt Timmy could fit. How on
earth did you get in there?"
"I don't remember." Paulie retracted her arm. "Just get me out of
here, will you?"
"I'll have to get some tools. I won't be long." She hurried
downstairs, thankful that she'd awakened before Timmy has heard his
mother's cries. She collected her crowbar and flashlight, and went back
upstairs. She shined the flashlight under the steps.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. Just get me out of here!" Shielding her eyes from the
flashlight's glare, Paulie seemed more annoyed than frightened.
"Stand back, so you won't be hurt." Jennifer went to work with the
crowbar, and soon had two of the steps loose. After her niece had
climbed out through the gap, Jennifer threw the steps far back into the
space beneath the stairs. One of them hit the waist-high door to the
crawlspace over the porch, Roger's daytime resting place.
"Now, Paulie, try to remember how you got in there." Jennifer had
been in the crawlspace, and knew there was no other entrance. Paulie
lifted one hand to her head, dramatically, in lieu of a reply.
Jennifer, noticing something amiss, grabbed her by the wrist. "What did
you do to your arm?" She demanded.
"Nothing," Paulie snapped, snatching the arm away. "I don't feel
well, Aunt Jen. I want to go to bed."
"Not until you tell me what happened to your arm. What have you
been doing, shooting heroin?" Although she could think of a more likely
explanation for the bruise and the two slightly swollen puncture marks
on the inside of Paulie's elbow.
"I don't remember. I think I'm going to pass out. Stop bothering
me." Paulie sat down on one of the remaining stairs.
"All right. Come downstairs, and have some breakfast."
"I don't want any breakfast. I'm very tired. I just want to go to
Paulie allowed herself to be drawn to her feet and led downstairs.
Jennifer led her protesting niece to the kitchen, where she fixed an
omelette garnished with pieces of bacon left over from the day before.
Paulie sat complaining that her head hurt, that the light hurt her eyes,
and that Jennifer was wasting her time because she, Paulie, would throw
up if she tried to eat anything. Jennifer, seriously worried about her
niece's condition, ignored everything she said and continued to prepare
When the food was actually set in front of her, Paulie allowed
herself to be persuaded to try a few bites; soon she was eating
Jennifer kept a careful eye on her niece for the rest of the day.
Paulie did not go to bed, but seemed very refreshed by the omelette
Jennifer had fixed. She found this gratifying; it was nice to have
someone besides herself to appreciate her cooking. Roger, needless to
say, did not.
Jennifer waited until after dinner. Then she took the flashlight
upstairs, and managed, with a certain amount of strain, to fit through
the aperture she had made in the attic stairs. Crawling on all fours,
she went through the small door that led to the space under the porch
Roger, neither moving nor breathing, was sprawled on a bare
mattress at one end of the long, narrow room. The place was
considerably neater than the last time she had seen it; Roger's clothes
were folded in semi-neat piles and arranged on the floor along one wall.
Jennifer sat down and held the flashlight loosely in one hand while she
waited for Roger to come to.
After a short time (Jennifer had timed her visit so that she would
not have to wait long), he lifted hid head, blinking with surprise.
"Jennifer...? What are you doing here?"
"I am very, very annoyed with you, Roger."
"What?" He did not sound completely awake.
"I said I am very annoyed with you. You bit my niece. You
promised me you would behave."
"Oh, that. Do you consider that a breach of etiquette? Frankly, I
don't think it's any of your business."
Jennifer was nonplussed by this frank admission. "Well, actually,
I think 'breach of etiquette' is an understatement."
"I really find this highly offensive."
Jennifer was outraged. "I find what you did to my niece highly
"I'm afraid that I don't quite see your reason for objecting. Are
you under the impression that I forced myself on her?"
"Paulie says she doesn't remember what happened. What did you do,
hypnotize her?" To Jennifer, this possibility was more horrifying than
the use of physical force.
"Really, Jennifer, you have been reading too many penny-dreadfuls.
Do you actually think I can hypnotize people? If I could, I would have
hypnotized you to leave when you first came here, rather than enduring
your continued presence."
Jennifer, hurt by this sentiment, said nothing.
"Incidentally, I thought I set as a condition of your remaining
here, that you are never to come into this room while I am sleeping. I
suppose you ruined the attic stairs again?"
"I had to to let Paulie out. She was trapped in here."
"Oh," he said sheepishly. "Oh, I guess I forgot."
Jennifer pressed the advantage. "Roger, I want you to keep your
hands-- and your teeth-- off of my niece!" She found that she was
angrier than she had been in a long time.
"No," Roger said quietly.
"What? Roger, you promised to behave. Are your promises worth
"I am behaving," he said sullenly. "It is you who are being rude.
You have no idea how rude you are being."
"Roger, I will not tolerate your feeding on my niece. Why can't
you go back to catching squirrels and mice?"
"Too much trouble, for one thing. Have you ever tried to catch a
chipmunk with your bare hands, in the middle of the night? Besides, it
is much... nicer. I wouldn't expect you to understand.
"Let me assure you, however, that I did not in any way coerce
Paulie. I certainly did not hypnotize her." He gave the word a
scornful inflection. "If you must know, she offered herself to me."
"That's not what she told me."
"Has it occurred to you that she does not wish to discuss the
matter with you?"
"Well, I will ask her if what you say is true. I had better not
find out that you are lying... Incidentally, I think you ought to know
that Paulie is married."
"I really don't see what that has to do with it. If you think it
has anything to do with the sex act, whatsoever, you have been
Jennifer, who did not spend much time wondering about the sexual
habits of vampires, let this slide by without comment.
"I will ask Paulie. But I will tell you, I do not like this at
all." When Jennifer was under stress, she tended to slip into the
speech patterns of her German immigrant mother.
"Do you think I like having you burst in here, waving that light
around, asking about things that are none of your business and which you
don't understand to begin with?"
"I won't have you victimizing my niece."
"I am not victimizing her."
Jennifer, who was tired of arguing and felt that her point had
somehow gotten lost, did not reply. She crawled out of the enclosure
backward, wishing that she could make a more graceful exit. Roger
"I hope you're going to fix my stairs."
"No, I am not. Fix them your own God damn self."
"Please?" He tilted his head to one side. She was far too angry
for it to work.
"Keep your hands off Paulie, and I will."
"Forget it. Come to think of it, it will make it easier for Paulie
to come and see me."
"Stay away from her, Roger. I'll buy you all the rabbits you want.
And fix your stairs."
"Keep the damn rabbits. I knew you wouldn't understand."
"No, I don't. Maybe I'll fix your damn stairs, after all. How did
Paulie get in there in the first place, anyway?"
"You wouldn't understand."
That evening, after Timmy had been put to bed, Jennifer went into
"Paulie, I need to ask you something. About Roger."
"Yes?" Paulie regarded her aunt warily. She seemed morose and
listless; since that morning, her moods had alternated between gloom and
an uncharacteristic, sunny cheerfulness.
"About this morning... you really can't remember what happened to
Paulie turned away. "I really don't want to talk about it," she
said through clenched teeth.
"I'm afraid we have to. I know what he did to you. He claims he
had your permission. If he is lying to me, I may go out in the shed,
tomorrow, and sort through the scrap lumber to see if I can find
anything that will hold a point."
"Don't hurt him, Aunt Jen! You can't do that!" Paulie stood up,
as if she were afraid Jennifer intended to go after Roger with her bare
"Talk to me, Paulie. What really happened?"
Not looking at her, Paulie said, "Roger told you the truth. All
right? I lied. I didn't want to talk about it, so I lied. Are you
"Why on earth would you permit him to do a thing like that?"
Paulie blushed. "I'd really rather not talk about it."
"All right. Fine. I wish you had said that in the first place,
though. You could have saved me a lot of embarrassment."
"I'm sorry," Paulie said woodenly.
Now, she would have to apologize to Roger, and fix his stairs...
Yes, she definitely thought she would fix those stairs. She was itching
to ask Paulie how she had gotten underneath of them in the first place,
but she suspected her niece would just say she didn't want to talk about
it. She, Jennifer, had put her foot in her mouth enough for one day.
"I'm going to fix myself a drink. Can I get you anything?"
That afternoon, they went into town to buy groceries. Jennifer
bought several more rabbits for Roger, partly in atonement, and partly
in the hopes that it would keep him off Paulie. Shortly after sunset,
Roger reappeared and began lounging around the house, as was his custom
in the early evenings before he worked up the energy to go hunting. He
did not speak to Jennifer, but merely gave her an occasional cold look.
She decided it was up to her to try to reestablish diplomatic relations.
"I fixed your stairs, Roger."
"I noticed. I asked you not to."
"I distinctly remember your asking me to fix them."
"I changed my mind."
"Well, I'm sorry," Jennifer said with difficulty. "For not
believing you about Paulie, too. I bought you some more rabbits.
They're outside, in the cage."
"I don't recall asking you to do that, either."
Jennifer left the room without another word. She had gone as far
as she was willing or able to. Roger could go back to Indianapolis
with Paulie and Timmy, if he liked, and live in the attic of their
garage. It was all the same to her.
Paulie had been there for over two weeks, but she made no mention
of going home, and Jennifer was content that she should remain. Her
niece had taken over the housework, and most of the cooking, and she no
longer bent Jennifer's ear about her husband's personal failings. She
seemed to have forgotten that he existed.
Timmy made a pet of the surviving rabbit of the two Jennifer had
bought on the day after his arrival, and decided to call it Spot. Roger
showed no signs of mellowing toward Jennifer, but she had noticed that
three of the additional six rabbits she'd bought had disappeared. She
bought a separate cage for Spot, and installed it in Timmy's room. He
painted a sign reading TIMMY'S RABBIT, DO NOT EAT, and added a second
sign, which said, THIS MEANS YOU ROGER. The signs aroused Paulie's ire;
she was in one of her moody phases when she saw them.
"What do you mean, giving my son a pet without asking me! You know
as well as I do what's going to happen to that rabbit. Are you
deliberately trying to provoke hostilities between Timmy and Roger?"
"You don't have to let him take the rabbit home with him, if you
don't want to, but as long as he is here, that is Timmy's rabbit. Roger
has plenty of his own, for which he has never properly thanked me."
Paulie tucked her hands into the long, loose sleeves of her dress.
"Well, he isn't taking it home, that's for sure. They're filthy
animals." She stalked off.
Jennifer was in the basement, applying her cutting torch to a piece
of sheet metal, when Timmy came running down the stairs. She shut off
the torch, and pushed her safety glasses up onto her forehead.
"Timmy, I've told you not to come down here while I'm working. You
could be hurt. Now, what is it?"
"My mother, I think she's fainted! Please, Aunt Jen, you've got to
come and help her-- she's just lying there!"
Jennifer set down the still-cooling torch and followed Timmy up the
stairs. Paulie had collapsed in a heap on the kitchen floor. Jennifer
checked her pulse, and found it to be steady but quite rapid. She
lifted her niece, carried her into the bedroom where Paulie had been
sleeping, and laid her on the bed. "Timmy, get a pitcher of water."
Jennifer unbuttoned the cuff of her niece's shirtsleeve and rolled
it up above the elbow. The inside of Paulie's arm was a bruised mass of
puncture wounds. She rolled up the other sleeve and found more of the
same, although not to the same extent. She swore in German and rolled
the sleeves down so the Timmy would not see the wounds.
He returned shortly with the pitcher, slopping full of water.
Jennifer asked him to leave, and closed the door. She took a handful of
water and splashed it on her niece's face. Paulie coughed, and opened
her eyes. "What are you trying to do, drown me?" She said weakly.
Paulie started to get up, then lay back on the bed, looking pale
"I think we had better get you to a doctor."
"No!" Paulie sat up. "That isn't necessary. I'm fine." She
noticed her unbuttoned cuffs. "Nosey, aren't you."
"When a person faints, you are supposed to loosen their clothing,"
Jennifer said virtuously. Paulie gave her a dirty look.
"Paulie, I think we had better talk about this. What you do is
your own business, but you are going to die from loss of blood if you
keep letting him do this to you."
"Aunt Jen, it's not what you think." Paulie's manner abruptly
became sweet and conciliatory. Jennifer, who for once was not at all
sure what she thought, remained silent.
"He's really a wonderful person, Aunt Jen." Her lips curved
faintly in a beatific smile. "He's just lonely and misunderstood. I
wish you'd give him a chance, just try to get to know him a little."
Jennifer, who thought that she knew Roger a lot better that Paulie
did, said, "Did you know that he chews on the furniture?"
Paulie blinked. "What?"
"Yes, he does. He rips up the upholstery, with those fangs of his
that you like so well. I don't know if you've ever noticed all those
places on the back of the couch? I might as well have a cat. He also
leaves dead animals lying around, and gets blood all over the place.
Sometimes he even bites his toenails."
Paulie gave her aunt a deeply offended look. "You won't even try."
"He really does those things. I swear it to you, Paulie. He just
doesn't do it when you're around."
"Can't you see that none of that really matters?"
"I think you'd better get some rest, Paulie. I'll wake you for
Conversation at the table that night was strained and monosyllabic.
Timmy kept looking anxiously at his mother, who looked much better, to
Jennifer's relief, and seemed to have a good appetite.
Later that evening, after she tucked Timmy in, Jennifer went into
the living room to say goodnight to her niece.
"Now, for heaven's sake, if Roger comes around bothering you, tell
him no. Tell him to go out and catch a squirrel, or something, all
right?" Paulie answered her with a hostile look.
"If you pass out again, Paulie, you'll wake up in the hospital. I
promise you that." Troubled, she went to bed and dreamed of finding
Paulie's drained corpse, draped over the attic stairs.
In the morning, she quietly opened the door to Paulie's room and
found that her niece was sleeping peacefully. Her breathing was deep
and regular. Maybe the girl had some common sense, after all; she hoped
Two days later, Paulie announced that she was leaving. "Timmy
needs his father. And he needs to spend more time with children his own
age. So, I've decided to give dear old Mark another chance."
Jennifer thought her niece's eyes looked red, as if she had been
crying. Timmy certainly cried, when he was told that they were leaving;
he resigned himself to going only when Paulie agreed that he could bring
Roger took their departure badly. He moped around the house,
looking dejected and miserable. Jennifer felt sorry for him, and she
missed Paulie, too, but at the same time she was glad her niece had left
the house before Roger succeeded in completely exsanguinating her.
About a month after Paulie's departure, a letter arrived at the
house. Jennifer saw that it was from Paulie, and was about to open it,
when she noticed that it was not addressed to her. She left it on the
attic stairs, and that night Roger came into the living room, beaming
with joy, and handed Jennifer a flowery weed he had found in the yard.
"Paulie is coming to visit us!"
"Oh?" Jennifer was a little miffed that Paulie hadn't seen fit to
inform her of her plans. "Did she say when?"
"Christmas," Roger said, smiling fatuously. "Oh, I almost forgot--
she says to tell you she said 'hi'."
Christmas was a long way off; she didn't need to start worrying
about it now. Not until, say, October, at the very earliest.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank