To escape her stalker, Hailey was going to a haunted house. Weird.
At least spending the evening with Nan and Birdie helped ease the anxiety.
“Will you have a glass of wine, Birdie?”
Hailey felt strange offering Shiraz to the housekeeper —she had known Birdie all her life, but couldn’t recall if she had ever seen her drink.
“I’d love a glass, provided it’s dry. Papa always drank Manischewitz for Shabbat—it tasted like sweet cough syrup.”
Hailey had almost forgotten that Bernie Segal was Jewish.
“Yellow Tail is dry,” she smiled as she filled her glass. “I’m sure this won’t remind you of the Smith Brothers.”
Birdie giggled. “Your aunt Clare always teased Papa about looking like one of the Smith Brothers—she wanted him to cut his beard, but Papa would never do that.”
“You remember Clare?” Hailey asked, surprised.
“Sure. I was only ten, but I remember how beautiful she looked—like a movie star. You resemble her, Miss Hailey—especially your eyes. I could never forget her eyes—so beautiful, like moonlight and mist.”
“That’s quite poetic, Birdie,” Nan remarked, her eyes widening as she noticed new sides to this woman.
“Thank you, Miss Franklin,” Birdie beamed.
“Please, call me Nan—Miss Franklin seems so stuffy and formal.”
“Very well, Nan.” They both laughed at how stilted the name sounded on Birdie’s lips.
“I think you’ll have to practice that one,” Nan slurred, as she bent over to retrieve the empty wine bottle and began to totter.
“Speaking of which,” Hailey added drolly, “You really need to work on your balance. Are you sure you’re okay to drive home?”
“I’m fine,” Nan protested, rocking precariously on her too-high heels.
“That settles it—you’re sleeping over tonight. You can drive home in the morning.”
“What sleep here in the manse and take my chances with The Painted Lady?”
“Better than taking your chances with the local police. I hear Brad and Star make a pretty good team pulling over speeders and DUI’s.”
She made a face, prepared to argue the point, but noticed Hailey’s chin was set and her eyes hard. There would be no fighting that McAdam sense of finality.
Why with Hailey do I always feel trapped in a B movie where resistance is futile? She asked herself.
“Alright, I surrender, Madame Prosecutor—just spare me the lectures about demon rum.”
“Tsk, tsk. Aren’t we testy?” She shot an inquiring glance at Birdie. “The guest bedroom okay?”
Birdie nodded. “I just dusted in there and changed all the bedding yesterday, Miss Hailey. I’m sure Nan will be quite comfortable.”
“Well then, that settles it, doesn’t it?” Nan made a grand sweeping gesture with her glass, causing Birdie to cast an anxious glance first at Hailey and then at the red wine sloshing just before her eyes.
“I’ll take that, Miss.” She deftly lifted the glass from Nan’s hand, passing it to Birdie, while circling an arm around Nan’s waist and guiding her up the stairs.
Birdie stood at the bottom watching the two of them lurch toward the second floor, Nan complaining all the way, until the slam of the guest room door muffled all her protests. A few minutes later, Hailey descended the stairs carrying a red stained blouse.
“Let me soak that in some salty cold water,” Birdie offered, taking the item and heading back to the laundry room.
“Don’t you ever take a break?”
Birdie flashed a shy smile. “I’ll be right back—this will only take a minute.”
Hailey returned to the sitting room and retrieved her wine glass from the mantel where she left it. She glanced through the window sheers at the darkness outside.
White lightning feathered the western sky prompting a sudden downpour of huge drops.
Rain at night. How soothing. Hopefully, I will sleep tonight.
Nan’s allusion to The Painted Lady had reawakened her childhood fears along with her aversion to the house.
Birdie was back. “I’ll let the blouse soak overnight and then in the morning I’ll put it in the dryer on the gentle setting. It should be ready for her to wear when she gets up.”
“Thanks, Birdie. You’re a dear.”
“It’s only my job, Miss Hailey. I don’t mind at all. I like Miss Franklin, er, Nan, I mean.” Obviously, the emancipation of Birdie was going to require more than a generous bequest from Beatrice McAdam.
“Come sit, Birdie.” Hailey patted the couch cushion beside her. “We never get a chance to talk.”
Birdie picked up her wine glass and sat down beside Hailey on the huge over-stuffed couch.
“Put up your feet and relax.” Hailey pointed to the hassock in front of her. To encourage her, she drew up her legs and curled them under her lotus-style.
“I wish I could do that,” said Birdie wistfully, admiring Hailey’s lithe body and the grace with which she moved. “I feel like such a gronk compared to you.”
“Oh no, don’t ever feel like that Birdie—it’s just that I’ve practiced yoga forever it seems—ever since Mother gave me that book of Rachel Carr’s—Be a Frog, a Bird or a Tree. It was an introduction to yoga for children and I suppose I kept on because it helped me unwind. It does have other benefits too, I guess.”
“Like being graceful?” Birdie looked at Hailey enviously.
Hailey reddened. “I suppose.”
She cast a sidelong glance at Hailey. “You’re not like them, you know.”
“Like your aunts—like the rest of the McAdams.”
“No. If you’re like any of them, you’re most like your poor aunt Clare—she was so lovely, Miss Hailey. You would have liked her. She loved to laugh, like you, Miss Hailey.”
“Me—laugh? That’s a side of me I’m not aware of—and, for that matter, I wasn’t aware of that side of Aunt Clare. I always heard she was depressed.”
“Not always…at least, not in the beginning—maybe at the end.” As she said the word her chin began to tremble.
Hailey stared at her in surprise. “You were really close to her, weren’t you?”
Birdie looked up at her, using the back of her hand to wipe away the tear-streaks.
“You don’t know, do you? Didn’t Miss Beatrice tell you? Your aunt Clare was my mother.”
© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.