Keys to the Old House
Keys to the Old House
Robin preferred taping her show after dark, for the atmosphere, but the sound effects were too loud and had woken up her grandma one too many times, so she was finishing up her shoot at six on a Thursday.
Timothy would be her co-host that week, a first on Robin’s Lair of Mystery and Imagination. He’d bought his way in with a copy of Cannibal Ferox, dubbed straight from the reel to a Beta by a friend of his in Tuscany.
Robin was still saving for a VCR, so they’d watched it at the public-access studio, and hurried back to her house to shoot their obsessive dissection. She planned to spend the next day splicing their discussion with toned down clips from the movie.
She’d filmed the intro-outro on Tuesday, so they seemed to be finished, but she was still checking over her notes.
“This was fun,” Tim said, still sitting next to her on the couch in her basement. He was tall, more polo than football, with blue eyes like the ocean on the TV and a little boy haircut from a sixties sit-com.
Despite her vampiric makeup and bride-of-Dracula dress, which accentuated her curves, she was a bit too curvy, and standing next to Tim, she knew she looked like his friend’s sister, or the cousin he was showing around town.
“I don’t need a co-host,” she said, looking up from her notes.
“I just said, it was fun. You don’t have to freak out,” he said, standing up from the couch.
Somehow, her overwhelming, tingling, attraction had mingled with her insecurity and possessiveness and made her say something she’d never intended, even if it might have been how she felt.
“Wait,” she said, and he paused, his foot on the first step leading up from her basement.
“…It really was fun,” he said. “I got a copy of Cannibal Holocaust coming in the mail…. Have you seen it?”
Robin had, but a white lie seemed the best course. “I haven’t- My grandma’s making green beans, and coffee cake.”
“That’s a weird combo-”
“The coffeecake’s for dessert…. You could stay for dinner.”
“Sure,” Tim said, smiling. In that dim basement, he was like one of those plastic Santas, glowing with the light of the sun inside him.
Robin always did the dishes, but her grandmother was in the kitchen, probably pretending to give them space while eavesdropping.
Tim had eaten a third helping. Robin would usually have eaten seconds at least, but she’d felt nervous and been too focused on Tim’s blue eyes staring at her, so she’d eaten a kid’s serving. She would raid the fridge later.
“I saw a zombie,” Tim whispered, leaning in towards her across the dinner table.
“…In what?” Robin asked.
“No, really, on the street,” he said.
It was August, as her friend, Tobie, had reminded her the other day, too early for Halloween, so Tim was either joking, which his face didn’t betray, or his imagination had transformed a drug addict into something more interesting.
“What did he look like?” she asked, trying not to sound too serious in case he was about to laugh.
“Not a he…. She was really pale, and covered in blood, darker than the movies, with a cleaver in her hand. I thought vampire at first, but she was really… shambly.”
A murderous drug-addict, Robin concluded. “Where was this?”
“Thirty-Ninth, outside Jake’s TVs Etc…. She walked into the Big Noodle.”
“Did you follow her?”
“No,” Tim said, slowly shaking his head. “She kinda freaked me out, but I will next time.”
Their was a knock at the door, Robin jumped, and Tim gave her his glowing smile.
“Will you get that, sweety?” her grandma called from the kitchen, and Robin went for the door.
Tobie stood on the porch, wearing his reporter costume. It looked like the same outfit he’d worn the previous Christmas when they’d last met.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Probably for their last phone call, which had ended poorly, and for falling asleep during her last broadcast. She decided a look of silent disdain was most appropriate.
“Can I come in?” he asked. He looked more than sorry, almost desperate. It was the look he’d had in his eyes when he’d dumped her.
“I guess… but you missed dinner.”
“I ate,” he said, edging past her.
She watched as he walked through the entry, and smiled as he froze solid entering the dining room.
“This’s Tim,” Robin said, sitting next to Timothy this time, while Tobie slowly defrosted, taking her seat. “And that’s Tobie,” she said, placing her hand over Tim’s on the table.
“H-Hi,” Tobie said.
“Hey,” Tim said. His hand squirmed, but he hadn’t pulled away yet.
“Tobie,” her grandma said, her face peeking in from the kitchen, more smile lines than stress. “I made green beans-”
“He ate, Grandma,” Robin said.
“I should get going,” Tim said, slipping his hand from under hers before she’d noticed and standing up from the table.
“Ah…. Cannibal Holocaust? Right?”
“Absolutely,” Tim said, “and we can talk after the broadcast. I’ve never been on TV before.”
“Tobie, right? Nice meeting you.”
“You too,” Tobie said, and Tim headed for the hall.
“Timothy, wait!” Robin’s grandmother said, chasing after him holding Tupperware encased coffeecake.
“So, what’s with the inconvenient appearance?” Robin asked, turning on Tobie with as much seething resentment as she could manage. But what real resentment she’d felt faded as she watched him.
“I’m sorry,” he said again, looking like he hadn’t eaten in a week, despite his claim, and hadn’t slept in about as long.
“For what?” she asked.
“…For missing your show- I’ll stay up this week.”
“And for messing up… whatever that was,” he said, nodding towards the front door, where Tim was just leaving as her grandmother scurried back to the kitchen.
“…We’re not really going out,” she said. She would have liked to make Tobie jealous, but she wasn’t sure that was even possible, and the charade would have made her feel pitiful.
“…When we were going out, we never did… anything.”
“No. We didn’t,” she said, thinking, besides watching TV and playing a hundred hours of Pong.
“Was that because of me?”
“…You remember when we got caught in the rain, and Grandma wasn’t home? The week before you graduated.”
“I was like, we’d better get off these wet clothes– Do you remember?”
“It was you,” she said. Nearly every time she saw her belly in the mirror his frightened stare came to mind and made her stomach clench.
“…I, think, I might like boys,” Tobie said, his eyes starting to look shiny.
“You’ve always been kinda swishy,” she said.
“I was joking,” Robin said, “mostly.”
That might have explained something, because, she thought, even if she wasn’t anything special, she wasn’t unattractive enough to inspire fear. But then it occurred to her that she could have turned him, and that made her angry rather than upset.
“So, what d’you want?” she asked.
“…I guess,” he said. His lip started quivering. “I just wanted to talk to somebody… and I was hoping-”
“Stop it,” she said, as a tear rolled down his cheek, catching at the corner of his mouth.
“…So, is he cute? This guy you’re in love with?”
“I’m not in love… and… I just think he’s a guy-”
“What?” Robin asked, feeling suddenly cheated.
“Coffeecake,” her grandmother said, either sensing the need for interruption, or wanting to join in on the conversation, but Tobie dried his eyes, and they switched to small talk.