Floor of the Aegean Sea
Floor of the Aegean Sea
Polydora was eleven and home on a Saturday afternoon, babysitting her four year old cousin, Killian. His mother, Kelly, was a social worker; she even specialized in snatching kids from irresponsible parents, but she didn’t seem to find anything wrong with leaving her son in the care of an eleven year old.
Polydora would usually have argued she was plenty old enough to babysit, Killian especially. He always spent his afternoons, as he was at that moment, with his nose an inch from the TV screen.
The afternoon was veering toward evening. The sun had just set behind the apartment tower across the street, casting dark shadows over their little house.
Killian didn’t usually like westerns, but an old episode of Gunsmoke, even a black and white one, must have been more interesting than the old women who taught knitting on public broadcasting.
Polydora hadn’t been following the episode, but their was some creepy black-clad man who seemed to be up to no good, and something about the mood made Poly especially sensitive to every creak their old house made. She’d already checked the doors and windows but was considering checking again when there was a knock at the door.
“Wait here,” Poly said, rolling off the couch. Killian didn’t move an inch.
She padded quickly to the door but froze in the front hall, staring at the shadow cast by a figure on the frosted glass. She’d stopped in her tracks standing next to a small table. It was where Kelly dropped her keys when she came home, and, next to the avocado colored bowl made by Poly’s dead mother, was the telephone.
Calling 911 would bring help. But she probably didn’t need help. It was probably someone asking for directions, or a delivery, or some harmless cultist. She still wanted someone to save her, but calling the cops would bring them there, and Kelly would probably get in trouble for leaving them alone.
“Dora?” a voice called through the glass as the man knocked again.
“Roddy?” she called back.
“Yup,” he said.
She crept forward. She knew Roddy’s voice, but she realized too late that she’d supplied his name. Kelly hadn’t invested in a door with a peep hole, but she’d installed a safety chain. Poly latched the chain and opened the door a crack.
Roderick was a small man, a generation older than her aunt. He was wearing a pair of thick glasses and a brown suit that had been in style when the TV reruns were premiers. He had a smile, the same one he gave her then, that was both disarming and made Poly’s skin crawl.
“Kelly says you shouldn’t come here anymore,” Poly said.
“Oh…. I didn’t know,” Roddy said, his smile never slipping. “Because I remind her of your mother?”
That might have been the case, but Poly herself would have been a stronger reminder.
“Do you need something- I haven’t found Mama’s diary.”
“No, no. Nothing like that…. I was just passing by and thought I’d check in.”
“…We already drank the soda in the fridge,” Poly said, unlatching the door.
“Your tongue’s purple,” Roddy said, stepping through.
It was the occasional innocuous-yet-slightly-creepy comment like that Kelly seemed to hate. That and his constant niggling questions about Melanie, Poly’s mom.
It seemed like Kelly wanted to forget her. Roddy had been something like her mother’s friend, and knowing someone who really knew her mother made Poly feel like Mel had been a real person, not just a model who happened to have been on-set for their family photos.
“I’ve seen this episode,” Roddy said, walking into the living room and flopping down in Poly’s spot on the couch. “How’re you doing, Killy?”
“Hehlo,” Killian said, but Gunsmoke then cut away to commercials, his favorite part, and they had his undivided attention.
“…I met a young woman the other day,” Roddy said, as Poly dragged in a chair from the dining room. “You know, there’s a notable correlation between the moral beliefs of small tribal cultures and the rhythmic patterns of their ceremonial dances.”
“No,” Poly said, placing her chair as far from Roddy as she could while keeping Killian in reach. “I don’t know anything about that-”
“I don’t mean to imply that any particular pattern implies immorality, it’s in the nuance…. This girl for instance, the Sex Pistols’ rhythms are far more of the Nilotic tribes than the Hausa. Without even knowing it she bows to the music’s sway, actually, I think she’s more a fan of Black Flag, but they’re of an ilk.”
“Roddy… are you feeling okay?”
“Of course,” Roddy said. “…I have a girlfriend now.”
“That’s nice,” Poly said. She wasn’t aware people that old had girlfriends, but, being unable to summon an age appropriate synonym, it seemed to make sense. “The girl you were talking about?” she asked.
“No, no. Her mother. Her name is Margaret… I think you’d like her.”
“I’m… really happy for you- You came by to tell me?”
“Yeah… I wanted to tell somebody, sorry…. Mel, Melanie, your mother- Have you ever loved someone, Dora?”
“…My mother,” Poly said. But that wasn’t true exactly. She’d been Killian’s age when her mother had left her, and then she’d died before they’d had a chance to really know each other. She loved Killian and her aunt, but that probably wasn’t the kind of love he was asking about anyway.
“I loved her too,” Roddy said. “That’s what I wanted to tell you-”
There was another knock at the door and Roddy sat up straight on the couch. “I should probably go,” he said.
“Kelly doesn’t knock,” Poly said, heading for the door again.
It was darker now, dark enough she couldn’t make out a shadow on the other side of the frosted glass.
“Polydora, it’s Becka,” a voice said, and Poly opened the door.
Becka was a strange girl on any occasion, like a living poltergeist with a face fit for trick-or-treating without makeup. Today she was wearing a tu-tu that looked like it had been dragged through the sewer. That was just the most notable element of her Salvation Army attire.
“I have a few free hours before my next appointment,” Becka said. “Did I come at a bad time?”
“No way,” Poly said, opening the door for her. Even if she usually found Roddy entertaining, he was being weird enough today she felt having another adult around would be wise.
“Roderick,” Becka said as if uttering a dirty word.
“Becka,” Roddy said, “how have you been?” He was never good at reading the mood, and this was no exception. He beamed at her while Becka responded with a glassy-eyed stare.
Becka took the seat Poly had dragged in from the dining room, so Poly went to drag in another. She returned with a glass of lime Kool-aid and a big bag of chips. Becka downed the sweet green liquid in two gulps and started on the chips without a word.
“You know Jane, don’t you?” Roddy asked.
Becka swallowed a few more handfuls of chips before nodding.
“Have you met Margaret?” he asked.
“No,” Becka said, tipping the bag and breathing in crumbs.
“Roddy!?” Kelly screamed.
Poly hadn’t heard the door, but Roddy bolted for the back at her aunt’s voice and was gone by the time Kelly made it to the living room.
Kelly looked a lot like Poly’s mother, like Mel did in photos at least, but her wavy blond hair and usually-laid-back attitude contrasted sharply with the redness of her face and rage in her eyes.
“Where are you, Roddy!?” she screamed.
Killian glanced away from the TV for a moment, but his eyes returned just a quickly.
“…I thought that was his Volvo,” Kelly said.
“I brought the Camaro,” Becka said. “I might have blocked him in.”
“…So he was here,” Kelly said, turning to Poly as if she were somehow at fault.
“He left when you walked in,” Becka said.
Poly heard the whib-whib-whib-whib noise Roddy’s car made as it started, and Kelly’s fists clenched as she stormed back out the front door.
“Poly,” Becka said.
“I never knew your mom.”
That was a simple fact. Becka had been Jack’s friend, and Jack had been Melanie’s best friend, before he died too. How Becka had ended up a friend of the family was a mystery.
“But she’s a nice person…. She talks to me like I’ll understand what she’s saying, like, not talking down to me, I mean… that’s the way Jack told me she was.”
“…How did Jack die?”
“I don’t want to talk about that. Mel, if she was here right now, she would be really proud of you.”
“…For what?” Poly asked, as she heard Kelly out front, screaming in the street.
“The spelling bee last week. She was, I’m sure she would be really proud of you-”
“Is that why you came by, to tell me that? ‘Cause I was third place, and it was only State….”
“I’m hungry, too,” Becka said, smiling like a corpse in a casket.
“H-he drove over the lawn,” Kelly said, standing in the doorway and trying to catch her breath.
“I could talk to him,” Becka said, “if you want him to stay away.”
“…I think he got the message, this time. Are you staying for dinner?”
“If I won’t be a burden,” Becka said.
“It’s fine,” Kelly said. “It’s just microwave, but we’re stocked for weeks,” She walked back to the entryway and dropped her keys in the avocado-bowl before trudging into the kitchen.
“Becka,” Poly said.
“Thanks… for saying that about my mom.”
“Sure,” Becka said, standing up and giving her a pat on the head.
“But I’ll try harder next time- I’ll get second, at least.”
Becka smiled down at her, but then her face turned away. “I love microwaves,” she said, as they heard a bing from the kitchen.
“Killy. Dinner,” Kelly said, her neck craning around the doorway.
“One minute,” he said, holding up a tiny finger as he watched a very colorful ad for cat food.