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Black Cat

V. C. Andrews

  Black Cat

  Gemini #2

  V.C. Andrews

  Copyright (c) 2004

  ISBN: 0743428609



  Our Family History


  I have never doubted that the day my daddy

  died my mother knew about it long before his construction business partner. Mr. Calhoun, came to our house with the dreadful news. Earlier that day she had swooned and had remained unconscious long enough to terrify my brother. Noble, and me. Afterward, she would tell me that the spirit of a cat as black as Death itself had passed right through her heart.

  When she spoke about these things, her eyes were wide with amazement, an amazement that nearly kept my heart from beating. I know I was holding my breath while she talked. My chest wanted to explode, but I didn't dare take a breath and risk interrupting her.

  "I saw it come out of a shadow in the corner of the ceiling where it had nested in anxious anticipation. I swiped at it when it descended and came at me, but my hand didn't push it aside, and in seconds it had done its dark deed." she said. and then her eyes grew small and she told me of a similar event her

  grandmother had experienced on the occasion of her grandmother's brother's accidental death. He had fallen from a horse and hit his head on a boulder.

  "The sound of a horse's hooves pounded through her head, and when she looked up, a black cat leaped through the air, its paws set to claw right through her chest. She actually fainted on the spot, and when she woke up, the first words out of her mouth were 'Warren is gone.' No one had found his body yet, but everyone knew someone soon would," Mama added in a deep whisper, the sort of whisper that passes through your heart like the black cat she described.

  Our family history on my mother's side was rife with example after example of someone being able to see the future, sense an upcoming tragic event, or read signs in nature that foretold someone's sickness or death. It was a rift of prophecy she believed would be handed down through her to Noble and me, but most likely to Noble. Why she believed that so strongly. I do not know, but I do know it was the main reason why he could never be permitted to die.

  Often at night after Baby Celeste was born. Mama would sit in Grandpa Jordan's old rocker with her cradled in her arms and rock her to sleep while she told me these family stories, I felt as if she were wiping away the cobwebs and dusting off the past that lingered in every nook and cranny, under every shadow. She would look out at the darkness that draped our house like a heavy satin veil, and she would talk about that dreadful day when my daddy died and all the days of her past with such vivid recollection, as if she were able to look back through a microscope for time seeing the smallest of details. She would speak not to me as much as to herself and to the spirits that she said sat with us, uncles. aunts, and cousins, all joining us to hold what now seemed to me to have been an eternal wake.

  There was indeed so much to mourn.

  I didn't have to have the gift of prophecy to know that there was so much more yet to come before that dark veil would be lifted from our home and our lives.


  Noble's Pleas


  "Noble," Mama called with urgency resonating

  in her voice. I turned to see her waving at me from the front steps of the porch. Her hazel brown, shoulder-length hair fell straight alongside her cheeks. She had a radish-red bandanna tied across her forehead, which she said would ward off recent curses whenever they were thrown in her direction, so I knew something had spooked her today.

  She was standing there with Baby Celeste beside her, which was quite unusual. Mama never brought her out during the daytime for fear someone, even from the distance in a passing car, might see her and learn that she existed. This secrecy had existed from the moment Baby Celeste had been born, a little more than two and a half years ago.

  Today was one of those summer days in July when clouds seemed hinged to the horizon, not a single sliver of one interfering with the orange disk of sun sliding gracefully over the icy blue toward the mountains in the west. I was on my hands and knees pruning weeds in the herb garden. The redolent aroma of rich, wet soil filled my nostrils. Worms, lubricated and shiny from the night's rain, slipped through my muddied fingers. A wisp of a breeze teased me with a promise of some relief that had yet to be fulfilled. I was already quite tan, the farmer's tan. Daddy used to call it, because my arms were dark up to the edges of my sleeves and my neck down to my collar. It was evident only when I was naked.

  Mama took another step toward me and away from the house to call again. Through the hot, undulating air that lay between us, the house seemed to shimmer and swell up around her and Baby Celeste as if it were determined to block them from the view passengers in cars along the highway would have. The house would always protect them, protect us. Mama believed that. She believed it was as sacred as a church.

  Anyone looking at the house might readily accept that it held some special powers. It was large and unique in this area of upstate New York, an eclectic Queen Anne with a steeply hipped roof, two lower cross gables, and a turret at the west corner of the front facade. The turret room was a fairly good size round room with two windows that faced the front. Mama told me that her grandfather had often used the room as a personal retreat. He would spend hours and hours alone in it, reading or simply smoking his pipe and staring out at the mountains. Perhaps because of that story or simply because the room was so private and hidden at the top of the small stairway that led up to it. I used it as a retreat, a secret place, as well.

  Sometimes at night after Baby Celeste was asleep and Mama was distracted. I was able to sneak up to the turret room. where Mama had put all our mirrors except the ones on the bathroom walls above the sinks. There were many antiques and boxes of very old things stored there. She put the mirrors there because she said our good family spirits avoided them, especially full-length mirrors like the gildedframed oval one with a rose carved at the top.

  "Despite the eternal joy they share in the other world, they do not like to be reminded that they are out of their bodies, that their bodies are long decayed into dust. What they see of themselves is more like an image captured in a wisp of twirling smoke," she explained.

  I thought that made good sense. While we were in this world, nothing held our attention or was as important as our bodies. Who didn't look at his or her body often during the day, whether it be in a storefront window, a mirror, pictures, or even in the eyes of someone else? What was more intriguing than yourself?

  Denied the common opportunities to do so, I would stand before the oval mirror in the turret room, undress, and gaze at my uncovered and now undisguised female body, turning to look at myself from every angle like someone who was trying on a new dress. Often, I would feel as if I were looking through a window at someone else and not in a mirror at myself. That made the mirror seem magical to me, and that in itself turned the turret room into a special place. It not only held secrets of our past in old dresser drawers and cartons, it provided a pathway of escape, a place where dreams were unrestricted, and after all, it was in dreams only that I could be who I was.

  For nearly ten years now, I had had to deny the existence of whom and what I saw standing before me.

  There was no doubt in my mind that no night in my life would ever be as traumatic as the night Mama took me out to the small, old family graveyard to say good-bye to myself in a funeral so private even the stars were kept hidden behind clouds.

  Lying there in the open, freshly dug grave with his hands crossed over his chest was my twin brother. Noble, wearing my dress and even my amulet. the Mystic Star with its seven points. I hadn't even realized she had taken it off me during the night. Noble's eyes were so tightly closed they looked stitched shut.
I had let Mama down, disappointed her so deeply. I made her very soul cringe. I hadn't protected my twin brother and therefore I had to be the one buried and gone. She transformed me into Noble like some wizard waving a wand, and then she told the world I had been kidnapped. The community pitied her, pitied us when search parties found one of my shoes in the forest and concluded she was right: someone had taken me.

  Dozens of people traipsed through the property and crossed over to our nearest neighbor, an elderly man named Gerson Baer, who lived alone. He had nothing to offer, but because he was a loner and a neighbor, he fell under some suspicion for a while. He was wise enough to permit a full search of his house and property, and eventually the police left him alone, but Mommy predicted nasty, stupid people would always suspect him. She sounded as if she really did feel sorry for him, but she also mentioned that it helped us.

  A week went by and the story stopped being published in the paper. Occasionally, one of the sheriff s patrolmen appeared. The detective returned and went back over the story. Mammy looked terrible. She didn't eat. She didn't do anything to make herself attractive. Some people, old friends of Daddy's, and his former partner. Mr. Calhoun, sent over flowers and candy with good wishes. The detective offered to contact any family to assist us. but Mommy thanked him and told him we would be all right. He promised to keep us up-to-date on any new developments.

  In the beginning, whenever I heard people talk sadly about me, it was truly as if I were invisible, a ghost listening to people talk about her and what she was like when she was alive. Mama said nice things about me, things that made me ache to return and again be that responsible, bright, and intelligent girl. Visitors who had come to sympathize would shake their heads and look at me sadly.

  "I bet you miss your sister very much," they would say. Or they would say. "How lonely you must be, all by yourself now."

  Mama would agree we had been inseparable, truly twins who could think each other's thoughts. Her eyes would gloss over and she would look as if she couldn't take another breath. The visitors would blanket her in sympathy.

  I had to nod or wipe a drummed-up tear from my cheek because Noble, being a boy, wouldn't show his sadness so readily. He would be tougher. Slowly, in small ways at first, Mama had me imitate Noble, even take on his bad habits. Nothing angered her as much as my resisting or failing to succeed at such forgery. I wanted so to please her, but for me, every little action, characteristic, habit, I successfully simulated was like another shovelful of dirt I cast on my own grave. Sometimes, at night. I would wake up feeling as if I were suffocating. I would be all in a sweat, the redolent aroma of cool, dark earth about me. I thought I even felt it on my face and brushed my cheeks frantically before settling down and trying again to sleep.

  Every night I fell asleep thinking I might never wake up or I would wake up in a grave. There was only one way to stay above it, to keep out of it, to remain alive.

  Mama had always loved Noble more than she loved me, and now as Noble I could have all that love for myself. so I worked hard at becoming my brother. I took on chores awls my age would never assume like chopping and splitting firewood, changing tires, and Greasing lawn mowers and other engines. I repaired a shed roof, hammered and sawed, painted and varnished. My hands developed calluses. My thicker forearms looked more like a boy's than a girl's, and when I walked. I strutted with a masculine gait that even took me by surprise when I became aware of it. It was Mama's smiles of satisfaction that made me aware. Her smile of approval countered and overcame any hesitation, any self- consciousness I might have.

  Growing hard and lean, remaining in home school and rarely confronting girls my age. I succeeded to the point where I even dreamed Noble's dreams, saw the spirits I imagined he would see, such as cousins his age who had had similar tragic deaths, impish, naughty little boys who teased their sisters and like him went running and shouting through make-believe battlefields and jungles. or I would see strong uncles with muscles built out of hard farm work or carpentry. Our dainty, female family spirits seemed to avoid me the way they would avoid Noble. It was as if they were really and truly a part of Mama's plan or at least afraid of contradicting it.

  For as long as I could remember. Mama had communicated with her family spirits. She had promised both Noble and me that we would be able to do the same, and although our daddy shook his head and didn't believe in any of it, he didn't really try too hard to force her to stop believing. There was no doubt in my mind that she wouldn't have under any circumstances anyway. It was a major part of whom and what she was. She would tell Daddy he couldn't love her without loving that. Even as a little girl. I could see he knew that and he accepted. How great was his love. I thought, and like every little girl, I dreamed I would find someone as wonderful as my daddy to love me. However. I was terrified I wasn't as good and as beautiful as Mommy and would never find anyone. like Daddy.

  Mama always thought Noble would cross over, as she called it. before I did. but Noble never had as passionate an interest in our family spirits and the world beyond as I had. It frustrated Mama. She tried everything, including teaching him how to meditate, but nothing worked, so she concluded that something evil was standing in Noble's way. That was why she made me truly my brother's keeper and why she was so upset when he died in the accident in the creek. He fell off the big rock from which he was fishing. I wanted him to come home, but he wouldn't, so we had a tug-of-war with his pole. Was Mama right? Was it really my fault?

  He couldn't die he wouldn't die. His spirit would enter me, and that was how it would be forever and ever. But neither Mama nor I understood how powerful the woman in me, would become. Years later in my solitude I couldn't hold her back. I couldn't prevent her from reemerging. At my private, secret place in the forest. I uncovered myself and let myself breathe as Celeste, and it was during one of those episodes that our new neighbor's son. Elliot Fletcher, discovered the truth and blackmailed me into having sex with him.

  Now, when I think of that. when I permit myself to remember those secret rendezvous. I hear a voice inside me that tells me I, wasn't blackmailed as much as I would like to believe. I wanted what had happened to me to happen. It was a way of denying what I had become and returning to whom and what I was.

  Baby Celeste was born as a result of all that. but I had to keep my pregnancy secret as long as I could, knowing how Mama would be devastated. I couldn't even tell people that I had seen. Elliot drown that day he lost control of himself while crossing the creek to go home. I felt sorry for his father, who was a pharmacist in a nearby village, and who had to bring up both Elliot and his sister. Betsy, after his wife had left him. Betsy was a constant source of trouble, promiscuous and wild, and now he had lost his son and would probably never know he had a


  I hid my pregnancy for as long as I could, and when it was impossible to do so any longer. I was terrified. Mama's reaction was to deny it had ever occurred. She kept it well hidden and her way of greeting the birth of my child was to declare to me and to herself that my baby was a miraculous creation, a spiritual creation, the return of Celeste. She so named her, and then, to my shock, she dyed the baby's hair so she would look like me and not have Elliot's red hair. not yet or perhaps not ever.

  Now. when I looked at my baby even from this distance, seeing her beside Mama, holding her hand and looking in my direction. I saw myself as a little girl. I couldn't help believing at times that Mama was right. Celeste was my resurrection, my returning, my rebirth, a true miracle. She had my gestures, my laugh, my way of sleeping with my lips pursed and my left hand pressed flatly against my cheek.

  All these thoughts, these memories, these feelings, ran through my mind like the creek that ran through our property, rising and falling not with the rain and the melting snow as did the creek, but with the storms and changes that showered on our very private world.

  Today was yet another. "Hurry up," Mama ordered when I put the garden tools aside and started toward the house.r />
  She turned. lifted Celeste into her arms, and went into the house quickly, fleeing with her as if the sunlight were deadly. I trotted back and took off my muddied shoes. She was waiting in the hallway.

  "What's wrong?" I asked, seeing the urgency in her face.

  Had she seen some curse floating around us, around me? Was that why she wanted me inside quickly? It wouldn't be the first time. Too often as I grew up on the farm, and even when Noble was alive. Mama's call to us was like an alarm bell, an alert to hurry back into the safety of our home to avoid being caught in a gust of cold, dark wind, what she called the "icy breath of Death. himself." How could we not shudder and rush into her waiting warm embrace?

  Baby Celeste stood there with her thumb in her mouth gazing up at me. Usually, when she was with Mama for a while, she would reflect Mama's moods and look more like her than me.

  "Mrs. Paris is coming right away for some Nufem," Mama replied.

  "Oh,'' I said, my fears eased.

  Nufem was the name Mama had given to her secret herbal supplement to relieve women of the discomforts of the menopause. I knew only that she combined things like red raspberry, passionflower, black cohosh, wild yam, and some motherwort to create her remedy. I think she added some vitamin supplements as well. She had given it to the mayor's wife, who had heard about it from Mrs Zalkin, wife of the egg fanner who lived a few miles east of us, and now apparently Mrs. Paris, who was the wife of one of the biggest landlords in nearby Sandburg, had been talking to the mayor's wife.

  Over the past year and a half. Mama had developed a number of customers far her herbal remedies and had even begun to supply herbal plants and products to a health food retail outlet in the bigger city of Middletown. She had begun this little business through her friend MI. Bogart, the owner of an estate jewelry and spiritual gem store where she had bought Noble and me our amulets. It kept us busy, me in particular, cultivating and growing her plants and herbs and helping her grind and mix ingredients.

  Mama wasn't just selling these herbal remedies. however. She would offer the customers, people she called her clients, instructions about meditating and tuning in to a peaceful coexistence with the spiritual world of nature. More and more people seemed to be interested in such things. and Mama and I. who were usually thought unusual if not downright strange, had at least become positive in some people's eyes. I know it made Mama happier.