It was four in the morning, but muggy as only Florida in the summer could be. Jetlagged, I couldn’t toss and turn in my bed any longer. I sat up, staring at the shadowed reflection in the warped mirrors that lined the walls. A single closet light highlighted the harsh edges and cast strange shadows that caught my eyes and sent a frisson up my spine.
I hated this room. Too many memories wrapped in cellophane in the closets, dresses from the 1950’s trading buttons with sport jackets from the 1980’s. My Mema had a hard time letting go.
Under the bathroom’s boudoir lighting, deep purpling bags stared back at me. I shouldn’t have read so late, even with the jetlag. Two quick swipes of mascara gave me eyes again. Something spiny and hairy scuttled over my foot and I jumped, almost poking my eye out. I cursed liberally in two languages and searched the white and black tiles, but whatever it’d been, it was gone and only the tingling sensation lingered. Stupid old house. Mema wouldn’t leave it even as it fell apart around her; it was her last connection to her dead.
I checked for anything else that might scuttle over my foot, palmetto bug, mouse, or my imagination. I turned lights on as I walked and then off once the next room was lit. It made for awkward back and forth progress. The encroaching darkness nipped at my heels, twining like an insolent cat, and I was conscious of every step. At the back of the house mist crept up the lawn from the wide river, obscuring the crabgrass and blanketing the grapefruit trees.
This mansion, a creaky 1970’s monstrosity, overlooked a slanting dock slowly succumbing to Florida mold and moss. Its indoor pool was slimy, the hot tub scummy with bacteria from someone’s nether regions, while the two-story glass enclosure was chipped and cracked from years of benign neglect.
The stairs were dark, lacking lighting, an oversight that made Mema sleep downstairs instead of up in the master suite she’d shared for years with my grandfather. I used my toes to cautiously find the next step hidden in the stair’s maw. Still on European time, I needed some cereal. At the bottom, the door opened into a living room bordered by the pool’s glass prison. Even at this hour, the two eighty-inch screen TVs were lit with static. It added a greenish glow to a room where stuffed animals and upholstered chairs vied for mastery on shag carpet and cracked tile.
I fumbled for the light switch. It was here somewhere. I brushed against something fuzzy and bit back a yelp. Finally, the plastic switch caught my sweeping fingertips and light flooded the room.
Mema sat in her La-Z-boy recliner with her red wig askew and fake teeth grinning. I lurched backward against the doorknob. The breath whooshed out of me. She turned slowly to stare.
“Good morning,” I stuttered. The air was too thick for passage through my larynx to my lungs.
“Good morning.” She seemed completely unperturbed by my sudden entrance from a dark stairwell into a room where she’d apparently been sitting alone in the dark staring at static TVs. But maybe she was used to unexpected visitors. “Can’t sleep?” she asked, still without blinking blood-shot eyes.
“Jet lag,” I said, still breathless. “Trouble sleeping too?”
“I feel closest to your grandfather when I watch the snow channel.” She pointed a lightning bolt finger at the rocking chair with the large teddy bear and American flags that rocked at my elbow.
I stared. “What?”
“Your grandfather,” she repeated, false white teeth winking under harsh florescent lights. “He’s right next to you with his teddy bear.”