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  • Writer's pictureMick Brady

Wine and Secrets

Though Stella drove them to the funeral, Will, Polly and Becky opted for the long walk home. Will appreciated the opportunity physical movement afforded to make a transition from the unreality of the cemetery back to whatever could be called regular about her life.

As she passed the stately frame houses with their kept lawns and neat flower beds — the occasional porch swinger raising a hand in greeting — she knew her visit soon must end. The town fit her worse than Polly’s dress, and without the excuse of a dying relative, she had no business being there.

“It was nice,” Polly said.

“Yeah,” Will replied.

“Just the way she wanted,” Becky chimed in.

“Did she ever say anything more about your inheritance?” Polly asked, immediately blushing at the question. “I didn’t mean — “

Will laughed. “I know you’re not after my money. God — I’d be happy for something that normal.”

She wondered briefly whether she should spare Polly this last bit of weirdness on their mother’s part and decided there was no point. Polly had lived with the woman her entire life.

“It’s some kind of artifact,” Will said. “A quartz crystal carved like a skull.”

Polly waited for more, as though the bequest of a crystal skull was no surprise and the interesting part was yet to come.

“That’s all. I suppose it might be a museum piece — maybe rare and worth some money — but it’s creepy.”

“Does it do anything?”

“Like what? Wind up and sing ‘I Got Friends in Low Places’?”

Of course it didn’t do anything — that is, unless you were prone to psychotic episodes accompanied by paranoid hallucinations.

“What’s in the envelope?” Will asked.

“Oh,” Polly glanced down. “It’s her writing.”

Will sighed. Something told her she wouldn’t be getting on a plane any time soon.

Polly didn’t want to open the envelope on the walk home, and then she didn’t want to open it in the house. She needed to get out of those clothes, and then eat. After supper, and after settling Becky in bed, a little flushed from her half of a bottle of Cabernet, Polly declared that she didn’t want to open the envelope at all.

“Let’s burn it,” she said, holding it near a candle.

“Suit yourself,” Will replied. Though beset with curiosity, the dynamics of their childhood seemed to be coming into play. She knew the only way she could control the situation was by yielding.

Polly gave her a sly look. Without the wine, she might have been less malleable. She drew the envelope away from the flame.

“I’m afraid to open it,” she said.


“Because she couldn’t tell me in person. Because she waited until she wouldn’t have to answer any questions. What if it’s something disappointing or confusing or terrible?

“Give it to me. If it’s bad, I won’t tell you.”

“I couldn’t do that to you.”

“Maybe it’s good, though. Maybe it’s wonderful. Do you really think she would take a parting shot at you from the grave? The letter is addressed to you — not me.”

“I don’t think she would do that to either of us, but she doesn’t think like us. Didn’t. It might be horrible even if she didn’t mean it to be.”

The image of Cora’s slender fingers caressing the curves of the crystal skull popped into Will’s head.

“We should burn it,” Will decided. “Let’s just do it.”

At that, Polly tore open the envelope. As she read, her face underwent a transformation. The apprehension in her features dissolved, and a smile slowly blossomed.

“Read it out loud,” Will urged. She felt herself smiling too, with relief.

Polly looked at Will with her wide blue trusting eyes. “There’s a lot to explain.”

“Explain, then — I’m not going anywhere.” Will had not seen Polly so animated in years — not since Becky’s birth, she realized.

“Okay.” Polly inhaled deeply. “Here goes.”

My sweet daughter. Polly’s voice caught, but she took a moment to recover and then continued: I know how to bring your strange story to a happy conclusion. I could not risk sharing this secret until I knew for sure. I will soon make a journey to another realm. So must you.

Will’s smile collapsed. “Polly, stop.”

“No — just listen.

My crossing will be spiritual. I will leave this body and this world behind. Yours may seem just as mysterious, but only because of the limitations of human knowledge. Our race is so young and arrogant. We know very little.

Dread grew inside Will.

But I know now how to reunite you with Becky’s father.

Polly stopped to collect herself again, this time checking her barely contained excitement. Her eyes shone brightly, and there were spots of color high on her cheeks. She looked feverish, Will thought.

“Okay, time out. Becky’s father?”

Polly nodded, her smile quivering.

“Not Tom…”

She shook her head.

Somehow, that didn’t come as a shock. The baby came too soon after her marriage to Tom Gilbert, a quiet man unabashedly in love with Polly for as long as Will could remember. She couldn’t believe he ever claimed more than a tiny corner of her sister’s heart.

Will found it hard to believe they were sleeping together before their baffling marriage, but there was no one else — or so she thought at the time. They never even moved into their own home. Tom just joined the family in the house on the lake, and Will always assumed Cora’s craziness put an end to the union.

A few weeks after Becky’s arrival, Tom packed his belongings into his pickup truck and drove off to Ishpeming, where he landed a good job. Polly was supposed to follow when the baby was a little older, but she had never gone.

Of all the peculiar circumstances of their brief marriage, perhaps the strangest was that Polly never stopped wearing her wedding ring. An intricate, beautifully crafted piece of silver, it seemed entirely out of sync with the pallid and unsuccessful union it represented. Polly said they found it in a thrift store. Tom wore no ring of any sort.

“Who, then?” Will asked. “Who is Becky’s father?”

Polly gave Will a helpless look and then turned back to the letter.

I have never made the crossing, but now I believe that you can. Once you get there, you must take care whom you trust. To many people your father was a great hero, but to a misguided few he was the worst traitor in the history of Atlantis.

“Stop — really. This is too nuts — even for Mother,” Will said. “Do not read another word until you tell me in plain English what this is about and why you seem to be all-in on this fractured fairy tale.”

“Just let me finish.”

Will can help you — the mention of her name was the only thing that kept Will from leaving the room at that point — and for her own sake, she must. The reason she is so unhappy here is that she’s not among her own kind. She’s like the lone swan in a duck pond.

Polly glanced up. “I’ve always thought that.”

There are many passages, I’ve been told, but only one that I know of personally. Your father and others used it. It’s in a cave at the bottom of the Bottomless Pool. In the right hands, a powerful crystal illuminates the portal. There is no crystal more powerful than the one I passed on to Will, and hers are the right hands.

Once the portal becomes visible, you simply go through. Tell Becky it’s like Alice going through the looking glass. Courage, Polly. Will can take you and Becky home, and perhaps she will find peace there herself.

The sisters sat silently for a moment.

When Will broke the silence, she spoke softly, calmly. “Don’t look at me that way, Poll. You’re just setting yourself up for a huge disappointment. We’ve had a strange day — not to mention a bizarre life — and this is the capper. I don’t even want to think about why Mother wrote that letter or who Becky’s real father is, or where that grotesque skull came from. It’s too much. Right now, I’m going to open another bottle of wine and then maybe another one after that, and then sleep for as long as it takes for the world to get right side up again.”

She went to the wine rack and pretended to read labels, but her eyes were swimming, and she wondered if she might be about to faint.

“You always took care of me, Will,” Polly said, just as softly. “You’re the strong one. Remember when I said maybe you were destined for another life? This is it. I know you can do this.” She turned and left the room.

We’re painting the roses red, Will thought, choosing a bottle of Shiraz. Then: Off with her head!


This is Excerpt №10 of The Darkest Eyes by Mick Brady

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