About to turn forty, her youthful dreams of becoming an actress abandoned, there's no doubt in her mind that suburban wife and mother-of-two Clare Taylor has settled. A wild week in Chicago may have shaken things up a bit, but as she turns her key in her Madison, Wisconsin home on the eve of Hallowe'en, she knows that what happened with her ex was nothing more than a distraction, that this is where her life is.
Except it's all gone. The furniture gone, the house stripped, her husband Danny, her daughters, all gone; no message; no note, nothing. Outside in the dark, searching for a sign, she steps in one: the eviscerated body of the family dog.
By dawn next morning, her supposedly mortgage-free home has been foreclosed against, one of Danny's childhood friends lies dead in her backyard, and Clare is caught up in a nightmare that began with her husband on Hallowe'en night, 1976. A nightmare that reaches its terrifying climax thirty-five years later.
|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
|Edition description:||First World Publication|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.30(d)|
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All The Things You Are
By Declan Hughes
Severn House Publishers Ltd.Copyright © 2014 Declan Hughes
All rights reserved.
I'll Be Seeing You
Sunday, October 30
Walking through Madison Airport always makes Claire feel like she has stepped back in time. It's partly the compact scale of the terminal building and partly the absence of crowds, but mostly it's the muzak: delirious, string-drenched arrangements of melancholy old standards that seep into her brain and make her mysteriously nostalgic for the time before she was born: 'Laura' and 'Autumn Leaves' and now 'I'll Be Seeing You. 'In all the old familiar places, she thinks, the lyrics second nature to her. Outside, she almost expects to see the old familiar places as they had been in the early sixties: cars with tail fins and women wearing swing skirts and men in trilbies and those narrow-lapeled FBI suits. Meanwhile, her perfect sitcom family awaits, just like in The Dick Van Dyke Show or I Love Lucy. Hey honey, I'm home!
She feels this way each time, and each time it almost makes her laugh. Almost, but not quite, because deep down she knows the suburban life she is living with her husband and children and dog is not too different from what she supposes it must have been like for her parents. Sure, she has a job teaching drama a dozen or so hours a week, but that's not what she does. Day to day, Danny goes out to work and Claire ferries the girls to school and to soccer practice, to opthalmologist and orthodontist, to swim meet and sleepover; she buys the groceries and cooks the meals; she makes sure the carpets are clean and the linen is fresh and there are flowers in the hall and a fire in the grate. Or at least, that the heating is on. Like the wife in the Mary Chapin Carpenter song, she drives all day. When she was in sixth grade she remembers scoffing in homeroom when her friends were sharing their plans for the future and Pattie Greer said she wanted to be a housewife. No way was Claire Taylor ever going to settle for that. Now Pattie Greer is Patricia Price of Butler Price and Stone, and Claire Taylor is Claire Taylor, homemaker. She has kept her name, but in pretty much every other respect, has she settled?
Well, maybe, but, you know, what ever, she thinks, almost says; she certainly rolls her eyes, and actually manages an audible laugh, which she quickly stifles, as she is standing alone by the baggage carousel and doesn't want to look like a crazy lady. Or does she? Maybe she doesn't care what she looks like today. (Which is probably just as well, since the accumulator hangover she is running after a week of late nights and tequila shooters and other stuff she doesn't even want to think about has brought her skin out in blotches and crimped her hair to an attractive strawlike consistency.)
A week ago, flying out to Chicago, she cared. A week ago, the muzak was just another nail in her mid-life coffin, 'All The Things You Are' at check-in an ironic requiem for the life she had once planned for herself: a life on the stage, a life in the theater, a life devoted to creativity and self-expression (she had used exactly those words in the painfully earnest journal she kept at university). All The Things She's Not.
She had given that life a shot. In her twenties, she auditioned for every theater company in Chicago, graduating from walk-ons to one- and two-line speaking parts to small but significant character roles. Then she formed her own company with Paul Casey, her director boyfriend, so she could play the leads she wasn't being offered. She even directed some of the plays herself, working for peanuts, waiting tables and tending bar when she wasn't handing out flyers and designing posters. She had worked at it. And not without success. One year, their company was tipped to be the next Steppenwolf. Not, admittedly, in the Tribune or the Sun-Times was this brave opinion ventured, but in the kind of entertainment free-sheet drinkers use as a supplementary beer mat or bar towel. Still, it was said. And they always got good reviews in the press, or at least, if not always, they got reviewed as if they were just as good as anyone else. If not quite as good as Steppenwolf.
Yes, she had worked at it. Tugging her bag towards the exit doors and out to a waiting line of taxis, she allows herself a rueful smile that maybe aims for justified pride and lands on woulda-shoulda-coulda. 'Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference,' she murmurs to herself, not that she ever played Ophelia. Too old now, and when you get older, rue is rue and regret is regret, and it doesn't make a damn bit of difference how you wear it. You've just got to fight every day to make sure it doesn't end up wearing you.
She had worked at it. It hadn't worked out. Or maybe she hadn't tried hard enough, hadn't given it her best shot. Maybe she didn't have a best shot to give. No, that wasn't true. Easier sometimes if it had been, if she simply hadn't been good enough. But she had the talent, everyone agreed, if not quite the luck. She had been beaten to the punch so many times for the bigger parts – down to the last two for Laura in The Glass Menagerie at the Goodman and Viola in Twelfth Night at the Shakespeare, and two callbacks for Mary in Juno and the Paycock at Steppenwolf itself. There was a cartoon in the New Yorker where an actor hangs up the phone and says to his friends, 'My agent says it's down to two – me and the guy they're going to give it to.' Paul Casey got it framed and gave it to her as a birthday present. Halfway through the second bottle of wine, she stopped seeing the funny side and broke it over his head and they ended up in the emergency room. That had been a big night. The relationship – and the company – didn't last much longer.
Oh yes, she had worked at it all right. She just hadn't stuck with it. The theater was like a marriage, and you had to honor it in good times and in bad, for better or worse, in sickness and health all the dada-da-da. There were so many fine actors who'd only started to get the breaks in their thirties, even their forties. So many in Chicago, and more than a few of them took the time to tell her they'd noticed her and admired her work, made a point of encouraging her to keep her nerve. To stick with it.
But she was tired of coming second best, tired of blaming it all on luck. She was tired of dive bars and damp apartments and nothing on the horizon but hope. She was tired of smiling tightly as her friends with careers in law or medicine or finance began to settle down and have children and buy property when she still found making the rent a monthly roller coaster. The limit came when the boy-wonder director of a new Uncle Vanya told her they'd be looking to cast Sonya a little younger for this production. She was a week past twenty-eight. That night, she called Danny Brogan and cried down the phone. And Danny said, 'You know I'm here. I've been waiting. Come home.'
Home meaning Madison, Wisconsin. Madtown itself: 'Sixty square miles surrounded by reality.' They had met at UW, the University of Wisconsin, on their first day as undergraduates. Got drunk their second night. Going together within the week. They were the kind of couple who held hands in lectures, the kind of couple that united a class of freshmen, hitherto strangers, in the sweet complicity of eye-rolling revulsion. They even inspired a headline in the fledgling Onion newspaper, and gamely posed for a photograph, playing up the lovestruck sap factor: Death Penalty to be Reintroduced for Icky Undergraduate Romances: Area Man says, 'I'll flick the switch myself.' They bonded over a love of thirties and forties retro. They drank cocktails and listened to swing and bebop and dressed in thrift-store duds and generally carried on like they were starring in their own black-and-white movie, which they kind of were. They both acted in the University Theater, Danny for the fun of it, Claire with increasing dedication, and together, memorably, in their penultimate year, as the lovers in Congreve's restoration comedy The Way of the World, given a screwball comedy/Art Deco treatment (Claire's idea).
That was the show that changed everything. Word spread about a brilliant production of a rarely staged play, and about Claire, and People From Chicago came down to see it, people from Steppenwolf and the Goodman and Second City, and they gave Claire their cards and their numbers and told her she had a future on the stage, and any lingering doubts Claire may have had about her talent or her path were set aside. Danny got a few cards and numbers as well, but if he used them at all, it was only to fire up another joint. And that was the way things would go. In their graduation year, Claire worked and dreamed of the life to come, acting and directing and visiting Chicago at weekends, inhabiting the world of the theater as if she were already a part of it, while Danny took a sidetrack into an all-male world of beer and brats and bongs, of Badgers games and all-night Playstation marathons.
Had he already been preparing himself for the bust-up? She had tried to talk to him about the future, but he refused to engage. It wasn't that she didn't love him, but she didn't want to get married at twenty-one, and she didn't want to stay in Madison, and she didn't want him in Chicago while she was trying to make a go of things. Had he known all along that she was pulling away? Was dwindling into a stoner and a slacker simply a way of protecting himself? After all, his future was mapped out: his father was already a sick man, and Brogan's Bar was Danny's to manage whenever he was ready, or when his dad dropped dead, whichever came first. Sometimes he had spoken of other plans, but only halfheartedly: deep down, she knew that's what he was going to do and so did he. He was older than her by eight years, and had learned the ropes at Brogan's before he went to UW, and he would run it when he left: it was just the way things were. When the time came, they made love one last time, and she cried, and so did he, and he saw her off at the bus stop by the Union. On the bus to Chicago, she felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders, and then guilty for feeling that way, and finally relieved at the lightness – the lightness, even in fear, when the past is past and the future all there is.
They're passing through downtown now, heading west, the houses and storefronts festooned with Halloween pumpkins and lanterns, witches and ghosts and ghouls. Stopped at the lights on Gorham at State, she sees students queuing in the brightly lit Jamba Juice on the corner, and more ambling along the street. Used to be, in her early thirties, Claire liked living in a college town, liked the sense of energy. She looked young for her age then, even after the kids, still got carded in bars. She maybe identified with the students, as if passing for one meant somehow she was going to beat the clock. Now she was in her fortieth year, and felt the opposite: their presence was a sting and a reproach, a constant reminder that she was headed in one direction only, and that a lot of the things she'd hoped for in life – all that creativity and self-expression, to take one small example – simply hadn't happened, and almost certainly weren't going to, and all she was doing now was running out of time.
She looks at the students. Almost everyone is wearing at least one plaid item, mostly red plaid, the boys shirts and coats, the girls scarves and skirts. Is plaid just always in fashion these days? Or is it a Mid-West thing, a Madison thing? The red is a Wisconsin thing, of course, a sports thing, for the Badgers. Everyone wore plaid twenty years ago as well, although rarely did they wear skirts that short. Claire did though, when she tired of retro chic: a tiny red tartan kilt, punk-rock style, with torn black hose and motorcycle boots. Claire wants to wear a skirt that short now. She still has the legs. Women her age wear them. But they look wrong. They look, not quite desperate, but kind of angry, defying you to criticize them, to tell them they're not twenty-two any more, when it's obvious they aren't. They look nuts. Good luck to them. But she can't do it. She can't do it, but she can't rest easy about not permitting herself to do it. Looking at these girls heading up State Street, she knows she should be thinking of Barbara and Irene, and how in no time at all they will be at university, that this will be them in a mere few years. She knows that's where her focus should be, that you have children to cushion the blow of aging in so many different ways. She knows how she should feel. But she doesn't feel that way. She looks at the girl with the long legs and the red plaid mini-skirt and thinks, that's still me, and knows it isn't, and wants to scream. As the cab crosses State, the college kids stroll on up the street, the illuminated Capitol dome seeming to hover above them, splashes of red shimmering in the falling darkness, like the flashes she gets behind her eyes when sleep won't come.
Barbara and Irene, Barbara and Irene, Barbara and Irene. They'll be waiting for her – not quite the way they waited when they were six and four, say, but still. She hasn't even spoken to them for a week, nor to Danny; they agreed, no phone contact. Or at least, she agreed with herself, and he agreed to agree with her. He had her hotel number in case of emergencies, a Kimpton in the Loop, the something or other, Allegro? She wants to call the girls now, but her cell ran out of juice on the Tuesday and she didn't bring her charger. She goes into the Macy's bag she has their stuff in, dresses and tops and accessories, some J. Crew, some A & F, vampire costumes she got in a Halloween store, too much, really, but it's been a week and she wants to spoil them. Checking now to see if it's all there, her hand closes on a card and she pulls it out, thinking it's a receipt and wanting to put it in her bag in case anything needs to be returned.
It's not a receipt.
On the envelope is her name, Claire Taylor.
In Paul Casey's handwriting.
Paul Casey, her ex.
Whom she had not intended to meet, had not contacted, but who showed up on the first night in the Old Town Ale House with all the old crowd. Just like she kind of knew he would.
What she didn't know was that he'd be divorced. No kids. And a little quieter, a little more somber, as if life had dealt him a setback or two. A little silver through that dark hair, a few lines creasing the pale milky skin, a couple shadows in those vivid blue eyes. Haunted, that's how he had always looked, or so she remembered, like an English romantic poet who would die young; haunted even more so now, with a melancholy that finally seemed earned.
She can feel the heat in her face now. What if Danny had found the card? Or one of the girls? What would she have said? She hadn't planned to mention even seeing Paul to Danny. She was trying to avoid mentioning it to herself.
When had Paul put that in there? In the bar, after Macy's?
Or later, in the ... or later?
She can't look at it now. She stuffs it inside her purse and tries to bring her breathing back inside the range appropriate to a wife heading home to her family. The calm, steady, deliberate breathing of a woman who has settled, and is happy with her choices. A week ago, the way she saw it, no question: she had settled. Whether she was happy or not, she didn't want to say. Maybe it would have been futile to ask.
She doesn't see it that way any more. The way she sees it now, she's been given, not an actual second chance, but maybe the glimpse of one. Is she going to take it? She doesn't know. She doesn't know what she's going to do. She doesn't know what to think. But she thinks she knows what she feels. It's been a long time since she felt it. That stirring in her stomach, the flutter in her heart, the sudden bursts of laughter and exhalations of breath and random idiotic announcements, at what? At nothing? Not nothing, no. At a feeling. What she feels is suspiciously like happiness. The kind of happiness she didn't think she'd ever feel again.
A Cottage for Sale
The cab driver has long gray hair in a plait and silver sleeper rings in both ears, a classic Willy Street sixties survivor, or casualty, take your pick. He's already asked for extra directions, as if Madison is some sprawling metropolis and not a city of under a quarter million people, and he's made his ritual little dig about the upscale West Side, as if it's all Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive over here and not the American Mid-West 101. Although Claire doesn't exactly live in the 101 tract, but on a sparsely inhabited tree-lined road in the heart of the UW Arboretum. The car pulls up outside the black iron gates of the old house. Claire doesn't have her remote with her, so she gets out of the cab to open them by hand. The driver gets out too.
'There's a chain around it,' he says.
The approach light clicks on. She's never seen the heavy link chain before. A haunted house game the girls were playing, maybe. There's no padlock, and it's easily removed. She can see the lights of the house up the drive. The night air is crisp and refreshing after a day of hotels and flights and taxis, and the walk will do her good. She pays the driver and he gets her bag out of the trunk, then looks up and down the narrow, deserted road, the inky darkness almost glossy, like paint, a fragment of moon glowing dull, as if behind a veil.
'You sure about this?' he says.
'Sure about what? You think I don't know where I live?' Claire points up the drive. 'Look, the house lights are on.'
'I didn't know there were houses out here.'
'Just little old us.'
The driver shrugs and smiles.
'Well, you know where you're going. No need to worry.'
Excerpted from All The Things You Are by Declan Hughes. Copyright © 2014 Declan Hughes. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Previous titles from Declan Hughes,
Out of Nowhere,
Part One: The Night Before,
Part Two: The Day After,
I'm Gonna Live Till I Die,
Travellin' All Alone,
One for My Baby (And One More for the Road),
Marry the Man Today,
More than You Know,
Getting Some Fun Out of Life,
How Long Has This Been Going On?,
I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night,
(Love Is) The Tender Trap,
Part Three: Halloween Night,
Willow Weep for Me,
I Can Read Between the Lines,
There Will Never Be Another You,
Why Was I Born?,
I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan,
My Kind of Town,
Part Four: Trick or Treat!,
It's a Sin to Tell a Lie,
Lost in the Stars,
Dancing in the Dark,
I'm Beginning to See the Light,
Me, Myself and I,
When No One Cares,
The House I Live In,
I'll Never Be the Same,
The Way of the World,
All the Things You Are,