Of Ghosts and Garnets: Close Encounters
1978, the summer of mayhem. Before internet stalkers and Craig’s List predators. Deirdre still played under the Nut Tree. It’s canopy of gnarled branches and abundant leaves forming the perfect cave. Mid-summer prickly three-part pouches would form containing inedible nuts. Prickles finer than an eyelash that would coat an unsuspecting thumb with annoyance.
Baby Ugly would receive the most care here, while Deirdre would sweep the dry dust floor with a broom made out of leaves. The doll would be fed meals of mashed choke cherries and seeds from the popping pods of towering weeds. But mostly she lay on the dirt looking un-blinking upwards at the blue sky peeking through the network above. Choke cherry juice oozed from the hole punched into her doll vagina so she could pee.
“Stranger Danger” hadn’t been invented yet. Though the plan was implemented in Deirdre’s house on what to do when one encountered a “weirdo”. Do not open the door to anyone, do not run home so the weirdo’s could see where you lived, never say your parents aren’t home and most important, do not accept candy and get into strangers’ cars!
Some days, as an outing, her Father would take her and her brother Brendan in the bomb on wheels lime Pinto to view the weirdo’s. Aimlessly wandering behind a black wrought iron fence in their pajamas. The large expanse of bright grass green emphasising the filmy layers of cloth as they walked, while they mumbled and stumbled into the air.
They would park alongside the fence and sit silently in the car watching. Rain or shine. No radio blasting Johnny Cash. Their Father occasionally drinking a slug of nasty red wine from the Thermos. The very wine that sometimes Deirdre would down a half glass in order to get the spins. It was like getting dizzy without having to dance in circles in the basement with her upside down broom partner for twenty minutes. The wine was certainly more immediate.
The weirdos would huddle during a rainstorm in the front entrance to the grand building, under the awning. It might have been Deirdre’s imagination, or the lack of detail that could be picked up by the distance of their vehicle, but they were always barefoot. “Those are the weirdos you stay away from” thrusting his pinky outwards as he screwed the cap back onto the Thermos before starting the car. The ritual complete before returning home through the winding roads of NewWestminster and it’s ancient Canadian Pacific darkness.
On this day though Deirdre had money on her mind…and how to get some. She had a plan. To save enough to run away once she turned thirteen. Instead of shooting her parent’s while they lay in bed sleeping one pre-dawn morning. The Angel had saved her from shooting herself the year before, the bullet ricocheting and what she thought disintegrating into the wall like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The loudness of it setting off extreme panic to put the (rather pretty with the ornately carved cream bone handle that was a stark contrast to the dull black metal) revolver style handgun back in its place underneath the wood bar.
In the cave she carefully constructed “Babysitter” flyers with a fringed bottom for her phone number so that prospective in-need-of-a-babysitter people could conveniently and easily tear off her information and shove it into their pockets. Targeting the apartments, not a complex but rather a grouping of upper middle class rentals under separate Lordships, two blocks away. Tacking the fresh sheets of paper in the laundry rooms of the facilities.
Then she waited. And waited. Each day glancing through her eyelashes at the phone in the kitchen, not wanting to jinx her chances. Finally the day came! She answered the shrill ring ecstatic that no-one else was around to pick it up and discover her surreptitious plan of escape.
The introductory part of the conversation was lost to her excited mind. “Four children…” a soft male voice was explaining “…I can pay you $20.00 an hour”. In her haste that evening as her parents sat in the Livingroom watching Emergency she blurted out “I got a job babysitting for $20.00 an hour!”
“How many Kids?” her Mother, leaned back in the recliner, summer housedress exploding over her loose stomach. “Four”. “That seems like a lot of money and a lot of kids”. Deirdre’s heart sank, she knew the “look” in her Mother’s eyes meant she was not allowed to do the job. That the caller was a weirdo. The next day she phoned the caller back “My Mom won’t let me” as the soothing voice of the caller spoke of agreement and understanding. No one else called that summer.
Towards the end of summer, her Uncle Frank and his son were staying with them. Frank asked her parent’s one afternoon if he could borrow their bed “for a roll in the hay”, his dead fish, skinny pale upper torso and need revealed to the World. Her cousin Eric was fun. A year older with that fresh off the farm boy looks and winning smile. They would skateboard in the empty parking lot next door, equally play soccer and, not until a few summers later, do Rush together from emptied out D batteries. But that summer, things got a little strange. Eric started grabbing her chest during Hide and Seek. And… “Eric is peeking through Deirdre’s door knob hole when she is getting dressed!” Brendan would shout prancing around the house with this happiest of knowledge and the will to proclaim it.
Not that she completely didn’t like it. But she knew it was wrong. And didn’t understand these close encounters. A week before they left Deirdre’s Mom sent her to the Plaza one evening to get some bread from the grocery store. This was unusual as it was almost 9:00, the sun already dipping out of the sky. The streetlights were hissing in sequence as she made her way two blocks in the opposite direction of the apartments where her flyers now hung limply dampened by dryer mist.
Passing the grocery store wondering if she would be in trouble because it was closed a hyper beam of light shone in her eyes leaving flickering sparkles in her retinas. The car went by and she began to walk home. It cruised past again, full of young men yelling obscenities holding glinting beer cans. She faded their voices out, not looking at them, hoping that made her invisible. “Hey girl wanna ride?” One of the men in the back popped his door open, a long be-jeaned leg snaking out. Then a second leg slithered out amidst roaring laughter.
The second emerging sneaker activated Deirdre and she started to run like a deer. All of her pretend deer activities coming into play. Swerving and maneuvering onto the far side of the Plaza while the man gave chase. Quickly peering behind to see how close he was getting she miraculously leapt over the first cement plant box centered in the parkette walk-way. She had prior knowledge of the planter’s station however the man did not and plunged into it shin first. Legs abruptly stopping while his upper body keeled forward with no time to put his arms outward. “You little Bitch!” he limped and scrambled back into the car. “Get that Bitch!”
The car gave chase while the mantra “don’t let the weirdo’s know where you live!” flooded her head. Deftly avoiding running straight home she ran towards the alley between the plaza and the paint facility leaping over the concrete car block with fading yellow paint. Knowing the car couldn’t get through she observed them leaving the lot. Crouched down she waited to see if they were circling the area like a blood lusting shark. Once it seemed safe she ran home breathlessly to tell her tale to an open-eyed unresponsive Eric.
That alley ran quite a few blocks from the Plaza, through the grouping of apartment buildings and landing at the end of the Denny’s restaurant. Wilfred Oden, the lower mainland teenage serial killer was later found to reside at the second building of the apartments. With his wife, a calm, hippyish woman who was totally unaware of his secret life. He lured unsuspecting adolescents with monetary candy. Wrapped in window washing and other such job packaging.
Years later, Deirdre would pore over old reports of the serial killings. One of the girls went to the same elementary school she did. Deirdre would study the black and white newsprint photo of her, remembering how nice Lucy had been. During a school festival she had paid much friendly attention to her, and whipped up steaming blueberry pancakes in the kitchen. What made her stick in Deirdre’s mind was one of her fingers were permanently crooked from an injury. The news photos never showed her hands to really confirm in Deirdre’s mind that it was her for sure; she didn’t know Lucy’s last name. She did remember the round glasses that she wore to school and were always in the pictures. She imagined how they got cracked during the attack.
Years later, Deirdre would also think of the unseen babysitter phone call and hear his indelible voice, wondering… could it have been Wilfred?