TITLE: Neither Fish nor Fowl
GENRE: Adult Mystery
Ashly plays with the rag dolls, his Aunt Teresa made for him with love and detail, 5 birthdays ago. The dolls are small, can be hidden quickly behind a pillow or under a cushion should his father, Frank, enter the room. Ashly is too old for dolls, but they have become a talisman, a quiet rebellion, and a comfort. He hears Papa’s footfalls in his study above. They are rhythmic, like a distant jungle drum. The drumming settles into a headache of anxiety. Papa paces when he has a pronouncement, and the pronouncements come when he has decided that something, anything, must be done with his disappointing son.
Ashly watches Teresa on the settee. She’s trying to knit, but with each footfall of her brother Frank, she drops a stitch and murmurs, “Drat.” She puts the wool aside and picks up her ever-present hanky.
Frank calls from the landing, “Teresa.” The anger in his voice startles. Teresa jumps with a fright, and within a minute she stands in the doorway of his study. Her doughy body is encased in a dress that squeezes her fat with the same relish with which she wrings her lace hanky.
“Frank?” she demurs.
“Come in and close the door.” He clips each word.
She eases the heavy mahogany door behind her.
Ashly has followed and presses one ear against the cool wood of the now ajar door. In spite of his small size and feminine manner, he has courage.