Teasing the leaves on the forest floor, the crisp wall of October wind seems purposely disarming. And, by a lake on the edge of a woods, the air grows noticeably colder when the man in the tall boots locks the cabin door, climbs into the town car, telling the driver his destination today will be the city. Manhattan please.
* * *
Hours later, the wind much stronger, it slams hard against the fourth floor of the old Manhattan brownstone. Her hair is blond and tied with silk as Savannah George turns, facing away from the window. Scarcely aware of the storm; her mind is on other things. She is beyond regret, and knows there will be no going back.
Sitting alone at her vintage, Italian dining room table, the woman whose commissioned paintings grace the walls of every museum in the city, slowly, purposefully eats the food that will be her last meal, and thinks of the three people in this world she cares most about.
Glancing down, she recognizes the usual mess on the plate and continues to spin the meat in slow, concentric circles. What originally had been an intention of meatloaf makes its way through the swamp of brown gravy, as Savannah remembers just how much she hates the canned peas sharing space with the boiled potatoes. In what is the third white flash of anger today, and the seventh this week, she hurls it out of range, and it lands at the entrance to the coat closet sized kitchen.
“What the do you want this time? What the fuck do you want!”
Savannah gains control just as quickly as she lost it. Glancing at her watch, she does the mental arithmetic, knowing it has been exactly an hour since the milk, no more than twenty minutes since the meatloaf.
Time for the aspirin. He’ll be here before long.
Gagging only a little, she swallows the fourth large handful of pills. She has been successful. Several minutes later, as the initial nausea begins, Savannah doesn’t hesitate. It will be unpleasant, this she knows. All the more reason to get it over with quickly. From the rack over the kitchen counter, she gathers what will be required.
Minutes later, she is in the claw foot tub, positioning herself back to the wall. When she hears it, her skin begins to crawl. That sound. The same sound that fractured her young world into sharp, jagged shards of a crimson existence. Many years of trying to erase it has instead made Savannah an unwilling expert who could recognize it anywhere.
As the shrill, manic squeal rises from somewhere she knows is too close, Savannah shuts her eyes tight, though her effort is in vain. Nothing can keep him out for long.
“Tell me Savannah, does it sing?”
Her pause is only slight. A brief hesitation causing a reflexive drawing back on the blade. She grimaces with a twisted mix of fear, pain, and endorphins. Knowing she can’t stop now, Savannah continues, and the knife pulls deeply across her throat, ripping a jagged swath from right ear to left. Moments later, with her awareness quickly fading, the woman’s legs betray her as she falls hard into the tub.
The blow to her head is severe, and will ultimately prove her demise. Mercifully, she only sees the boots. As the man wearing them crosses the floor, stopping in front of her, they are as she remembers. Savannah George begins to sob.
“I asked you a question Savannah.”
It is three minutes before midnight when the light that has flickered tenuously for thirty seven years, the light that is Savannah George, draws its last flame. As blood flows freely, the water in the claw foot tub turns a sickly red, and the man in the tall boots walks away from the dead, naked woman. It will be five full days before anyone considers that the fragile, blond artist who no one in the building really knew, is the source of an ever growing and unpleasant scent on the fourth floor of the Manhattan brownstone.
Leaving the front door of the upper west side residence, the man in the tall boots braces against the uncharacteristically cold November night. He thinks of the others; Ben and Jason. Serena. As the yellowed, overgrown nails scratch his chin, Leland Quinley hails a cab. Allowing himself to think of the three visits soon to come, his pale grey eyes dance. He simply cannot wait.
* * *
Six days later, with Jason on the phone, Ben attempts to be purposeful, reading the newspaper quote from Savannah's neighbor.
“It was the strangest thing really. His laugh was more like a squeal. But it didn’t sound, okay this is really screwed up, but I swear it didn’t sound human”.
It is a full minute before Jason speaks.
“When will you arrive?”
“Friday, at noon. AA flight 919.” Ben answers.
“How about Serena, have you talked to her?”
Ben tells him that Serena is to meet him in San Francisco, and they will fly to Providence together.
When Jason asks him what they should do, Ben does not have an answer.
It is Jason who finally breaks the silence, saying aloud what they both already know. What they have known since being told about Savannah yesterday. In a measured tone that Ben does not recognize, his former lover says “I think it’s fair to say, he’s come back.”
White knuckled, Ben Walker puts the phone down. As a voice from long ago comes back to him, it is all Ben can do to ground himself. Like a wet, putrid tongue in his ear, the man in the tall boots squeals …
“Does it sing?”
Six days after the death of Savannah George, and a lifetime after Ben Walker had convinced himself it was over, the forty year old man cups his face in his hands. For the first time in years, that summer in 1981 comes rushing back to him, and he sobs.