Since Nate's death, she'd slept downstairs in his office, close to Rebecca's room. The upper floors of the house were now off limits, the bitter odors wafting from Pearl's tower room made it impossible to be near. Or perhaps it was just the unbearable sadness of Nate's passing, and Rebecca's long, debilitating depression that made the cozy clutter of their two downstairs rooms and the bright kitchen the
places they ever wanted to be. Still, Dorothy heard worrying things, most often at night. Soft wailings, footsteps, the scratching of tiny claws. Cold drafts blew down from above, often smelling of rot. The ceiling beams creaked, lights blinked.
After a night lying tense and sleepless, tangled in blankets, frightened by the nightmare ghosts that endangered her daughter, Dorothy took refuge in her garden and the overgrown orchards that surrounded the big house. She planted lettuce and peas in the brief spring, grew beans, squash and tomatoes throughout the long, dry summer. She tended herbs, pinched fresh leaves for cooking, then dried entire plants hung in bunches from the kitchen ceiling for uses recommended by old-time herbalists.
Dorothy crumbled leaves and flowers in a stone mortar, then steeped hopeful concoctions that might ease Rebecca's depression or ward off lingering evil spirits.
dropped buckets of almonds and apples, even though trees had not been pruned in
a decade. There wasn't any money for caretaking, and just enough money for groceries and
utility bills. The Wylie brothers had cautioned against selling the place, Dorothy's first wish after what happened that tragic weekend. Rebecca would gain so much if they waited. And now that she was working at the exciting software company, and so much better, so healthy and engaged, Dorothy felt it was best to stay just as they were.
As she busied herself with the day's garden chores, bending to weed and pat new seeds in place, Dorothy paused to shred another query letter from a San Francisco real estate development firm, then buried the scraps deep inside the moist, worm-rich compost pile.