For Julie…


“…Far back in the hill country
is Hissing Hill. It’s a bare and lonely spot,
with one twisted house
and a tall fir tree behind it…”

This is the opening paragraph of The Witch of Hissing Hill by Mary Calhoun and pictures by Janet McCaffey- the Halloween book that Charley read to J several times the night he died. She loaned me her copy and it breaks my heart. I have it here on my desk, sitting next to my 8×10 companion, whose heart must break in tandem at the sight of the little gold cat that wreaked havoc on the witch of Hissing Hill. The binding broken now by too many reveries; the pages soft to the touch like gray flannel under your fingertips. The pages split with ragged edges of deep midnight blue filled with stars that dip at awkward angles into sweeping strokes of mossy green that ground the margins on either side. Atop the highest pinnacle of mottled vegetation sits a spired house of black with golden light emitting from criss-crossed window panes that squint at you like evil eyes, eager to disarm you—and they do. For they remind me of sketchy moonlight that pierced the piney woods surrounding the spot he laid waiting for angels to wipe his face and dry his tears. To tell him that he is safe and that the nightmare is finally over.

I read it aloud so that he can hear. I hold it close so that he can see and remember the tiny blue eyes that must have grown three sizes with every page and held his gaze as he spoke of cats, black as pitch, hissing in the moonlight. I begin soft and slow; purr and pause at all the spots a parent would. I make the sounds and growl low and guttural to make my cat the scariest cat of all and feel the crush of phantom fingers as they dig into the fleshy part of my palm in fear. On page four when the witch appears… I cackle like an old hen and rumple my eyebrows and scrunch my face to exaggerate my wrinkles. And when her fellow witches arrive, I find a new octave to brand them each and move the story forward with boney fingers that wriggle and wrangle. In between the turn of a page, I check the photo to my left and read his eyes. They are calm with resignation. I tell him I recall such precious moments spent with my daughters when they were six and so far from seven. He laughs and I cackle one more time as the power of my spell seems to wane in the glowing eyes of the make believe yellow cat. Phantom air rushes from rosy cheeks that have held it tight while waiting for the good to come and save the day. The Charley in the photo softens at the edges, becoming Charley the father and the weight of his ethereal tears floods my lungs and I can no longer breathe.

It is not just her loss, but his too that I mourn. Oh, Charley… they grow up so fast. I cannot imagine the pain you felt in the tearing of the veil between the here and now and the then and forever lost. What grief you must have suffered through the years- watching and not being seen. Whispering and not being heard. Holding and not being held… Each of you standing in front of a mirror that reflected one another’s loss.

As you tucked her into bed and pulled the sheets to her tiny chin that night, what were your thoughts? What was it that made you think to leave was better than to stay? That you must go and give credence to men who lie as involuntarily as would they breathe? That someone else’s hand fifteen minutes later would feel sweeter in yours than hers? That another set of eyes held the power to beg for five more minutes of your time with more conviction than that of your little girl’s?

Oh, how fickle the human heart. Oh, how fragile the eternal soul. What price you both have paid. Would that I had the power to bring you back for just one second to hug the child inside the woman who has waited 44 years to know you. Would that you could return just one more time to read this book– To wrinkle your nose and cackle like a hen. To hiss at the blackness of the night and howl at the bravery of a moon that still mounts clouded shelves of blue each night you are gone from her side. To say, ‘Let me tuck you in tiny one and I shall tell you the story of how a little yellow cat with gold eyes conquered hate in the tiny house on Hissing Hill.’

And so he began…

“…Spells are that cat’s specialty. ‘We’ll just turn day into night’
The visiting witches drew in their breaths,
For that was the hardest spell of all.
Jezebel sat in front of Sizzle,
Staring with eyes like yellow moons.
The witch whirled around,
Wove her arms into twists,
and began to murmur the spell.
As she shrieked the last word
She pointed a boney finger
at the sun through the window. And pop!
Jezebel turned into a yellow cat…”

For Julie.

2 Responses to “For Julie…”

  1. Ceandaplayeli Says:

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


    • brownstonelit Says:

      Glad you enjoy the blog. Please understand it is not always easy to generate without giving more information away than what I should and so there are days when I have to use filler to keep from placing myself and/or Julie in compromising positions.
      As always… I write from both conscience and heart as there is a bond now between Julie, Charley and myself that bridges our lives and his death as well.
      Keep reading and turn other folks ont it… it’s about to heat up again!

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