And there was a hole. She found it when her brother moved out and she moved up. She removed the scout stuff and Hendrix posters and paisley sticker letters that spelled CARLA everywhere. There was a lone Odd Rod sticker on the wall, its image veiny and disgusting. She scraped it off and found the hole. Cold air poured from it. She didn’t even look in. Just put an Elton John poster up and forgot about it.
On the one hand, she was well spooked by the crib behind the wall. On the other hand, she wondered whose crib she had slept in as a child. Her brother was too many years older, so it must have come from a cousin or a yard sale. And no one in her family had ever slept in a new crib. That was unheard of.
She asked her mother about the crib behind the wall. Her mother said, “Oh I don’t know,” as if they were talking about bread. Her father wasn’t interested either. He just gave her the money for paneling. But when she asked about her own crib they said to her it came from that crazy religious family, a preacher with a preaching son, and for some reason her parents thought that was an interesting thing.
“But the white crib, what about the white crib behind the wall?”
She might as well have been talking about traffic. When she threatened to call her brother to find out, she was warned against it: He was a man now, with a young family of his own. Which meant he knew everything. But when she called he just laughed and teased. And all he wanted to talk about was the preacher’s boy, who was a sadist
The sixth night she stayed awake to write her reading journal for rhetoric class. She was supposed to have been journaling all semester as they crawled through the chapters, but she preferred to write it all in one night, eating Midol and listening to the radio. She’d written seventeen entries when all of a sudden the DJ broke in on the song to report that John Lennon had been shot. Then again an hour or so later to confirm that he’d died.
It was so sad, but she felt important for being among the first to hear. It was no good sleeping through history. They played “Imagine,” and half of Double Fantasy while she wrote six more entries. Her best work ever. She got up. Stretched. Peed. Went to the hole.
She clicked on the flashlight. For a second there was nothing, and then there was the crib, glowing deep back in the eave. But inside it the bedding moved and stretched, unfolding to become an ancient man, weeping as though the light hurt him. She dropped the flashlight, picked it up again and aimed. The man, tangled in sheets, turned to her and begged. His mouth was a bottomless hole and cold wind poured out of it.
She was as wide awake as she had ever been in her young life. It was well after midnight, and her parents were asleep. Throughout the night until dawn, she kept checking the hole, flicking light on the old man. He writhed, moaned in pain. She couldn’t help it, though.
“His name is Carlisle and he is as old as the county. We’re so sorry this burden has fallen to you,” her mother said. She explained it this way: At the age of seventy three Carlisle lost his ability to watch his own money or say grace, so he was placed in a senility cradle to rock away his remaining days. That was one hundred sixty years ago. When Carlisle failed to die, he was handed on down the generations. No one dared to revoke his privilege.
The cradle had been made by Carlisle himself for his own mother, back when he could still make things. He made it large and wide.
By phone her brother asked, “What are you going to call him?”
“Mother said his name is Carlisle.”
“Mom and Dad are liars. That’s why they don’t talk a lot.”
So she renamed the old man Corey, but most of the time referred to him as “Screech” or sometimes “Preacher,” depending on her mood and his. She worried he might be bored behind the wall, but after a while began to think as rarely of his wants as one thinks of fish in a tank. Her chilled heart was a sign of maturity. She was mainly grim from that point forward, but when she joked she liked to say that Corey had made a woman of her.
But she wasn’t lonely. She had Corey. And she was courted. First came the chronicler. Then the courier. Then both together on the same horse. The three of them drank tea together and spoke of daughters as essential and marriage as spiritual, in straight back chairs, each with their own little flashlight.