A Pile Of Dust
by K. Kylyra Ameringer
"Of course not," Aoife lied. The two of them kept their evening meetings up once a week just to make sure each had heard every whisper of story possible to tell about their small town. It wasn't gossip in their minds, it was a simple exchange of information, something that any good citizen partook of on a regular basis. After all, how else could one know who the heathens and weirdoes were?
Bolstered by her friend's expected response, Margaret continued. "When they first moved in they seemed quite normal. I was surprised they took the place, actually ..."
Margaret trailed off for a moment. She had bought Number 4 Hawthorne Drive years ago as an investment. It had seemed a good idea at the time; the country's economy was booming and property values were sure to rise. The boom happened mostly on the east coast near the capital, leaving the rest of the country hungry for the improvements modern living could offer but financially unable to enjoy them. The sleepy West Cork village of Bantry had completely dozed through all the fuss and bother; expected rises in the local work force never materialized and Margaret's hopes of earning a good income from letting the house decayed as quickly as Number 4 Hawthorne Drive did itself. When the two Americans - a brother and sister - moved to the area and rented Number 4 Margaret was delighted. She'd been unsuccessful at finding any lessors to stay longer than six months at a time; the Americans assured her they wanted to stay long term, and they did. They were quiet, kept the place reasonably clean, and paid their rent on time every month. But five years on and Margaret was beginning to notice some odd things about the two of them.
"They used to come into town all the time. He," Margaret said, indicating the blue haired man, "used to bring in his guitar and play in the pubs. That was before his hair was blue, of course," she added to Aoife, who nodded in understanding. Ireland may have moved into the twenty-first century but Bantry remained stuck in the ways of the 1920s, when the British were hated as a matter of course, everyone was devoutly Catholic, and eccentricities like blue hair were not tolerated. "Then no one saw them for a while. I almost thought they'd moved on but for the fact the checks kept coming. I finally stopped by the place, just to see how things were and check up on everything, you know ..."
"Well, sure, and who wouldn't?" Aoife asked to encourage the flow of words to continue.
Margaret nodded somberly. She had actually spent weeks stopping by the house at all hours of day and night to give a feeble knock at the door and a ready excuse (if she was caught) to poke around the place, peering into windows and checking all the doors. Her efforts to find out what was going on had been hampered; her tenants had blocked off the windows to the front sitting room and kept the curtains resolutely closed in all the other windows. Likewise, they were fastidious about keeping all the doors to the place locked, an odd thing to do in and of itself in rural Ireland. After failing to sniff out what was happening she'd resorted to showing up one early evening and firmly knocking on the front door until it was opened.
"Herself there opened the door," Margaret said, indicating the woman who was laughing at something her brother had said. "In a right snit she was, too. I don't know what I was interrupting, mind you. They told me they were artists but they've not let me in the house for quite some time now. I've no idea what they get up to in there."
"They won't let you in your own house?" Aoife interrupted.
Margaret shook her head. "They barely open the door for me. Just enough that I noticed they took down all the pictures I had up in the hall."
Aoife's eyebrows threatened to jump off her face. She'd been to Number 4 Hawthorne Drive three times; all to attend stations, a church custom that included the priest's blessing of the home. Margaret had decorated Number 4 similarly to many older women in the area; she'd scattered every nook, cranny, and wall space with traditional church icons. Statues of the Virgin Mary numbered over thirty and ranged in size from the large basque relief hung in the sitting room to the tiny plastic figurine standing atop the light switch beside the cooker. The Sacred Heart picture - a gloomy illustration of their saviour with his heart laid bare - had held court in the front hall, and prized pictures of the pope had been displayed in all the bedrooms. It had been a dreary, cold house befitting the town's general malaise and the rugged backdrop of the Caha Mountains; a proper Irish house.
"They're not ... Jewish, are they?" Aoife asked quietly.
"No," Margaret's brow furrowed in consternation. "The man told me once he was Tindi or some such thing," she waved her hand around vaguely, completely unaware she meant Hindi instead of Tindi. "I don't remember exactly."
Aoife's mouth stretch down in a sneer. "They could be terrorists. Those - what do they call them? Islamic fundamentalists," she answered herself.
"Oh, I don't think so, Aoife," Margaret scoffed. "They're Americans."
Aoife's sneer lessened a tiny bit. "Well, they don't attend mass. They're not Catholic." The comment was said matter-of-factly, as if that were all the evidence one needed to condemn them.
"Sure enough, that's so," Margaret replied. Her eyes took on a thoughtful look. "Maybe they are hiding something. I'd swear when I first met them they were older, but when she finally opened the door that day I would have never recognized her. Her hair had changed," she paused to indicate the skunk streak outside, "and she looked completely different. Two stone lighter, and to my eye ten years younger."
"Surgery?" Aoife asked, looking over to the woman outside.
"Ah, now, and it would have to be," Margaret said. "Himself there had a bad scar on his cheek, you see. He'd fallen one night returning from the pub and cut himself badly. It was big, too." She held up her thumb and forefinger to form a ring. "Then it wasn't there anymore."
A Pile Of Dust by K. Kylyra Ameringer