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Eden's Made of Glass
This is a story about a girl I met once who called herself Eden. I don’t really expect you to believe me – I don’t even believe it myself sometimes – but I do expect you to settle down and listen.
It was spring break and I’d been behind the wheel for what felt like ages, destination Florida to meet my old high school pals. It seemed like if I went to college anywhere else in the world except for Maine I would have made it by now – instead I was just on the northern most border of Virginia with at least another day of driving, and this time I’d probably have to stop for meals. By the time I woke up, in the cheapest motel room I could find, which incidentally hadn’t seen a vacuum since World War II, I was wishing I’d coughed up the money for a plane flight. It might have even been cheaper, cost of gas and all.
This was about the time my mother called. She was never overprotective – after three kids before me the motherly smothering had gone out of her – and I could expect a call from her about every two weeks in which I’d be grilled on my grades, the true focus of her obsessions. After two dropout sons I can’t really blame her.
The phone call was regarding my maternal grandmother. The way I see it is that there are instances when two people can never see eye to eye, who were born to rub each other the wrong way, sort of like the opposite of soul mates. My dad and my grandmother were two such people, and as soon as mom, the eldest of five kids, tied the knot at the age of nineteen with my dad, gran took the rest of her children and vanished into oblivion, which happened to be a small Virginian town. My mom made no attempt to contact her and went to live in Maine.
My mother had called to tell me my grandmother had finally given in and kicked the bucket. I’d never met her but her last will and testament made her out as someone who desired to cause havoc even from beyond the grave. And so everything she possessed, from the house to the cat to the hand drawn mother’s day cards her kids had given her, was up for grabs by any of her relatives, even my brother’s and me. This meant in five hours to three days her kids, their spouses, their children, and my brothers’ families, all of which were scattered across the continent, would begin to swarm like locusts around a particularly appetizing crop. It was about an hour’s drive out of my way, and provided no one had a private jet I’d have the pick of the lot. So after a few quick calls to my friends I was on my way on the dirt roads that led to the farm.
It wasn’t as nice as I’d hoped. It was run done and creaked when I walked across the porch; the plant life had sprung up chaotically around the place, and it looked like a haunted house in a children’s horror. The door sang like a dying cat when I pushed it open, unlocking it with the key under the faded welcome mat.
I decided to start with the attic, because it seemed to me like all the valuable things would be shoved up there. I imagined scribbled manuscripts by famous wrtiers or undiscovered Van Gogh’s. I imagined a universe of things worth finding.
The first box I opened was stuffed full of costume jewelry, and a rainbow of mardi-gras beads. Another box was full of dusty plush animals with staring glass eyes, and another held clothes. I dug through them until I found a jacket I liked and shrugged it on; it was cold in the attic. I drew aside another box and found, curled in the shadows behind it, a girl.
When I say girl, I don’t mean little kid. She was sixteen at the very least, and could have been older than me, though tiny and skinny. She was pale too, not pale like the vampires in bad teen movies but so pale I could see the blue of the veins as they ran down her arms. Shiny black hair hung around her shoulders and she wore a white dress that was too big for her. Her head leaned against the wall, and she seemed to be asleep but definitely not dead. I imagined I could see the vein in her wrist pulsing.
“Hello,” I whispered. No response. “Hello.” I shook her arm; her skin was impossibly smooth. Her eyes fluttered and then opened to reveal the biggest, bluest eyes I’d ever seen.
“Hi,” she breathed. I didn’t know what to say. What do you say when you find a random girl in your dead grandmother’s attic?
“Um, what are you doing here?” was all I could think off.
“I was sleeping,” she told me matter–a-factly.
“No, but I mean, are you related to the woman who lived here? Are you her granddaughter or something?”
She laughed in a way that could be found either pretty or annoying depending on your opinion of high-pitched chimes. “I sure am not. Name’s Eden.” She stuck out a pale hand for me to shake, blue veins standing out like tattoos.
“Leslie,” I introduced myself and managed a weak smile. “How did you get in here?”
“Flora let me in.” It took me a second to realize Flora was my grandmother.
“She’s dead,” I explained, trying to sound sympathetic.
“Well she wasn’t when I fell asleep.” Eden stood up; she wasn’t as short as I thought she was as first, just skinny, and had the kind of face people gave to statues. Not quite pretty, but proud and powerful.
“She died last night; a stroke or something.”
“Oh, that’s real sad.” She looked down at herself, noticing the dress that hung off of her like cobwebs. “This won’t do.” With a sigh she dug into the box of clothes, pulling out a pair of blue jeans and a red t-shirt with a heart on it. The dress was big enough she could put the clothes on underneath before she took the gown off. When it fell from her hand it seemed as unsubstantial as dust, as if it had been a trick of the light.
“I like these pants,” she proclaimed. “What do you call them?”
“Jeans,” I said, staring at her strangely. That Rip Van Winkle story popped into my head and I imagined this girl as his female counterpart.
“I thought those were stuff you inherited from your parents, like red hair.” She stood there with her face screwed up in concentration then just shrugged. “Ah well, I ought to be off.”
“Off where?” I confess I’ve always liked a good mystery and this was just as good as any Agatha Christie caper.
“I got to get to my mama’s shop,” she explained and darted off down the steps, reminding me of a dragonfly.
“Can I come?” The valuables my grandmother’s house might hold suddenly seemed mundane.
“I ‘spose so.” And we marched into town, Eden with a funny grin on her face and a maniacal gleam in her eyes, me wondering if this was a funny, realistic dream. I offered to drive her into town in my car but she said told me it wasn’t that far and she needed a walk. I had to agree; the girl looked like she hadn’t seen the sun in her life. The weather was scorching though, and I pulled my jacket off to tie it around my waist, kicking up dust with every step.
“So what does this store sell?” I asked to fill the silence.
“My mama sells things made out of blown glass,” Eden said. “She sells little glass people and little glass houses, glass animals and glass apples and trees.” I didn’t realize there was much of a market for glass figurines.
“Is that it?”
“Uh-huh. My mama said we were born in a glass world, ‘cause all it takes is one little misstep and it shatters into shards and boom! You’ve got the end of the world. And that’s how we all are too, fragile. Just a little thing can tear us apart.”
I thought about that and wondered if my mother and grandmother’s relationship had been made of glass as well. All it took to break it was the wrong man. “So how did you know Flora?” I thought maybe Eden was one of those nice neighborly kids who helped out the elderly.
“I knew her mom,” Eden explained which made me think she helped out at an old folk’s home where my great-grandmother was stored once she got to her senile age. Eden was looking around the town with wild eyes, watching each car and bus as they sped by with fascination, kicking the sidewalk with the toe of her shiny black shoes and casting lingering glances on the buildings. I kept a close eye on her in case she jumped out into the road or tripped or something.
“What’s that up there,” she asked me, pointing a big, ugly school bus rumbling down the road.
I told her and she gave me this blank stare like I was speaking Russian. I was starting to think maybe she was drugged or an amnesiac or something along those lines when I noticed something odd about her hand. It was missing a ring finger. A birth defect, I thought, because when would she be in a position to get her finger severed. Maybe she was a traumatized kidnap victim, but I doubt my grandmother was the kidnapping kind.
“How did you lose your finger,” I asked just to make sure.
“It got cut by a shard of glass,” she said, “and I didn’t bandage it in time. It lost so much blood they had to chop it off.”
“The doctors at the hospital. It was kind of a worthless finger anyway.” She saw something off in the distance and ran for it, giving me no choice but to chase after her. I’m not a runner – I get tired and out of breath too easily – but I managed to catch up with her by the time she reached the door to this corner store. The big display windows were grimy and the door was boarded up.
“This isn’t your mom’s store,” I suggested hopefully. “It looks like it’s been boarded up for ages.”
“Do you live here, Leslie?” she asked over her shoulder. I shook my head. “Then how do you know. They might have boarded it up just yesterday.” I started to protest but she body slammed the door once, twice, three times, until finally there was just a crack of splinters like an angry mouth that she pushed open to let us in. The place was dark and the corners inhabited by spiders. There were shelves full of glass figures, apples and coffins, hunting dogs and stags, slippers, each one covered by a film of dust. Eden took the slipper lovingly in her hands and wiped it clean
“Do you ever think how dumb an idea glass slippers were?” she said. “They’re bound to break when you run.”
The place was more like a warehouse than a store. There wasn’t a check-out counter or register or anything stores need, just shelves and shelves of people and creatures and things made of blown glass. And at the back, two full sized figures like ice sculptures. A woman and a man, clothed like mannequins, with stern, statuesque faces. They reminded me of the paintings important people hang in their offices, just behind their desks. How godlike and noble these people look but they’re not people you’d talk to at a party. They don’t smile; they’ve got faces that would make you believe you’re inferior to them. That’s how I felt looking at those two figures in their dusty business suits.
Eden didn’t even glance at them. She went to this bowel, made of honey colored wood, and took something out. It looked, strangely enough, like a finger, but then again I had fingers on the mind.
“They should make one of those statues of you,” I said, because you can’t let silence go on in an old building the same way you can’t let infections go untreated, they spread and fester.
“My face is too boring,” Eden protested.
“The opposite,” I told her, “is true.” And I meant it, her face was too interesting. All distant and alien.
“Thanks.” She gave me a smile of perfect teeth. “You should stop by on your way home, yeah? I’ll have this place all fixed up by then.” And it seemed so sad, that hope, that inextinguishable optimism. Because this place was beyond fixing up and no one wanted glass figurines.
I did come back, after the trip to Florida which was too hot and too pointless. The building had been sold and a drugstore was moving in. I asked them about Eden and the store of glass figures but they said it had closed down twenty-five years ago and they’d never heard of a girl called Eden.
And then about a year ago this package showed up on my doorstep and in it was this human head, made of blown glass, life size and everything. It was a pretty good likeness and I just thought she’d taken my advice and made a glass statue of herself and she sold things over the internet or something but I don’t know how she found me. There wasn’t even a return address on the package.
Which got me wondering. Maybe someday whoever owns my grandmother’s house will go up in the attic and find a skinny girl with no head. Maybe she’ll still be walking and find her way back to where I’ve been keeping it safe for her, or maybe she’ll finally be out of luck.
I’ve thought of a million stories to explain her. The craftsman and his wife who wanted a daughter, the wayward young woman who fell under a curse, a family of shape shifters, a magic spell. They all seem too cliché. They don’t fit Eden at all.
I think about her each time I look at my mantle and see her too interesting face. I hope she comes looking for it again someday. Now you’re looking at me as if you want me to say I bought it a flea market or something but no, every word is true.
I knew you wouldn’t believe me.