Something strange lurks in a bell jar in the music room of wealthy eccentric, Aaron Levine, feeding on the sounds his mercenaries create. Bassist Aerie Walker, lured back into performance after a failed odyssey in professional jazz, finds herself involved with this band of musical alchemists as a Deliverance Ministry attempts to exorcize the demons perceived to dwell in Aaron's abode.
Also by Arcadia Sparrow: Lethe
From all outward appearances, Aaron lived a life of grudging compliance. He slept at a motor lodge in Acton, just beyond the two mile radius specified by the judge in the Order for Protection. He did all his shopping and banking in Bedford and Cambridge. His car never strayed down Main Street.
In private, he defied the restraining order with abandon, lurking in the forests and swamps behind his old house, deep within the forbidden zone. Absurd, the lengths he would go to get there undetected, but what else could a heartsick father do for a glimpse of his own daughters?
He understood the custody decision. Sheila deserved the kids. He knew he had a temper, and until he got it under control, the girls were better off with their mom. But having zero visitation rights was too much to bear. He could only hope the appeal would set things right. Until then, he had no choice but to resort to extremes to see Marta and Nina.
On evenings and weekends, he would slip through the woods on foot, face obscured with a sweatshirt hoodie. When he reached the train tracks, he turned towards Boston, following the rail bed deep into the barrens lining the banks of the Assabet River.
At the dead elm he had marked with an axed 'x' he veered through a swampy patch of pines until he came to a hip-deep ford in the river. He slogged his way across, the current tugging at his thighs.
Two hundred yards through maple and aspen, the landscape rose through a patch of knotweeds, leveling off at the edge of the lawn he had mowed a thousand times.
He crawled on his elbows to the edge of the weeds. He would lie there and gaze at the little white house he had scraped and painted through several cycles of weathering. There was the swing set and play house he had constructed for Nina from scrap lumber and recycled hardware, the vegetable garden with all the broccoli and lettuce gone to seed. Ten years he had lived here, only to be tossed out like an old couch.
He knew that what he did would seem creepy to anyone who ever found out, and that it would probably land him in jail, but knowing how wrong it was to stalk his own family compelled him no less.
He understood that the restraining order had less to do with any threat of violence and more to do with Sheila's emotional fragility. Yes, he had been loud. Who wouldn't be if their wife of twelve years was leaving him, without giving him a chance to make things right? He had refused to accept her divorce filing as a done deal, seeing it simply as a phase that Sheila would pass through and that she would want him back.
He meant Sheila no harm. He really didn't. He had always been outward about his emotions. It was not only his personality but his family culture. Shouting was how his branch of the Levine's communicated. He couldn't help that Sheila perceived every outburst as a physical threat. But he had never touched her. He never had wished her any harm.
As he lay among the knotweed, letting mosquitoes feast un-slapped on his sweaty brow and scratched arms, his intent was not to spy on Sheila's suitors. Yes, she was seeing men, but how could they be a threat with him. He just wanted to be close to his family, to be in a place where he might imagine he was simply trimming brush and any moment now the back door would open and Nina would call him into dinner. Just like old times.
But they weren't even home this evening, the revelation sinking in when the sun set and the house stayed dark. Aaron sighed and retreated back towards the river.
He couldn't keep doing this, walking three miles on back roads from the Concord Motel and bushwhacking. A rational man would have simply stopped, let his lawyer negotiate a sensible calendar of visitation. Weekends with Nina and three-year old Marta at the site of Sheila's choosing, chaperoned or not.
But instead he found a place in the forest to lurk, and convince himself, without success that he was not a creep. The place was a pump house, built in the seventies in the early phase of an EPA Superfund cleanup operation. An old W.R. Grace waste pond had polluted the groundwater with vinyl chloride and a soup of less pronounceable toxins. The pump had long ceased to operate; in fact, most of it had been removed from the house. But it sat strategically half a mile from his back yard and a quarter mile from the Stop and Shop where he could park his car.
Weekends he would sleep there, after spending the dusk watching the old yard. Watching Sheila take little Marta out on the swing set while Nina played badminton with the neighbor girls. Several times he felt tempted to rise up and stride out into the yard, well-well, look who's here, it's Dad, but he restrained himself. He might be mentally ill, but he was sane enough to realize it and control it.
He'd retreat in the dark across the river, slipping into the hip waders he had staged at his regular crossing, flicking on the flashlight only when he had crossed to the other side. He had turned the pump house into a regular old hunting shack, removing more of the fittings, covering the holes in the flooring with plywood sheeting, a sleeping pad and bag topped the accommodations. And he would sit on the stoop, alone with a candle, surrounded by the dark and play his fiddle, alone in the pines, hoping that some of its strains would seep across the river into his children's windows, even it only touched them subliminally.
Aaron played freely, unbound by any chord signatures or scales. He tuned by ear and never feared leaving an open string to drone as a microtone. He would never play his fiddle this way in a group, but when he was alone he followed an inner muse that led him down avenues well-removed from western or even human music. He played in harmony with the night insects, owl calls and raccoon trills.
Weeks into summer he had followed this routine before he noticed the way the dust danced when he played. It was about the time that the cicadas and tree crickets had joined his jam, which heretofore only enjoyed the accompaniment of bullfrogs.
The wood of the pump house, for whatever reason was peculiarly resonant. The place was under-built, with the minimal bracing and supported needed to support its walls and roof, and the walls plinked when tapped, like tone wood, as if they had been constructed out of the same spruce that gave his violin. Absurd, yes, it was just some old pine, but it caught the rasp of his bow strokes and thrummed enough to make the dust dance.
The dust was probably a collection of dry rot fungus and bat guano and spider carcasses, but Aaron would watch, entranced as it rose and spun, and he would adjust his playing like any good band director to keep his patrons dancing. Modifying their form with his tone, like a sonic lathe, carving divots, squeezing out bulges. Some of the little dervishes, he could swear had spun off into the night.