2013 Doris Gooderson – Third Place

I am Annie

by

Julia Bohanna

 

 

I am waiting.

I hear the slam of a coach door, footfalls hurrying up the stone steps and the voices of expectation slithering into my house. It breaks the creeping silence of the past night where there was nothing to do but to walk the corridors, climb the staircase. I imagine the buttery Jamaican sun that drips thickly through the trees outside. Tourists have come to hear about the White Witch, shiver deliciously as they walk through my world. They will already be twitchy with stories of me, the terrible plantation owner who lived here over a century ago. If only they knew that I am with them in every room, in the long green velvet dress that was my hallmark. I drift with more freedom than I had when alive, undetected. In my bedroom that has been restored and furnished with fine antiques; there is an old mirror with rusty foxing on the glass like a young girl’s freckles. In stories I live again.

‘Annie Palmer’s face has appeared in this very mirror.’

The tall Jamaican guide in a ruffled red dress talks as everyone try to peer into the glass. I am so close to her that I can smell the coconut oil in her hair, feel her warm breath.

‘But no-one knows what she looks like because all pictures of her were destroyed.’

I like the visitors’ fear. In each room I feed like a vampire from the collective horror, as they learn how I finished off my husbands and lovers. I am a creative woman and a different room and method was chosen each time: poisoning, strangling – even pouring hot oil into one husband’s ear. How that devil screamed! They were tidy deaths – slaves took those bodies down secret tunnels to the sea. Those obedient fools were rewarded for their toil by being murdered themselves.

Now no one knows where the bodies lie.

‘She was a wick-ed, wick-ed woman,’ says the guide, as visitors trail into another room.

There is a handsome young man and a clingy girl at the back of the group, smooth hands entwined. I blow gently into his ear and he turns. I want my fingers to brush across his pretty face but there is not enough strength here. Not yet. But it amuses me to purse my lips and blow into his ear again. He turns so abruptly and nearly wrenches his hand from hers. But there is only a pair of lizards slithering languidly up the silk wallpaper, until the creatures are still, fused into the patterns of birds and leaves. Only their bulbous reptilian eyes swivel, perhaps searching for the multitude of spiders that coexist with me here in every dusty web-netted corner.

‘The cries of her tortured slaves can be heard at night from the dungeons on the ground floor.’

The guide has her audience in the palm of her bejewelled hand.

‘Be silent for a moment to remember her poor unfortunate victims. Listen for their cries.’

The crowd is quiet. If only I could cry out. A green parakeet lands with a whoop of its wings on the balcony, screeches and makes them jump. My balcony on which the lime-coloured bird sits proudly is my favourite place in the house; I used to watch my servants being whipped in the ground below from there.

The young man has at last slipped from the cloying bonds of his lady love, I see. He walks into one of the bedrooms to look from a window. I am with him as he closes his eyes. When I was alive, I could have gained any man’s love, using the voodoo I had learnt living in Haiti. Then I would blend my Irish charm and learned magic to make them mine.

Now I am cursed by losing my body, my power. Annie Palmer sometimes appears on photographs it is said but then I must truly concentrate to do so.  I want to touch, to reach out my murderous hands once stained with the blood of men discarded, to stroke these strong living faces. Women do not interest me; they are tedious. I can gain much from those men who are alive: their energy, their vitality. This young man for example; I would love to see the reflection of my face in his lovely green eyes. He has them open now and is looking at me, or so it seems.

‘So where are you, Annie Palmer?’ he mutters.

He said my name! If he calls me surely I must oblige and appear!

Yet there is something in those eyes as he calls me, a mocking knowingness. As I move, those mesmeric eyes seem to follow.

‘Can you see me?’ I ask.

‘Of course,’ he replies and now there is no pretence. ‘It has taken me a long time to find my way back here. I have seen you from the beginning.’

I resist the urge to touch him. Not yet, I tell myself, Delayed gratification is best, especially now that I have crossed over to the living and there will be a multitude of men to ensnare. Power is mine once again.

But there is something to his smile, something familiar. My first husband had that look, that crooked but charming smile.

‘My father will be here too perhaps, soon,’ he says, as if he reads my thoughts.

He reaches out to touch my face and I am shocked by the coldness of his fingers, a corpse brushing the pores of my skin. Although I do not see her walk in I feel a similarly chilly blast of air behind me and the girl who was with him has her arms around his waist, smiling too.

‘My God, you killed so many that you have forgotten us, Annie,’ she says, her face full of twisted hatred. Your stepchildren who were thrown in the sea, drowned like unwanted kittens. How far away we drifted. But now we are here to stay, for you to be a real mother to us.’

I do not like this young man and his sister. How did I ever think him to be handsome? He snarls at me with the face of my first husband, who used to beat me so hard that I cried for days. There are voices disappearing down the stairs and I have no choice but to join them. I cannot live here: a wicked dead stepmother tortured by those dead children, never left to rest or enjoy her kingdom.

I rush down the stairs and for the first time in my life, I am afraid. The children laugh as I run, the green velvet almost tripping me up because I cannot hold the solidity of the banisters. The heavy front door slams hard behind me and I am out in the alien light, scared by the unfamiliar.

I take a deep breath, or at least what passes for breath among the dead.

Having nowhere to go has led me to you; I stand shivering at your shoulder as you read my story. I need a host, a body in which to hide from those who wish me harm.

I can wait no more.

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