Haunted Passages: “Dear Becca,” a short story by Kate St. Germain

 

DEAR BECCA,

I’VE WANTED TO write you for a long time. But on the last episode, GO FOR IT, you told us to go for what we want. So that’s what I’ll do.
My grandma died almost 2 months ago. I had been taking care of her, actually I never moved out of our house. I know that seems weird, but my family is Taiwanese. It’s common for us to stay at home until we get married. I was born here in upstate New York though, a small town an hour and a half away from New Paltz.
My mom was young when she had me and couldn’t handle having a kid. She left me with my grandma who was strict with me, she was afraid of me turning out like my mom.
I always felt that when Grandma died I would be able to live a life like yours. You seem so at ease in the world, Becca, you’re so comfortable talking to everyone on your podcast. I could never do that. I even practice in the mirror sometimes, I laugh and try to make the “meaningful eye contact” you suggest before I go out to run errands, but I just freeze.
Anyway, I hope to hear from you. Even a short note would be amazing!

Love,
Lily

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12:04 PM JANUARY 15, 2019

Hey Becca!

Sorry, that started out super intense! LOL
I used to take care of my grandma every day, and towards the end it was all day every day. For years she’d scream Lilyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!! To get me to help her to the bathroom in the morning. I miss her screams sometimes; isn’t that crazy? Sometimes I still hear them to be honest.
Now that Grandma’s gone, I’m not sure what I’ll do. I was re- listening to the podcast where you talk about vision boarding. I tried it myself, but all of the magazines we have are Grandma’s cat catalogues. Cats were the only thing she was interested in. We had three when she was alive, even though I’m allergic. I had to take pills to stop myself from having allergy attacks in my own home. But Grandma didn’t care, she always said that one day I’d get used to them.
I ended up printing pictures from your Instagram for my collage. I want what you have, Becca.
I’m 34, I barely finished high school. I should have been more studious because I’ve always been such a loner, but school was difficult for me. I worked at the grocery store in town for a decade, and I was pretty good at it too. I was a manager by the time I had to leave to take care of Grandma full time. I had a boyfriend there. Carl’s married with three kids. We started out as friends, but then we started going to the bar in town after work. He’d tell me how miserable he was, how he never wanted their third kid. He even called me cute a few times. I know, I know! I should never have dated a married guy, but “listen to your body”, isn’t that what you always say Becca? And every part of my body wanted Carl. I’m not beautiful like you, Becca. I’m short and fat. I’ve kept my hair in the same bob since middle school, if I try to grow it any longer it grows out thin and stringy. I have chubby red cheeks with freckles and I try not to smile too much because my right front tooth is crooked over the left. So, Carl felt like this great love affair to me.
He never mentioned leaving his wife or children, even though I fantasized about it. We could sell Grandma’s house, move into a bigger one near the center of town and he’d work while I crafted. Maybe I’d even start up a lifestyle brand, like you! I could sit in front of the fire and teach myself knitting patterns off of one of your Instagram stories.
What a happy life we all could have had together.

Much love,
Lily

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10:01 PM JANUARY 19, 2019

Hey Becks!
We had a snowstorm this week. I was stuck in the house alone for a few days, well not totally alone. I had a few episodes of your podcast downloaded, I like to replay my favorites. I love the one where you had just broken up with Jack and you tell me how difficult it was to record that day, thank you for being so vulnerable. You even missed your scheduled promotion for Gigi eyewear. I know some people didn’t understand, but I totally get it Becca. Sometimes you just need to focus on yourself.
When it storms here I have to stock up on things from the grocery store, because I can’t leave the house. I’ve been driving an extra half hour each way to the nearest store to avoid Carl since we ended things.

I guess I should tell you why we’re not together, huh?
A few months after Carl and I started seeing each other, I came home and smelled something nasty when I opened the door. Grandma was lying on the living room floor, covered in her own filth. She had fired another nurse, calling her a little bitch with no integrity, and had been stuck there for hours.
I got Grandma cleaned up and put her in bed. I scrubbed the floor as she screamed that I was just like my mom, that I was worthless. I tried replacing my bad thoughts with good ones, just like you say, Becca. I focused on Carl instead, you would think he was cute Becca. He has green eyes and he’s fat like me. Then my cell phone went off, it was Carl’s number.
I was excited! He never called me at night! But after a long pause, a woman’s voice told me to stay away from her husband. She had suspected something was going on with Carl, he started being nicer to her, bringing her leftover cakes from the grocery store. I hung up the phone without saying anything and vomited onto the floor. The worst part is, he did the same thing with me, Becca. Bringing me the cookies he knew I’d like after the bakery closed. I heard Grandma laughing while I retched.
Grandma twisted her ankle in the middle of the night when she was going to the bathroom. I didn’t hear her screaming because I was listening to your podcast in my room with the headphones on.
The next day I called in sick to work, I never went back to the grocery store.

Love,
Lily

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8:23 PM JANUARY 20, 2019

Hey girl!
You always say that honesty is the most important quality in any relationship, right? So I have to be honest with you.
A few weeks ago I was cleaning and listening to your podcast, it was the episode where you talked about getting what you want with Rachel McAvoy. She was saying that she stopped apologizing after her divorce, it really inspired me Becca!
Grandma had three cats, Mei-Mei, Mao, and Maru, they were always making horrible hissing noises. I know you love animals Becca, (and I LOVE that you love animals), but you would have hated these cats.
I was cleaning out Grandma’s room during another snow storm. I had been avoiding it, she always cleaned the rest of the house, but her room was a disaster. Grandma never threw anything away, and there were cat pee stains that she had never even bothered to clean up. Her cats were hissing in my ears the whole time. I tried putting on my headphones and listening to your podcast, but they were so loud, I felt like they were in my headphones with you. I couldn’t take it anymore, I bundled the cats up into an old laundry bag and threw them out into the backyard. They were meowing by the front door for a while, so I blasted your Instagram live in my ears and fell asleep. By the time I woke up they had stopped.
It’s time I got what I wanted and stopped apologizing.
Here’s the strange part, I was cleaning out her drawers again today when I heard meowing, but worse than Grandma’s cats had ever sounded. I looked out the window to see if they had come back, but there was nothing there. Then I felt it, scratches on my arm, soft at first, then deeper. I screamed, even though there was no one there to hear it.
What do I do Becca?

Love,
Lily

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6:00 PM JANUARY 21, 2019

Hi B,
Joanna called again last night, that’s Carl’s wife. She’s messaged me on Facebook a few times too. She says that the worst part is that Carl would risk everything for a woman who was ugly. She’s not wrong.
I haven’t written her back, even though I look at her profile every day. She’s pretty, not beautiful like you, but I can see why Carl fell for her. She’s skinny, even after the three kids, and she has long brown hair that’s always blown out. She’s always posting photos of her smiling with her kids, and quotes like MOMMY NEEDS HER WINE.
I’ve been getting the house ready to sell. I’m not sure where I’ll move afterwards, I have some money that I inherited from Grandma and I’ll have more once the house sells.
I’m using your Instagram as inspiration for repairs on the house. I love your apartment Becca, the blushed pink tones and dusty blues. Grandma had terrible taste, bright yellow tiles and orange couches.
I sage-d and listened to the house, like you suggested on your episode with Lana Brewer. I only heard the cats again, though. High pitched and horrible. Then Grandma, hissing along with them.
She told me that I couldn’t leave.
I’m scared Becca.

Love,
Lily

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1:11 PM JANUARY 22, 2019

Dear Becca,
When Grandma got sick, I was 24 and I was about to leave the house, I really was! I even had a college picked out in New Paltz. But when she needed full time care, I thought I’d delay my plans another year or so, let her live her final days with me in the house. I never thought that she’d last another decade.
As the years passed, I started seeing all of the people that I went to high school with move away and get married on social media, but I had no experience except for bagging groceries and caring for an old lady.
Her body was failing but her mind was still sharp, which made doing what I had to do difficult.

Love,
Lily

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3:32 JANUARY 23, 2019

Hey girl,
Oh my god, Carl called! I was so happy to see his number pop up on my phone. He was slurring his words, but I didn’t care. He told me he missed me. It made me long for our best night together.
Carl and I had needed a place to be intimate. We obviously couldn’t go to his house, and we were both too broke for a hotel. So, I decided to fog Grandma’s mind a bit, so we could have our privacy. I bought some Xanax off of this girl at the grocery store, just to get her to sleep while Carl came over. I crushed it into the tea that I brought her in bed every night, making sure I masked it with extra honey. Grandma complained that it was too sweet but drank it anyway.
Once Grandma was upstairs snoring, I set the scene.
I wanted my date to resemble the first evening you had with Wilder, the one where you rented a ski cabin in Vancouver. Except instead of the fancy charcuterie you laid out for Wilder, I laid out potato chips and ranch dressing, Carl’s favorite.
He came in smelling like booze, and he wanted to have sex with me right away, but I had put so much effort into the night! I needed him to be romantic, talk to me and enjoy the spread I had laid out. He was reluctant but eventually started devouring the chips and ranch. He told me all about his day, he had worked a double shift at the grocery store and had a fight with Joanna on the phone. She felt like he wasn’t helping her. Carl yelled, and I was worried that Grandma would wake up. I didn’t say anything.
Carl drank his glass of the sweet red wine that I bought and half of mine.
I made a fire and we made love in front of it. I told him that I loved him because I was just so happy that he was there. Carl left soon after, and I had the best night Becca! I laid in bed listening to your podcast, staring at my vision board collage of you.
Grandma was groggy the next day. I tried to act like everything was normal, but I knew that I’d have to come up with a better plan next time.

Love,
Lily

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1:14 PM JANUARY 24, 2019

Hey friend,
I have exciting news, I’ve decided to move to New Paltz and start to take classes, like I had planned! Like you always say Becca, life is a journey.
Last night I was clearing out Grandma’s closets and I found an old photo of her. I had seen a few old photos of my grandma, but I never appreciated how beautiful she was. She was posing in front of this house, they must have just bought it. She was smiling, with red lips and a burnt orange hat, her hair curled on her shoulders. She wore an olive-green dress and pink kitten heels. She looked so happy.
That’s when I felt it again, the scratches. They started slowly at first but became faster, moving deeper down my back.
When the Xanax had worked so well to put Grandma to sleep, I started thinking of other ways that I could get a break from her. You’re always talking about self-care, right Becca? You get your acupuncture and massages, this was my version, my nights without Grandma.
Since I didn’t want her to get suspicious again, I knew she would have to hurt herself. I knocked a few of her mahjong tiles onto the living room floor and made it look like an accident. When she came downstairs, she tripped over them and screamed in pain. Lilllllllyyyyyy! I drove her to the hospital.
At the emergency room, they prescribed her Vicodin. Her English was never very good, so she didn’t understand what she was taking. But she had always trusted doctors.

Love,
Lily

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2:00 PM JANUARY 25, 2019

Becca,
How could you do this to me? Your podcast means so much to your fans, and you’re just ending it?!
I’ve been following you for years Becca, from your reality show days when you were dating Taylor, and frankly, I thought that you acted pathetic in that relationship. You should have just gone to Cabo with your girlfriends instead of waiting around for a boy who was too selfish to call you. And now you’re going to end the podcast, to do what?! Get married to Wilder and have his babies?
Go fuck yourself.

Lily

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4:00 PM JANUARY 26, 2019

I’m sorry. That last message was cruel and uncalled for. I just can’t believe that I’ll never get to be a guest on the podcast.
I’m in an emotional state for another reason, Becca. A few nights ago, I heard a banging at my door at 2 am. I saw Joanna in the driveway, arms crossed, and nostrils flared. I let her in, I didn’t know what else to do. Besides I had been alone for a long time in that house, a little company would be nice.
I thought that she was going to rail into me, like she had in her messages. But she stared at me and laughed. She asked me if I liked her husband’s dick. She told me how she had to get used to not getting pleasure because it would never be able to go deep enough for her. I told her that I didn’t have much experience either way. She started crying. I didn’t know what to do, I moved closer to her and put my hand on her back, she told me that she had settled for Carl at some point because she thought it might be the softer way, less stakes involved after years of getting her heart broken. I listened and tried to settle my heart racing in my chest with a breathing technique that my mom had taught me before she left, inhale for four, hold for two, exhale for five. It was the only thing that I remember her teaching me.
Then I heard it, the scratching. This time on the couch behind us. Slow at first but then deep, clawing into the fabric and then moving down my back. I jumped up and screamed, Joanna asked me what was wrong. I told her that I had seen a mouse, but she was freaked out by my reaction. She said she had to go back to the kids.
I checked the mirror after she left and found scratches down my back.

Love,
Your friend Lily

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12:01 AM JANUARY 27, 2019

B,
We got a bid on the house! The universe is aligning for me, that’s what you always say Becca, if I just stay focused the universe will provide. I blasted your podcast and practiced joyous movement throughout the house, like you do every morning.
I’ll start New Paltz in the summer session, but I’ll move into an apartment earlier than that. The move will coincide with the last episode of your podcast, it will be a fresh start for us both.
After the Joanna visit, she’s stopped contacting me. I even went into the supermarket when I knew that Carl was working the other day. He was bagging some groceries and still wearing his wedding ring. Now that I’m leaving, I feel nothing for him. I smiled at him, and he just looked away.

Love,
Lily

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7:20 PM JANUARY 282019

Dear Becca,
I woke up in the middle of the night to the sounds of the cats again, clawing and screaming at my window. I saw a blurry outline of a woman in the doorway, I thought I must be dreaming. It was Grandma, but she was my age. She was dressed in the same outfit she had worn in the pictures I found.
I tried to jump up as she stroked my feet, but I couldn’t move my body. She tugged at my blanket and tucked me in to the sheets, like a mother would do for a child. I thought I might be dreaming about my childhood, but Grandma had never put me to bed.
She smiled at me, I tried to scream but I couldn’t make a sound. She opened her mouth and she had the fangs of a cat.
She sat on the edge of my bed and slowly removed each glove, revealing manicured overgrown talons, deep red and her nails curled under.
She lifted the blanket off of my legs and began scratching me, light at first, then deep, painful cuts. She opened her mouth and she screeched.
IIIIIIIIIIIIIII KNOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWW she screamed, as she continued to scratch. I never wanted to kill her, Becca! I don’t know anything about Vicodin. I miscalculated how many pills to put into her tea until one night it was too many.
I closed my eyes and I imagined what you were doing, what a peaceful night you must be having. Grandma kept scratching, I felt her come closer to my face with my eyes closed. She pried one of my eyes open with her talons. She smiled. She told me I was unlovable and licked my eyeball before hissing in my face and letting my eye shut.
I used to faint when I was little. I would pass out when my grandma, or my mom would yell. If I couldn’t handle the intensity, I was able to escape from it. In that moment, I was able to do that again Becca. I passed out from terror.
I awoke when the sun rose I was suddenly able to control my body again. My white sheets were stained deep red with blood.
What do I do Becca?

Love,
Lily

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10:22 AM MARCH 18, 2019

Hi Lily,
This is Sara, I do social media for Becca and I saw your messages just now. I wanted to check I on you. Frankly, I’m quite concerned by your messages. Please write me back and let me know that you’re safe.

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Kate St. Germain is an American writer and teacher. Her short stories have appeared in Heavy Feather Review, Dream Noir Magazine, and Umbrella Factory Magazine. She attended a summer graduate fiction workshop at The Iowa Writer’s Workshop in 2018. In October 2019, Kate’s story “Unconditional,” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Umbrella Factory Magazine. She has lived throughout Asia during the past decade, teaching ESL in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, and Taiwan. She currently resides in the Berkshires with her dog, Francis, where she continues to teach and write.

Image: instazood.com

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