Recalling Past Lives
Thank God you came. He’s been asking for you.
No problem. How’s he doing?
He’s better now, more lucid, but…
I’m not sure how much longer he has. He could go any day now. You should call your parents, let them know so they can make arrangements.
I will. Thanks, Barb.
Carl – what’re you doing here?
Barb called, said you wanted to see me.
Oh, yes. I did. I’m glad you’re here.
What’d you want to see me for?
Why are you standing all the way over there like a stranger? Get the chair in the corner and come sit beside me, son.
Are you comfortable?
I suppose. What’s going on, Grandpa?
What do you mean?
I’ve tried to come see you before and you always told Barb to tell me that you weren’t having visitors.
Now you call me here – what gives?
“What gives” is that I wanted to see my grandson before I…well, before I was no longer able to.
Don’t talk like that, Pop. You’ll be around for-
Don’t patronize me, Carl. I know what Barbara told you. I know it because I can feel it. I’m dying.
I wanted you here because I couldn’t leave without anyone knowing what I did.
What you did? What’d you do?
Your father and I never got along. I’m sure you know that. It was my fault.
Dad has a lot of idiosyncrasies, Pop. You can’t blame yourself for everything.
No. Still, I think he sensed it in me. The darkness. It scared him.
You’re not making any sense. I’m gonna go get Barb, see if she can get you something to help you sleep.
I’m not tired or crazy and I’d appreciate if you’d stop talking to me as if I were.
Now sit back down and listen.
There were girls, before I met your grandmother. A few of them. All very pretty and very young. I didn’t know them well. The first girl, Noreen Hodge, had just turned thirteen. I saw her walking home from school one day and offered her a ride in my daddy’s car. I’d just gotten my license and was ready to show off. She’d had the nicest pair of legs I’d seen on a girl. I drove up beside her and rolled the window down. Back in those days, people weren’t so jumpy about getting into a stranger’s car, especially when it was raining out and God, was it pouring that day.
I drove past where she said she lived, told her I wanted to take her to Griffith Park over by the lake. I was a good-looking boy back then, like one of them matinee idol types, and all I had to do was smile at her and she blushed and said she’d go with me. I drove to the park with my hand on hers and felt how soft her skin was. It was like a newborns, smooth and unblemished. When I parked the car in the park by the lake, I looked her straight in the eyes – she had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen on a girl – and I asked if I could kiss her. She blushed again and put her head down, but I heard her say yes. So I lifted her chin and kissed her, soft at first, since she didn’t seem to know what she was doing, then faster, more insistent as my hands trailed down her bare legs. She was so wet from the rain. When she shivered, I wasn’t sure if it was because she’d never been kissed before or if she was still cold.
I turned the heater on. Just in case she was cold, you see. I turned that heater on and I reached up to unbutton her sweater – she was going to get real hot sitting up under my daddy’s heater with that cotton shirt on. She broke the kiss and pushed my hands away. I asked what was wrong – I thought she liked what I was doing – but she frowned at me and said she needed to go home right away. She forgot that her mother was expecting her to do something or other, I forget now, and if she was late she’d be in trouble.
Well, I asked her if she could stay a while longer. I was raring to go and my pulse was beating so loud I could hear it over the sound of my own voice. I was hot and I wanted to keep touching her, keep kissing her.
She told me no. She said she had to go and I needed to take her back immediately. She straightened her sweater – I remember it was blue – and I don’t know what came over me, but I reached out and grabbed the bottom of it and pulled the sweater so hard, the bottom two buttons popped off and it tore. She yelled, but I put my hand over her mouth and pulled her close to me. With my right hand, I ripped open the top of her sweater and saw the plain t-shirt she had on underneath. And I don’t know why, but that shirt made me angry so I snatched that two. She struggled against me, trying to bite my hand, so I hit her twice in the mouth to keep her still you see – not to hurt her. She screamed again so I had to climb on top of her and lay my body across her to muffle the sound. There wasn’t any other cars out that I could see, but I couldn’t risk it.
Pop, what are you talking about? Are you saying you raped somebody?
I put my hands around her neck to get her to stop screaming. She stopped squirming after a while…just laid there and looked up at me with her big, blue eyes. I put a hand over her face. I didn’t like the way she looked at me. I guess with my hands on her throat and over her face, she couldn’t breathe. When I was done, I looked down at her and her eyes were blank. Her lips weren’t moving and she wasn’t really looking at me anymore. It was quiet except the sound of my daddy’s heater going and my breathing.
I panicked. I hadn’t meant to hurt her – she was just so pretty. I got out of the car and went over to her side. I opened the door and pulled her out by the arms. She was heavy and I couldn’t carry her. My arms were too tired. I dragged her into the woods by a bunch of rocks. When I hit her with the first one, I was trying to cover her face. Someone could have seen her getting into my daddy’s car and they’d send me to the chair once they found the body and connected the dots.
Hold on – stop. Dad told me this story back when I was in high school. That wasn’t you, Pop. It was your dad who did it. He got arrested for it and everything – it was all over the papers.
It wasn’t. Someone saw his car pick her up, but they didn’t see who was driving. When they found her body, it was so badly beaten they couldn’t tell much of what happened to her. Daddy didn’t have an alibi so they locked him up.
No, Grandpa, that’s not what happened. Your father confessed to the crime. He’d been following Noreen for weeks. He’d abused your younger sister, Kate, and that’s why your mom sent her to live with your cousins. That wasn’t you.
I know what I remember doing, Carl. Noreen wasn’t the only one either. There were probably dozens after her: Phyllis Campbell, Moira King, Ruth Tuttle – they were all like Noreen. The other girls…well, their experience was different. I got angrier the older I became. Accidents stopped being accidents and were planned. I don’t remember the other girls’ names or faces, but I do remember the screams. They were always so loud, so perfect, that I’d get beside myself.
Okay, I’m going to go get Barb because this is nuts and I can’t listen to this anymore.
Sit down, Carl. Now. I’m not finished. People need to know what I did. Your father needs to know.
Know what? That you think you killed a bunch of girls a long time ago?
I don’t think – I know. I know because of what I did to Pam.
And Pam is who?
She was a girl your father was sweet on in school.
Wait, you mean the girl who went missing?
Your father told you about her?
Yes. They were twelve and dad had a crush on her. Someone kidnapped her on the way home from her dance class.
She wasn’t kidnapped.
Pop? Stop this. You didn’t do anything to her. The police arrested someone in connection with her disappearance. The guy confessed after the cops found her hair tie on him.
He may have found her body in that quarry, but he didn’t put her there. He didn’t feel her writhing against him, digging her nails into his skin; he didn’t see the way her lips curled up into a grimace. He didn’t hear the screams.
That’s enough. I don’t know why you’re saying this, but you are very sick and you need help.
I’m telling you the truth and you refuse to hear it. So which one of us needs help?
Yes, Mr. Willis?
Can you please get my grandfather’s medication? He’s delirious.
You can drug me all you want, boy, but it doesn’t change the past. I did what I said I did. I’d like your father to know so he can have some peace.
I’m not telling dad anything. If you murdered these girls, where’s the evidence, Pop? Huh? You keep saying that these guys who were arrested were falsely accused even though there was evidence linking them to the crimes. What proof do you have?
Yeah, ‘cause that’s real reliable right now. You’re dying, Pop. You’re delusional. Your mind is halfway gone-
On the contrary. My mind has never been more clear. I remember the night I took her. I hadn’t done anything like it in fifteen, sixteen years. I came home with scratches on my arms. There was blood on the hem of my shirt. It got in the way. Your grandmother saw me. She didn’t say anything. She took me into the bedroom and helped me out of my clothes. They were wet with perspiration, among other things-
She ran me a bath. I cried when I stepped into the warm water. She picked up my clothes and narrowed her eyes at me. “Don’t do it again, Joe.” That’s all she said. “So help me God. Don’t do it again.”
She burned my clothes while I scrubbed that girl off my skin.
Mr. Willis? Here’s your medicine.
Take your pills, Grandpa. Get some rest.
I can’t rest, son. And now…neither can you.